Danez Smith’s collection Don’t Call Us Dead is a thoughtful and moving expression of social resistance. Combining elegiac lyricism with stern opposition, Smith’s poems confront the racial inequality of a ‘white america’ that runs on hypocrisy and denial. This month, as we commemorate black history in the U.S., Danez Smith’s work offers the possibility of embodied understanding through the power of imagination.
i’ve left Earth in search of darker planets, a solar system revolving too near a black
hole. i’ve left in search of a new God. i do not trust the God you have given us. my
grandmother’s hallelujah is only outdone by the fear she nurses every time the blood-
fat summer swallows another child who used to sing in the choir. take your God back.
though his songs are beautiful, his miracles are inconsistent. i want the fate of Lazarus
for Renisha, want Chucky, Bo, Meech, Trayvon, Sean & Jonylah risen three days after
their entombing, their ghost re-gifted flesh & blood, their flesh & blood re-gifted their
children. i’ve left Earth, i am equal parts sick of your go back to Africa & i just don’t see
race. neither did the poplar tree. we did not build your boats (though we did leave a
trail of kin to guide us home). we did not build your prisons (though we did & we fill
them too). we did not ask to be part of your America (though are we not America? her
joints brittle & dragging a ripped gown through Oakland?). i can’t stand your ground.
i’m sick of calling your recklessness the law. each night, i count my brothers. & in the
morning, when some do not survive to be counted, i count the holes they leave. i reach
for black folks & touch only air. your master magic trick, America. now he’s breath-
ing, now he don’t. abra-cadaver. white bread voodoo. sorcery you claim not to practice,
hand my cousin a pistol to do your work. i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but
you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his
bones. you took one look at the river, plump with the body of boy after girl after sweet
boi & ask why does it always have to be about race? because you made it that way! be-
cause you put an asterisk on my sister’s gorgeous face! call her pretty (for a black girl)!
because black girls go missing without so much as a whisper of where?! because there
are no amber alerts for amber-skinned girls! because Jordan boomed. because Emmett
whistled. because Huey P. spoke. because Martin preached. because black boys can al-
ways be too loud to live. because it’s taken my papa’s & my grandma’s time, my father’s
time, my mother’s time, my aunt’s time, my uncle’s time, my brother’s & my sister’s
time . . . how much time do you want for your progress? i’ve left Earth to find a place
where my kin can be safe, where black people ain’t but people the same color as the
good, wet earth, until that means something, until then i bid you well, i bid you war,
i bid you our lives to gamble with no more. i’ve left Earth & i am touching everything
you beg your telescopes to show you. i’m giving the stars their right names. & this life,
this new story & history you cannot steal or sell or cast overboard or hang or beat or
drown or own or redline or shackle or silence or cheat or choke or cover up or jail
or shoot or jail or shoot or jail or shoot or ruin
this, if only this one, is ours.
By Danez Smith
Chatto & Windus | 112 pp | £10.99