Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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For Colored Kids Building Up Their Bones

A sign of summer the red strawberries on both of your knees
white salt lingering on the upper lip.
Old mattress under third-story windows, jumping spirit first,
one at a time, like wingless black doves.

Close the back door (loves) your dreams are spilling
into the streets—bolt it tight.
Place the key in your front pocket—
remember its weight, don’t let nobody touch it.
Don’t let nobody borrow it, don’t let nobody tug
the growing bones of your thoughts. Push them till they break, baby.

In The District the night milks out another awful moon.
The lost boys wear the city streetlights like capes, they shoot
blanks into the sky with silver toy guns and the girls are busy swaying
ancestry back into their hips while working the kinks
out of their hair, finding the life in their roots. Is there a formula for this?
Is there a way to toe a line without crossing it?

On police record it says: the moonlight shot your cousin dead,
shot your brother dead, but the gun gets away—
it hitches a ride in a car with sirens. The texture of this city slick
as the grease you massa
You add water to the jar of ketchup, pray that the night will not
be laced with splatters of red, strawberries and burning flesh.

You learned as children, between the sidewalk and the curb,
to double-dutch quickly dodging cutting ropes, making your feet
tap till they lost their breath. Just keep jumping with splinters in your shins.
Push them till they break, baby.

Black butterfly you are molting, you keep falling into yourself,
build a skeleton of elephant tusk and forgotten sidewalks—
rib cage first. I see you kneeling at the foot of your bed, you’re losing yourself
like sand through fingers, a desert forms at your base.

You are not the hands that sell the venom that makes things shake,
that is your brother. The electric bill is overdue. Night is cold.
Bones are tired. The job is heavy. Push them till they break, baby.

Baby girl’s a blackbird, baby boy’s her shadow
together you are a missing psalm—the one the Bible
wrote out for being too sexy. The one that makes the city lights twerk
to a beat that is off-key.

This is a song for colored kids, who dance slow and deliberate
in the belly of the city, where the lights block out the stars.
I know the map is missing, the Little Dipper is empty, the North Star
has grown old and blind, but push them till they break, baby.

Our spirits, contained dirty walls and paychecks, slowly sink
to the arches of our feet and wait as black apparitions, to be born again.
You have no time to fall, wipe your face before you leave.
The lie is looped, tied, and double-noosed knotted—
push them till they shatter, baby, push them till they break.  

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