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color theory

By Imani Davis

a political statement walks into an art classroom. it could be the walls, or her bones, either way some white structure will soon betray her with its crumbling. she takes the narrative off her body like a coat and her skin is the only negative space in the room. they put her here for contrast, or as they call it, diversity. it’s just aesthetically pleasing, you know? makes the lighter colors just that much more noticeable. you wouldn’t even see her in the dark if not for her teeth. you feel bitten into even though she hasn’t even opened her mouth. you think about all the eyes passing over her right now. dissecting her body like a corpse. most of those eyes look just like she did. a black center surrounded on all sides by white. they are a dominant gene and she is the center of their attention. she takes a seat on top of the quota she just filled and gets comfortable. she’ll be here awhile. a scribble in the corner of your eye, but she pays you no mind. she’s painting entire canvases Black now. tells the teacher she’s making mirrors. something tells you she could look at anything Black and call it a mirror. but this is what Black art means. catching yourself redhanded and not knowing if it’s from paint or blood. not knowing if basquiat broke

the silence or became it. it’s the double take when you realize she’s been painting with bullets this whole time. you wonder how she got all the color to stick to them like that. matter of fact, where she got all that color in the first place. whose mouth it fell out of. some of it coats the teachers throat when he says that’s not what art looks like/you can’t sharpen its fangs like that/who knows what might happen if you leave that in a gallery, it could eat everyone alive/and they wouldn’t even know how to hang that up without a noose anyway/a Black body of work is still a Black body. and she smiles, like her bones have abandoned her, and breaks exactly how she’s supposed to. but you make sure to get every drop of her blood on canvas. it’s not erasure, it’s performance art. you watch them photograph her chalk outline and have the nerve to sell it on t-shirts. a Black body of work is still a Black body. and you won’t even let her die properly.

there is red paint in your teeth. there is red paint on every wall.
but it’s so easy to wash off.

Added: Thursday, June 1, 2017  /  Used with permission. Imani Davis' "color theory" is the 2nd place award winner for the 2015 World and Me Poetry Contest through Split This Rock.
Imani Davis
Photo by Daniel Schaefer.

Imani Davis is a Black Queer miracle. Currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania, they are an alumna of Urban Word NYC, member of The Excelano Project, and Mellon Mays Fellow. Their work appears with PBS, BET, TEDx, Rookie, Winter Tangerine, and elsewhere. Notably, she has performed at the Apollo Theater, Teen Vogue Activism Summit, Brave New Voices (as seen on HBO), Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Washington Monument, and the Nuyorican Poets Café. For more of their work, see Imani's website.

Other poems by this author