“a poem for Justin” and Two Poems

"my mother's hands" and "what can be said"

a poem for Justin

because you asked for one
when i told you to stop jumping on me
that night as i was writing.

because your favorite Jay-Z song
is December 4th—for his mother’s voice
& Jay’s story about his life.

because i told you the first song you heard
in your young life was “I Used To Love H.E.R.”
played by me in the hospital room
with my big headphones over your soft head.

because you asked me your first word
& i said i didn’t know
& i could have told you a good lie
& made that a small poem we share.

because when you spend the night
you take my clothes
& drape them over yourself like a prayer shawl.

because you clown me
to my friends &
impersonate me in such a way
that says i see you uncle.

because you ask me if i love all books
since i have so many & i say
only the ones that tell us who we are.

because i ask you
what i should write about
& you say write
about us.

my mother’s hands

would moisturize
my face from jaws inward
the days she had too
much on her hands
after one of the times
daddy left or didn’t show.
she still shone, still made
smooth her every rough
edge, heel to brow.
hug my temples
with slick hands,
as if to say son be mine
as if to say this i give you
as if to say we are people
color of good oak but we
will not burn, we survive
every fire without becoming

what can be said

tonight, i’m feeling tender
because it’s another time
with my granddaddy
& he’s still here
& if he could remember i
would ask him about when he was young
what he would say to the women so they knew
he meant whatever he wanted them to know he meant.
but he’s not here in that way so i say
how you living young man
& he answers slow motion.
(i know that because i can see him tentative
when he lifts himself out of the chair.)
once Alzheimer’s does what it do
you never really have conversations
it’s more a man becomes a poem
some kind of form with a lot of repetition
& something indecipherable sometimes.

The Boy. The Black Man.

What I do remember is the lingering knowledge and horror that my Boyness, my masculinity couldn't protect me.

The Last Leaving

Before the leaving, there is the staying, there are the days of in-betweens, sheltered in the arms of our mother’s mothers.

The tenor of days spent on land that is more water than ground, more magic than science. How during late evenings, in the dying light, our breaths crackle like thunder, and our history moves in everything.

Home would no longer be a place where the leaves would bend to the sound of our names, but somewhere that would come to know our silences.

There is no place we will go that will not know of where we’ve been. There is no place we will go that will not know our songs.


How many stars named after black kids, or light-years until / the next supernova? I want him to know what room America has left / for black love, black boys, black families. Maybe. Hopefully.