Token Sings the Blues
You always or almostalways only onein the roomMaybe twoThree is a crowdThree is a gangThree is a companyof thieves Three iswow there's so many of youThree will get you confusedwith people that look nothinglike you you get calledDevin your name isn'tDevin you do your bestnot to ignore such casualerasure you know silencewill be received as affirmationpraise even & you always affirmativeYou affirmative action action figureYou fantastic first blackfriend You first-ballotquota keeper You almostcry when your historyprofessor says you knowin this country the gold standardused to be people Funny howno one comes right out& says things like you peopleanymore it's all codewords like thug ordiversity hire You diversityall by yourself You containmultitudes & are yetcontained everywhere you goconfined like there is alwayssomeone watching you & isn'tthere & isn't that the entire pointof this flesh you inheritedthis unrepentant stain betwice as good mama saysas if what they have is worthyour panic worth measuringyour very life against & you alwaysremember to measureYour hair, your volume, your toneover email, you perpetuallysorry You don't know whyYou apologize to no onein particular just for being around& in your body at the same timeYou know your bodyis the real problemYou monster You beastof burden You beast & burdenYou horse but humanYou centaur You mapthe stars & pull back your bowto shoot the moon in its one good white eye You are everythingyour big sister says& on your bestdays above ground youbelieve her
“Token Sings the Blues” from OWED by Joshua Bennett
Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Bennett.
Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a
division of Penguin Random House LLC.
All rights reserved.
Joshua Bennett is the Mellon Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth. He is the author of three books of poetry and criticism: The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016)—winner of the National Poetry Series and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award—Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020) and Owed (Penguin, 2020). Bennett earned his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and an M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar.
Dr. Bennett’s writing has been published in Best American Poetry, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, MIT, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His first work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History, is forthcoming from Knopf.
“Themes of praise and debt pervade this rhapsodic, rigorous poetry collection, which pays homage to everyday Black experience in the U.S. . . . Bennett conjures a spirit of kinship that, illuminated by redolent imagery, borders on mythic, and boldly stakes claim to ‘some living, future / English, & everyone in it / is immortal.’”
—The New Yorker
“Bennett captures the beauty of what really matters in life—the memories, youth sports, family traditions and little moments that many of us take for granted . . . [Owed] couldn't have been more timely.”
“Not only are these poems eloquent but also lyrical, intelligent, and, occasionally, funny. Most reflect upon and communicate the pain, joy, and intensity of the current Black experience . . . In a time when many confront and protest the racism prevalent in our society, Bennett’s new book is vital.”
—Library Journal (starred review)