after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981

 

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we

cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

 

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.

His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we

 

drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left

in them but approachlessness. This is a school

 

I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we

are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk

 

of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.

Standing in the middle of the street last night we

 

watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike

his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight

 

Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we

used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

 

his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.

The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We

 

watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.

He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.

 

He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We

stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,

 

how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June

the boy would be locked upstate. That night we

 

got down on our knees in my room. If I should die

before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.

 

 

II. 1991

 

Into the tented city we go, we-

akened by the fire’s ethereal

 

afterglow. Born lost and cool-

er than heartache. What we

 

know is what we know. The left

hand severed and school-

 

ed by cleverness. A plate of we-

ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-

 

ing in the afterglow. A late-

night chant. Into the city we

 

go. Close your eyes and strike

a blow. Light can be straight-

 

ened by its shadow. What we

break is what we hold. A sing-

 

ular blue note. An outcry sin-

ged exiting the throat. We

 

push until we thin, thin-

king we won’t creep back again.

 

While God licks his kin, we

sing until our blood is jazz,

 

we swing from June to June.

We sweat to keep from we-

 

eping. Groomed on a die-

t of hunger, we end too soon.

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • Terrance Hayes, “The Golden Shovel” from Lighthead. Copyright © 2010 by Terrance Hayes. Used by permission of Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

  • Source: Lighthead (Penguin Books, 2010)

Poet Bio

What People are Saying

"I would like to thank the Poetry Out Loud Organization and everyone who made this event possible! It's such an incredible opportunity. I will cherish the memory of this experience forever!"
Austin Gage
2014 WV POL Champion