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About this poet

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015) and Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), which won the 2010 Beatrice Hawley Award. He is a graduate of the Yale Law School and is currently an Emerson Fellow at New America. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

For the City that Nearly Broke Me

A woman tattoos Malik’s name above
her breast & talks about the conspiracy
to destroy blacks. This is all a fancy way
to say that someone kirked out, emptied
five or six or seven shots into a still warm body.
No indictment follows Malik’s death,
follows smoke running from a fired pistol.
An old quarrel: crimson against concrete
& the officer’s gun still smoking.
Someone says the people need to stand up,
that the system’s a glass house falling on only
a few heads. This & the stop snitching ads
are the conundrum and damn all that blood.
All those closed eyes imagining Malik’s
killer forever coffled to a series of cells,
& you almost believe them, you do, except
the cognac in your hand is an old habit,
a toast to friends buried before the daybreak
of their old age. You know the truth
of the talking, of the quarrels & how
history lets the blamed go blameless for
the blood that flows black in the street;
you imagine there is a riot going on,
& someone is tossing a trash can through
Sal’s window calling that revolution,
while behind us cell doors keep clanking closed,
& Malik’s casket door clanks closed,
& the bodies that roll off the block
& into the prisons and into the ground,
keep rolling, & no one will admit
that this is the way America strangles itself.

Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015) and Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), which won the 2010 Beatrice Hawley Award. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

by this poet

poem
            after George Jackson

Because something else must belong to him,
More than these chains, these cuffs, these cells—
Something more than Hard Rock’s hurt,
More than remembrances of where men
Go mad with craving—corpuscle, epidermis,
Flesh, men buried in the whale of it, all of it,
Because the
poem
I come from the cracked hands of men who used
           the smoldering ends of blunts to blow shotguns,

men who arranged their lives around the mystery
           of the moon breaking a street corner in half.

I come from "Swann Road" written in a child's
           slanted block letters across a playground
poem

Prison is the sinner’s bouquet, house of shredded & torn
               Dear John letters, upended grave of names, moon
               Black kiss of a pistol’s flat side, time blueborn
& threaded into a curse, Lazarus of hustlers, the picayune
Spinning into beatdowns; breath of a thief