& he is not in a casket
nor do I say roses all around him
& mean a low blood tide
he does not return to dirt
the stem does not bloom
he does not bring flowers
to his best friend’s wake
nor does he give them
to a woman who will grieve him one day
the boy is in his aunt’s garden
& the word does not matter
his lungs are full
of a green, full scent
pollen dusts his skin
gold as he grows
apricots & brown teeth in browner mouths nashing dates & a clementine’s underflesh under yellow nail & dates like auntie heads & the first time someone dried mango there was god & grandma’s Sunday only song & how the plums are better as plums dammit & i was wrong & a June’s worth of moons & the kiss stain of the berries & lord the prunes & the miracle of other people’s lives & none of my business & our hands sticky and a good empty & please please pass the bowl around again & the question of dried or ripe & the sex of grapes & too many dates & us us us us us & varied are the feast but so same the sound of love gorged & the women in the Y hijab a lily in the water & all of us who come from people who signed with x’s & yesterday made delicacy in the wrinkle of the fruit & at the end of my name begins the lot of us
you save me half a bag of skins, the hard parts, my fav, dusted orange with hot
you say we can’t go to the bar cause you’re taking your braids out
i come over, we watch madea while we pull you from you
you make us tacos with the shells i like & you don’t
i get too drunk at the party, you scoop my pizza from the sink with a solo cup, all that red
you, in the morning, bong water grin, wet chin
you, in the lawless dark, laughing like a room of women laugh
at a man who thinks his knowledge is knowledge
i text you & you say,
i was bout to text you, bitch
you cook pork chops same way i do, our families in another city go to the same church
you, rolling a blunt, holding your son, is a mecca
you invite me out for drag queens on the nights i think of finally [ ]
you pull over in Mississippi so i can walk a road my grandfather bled on
you gave me a stone turtle, it held your palm’s scent for a week
i call your mama mama
you request like a demand,
make me some of that mango cornbread
i cut the fruit, measure the honey
you & you & you & you go in on a dildo for my birthday
you name it drake, you know me
a year with you in that dirty house with that cracked-out cat was a good year
at the function, i feel myself splitting into too many rooms of static
you touch my hand & there i am
do you want to be best friends?
a box for yes, a box for no
did our grandmothers flee the fields of embers so we could find each other here?
friend, you are the war’s gentle consequence
i am the prison that turns to rain in your hands
you, at my door the night my father leapt beyond what we know
you, dirt where i plant my light
the branches of silence are heavy with your sweet seed
you smell like the milk of whatever beast i am
your poop is news, your fart is news, your gross body my favorite song
you, drunk as an uncle, making all kinds of nonsense sense
i listen for the language between your words
& when we fight, not a ring, but a room with no exit
we spill the blood & bandage the wound, clean burns with our tongues
if luck calls your name, we split the pot
& if you wither, surely i rot
we hate the same people, we say
nigga please with the same mouth
& before we were messy flesh, i’m sure we were the same dust
everywhere you are is a church, & i am the pastor, the deacons, the mothers fainting at the altar
as long as i am a fact to you, death can do with me what she wants
my body, water, your body, a trail of hands carrying the river to the sea
i ink your name into my arm to fasten what is already there
i would love you even if you killed god
you made coming out feel like coming in from the storm
you are the country i bloody the hills for
you love me despite the history of my hands, their mangled confession
at the end of the world, let there be you, my world
god bless you who screens all my nudes, drafts my break-up text
you are the drug that knocks the birds from my heart
ain’t no mountain, no valley, no river i wouldn’t give the hands for comin’ to you sideways
o the horrid friends who were just ships harboring me to you
& how many times have you loved me without my asking?
how often have i loved a thing because you loved it?
& i always knew
with yo ugly ass
soundless, it crosses a line, quiets into a seed
& then whatever makes a seed. almost like gone
but not gone. the air kept its shape. not antimatter
but the memory of matter. or of it mattering. it doesn’t
cross my mind now that it whispers so soft it’s almost
silence. but it’s not. someone dragged the screaming boy
so deep into the woods he sounds like the trees now.
gone enough. almost never here. daily, swallowed
within a certain window, a pale-green trail on the tongue
the pale-green pill makes before it’s divvied among
the ghettos of blood, dissolves & absolves
my scarlet brand. ritual & proof. surely science
& witchcraft have the same face. my mother
praises god for this & surely it is his face too.
regimen, you are my miracle. this swallowing
my muscular cult. i am not faithful to much.
i am less a genius of worship than i let on.
but the pill, emerald dialect singing the malady
away. not away. far enough. for now.
i am the most important species in my body.
but one dead boy makes the whole forest
a grave. & he’s in there, in me, in the middle
of all that green. you probably thought
he was fruit.
