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About this Poem 

"'Black Laws' is in conversation with so many things at once: Paul Laurence Dunbar and his dialect poems, the folk music group the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Ferrell, lynching, John Berryman, elegy, and, most of all, the easily eradicable nature of black folks' lives in America. Every day I wonder if I'm next—the next Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, or Jonathan Ferrell. I wonder who will sing for me when I'm gone."
—Roger Reeves

Black Laws

Roger Reeves

Fuss, fight, and cutting the huckley-buck—Dear Malindy, 
Underground, must I always return to the country of the dead,

To the coons catting about in the trees, the North Carolina pines 
Chattering about sweetening bodies in their green whirring?

Do these letters predict my death—some sound of a twig 
Breaking then a constant drowning—a butter bean drying

Beneath my nails? Casket, rascal, and corn bread cooling board. 
Dear Malindy, when the muskrats fight in the swamp I knows

It’s you causing my skull to rattle. You predicted my death 
With my own baby teeth and a rancid moon beneath our legs.

No girl, my arm still here. The antlers on the mantle yet quiet. 
All the ocean’s water without me and yet in me. Never mind,

Malindy. They already shot the black boy on the road for dying 
Without their permission. Yes, gal, I put on my nice suit. And wait.

Copyright © 2013 by Roger Reeves. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Roger Reeves