after Krista Franklin after Amiri Baraka
Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
each newly dead face flashes like a crushed fire
-work across the screen. The red mass
of each name. How each name settles,
a fistful of ash at the back of the throat.
I don’t hope for ceasefire much, if you
must know. I don’t pray for rain.
On a good day, I honor the war
by calling it war. I sing
along with the hook. I sing
every nigga is a star
& don’t mean dead
things shine too. For shame,
my six-year-old nephew dreams
of a life indebted to invention,
his first prototype a blade
-thin suit to help the human body move
faster. For a muse, he claims nothing
more than the implicit sweetness of speed,
but I know his best heart, how he longs
for cousins to grow gray as an alloy alongside.
I think him a prophet. I think of the fire.
I think of the drones with pictures of first wives
in their wallets, their bad teeth, middle names,
401ks for when all of the blood dries. I think
of the badge & see children running,
children laughing, children cradled
in smoke all at the exact same time.
On a good day, I think die die die
and don’t know where to aim
the hex, who to hunt down or cut
a deal with, some armistice
without end, a certain commitment
to infinitude built right into the fine
print, in an unexpected turn.
I don’t want any more words
that heal. I want a language for being
born underground, gravestone quarried
the moment you arrive. I want explosions
or else a fresh cosmos. I want the fang
-white king splayed
against a throne of bones
& bars I see in all my new dreams
gone. Spare me any coalition
that does not require blood.
Give me time to think & a hope
-less cause. Give me lethal
equipment. Give me the names
of the slain. Say each name
like benediction. Ask
who will claim this flesh?
Expect the quiet.
Expect the flood.
Joshua Bennett hails from Yonkers, NY. He is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton University, and has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University, and the Ford Foundation. Winner of the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize and the 2015 Erskine J. Poetry Prize, his poems have been published or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Callaloo, New England Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. Joshua is also the founding editor of Kinfolks: a journal of black expression.
Feature image by Faith Ringgold, The Black Light Series: Flag For the Moon: Die Nigger, 1969. Oil on canvas. 36 x 50 in. © Faith Ringgold.
Click on the image to enlarge.