From the Archive: Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Hanif Abdurraqib


This was originally published at The Rumpus on April 19, 2018.

During the month of June 2022, we’re highlighting some of our favorite work from The Rumpus archives to show readers how the magazine has provided a space for great writing throughout our 13 years. If you appreciate the work we do, please consider becoming a Rumpus Member during this month’s 1st ever Member Drive.



The Ghost of Marvin Gaye Plays the Dozens with the Pop Charts

your mouth so wide
______it swallow a whole city in one bite

your mouth so wide
______all the black people in Detroit don’t remember what they parents danced to

you think you so black
______you paint the stars on your chest

you think you so black
______you got a bed in everybody house

you take the last chicken leg
______& leave meat on the bone

you think the tea
______just got sweet from the sugar

you so ugly
______the mirror trembled at your new white
____________face & then you walked
____________into the mirror
_________________& then you became the mirror
___________________& then you tore the skin from anyone who stood before you
_____________________& then there was a trader joe’s in the lot where we used to have the
______________________block party & then everything you drank from became a whisper

your mouth so wide
______when it opens I can see myself
____________crawling out starved and
____________thrashing against your tongue
__________________an old suit hanging from my fragile

arms I have tried on all of your clothes & still nothing fits

but the blood.

everybody wanna make soul but don’t nobody wanna chew a hole
through the night small enough for a bullet to pass through & pull
each of their lovers into it.

everybody wanna make soul but don’t nobody wanna hemorrhage a whole family
into sweat & white powder & so much sex that they will never speak of what killed you.

your mama so full she a whole planet. your mama so black she everywhere but ain’t never on time. your mama so black she sang hound dog first & died with nothing to her name but the drink which carried her to the grave. your mama so black she my mama too. your mama saw the gun & let you bleed out & ran screaming into the sunlight. your mama so black she know when there ain’t nothing left worth saving. your mama so black she will come for you & know by your smell that you ain’t one of her own. your mama so black she will carry you in her teeth to the river & hold you down until you become either holy or dead.



House so empty need a new deity
to fill it. House so empty every corner
got a reckoning on its tongue & I pry open

the arms of imaginary brothers
& the thing about imagining your
saints is that you can always convince

to love you. House so empty I cut
the ivory ghosts into skinny hands.
Heart broke cleaner than your church

& the funeral suits you & your boys wore
inside of it. House so empty need a
House so empty I beheaded the beast

of memory & let it fall in the middle of the good
rug & shake all the photos off the fireplace.
I come alive in the worst years. Legend of any pain.

If you really must know, the main difference
between fame and infamy is the number of
you wake up alone. I’m too close to god. Don’t test me.

I’m trynna put you in the worst mood.


Photograph of Hanif Abdurraqib © Andy Cenci.

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was released in 2016 and was nominated for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in fall 2017 by Two Dollar Radio. More from this author →