Hold a pomegranate in your palm,
imagine ways to split it, think of the breaking
skin as shrapnel. Remember granada
means pomegranate and granada
means grenade because grenade
takes its name from the fruit;
identify war by what it takes away
from fecund orchards. Jontae,
there will always be one like you:
a child who gets the picked over box
with mostly black crayons. One who wonders
what beautiful has to do with beauty, as he darkens
a sun in the corner of every page,
constructs a house from ashen lines,
sketches stick figures lying face down-
I know how often red is the only color
left to reach for. I fear for you.
You are writing a stampede
into my chest, the same anxiety that shudders
me when I push past marines in high school
hallways, moments after video footage
of young men dropping from helicopters
in night vision goggles. I want you to see in the dark
without covering your face and carry verse
as countermeasure to recruitment videos
and remember the cranes buried inside the poems
painted on banners that hung in Tiananmen Square-
remember because Huang Xiang was exiled
for these. Remember because the poet Huang Xiang
was exiled for this: the calligraphy of revolt.
Always know that you will stand nameless
in front of a tank, always know you will not stand
alone, but there will always be those
who would rather see you pull a pin
from a grenade than pull a pen
from your backpack. Jontae,
they are afraid.
Added: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 / From "Hum" (Alice James Books, Nov 2013). Originally published in Callaloo. Used with permission.
Detroiter Jamaal May is the author of Hum (Alice James Books, Nov 2013), winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award, as well as two poetry chapbooks (The God Engine, 2009, and The Whetting of Teeth, 2012). His poems have been published widely with his most recent work appearing or forthcoming in Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Blackbird, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, The Believer and New England Review. Honors include scholarships and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Cave Canem, and Callaloo, as well as several nominations to both the Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets anthologies. Jamaal is a graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA program for writers and recipient of the 2011-2013 Stadler Fellowship from Bucknell University. In addition to being a finalist at several national and international poetry slams, he is a three-time Rustbelt Regional Slam champion and has been a member of six national poetry slam teams, including the 2012 semi-finalist NYC LouderARTS team.