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Bulletin For Black Poetry

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Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
‘provisionally’ – a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life. 


Art: from Jacob Lawrence’s “The Migration of the Negro” Series

April 30, 2017

I was ill, lying on my bed of old papers,
when you came with white rabbits in your arms;
and the doves scattered upwards, flying to mothers,
and the snails sighed under their baggage of stone …

Now your tongue grows like celery between us:
Because of our love-cries, cabbage darkens in its nest;
the cauliflower thinks of her pale, plump children
and turns greenish-white in a light like the ocean’s.

I was sick, fainting in the smell of teabags,
when you came with tomatoes, a good poetry.
I am being wooed. I am being conquered
by a cliff of limestone that leaves chalk on my breasts.

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Art: by Zanele Muholi
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The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.


Art: Derek Walcott, “Garden with Stone Table,” 2000

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March 23, 2017

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,  
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,  
The singers and workers that never handled the air.  
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,  
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.  
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Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?  
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you


Art: Tschabalala Self, “Good Girl 1,” Oil on canvas, 24″ x 36,” 2014

March 23, 2017

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

Art: “This Way” by Senga Nengudi


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whatever slid into my mother’s room that
late june night, tapping her great belly,
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summoned me out roundheaded and unsmiling.
is this the moon, my father used to grin.
cradling me? it was the moon
but nobody knew it then.

the moon understands dark places.
the moon has secrets of her own.
she holds what light she can.

we girls were ten years old and giggling
in our hand-me-downs. we wanted breasts,
pretended that we had them, tissued
our undershirts. jay johnson is teaching
me to french kiss, ella bragged, who
is teaching you? how do you say; my father?

the moon is queen of everything.
she rules the oceans, rivers, rain.
when I am asked whose tears these are
I always blame the moon. 


Art: Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, The Transfiguration 2015.
gouache, India ink and acrylic on wood panel
8 x 8 inches

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no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well62

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.32

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land112
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
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no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home10
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here


Art: “Vogel Immigration,” by Moustapha Dimé, 1997, Metal on Wood, 64 x 88 cm

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       after Carrie Mae Weems Roaming Series

Before I knew
how to fill my onyx body
with slick measures,

dip every curve
in my skin with dark sway,
I needed a picture.

Before me stood
a long black dress I called Woman―
you stand opaque

with your back to me,
a statue of witness,
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the door of Yes―

I can Return
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to the monument
of your silhouette

to find my longest muscle.
We both stare down
the ocean to stillness.

O, Carrie―
what are you trying
to tell me here?

I’ve been standing by water
my whole damn life
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Art: from Carrie Mae Weems’ “Roaming Series” (2006)

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Sure, I want to believe a poem can block a bullet too
that a poem could save me at the end of the world,
my bug-out bag teeming with “Good Bones.” My friend’s
husband sells guns. He’s a republican. His sales boom
under a democratic president, and sometimes he feels
strange-weird about making money off his opposition.
But people are afraid, he says, that their guns will get taken
away, so they load up and up, and now that Trump is here
people are pushing poems around the Internet like a salve,
slathering feeds with verse as sustenance for the apocalypse.
I’m getting emails about my work, they read: it’s so important
right now. I think right now has always been for sale. I was
always born writing poems about my skin and country. Anyone
in marketing knows about fads. Sometimes when I enter a new
house I wonder if they have a gun hiding under their bed, locked
and cocked… when I just have a poem in my pocket or stuck
in my head. Like when I’m in traffic, sometimes I say out loud:
I know all words come from preexisting words and divide
until our pronouncements develop selves. Sometimes I’ll mess up
and say it again until the line rolls over my tongue like warm milk.
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I’ll have nothing but a stack of books by my bed that I’ve been
wanting to read or am in the middle of reading or holding a gift
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from a friend who said you need this book right now. I thought of you
when I read this book. See: when you [                       ], everything
be a poem. Everything be – my life still standing – a loaded Gun.
Every. Thing. Be, a deadly foe bent on my destruction. No, I can’t
separate my politics from my family or my body from my body.
You say you love me/You say you love me/You say you love me,
then love these parts of me you didn’t vote for, and then say how
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much you love me again. Say it louder. Say it till you’re tired like
I’m tired of forgiving and explaining myself. Sometimes, I don’t
want to forgive, or explain myself. Yes, I write what I know and
what I want you to know (and what I don’t know): is everything,
how everything be so in right now, yes, everything might be falling
apart, but the center must hold, because when you [                      ]:
it has to. The center can hold—the center can hold and still sing.


