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A poem for a black man I knew once

Gabrielle Lawrence

Sometimes when you say you feel joy,
I wonder if it comes from the satisfaction
of putting out fires within yourself—

                        while secretly hoping one day it will spontaneously combust.

How often we mistake confidence for discomfort

dishonoring the soul;
I’ve known them for sometime now, and I know,
this is not what our ancestors wanted for you.
Have you forgotten?

If you have not love—and kindness for what lives within you,
feeding your success is no more
than shriveling self destruction—with a smile wearing
down your mind while your body crumples,
and the life fades from your eyes like winter skies
at the promise of spring.

Watching rotten soil eat away at a flower
ready and wanting to bloom, is not beautifully tragic.
It is just another vexing stamp of sorrow—
one we run our fingers over in the nighttime

                        when our mouths are finally closed.

Many times we hurt ourselves because we think we deserve it.

I lean in toward the wonder
of how we kneel to the child
the way we kneel to our elders. There are few moments,
in which we find ourselves spirit led—second natured.
Something beyond our senses recognizes the beginning
and the end,
the first embrace—to the few we have left.

                        And something within me remembers death’s scent
                        when I hear you speak.

It seems I’ve been waiting to tell you this.

Even the trees let the wind take their dying leaves
and stand naked, bare—letting time run its course.
Waiting for the air to turn fresh again.
Even the trees fall apart to prepare for beauty,
and they’ve been watching the world end for hundreds of years.

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Remember when you would comb my hair—

dipping your hands in cold grease that smelled like

some version of a motherland?

You’d take those oily guesses at dreams we once had,

then draw thick lines between the black sea

and massage it’s waves.

I’d throw my forehead back for a kiss,

And see the smile I thought I’d become.
                                                I wish you—

                                                (you with the bloodied hands pressing the straight between
                                                your shoulders, stretching your chest, and lifting your head
                                                to what lies, dangle before your eyes) could see

                                                these colors,

                                                for there are more beautiful things, such as this.

                                                But you bring me the tearing of black bodies as the
                                                trends lead you on, and expect me to react with a rage
                                                that validates what you know has always been
                                                truth—and to satisfy your desire,

                                                to be included?
                                                I have been raging in my bones since the age of seven.
                                                There is barely room, here, for tomorrow.

                        He will never know tomorrow.

                        They killed him last week and it didn’t even make the news.

                        I woke up in a cold sweat last night because I dreamed

                        my mother came to me and pressed her face to mine—

                        breath to breath, and I knew somewhere the bells were ringing

                        for our beloved.
                                                To picket and to protest is to walk into a room with
                                                prejudiced air hold your breath—

                                                though they wear smiles on their faces the exhale of
                                                toxicity sustains

                                                —take long firm strides, feel the length of your spine,
                                                and keep your eyes lifted while speaking your fully
                                                colored opinions. Clasp your shaking hands together for
                                                strength, and hold your tears up at the top of your
                                                cheekbones with poise.

                        A man tried to hold me the other day.

                        But I had spent so much time in the small

                        of myself, I had forgotten my own flesh.

                                                Everyday I choose to run from something, still her face
                                                settles before me and I remember how ignorance begat
                                                hatred and hatred begat murder.

                                                And God begat Erica but Erica died because hatred is
                                                never enough.

Now as we sit hand in hand I turn to see your face

and instead I see the lines

beneath your eyes and the hollow shadows of your cheeks,


And I don’t know where to find joy anymore.

So I give you my last and plant a whispered kiss.

I pray they don’t take you too.

Gabrielle Lawrence is a writer and editor. Her writing can be found in The Squawk Back, Bone & Ink, Gravel Magazine, A Gathering Together Journal, and others. Even when she isn’t doing the most, she is still in the spirit of much. Visit for more info.