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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 11, 2018.
About this Poem 

“‘The Broken Man’s Permission’ is born out of the emotional awareness that comes after crisis, or during failure. I wrote this while thinking about what it means to be a black cisgender man in our current cultural moment. It feels important not to look away from all the ways that masculinity is broken and to take the next step in thinking deeply and compassionately about not just what to do, but how to be. For me, that process has to do with looking back on my own past—my memories and imagination—and finding ways to transform those feelings into ingredients for insight, genuine connection, and growth. Maybe this poem is trying to find a way to witness a black man’s body in new terms. The poem grants its own permission to embrace masculinity’s vulnerability and imperfections, and as Tagore said, ‘my wounds and also my healing.’”
—Aaron Coleman

The Broken Man’s Permission

A crocodile slips its earth-toned body 
back into the river, in silence, violence down
and for its nightness

I cannot see the water. With fear 
I am alone. Slick rocks smile thin anonymous light, they lie

about what I am. I see and try to hold
my body in my body, trace a vein 
from the base of my palm through 

the crook of my elbow, armpit, home—home 
makes no sense. I've given up on what I know.

This blindness is a mirror turning
back to sand still hollowed, where 
every sound is amplified. I want to be the crocodile’s

stomach that is my father, teeth
that are my mother, vertebrae 

that aggregate the spine that are loves, knuckled
angles casing nerves. It’s me wading around
inside, mouth open. A humid numbness dense, low, 

beneath the undertow: hands that coax and claim
my scaled neck, soothe and pull

each knotted shoulder. I give in to a third of moon caught
in cloud, its orange-grey halo drawn away 
from what can be named, known. A curse and prayer 

to go unchanged within this water, my movement 
foreign, a rootless gurgle, flit of river vines

caging the dwindling
river’s brutal bed, the gorge, flushed 
with new food: the blue heron’s bone-flight collapsed,

tangled feathers along the mudglut bank’s 
saliva, lifting like shame in the open.

Copyright © 2018 by Aaron Coleman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Aaron Coleman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Aaron Coleman. Photo credit: Katherine Simóne Reynolds

Aaron Coleman

Aaron Coleman is the author of St. Trigger (Button Poetry, 2016), winner of the 2015 Button Poetry Prize, and Threat Come Close, forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2018. 

by this poet


You remind me of the Underground Railroad. I’ve learned to watch
for the kerosene lamp aglare in your distance. Past the fuel and wick
at the far end of your forest, there’s a mud basement, a