For Achille Mbembe
Death drove down to Clemson in a Cadillac the color of cotton. She found me down
in the stacks. Pressed her clean bones into my back and whispered, What do you think
you’re you doing here? I returned to my book and muttered, Learning how to read.
Death found this hilarious. She said, This is neither the time nor the place for that.
Teach me, then, I said. To which Death said nothing. To which she took my hand in hers
and led me to her car. We drove down to the stadium and she said, Repeat after me.
Gee-oh-teen. I repeated. We drove past the classrooms and she said, Sound it out.
Gruh-gruh-grave. Yuh-yuh-yard. I sounded. We parked outside the Fort Hill Mansion.
She said, Try this one on your own. I said, History. Death sucked her teeth. Try again,
she said. House? I said. Death freed her hand and drove away, the night air rushing
cold and black through the windows, her disappointment on me like a song. I’m sorry,
I said, when she dropped me back at the library. She said, Enjoy your reading.
Wait, I said. Give me one more try. So she nodded to the book in my hand. That,
she asked. What’s the word for that? I had to look before speaking. Then I said, Killer.
This got a smile out of Death. She told me to get back in. Now you’re talking.
For Raymond Williams
It is a difficult thing to talk about. It might make you stutter, then stop,
then start again, before stuttering some more. It might make you feel
like a drunk falling headfirst into darkness while clutching for a wall.
It might make you feel a little like the jazz trumpeter standing alone
before a crowded room with no plan except leaning towards a sliver
of sound and smoke, except breathing and receiving what forms await.
You might get nervous or scared or both. It should be this way.
I remember losing my way in the woods of a mountain without a name,
losing myself to a dark so thick and dominant I raised my hand to my face
and could not see my skin. I remember waiting skinless for the sun.
I was scared. Still I think it should be this way.
It should be a difficult and dizzying thing: this clutching and receiving,
this walking together through the darkness, your hand in mine, waiting
for whatever light emerges to cut through the woods our new way.
such distance, such light
For Fred Moten
Here am I: surrounded
by strong walls
and good views
and much noise
Here am I: enclosed.
And you out there:
beyond and beneath,
already and not yet,
can you tell me
what it is
You out there,
surrounded & surrounding,
do you see me
as I see you?
& how do I sound
from such distance?
& how do I look
in such light?
Just between you and me
how does this situation end?
Dan Leach has published poems and stories in The Greensboro Review, The New Madrid Review, and storySouth. He is currently an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson.
Art by Jenn Zed.