You’ve learned it 34 years too late and it wrestles
with the story of Cyrus,
the first man you’ve known with a woman’s
curved breast. Its heft quiets Nation
of Islam rhetoric. A cocktail of hormones
slopes the thousands of push-ups
collected inside the tissues of his chest into the weight
that gathers in your palms.
Want leaves you with the fat salty nipples
of this young man in your mouth.
Prison full with his flesh offers sanctuary,
a dank cell where your hands
echo against his skin. You tremble; his moans,
soft and sincere, add
the rolling thump of a jhembe to your strut.
You shudder, because you say
that you are God, but your hand on his back
moist with fear, says
you are a man. And the throbbing in your pants
craving the salt of the earth
says you will mute the lessons in your head
and let the tender buds swell into stones.
R. Dwayne Betts writes poems and teaches poetry at Hart Middle School with the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop in Washington, D.C. His memoir, A Question Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, was published by Avery/Penguin in August 2009 and his first collection of poems, Shahid Reads His Own Palm will be published by Alice James Books in May 2010.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith
Rise by A. Van Jordan