PUTTING THE NIGGERS TO REST
all the men who called my father nigger
stand with all the men who have called me nigger
in a line outside the capitol. some just arrive.
they fall into the back of the line saying nigger,
nigger, nigger, out into the night like morse code.
there is dust in their mouth mixed with the water
of wisdom, a truth they know that is not nigger
but mixed to mud that is a dirty knowing a broken
record of speech and thought and urge.
there is another line, next to theirs, for the ones
who call me nigger in secret, under their breath
and with their eyes, whispering it between one another
a code, yes, him, they nod, the nigger over there
the niggers over there. look at them.
and all over the world niggers are dying, like speech
whose reality never was, niggers tumbling over niggers
trying to get on top. niggers fighting for the right to
be niggers in the real live world. to cross from fantasy
into the world of flesh, to grab the last boat to america.
and there’s another line of people who think nigger
and then think, my father, my mother said that, my
grandmother and grandfather said that, nigger
tradition, i do not want to say that, i do not want
to say such a terrible thing, though i am perplexed
by some of them calling themselves that, confused,
why? that’s not right, but it’s still not right to call
them it in secret, under our breath, so terrible.
it is a great conflict, like storms over barren planets
with no water. that i know nigger is wrong but some
part of nigger still makes sense. to know that feeling
to understand that argument, between warring selves
imagine it a great struggle between reason and passion.
there is a graveyard full of niggers that only the nigger
sayers know of. i’ve seen the niggers. do you know
and the people who sometimes get called niggers wander
about in camouflage and espionage. they won’t stand in line
cuz ain’t no niggers allowed in the line, they meander about,
wander with their hands in their pockets singing negro spirituals
so nobody think they listening, so nobody wonder as they
wander, you could say they try to look like niggers knowing
the difference between them and niggers, wearing nigger
like a hoody when necessary, when it’s cold outside and
they need something to cover them, to keep the cold out.
they study the speech of the nigger sayers and mix it
gumbo into the speech they speak, and adapt, put a
bass line under it, and make it sound so funky, even hate
seem harmless, like a blade dulled from overuse, like a tool
beaten against the earth so much it grows dull and only
looks like a tool in the hands of the slave on a hot day
with someone screaming over your shoulder WORK!
and the longest line, the one that stretches out
the door, out of the capital city, zigzagging through
richmond and the good south, through day-long
drive texas, back up to the northeast, the great lakes
and west through those beautiful states with trees
and land that makes the jaw drop like the canyons,
and the plains, and the deserts, tundra, palm trees
is the line where people think niggers, nigger shit,
jacked up shit, and there is no one who fits
the description to be found. nobody nobody
to be conjured as nigger anywhere around.
from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Bro. Yao (Hoke S. Glover III): “I usually arrive to work early and read and write while most of the world is still silent. Though I teach, what I write still seems like a secret. Poetry for me is the refinement of some balance between the internal wordless world of human cognition and the empire of language. At this stage of my life I’ve lost most of my belief, but each morning brings some new thing. I’m learning to trust the sunrise even when I cannot answer its questions or share what it gives me with the rest of the world.” ( web)