Glenn Ligon, “Prisoner of Love #1 (Second Version)” (1992) (detail), oil and gesso on linen, 80.25 x 30.13 x 1.38 inches, Collection: Carnegie Museum of Art; Founders Patrons Day Acquisition Fund (© Glenn Ligon; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London) (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino for Hyperallergic)

my nig

this one isn’t about language
but who the language holds

those niggas who say my name
like it’s good news

those who let me know my blood
is speckled sapphire. i’m in love

with purple gums, the yellow stain
of front teeth, the bit of plaque

unbrushed & revealed when
my niggas laugh. o loves

i know god is for i have seen you
throw your cackle in the air

& watched the clouds turn heavy
bronze, i have seen tears well

in the corners of your eyes
when you are overcome with joy

& that little wet is all
the sea i need to live.

we are alive & amen.
someone of us are dead

but they are alive in us amen.
heaven be your blunted breath

your chapped lips & sharp shade
your ashy elbows & lotion prayers.

i need no church but my niggas’ arms.
i need no savior but their love.

oh sweet god if you be my nigga
don’t never take my niggas from me

less i be a black & yolkless shell
less i be tabernacle at the bottom

of the sea, less i be whittled down
to not a nigga but a n-word

one letter to say a thing about shame
keep me free from that kind of hell.

let me live forever on the tongues
on my people & when they gone

from this world then i have use
for me, let me end when they end

let my breath jump off the cliff
with them all, they me be a follower

into that greater world, where streets
are paved with our enemies’ teeth

& the angels sing of Shine
where the rivers flow milk & honey

& Hennessey & kool-aid &
none of that, just give me

the heaven of now, give me
days near water with my niggas

leave me be in the sun
surrounded by my friends’ good

black as we all get blacker
we caramelized children

of a darker god, we summer
kin, august colored, my brick

colored friends, the safety
that is they being, the peace

i feel when near their hands.
hosanna the bridge over crossfire

they be when they press green
in paper & seal with their lips, this

piff kiss, hosanna the rope
that a text message be

for who knows how many
times i was saved by the ding

of hey, how you? or what you
on, hoe? bless the grace

of being bored with fam
the heaven of my niggas

in a silent room, the holy
of all that quiet which saves

me in my darkest hours. the only
thing that kept the blade

from my wrist, closed
the medicine cabinet was

the thought of my friends
in a room dressed in a black

that is not their skin. how
could i do that to them?

how could i deny us
the grace of accidents

& old age, the laws of
disease & holy sick?

there is already so much
trying to end us so let

it not include our hands
today, let us no be dead

& red handed for it
not today, not never

not yet

*   *   *

Danez Smith is a Black, queer, poz writer, and performer from St. Paul, MN. Danez is the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Danez is also the author of two chapbooks, hands on your knees (2013, Penmanship Books) and black movie (2015, Button Poetry), winner of the Button Poetry Prize. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Danez’s work has been featured widely, including on Buzzfeed, Blavity, PBS NewsHour, and on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. They are a 2-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, 3-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam Champion, and a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective.

Readers are encouraged to submit 3–5 poems as a PDF to Wendy Xu for consideration at

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