Two Poems by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

“On Hunger” and “I Don’t Remember The Whole Summer When ‘Do The Right Thing’ Dropped”

On Hunger

“The crown ain’t worth much if the nigga wearin’ it always gettin’ his shit took”
— Marlo Stanfield

And I say now what I have always known:

a king is only named such after the blood of anyone who is not them pools at their feet and grows to be a child’s height before running down a hill, flecking the grass of a village crowded with quivering mothers and their boys, huddled underneath a new and undone black sky.
There is not a way to rule without the knowing of where your family will get its next meal  rather, who it will be taken from, or who will become it. The dead, we know, do not hunger for anything but stillness. Perhaps their name sung around a fire by those still living, their gold worn atop the head of the man who made a widow of their lover.

Consider, though, the wild. The lion that fears nothing and falls into rest with a stomach fat as a second moon. If a lion walks with his head high through the open savanna, the bloody and

detached leg of a hyena swaying from its jaws, he will not be hunted by any animal he cannot render immovable. Will not be attacked by any limbs that he cannot turn into

an undone puzzle, spilled across a playroom floor. When there is no one waiting to dig your chest into a parched well, no army surging over the hills, what is a king but

a heavy name, pulled over a heap of arrogant flesh? The pack of ravenous wolves pray only to the God of survival, its hand as impartial and fleeting as any other

God we name and let carry us to all manner of war. Imagine if there was only one land. If the continents never shook themselves free of each other’s touch and still

laid atop each other, the jungle rolling into the desert with no river to divide them. Imagine the pack of wolves running into dusk and setting upon the golden flesh

of a lone lion, roaming the ground he rules. Each wolf climbing atop the other to find their taste. To pierce the neck, stake a set of teeth into a flailing paw until they

have had their jaws lined with nourishment, leaving only a severed head, entrails stretching over the dry land. The wolves would move on, newly throned

and full. Every animal that watched, cheering a vicious king’s lifeless body in the high grass. The clouds may weep for this, wash away another dead thing.

But this is all imagining a world where the wolves do not have to lose any of their own to be fed. Where the food they desire comes, trembling, to even their smallest

children. Where they have a homeland.

Don’t have to run into every untethered

night howling into the emptiness.

The old man rocks / on the porch and tells us / boys that the way to power is / displaying what you kill / letting a body rot in the stink / of summer’s blaze / meat cooked dark on / the steaming pavement / so that no one will dare hunt / you while you sleep / or / so a mother knows where / to collect whatever / is left of / her child’s name and / push it under her tongue / until it swells / fat with grief / in the hood / everyone is driven to kill / by some kind of distinct / famine / a family pressed up / against each other’s exposed ribs / what a luxury it must be / to hand over death / for the sake of watching someone die / to not have to answer for the blood / you have spilled / until the gates of heaven ask / about the history of your palms / I don’t know how my people / navigated their land before / they were shook free from its touch / and thrown down in / a hot field with new / names and / new songs of survival to / fit into their bulging mouths / but I think of the nights / thick with the pounding of black / footsteps and the distant / howling of flames as / I watch the burning of another building / in a city soaked by / a death which fed / no one’s hunger / the fire rising to kiss the / black belly of a night sky / each star a set of / gleaming and eager / teeth

I Don’t Remember The Whole Summer When “Do The Right Thing” Dropped

but I do remember the night that police got a hold of Big Mike from North Linden & beat his face into the sweltering brick outside what used to be a Pizza Hut until it got robbed by some southside stick up kids two summers earlier & then my big brother said it had to shut down cuz niggas ain’t gonna get a gun held to they head for minimum wage & Mike used to deliver pizzas to the hood before the hood woke up in winter with new hungers & come spring, Mike was rockin’ a gold rope ‘round his neck thicker than the coils in a hangman’s knot & that’s when the cops on the eastside began to lick their lips & when their hands started to tremble while whispering ‘bout what they would do to him if they ever caught his ass, which maybe explains the way his bright blood painted the abandoned brick & the five police still pressing their heels into his face even after his right eye swung free from its socket, a grisly pendulum & my big brother left me home alone & hungry that night when the whole hood ran from their homes and set upon the police with any weapon they could find & they say that Mike’s face was a bloody & wet mess & they say he wasn’t breathing or they say he ain’t have a mouth anymore or they say all of him was a dark & gaping hole & earlier that day, my big brother hid his white jordans in his bookbag when he came back to the hood from his suburban job & he walked in the door & said we all one handful of gold away from a closed casket funeral & I don’t know how many mothers walked from the mouth of that summer childless but I could see the old Pizza Hut burning from my window & I could see a cop being dragged into the bushes by the stickup kids & isn’t it funny how art most imitates life when a black body is being drained of it? how easily we can imitate that which is never coming back again to claim its space? & when my big brother came home that night, he carried me to bed with a glass of warm milk & when a drop of blood fell from his knuckles & blended into the white of the glass, I did not ask who it belonged to.

Story Arc

“some say he lit women / ablaze as a source of light”