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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 16, 2018.
About this Poem 

“The continued if not continuous mistaking of shower heads, stray cigarettes, wallets, and black bodies for instruments of violence—or rather as excuses for violence against black people—haunts this poem. It was first written years ago but never could find its way until it became the last of a ‘Triptych for Trayvon Martin,’ memorializing and muralizing several figures who galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. Found in my book Brown, juxtaposed with poems of history both personal and public, ‘Nightstick’ serves as a kind of chant, the reversal of a curse that endangers us all.”
Kevin Young

Nightstick [A Mural for Michael Brown]

There are gods
    of fertility,
corn, childbirth,

& police
    brutality—this last
is offered praise

& sacrifice
    near weekly
& still cannot

be sated—many-limbed,
    thin-skinned,
its colors are blue

& black, a cross-
    hatch of bruise
& bulletholes

punched out
    like my son’s 
three-hole notebooks—

pages torn
    like lungs, excised
or autopsied, splayed

open on a cold table
    or left in the street
for hours to stew.

A finger
    is a gun—
a wallet

is a gun, skin
    a shiny pistol,
a demon, a barrel

already ready—
    hands up
don’t shoot—

arms 
    not to bear
but bare. Don’t 

dare take
    a left
into the wrong

skin. Death
    is not dark
but a red siren

who will not blow
    breath into your open
mouth, arrested

like a heart. Because
    I can see
I believe in you, god

of police brutality—
    of corn liquor
& late fertility, of birth

pain & blood
    like the sun setting,
dispersing its giant

crowd of light.

Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Kevin Young

Kevin Young

Kevin Young's poetry collections include Brown, forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf in April 2018 and Book of Hours (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), winner of the 2015 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. 

by this poet

poem
HAVENT HEARD FROM YOU IN AGES STOP LOVE YOUR
LATEST SHOW STOP THIS NO PHONE STUFF IS FOR BIRDS
LIKE YOU STOP ONCE SHOUTED UP FROM STREET ONLY

RAIN AND YOUR ASSISTANT ANSWERED STOP DO YOU
STILL SLEEP LATE STOP DOES YOUR PAINT STILL COVER
DOORS STOP FOUND A SAMO TAG COPYRIGHT HIGH

ABOVE A STAIR STOP NOT SURE HOW
poem
Waking early
with the warming house
my grandmother knew what to do
taking care not to wake
Da Da 		she cooked up a storm
in darkness 	adding silent spices
and hot sauce

to stay cool. She ate later, alone
after the children had been gathered
and made to eat
her red eggs. Da Da rose
late, long after
the roosters
poem
The honey bees’ exile
     is almost complete.
You can carry

them from hive
     to hive, the child thought
& that is what

he tried, walking
     with them thronging
between his pressed palms.

Let him be right.
     Let the gods look away
as always. Let this boy

who carries the entire
     actual,