National Poetry Month Day 1: Justin Phillip Reed






                              I was banished or else
                              I was trapped. I couldn’t move
                              without a passport and several
                              fingers on my scalp, four
                              contouring my hips, two
                              of a stiff drink. When I was fired
                              and required by law to have
                              my health insured, I fell
                              ill. I assured my children
                              they would live if they
                              quit growing, kept moving, stayed
                              out of the sun, stopped
                              only in well-lit areas, rearranged
                              their skeletal scaffolding.
                              My mother was forced to have
                              the child of her would-be killer,
                              was thus archetypal, was
                              historical then sterilized and made
                              symbolic of progress.
                              In the fouryear before
                              it again came down to
                              sycophant or psychopath
                              I overused the word haunt.
                              I had choices. Craft beer.
                              French-pressed Sumatra each morning.
                              A Prime membership
                              to discount my Whole Foods.
                              I had a deconstructed soul
                              food renaissance to look
                              forward to. New neighbors
                              sweating through candlelit
                              hip-hop yoga. In order to cope
                              with mourning the money
                              I earned but never touched
                              I worked until I dreamt
                              of work. I lived nowhere near
                              nontoxic water. I walked
                              and was accosted. I drove
                              and was accosted. I gave
                              up driving, but the poles
                              had already begun to collapse.
                              The infrastructure collapsed.
                              The trains collided. The winds
                              collided and nothing remained
                              anymore of our time to exhaust
                              a reversal effort. Only those
                              in the business of killing efficiently
                              could travel. Everyone else
                              was told to go back to a continent
                              where the business of killing efficiently
                              was booming. I was bombed
                              and denied refuge. I was sent
                              missionaries instead. I was given
                              an immature god and told to be
                              grateful. The faithful believed
                              in bombs and not refugees.
                              I slept in a bed and the children in cages.
                              I slept in a bed and the children in cages.
                              The children died in detention.
                              I paid my bills and was therefore
                              perpetrator. I paid taxes to be
                              more effectively terrorized.
                              Long-Range Acoustic Devices for all
                              the local precincts. I had a gun
                              because they had a gun
                              because I had the manner of a thing
                              on which a gun was found
                              planted. The bodies of activists
                              turned up shot in locked cuffs
                              and burned in locked cars
                              in the century after
                              a century of lynchings.
                              I was part of a citizenry
                              ruled by corporations that were
                              legally people who
                              could tracelessly erase
                              everything but plastic
                              which outlived us all,
                              but not before it became
                              customary to swim home
                              past flat fish and yard signs
                              mumbling [resist] above the headlights,
                              to emerge lotioned in a thin film
                              of oil, to be a homebody
                              and always on homeland
                              security camera,
                              shiny and pornographic
                              while hunched fiendishly over
                              the hot plate. I was not
                              there, I told myself.
                              You are not here, agreed
                              the bluetooth headset newsfeed.

Justin Phillip Reed is a South Carolina native and the author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His work has appeared in African American Review, Best American Essays, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. Justin lives in St. Louis. Come see about him at More from this author →