By now, you know their names, their cheekbones—
the tender hands they offered when you walked in.
You know the quivering strength of prayer and the art of making God listen.
How faith can summon weary backbones into pyramids.
And you know that grace still lives in a church that’s had to rebuild itself before—
a church that’s cleaned more blood off the walls than you have ever fantasized of.
That is to say, you’re not the first white boy to feel
small and create chaos in someone else’s home.
This church is old – much older than you,
wears the audacity of freshly coated white paint
as if to say any ill that smudges
us will be for all to see.
Did you hear the echoes when you walked in? Did you feel the pastor soothe
the trepidatious voices of ghosts burnt and hung in the name of better days?
So they opened their song for you – shared in head nod and bible verse –
not knowing they let in what they spent so much time praying out
tucked away nearly 400 years of lessons on what it means
to let a white man get too close.
All the bullets in all the world belong to them, yet doors softened for you—
what an unearned miracle.
Do you know what it means to welcome a familiar terror and hope it got enough god
on it this time to leave you be? Is there some word greater than “noble”?
Your predecessors hid their faces, threw Molotov cocktails from afar
but your ugly is the kind that gets to know what it's about to kill.
In that hour, were you studying them like elk?
Were you surprised when they prayed for you, even as you preyed on them?
Did they greet you with too many, come on ins?
Did you imagine abandoned prayers?
Did your teeth clench when they said, God forgives you?
Did your jaw tighten when they said, Bless your heart?
Did their soft voices almost provoke
the rage out of you?
Did you wonder how the hell they were still
standing? Why god hadn’t made good on the fire next time?
Did your skin itch when the congregation
said your name like it was worth keeping?
Did you look at their hands? The folds of their skin?
Did you panic then?
Did you forget who the animal was?
Did you leave hoofed, and grunting with a new tail?
Did the gun begin to rattle?
Did the heavy metal fever and sweat?
Did the script get hazy?
Did you forget your lines?
Is that when you almost walked out?
How many crosses did you have to burn
in your head to remember what you came for?
How many names did you have
Did your hands turn black after you threw your gun down? Did the bullets pull themselves
out of their skin, and chase you out? Is that why you ran, boy?
Why you could stay for bible study, but not to see what music god
still offers the dead to keep them warm?
Did you hear your father say, good job son? Did you hear America say, good job son?
Did you hear every history textbook write your name?
Did you wink at the police when they searched your pockets? Did you say, hey, brother?
Did they say, hey, back?
When you realized they were enjoying you, was it then that you shot them all?
Was it then that you could not say you enjoyed them too?
When you see God, will he tell you how bad you smell?
Will you say you already know?
A stench like this isn’t made overnight,
takes a whole lot of hands
and much longer than an hour.