“What Does Black Taste Like” by e.a. toles

e.a. toles


the cops walk free
while walls 
hold precedence
over an innocent black
woman’s life.
but i still have
a job to go to
so i have to be fine.
the streets molasse
thick with bodies//
some cities
forget what black 
tastes like.
we cant scream
forever//i do
the revolution
in my throat
is louder 
than the hole
in King’s//Till’s
doesn’t mean shit
if you’re black
terrified in your room
with family
or a television.
how many of us
are sick in these chains?
but, we still have 
to keep living
(a necessity of
endangered thugs//
so we look for more
convenient times to mourn.
today my customers are all
smiling pearly white 
making small talk 
about tomorrow
and hope and the fbi’s 
fresh investigation 
and bob dylan’s protest
songs and humanity 
humanity all of us humanity
human rights and a lot of other
words that are supposed 
to sound comforting to my ears.
the cops walk free
and this country
is a tomb for my want.
it chews me and spits me out,
who wants to know
what black tastes like?
is it the wet salt of my brow
or the decaying stomach
burped up with every 
tweet about the last
four hundred years
(give or take 
depending on 
what critical theory
of race you want to
white wash)
or is it the bitter names
of, oh hell, I could pick 
a new one for next week
(or any from the last, 
you get my drift, right) 
a cop walks free
and we ask
how much does freedom
weigh? do you measure 
it with pounds of flesh
or is it light
as air forced from
crushed tracheas 
and collapsed lungs?
there aren’t beautiful 
things to say right now
because cops
walk free. 
what is the taste 
of black
can it be 
scraped from 
a dead tongue?
none of us 
have breathed 
in a minute
if ever.
three cops walk
because my skin
is America’s shame—
we were born 
with a death shroud
stitched to our bodies
and we still 
go to work 
because we’re fine
we’re fine fine fine
fine fine fine fine
it’s not the streets 
and we’re not sinking
from steel chains
and we’re not drowning
we’re fine.
three cops walk free;
the surviving wall
was probably painted white,
an indifferent cream at least.
three cops walk free
and we all lie buried still.

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022


e.a. toles: “The first time I read Emily Dickenson, I realized that there were other worlds in poems. Each line was a mystery building on top of what had come before. I lost myself in that collection of poems. The veil had been pulled back, exposing the subtle ache of humanity. I wanted to live in that aching feeling forever. So I started writing poetry.” (web)

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