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Teaching

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January Gill O'Neil
A gray hoodie will not protect my son 
from rain, from the New England cold.

I see the partial eclipse of his face
as his head sinks into the half-dark

and shades his eyes. Even in our 
quiet suburb with its unlocked doors, 

I fear for his safety—the darkest child
on our street in the empire of blocks.

Sometimes I don’t know who he is anymore 
traveling the back roads between boy and man.

He strides a deep stride, pounds a basketball 
into wet pavement. Will he take his shot 

or is he waiting for the open-mouthed 
orange rim to take a chance on him? I sing 

his name to the night, ask for safe passage 
from this borrowed body into the next   

and wonder who could mistake him 
for anything but good.

Originally published in Green Mountains Review. Copyright © 2015 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.

Teaching
next
Jason Reynolds
(for Stephon Clark’s grandmother)

shave your face. a haircut
even. kiss your kids. your
partner. your parents. tell
them you listened. you kissed
their asses like you were
taught. kissed their asses and
still. walk. or run. don’t
matter. glue your identification
to your forehead. wrap yourself
in the flag. hand over heart. hit 
the high note. hide your slang 
under your tongue. delete
your profile. scrub the net. clean 
your blood. prepare your body 
for peepholes no one 
will ever peer into.

Copyright © 2018 by Jason Reynolds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.