Monday, November 2, 2015

TALK (Monday Poem)

by Terrance Hayes

like a nigger is what my white friend, M,
asked me, the two of us alone and shirtless
in the locker room, the bones beneath my skin

jutting like the prow of a small boat at sea,
the bones beneath his emitting a heat
that turned his chest red and if you're thinking

my knuckles knocked a few times
against his jaw or my fingers knotted
at his throat, you're wrong because I pretended

I didn't hear him, and when he didn't ask it again,
we slipped into our middle school uniforms
since it was November, the beginning

of basketball season, and jogged out
onto the court to play together
in that vision all Americans wish for

their children, and the point is we slipped
into our uniform harmony, and spit out Go Team!,
our hands stacked on and beneath the hands

of our teammates and that was as close
as I have come to passing for one
of the members of The Dream, my white friend

thinking I was so far from that word
that he could say it to me, which I guess
he could since I didn't let him taste the salt

and iron in the blood, I didn't teach him
what it's like to squint through a black eye,
and if I had I wonder if he would have grown

up to be the kind of white man who believes
all blacks are thugs or if he would have learned
to bite his tongue or let his belly be filled

by shame, but more importantly, would I be
the kind of black man who believes silence
is worth more than talk or that it can be

a kind of grace, though I'm not sure
that's the kind of black man I've become,
and in any case, M, wherever you are,

I'd just like to say I heard it, but let it go
because I was afraid to lose our friendship
or afraid we'd lose the game -- which we did anyway.

from Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer & Lynn Melnick, 2015, Viking

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