Art: “March on Washington” by Alma Thomas (1964)

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A Black church is burned in Mississippi
and spray painted Vote Trump

It’s a pretty obvious metaphor from here
right?    Brimstone     Armageddon

Bullets       their copper beaks
Kissing midflight      smoke flies to migrate

And this is what I know of inheritance
the town is named Greenville

I know this because the news says
what my blood already knew

My great grandfather was “from”

In the way rubble is “from”
a building

Or the way that a casket is “from”
a life

Still too obvious? Ok that’s fair
let’s try again

My great grandfather was pale
as a surrender

or white like a set of massive wings
whispering home

My great grandfather owned a store
because he looked white

The presumption of the body
is a shoddy prayer to hide in

The town found out and calmly told him
he had 24 hours

or they would tar and feather him
presumably to death

smoke flies to migrate     I always say
Smoke     when I mean    Family

I live 131 miles from Greenville
a choice       that put ash in my mother

And her cereal      while an epidemic
of red caps dripped out

The mouth of a swelling kind of country
like a neglected cavity humming

a blues that sounds like a child spoken
for the last time

and surely     the metaphor is exhausting
itself in your mouth

surely you are waiting for some inevitable use
of Holy or Sacred or Wrong or America

So I will settle for Expected
and say I am surprised

It took the fire (which touched my Great Grandfather’s foot
in a way that can only make us cousins) so long

to say
Welcome home

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January 22, 2017

okay you guys are gonna love it. get this

all the black women turn invisible,
all of them

just overnight. America goes to sleep and they’re there
and they wake up and they’re not

the scary part? ______stick with me
they’re not gone. YOU JUST CAN’T SEE EM
_____think about it
_____they can see each other
_____but you can’t see them
_____and they could be anywhere

the girl you passed up for the promotion
she could be in your car
ready to yank your head back by your hair
right when you’re at a busy intersection

the woman you grabbed on the subway escalator
she could be in your living room
looking through your tax returns

the group of friends you whistled at
might take turns whistling back at you from hidden places
shrill, and off-key, until you go mad

the one you prodded and whispered about
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she might be lurking in the men’s room
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with a sharp letter opener and a roll of duct tape

the girl you lied on again and again
might be on the back porch where you smoke
and she’s dousing your cigarettes in lighter fluid

all the ones whose hair you touched
all the ones whose names you mocked
all the ones whose pay you cut
the ones whose houses
the ones whose jobs
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the ones who
the ones who
the ones

they could be anywhere with knives
or guns or poison or machetes or
things they have to say to you about you
and you have to listen

i mean let’s be real maybe they would just leave
go somewhere warm and secret, string up Christmas lights,
raise goats and chickens, grow zucchini and fire up the grill,
make every night for cards and barbecue, let their hair grow
or cut it all off, let themselves get fat
or skinny, talk about things
that are not you

but then again
maybe they would do everything you did to them
do it more
and faster
and harder
with all the mean they learned from you.
the witless cruelty
the smirking dismissals
the rope across your wrist
all the twisted words and lucky punches

and you wouldn’t even see them coming


horror movie pitch 2

this one is even better than the last. you’ll love it.
it’s like_____ your typical Exorcist-type situation
you know
not religious, but Old Testament inspired.
like, rivers of blood.

it goes like this

the men who climbed to acclaim on our backs
digging their knees into our kidneys
dirty nails into our thighs

all of their books, films, albums,
whatever they made in this life
catches on fire.
but before it burns it bleeds.
stigmata, on paper
staining the nice office carpeting of important people
and then turning their hands to boils
when they reach out to touch the thing they once loved.

the men don’t burn, just their work.
and they watch it all happen from comfortable chairs they didn’t pay for
before the locusts come

Art: "Sapphire,“ 2015, by Tschabalala Self

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January 18, 2017

Fortunately, the family, anxious about its diminishing
food supply, encountered a small, possibly hostile pig
along the way. The daughter happened upon it first
pushing its scuffed snout against something hidden
at the base of a thornbush: a blood-covered egg, maybe,
or small rubber ball exactly like the sort that snapped
from the paddle my mother used to beat me with
when I let her down. At the time the father and mother
were tangled in some immemorial dispute about cause
and effect: who’d harmed whom first, how jealousy
did not, in fact, begin as jealousy but as desperation.
When the daughter called out to them, they turned
to see her lift the pig, it was no heavier than an orphan,
from the bushes and then set it down in their path.
They waited to see whether the pig might idle forward
with them until they made camp or wander back toward
the home they’d abandoned to war. Night, enclosed
in small drops of rain, began to fall upon them.
“Consequence” is the word that splintered my mind.
Walking a path in the dark is about something
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I too, wanted to reach through the thorns for the egg
or ball, believing it was a symbol of things to come.
I wanted to roll it in my palm like the head
of a small redbird until it sang to me. I wanted
to know how my mother passed her days having
never touched her husband’s asshole, for example.
Which parts of your body have never been touched,
I wanted to ask. I’d been hired to lead the family
from danger to a territory full of more seeds than bullets,
but, truth was, in the darkness there was no telling
what was rooting in the soil. Plots of complete silence,
romantics posing in a field bludgeoned by shame.
The heart, biologically speaking, is ugly as it pumps
its passion and fear down the veins. Which is to say,
starting out we have no wounds to speak of
beyond the ways our parents expressed their love.
We were never sure what the pig was after or whether
it was, in fact, not a pig but some single-minded soul
despair turned into a pig, some devil worthy of mercy.
Without giving away the enigmatic ending, I will say,
when we swallowed the flesh, our eyes were closed.


