i no longer have the energy to belt out a dead name / for my tongue is dry / i noticed my church friends from back home grieve differently than me / to them, a death is always holy / translation: they notice i don’t say grace before my meals anymore / i’m cautious of which god i give my mouth too / i still believe in the afterlife / i just don’t discuss death like it’s a novelty thing / i say 2002 taught me this / 2009 reiterated the lesson / 2016 broke it’s fists against my skull / and i don’t talk about it / how i learned through facebook that my great uncle passed / and i didn’t know him all too well / i remember his face was an archaic brown / and he owned a large home with a piano room / and the instrument was seemingly untouched / translation: my family doesn’t like to play our parts in grief / my brother started playing the piano after we buried Grandma Vivian in Harrisburg / he pressed his fingers against the keyboard / in attempt to orchestrate the sound of heaven / like if he played well enough / maybe his own father would resurrect from the Reading cemetery / translation: maybe if he hits the right keys, they will all come back to dance, on their own graves.



mama gasps as she reads the headline
          i look at my skin as if for the last time
i know white people think themselves God
          so they drown us like sinners
prefer we be baptized with eyes gouged
           when i look at God one day
maybe he will apologize
          for the plague of my upbringing
or maybe he won’t explain a thing at all
          because all is just
and all things be predetermined
          like black boys be pariahs

JAMAL PARKER is a poet, performer, and teaching artist. He’s a two time International Poetry Slam Champion, having won Brave New Voices (2015) and the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (2016). He’s a Watering Hole Fellow, and Co-Founder of the Spoken Word Duo Black Boy Fly. He’s been featured at Busboys & Poets, Orlando’s Diverse Word, Baltimore’s Louder Than a Bomb Festival, the NYC Javitz Center, and much more. His written work can be found in The Altar Collective, Teenage Wasteland, and Poetry Nook. As of now, he’s the Artistic Director of Babel Poetry Collective, where he produces and directs spoken word showcases.