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Poems by Afaa Michael Weaver

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It is the tightness in the gut when the load
is heavy enough to knock me over backwards,
turn me back on my heel until my ankle cracks

and I holler out Jesus, this Jesus of Joe Gans
setting up for the next punch while taking in
one that just made his soul wobble, the grunt

I make when the shift is young, my body
a heavy meat on bones, conveyors not wired
for compassion, trucks on deadlines, uncaring

pressure of a nation waiting to be washed, made
clean, me looking into the eye of something like
death, and I look up, throwing fifty pound boxes,

Jesus now John Henry pounding visions of what
work is, the wish for black life to crumble, snap
under all it is given, these three souls of spirit,

hands like hammers, a hammer like the word
made holy, word echoing a scripture from inside
the wise mind that knows men cannot be makers,

that in making we want to break each other,
ache moving us to refuse to surrender to time
in factories, catacombs feeding on the spirit.

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Your grandfather and I walk alike,
each of us counting the brittle spaces
in getting older. At the desk I explain
I want to see my son, and I see you
are now digits on a sheet. Black
men in black—the brothers—make sure
you obey the rules. It is like the times
I had to come to school to get you
for being bad. Being bad is the name
of this place and this place is the city
itself. Stars in the night are for escaping.
If you can touch one, you can crawl
out of this city, out of falling down.

In the doorway you come batting
back tears. It is the Detention Center,
not school, not the principal, but men
with violence as hope. My father
and I have come to see you, and we
so much want you to outlive us.
To bury you would pull us down
into the spiked pit of grief that kills.

So we laugh to make you laugh,
but you only cry because you know
we tried to teach you the good.
I pray for you. It is my only secret.
Black men in black count
the smiles we give you.

published in Ploughshares Winter 2012-2013

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