Our poetry editor, Joe Pan, has selected a poem by Reginald Dwayne Betts for his series that brings original poetry to the screens of Hyperallergic readers.
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Elephants in the Fall
for Micah and Miles
I. Micah Michael Zamir Betts
November’s flame in that year of hard sunsets,
of winter’s plangency & days when
my insomnia courted cognac.
All our thoughts were beginnings,
& you became the roundness
that grew to a moon
above your mother’s hips.
We waited without a name
for your wonder
& three days after your birth
twice named you after the uncle
you’ll never meet. The names
questions: Micah, who resembles God.
Michael, who reminds us of who has gone too soon.
& we pronounced Micah as we wanted: Mekhi,
because like the kid from Clockers,
we scrape fists and cuffs for the dreams of you.
& now, when on most days your body
is all blur & bustle—
Our song is how right we got it,
when the light from that moon spilled
out of your mother’s belly, I tell
you, you were smiling then,
as if you knew you were the first song
that found me worthy.
II. Miles Thelonious Betts
Named after the trumpet,
after the sound that comes from all
the hurt & want that leads a man
to turn his back to the world. We named
you after Monk, too,
because sometimes you have to
stack legends in a single body
already big enough for the sound of them
& we imagined that you gave us
a different tune,
a way to bang keys into each
other until our lives
filled with unexpected music.
I hear you call me daddy
in this land where my father’s
name is sometimes another word
for grave, & I almost pause. It’s the song
that wants to unravel me.
More crow than
swan, I’ve always been so much cage
& caged in. & all that changes when we square
the M. This old riff on a shotgun
marriage calls us back:
your mother’s hand in mine & the shotgun is
what we aim at the world that threatens,
& I scoop you in my arms,
& you are calling us. Again.
* * *
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a husband and father of two young sons. His latest collection of poetry, Bastards of the Reagan Era, will be published in October 2015 by Four Way Books. Betts is a recipient of fellowships from Soros Justice Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Bread Loaf Writing Conference. In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Betts to the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, where he continues to serve as a practitioner member. He is the author of two additional books, the NAACP Image Award winning memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison and the collection of poetry, Shahid Reads His Own Palm. He received a B.A. from the University of Maryland, an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College’s M.F.A. Program for Writers and is currently a student at the Yale Law School.
Readers are encouraged to submit 3–5 poems as a PDF to Joe Pan for consideration at firstname.lastname@example.org.