By Danez Smith
For Black Boys
sunrise, the light is searing
into your back again.
today might be the day
like every other might be
that you become smoke
and a loud bang
fireworks no ones bother to marvel at
spark red all you want
you could set the sky on fire
still won’t get the awe you deserve
In heaven, you get all the Skittles you want.
Skittles you’ve never seen. Golds and silvers and deep fuchsias
explode on your tongue like a whole ripe forest.
You get a cup overflowing with nectar
or manna, or tea sweet as salvation. Trayvon,
the angels must be dazzled by your sticky smile,
the smell of earth fresh on your cheeks, your eyes
still adjusting to being above the sun. You must look
beautiful up there with all them clouds and gold
and God tight all around you like a new skin. You must
be the definition of glory up there, the hum you give
with all of your fore mothers rubbing candescent oil
into your scalp, a king’s homecoming,
but still, a black boy was killed
and they acted like it’s j-walking. A black boy
killed and it was just another Sunday. A black
boy killed, brought skittles to a gun fight,
was executed for being himself at the wrong time
in front of the wrong person. Was it ever
convenient to be a black boy, Trayvon?
We are misplaced gods, oceans
diminished to puddles. You left this world
for no other reason than another man’s malice,
for the way we taught him to treat you
the same as the roaches and the rats. Trayvon,
you are not vermin, nor solider, nor martyr.
You are innocent. You are too soon gone.
You are the consequence of so much history.
I wish it was my place to apologize.
I wish anything we told your mother
could make sense. I wish progress wasn’t sick
and eager to prove how slow she moves.
We still owed you an 18th birthday, a legal cigarette
with a lover, a too drunk 21st, and countless times
you and your friends figure out the world.
You deserve mistakes, and children, and choices
and grey hair. Trayvon, we’ve betrayed you
time and quiet. Your name makes the heart remember
that this world has teeth of a unnamed beast, hands
of a Klan’s man.
For black boys
you were born
made from matchbooks and sparks
your skin, history’s shrapnel
you wade through your people gun smoke
for a battle nobody ever named more than “struggle”
a bullet wound where your mouth should be
switch blade tongue, grenade pin teeth
they are afraid when you speak
where you see God, they see tin man
made form prison bars
or gorillas trained to shoot or chalk
outlines in bad neighborhoods
you are a heavenless thing to them
wings made of chains, a halo
grown tired and fat resting around your neck
this would be the part where I would use noose imagery
but lynching is easy to explain
How do you describe a son set
course to casket from birth?
The grim reaper is named Ray-Ray
he is your cousin and has tears
inked into his cheek
because no one told him
he was he was beautiful enough
to cry. he has a talent
for making ghost.
Sean Bell got filled with a war’s worth of bullets and the marriage rates got better
Bo Morrison got killed with his hands up and people invested in garages
Trayvon Martin was black at the wrong time and JC Penny ran out of hoodies Trayvon Martin got his light drained and everybody tasted the rainbow
Matthew Shepard was made scarecrow and white picket fences made a come back
Latasha Harlins died over OJ and I still need a pack of cigarettes from the store
Rodney King got beat and folks bought a good pair of stomper to dance
King got got and your mama wanted a house with a view
X caught it and your uncle took up public speaking classes at the community college
Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself and you watched Home Alone 2
Jesus hung cold and folks built more houses out of wood
10 Black girls went missing and you found your keys
10 Black boys died and mama said kids these days
10 Black boys got shot outside the schoolhouse
and everybody got one extra fry at lunch
Danez Smith is a Cave Canem Fellow from St. Paul, MN, now living in Madison, WI. He is the Midwest. When he’s not the Midwest, he’s a poet, playwright, performer of different types of art, and a damn good cook. A senior in creative writing at the University of WI-Madison, he is one of the founding members of the First Wave Hip-Hop Theatre Ensemble. His work has been published or is forth coming in PANK, ESU Review, Illumination, and Orange Quarterly. He works at a radio station. When not doing that, Danez enjoys the occasional dance battle with his roommate.
Thank you. “Your skin history’s shrapnel” hits it for me. All good.
Great poem. Thank you for your words.