friends! if i may interrupt right quick
i know y’all working, busy smoking & busy
trying not to smoke, busy with the kids & moms
& busy with alone, but i have just seen
two boys — yes, black — on bikes — also — summer children
basketball shorts & they outside shoes, wild
laughing bout something i couldn’t hear
over my own holler, trying to steady
the wheel & not hit they asses as they swerved
frienddrunk, making their little loops, sun-lotioned
faces screwed up with that first & cleanest love
we forget to name as such, &, hear me out
i’m not trying to dis lil dude, but in this gold hour
he kind of looked like Francine off
same monkey mouth & all, ole
& i say hey looking-ass boy
tho in a beautiful way, the best beautiful
same as i know all of us have looked
like something off when backlit by love. o loves,
y’all ugly asses have crowned me the worst names:
wayne brady, gay wiz khalifa, all kinds of bitches
& fags (tho only with my bitches & fags), all kinds
of shit &, once, mark of buddha that year acne
scored my forehead with its bumpy faith.
my niggas & my niggas who are not niggas
i been almost-pissed myself, almost been boxin’
been tears & snot off your dozen wonders
been the giddy swine dancing the flame.
o my many hearts, y’all booty-faced
weird-ass ole mojo-jojo-looking asses
dusty chambers where my living dwells
roast me. name me in the old ways, your shit-
talk a river i wade, howling until it takes me.
i can’t stop laughing, more river wades
down my throat. could be drowning
could be becoming the water, could be
a baptism from the inside out.
don’t save me, i don’t wanna be saved.
i’ve died laughing before, been seen
god’s face & you have her teeth, my nig.
but hers ain’t as yellow as them saffron shits
you keep stashed in your gloryfoul mouth
my friend! my friends! my niggas! my wives!
i got a crush on each one of your dumb faces
smashing into my heart like idiot cardinals into glass
but i am a big-ass glass bird, a stupid monster
crashing through the window & becoming
it just to make you laugh. Andrew used to say
friendship is so friendship & ain’t it
even after Andrew gave it on over to whatever
he was still my nigga. when they turned his body
to dust he was still my dusty-ass boy.
don’t you hear it? the dust on the fan calls me
a bum, says my hairline looks like it’s thinking
about retirement. the dust in the car says i look
like a chubby slave, says i look too drunk, takes
my keys, drives me home. the wind is tangled
with the dust of the dead homies, carrying us over
to them, giggling in the mirror. hear them. hear
your long-gone girl tease your hair on the bus. hear them
rolling when you sweep broom across the beaten floor.
i miss them. all the dead. how young. how silly
to miss what you will become. i apologize.
sometimes it just catches up in me. love
& ghost gets caught up in us like wind & birds
trapped in a sheet just the same. & my friends
is some birds, some chicken-head muhfuckas
who i would legit stomp a nigga for, do you feel me?
when they buried my nigga i put on my timbs
walked into that hot august tried to beat his name
out the dirt. i beat the earth like a nigga.
i threw hands at the earth like a punk muhfucka
& the ground chuckled, said
my nigga. what is you doing!
you can’t hear the wind drunk off the kindred lent?
can you hear that great roll from way off like a big nigga
laughing in an alley! how your dead auntie laugh
when she see you still ain’t grew into that big-ass head!
like your real friend laugh when you still the same ugly
as yesterday! same ugly as always! same ugly as their last life!
somewhere, a sun. below, boys brown
as rye play the dozens & ball, jump
in the air & stay there. boys become new
moons, gum-dark on all sides, beg bruise
-blue water to fly, at least tide, at least
spit back a father or two. I won’t get started.
history is what it is. it knows what it did.
bad dog. bad blood. bad day to be a boy
color of a July well spent. but here, not earth
not heaven, boys can’t recall their white shirt
turned a ruby gown. here, there is no language
officer or law, no color to call white.
if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call
us dead, call us alive someplace better.
we say our own names when we pray.
we go out for sweets & come back.
this is how we are born: come morning
after we cypher/feast/hoop, we dig
a new boy from the ground, take
him out his treebox, shake worms
from his braids. sometimes they’ll sing
a trapgod hymn (what a first breath!)
sometimes it’s they eyes who lead
scanning for bonefleshed men in blue.
congrats, you’re a boy again!
we give him a durag, a bowl, a second chance.
we send him off to wander for a day
or ever, let him pick his new name.
that boy was Trayvon, now called
that man Sean named himself
I do, I do.
