Four Poems by Jericho Brown

Bullet Points
I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home.  Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
And the ants and the roaches
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in.  When I kill me, I will kill me
The same way most Americans do,
I promise you:  cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst.  I promise that if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me.  He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement a city can
Pay a mother to stop crying, and more
Beautiful than the brand new shiny bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain.

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife Husband

My man never read my poems, but he loved
Fantasy and science fiction. In one novel

He left behind: a boy with a king’s name,

A boy who can’t help but travel through time. Over

And again, his mother dies while he watches,

Age twelve, then thirty-six, but first at five.

Naked, each age picks pockets and breaks

Combination locks. Before his heart stopped, my lover
Told me he thought grief too severe

A drug. He’d catch me grit my teeth
Struggling for the right word and beg
That I come to bed. I want to know what

He knew, how he became the wizard I never

Will be. Reading each page, addicted, I ask every single
Night. What I lost, I keep losing.

The Legend of Big and Fine
Long ago, we used two words for the worth of a house, a car,
A woman—all the same to men who claimed them:  things
To be entered, each to experience wear and tear with time,
But greater than the love for these was the strong little grin
One man offered another saying, You lucky.  You got you a big,
Fine __________.  Hard to imagine—so many men waiting
On each other to be recognized, every crooked tooth in our
Naming mouths ready like the syllables of a very short
Sentence, so many of us crying mine, like infants who grab
For what must be beautiful since someone else saw it.

Second Language
You come with a little
Black string tied
Around your tongue,
Knotted to remind
Where you came from
And why you left
Behind photographs
Of people whose
Names need no
Pronouncing.  How
Do you say God
Now that the night
Rises sooner?  How
Dare you wake to work
Before any alarm?
I am the man asking,
The great grandson
Made so by the dead
Tenant farmers promised
A plot of land to hew.
They thought they could
Own the dirt they were
Bound to.  In that part
Of the country, a knot
Is something you
Get after getting knocked
Down, and story means
Lie.  In your part
Of the country, class
Means school, this room
Where we practice
Words like rope in our
Hope to undo your
Tongue, so you can tell
A lie or break a promise
Or grow like a story.

 

About the Author:
jericho_5Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  His poems have appeared in The New York TimesThe New YorkerThe New RepublicBuzzfeedThe Pushcart Prize Anthology, and The Best American Poetry.  His first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.  He is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory University.

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