Monday, April 14, 2014

a poem by morgan parker

The History of Black People

  after Jean-Michel Basquiat after White People

The saddest triptych
is in our blood.

Once I said, Our troubles
are passed down.

I would rather
dance hoodwinked

with the devil than be
alone. I would rather know

the moon without
seeing the moon.

Florida, Kentucky hemlocks
grow—this isn’t

a dream— and they lose
the word for white. We make

our enemy disease
in our blood.

If you cut open my heart
it’d be midnight at the greatest

party of all time: a small
Shawn Carter, Audre Lorde

A black boy’s hairline
feasting on difference.

On the first page of every library book
there’s a question mark

for us, backs bent out
of exclamation. We don’t know

any of your words
but our children have licked

them up in pools of sweat.
Have you ever felt

like a square peg in a round hole?
Do you sometimes dream

of a handful of Skittles
sprawling on the February lawn?

Imagine the fear of night’s sugar.
Imagine your bones are damned.

Do you ever wake up fevering
the dark, ashamed of trusting?

If our legend was allowed
it would sing alligator’s scales.

It would be written in red clay.
In the beginning was red clay

warming in my hands
vibrating Blue Train.

It was an open and shut case.
It never lived to shuck for gems.

Or, it could be joy
stinging womanly

of slippery crescent.

Sometimes I feel teeth
in the grass below my feet.

I think my body could live
somewhere else ultraviolet.

A version of this poem originally appeared in Issue 3 of Spook magazine.

Morgan Parker's first collection of poems, Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night, was selected by Eileen Myles for The 2013 Gatewood Prize and is forthcoming from Switchback Books. Recent poems are forthcoming from Tin House, jubilat, and Forklift, Ohio. A graduate of NYU's Creative Writing MFA program and a Cave Canem fellow, Morgan lives in Brooklyn. She works as Education Director at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) and Poetry Editor of Coconut Magazine.

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