POETRY – 3 Poems by Joshua Bennett

Poetry by Joshua Bennett


I spend my days studying the eloquent beast
juxtaposed against a given black
body living into its singular joy i.e. forsythia
& lemonade in the middle of July, steel
pan playing loud enough to feel it. Hands
aloft in praise taken for surrender, left

then right, slowly. Nothing left
to an officer’s imagination lest he manumit the beasts
which call his corners quarters, think his hands
tempest sent to scar the endless black
expanse. George Jackson bends steel
with every letter, & I can think only of the forsythia

growing in his lover’s eyes, how forsythia
sounds like the name of a girl I knew before I left
town for hallways bereft of steel
-faced boys who named sorrow the beast
they slew daily, how they sustained a kind of black
humor about this business of being bound to one’s hands

as conflict’s only punctuation. Survival: how I lend my hands
to lyric’s labor, as if forsythia
or chrysanthemum could bloom from black
ideas dancing across a screen. What is there left
to say about the dead space betwixt soul & beast,
the law as an eternal mouth, anxious for blood & steel?

Before I learned to steel
nerves in the face of a stranger’s hands
swinging swift as a beast’s
heart in chase or heat, my arms were forsythia
freshly grown, thinnest green, bad for business. Which left
only a world of fugitive black

letters to serve as my loophole of retreat, a black
wholeness to ease the wounds, flesh of gem & steel
to reflect the light of those who left
only faintest trace behind. May these hands
forever tend the soil of those songs, the forsythia
lives straining for air against the beast

-ly fear which seeks to quell the black steel beast
who sleeps within, the voice left praying forsythia,
forsythia, make a world of these hands.


In a sense, you are the valve
through which the game’s hard
beauty finds its most fitting
point of egress. You who turn fist
swing & broken limbs into box scores,
boost a benchwarmer’s prayer
with every figure you sketch
in that green book you keep, always,
flush to your chest, as if a secret
weakness or tale of a simpler time
long since gone rogue. Let popular culture
have its jokes, its jockstraps & sweaty socks
thrown like gossip across the locker room, the business
end landing squarely on your face each time.
What do they know of the math you bend
to make scholarships materialize, the scores
of glistening boys you daily break free?
It is a kind of love, I think, your tireless glare
trailing every shot, the waltz of iron
& wood you give back to the page, all those
small, black gifts, exploding into song.


Older even than sport itself, is this sex
of soul & pelt, this leap & sway to set
a crowd aflame. By all means, play
on, fanciful false animal snout
slick with fang & teenage gall,
strut till the fur feels like a spare
body you could claim as chain
-mail, as buffer, as college essay
fodder par excellence if it weren’t
for all the other awesome stuff
you do when the suit is left
hanging like a salted hide
in your gym locker, days when you
are just a scholarship with teeth who
writes bad poems
about what you cannot name
but know is there, the way your father
knows each bone in his back
is there, by the pain that cracks the quiet,
the spell your skin casts over every classroom
you enter. On principle, the dancing
routine complicates things but you, sir,
are distinctly postmodern
in your ideas about race
& performance though you
do not yet know the word postmodern
do not yet know the word performance
as anything other than what happens when
halftime hits & the latest radio fare
slinks through the speakers
as if a hunter made entirely of oil
& it is time to feed
the people what
they came here for.

Joshua is currently a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton University, and has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University, and the Ford Foundation. In 2014, his poem, “In Defense Of Henry Box Brown” was selected by Nikki Giovanni as the winner of the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. His work has either been published or is forthcoming in Anti-, Blackbird, Callaloo, Drunken Boat, Obsidian, and elsewhere.


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