photo: Darryl Terrell
Luther Hughes received his BA in poetry from Columbia College Chicago. He currently curates, “Shade,” a literary blog for queer writers of color. He is also the Associate Poetry Editor for The Offing Magazine. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Luther’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Solstice Literary Magazine, Muzzle Magazine, Winter Tangerine, Vinyl Poetry, Word Riot, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.
It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
this is not zion
when the water came, swift and jagged like a wooden stake,
that’s all there was. the earth ceased being earth,
unflowered and fled into itself, too overwrought
to move its limbs, but flailed them nonetheless.
it’s backside speckled with bodies whose skin
ran sparse, flaked, then passed away.
the water in the bathtub buries everything below my chin.
the filth around the bathtub’s edge blossoms
into a cloud of blackbirds. their wings flutter, swoon
at the ravenous sounds of waves. my body is numb
and stubborn, believes itself a storm of its own.
thirsty for the opening of men, i break into my wrist
with a small blade. release the red menace. i tell everyone
they’re beautiful by cutting what god told me to keep.
water outpours onto the floor when the bathtub
is too full. i bleed and a storm swings
at the window, wants to know how many miles
the skin is once removed from the body. to keep from drowning
i lift my chin to the swarming light. a song floods
my mouth, breaks open the gates. a weeping of sorts.
my voice, like a hungered hand climbing from the boughs
of my throat, runs outside into nothing, its frail legs
creaking before folding like a dam overwhelmed.
the nothing is deceiving, challenges the earth
for power. poor nothing. just yesterday you were a fiend,
obliterating everything your jaws could carry,
the howl of your wickedness toppling churches,
schools, and hospitals. scars where prayers
should be. or the scars, reddening,
tarries along the earth waiting for the wind’s undressing.
for the prayers to climb through the earth’s
pleats. the water, once wrung, lays
its head inside the earth’s lap, waiting for the sky
to call it home. the god in me wants to control everything,
drains the bathtub. my body remains
in the emptiness. a single drop of creation.
my voice stumbles back inside, settles at my feet,
and i barely recognize it. legs ruinous and lacquered.
the window opens its weathered chest,
in-pours light like a bouquet of blackbirds, eager
to nest against the bathtub’s quiet. the bodies
that salted the earth are nowhere to be found.
ode to the black object
oooooooofor Wesley Hilaire
i think i’m too black to be taken. i bark, sought after. i try to swim. look how they reach for me. my flesh braided ash. my ash don’t know no better. everything about me maims. everything maims when i curl my lip to breathe. i breathe in screams. i carcass-caverned mouth, a branchless tree made of hands. my hands can’t fight the demons snatched across my skin. i demon, body swamped. salty no-good-menace. i actually bodiless. my body leave me naked. i naked, want to feel whole. all i know is empty. the skin of me falls at the seam. my seam unravels into the seafloor. i smell like drowning. everything is black. everything gets lost inside. i can’t tell the difference between my hands, my eyes, my swanish neck. my neck has baggage. i call it a throat. my throat holds water, a dead body shot. my body shot. i know no better. i watch my life slip into its coffin. one name coffin-body. my body can’t slide in and out. call me caged bird. this skin ain’t no bird. everything is drowning. i cold, trying to whisk oxygen into a fleeting name. i dead before i know it. i born black. i black and born and wishing my mouth an abyss of oxygen. i close my eyes. my tongue blankets, swallows the water. a bullet gone missing. i probably gone missing. i don’t know who i am.
how to stop drowning
ooooooafter Nicole Rollender and Jericho Brown
because this is not a baptism
you don’t plug your nose when his teeth
yanks at your neck. you watch your shadow
snap between the corners of his bedroom walls.
a storm is always made of multiple bodies
opening into a plague. later, you will watch
videos of hurricane katrina in your free time
because you crave water thrusting the land between
heaven and hell. how you find broken windows
form in the shape of blossoming magnolias.
but you were not born to new orleans. you assume
beauty blooms in the cavity of destruction.
a man knows when he’s drowning.
your father was right about everything
and you drink his name when the boy spreads
your back under the hill of his palm, into a billow
of blush. when your throat fills with water,
try not to swallow your tongue. you will need it
to scream. shock the body into ache before it floods.
rocks back into his pelvis. the videos never mention
a death count. everyone died eventually. you fold your legs
into a pine tree—caked with fur and moist.
as he kisses your lips, you feel his chest
purrs against your honeyed spine. while another breath
burrows inside your lungs, you surrender to this act
of love the way your father taught you in his absence.
first, mold your body into an angel. float.
second, clench your jaw until iron is drawn
between the tongue and lips. third—and final—rise
from the basin of bodies, turn off the videos, and walk into the rain.