Seeing No Further
In the living room, the sound of sharp static woke me.
I was dreaming of being found at the edge of a river,
wanting to know how reality alters me if I were to fall
in and never rise. I waste time dreaming on how to be human.
Take for example how once I pushed a girl just to hold her
close in comfort, unashamed. I learned empathy is born
from the moment that follows cruelty. I think I would sacrifice
empathy to know I can abandon the cruel in me. I’m walked
out of my head now, by the frazzled static the screen makes.
The weight my eyes gather during dreams, it aches. The hairs
on my skin rise as the screen on the T.V. continues to spawn
a rapid, colorless blaze. I see how my mother’s head nods,
as if her body found its way out, out of the waking, with its bare
and naked freedom. In the lobby of our building, folks gathered
around an even smaller gathering of candles, a boy holding
the photograph of another child while closing his eyes to pray.
Could that be death, to close the holes in your head, and mourn?
I like to pray with my eyes open. Which is to say, it is eerie to see
my mother’s eyes rest behind their lids for so long. She looks
like her mother when even the sound of gravel sliding on a wet
edge of a stone couldn’t wake her. Drool hangs from her lip.
I wonder if death could look this ugly. I say, in order to wake
the dead, play the white noise after a movie. You’d discover
a scene of joy there but I’d rather find exits. From this angle,
there seems to only be darkness filling the mouth of my mother
as she sleeps. Maybe it’s in this way that she’d die, liquid crawling
from her head until it makes a fresh lake centered in her palms.
If a city could sleep like this, we needn’t worry if a bomb aimed
its head to ours. We could say it is merely its way to pray.
My grandmother listens to her cassette play a choir singing.
Can she hear her private Lord in her slumber, or the demons I carry?
When a movie plays, I can often hear the soft moan that is made
by the machine. It’s so alive. I know I can’t hear the scream a beetle
makes when I kill it, because I choose not to. Do we honor the dead
in the ways we choose to ignore them? I wonder what I am
when my grandmother can barely hear me. I wonder what I make
my mother when I choose to forget what she says to me. It’s the way
I fear silence or to how I make a choice to face it, that changes me.
Silence, it’s a synonym for the dead, an alternative ending
for the living. So, I’ll know when I am bored with this life
when a movie ends with a sharp noise and my eyes chooses
to not shudder open.
Untitled for James
After Terrance Hayes
If you want my face to last, you got to bury me before I’m gone.
I don’t like how age pulls down the skin.
Liquor don’t fall down my chin like it used to anymore.
When I got some sin to spare, it folds in my skull
but sometimes, I just got to surrender but Please, I ain’t ever fall
on my knees just to get got. I just got to get down.
When my woman can’t stand
to look at me even after I done made her
the groove I ride into blood, I know my body ‘bout ready
to quiet towards darkness. Please, tell me, how come violence be
the only thing that keeps time?
I know how old I am by how cautious my woman comes
in my arms. She fades into me, the black room I make
with my body when I say Please, Don’t Go. When all a man gotta do
is say Please
to make the world stay, I say we can all be gods.
I could’ve been Soul Brotha No. 2
had not the trouble in me made my shadow darker.
I take me some bits of trouble in my mouth & try to forget
my woman’s name. I say Please when I want her
to cry harder beneath my hands.
I try to think of the funk. That makes peace in my body.
Please, don’t tell me after my years on the road, hittin the notes
until they bend sideways, that I’m gon’ end up light enough
to fade above the space of a line.
I know that my addiction for bruised flesh
sometimes be the only way for me to add some color in music.
I notate the funk on my woman & she sings.
Sometimes, you just got to remember what to forget,
because when I’m gone, I don’t want nobody to remember me
for my bad manners. I want all to know I could’ve been good,
had not the bad played the right song.
I could’ve been Soul Brotha No. 2 with a whole woman by my side,
had only I said Please.
History, A History circa 1955
Skilled in its sting, the bullet
spars with the tinted body &
learns the hierarchy of shade.
Flesh, blemished with incision,
conducts an echo in its hall
of ash. Foreshadow, frazzled
in the skin’s gap, leaks red robins.
The squawk of a body gifted with
flight leans from the nest where
the bullet once was held &
nursed. The boy, bronzed, wades
in a body of dirt, waiting
for a gardener to fertilize
the seeded breath, lingering
in a burrow of cobwebs.
untitled for basquiat,
it’s summer, and i’m still crazy with my many obsessions
that leaves me helplessly inspired in the rain.
the sky is dark enough to pull paint from. whatever that means.
all i know is this weather’s good weather to flee in.
i know i could run in the rain easily,
and at this time of day, no one would find me.
i watched the way a painter watched a face on his canvas bleed away.
the hair was the first to go, and i could see the real woman
from the portrait, put her face in her hands.
i couldn’t help but laugh. i’m hopeless like that.
i like the way water blurs out the body, the eroticism in obscurity.
in this weather, my face merges enough to where you’d see
my eyes spin in my palms. and that’s art, baby.
like meditation balls, distortion brings me peace.
i don’t know the last time i looked in a mirror to do a self portrait.
but i think i just want to decide what it is i am- just a dash of black paint
will do. i think i’ll have more of that. i could occupy a whole canvas
with darkness and that could be my demonstration of power.
if the rain rained over the canvas, the black would look no less black.
that’s why i’m not a Realist.
Surrealism does me more justice. vote Abstraction for president.
i want to overthrow that party of perfection. i’m afraid
of what will happen when the rain comes
and the moment we all want to be seen with a good mask.
give me Cubism or give me Death. anything that look less human,
not tethered to form. with my kind of government
i want be black and own my own way of perceiving the blackness.
if I could walk out the canvas and still remain an intact blackness,
i’d know i made america great again,
something i could claim in a gallery of countries,
something i could show off in the rain without it getting muddied
into a different color that looks too much like blood.
I can tell I’m not American by the way I bleed
into darkness, the pool of historical shadowing,
& I surface from it, no longer a human marked
by violence, no longer an emperor of submission,
but rather, a crow of sovereignty, full-bellied
with blood, lost in a brief winter where the dead
become indistinguishable from the thin branches
of oak trees. I know wars have been carried across
any field we walk upon. I crawl through weeds,
the slight buzz of mosquitos grazing my hair
in the middle of Vermont (a progressive state),
but Race stays with me, even here, in the folds
of my crow-colored flesh, splinted into wings.
You’d think this a good thing: to fly but it could
mean I do not belong here, in a country as fickle
as a weather that ruins. Tell me why the sharpest
winters haunt me, a flake, melting into my skin
until my blood cools into ice. I am reminded
the body is not safe even in clouds of snow.
My blood tells me that maybe my people
are still hung, if not here, then everywhere else.
I worry I cannot transcend myself. I’m fixated
in the human invention of chaos, & the bullet
that blooms it. Even when the trees are covered
by snow, I can’t think how the dark limbs seem
while dead, I’d think how my dead would seem
on the dark limbs, their blood vibrant, breathing
out an endless shining.
Nkosi Nkululeko, the 2016 New York City Youth Poet Laureate, is a Callaloo fellow and has been nominated for the Independent Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize. Nkosi’s work can be found in [PANK] Magazine, VINYL, No Token, and other publications. He lives in Harlem, New York. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.