years later, I’m lying
in bed with a woman I would’ve been
could still end up killed for.
My temple is pressed against her
stomach like a boy’s face
against a window
as his mother drives through the night.
His father left
in a puddle of blood.
Ninety-nine is the right number
if you don’t want to cross the redline.
Ninety-nine doesn’t feel like
quite a dollar,
than four quarters that shout
with aha fingers
raised like bludgeons.
My friend Bud says one
hunid when we get off the phone.
It looks like humid but sounds like hunted.
Ninety-nine years ago, in Tulsa, telegraph
lines were cut
Strewn across the streets
the white mobs strolled casually.
No you hang up.
My eyes closed. My neck slack.
I am listening to a heartbeat
in a stomach. This is different than seeing
a screen with an embryo
curled like a single quote.
The gel was cold
when they slathered my chest.
I could die in my sleep & never know.
I could die reaching
inside someone, the euphoria
too hot to handle.
I got ninety-nine
word problems, but the one word
my lover doesn’t like is…
I don’t say it as an example.
I don’t say it
the way my sister calls her friends.
A term of endearment.
A turn of indictment.
HOV, allegedly, has a child somewhere
in Maryland. Marry Land.
This makes sense if you listen
to “Drug Dealers Anonymous,”
the eponymous single
parent. Perhaps all parents are single.
My father used to say I spit y’all out:
ptooey, ptooey. I never heard
him use the word,
but I know he thought it.
How old is the word?
How old was Sarah Page
when she got married?
was never caught with a blond
strand on him. Something that glistens
in the light it’s colored by. Last night,
the news read: the protests
turned to riots.
I made an o of my mouth
over grits, blew & became a griot.
In Madison, po/lice swept
civilians away from the capital. In Tulsa,
a pickup truck
plowed into a crowd of protestors.
The news failed
to say that one of the injured
my friend six feet away.
In “99 Problems” the po/lice
officer is subservient.
The drug offenders should be free
because dealing is the predicament
they put ’em in.
If I were a trafficker, I’d have a tip
built in like a wiretap.
Even if it was a cent, dollar, year.
The used car
sticker price doesn’t always end
in ninety-nine. ’99 Certified.
No one would expect
me of dealing anything but cards.
Even those are hard
to shuffle. Tulsa was dealt
a joker on Juneteenth.
A holiday since 1980.
You see where I’m going?
He rounded it to the twentieth.
Meaning the BOK Center
that seats 19,199 moved it.
We gon be okay. We gon be alright.
Senator Kamala Harris said
This isn’t just a wink to white
them a welcome home party.
Beno Hall as in Be No Hall,
as in Be No Nigger, Be No Jew, Be
No Catholic, Be No Immigrant
could fit up to 3,000
constituents. By then, we’ll be free-
floating in space. By then the black
holes will have closed their eyes.
My lover told me
when I can’t sleep
to count down from one hundred,
but I don’t count
the hundred miles & running.
I start with ninety-nine,
then work my way down.
I start with ninety-nine,
& see how far I need to climb
before I’m close enough to jump
without hurting myself.
I’m always doing something
wrong let the po/lice tell it.
They want to exterminate us.
They won an extra term & ate us.
I’m always firing
off at the mouth.
Forcing them to bring em out, bring em,
out their firing squads.
themselves down. All this firing going on,
stays aflame for long.
’Cept California. ’Cept Amazon.
Bezos for trillionaire.
The trills in air
like a fire alarm.
The sparkling sprinklers of deforestation.
Musk for Tulsa tough.
What imbeciles painted
the Golden Driller in his image?
Even the police
cruiser gets relief, eventually.
Even the odds, the piece of Greenwood
not burned. Every block was hot
but one. They fussed: Yonder is a nigger
church, why ain’t they burning it?
It’s in a white district.
Maybe there only need be one church.
Whoever’s not on time, as in camping out,
will have to attend
stained glass where the sun is magnified
into the magma of an incinerator,
atop a ladder or with one foot
the palms of another brother or sister,
if not the palms of a tree.
The palmetto leaves
my grandmother keeps
next to her bed, next to her rosary.
