It is a good week to read Danez Smith. I've been reading his frequently breathtaking collection [insert] boy. And reading the news moved me to revisit the the first poem of his I read, a few years back: "Dinosaurs in the Hood." Here it is, and here's the poet reciting it at a poetry slam.
The part people know and remember about this poem is "& no one kills the black boy. & no one kills / the black boy. & no one kills the black boy." A chorus, or a prayer. A rosary, or a broken record. I've been thinking about it all day.
After the events in Charlottesville over the weekend, my fellow white American people have to reckon with every measure of ease and comfort that we have on the back of someone's pain. There can be no illusion that racism is history. Racism is our foundation. We are all responsible for maintaining it or chipping away at it. Or, likely, some of both. And we're responsible for holding the uncomfortable truth that we are responsible: I am borrowing this reflexive construction from Smith's poem, from "a long history of having a long history with hurt." A sputtering, and an attempt to grow.
If we want to reconcile with this history, if we want to move forward not back, we have to face the hurt we've inflicted, or the times we've stayed silent where it sprouted.
James Baldwin has also been timely these days, and one of the poems toward the end of [insert] boy takes an epigraph from him.
What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? I was born here almost 60 years ago, I'm not gonna live another 60 years. You always told me it takes time. It's taken my father's time, my mother's time, my uncle's time, my brother's & my sister's time, my niece's & my nephew's time… how much time do you want for your progress?
How much time? Poetry is an art of time. This long poem, "Song of the Wreckage", creates a spiritual vision of resurrected black boys, and a world created in their image.
In an interview about the book, Smith says:
A lot of these poems deal with trauma or oppression, and I think about oppression as the suppression of joy. When I think about oppressing Black people, systems of racism, at their root, they’re intended to keep people of color from being able to fully experience untinged joy.
I want to see us demand more in our time. I want to live to see us tell the stories where nobody kills the black boy, where his dinosaur dreams are real for their own sake, where those stories are the rule and not the exception. I'm going to keep saying Black Lives Matter until everyone believes it, and I want every person to have an equal shot at untinged joy. That's when we will be free - when we all will be.
PS: I'm reading at Curbside Books on August 31 with some terrific poets. I'd love to see you there.