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i am the darker brother.

a collection of poetry from the genius of the african diaspora.

Posts tagged Essex Hemphill:

Are you willing to kill me

if I ask you to?

If I’m unable to do so

are you willing to kill me?

If I can’t, by my own hand,

if I’m unable to

for any reason

and the prospect of my life

is diminished beyond recovery;

if I can’t remember my name

or recognize my mother

or identify you; if I can’t

sleep beside you anymore

holding your stomach

in my calloused hands;

if I lose control of my body

and the intricate systems

I’m required to operate;

if I should become hopelessly bedridden

will you understand my unwillingness

to linger on? Can you be as brave

and as clear headed as you are now,

professing that you would love to love me?

But could you kill me,

if I asked you to?

Would your love

let me not linger

in my dying bed?

—essex hemphill, baby can you love me?

In america,
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land
to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
critically.
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live
to free this dream.

—essex hemphill, american wedding.

You judge a woman
by the length of her skirt,
by the way she walks,
talks, looks, and acts;
by the color of her skin you judge
and will call her “Bitch!”
“Black bitch!”
if she doesn’t answer your:
“Hey baby, whatcha gonna say
to a man.”

You judge a woman
by the job she olds,
by the number of children she’s had,
by the number of digits on her check,
by the many men she may have lain with
and wonder what jive murphy
you’ll run on her this time.

You tell a woman
every poetic love line
you can think if,
then like the desperate needle
of a strung out junkie
you plunge into her veins,
travel wildly through her blood,
confuse her mind, make her hate,
and be cold to the men to come,
destroying the thread of calm
she held.

You judge a woman
by what she can do for you alone
but there’s no need
for slaves to have slaves.

You judge a woman
by impressions you think you’ve made.
Ask and she gives,
take without asking,
beat on her and she’ll obey,
throw her name up and down the streets
like some loose whistle—
knowing her neighbors will talk.
Her friends will chew her name.
Her family;s blood will run loose
like a broken creek.
And when you’re gone,
a woman is left
healing her wounds alone.

But we so-called men,
we co-called brothers
wonder why it’s so hard
to love our women
when we’re about loving them
the way america loves us.

—essex hemphill, to some supposed brothers.

Don’t let it be loneliness
that kills us.
If we must die
on the front line
let us die men
loved by both sexes.

Don’t let it be envy
that drives us
to suck our thumbs
or shoot each other dead
over snake eyes.

Let us not be dancing
with the wind
on heavy corners
tattered by doom.

Let us not accept
partial justice.
If we believe our lives
are priceless
we can’t be conquered.

If we must die
on the front line
don’t let loneliness
kill us.

—essex hemphill, heavy corners (for joe).

I have nothing to lose tonight.
All my men surround me, panting,
as I spin the ball above our heads
on my middle finger.
It’s a shimmering club light
and I’m dancing, slick in my sweat.
Squinting, I aim at the hole
fifty feet away. I let the tension go.
Shoot for the net. Choke it.
I never hear the ball
slap the backboard. I slam it
through the net. The crowd goes wild
for our win. I scored
thirty-two points this game
and they love me for it.
Everyone hollering
is a friend tonight.
But there are towns,
certain neighborhoods
where I’d be hard pressed
to hear them cheer
if I move on the block.

—essex hemphill, american hero.

Mother, do you know
I roam alone at night?
I wear colognes,
tight pants, and
chains of gold,
as I search
for men willing
to come back
to candlelight.

I’m not scared of these men
though some are killers
of sons like me. I learned
there is no tender mercy
for men of color,
for sons who love men
like me.

Do not feel shame for how I live.
I chose this tribe
of warriors and outlaws.
Do not feel you failed
some test of motherhood.
My life has borne fruit
no woman could have given me
anyway.

If one of these thick-lipped,
wet, black nights
while I’m out walking,
I find freedom in this village.
If I can take it with my tribe
I’ll bring you here.
And you will never notice
the absence of rice
and bridesmaids.

—essex hemphill, in the life.

Now we think
as we fuck
this nut
might kill us.
There might be
a pin-sized hole
in the condom.
A lethal leak.

We stop kissing
tall dark strangers,
sucking mustaches,
putting lips
tongues
everywhere.
We return to pictures.
Telephones.
Toys. Recent lovers.
Private lives.

Now we think
as we fuck
this nut might kill.
this kiss could turn
to stone.

—essex hemphill, now we think.

Lowering my pants
before another mouth;
the cheap movie reel
rattles in its compartment
while the silent color movie
for a quarter
grinds around and around.
We pant in a dark booth.
The musk of hair
burns our nostrils.
I moan as his mouth
swallows me.
This is the first sound
in this silent movie.
Then he moans
giving the movie
its dialogue.