O, the imagination of a new reborn boy
but most of us settle on
sometimes a boy is born
right out the sky, dropped from
a bridge between starshine & clay.
one boy showed up pulled behind
a truck, a parade for himself
& his wet red gown. years ago
we plucked brothers from branches
unpeeled their naps from bark.
sometimes a boy walks into his room
then walks out into his new world
still clutching wicked metals. some boys
waded here through their own blood.
does it matter how he got here if we’re all here
to dance? grab a boy, spin him around.
if he asks for a kiss, kiss him.
if he asks where he is, say
no need for geography
now that we’re safe everywhere.
point to whatever you please
& call it church, home, or sweet love.
paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun.
here, if it grows it knows its place
in history. yesterday, a poplar
told me of old forest
heavy with fruits I’d call uncle
bursting red pulp & set afire,
harvest of dark wind chimes.
after I fell from its limb
it kissed sap into my wound.
do you know what it’s like to live
someplace that loves you back?
here, everybody wanna be black & is.
look — the forest is a flock of boys
who never got to grow up, blooming
into forever, afros like maple crowns
reaching sap-slow toward sky. watch
Forest run in the rain, branches
melting into paper-soft curls, duck
under the mountain for shelter. watch
the mountain reveal itself a boy.
watch Mountain & Forest playing
in the rain, watch the rain melt everything
into a boy with brown eyes & wet naps —
the lake turns into a boy in the rain
the swamp — a boy in the rain
the fields of lavender — brothers
dancing between the storm.
if you press your ear to the dirt
you can hear it hum, not like it’s filled
with beetles & other low gods
but like a mouth rot with gospel
& other glories. listen to the dirt
crescendo a boy back.
come. celebrate. this
is everyday. every day
holy. everyday high
holiday. everyday new
year. every year, days get longer.
time clogged with boys. the boys
O the boys. they still come
in droves. the old world
keeps choking them. our new one
can’t stop spitting them out.
ask the mountain-boy to put you on
his shoulders if you want to see
the old world, ask him for some lean
-in & you’ll be home. step off him
& walk around your block.
grow wings & fly above your city.
all the guns fire toward heaven.
warning shots mince your feathers.
fall back to the metal-less side
of the mountain, cry if you need to.
that world of laws rendered us into dark
matter. we asked for nothing but our names
in a mouth we’ve known
for decades. some were blessed
to know the mouth.
our decades betrayed us.
there, I drowned, back before, once.
there, I knew how to swim but couldn’t.
there, men stood by shore & watched me blue.
there, I was a dead fish, the river’s prince.
there, I had a face & then I didn’t.
there, my mother cried over me
but I wasn’t there. I was here, by my own
water, singing a song I learned somewhere
south of somewhere worse. that was when
direction mattered. now, everywhere
I am is the center of everything.
I must be the lord of something.
what was I before? a boy? a son?
a warning? a myth? I whistled
now I’m the God of whistling.
I built my Olympia downstream.
you are not welcome here. trust
the trip will kill you. go home.
we earned this paradise
by a death we didn’t deserve.
I am sure there are other heres.
a somewhere for every kind
of somebody, a heaven of brown
girls braiding on golden stoops
but here —
how could I ever explain to you —
someone prayed we’d rest in peace
& here we are
in peace whole all summer
once, there was a boy
who learned to sing who then learned not to sing once, there was a boy who heard another boy singing then told him to stop these are the same boy this is every boy another story: once, a boy loved summer & so moved to the sun same story: once, a boy ran from winter but could not shake the dead trees same story: once, a boy stood in the woods until he became it same story: a boy is a tree same story: my mother cries whenever she sees a tree // Boy 1: We made love. Boy 2: I was experimenting. Boy 1: He loves me Boy 2: He lives close Boy 1: We have something between us. Boy 2: He is warmest inside. Boy 1: He’s clean. Boy 2: I’m clean. // another story: last week a bird flew into the window. He lived, but he would not fly hours later I did with a rock what the lord would not. same story: once, I taught a bird a new flight, with a stone I made stranger wings. // answer: I did not love him answer: the curve of his shoulder at dusk answer: It helps to lie answer: like the iron in your veins gathering into a bullet answer: the pale yellow of his teeth answer: it was Thursday answer: my blues turn red when they hit the air answer: yes, you’re right // a night without questions is a night where everything is a gun // Someone killed a black boy & got away with it I am the murderer/the victim/the evidence // can say i’ve never had my heart broken can’t say my heart doesn’t pump a broken formula i have no equations for my new math no addition for what in me multiplies i was negative. he was negative. we made a positive thing.
this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think
gay & mean we.
bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew
this need to be needed, to belong, to know how
a man taste full on vodka & free of sin. i know not which god to pray to.
i look to christ, i look to every mouth on the dance floor, i order
a whiskey coke, name it the blood of my new savior. he is just.
he begs me to dance, to marvel men with the
of hips i brought, he deems my mouth in some stranger’s mouth necessary.
bless that man’s mouth, the song we sway sloppy to, the beat, the bridge, the length
of his hand on my thigh & back & i know not which country i am of.
i want to live on his tongue, build a home of gospel & gayety
i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs & closets to refuge in.
i want my new god to look at the mecca i built him & call it damn good
or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to worship anything i can taste.