The Punchline

by Evan Cutts

Here’s a joke:
A white girl walks into a sauna 
Full of steaming black bodies…
Shouts: What’s good niggas?

There is no punchline
But the steam wavers with laughter all the same.
I imagine it’s uncomfortable— their shame 
Hanged in their throats.

I pray that they haven’t forgotten themselves 
On this side 
Of the water
or the People

Who didn’t make it this far.
I pray I pray & in silence 
I pray because I know 
Tongues make excellent nooses.

I won’t blame them. 
Shame is a diligent bloodhound.
It found me twice
In my poplar bed frame

Feigning sleep,
Pretending silence 
Isn’t an erasure 
Of my skin.

I rose to find my heart afire,
The matchbook 
Lit on my too-dry tongue, &
The only sound that I couldn’t escape

Was the dog 
Barking—A shame:
Our words don’t stay
In heart, in mind.

They are smoke escaping 
Ten thousand thousand throats;
A murder of blackbirds breaking
Ranks before a cloud-white sky

Ain’t that an omen?
Ain’t that a shame?

Behind the smoking veil, you behold neither
Our mouths on fire & singing! 
Nor the air that surrounds— 
How it fissures with heat when

We gather in the streets & 
The classrooms, Grandma’s house & 
The function, church & 
Darryl’s Corner Bar.

How Our bodies shift beside 
Memories of history, of pain, 
Of Black lives & pride: 
Black hands conducting

A chorus of soul—applause;
A moment’s prayer repeated
As if to say: 
Thank God, We made it…

Across the Atlantic when 
They threw Us to the sharks.

We made it.

Out the cotton fields when 
They chopped off Our feet.

We made it.

To the mic when they’d rather 
We choke on Our blood.

We made it.

This voice, We made it.
Set it ablaze on the mic &

It burned out too soon.
I watched it 
As the smoke blew out 
The window.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: