Johnnie Cochran’s Bones

I should’ve dug up Johnnie Cochran’s bones,
slapped a moustache on his skull
& played ventriloquist for your trial,
recited his pastorsaturated bullshit
& dangled the race card carrot,
though my complexion’s
more Marcia than Darden.
One time the court retreated
from the media circus & took
a field trip to Simpson’s mansion.
Cochran had washed the walls of all
things Caucasian, raising Nubian
art & a portrait of O.J.’s crippled
mammy in lieu of group country club chuckles.

No picture exists of your springing
out of the forest in ’06,
defending me from three
summer camp thugs you fought
off, letting me flee.
Maybe even Cochran
would’ve declared you an argument
for the plea bargain, flea marketed
your dark skin for three-to-five
like your public defender did.
Maybe the skeleton
of a case can’t stand
when the bones are too black—
when the structure can only collapse.

Your Calling


We had codenames for our dicks; I think yours was Black
Lightning and I called mine “phalognum,”
an imaginary word I conjured when you put me on speaker
so your mom wouldn’t think I was a pervert.

When Eighth Grade Paolo threatened to kick my ass over
MySpace I punched in your digits and wheezed out why
I shouldn’t go to class; I could hear your eyes roll from 37
minutes away. “You can’t let him win, Paint,” you said.

Tenth Grade Taralynn had grinded on Fat Me for homecoming.
Though we’d just polished two stacks of flapjacks each, I called you around one,
post-IHOP, bopping to something poppy reverberating from the night.
I could hear you smile, asking if you should call Tybreshia, or was it way too soon?


I knew you were in trouble when you rang
on the last class of my first semester in college.
You didn’t betray the charges pressed
against you, pressing into your stabs at community
college redemption. You just spoke
in a husky whisper, a chant to yourself hoping
that it wouldn’t escalate, maybe that it
wasn’t true.

“I gotta show you the campus, man,” I said,
panting from a finished fastwalk,
juggling the phone between ear and shoulder.
You were just checking in, just seeing
if life/I was still normal, still recognizable.
It did, until the cops knocked on your door
that night, took you in, took your mugshot,
took you, took you, took you.


Each visitor, including me,
grins when the computer
screen blips, their person
popping up. I pick up the phone.
“How you been, Travis?”
you say. I physically see
your dustbrown jumpsuit,
but it doesn’t register.
You’re in a white box
and I’m jammed between
steelblue covers, loosely
separating me from a sobbing
mother, her wails melting
into our conversation.
The dividers boast tattooed
gang etchings, obscene sketches.
You couldn’t have hurt that little girl
You would never hurt that little girl
You probably would never hurt that little
Our seconds are counted down
and this time I don’t get
to guess if you’re frowning:
your face is sunken earth,
crushed under circumstances.
The warm handle pulsates
in my ear, you construct a grin.
and then it’s blank.