“Theater of America” by Cameron Barnett

Cameron Barnett


for Michael Brown

I want to give you the silence of snow and let it melt
into you. I want to take your name and skywrite it
in permanent marker, then let the rain tattoo you everywhere.
This is what to do with black bodies. In the theater of America,
fire sprinklers are covering everything in shallow pools.
I want to give you a monsoon instead—it’s the safest waters
where most drown.

In the theater of America there are none so blind
as those who will not see color. They fill the aisles,
tongues wrapped in Gadsden flags. This is what they do
with black bodies: fill them with lead, let them fall,
let them sink, let them float in thin puddles. Even if
I could crush this theater inside my fist, I would
feel the small hammering of people rebuilding already.

And what is left of you? What about black bodies?
Your home is the rock of Sisyphus; your story is a book
the blinded are placing on a shelf in a library they have
never been to; yours is the prodigal play in which black
sons do not return home. Your body rests on the apron
of the stage. And somewhere in the mezzanine I hear a whisper
sailing like fishing line over still water: Blackness is always
knowing where you are, but never knowing where you’re from.
And from the rafters an echo: Blackness is always knowing
… never knowing.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

[download audio]


Cameron Barnett: “I’ve always had a fascination with storytellers. One late October night in high school I got out of the shower and, feeling I needed to give myself some big life project, began writing an autobiographical novel. That’s the night I became a writer. In college I moved from fiction to poetry because I wanted to tell stories faster and give them more of a punch. And as long as I can write poems, I will always be a storyteller.” (link)

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