They Will Say
Of my city the worst that men will ever say is this:
You took little children away from the sun and the dew,
And the glimmers that played in the grass under the great sky,
And the reckless rain; you put them between walls
To work, broken and smothered, for bread and wages,
To eat dust in their throats and die empty-hearted
For a little handful of pay on a few Saturday nights.
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
we will wear
new bones again.
we will leave
these rainy days,
break out through
into sun and honey time.
worlds buzz over us like bees,
we be splendid in new bones.
other people think they know
how long life is
how strong life is.
The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
I have not been able to touch the destruction
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
I scare away rabbits stripping the strawberries
in the garden, ripened ovaries reddening
their mouths. You take down the hanging basket
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart,
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch,
you instruct our son who has already begun
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes,
wanting to touch the world. To know it.
Disappointed, you say: Common house finch,
as if even banal miracles aren’t still pink
and blind and heaving with life. When the cat
your ex-wife gave you died, I was grateful.
I’d never seen a man grieve like that
for an animal. I held you like a victory,
embarrassed and relieved that this was how
you loved. To the bone of you. To the meat.
And we want the stricken pleasure of intimacy,
so we risk it. We do. Every day we take down
the basket and prove it to our son. Just look
at its rawness, its tenderness, it’s almost flying.
Time to be the fine line of light
between the blind and the sill, nothing
really. There are so many things
that destroy. To think solely of them
is as foolish and expedient as not
thinking of them at all. All I want
is to be the river though I return
again and again to the clouds.
All I want is to stop beginning sentences
with All I want. No—no really all
I want is this morning: my daughter
and my son saying “Da!” back and forth
over breakfast, cracking each other up
while eating peanut butter toast
and raspberries, making a place for
the two of them I will, eventually,
no longer be allowed to enter. Time to be
the fine line. Time to practice being
the line. And then maybe the darkness.
means nostalgia, I’m told, but also
nostalgia for what never was. Isn’t it
the same thing? At a café
in Rio flies wreathe my glass.
How you would have loved this: the waiter
sweating his knit shirt dark. Children
loping, in tiny suits or long shorts, dragging
toys and towels to the beach. We talk,
or I talk, and imagine your answer, the heat clouding our view.
Here, again, grief fashioned in its cruelest translation:
my imagined you is all I have left of you.