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But for is always game.
A man can be murdered
twice, but for science,
his body a pool of blood
in Baltimore & Tulsa,
except, it isn’t, his body actually
slender against the sunlight just
outside a California prison—a crow
rests on a fence near his car.
Visiting hours long done,
(for man not crow,
one of a murderous many
that flies above this barbed wire)
& the cigarette he smokes
is illegal, here, & but for
the magnetic pull tragedy
has on black women he wouldn’t be
here, right now, contemplating
the crimson colored man leaping
into the darkness on his Nikes.
He still says Air Jordans,
because air is important,
adjective swearing to black America’s
aim, if not ability, to soar,
a way to outrun statistics
& the lead in the water.
Alas, metaphysics says
you are only you & no one
else, & a black poet says black
love is not one or one thousand
things, & it all may be true,
but for the fact that the man swears
the crow looks at him dead
as if he is already so,
as if while standing there he
has been murdered
by his brother, murdered
by a cop, & bodied
by a prison sentence as flames
from a Newport’s burning ash,
illuminate his corpse.
Reginald Dwayne Betts was a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 NEA Fellow. He has been featured in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Washington Post. He is a PhD candidate in Law at Yale and as a Liman Fellow, he spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office. He is the author of Felon.
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