You Don’t Want the Light to Find Out What You’ve Done


You, me and Martin Luther King Jr. being black together. We are on a highway, somewhere where the ears of corn are low. As if the Indian bones in these hills had something to say. You tell me it’s Nebraska. That corn looks Nebraskan is your excuse. The way my girl could be Persian when the weather permits.

We have given speeches for free before, but not since Iowa. Iowa has been our dessert. We are off west now on the gravy train, our lungs beating virginal across the open states. Where did they lynch men like me for gazing too long at white women?

In Illinois they hung two men by the Blue Front. And not until 1942 was a man tried for holding another man captive. For labor. That was the nearly true end of slavery. But still I am waiting for a morsel of good faith at the courts of public opinion on the redemption of Iron Mike Tyson. Waiting for my fist to clear the foggy eye of God. The way v.d. shots calm down the particulars, keep the herpes away, watching by the rubble.

I used to think these tollgates here were border posts up in arms, uniting the states. And this country was one huge jukebox. It explained the slotting in of coins, quarters tumbling down in a jig, sly. Money is deep as skin, knows no enemies like water. Watch it love you a lungful, coming through.

Somewhere near here a young man was killed, picked in a bar and nailed to a fence. Beat all night like a tattered flag, kept the crows away. He too remained resolute on the stakes of the law.

I was not one among that number who called the king wacko, but in that matter too I harbor my shame. Once in a while I doubted his marbles. What with blanket, what with all that and the other; coming through.

I am still wondering about being black enough. The way light sisters wonder if sunscreen remains appropriate for black girls in summer.

And if at all collard greens remain self-affirming.

I am in want of my egg over easy, my sunny-side up. I am still searching for a room dark enough to hang my skin in, keep it calm, let the light come in.


(winner of the Editors Prize in Poetry for issue 22)