Art: by Ronald Lockett

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Infinity doesn’t interest me

not altogether

I crawl and kneel and grub about
I beg and listen for

what can go away
(as easily as love)

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or perish
like the children
hard on oneway streets/infinity
doesn’t interest me

not anymore

not even
repetition your/my/eye-
lid or the colorings of sunrise
or all the sky excitement
added up

is not enough

to satisfy this lusting admiration that I feel
your brown arm before it


the temporary sacred
tales ago
first bikeride round the house
when you first saw a squat
carry babies on her back

opossum up
in the persimmon tree
you reeling toward
that natural
with so much wonder still
it shakes your voice

the temporary is the sacred
takes me out

and even the stars and even the snow and even
the rain
do not amount to much unless these things submit to some disturbance
some derangement such
as when I yield myself/belonging
to your unmistaken

and let the powerful lock up the canyon/mountain
peaks the
hidden rivers/waterfalls the
deepdown minerals/the coalfields/goldfields
diamond mines close by the whoring ore
at the center of the earth

spinning fast as numbers
I cannot imagine

let the world blot
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almighty/fathomless and everlasting
(whatever that may be)

it is this time
that matters

it is this history
I care about

the one we make together
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as a lame cat on the loose
or quick as kids freed by the bell
or else as strictly
as only life must mean
a once upon a time

I have rejected propaganda teaching me
about the beautiful
the truly rare

the soft push of the ocean at the hushpoint of the shore
the soft push of the ocean at the hushpoint of the shore
is beautiful
for instance)
the truly rare can stay out there

I have rejected that
abstraction that enormity
unless I see a dog walk on the beach/
a bird seize sandflies
or yourself
approach me
laughing out a sound to spoil
the pretty picture
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make an uncontrolled
heartbeating memory

I read the papers preaching on
that oil and oxygen
that redwoods and the evergreens
that trees the waters and the atmosphere
compile a final listing of the world in
short supply

but all alive and all the lives
persist perpetual
in jeopardy
as scarce as every one of us
as difficult to find
or keep
as irreplaceable
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as frail
as every one of us

as I watch your arm/your
brown arm
just before it moves

I know

all things are dear
that disappear

all things are dear
that disappear

January 3, 2017


1811: The Prince Regent celebrates himself

I have always believed that love is
an overflowing, an abundance one needs
to be rid of, to pour into another. That other 
can be a man or a woman, dog or hillock
or headdress of ostrich feathers; it can be
sculpture or shoreline or even a sunless day
seeping its silvery light over the Thames.
It may arrive quietly, a moment between moments
in the river of talk, after the hot soup but before
the mutton; or it can be the mutton, too - 
its ginger tang and musky finish.
However it comes, the sensation is 
massive, inconvenient, undeniable. 

If one were to banish extravagance,
all longing would take on edges. Witness
the general, poised on the smoking field,
as he surveys the strewn body bits
with a ghoulish mix of rue and relish,
he has won another snippet of territory
and is hungry for more. Love is rounder
and less dignified; if love brandished a sword
I would kneel and bare my neck.

Some call me gaudy, capricious; it’s true
that I drool when I drink and cannot walk the path
from bed to breakfast tray without wheezing.
I’m gouty, corseted, flatulent, - but it’s all 
because I cannot refuse a thing it’s chance
to shine, to sigh or deliquesce. So let there be
stars in every glass and fireworks over the park,
spun sugar pagodas on mirrored lakes, diamonds,
a footman in ancient armor, crimson drapery;
and down the center of the banquet table
set for two hundred in the Gothic conservatory
an actual stream - pure water cascading
between banks of real moss with tiny flowers - 
and fish flashing, gold and silver, down the sluice. 

More pineapple, more cherry wine!
Tell the other two thousand guests
gathered in Carlton House
that we are here to show the world
England’s swaggering heart;
and that I intend to celebrate all century,
until something even grander arrives - 
more outrageous and beautiful - to swallow me
in its monstrous, invisible embrace.


Art: “morning muse iii” by Gerald Sheffield, (Flashe on wood panel) 10x10 inches, 2015.

December 25, 2016


But I have wanted
             As I want when I look at the painting,
                            To unhouse my body.

I have wanted the kind of grace God gives
             Only to the drowned


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