Image: JACK WHITTEN, “Black Monolith, II: Homage To Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man,” 1994 (acrylic and mixed media on canvas: molasses, copper, salt, coal ash, chocolate, onion, herbs, rust, eggshell, razor blade). | © Jack Whitten, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Shirley Jones-Luke is a poet and a writer from Boston, Mass. She has an MA from UMass Boston and an MFA from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Adanna, BlazeVOX, Deluge and Willawaw. Shirley was a 2017 Poetry Fellow at The Watering Hole Poetry Retreat. The first two poems previously appeared in Longleaf Review.
A Portrait of Michael Brown that Wasn’t Michael Brown
after Ferguson & The White Card
Black outline on a white space dots indicate entry path
The body is naked. The Black body is naked
except for the dark marks.
A caricature of a young man, of Michael Brown.
But it’s not him. No outline can represent a black body.
White space cannot hold who Michael Brown was.
It looks like a target at a gun range a black body bullseye.
Not a boy. Not a man. A step above a stick figure.
Some might call it art.
Why Black & Brown Boys Don’t Smile
Yes, they are all-American boys,
black & brown shadow shapers,
trying to perform big magic
Yes, they are broke & powerless,
black like me, brown like foreign soil,
becoming bad asses
This is a social history of the
American negro, nigger, nigga, negus
naming bodies of unknown origins
Yes, these boys hunger
for electric arches illuminating
their true names like a torch
Yes, they create themselves
like artists, because they feel
they were born a crime
Urban Boys & The Blues
No, they are not considered to be all-American boys,
black & brown shadows, shaping
their futures, wishing for magic
No, they are not powerless, not broken
by an unjust society, making them targets
because they are black like the cosmos
They are the descendants of another continent,
of forgotten tribes enslaved, now
the un-American negro, nigger, nigga
Yes, hunger is what they know,
fueling their passion for justice
in a country that wants them silent
Yes, they are neon signs, bodies
like electric artists, illuminating
their canvases for all to see
These boys of avenues & streets
know they carry more than struggle
in their DNA, they carry freedom
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