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There Is a Street Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. In Every City by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

There Is a Street Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. In Every City

by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

For Joe Bart

especially the ones where blood sprints / from a black chest to color the earth / a darkened brown / the color of a black mother's skin / if she knew what it was to be alive / in the old south / if she knew what it was / to rock on the porch in the southern heat / until her babies made it home for dinner / if she made her skin a bed / for all of the sun's eager children / until her own walked through a door / and were fed / until the boys could be made a meal / and not made into a meal / for the tall grass / or the smoldering concrete / what is it to have a city's mouth water / for what you cannot take off / and lay at its feet? / what is it to wear a feast / under the shirt passed down / from your dead brother?/ the frenzied horizon swallowed another one / somewhere in the south / last night / it is summer again / after all / are you less / of a ghost /if you die on a street / named for a man who / they will say / could have saved you? / a man who would have carried you / on his back / to the promised land / where all of the black people are safe / from death / where no one black has a mouth / is what I mean to say / where no one can look up and ask where the sun went / while watching the black skin peel back from their hands / until their bodies become something more tolerable / that the sky does not hunger for / and isn't this what every black mother wants? / a table full of children / who are still alive / who do not speak ill / who do not speak / who do not move / who will never be carried to a burial / by the bullet / are you less of a ghost if you die on a street / that was built by your ancestors / before it was named for your savior? / who / like all saviors / did not die just one death / who bleeds a little more each time his name is used / to throw water on another fire / who has the bullet lifted out of his spine / so the hands can fit in his hollow back / and he can speak again / for you who cannot / all of you lost and wandering into the violence / that is your birthright / in America / to arrive / and leave a street the color of your mama's good brown skin / upon your exit / you are maybe not a ghost at all / if we can still take a knife to your tongue / and squeeze out only the good gospel / wrap one hundred dead bodies in it / until there is only silence / you are maybe not a ghost / if every bloody street / bears your undead name / if we are told you are more alive / than everyone living on it / if you did not bleed out / on a hotel balcony / during a spring night / in Memphis / after telling the choir to play / Precious Lord, Take My Hand / real pretty / so that the boys could sing / Precious Lord, linger near / when my light is almost gone / in their suits / ironed sharp for the grave / so that the mothers would know / summer was on its way

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