by Elliott Bradley
Elliott Bradley is a black, queer, rising poet and prose author that has been previously published in Homology Lit, Royal Rose, InQluded Magazine, Teen Ink Magazine, Marías at Sampaguitas, and Rag Queen Periodical. They have performed poetry live for the Agnes Scott Poetry Collective, Atlanta Public Schools 6th annual State of the District, and have mentored under Luther Hughes and Bard professor Mary Leonard. They can be found on Twitter & Instagram @ayeelliottmyguy.
Explaining Trayvon Martin (When There’s Only 5 Black People on Campus)
It’s looking at Trayvon Martin &
your mother telling you to always say
yes sir or no ma’am
And it’s the fear of guns.
It’s not wearing hoodies & going through traffic stop training &
taking photos of license plates before hopping in & location trackers &
avoiding police & neighborhood watch &
watching your back
& being too Black but not Black enough &
ALL LIVES MATTER & being left out of things
& HBCUs & debt &
I’ll call you when I get there.
And it’s baptist churches.
It’s gospel music &
“The blood that gives me strength from day to day.”
not being a kid but staying in a child’s place &
Bible Studies on Wednesdays &
working twice as hard as everyone else &
God bless over us for safe travels.
And it’s music.
It’s jazz & Hip-Hop &
rap & trap &
“Don’t go blasting that music in the car”
& all types of music &
Pop Culture References
& making a culture out of the beats of your ancestors,
the lashes on their backs growing into rhythm of our most painful songs &
AAVE being labeled as “ghetto talk” & still calling shorties shawdies
behind your momma’s back &
Don’t you go around here talking like that.
And it’s knowing it all.
It’s summers of knowing 1 in 3 in their lifetimes will belong
to the state and not the sun &
“If you ever get pulled over don’t give them a reason to shoot”
racial profiling & not getting coverage in the hood &
only one black neighbor & gentrification &
You better stay away from trouble.
And it’s identity.
It’s putting Race before all &
abandoning race the first chance you get &
“You’re black before you’re anything else. Even human.”
& it’s gratification to your mother by not interrupting her gospel &
not talking back & working twice as hard as everyone else &
& learning to be a man by not your father but your mother &
half father half mother & one third THUG &
Black Girl Magic & one third excellence &
Black Boy Joy & one third ain’t shit &
Ain’t nobody gonna love you in this world but yourself and me.
And it’s him.
Above all the percentages,
above all the statistics & white picket fences
you’re not allowed to pass through,
your mother’s voice puts heat on your cheeks
As the images play on and you hear the static.
You see the body clumped under a white sheet,
a small body of chaste,
Black before bloody,
Black before dead.
Dead before eighteen,
& you can’t help but think:
“he looks like me.”
the wednesday we were caught
from Bible Study
to see you.
your father says God is patient with no one,
not even your desires and you think it makes
(we do plenty of things we’re not supposed to.
we wear polyester, eat pork, masturbate
to feel something)
I mean if you really think about it,
we’re not like... having sex she says
with her hands wandering around my core,
face pushed in like Play-Do, wrinkles
collecting on her forehead
as sand on a beach would, eyes
watching not for a reaction, but the time.
(the worship team’s song plays
through the walls. you wince at every
usage of the word “God”)
Shit means that I did something good,
that I made her feel something.
Shit means get dressed
back into your church shoes,
little black dress.
Baptist means i kiss curtly
part my lips ever so slightly
become the vessel of your deliverance
The gospel of your prayer
if only but for half a service
and soon I was yours. the desire
and resentment. the dream,
the cost of breaking law
that no longer exists to you
once time is up
is yours for the hour