To the Killers of Us

To the Killers of Us

What did you do to us?
Did you drink our skin,
make tea from the powdered layers?

Did you weave our coffins
with hair from our own heads,
was this you?

And what of the whorls
that used to grace our fingers?
What happened to the trace of us?

Are we the ones who scream at your deathbed?
Were we the ones who said we forgive you,
who sometimes beat and call our women bitches,
tell them to fuck off and get the fuck out, who remove
our tongues to kiss men in dented corners, wake
with your name stuck in our teeth or branded on our cheek,
who tell stories of bright rooms and closed familiar hands when
we are too young or open sidewalks when we are old enough
to watch you choke us again and again while we yell,
We can’t—
or say nothing,
was this us?

Who were we then?
What are we becoming?

Some days we wonder what is left for us to love.
Some days we wonder what’s left of us.

Tell us.

You who have taken almost everything,
but this white butterfly holding onto purple
for dear life, or the sweat that comes from
bucking bales, or seeding sweet corn we planted
with hands we trace from singing
the million ways Black and Brown hearts die
and live, still we live
stories no one believes or wants to hear,
like the love that rinses our tilted tear gassed faces
into a milky caul,
or the small passing of sage our nephew bound,
juniper, yellow and red roses,
into our open hands,
true true medicine, ours to burn
and bathe in smoke,
stoke each heart and limb
for that next time fire.

You have not taken any of these things,
not the music or the beat or the drum we hollowed
from cottonwood, cut on our land, strung with animals
we soaked and dried our own selves, these skins,
the remains of our staggered breath,
we, the survivor of many,
who will love and live still,
we know what you’ve done,
we’re telling who you are.



by Rae Paris  (many thanks to the friend who gifted me the phrase “survivor of many”)






Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes

My Mother, Carolyn, Holding Me, Langston HughesWhen I was in high school, Langston Hughes was one of two Black poets my White English teacher glossed over (the other was Gwendolyn Brooks). “A Dream Deferred”? The message in the poem was obvious, she said, and we turned the page. I’m including this moment in You, a young adult novel I’m revising, because I still remember it. It was a moment that taught me so much about power, silencing, and quiet resistance.

At the 2013 College Language Association Conference, an association “founded in 1937 by Black scholars and educators,” I was fortunate enough to attend the Langston Hughes luncheon where poet Tony Medina gave a talk on Langston Hughes and Black children. For many of us, Langston Hughes was (and continues to be) an early introduction to the sounds of Blackness in poetry, which is another way of saying Hughes’s poetry is a Black Space, a place where we can see, hear, and imagine ourselves in our lived present, our remembered past, and our possible futures. Writer Kima Jones puts it best:

A couple of my favorite Hughes poems:

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And an excerpt from “Harlem Sweeties”:

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Here, Langston Hughes reading “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

Finally, for the record, shout out to my high school English teacher, there’s nothing obvious or simple about a dream deferred, the poem or the lived experience.

Happy Birthday, Langston.