National Poetry Month Day 29: Danez Smith


My Body is a Country & I Built A Wall Around It

people press blue flowers into the wall, write the names of their dead brothers on the wall, press folded bits of paper, on which they’ve written secrets that almost turned into bridges, into the wall, mothers raise infants to the wall and say no prayer, fathers make sons touch the wall out respect, drunks sing while pissing on the wall, someone writes on the wall FOR A GOOD TIME CALL 974-2833, someone draws a dick on the wall, someone scribbles nigga in bubble letters on the wall, a priest saw Jesus in the wall, many prayed to the wall for a short while, the wall was on the cover of time magazine, at Sunday morning round tables they talk about the wall, debate on the right of the wall to be, they take polls on the wall & show graphs, they have a little box in the left corner that always shows the wall, while they talk about the weather there’s two old brown women thick with the years getting married at the wall in the little box, in the little box there was a rally at the wall where pink faced men demanded the land under the wall, fired rifles at the wall until they were up to their ankles in shell casings, they built a wall around the wall, there was a great sorrow, how could they do that to the wall, the wall brought hope, but men were not pleased with the walls smart mouth, smug no speak back talk bitch, they couldn’t take their minds off my wall in their wall, drew plans & plans destroy & resurrect the wall while I, unbothered inside, citizen of my self, unfolded into acres vermillion & brown.

for Andrew

i. Swagged Out Jesus

you named yourself when you put on the rainbow
beaded crown a la Stevie in the 70’s & let the great religion
of your belly hang like some Southside Buddha
with a boombox dangling from your neck old Radio
Rahim looking ass dude walking around blasting Ye
random folk following you like drunk disciples
or worshippers of a drunker god like you were a savior
of the night or the party or maybe just a mirage of bass
& flesh like certain sunsets almost orange

look at how you were i will remember you
called yourself the lord but cooler as you go
wherever we go like a new god raising & down
to turn up

ii. ending in with nothing outside

what do you do when a boy lynches himself
_____when the mob isn’t after his skin

but under it, when anything that can hold
_____his weight becomes a tree, when you can’t

close your eyes & not see him there –
_____low brown planet, stunned orbit, swaying

& cooling rapidly? i counted all the things
_____that could end a boy but forgot again

the boy himself. how could i?
_____i’ve wondered the other side of it

the matter of you neither created
_____nor destroyed but something

we have no word for, only myth
_____& faith & doubt about the place

that lives – we hope lives – after the body
_____spits out the soul like a seed.

we are left to harvest this black fruit –
_____your name in past tense.

what good is hiding the gun
_____& locking the cabinet if the children

can still find their own hands?
_____if anything that bends can be a rope?

i want believe a Ebo thing
_____like flying home soaring the ocean floor

but dammit, Andrew
_____they turned you into dust. dust.

your whole body grey in a brass bowl
_____waiting to be scattered, to jewel

the wind, get caught in our eyes.
_____in dreams, i pull at a rope for hours

miles of rope & rope & my bloody
_____hands & when i get to the end –

you, your neck gold & unbreakable, laughing
_____so hard i wake up to the windows

rattling with no storm or breeze
_____or world out there at all.


–Danez Smith


Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Danez is also the author of two chapbooks, hands on your knees (2013, Penmanship Books) and black movie (2015, Button Poetry), winner of the Button Poetry Prize. They are a 2014 Ruth Lilly – Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, a Cave Canem and VONA alum, and recipient of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. They are a two-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, placing 2nd in 2014, and a two-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam Champion. Danez is a member of the Dark Noise Collective. They are from St. Paul, MN.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →