THERE IS A STREET NAMED AFTER MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. IN EVERY CITY
For Joe Bart
especially the ones where blood sprints / from a black chest to color the earth / a darkened brown / the color of a black mother’s skin / if she knew what it was to be alive / in the old south / if she knew what it was / to rock on the porch in the southern heat / until her babies made it home for dinner / if she made her skin a bed / for all of the sun’s eager children / until her own walked through a door / and were fed / until the boys could be made a meal / and not made into a meal / for the tall grass / or the smoldering concrete / what is it to have a city’s mouth water / for what you cannot take off / and lay at its feet? / what is it to wear a feast / under the shirt passed down / from your dead brother? / the frenzied horizon swallowed another one / somewhere in the south / last night / it is summer again / after all / are you less / of a ghost / if you die on a street / named for a man who / they will say / could have saved you? / a man who would have carried you / on his back / to the promised land / where all of the black people are safe / from death / where no one black has a mouth / is what I mean to say / where no one can look up and ask where the sun went / while watching the black skin peel back from their hands / until their bodies become something more tolerable / that the sky does not hunger for / and isn’t this what every black mother wants? / a table full of children / who are still alive / who do not speak ill / who do not speak / who do not move / who will never be carried to a burial / by the bullet / are you less of a ghost if you die on a street / that was built by your ancestors / before it was named for your savior? / who / like all saviors / did not die just one death / who bleeds a little more each time his name is used / to throw water on another fire / who has the bullet lifted out of his spine / so the hands can fit in his hollow back / and he can speak again / for you who cannot / all of you lost and wandering into the violence / that is your birthright / in America / to arrive / and leave a street the color of your mama’s good brown skin / upon your exit / you are maybe not a ghost at all / if we can still take a knife to your tongue / and squeeze out only the good gospel / wrap one hundred dead bodies in it / until there is only silence / you are maybe not a ghost / if every bloody street / bears your undead name / if we are told you are more alive / than everyone living on it / if you did not bleed out / on a hotel balcony / during a spring night / in Memphis / after telling the choir to play / Precious Lord, Take My Hand / real pretty / so that the boys could sing / Precious Lord, linger near / when my light is almost gone / in their suits / ironed sharp for the grave /so that the mothers would know / summer was on its way
Dispatches From The Black Barbershop, Tony’s Chair. 2011.
shit ain’t nobody out here gonna care bout you bein lonely out in them suburbs like your pops ain’t still right down the street nigga like you ain’t already home but the hood ain’t what it used to be you see they got a fancy ice cream shop where the corner store was they got a sports bar where the record store was and what we supposed to do for records where we supposed to go for that old school shit how we supposed to heal see that’s why these new lil niggas only listen to the radio that’s why ain’t no love songs played at the block party no more that’s why niggas fight all summer long swear every time a black boy throw a punch the city be puttin up another strip mall where we used to dance light skinned jeff got knocked out on east main by a sucker punch that broke up the 4th of july cookout in front of brenda’s hair shop and when he woke up it was a whole foods see that’s why you sittin up here talkin bout you lonely while my rent goin up every month but I still got my name on the door I ain’t listenin to that new rap them boys bring in here shit sound too wild for me I gotta get behind your ear real quick yeah my son be driving around in my car listenin to that shit got the whole car shaking got the whole hood shaking got bricks falling right out of buildings and turning to dust got whole houses collapsing swear the church was still there three Sundays ago a nigga ain’t prayed to god in three weeks my girl says I got to get right says ain’t none of us too far off from heaven nigga god don’t care if you lonely ain’t nobody more lonely than god you know god ain’t got no friends all god got is questions all god got is one million hands lookin for grace ain’t nothing more lonely than watchin everything you built slowly collapse nigga ain’t nothing more lonely than having the power to put out a fire and not making it rain
HANIF WILLIS-ABDURRAQIB is a poet and writer from the east side of Columbus, Ohio. His poems and essays have been published in The Offing, Pacific Standard, Blavity, Vinyl, The Journal, Heavy Feather Review, and other places that are far too kind. His first full-length collection of poems, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, is forthcoming from Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press in 2015. He thinks poems can save the world, but would also like to talk to you about sneakers, music, and sports.