‘Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro’s making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence. But every group is responsible for its continuance . . .’
‒ Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago


Segregation now, tomorrow, forever if there they stayed
in living form, after life: violence the cash crop of soil
otherwise known for cotton or clay, indigenous hue swayed
ever more toward blood that runs with its own current and boils

on printing presses, under spotlights, changes color once dried
but denotes a passion in broad daylight dripping off moonless
nightsticks. Time to believe in God or gunpowder, somehow stride
for the promised but still owed since civil war rippled time. Yes,

let frustration flood every street. Dare capitalism to keep
keeping on without coloreds’ consent; govern empty pockets
then ask what a governor is worth compared to those who reap
wrath, effuse mercy and confine sparrows to their eye sockets.

Tides turn against the against. A river’s mouth is too clean to
say nigger; they wade into water and emerge something new.


Say nigger: they wade into water and emerge something new.
One black boy bobs up from the belly of flow a made symbol
for the struggle, reverse migration a chest pain relieved due
to a magazine spread. O, how the light itself did tremble

at the sight of his face, Chicago fruit estranged from the dream
like a bird tilting toward frost when it’s time to rove for heat.
Brown liquor drinkers would take the shorter path to heaven, gleam
in the dull burn and yet still have enough sense of mind to beat

back the notion this place is colder than that one was. A job
is a job, they say. One family has multiple guts and
only one throat to stuff greenbacks down like collards, mustards, cobs
of corn, like coins, easier to come by in a pinch, one hand

washing the other. A neighbor has to count for something, right?
As soon as the caravan arrived, the whole block went pitch night.


As soon as the caravan arrived, the whole block went pitch night.
One house contracted the disease of a black body and spread
it to the next and the next like God’s tenth plague. Whites took fast flight,
defining blight as their absence and leaving whole wards for dead,

to generations of darknesses: there are many ways to
inform people they are unwanted without slitting the throat
of a word over an offering stone, truancy the true
test of one’s spite for another kind of sameness. The black vote

was for forgiveness, not forgetting, but neither is a route
out of the proverbial desert that had not before been
tried and trapped them in roles of servitude, shackled by their roots.
If the North provides nothing else, it provides clarity, thin

consciousness like silk so easily ruined when wet. And yet,
this is not the purpose of water; water pays off a debt.


This is not the purpose of water; water pays off a debt.
Down south one could own nil and owe. O, to mortgage a future
with a past, pigmentation as poverty, but please don’t fret!
Lay down the burden before feet of brass. For all wounds, suture,

as surely as a ray of sunlight breaks over a lashed back—
sweating, sharecropping. Go, head on down to the river, offspring
of the bolls and blues! Bring the ghosts. Shake the shadows off. Backtrack
to the bones of the matter, which are the bones themselves. And sing.

And swing, from the branch of a good feeling. Evidently there
is a coming back to glory, however gory the road.
What pushes a shiver down the trunk of a tree has the air
of the familiar finding home with us again, so live. Odes

to the stolen ones, live! Prosper under the pressure. Cut rough
when necessary as a means to endure. Be new. Rebuff.


When necessary as a means to endure: be new, rebuff.
An answer for hounds is an answer for hoodlums, slips neatly
into a shoe. Here jazz means living creatively enough
to avoid notice, horns blaring in one’s head, walking fleetly

from corner to corner, or coroner as it could be. Shame:
it has always been this way, wild men, boys even, dipping skulls
in the dust like ministers of massacre, all a rigged game
with moving thrones as in chess, something to distract, destroy, cull

the angry from the righteousness of their anger, this a brief
history of money, power and isolation. Set up
to get got, imagine that: the great urban plan. Thug or thief,
hustler or con artist, a way of getting by, winding up

paid more than pennies—or jailed, writing letters, begging pictures.
What is heaven-sent: an innocent face, clippings of scripture.


What is heaven-sent: an innocent face, clippings of scripture.
Things to tuck in a wallet, affix to a routine mirror.
Love is a labor from the beginning till the end, fixture
like something that holds light, and black people do. Never clearer

is one’s work than this, no less humble than sweeping the sidewalk
in front of the store with a broom that has seen better days, gray-
flecked bristles bent under the weight of everything work means. Talk
sacrifice, being spit on so much the world owes gold as pay.

Alas, still waiting on the acres. Still waiting on the mule.
Traced the Mississippi northward and still, nothing. Not much at
all, but not least like before, through depression, through war, played fool
on film so they could laugh away their pain, provide more grief that,

if anything, became a magnet for grace going about
city living: money, black mayor, the impression of clout.


City living? Money. Black mayor. The impression of clout:
novelists and poets and playwrights; shiny new Cadillacs;
chicken shacks, rib tips; kitchenettes, bungalows and two-flats; bouts
in boxing; baseball games; blues houses; Curtis Mayfield 8-tracks;

Ebony, Jet, all things jet black—like the Panthers, the Nation.
Black like the P. Stones, Lords and Disciples; black like the projects,
jails and graveyards; black like the river at night, as a Haitian
once saw it, losing his face in the water. O, to reflect

and return, in some sense, like a phantom, to where one came from
and see that distance measured by memory means never too
far. And far too close to home this home is at times, though it hums
how midnight crickets can’t, with bustle, to which bidding adieu

would be hustling backwards. Of the forward path, be not afraid.
Segregation now, tomorrow, forever if there they stayed.





Photograph © Rookuzz..

All Hail the Holy Bone
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