“Self-Portrait as a Dead Black Boy, VI” by Geffrey Davis
Poetry Lunch S1E7
Reading "Self-Portrait as a Dead Black Boy, VI" by Geffrey Davis from Night Angler, published by BOA Editions, Ltd.
I want to use this space first to honor the brightness and beauty and damn fine poetry that Geffrey Davis breathes into the world. He is a delightful human making important work and I ask you to seek it out. His website is a good place to start: geffreydavis.com.
I don’t know how our country heals. Our society. Our world. I do know one to one, human to human, heart to heart openness is a path to change. It is slow. Poetry can help. If you’re like me and largely unaffected by day to day racism, maybe share this with someone in your life who can’t empathize or doesn’t care to?
I started this Poetry Lunch series in honor of my grandmother, who was lovely and dear to me as all get out and probably the most racist person in my life up until she died recently. Part of that was generational, yes. But a lot of it was stoked and tended by right wing rhetoric that does literally kill people.
When I decided to start having lunch with my gramma on Tuesdays it wasn’t easy. I wanted to connect with her authentically and it seemed impossible to find a genuine way through the haze of Fox News and deep family dysfunction that made a lot of interactions really uncomfortable. But I took a deep breath and went. And ate whatever she gave me and talked about my work and didn’t shy away from hard topics. And then I started bringing poems.
Poems changed everything. There was no rhetoric, no open politic, no faces to fear or find foreign. There were the words on the page and my gramma’s immediate willingness to jump in and have a conversation with them — also generational, I discovered. Her mother loved poetry and for my gramma growing up, it was a natural and usual thing to read poetry and recite it and think and feel and relate to it.
Anyway it didn’t solve anything but it made a space that wasn’t there before.
If you’re white, think about who in your life you could start hard conversations with. Maybe by way of a poem. We all have a sphere of influence and it’s imperative we use it.
on occasion I weep
while watching the living
brown X of my hand move
across the page: swift &
controlled & sometimes remaining
perfectly still—: so I've written
this poem out in longhand
in the best cursive I can manage
under light bends into something
soft enough to call healthy
none of which can keep me
alive no matter the grace
I made this print after meeting Geffrey at AWP (a writing conference) a few years ago. The title and name are handset type (Perpetua small caps) framing Geffrey's own handwriting. He was kind enough to write the poem out and send me the piece of paper, which I scanned and turned into a photopolymer plate to create this piece.
Half of the sales of this print are donated to Black Lives Matter, and half are split between the author and Expedition. If you're so moved I encourage you to find a local org to get involved with and/or donate to direct as well. Who's working for racial justice where you live?
Links to purchase