poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, February 21, 2018.
About this Poem 
“Next year commemorates one hundred years since 1919, a year of considerable global, postwar unrest and also, in the United States, the year of the Red Summer, which saw more than three dozen race riots pepper the nation. Vigilante or police violence resulted in hundreds of black casualties, including the lynching of Will Brown. Although we’re apparently given to an adamantly progressive interpretation of history—an eventual ‘bend toward justice’—it’s just as useful, I think, to consider regression, or how little, in fact, has changed. I wrote this poem in angry reflection.”
—Rickey Laurentiis


I could string him back up the tree, if you’d like.
     Return his skin’s meaning to an easy distance, coal dust, blaze
And Willie Brown him. You
     Love how the blood muddies the original,
The way it makes a stage of my speechifying, this leeching
     Capital from his dying,
Like an activist. I know
I’m not supposed to sing
Of his ringing
     Penetrability, some hole I open impose
On the form—but all I see is bullets, bullets discerning him,
     As years ago it was rope.
I could pull it tighter, finger each bullet deeper,
     If you’d like, an inch rougher,
Far enough to where becomes that second heat, erotic.
I could use the erotic,
If you’d like,
     So ungarish, baring not too frank
A mood, subtle so you need it.— Funny
     How some dark will move illicit if you close your eyes,
The way, say, my black
     Pleasure is named too explicit for a page, but this menace
I put in it is not.
I could yank and knot
The rope, if you’d like, him like a strange fragment
     In them trees,
And the word “again” spelled out about his neck
     Would be the rope’s predicate till let wild, patterned and
Fierce his moan.
     It is a tragedy. No. It is a sonnet, how I know
Already how he ends,
But I could make him
Her, if you’d like, regender them till merely
     Canvas for your “empathy,”
Soup for my mouth. Still, if I could but just get
     This blunt,
Burnt lynched body up
     From on
Out the pocket behind my eye
All trees could be themselves again, all sound. 

Copyright © 2018 by Rickey Laurentiis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Rickey Laurentiis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Rickey Laurentiis

Rickey Laurentiis

Rickey Laurentiis is the author of Boy with Thorn (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Levis Reading Prize. He is the inaugural fellow in creative writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, and he lives in Pittsburgh.

by this poet


        For Nicole and John

     She drew a name full of winning flesh,
Victory, I mean, so that any Yes she has to say
     We might say is a Yes achieved happily all her own—

And he drew a name large as any god,
     Large as a wall in the