By Hanif Abdurraqib
I. A lesson in Cardio
It was first my father who told me not to run through the green, perfectly manicured neighborhood that reluctantly coiled itself around our grime ridden ghetto utopia the way a tiger may protect the weakest of its young while also praying for a swift death
The chalk in our inner city classrooms would resist the natural pull of every blackboard
Figured its only purpose was to outline the cold bodies of black boys pressing into sidewalks drowned in red lights and grandmas too tired to be bothered by the ceremony of it all
And they wondered why them test scores low
Like bank accounts
Like the volume of my Father’s TV when dawn broke over Los Angeles in 1992 or it may have just been flames
I hear in the middle of most wars anything which swallows darkness is a blessing
I hear, in the middle of most quiet suburban neighborhoods
Anything which swallows darkness is a blessing
This lesson, birthed from the static of a hand me down television, is how I was taught that 24 times around my block equaled three miles
Three miles around my block equaled five mothers who once slept in the beds of their dead children, woke up the block with screams sometimes ‘til we all just got ear plugs and better speakers
Five mothers equaled two new churches. Stretched high. Old Homeless lady on Main say the only thing they build on my block now be funeral homes and churches. Says since the foundation on these old homes be dying off faster than the bodies inside of ‘em, SOMETHING has to hold prayers in the walls. SOMETHING has to give the dead solace.
Churches stretched so high, she said.
High like them dealers got a hold of the steeple.
Asked me one day,
How long the night sky been black?
Is this the declaration of all our bodies?
Surrendered after the sun rusts and falls away, climbing UP?
The night, it ain’t nothing but all them black souls bein’ called home to the Promised Land, you think?
Eventually, my father got me a gym membership.
II. The author’s guilt critiques an open mic
After Good Ghost Bill
You ever watched an entire city burn and fold in on itself
Like a bad poker hand?
You ever smelled the sweetness that rises from a smoldering corner store in the hood?
The weight of the air, drenched in all that sugar, still aching for a black body to slide into and cripple?
Ever seen the way those blackbirds bend the branches of trees above these graves?
Like they got orders from God himself?
Ain’t no metaphor ever unearthed nobody’s bones and sent them back to dance among the living once more.
Ain’t no metaphor ever wrapped it’s arms around the trembling back of a little brother and explained the swarm of black feathers lining his front yard. The darkening of earth at his feet.
Ain’t no poetry ever made its body wide, open like the Midwest plains, and stepped in front of a bullet.
War sounds so beautiful when each sound touches and explodes
In Alabama, an old blind woman cocks a shotgun while her house burns to the ground
In Chicago, I hear caskets slamming shut same time as public school doors
These poets. How do they sleep with all the racket?
Ancient Egypt, they would put the most royal of bodies in a Sarcophagus. A receptacle for a corpse. Greek for “Flesh-Eating”.
In America now? They be on sale to anyone.
It’s all metaphors and dead boys with y’all.
All toothless wolves still eyeing the hunt
But you ain’t never smelled a city burn. Close in on itself.
All that thick, heavy air.
But the birds.
They don’t even move.
III. Reincarnation Explained By The Queen Of An Eastside Nursing Home
“…But then again I don’t believe we are all tied to one flesh anyway. Like what is a soul to do when it tires of a body but rush into another body. That’s all it knows, after all. Souls been makin’ they way into bodies since we got here. Ain’t no tellin’ how many souls still be suspended over the Atlantic Ocean, just lookin’ for a body. Some people got three, maybe four souls residing right there inside ‘em. Betty over there dying. keep sayin’ when she go? She want her soul to end up inside a cat. Says she just wanna see what it’s like to not NEED no one to love her. I say she crazy. Sometimes the new souls be all it takes for an old body to do some good. Like They be comin’ back to tell the world “no hard feelings.” In Cleveland, they be more concerned with missing teeth than missing bodies, but that ain’t mean that one man don’t got the souls of three or four black boys, long gifted to the earth, lining his bones. That man say he know ain’t no white girl gon’ run into no black man’s arms. I tell Betty that white girl saw the souls. Figured she would run to them. Embrace them. Like an apology. Like, “we sorry the earth made you surrender the flesh you called a kingdom under its violent delusions.” I tell everyone in this home that day. Hands looked young on that man. Innocent. Like, raised to the heavens and still met with bullets innocent. I seen the minstrel shows in my day. They still be wanting our heroes to dance.
But Betty just wanna come back as a cat.
Wanna be left alone.
IV. A Working List Of Things Trayvon Martin Is Most Certainly NOT, According To A Combination Of Internet Comment Sections
Pushing his hands, slick with sugar, into the sky and pulling down the tips of church steeples to build
new promise from the ruins
Praising the sun and it’s compassionate burn upon black skin
Worth crying over
A double standard
A gold standard
Running as a second language
Someone’s little boy
EVERYONE’S little boy
A shipwreck of gospel, and gold teeth, and corn syrup
Another tithe for the slow dance of progress
A song loud enough to drown out screaming mothers
Remindin’ someone of they nephew
Too holy for bullets
Too holy for mistakes
Too holy for the walk home inside of a night dark enough to be chained to something it don’t call a
Three Miles and still running
Hanif Abdurraqib writes poems when he’s not in your house, judging your record collection. Sometimes, if he is fortunate, people don’t hate his poems. He holds Columbus, Ohio, in his arms, so he really can’t hug you right now. Sorry.