National Poetry Month Day 28: Tarik Dobbs





Not an Exit

I was seventeen interning at a natural gas line, I smelled
Like shit, frankly, I washed myself in sanded

Paper, that textured soap — it looked
Like dotted rosacea. While I stared at my palm, I F-350’d

Someone’s sedan in the parking lot. They never called
To claim the cash I offered to help and I still worried.

The Great Recession: in an SUV with my father, his BMW’d
Lifestyle, his mistress’s gas card in my hand swiped

At the pump. I cringed, turtle shelled.
Such a life, he said. My father, today, ruraled

In Connecticut to hide from Child Support he never paid
Until they jailed him two more times in Michigan. I wondered

What the East Coasted version of myself liked
Anyway. The ocean, probably, my father said, you always oceaned

The Lakes. When I turned 18, I moved into an Outed
Lifestyle. I’d thought I shared something with Ellen, Degeneroused

Looks on the face of my mother after she dropped
Me off at the university welcome weekend. She said I’d die of AIDS, a righted

Return of her life in 1980s Detroit. Epigeneticists theorized, a silenced
Body in a parking structure: my inheritance, probably: father’s suicided-

Father news’d during the week that my parents wedded—this great silenced
Grief. Turned the faucet on and off, I was at the Habitat Humanitied

Store; inside, I hunted for a louder ventilation fan. To be deprived
Of a voice, sometimes, is priceless. I was once convinced,

Naive. I’d still believed I could direct films someday, a professionalized
Delusion — I was a terrible actor. In Chicago, I walked

Along the shore of Lake Michigan until my boss noticed
I couldn’t hold down a job catering to the enriched

And semi-famous. My father once held a career ambitioned
Into cocaine and whatever else bad father’s did before the proliferated

Internet of things. My mother’s father — my jiddo — working at JFK’s embassied
Answering machine. Rumor has it, he’d decided

how Arabic was transliterated
Into this language I inherited jiddo’s bulged forehead,

his eyebrow singular’d.
At 12, I shaved off an eyebrow by accident and colored

Inside the lines with a black sharpie. My mother laughed
So hard that she cried. The black bled into a blued

Eye shadow. For months, at school, I palmed
My face into a failure of imagination. I’d wanted

To be made beautiful like the orientalized
Murals covering the walls of my favorite Americanized

Arabic restaurant. On Zoom, my dad introduced
My image to his colleagues, all fellow seasonaled

Workers vaguely excited by a marriage, mixed.
In Sierra Leone, my father studied Swahili, Arabic, and Muslimed

His lifestyle. He kept a gray bird that parroted
The sound of his coughing every time his blood malaria’d

Into looped delusions all summer he longed
For the bravery to ask for a friend. He’d

Never. Unbox this storied life for anyone closed
To himself. His animal skins from the 90’s rotted

Inside a trash bag independent of the flooded
Basements we waded through growing up. An iceberg-carved

Peninsula’s plane of rained-out concrete. I never imagined
A poem the thing I wanted

Really was to trust an official: an officiator of officed
Healing. At the dentist, I was reminded

That the roof of my mouth almost a guaranteed
Record of last blowjob given and the mirrored

Tool that followed. When I painted
The bedroom of my childhood white, I’d thought I wanted

To impress the landlord, but I hadn’t surrendered
to capital, yet. To mark the yeared

Growth without losses hung in the windowed
box I drove around with my Sito’s prayered

Beads — some of them nazar-ing back at me. In guarded
Places like this, I could be growed up. A perceived, a manned

Body letting go of what it willed
Or didn’t. This uncertainty, no longer a jump scared

But a remembrance for the filmed
Memoriam. I never rolled the windows down, a volumed

plea heard little by little. I was sure enough I’d
Have a driveway, someday, even if it was half emptied

Like the cars set to Autopilot turned
Into the evening news. Blazed,

Headless — but as I’d liked to image it — still tasked;
Its errand completed just the same. One morning,

When my Sito woke up in Washington DC, next to her wedded
Love, freshly thirty and then, cold to the touch,

She stopped short of describing the feeling.




Author photo courtesy of author

Tarik Dobbs is a writer, an artist, and a 2022 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow. Their debut poetry collections, NAZAR BOY (spring 2024) and DEARBORNISTAN (2026), are forthcoming from Haymarket Books. More from this author →