Back to Issue Twenty-Six.

After Essex Hemphill



The night is the night. So
Say the stars that light us
As we kneel before one
Another, illegal and illegal
Like Malcolm X. This is
His park, this part
Of the capital where we
Say please with our mouths
Full of each other, no one
Hungry as me against this
Tree. This tree, if we push
Too hard, will fall. But if
I don’t push at all, call me
A sissy. Somebody ahead
Of me seeded the fruit-
Bearing forest. The night
Is my right. Shouldn’t I
Eat? Shouldn’t I repeat,
It was good, like God?






Your grandfather was a murderer.
I’m glad he’s dead.

He invented the toothbrush,
But I don’t care to read his name

On the building I walk through

To avoid the rain. He raped women
Who weren’t yet women.

I imagine the wealth he left
When you turn red. I imagine you as a baby

Bouncing on a rapist’s knee. I like my teeth
Clean. I like to stay warm

And healthy. I get it. Then I get it
Again: my oral hygiene and your memory

Avoiding one another

Like a girl who walks the long way
To miss the neighborhood bully

Who’d really rather just beat up on somebody
New. I can’t help you. I can’t hug you.

I can’t grip your right hand, though
It never held a gun, though it never

Covered a lovely mouth, and you can’t pay me
To cross the ground floor without wishing

I could spit or mar some slick surface

And not think of who will have to do the cleaning.
We’d all still be poor. I’d end up drenched

Going around. You’d end remembering
What won’t lead to a smile that gleams

In dark places.



the peaches



I choose these two, bruised—
Maybe too ripe to take, fondling
Them as I toss them each
Into my cart, the smaller
With its stem somewhat
Intact—because they remind me
Of the girls who won’t be girls
Much longer, both sealed
And secured like a monarch’s
Treasure in a basement below
The basement of the house
I inherited. I’ve worked hard and want
To bring them something sweet
So they know I’ve missed them
More than anyone else. But first,
I weigh the peaches, pay
For them, make the short drive
To my childhood
Home of latches, mazes,
And little locked doors. Every key
Mine now, though I’ve hidden a few
From myself. I pride myself
On my gifts. I can fashion for you
A place to play, and when you think
It’s dark there, I hand you
Fruit like two swollen bulbs
Of light you can hold onto,
Watch your eyes brighten as you eat.


Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and of 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 Fence, Jubilat, the New Criterion, the New Republic, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Best American Poetry. His first book, Please (New Issues, 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon, 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. He serves as poetry editor for the Believer. He is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing and the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University in Atlanta.

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