For the Black Men My Love Cannot Protect (poem)
For the Black men
my love cannot protect,
you are radiant.
Your eloquence is the gun
they swear you have when they shoot you.
The speed of your tongue
is justification to stand their ground.
Your existence is the antithesis of their contentment,
for the world is not prepared for you to succeed.
You are powerful.
I rode BART today.
As I passed Fruitvale station, my heart dropped.
I thought about Oscar.
I thought about the bonding his baby girl will never experience
at the hands of the bondage that took him forever.
I thought about that gun in taser’s clothing,
synonymous with the “oops” that follows genocide.
Dear Black man, that stark white smile shines like the stars,
your lips curve like the crescent moon.
But every time I watch the night sky that is your face,
the fear grows inside.
They took Mike
and [insert name here]
and I don’t wanna know
what they will do to you.
As the bullet penetrates the tissue,
I buy stock in tissue because these tears won’t stop.
Your tomorrow ain’t promised.
So today I tell you I love you.
I feel you don’t hear that enough.
Baby mama’s, MTV and even BET
screaming you are inadequate.
You are enough.
As you pour yourself out like libations for those you have loved and lost,
Black man remember you need to stand tall.
They say there is no warmth
like the warmth of a mother’s arms.
Her love, a burning passion for your survival.
But what does that warmth do
for the cold body she caresses?
She no longer wears white dresses,
them bloodstains don’t come out.
The bleach done burned her skin,
just like the system done burned us.
And they dare ask are you a respectable negro?
Are you pleasant enough to leave
only a few bumps and bruises when they beat you?
Or are you a beast?
Will you break their bones like you break racial barriers
and turn them against one another
like the stiff pages of the books you have read?
You are intelligent.
How exactly will you use the knowledge in your head
to pass the bar whose weight
we are crushing under,
as we wait for social change?
take hold of your sisters,
for this patriarchal society means us no good.
When you make it to your 21st birthday,
please celebrate to no end,
for this is a major life event
that no other race will understand.
Remind your sisters that they should stand tall.
For we are not stepping stones toward liberation,
we be the backbone
that backs you up when nobody else got you.
Dear black man,
I continue to carve the words
“I love you” into your skin with my eyes.
I traded my besos for the bullets I would take for you,
my cries for chrome knuckles raised to the sky,
and death for deconstruction of a system that
don’t want us here.
So when you make it to the end of this year,
You better remember this letter.
For we can no longer count the number of fatalities,
and I cannot claim your body in the morgue.
My cold body may be lying right next to yours.
They killed Tanisha
Damnit, the list goes on
and I could be next!
What will it take to make them see your worth?
I am mourning
and in the morning I am scared you may not be here.
Do you hear me?
Or have you silenced me like the rest of our community do?
I mean it’s fine if you have,
The only question that remains is:
If I don’t speak up for us,
where exactly does that leave you?
Copyright © 2016 Azariah Cole-Shephard. Printed by permission of the author for this issue of the Reader.
Azariah Cole-Shephard, the 2016 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, is what many refer to as a poet-activist. Recently she created an outline for her organization, performed nationwide, taught at multiple institutions of higher learning including various high schools and Stanford University, received a Resolution from the City of Oakland, and more. She spends her free time mentoring youth, volunteering, photography, learning from members of the Black Panther Party, and grassroots organizing. She is the founder of Melanin Elevatin Black Literacy Program and is currently working on expanding the program to meet a wider range of needs in the community.