tugs his short robe over his thighs.
It keeps riding up when he leans forward
in the rolling chair at his desk.
He thinks he feels eyes on him,
avoiding him at the same time
and wonders which he should want.
Filling cups is easier than herding
and everyone has been so kind to him.
A tall woman showed him how
to make coffee: the blinking eye
of the machine, the shining red foil,
filters the color and texture of wool.
When the phone rings,
he doesn't flinch. He gets used
to the bite of the wind, even
to feeling cold indoors,
to the way the light glares sharper here,
so high up, through long panes of glass.
And it feels so good to be chosen,
to move his new self in this new room,
the echoing stairways and halls.
He thinks he left half-willing
but you do not stay barefoot
on the hillside with the sheep.
You do not watch the sky for an eagle
and wonder what lucky child
is pressing his nose to feather and air.
At night, I wonder on the mechanics of the negro,
the silent hum beneath its interior—blood fresh.
History, I know it bathes in iron, in the deep of rivers,
boys are found ajar, internal wiring exposed.
This century, skin is eyeless. I want to burn it.
I've become fond of fire. The woods nearby,
watch over in the deepest green, so heavy, it means
to be black, to be disguised in the sky's dark cloth.
Winter falls through the blinds and my skin clings
to me. My mother puts on a mask of clay. I see how
it means to cleanse the flesh but there's always burning,
gold light infused in the exterior. It looks like metal,
like masks machines wear to pretend they're human.
I want to believe I'm human but in the morning shower
I feel the cool rush of mortality. Rain comes through
the streets, faces are wet and shining. I see how we are all
almost like machines in the ways we practice toleration.
Everything becomes a kind of mask. When minstrels
put on a good face, I wonder of the rusted gears behind
our eyes. My face sits behind faces. Most days, I feel
more machine than human, almost damaged, a product
of Race when water touches my skin beneath the moonlight.
There's something deeper, in the negro's mechanisms,
an order to breathing. I don't know what keeps us alive,
in the fields, in the little offices we roam but I know
I don’t want it, at least on this earth, what says live.
History, it works like a new device in the creased hands
of dementia. I want to think better of the human but my city
is a city of apparatus, a factory built on the usage of power.
Historically we're of the damned, doomed for wreckage
by the blade of our own genius.
When I breathe, I know my people know well
of inhalation, of what the body does to run.