8-24-2020

Jericho Brown

The Tradition

Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer. 
Foxglove.
 Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

 

Good White People

Not my phrase, I swear,

But my grandmother’s

When someone surprised her

By holding open the door

Or by singing that same high C

Stephanie Mills holds

Near the end of “I Have Learned

To Respect the Power of Love”

Or by gifting her with a turkey

On the 24thof December

After a year of not tipping her

For cleaning what they could afford

Not to clean. You’ll have to forgive

My grandmother with her good

Hair and her good white people

And her certified good slap across

Your mouth. Crack the beaten door

To eat or sing, but do not speak

Evil. Dead bad black woman

I still love, she didn’t know

What we know. In America

Today, anyone can turn on

A TV or look out a window

To see several kinds of bird

In the air while each face watching

Smiles and spits, cusses and sings

A single anthem of blood— 

All is stained.  She was ugly. 

I’m ugly.  You’re ugly too.

No such thing as good white people.

Foreday in the Morning

My mother grew morning glories that spilled onto the walkway toward her porch

Because she was a woman with land who showed as much by giving it color.

 

She told me I could have whatever I worked for. That means she was an American.

 

But she’d say it was because she believed

In God. I am ashamed of America

 

And confounded by God. I thank God for my citizenship in spite

 

Of the timer set on my life to write

 

These words: I love my mother. I love black women

 

Who plant flowers as sheepish as their sons. By the time the blooms

 

Unfurl themselves for a few hours of light, the women who tend them

 

Are already at work. Blue. I’ll never know who started the lie that we are lazy,

 

But I’d love to wake that bastard up

At foreday in the morning, toss him in a truck, and drive him under God

 

Past every bus stop in America to see all those black folk

 

Waiting to go work for whatever they want. A house? A boy

 

To keep the lawn cut? Some color in the yard? My God, we leave things green.

 

-from The Tradition, Copper Canyon Press (2019), selected by Fall 2020 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres

Jericho Brown is author of the The Tradition (Copper Canyon 2019), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he is the winner of the Whiting Award. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His third collection, The Tradition, won the Paterson Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His poems have appeared in Buzzfeed, Fence, jubilat, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME magazine, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is the director of the Creative Writing Program and a professor at Emory University.