Stay Safe

Luther Hughes

The dog outside won't stop swallowing the citywith its harping. Sooner or later some good citizenwill peek through their blinds asking themselvesabout the fuss, wanting to know what cruel somebodyabandoned such loyalty—some Golden Retriever,some snip-tailed Rottweiler, who knows. Next to me,he is asleep, the one I love, the one who promised mea dog in the long seasons to come. He says when the sunis at its most weary, when the sky collapses into the Cascades,when the wounds of autumn vanish into miles of snowy flesh,then. The truth is, who knows what will happen to either of us.We are always one bullet away from the graveyard,a murder of memorial hymns. And if that's the roomwe've been born into, why do sparrows break the morning with song?Why do fir trees fight bark and root for their green?Sometimes I hear the Earth's sunken voice saying,Come home, come home. And who am I to argue with the onewho has given us so much? But dear eager Earth, I want himto live forever. I want the dog outside to have met my dead dog.I hardly think of him, of how our neighbors shouted at us to shut him up.One day they did it for us, poured searing water onto his body.The grass around him became shredded hairs. The flies feveredand worried. I watched what happened to an animal unwelcomed,underserved. When I tell him this as he armors himself for the day,he says that will never happen again. Oh, to be as certain as wind!Not true, I want to say, but I can't have everything. I can'thave the yellow from the small patch of dandelions, can't havethe echo of laughter rolling over rooftops, over the hushof engines and bicycle bells, can't bring the dead back to life.We won't live forever, but I am afraid some wrong citizenwill mistake him for a scar on the neighborhood—they willtake him from me. I settle with a covering spell: Stay safe.He walks out the door and into a spray of sirens.

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Luther Hughes is the author of the debut poetry collection, A Shiver in the Leaves (BOA Editions, 2022), and the chapbook Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018), recommended by the American Library Association. He is the founder of Shade Literary Arts, a literary organization for queer writers of color, and co-hosts The Poet Salon podcast. Recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship and 92Y Discovery Poetry Prize, his writing has been published in American Poetry Review, Paris Review, Orion, and more. He was born and raised in Seattle, where he currently lives.

Cover of A Shiver in the Leaves

Rochester, New York

Nestled against the backdrop of Seattle's flora, fauna, and cityscape, Luther Hughes' debut poetry collection wrestles with the interior and exterior symbiosis of a gay Black man finding refuge from the threat of depression and death through love and desire.

“This is a book of hope, of triumph, even as each day that we wake is a triumph over how things might have been otherwise. ‘Look at all my colors,’ Hughes says, reminding us that black contains all colors, is in that way its own abundance. That abundance includes the erotic, the familial, relationships variously sought and regretted, relationships with others as much as with ourselves, the self as an ever-restless interior of light and shadow. That abundance includes, as well, the hard-won poems of A Shiver in the Leaves, whose music is finally, beautifully, brutally, Hughes’s own.”
— Carl Phillips, from the Foreword

“Luther Hughes’ debut poetry collection resounds with longing—for love, for tenderness, and most of all for mercy. ‘Hunger declares itself,’ and despite his speaker’s attempts to lose himself, despite becoming, for a time, a space where others can be lost, he finds himself, and in so doing is found. Achingly vulnerable, A Shiver in the Leaves reminds us that ‘It’s never enough to love a thing, / you must do the work, too,’ and we hold some measure of our own salvation in our hands.”
— Donika Kelly, author of The Renunciations

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