Two Poems by Danez Smith

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Jesus be a durag

after Jamila Woods

& be mighty, black satin-ish savior stretched around my scalp
take me in your hand & make me like the water. be a way
to tell my people I am their people, sheer cape falling down

my neck make me some kind of superhero, captain save
a hoe from myself, rag to make me un-ragged in the morning
let me wake up black & alive & black & alive & thinking I’m cute

lord of lawds, be a fence around my fly, be a shield, be a rock
be a spell, be a dark & lovely magic, sweet Jesus, if you are god
be god, let whatever that reaches towards us to end us miss

let America drown in our waves, if a bullet must touch us
let it graze soft as a bristle brush, let us spill no blood on a day
we feel beautiful, & let us be beautiful, let us know it, be casket

sharp & ban the word casket. no black person will die in this poem
but these waves might hurt somebody, watch yourself, swim good
be happy we sleep with these rags on. I heard a story once about

a boy who brushed his hair for 40 days & 40 nights, & when he
finally slept he forgot to wrap his ocean up. that night, mamas
started crawling from his hairline carrying babies, men climbed

out his waves like they had just jumped off the boat, a wet army
necromanced from naps. see? this hair is some kind of holy. see?
it’s not hair at all. on top of our dome, a prayer to bring us home.



when the bus rocks down certain streets
or when my underwear is bunched just so

on the elliptical machine, my thighs’
weak machinery makes the tip hum with blood

or makes the sensitive, dormant tumor eep
with soft joy. little meat statue i hid from

the guy across the aisle who today is cute enough
as i half-watch the sunrise through the window

at the Y, imagining his salt as my piercing threads
its steel revolution for the twelfth time

as i switch from manual to the fat burner
workout & change the small TV covered

in my sweat to the news, on which the Department
of Justice is announcing an investigation

on the Chicago police & oh there it is
again, the amen of my body being its own

lover, the hands it sometimes makes of itself
reaching for some deeper heart’s pulse

tiny corner of the reptile brain that can
compute ecstasy, primal groan that almost

sounds like yes, praise it, electric song
muffled in my shorts, & i wonder if

the rest of the gym can tell i’m an orgy,
my body gripping around it’s own neck

whispering in it’s own ear come for me
whenever i call, i’m always calling

& i throw back my own head
fill the room with my own name.

Photo of Danez Smith

Photo of Danez Smith

Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Danez is also the author of two chapbooks, hands on your knees (2013, Penmanship Books) and black movie (2015, Button Poetry), winner of the Button Poetry Prize. Their work has been published & featured widely including in Poetry Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, Buzzfeed, Blavity and Ploughshares. They are a 2014 Ruth Lilly - Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, a Cave Canem and VONA alum, and recipient of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. They are a 2-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, placing 2nd in 2014. Danez is a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective. They are an MFA candidate at The University of Michigan, currently teach with InsideOut Detroit and are from St. Paul, MN.