| P | L | E | A | S |
what is the word for the realization that your language never lovedyou? you are a red thing / scattered, sad map ofsacrificial fires nightly appealingwhere is that word?it becomes necessary to signify the passing sound of friends whoswear fidelity to oneself and in the same exchange refuse the weightof one’s brother’s body, collapsed and dragged forward by its willto keep running. it becomes necessary to signify the smear, the oilof him slicked across blacktop, how at night he disperses in shineand gas. you think the word is [lapse]: the illusion to which oneclings to keep from being both crazy and american, disrupted. glitchand pixel–the eternally loading screen that is blackness waitingto be called other than absence of. lapse / lap, which is—for themother—a sign of the child having lived.maybe your friends cannot exist within the glitch.there are lapses of justice / of memory / of time before the body iscovered / before those left to mourn lapse into savagery, which thefriends say they (just) cannot abide. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel
to break down and busy up the house next doorI hear them drone in my dead sleep hammeringmy head against the brick chest of a bright morningoutside one heaves his whole belly beneatha box full of toilet and another in the road yellsgotdamn his back hurts just watching and there’sa hole in the street beside him and inside thatanother white man and don’t you knowI don’t care who he is or where he’d rather beor how hungry his ragamuffins or how fucked uphis own toilet I want that hole to shuthim up and the asphalt to lick its lips and thatI don’t care what wanting this makes melooks like what they’ve called freedom I wantthese holes in my back shut up I want the deadboy inside me to bury white men alive yesall of them in his gut I snap the teeth of my blindsdown because don’t I know every white manhas a dead black child inside him burstingwith the desire to materialize in the streetas a manhole I want to keep someone safe I sayI used to feel safe and don’t mean it I sayif I eat them all I am a cradle forcradles but if I eat them all I am also justa city full of white men I am sick withrevitalization I am such a sepulchreif I eat them they will still be busy busy busyas a virus trying to keep me alive just as longas my body is the gracious host for theirbuildup which you know has beenthe longest breakdown gotdamnI say it too my back hurts just knowingwhat they wish it would still do
Copyright © 2018 by Justin Phillip Reed
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission of Coffee House Press
Justin Phillip Reed was born and raised in South Carolina. His work appears in the African American Review, The Best American Essays, Callaloo, the Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. He received an MFA in poetry from Washington University in St. Louis. The author of the chapbook A History of Flamboyance (YesYes Books 2016), he has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and the Conversation Literary Festival. He lives in St. Louis.
“/P/L/E/A/S” first appeared in Vinyl Poetry and Prose.
Indecency is boldly and carefully executed and perfectly ragged. In these poems, Justin Phillip Reed experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice and to critique and lament the culture of white supremacy and the dominant social order. Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful—the author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us.
“More than their beauty, what the poems of A History of Flamboyance flaunt is their insistence, a restless and, finally, necessary intellectual rigor that demands as much from the reader as it will delight and trouble her. But don’t be tricked in thinking these are consequently too-stiffened poems, lacking blood. There’s blood moving in every line of Reed’s poems, and there’s nerve, which is only to say that here is also honest if sometimes painful feeling, vulnerability articulated with power. If these poems are confessions, then Reed’s many formal interventions mean to break up, down or apart, reveal and revise, perhaps, the performance of those confessions, an effort to expose their inner makings, motives, our histories, these ‘constructed rituals’ of shame and desire. I’d say this fits a mind that seems at turns insatiable, wanting more of our world and of the poem; at other times more reserved, wanting less; but at all times is a mind nevertheless committed to the poem’s queerest possibility, evoking its many traditions just as it disrupts or rewrites them. So these poems teach me. Justin Phillip Reed is a productive new voice in contemporary poetry, ‘rose up like a hard new fact,’ and one that feels in every way as irrefutable.”
“To be re-born inside these poems of chasm is a rigor not quietly undertaken. Justin Phillip Reed undoes the sonnet’s deep organization with the violent abandon of a boy become object in the stink of rapture. A ripping of form occurs. A cataclysm of self. And what do we find in these body ruins? I, for one, hear the hunt of masculine desire beating through—familiar, a known place—calling like a rustling of trees in night’s black thought. These poems at once trouble this bringing forth and grieve the ‘softness’ become ‘satchel.’ Indeed, how do we ever re-gather ourselves? When I read these poems by Reed, I’m left energized, bereft, and altered. They will forever live in my imagination.”
—Dawn Lundy Martin