Julian Randall


Let me be clear     as a water stain
on glass     nearly window but not
bulletproof     I want some things
to always be constant     Legacy
is muzzled by history with good
reason    Let me be clearer still
a persistent film of dew on dying
grass    Opacity is a form of treason
I gut envelopes with a thin gold
and sometimes my own dead face
unspools and men in suits rush in
because it would be a tragedy
if I remembered I was someone
who could die     Let me be clear
my blood necessitates repetition
I am gone   I am gone  I am gone
I am grateful that the room was
round or I would have dented it
with my screams     Gratitude
is a kind of violence    I say thank
and that yawns into a bomb
Everything I do I do with a grace
which has only ever been described
as bestial     A gazelle or a swan
I’m a precise kind of fugitive
When I was born     history stuttered
I lacquer my palms with the silence
I think it’s impossible not to miss it
Despite everything I give white people hope
Nothing will ever demand me to be
this merciless        again




In this poem we shall examine the figure of the “Token” as a doorway into a theory of ancestral memory, namely the collective consciousness of African American history. Thus, this poem is concerned with the question of whether what has been done can ever be undone; perhaps still more appropriately, whether what has been done has ever stopped happening? Concurrently, this is a poem that preoccupies itself with the question of what constitutes “the beginning” of ancestral memory? History implicates the hands, the ongoing question of whom they belong to, while a linguistic lens favors a tongue starved thin with retreat. For the purposes of this poem, let us favor the tongue. If we imagine ancestral memory as a museum with only entrances, then everything that has ever wished you dead might still be inside; thus the skull is a house filled with rusted knives. Where language intersects with all of this has fascinating physiological implications. Let us revisit the Token in college, attempting to say “No” and feeling dehydrated with the effort of it. If we presume the Token’s college is near Philadelphia, he might learn about the MOVE Bombing and smell smoke everywhere. This matrix of possibilities lends itself well to the question of whether trauma and pain are inherent and, by extension, inherently linked. Simplified, the Token sits in his first Black studies course at the edge of understanding that Black Excellence is a failed form of teflon and rubs the exhausted tendons of his knees and wonders how long he has had to be faster than even the skin implies. He might answer “Always.”, perhaps “Decades.” Alternatively, he might have forgotten how to speak altogether.

Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. He has received fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT and the Watering Hole and was the 2015 National College Slam (CUPSI) Best Poet. Julian is the curator of Winter Tangerine Review’s Lineage of Mirrors. He is also a cofounder of the Afrolatinx poetry collective, Piel Café. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as New York Times Magazine, Prairie Schooner and The Adroit Journal and in the anthologies Portrait in Blues, Nepantla and New Poetry from the Midwest. He is a candidate for his MFA in Poetry at Ole Miss. His first book, Refuse, is the winner of the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry prize and will be published by University of Pittsburgh Press in Fall 2018.
Mark Cugini