Grinding Down To Prayer

Michael Kleber-Diggs

for George Floyd

I woke to the news you were dead.The what arrived before daylight;the how was agony unfolding as Idreaded my way to dusk. Unfoldingagainst my want not to know(but I already knew, have knownsince I could know): officers, arrest,Black, man, twenty, video, knee,sir, back, dollar, 8:, counterfeit,hands, sorry, 46, mama, please,breathe, please! Were you tiredGeorge? I feel tired sometimes.America on my neck—mylungs compressed so muchthey can’t expand/contract—take in/send out—oxygen/words.My dentist says I grind my teeth.My molars are wearing smooth.The next night, I jolted awaketo find my fists clenched tight(some fight), my heart pounding fast,my mouth hanging open, slack,not tight that time, just meon my own gasping for air6 times a minute—a raspy sound.The world was darkness; my room wasdarkness. I lay in a state ofin between and thought of youbut also God. I wanted the sunbut did not ask. I hoped insteadfor a quiet dawn and peace for us,real peace for us. I hoped so hardit almost made a prayer.

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Ayanna Muata

Michael Kleber-Diggs is the author of Worldly Things, which was awarded the 2020 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. He was born and raised in Kansas and now lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Lit Hub, the Rumpus, Rain Taxi, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Water~Stone Review, Midway Review, North Dakota Quarterly and a few anthologies. Michael teaches poetry and creative non-fiction through the Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop.

“I am captivated, consoled, and bowled over by these poems, which are knifelike in their concision and oracular at their core. Worldly Things is so full of an age-old knowing I'm shocked it is Kleber-Diggs's debut. It is like the conundrum of the human soul: new and eternal at once.”
—Tracy K. Smith

”Michael Kleber-Diggs’s poems quietly put pressure on us to live up to our nation’s ideals. He gives voice to the experiences and aspirations of middle-class Black America, and though the promised land is faraway, he finds grace in the natural world, long marriage, and fathering. These supple, socially responsible poems seem to me a triumphant, paradoxical, luminous response to a violent time in our history.”
—Henri Cole

"Though Michael Kleber-Diggs' Worldly Things . . . is his debut poetry collection, his prowess as an essayist and literary critic isn't new. His prose is especially honest, engaging and descriptive, and this collection is sure to offer similar meaning and pleasure, with the sound, voice and impact that only poetry can deliver."
Chicago Review of Books, "Twelve Poetry Collections to Read in 2021"

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