There ain’t many of us she tells me.
My homie said Hov
there ain’t many of us. I tell him less
is more nigger there’s plenty of us.
I mean Gurleys.
I mean we might be related to Ottawa.
If we were, I’d dub him Uncle O-Dub.
Her dreamland is our family living
in a mansion,
but I think she’d settle
for a boarding house were it ours.
Reparations have lolled
for ninety-nine years now.
Reap the rations. Repair the Oshuns.
Oshner’s where she’s shuttled
whenever she’s having a tough time
breathing. When we can’t
understand our heartbeats
or why the voltage spikes.
The gel is smeared.
The doctor says
it was inherited.
Could be what they fed her with
before she was she, before that even.
Could be what I still eat today.
Some days the work is so much
I have to wring out my intestines
like a towel.
A rag alighting a bootblack’s shoulder
like a smoldered parrot.
time after time again. I read
Dick Rowland knew Sarah Page.
I read, to know, in the Bible,
meant to be physical.
Today, to get physical can mean coitus
& cudgel. Let’s get physical po/lice say
in their heads. Let’s get a physical.
Let’s cuddle, civilians say
in their fantasies.
To have authority is to author.
The poet who lies in their diary
knows someone is reading it.
The officer who lies
in their report hopes nobody will.
Handcuffs are not always kinky.
We put our hands up
like Ys cause we want to be free.
Both vowel & consonant.
Why’s to all the answers
given without proper consent
I got ninety-nine unread text messages.
The one from my Nigerian brother reads:
I have not been able to think
beyond death & how it could reach me
doing the most
mundane thing as be on the street.
Perhaps to be African
& American is to know
a split screen terror. Double fearfulness.
Beware the Ides of March an error.
After I’d marched
to the courthouse & let the chants
of hippies fill me
awkwardly & off key,
I drunk Arizona Green Tea
w/ginseng. Watched one Gen Z
Gen Z how to skateboard,
holding hands. Another Gen Z lilted
beside wearing a shirt of expletives:
like duct tape where her wings
Jewelry store broken in
by out-of-towners. Bling. Bling.
Every time I come around your city.
What’s a vigil to a vigilante?
Draw my face realism. Say his name.
Listen first, then say it.
My brother from Broken Arrow says
white people need to get
the fuck out the way. He says excuse me
& the lake parts to form an isthmus.
In high school, riding shotgun,
he found a rope around his neck.
DJ Trauma. Ad-lib your own life.
Add lips to the microphone.
Go home, po/lice say, but we’ve gone
& grown deaf.
It’s hard to listen to someone talking
at you. Talk to me
not at me my mother would entreat.
It’s hard to make love
when the tunnel leads to nine months
I can’t see the light at the end
Do you remember, September
is the ninth month.
By the time July is here I’ll have grown
my own mask.
My nose hair, my mustache, my beard
will have knotted in solidarity.
My lover wears
my briefs when she sleeps by me.
My father wants a grandson,
but forgets he has one.
She likes the teal ones.
My waistband ripples. Rip Van Winkle.
RIP brothers & sisters. The sun leaks
through the blackout
curtains that darken my bedroom
so my eyes
barely need to adjust to see my beloved
falling through the last hundred
or so feet to her own rousing,
if not the yawning branches.
The moon is not a hammock.
Her body puts me
in more danger. If she could
hover above the bed,
if moles were the jewels of the body
there would be more mining.
is penultimate to Billboard’s
top 100. Ninety-nine
problems peaked at thirty,
the age my brothers hope to reach.
You see where I’m going?
You can’t knock the bustle.
You can’t knock
before you shoot? Neither me nor my blue
faces can breathe. I slide a Benjamin
through the partition to pay
for my sins. They peel me
from the counter. Hold me to the light.
—from Rattle #72, Summer 2021
Clemonce Heard: “In ‘Ninety-Nine,’ I wanted to explore how not even the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre’s impending centennial celebration will equate to an absolute healing of Greenwood, of North Tulsa, of the city. That the inherited trauma and repression will take institutions of integrity to intercede, and how without it, the effects of the massacre have the potential to carry on for another 99 years, if not more.” (web)