National Poetry Month Day 15: Candace Williams

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THE POWERPOINT SLIDE SAYS WHITE PEOPLE HAVE RACIAL ANXIETY BECAUSE THEY WANT TO BE LIKED BY BLACK PEOPLE

Well I’m black
& I like you
I really like you
I’ll always sit
next to you at lunch
& laugh a belly laugh
to prove I’m with you
right next to you never
above you never
over your head
behind your back
beyond your reaching
never out of range out
of earshot                                                                                you
know
I don’t know
you but I know your need
is greater than my need
my greatest need is work
meaning if you don’t like me sitting
at this computer
then I will run
out of money & become
what nonprofits call needy
also meaning broke also
somehow meaning: deserving
downtrodden
down-and-out
I dwell on this when we disagree
in cubicles I                                                                             worry
my black ass will end
up in the cold
so in this cube I’ll imagine
the frigid wind wearing
my skin to bone
& I’ll hold my fire
inside                                                                                      I’ll remember
my whitest therapist
praising                                                                                   my distress
tolerance he loved my ability
to reduce myself
to ash while insulating
your virgin lungs
from the char of my kindling
flesh I’ll keep smiling & nodding
so you won’t starve
me to death
& you’ll giggle over
your deep sense
of embarrassment don’t worry I know
deep down all you want:
is for me
all you want
is for me
all you want
is for me
all you want
is for me
all you want
is for me to like you
& I know you
don’t mean it oh I know
your heart & being a woman
in the workplace is hard
in times like these & I know you
must be tired & race is tricky
sometimes & yes I know                                                        your great grandparents
were immigrants from Scotland & they                                  owned
a farm & they also had
a hard time at first
& don’t worry the boss
won’t delay your promotion
to make room for                                                                    black
candidates & yes other                                                           people
might think that sounds racist
but don’t worry                                                                       I can imagine why
                                                                                               you’re so nervous
so you don’t need
to worry please
don’t be anxious: I swear
I’m black & I like you.

***

Photograph of Candace Williams by Heath Antonio.


Candace Williams is a black queer nerd living a double life. By day, they’re a sixth grade humanities educator and robotics coach. By night and subway ride, they’re a poet. Their chapbook, Spells for Black Wizards, was a 2017 TAR Chapbook Series winner and published by the Atlas Review. futureblack, their first full-length poetry manuscript, was a 2018 National Poetry Series finalist. More from this author →