Two Poems by Justin Phillip Reed

December 10, 2018

 

 

Considering My Disallowance

 

 

I lived. An absurdity.
My body rose to stir in response to starshine,
so much of me requiring its fire.

 

Within this one freckle of world, everything
and I vibrated with need.
The table-tapping pas de deux of houseflies.
The bumblebee’s examining the redbud’s rash anxieties.
A rusty ant harvested the green grass blade.
The single cardinal started, started, blessing.
My bladder trembled when the earth
called water back into its circuits.
Somewhere, a suspicion of hornets whirred.

 

In étude the vocal chords of other birds—
some blue, some sparrow, coupled nuthatches—
obscured among thronged arms of older things
the still gray trunks of which loosened
their reluctance to give up the squirrel
beyond its quick quiverbristle.

 

My stomach’s eager auditorium applauded.
Weathervaning such motion, I rocked
like the bones of the dog that soon would die.
Was I ever young? Was I free to enter
all counties of pleasure? Someone told me my whole life
was ahead and, ahead, a mountain spilled its hills
and spasms of wild, violet wall irises
and fields of gold-flecked buttercup topographies at sunset
and the people there shot even their own horses.

 

Brown manes and me stricken in the same strum.
How my senses rippled:
dragonfly in the breeze
or Dixie flag in the fucking breeze.
I, who sometimes did not deserve
to make music, was made to. Here,
a hundred miniscule wings hurled themselves repeatedly
against whatever force governed the galaxy

we spun in, but

a hundred miniscule wings hurled themselves repeatedly

against too far a departure from such governance

 

(a niggling difference)—gravity, God,

and the ground I let my lucky

unsevered toes touch.

 

 

 

 

How Many Model Mutilations Make a Single Slave

 

 

My fear of not existing being
that blade that, having forced its entry, splinters
and then rents out every segregate room

 

and now its sin sounds eking through the vents
and now each piece’s own wild problem child
and now the nightliness of its worsening knee ascending warped stairs
and now the winter pipes the poltergeists knock
timpanic with their terrible, gnarled knuckles,
the neighbor’s bath occasioning their demonastic groan.

 

And now the whole nearly uninhabitable building
I have to, in a one-mile walk to the bank and another
half-mile to the bookstore, wend wide-load past
 

the medical school police in cruisers
and the metropolitan police in SUVs
and the metropolitan police on bicycles
and the transit security on the platforms below
four stops north of which the county police
in habits of khaki, boredom their jurisdiction,

 

bullet into and expand within the heart of the red line
just two stops short of the airport
and the agents who glove around in my luggage
 

and softly backhand my buttocks with a touch
more reliable than my lover’s.
What poetry might exist in this has little to do with
any right to my body I sacrifice to ride
the sky in a condensed fiction of safety
to the city where I witness a murder
 

of crows quietly chandeliered in the plead-reaching crown
of a white oak the cemetery unrolls
its hills of tended grass and gray gradient teeth
 

like a tablecloth underneath. These scavengers,
they are only birds who happen to know
the face of one who harmed them long ago.
Their blood is familiar. The blood in them
has in it the blood of my family who
at one time, a long time, my own family owned

in as lawful a betrayal as citizenship is.

These migrants, allied to Nowhere with their

hither thither necks, are chimed with law, each in the eaves

 

a shadow: here leaf, here lever. I look up
at what’s been done in my name
and riddles its interior, and I feel the body shudder
in the ache of a capacity a while ago exceeded.

I already know what I’m up against.
I recognize who heaped this cargo into me.
 

What poem lives here lives in my knowing
what the weapon will become upon its coming in
and, nonetheless, I lay it to my flesh again.

 

 

 

 

 

Justin Phillip Reed is a South Carolina native and the author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry. His work has appeared in African American Review, Best American Essays, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. Justin lives in St. Louis. Come see about him at justinphillipreed.com. 

 

 

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