I never like my poems. They are never sharp enough. I write in a way that is delicate, in a way that comforts, because writing keeps me safe. As ‘open’ as I am when I write, I bleed the words I do not say. I use cadences, like bubble wrap, to insulate my readers from the raw, bitter flesh of these feels.
Never have I ever written about how it felt to grow up parentless, the matrix of foster care, or shared that there is nothing more painful than the dissolving intimacy I feel with my family. And never have I ever written about the reality of what it means to be a black woman living in the UK.
And then there is my brother. How matter-less must he feel? I remember being a child, and him calling from Spain (one of two black children in his school), translating the rainbow of racial slurs that they etched every day onto his little nine year old psyche.
How do I begin to unknot this pain? I have tried love. It has left me matter-less again and again.
George Floyd was was not the first black man I heard cry ‘I can’t breathe.’ Sometimes ‘I can’t breathe’ is hearing ‘I was scared’ when you have not threatened, being asked to leave when you have not stolen, or being hunted by the police for no reason besides the burnt sienna of your skin.
Trying to piece together a novel over the last 6 years has given me room to expand the quick, tight bar between each heartbreak. In it, I rumble with it all. I wrote a poem that is a moving swirl of everything. I hope you feel it like I do.
Rifles sing In thunderous applause On the soft Crimson edge Of War. We put down these feet Because who, after all, Would want to walk A foot, in these shoes? Whose voice will twist And groan, and grasp For these charcoal hues? That negro ache. We mix salt, and shade, timbre and bass, and serve it on that negro plate. Dip our wrists deep, deep into the earth. We have seen what you have done for the acorn, God. If we root ourselves deep enough Will we bloom in 1000 colours? Maybe our arms will stretch, and bend Into arches that steal the sky. Shade these little black Bullet burned bodies. Melt like butter, for these bloody blues.
Rest in peace Ahmaud Arbery.
Rest in peace Breonna Taylor.
Rest in peace George Floyd.
Rest in peace Oluwatoyin Salau.