—essex hemphill, le salon.

Another station, a new town.
The same COLORED and
WHITE ONLY signs.
By now I shouldn’t really care
but it amazes me still.

Every town since St. Louis
has been mean and nasty.
Signs everywhere,
and in some places
whorehouses
for COLORED ONLY
but no proper places
where a lady can pee.

Tonight, once again
I tie my hair up
with gardenias.
I blacken my face
and set myself afire
singing for my man.

Where O where
can he be, can he be?
Out looking for a place
without signs,
somewhere better
than New York
to hang his hat
or to just watch me
unbraid gardenias
from my hair.

—essex hemphill, gardenias.

Metaphorically speaking
his black dick is so big
when it stands up erect
it silences
the sound of his voice.
it obscures his view
of the territory, his history,
the cosmology of his identity
is rendered invisible.

When his big black dick
is not erect
it drags behind him,
a heavy, obtuse thing,
his balls and chains
clattering, making
so much noise
I cannot hear him
even if I want to listen.

—essex hemphill, black machismo.

I will always be there.
When the silence is exhumed.
When the photographs are examined
I will be pictured smiling
among the siblings, parents,
nieces and nephews.

In the background of the photographs
the hazy smoke of barbecue,
a checkered red and white tablecloth
laden with blackened chicken,
glistening ribs, paper plates,
bottles of beer and pop.

In the photos
the smallest children
are held by their parents.
My arms are empty, or around
the shoulders of unsuspecting aunts
expecting to throw rice at me someday.

Or picture tinsel, candles,
ornamented, imitation trees,
or another table, this one
set for Thanksgiving,
a turkey steaming the lens.

My arms are empty
in those photos, too,
so empty they would break
around a lover.

I am always there
for critical emergencies,
graduations,
the middle of the night.

I am the invisible son.
In the family photos
nothing appears out of character.
I smile as I serve my duty.

—essex hemphill, commitments. 

Sometimes I hold
my warm seed
up to my mouth
very close
to my parched lips
and whisper
“I’m sorry,”
before I turn my head
over the toilet
and listen to the seed
splash into the water.
.
I rinse what remains
down the drain,
dry my hands –
they return
to their tasks
as if nothing
out of place
has occurred.
.
I go on being,
wearing my shirts
and trousers,
voting, praying,
paying rent,
pissing in public,
cussing cabs,
fussing with utilities.
.
What I learn
as age advances,
relentless pillager,
is that we shrink
inside our shirts
and trousers,
or we spread
beyond the seams.
The hair we cherished
disappears.
.
Sometimes I hold
my warm seed
up to my mouth
and kiss it.

—essex hemphill, rights and permissions. 

If he is your lover,
never mind.
Perhaps, if we ask
he will join us.

—essex hemphill, invitations all around. 

You are not to touch yourself
in any way
or be familiar with ecstasy.
You are not to touch
anyone of your own sex
or outside of your race
then talk about it,
photograph it, write it down
in explicit details, or paint it
red, orange, blue, or dance
in honor of its power, dance
for its beauty, dance
because it’s yours.

You are not to touch other flesh
without a police permit.
You have no privacy -
the State wants to seize your bed
and sleep with you.
The State wants to control
your sexuality, your birth rate,
your passion.
The message is clear:
your penis, your vagina,
your testicles, your womb,
your anus, your orgasm,
these belong to the State.

You are not to touch yourself
or be familiar with ecstasy.
The erogenous zones
are not demilitarized.

—essex hemphill, the occupied territories. 

I don’t want to hear you beg
I’m sick of beggars.
If you a man
take what you want from me
or what you can.
Even if you have me
like some ol gay across town
you think you love.

Look at me!
standing here
with my dick as straight as yours.
What do you think this is?
The weather cock on a rooftop!

We sneak all over town
like two damn thieves
with whiskey on our breath,
no street lights on the backroads,
just the stars above us
as ordinary as they should be.

We always have to work it out
walk it through, talk it over,
drink and smoke our way into sodomy

I could take you in my room
but you’re afraid the landlady
will recognize you.
I feel thankful I don’t love you.
I won’t have to suffer you later on.

But for now I say
Johnnie Walker,
have you had enough, Johnnie Walker?
Do-I-look-like-a-woman-now?
Against the fogged car glass
do I look like your cross town lover?
Do I look like Shirley?

When you reach for her
to kiss her lips, her lips
are thick like mine,
her hair is cut close too, like mine
isn’t it…

—essex hemphill, isn’t it funny?

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