“Basic Standards Test” by Danez Smith

Danez Smith

BASIC STANDARDS TEST

Section I: Comprehension w/ answer key.
 
1. Where does the black boy go when he die?
 
-to thug mansion
they been at capacity since ’97.
 
-to heaven
they got no capacity at all. 
 
-to the gates of heaven 
but they won’t let him in until he changes 
his pants, puts on proper shoes. 
 
2. Why the black boy die so quick?
 
-cause the world ain’t love him
but what bout his mama & kin. What bout his play cousins & the 
lord?
 
-cause the world cold
then why they pass so fast in July?
 
-cause
yeah, you got that right. 
 
3. A black boy is born …
 
Based on the context clues, complete the story.
 
a. & his name becomes synonymous with shame, ain’t it or keep him in your prayers. His mama worry about how comfy he is in shadows. The bedrock’s eager tongue beckons him to bend, he presses his ear to the ground seeking a song & never comes up again. 
 
b. & marries a woman with 100 watt flesh, hair like the wood of a match. He gets a good job, goes to a non-denominational church every other Sunday. He has no kids & 2 briefcases, enough golf balls to break all the windows in his mama’s house.
 
c. & he lives for a little bit & then he dies. Assume teeth, assume arched back, assume refusal of prayer, assume pot roast, assume heartbreak & whisky, assume bus stop head, assume clouds & fist, assume called a nigger in Nebraska, assume blunt (at least once), assume the need to collapse into an orchard of arms, all this happens while his heart beat no matter how brief or unhistoric. 
 
d. to no avail.  
 
 
Section II: Essay Question: Explain what you’ve learned thus far. 
 
believe you-me, I know this world
ain’t the first & ain’t the last. I know
a blink of an eye & we go from learning 
to walk to learning to become memory. 
 
Our whole lifetime only as long
as it takes the father to spell his name.
What are we but a forgettable moment?
A piece of lint in chaos’ swirling eye?
 
I know tomorrow doesn’t care
how much I hurt today, but I hurt today.
The roots holds too many boys who look like me
their names packed around stems & on sneakers. 
 

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013

__________

Danez Smith: “My life outside of poetry is in Education, specifically culturally relevant education, which means I am constantly engaged in conversations about learning, identity and race. I was sick of constantly hearing about the black male’s supposed lack of brilliance or drive, about test scores and all these other nameless numbers they apply to a body. I wanted folks to take our test, the war we wage daily in the shadows of cities and in our skin.”
www.danezsmith.org



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