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say it with your whole black mouth

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 25, 2018.
About this Poem 

“In the summer of 2017, I was roommates at the VONA writers’ retreat with Junot Díaz, Marjorie Liu, and David Mura in the best summer-camp dream a writer could ask for. I don’t remember who had been murdered, or even if someone had, but one night David and I got to talking about race, guilt, anger, action, and our hometowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I left that conversation too raw to go to bed, too vulnerable to walk it off, so this poem came out of me. I don’t even know if it’s a poem to be real. It’s a feeling? A declaration? Maybe one stop short of a declaration. It’s something I had to write to be able to move around the world, to know that my experience in America, in my body, in my black, hunted, endangered, beautiful, worthy body is as (blank) as it seems to be. And the poem is the one safe place I feel I can put these possibly violent impulses without doing (justified) damage.”

—Danez Smith

say it with your whole black mouth

say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent
           & if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness, of breath after breath

i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen

& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me

& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?

so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.

how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?

here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations

i don’t know what i’ll do.

i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.

i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list

what my mother fears i will say

                       what she wishes to say herself

i came here to say

i can’t bring myself to write it down

sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up

           if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
           i wake chained to the bed

i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us

when i do
                      can’t say

           i don’t dance

o my people

          how long will we

reach for god

          instead of something sharper?

          my lovely doe

with a taste for meat


the hunter

          by his hand

Copyright © 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

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February 06, 2011 Love Samuel Taylor Coleridge
January 23, 2016 Love James Russell Lowell
October 11, 2014 Love William Carlos Williams