Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib


or: what it is to ride or be ridden

to have a spine bend under the weight of what you carry

to sit atop what will take you to the promised land

by promised I mean any land that is untouched

and precious enough to be stolen a thrashing and noisy child

ripped from the fingers of its only mother

what it is to ride fast on the back of something hungry and claim whatever meets your arrival

run your tongue across anything naked and name it conquered

what it is to have your sweat plant a flag in new earth

I claim this land in the name of what exits the skin after it has had its fill of our reckless want

everything we hold inside of us always ruining a good set of sheets

or a good pair of pants

or a family

or a whole country


the darkness is spreading earlier and earlier. I have stopped looking for myself in pictures. I ask my therapist: if I cannot see my hands how will anyone know to love me. he tells me that it is best to not speak of what happens at night. I do not speak in winter. I watch the news. I think about what picture they would use if I died. it is a miracle babies are born at all. I think a baby is what happens when you get tired of leaving notes on someone’s nightstand before they wake up. if men could carry babies we would watch childbirth on ESPN. we would place bets on it. the world is on fire again but I’m not alone this time. I just want to touch someone who thinks of me while their coffee cools. I just want to kiss a mouth that has grown my name inside. I just want to make good use of all this nighttime.  instead I make lists of everything outside that can kill me. the organic market next door is at the top. how much is too much to ask for nourishment. take what is left of my hands. give them back when the sun comes.


Yes, finally a name for what borrows the blood from your still-ripe face for the panting tongue and the desert mouth it calls shelter for what gives praise to the newly needed distance between two bodies twin planets orbiting the beat in a southside basement that you don’t got no business being in at this hour on a school night but you still packed in tight like y’all in mama’s kitchen on payday like we been waiting outside for weeks with our palms towards the sky like now don’t nobody leave until we all fed & the walls make a feast of our backs & whatever blue we can still grind out of these jeans after they been handed down from three brothers yes, finally a name for what stains the wall a new coat of paint blessed by your hunger finally, a name for the sun that rises but carries no light between its fingers the sweat pushing its shoulders against the door of your skin without asking about the sanctity of hair you tied up in a cracked mirror to save it from another saltyriveror the purity of the white tee the holy robe of the hood stretching down to your weak and clapping knees soaked through & hugging your skin these new and loving arms this matriarch of what rides out the speaker and pushes black hips together sometimes the drowning comes for you sometimes the drowning becomes you yes, finally a name for what ascends slow with the knowing of what is not promised tomorrow sitting up to whisper your lover’s name even after they have left you on a cold doorstep, graffiti on the walls for the boys who died before learning this new language. A humble fire in the bedroom of your childhood.

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, is forthcoming from Button Poetry in winter 2016.