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Elegy with a City in It


There are men awed
by blood, lost in the black
of all that is awful:
think crack and aluminum. Odd
what time steals,
or steals time: black robes, awful
nights when men offed in streets awed
us. Dead bodies sold news; real
hustlers bled. The Post a reel
for Rayful: black death, awe,
chocolate city read
as accumulation: the red

of all those bodies. Red
sometimes a dark and awful
omen the best couldn't read.
Death almost invented when red
was the curse of men born black
and lost in a drama Reagan read
as war: crack vials and cash and red
in our eyes and we not still
with our pocket full of stones. Steel
in hands, and a god-awful
law aimed at stilling the red.
But ambition burns, makes all red
with a greed so damn real,
fattened by all that others read
in the Post about how real
it is in the streets. This reel
is a flick that has awed
fools looking for something real
in bleeding streets, as if the real
is only what drowns: think Black,
Yusef, Moe; they all blackened
the inside of a casket, all real
flesh in that final moment, still
and nothing more, still

as men plotting on stealing
time from death and cold, reeled
in from the street like dead fish. Steel
assured mutual destruction; steel
should have kept us safe. I read
the obits, the map of death, still
as caskets holding men, still
as the bullet. Who is awed
by trouble? This awful
gristle and flesh torn by steel
turned into murder. Ask Black,
dead in nights' ruins. Bring out the black

ties the papers say. The black
hole is now the block. Steel
swallows men, spits them out black-
eyed, spits them out black-
balled. Reagan's curse might be real,
might be what has niggas black-
mailing themselves, dancing in black-
face. Chocolate city red
under the scrutiny. Asphalt red.
When we heard about Black,
there was this silence, awful
silence, like death was odd,
and still when I sing this awful
tale, there is more than a dead black
man in the center; there is a city still
as all the bodies that make '86 realó
a city still, and awful, still and stark red.


Reginald Dwayne Betts

The Kenyon Review

Spring 2013


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