A man holds his penis in his mouth.
Sprawled on a cheap sofa like the one
that holds my bare backside, he stares blankly
through the lens at the director for his cues,
through me reaching for his gaze. I’m twentysomething
& home alone. I’m so there. I’m so not there
or here alone. See the boy in overalls: cross-legged
& wedged in the corner between two walls
of books. He stares as Claude Neal’s limp tongue
holds his own limpness on the fading page
of one dusty tome, Claude’s sockets fixed
on some constellation the boy wishes
he could decipher. Claude’s body—chiseled
& mangled—hangs in an oak by a rope. There is nothing
in this body we can desire, & we want.
We want a body, not mangled like ours,
we can love without shame. The boy feels
so small in his body, its scars that beckon
stares & gasps. I am he, doubled in size
& solemnity. I churn. I am an ocean
of want. This video’s hustler must do.
His left pec brandishes a lion’s paw
& skull-&-bones. A broken heart heaves outside
his right. With each kiss, our heads swell.
He’ll make $250 for this trick, $150 more
than he’d earn trading others in parked cars
on a street corner where no trees will grow
all these miles from us. This director promises
he’s stardust, has the blow to get him to the edge
& may actually finish him. He tells him,
tells me, what to do next, moans Big.
Black. Cock. I obey. I swell more still
& remember I should be studying
what Nietzsche says God isn’t. I am
at a black university. God always
enters the classroom here,
& this philosophy professor, a newly converted
agnostic, will prove her theories. But
this video’s lessons will pay off sooner
& take me & this boy closer than when
he stared at Claude, hanging, in The Anatomy
of a Lynching on that long ride home from the library,
squinting but unable to see Claude’s pupils, see
if peace eclipsed terror before he died. Child,
they came from everywhere & all you could do was pray
you weren’t the nigger they picked for the picnic
on the courthouse lawn, our grandmother says.
In the picture, Claude is alone, but as she speaks,
kids blur into the sepia background, ape
the grins on their parents’ faces, await
their turn to prod his charred flesh.
The boy asks if Claude was a good student
like him, if she was the one who would not give
the NAACP her name when 50-cent postcards,
news of Claude’s fingers & toes sold
as souvenirs, reached stands. I told that boy
to leave that white gal alone: the only words
breaking the silence of the rest of that ride,
the only words her brother says at home.
I told that boy to leave that white gal alone:
their script a shroud over faces suddenly
childlike, each crease around their eyes
a dog-eared page the boy can never read.
The boy wants to ask where the family
of Lola, Claude’s slain lover, lives, where
his pickled prick must collect dust
on some shelf, to say I want to study it.
He wants to see how he’d hang,
loosed to rove in a bottle. But he is a boy.
He does not know how to speak
the unspeakable yet. I
heave. It is almost dawn now.
The courthouse towers there,
in the center of that town, & that oak,
mostly limbless, looms. Still.
Soon, its flaccid branches will shade
more brown boys, guilty or not, waiting
to learn what their next move will be. It’s hard
to get anywhere without passing it, passing them,
bowed, not meeting my gaze. The hustler moans.
I gasp. I cannot take this boy, this fallen star
or his unseen master’s plan where I’m coming.
I turn off the TV. I am not afraid to raise
this dead flesh, for all & no one to see, alone,
like that other hanged man the boy followed
so slavishly, to ask him what no man,
not even Daddy, can show me: Jesus,
if a man is black & his manhood is forced
into his own mouth by another man
who’s as afraid of the power he holds
but is pale enough to hold the camera
or the noose, how much of a man isn’t he?
Like you, O Lord, I rise with all power
in my hand, but I do not want to cross
this tempest alone. I am not that boy
anymore. I am not afraid to say
I am a man, searching for a man
whose flesh will rise, only for me,
without force, without fear. Come,
lie with me & be redeemed. See
my yoke, this flesh, broken
for you? Find here
a different kind of holy, a sacrilegion,
a sacrament for our sanctifunked
souls. Dark & darker. Still.