Sitting, at the east end of the bay, eating a salad
after someone you love tells you to stay safe.
And safe you are here, where everyone wants to look
doesn’t want to look at you and you wonder why she tells you
to stay safe. Then you see the man’s body enter
the window of this poem. You’d like to start over.
There is a black man in this poem, dead, as you
might assume. And you are wondering how he got here
and by whose hands. The poem could end here
with you left to consider, perhaps, your own
hands, their violence: how many bugs you’ve killed,
whose face you really meant to hit when you broke the dry wall,
the speed at which you counted out your mother’s pills.
But the poem is saying something else, so
you look to the body, closer, still
idling in the window. You think:
You think guns,
You think black,
You think more guns,
You think feet,
You think more blood,
someone prostrate in the street.
And the poem could live there, in the body,
as some poems are wont to do.
But you are ashamed, the poem
couldn’t even say his name,
the dead man in the window. You wonder if that’s really what
the poem wants to say, the dead man’s name.
Here, you are working to forget
that the man is black. You are worried
the poem will say what all poems say
when the body is black: history, history,
the future!, make it up, music, the future no more.
And you are tired of those poems.
If you think this poem isn’t for you, it is.
The dead man could be your cousin, and not
kin. So what does the poem do now?
You want the poem to unrun the blood
from his body, unkill the man
whose name the poem won’t say.
But this is just a poem. You are listening to
Sam Cooke and he’s pleading, nearer
to thee and it won’t be very long and you
remember the ten guns that wanted
you dead not too far from now,
how you were almost a body
in someone’s poem.
Has this poem brought you far
enough away from the bay, your salad,
and your lover on the phone asking
for your safety? In the poem
the man is dead, dying again.
And what have you done?
This morning you walked
along the highway eating
a peach as if no one you loved
has ever died. And they haven’t:
the moths follow you, they wait
for you against your screen door and
dance as the wind passes through
the trees, and the trees too
are those you’ve loved
and lost, how they are everywhere,
how they keep coming.
The man in this poem mustn’t be
dead, or stay humbly lying on
the window’s edge. No, he’s on
telling you how to walk.