Saturday Sep 23

BennettJoshua Joshua Bennett hails from Yonkers, NY. He is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton University, and has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University, and the Ford Foundation. Winner of the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize and the 2015 Erskine J. Poetry Prize, his poems have been published or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Callaloo, New England Review, Obsidian and elsewhere. Joshua is also the founding editor of Kinfolks: a journal of black expression.


is how Instructor Ron describes
the soft brick box I have
carved my body into.

He’s wrong. Silly Ron.
Silly human brain
like a gun sight,

marring distinction. Even
a cursory search online
reveals that I am stuck

somewhere between middle
-weight & super middleweight,
each description apt

in its own way,
for I am a man
deeply committed

to ambivalence, crass
prevarication, in even
this regard: my new name,

my fresh coat
of arms after all
those Sunday hours

spent pulverizing the air,
dreaming of schoolyard
toughs long locked away,

or already dead in the eyes
of the world I ran to.
Middleweight lacks

the jouissance of Ron’s
winsome error. It doesn’t
sound like a war

-head, knuckles firing back
& forth so fast they could knock
the timbre out of a man’s mouth.

I wanted to glide like that.
I wanted the science
without the sweetness.

I’m no novice. I know
what beauty costs.
Before mouth-guards

or weighted gloves,
the concrete taught me
mercy. Three on one

& my blood never touched
the ground. Go ahead. Ask me
what the fire in my father’s veins

has wrought, what I have built
& broken to stand here, covered
in glass, laughing at the end

of our session when Ron says
surrender to the floor & I don’t know
how to tell him I already have

The Open

To be sure, there is a certain promiscuous relation
between what Rilke calls, in his eighth and greatest
elegy, the open, and what I meant in 12th grade
when I dialed Tiana’s digits into my ultramarine
Sprint flip phone, said you free this Wednesday,
I got the open, which was shorthand, of course,
for open crib, or, open house, without the academic
associations that attend the latter phrase.
In Rilke’s mouth, the term connotes a way
of seeing, the world as a blurring of body
& shape, no discernible split between
the water and its trout like scimitars
soft to the touch, lending their silver speed
to the landscape. What I mean to say:
I have spent years yearning to be
so close to the body of another
my mind passes like mist from me,
an albatross I might shed without penance
or pain. Tiana leaves for the 64 bus
eventually, & I am still only a boy
alone in his childhood bed, watching
the hours improve. At school the next
day, my dearest friends adorn me
in their singular cruelty, claim
Tiana has me open, outlined in marigolds,
my body luminous, my body barely discernible,
as if I had gazed upon the edge of the known
world with all my eyes and yet lived

Black History, Abridged

When I was four, an elderly white woman bought my elementary school while I was still going to school inside of it. Tore the building down. Now, it’s a parking lot.

Elegy for the Modern School

This much I can prove:
we were black & unfinished
in the Harlem of old,

a mass of naps
& Vaselined knees
before the promise

of faster Wi-Fi & craft
beer was code for
what it is code for.

& my mother would
drop us off in her ‘89
Toyota Camry, its cool

steel flesh the color of a
half-dead rhododendron.
& my big sister would hold on

to my left hand—which fit
in hers like a quarter’s worth
of peanut chews back then

—until the bell bid us scatter.
Let the record show that I felt
no particular way as it pertained

to her invariable nearness.
I was a good boy, & thus
defined by a certain lust

for solitude, the countless
ways I learned to scream
don’t touch. This was all I knew

of the world I had yet to name,
its utter indifference, its
physical laws, my sister

a kind of atmosphere,
more god or feeling
than another small,

finite body like mine
that could be known
well, or else destroyed.

True story: Miss Cherry
owned a ruler long as
my daddy’s entire forearm,

called it Redeemer, kept
the instrument at the front
of our classroom

so as to enrich
our already budding
sense of the apocalyptic,

would rap our knuckles
& back-sides with it
like a blacksmith in love

with his labor any time
we dared to behave
as if we were, in her words,

outside of our natural
minds. I imagine our parents
thought this little more

than the rational extension of age
-old wisdom when it comes
to rearing the hunted:

I cannot keep you
alive, but I will see you
die at my hands before

the day I let the law
withdraw your name
from the ledger

of the living. & so it was,
that in songs & parables
long-given to the tide

of Reagan & concrete bleeding
blackness all over & wayward
shots meant for men

themselves too young
to know the scent of cells
& aspiration rotted through,

we learned how we arrived
at the underside of modernity,
children only while we were held

& honed within those broad
brick walls, a place for us
to be unburied & yet unashamed,

unassailable, unaware of an entire
order lingering like lions
at the door