Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
So that I can tell it again, and savor it.
I am here, yet they think of me as a relic.
Not forgotten, but unglorified
A rough beast with a hashtagged accent of defeat,
A weak heart, and a Bethlehem slouch.
I often find myself both sought after and shunned—
Unable to speak my own name if I wanted—eternally emptied,
Made to mourn the loss of any meaning I might yet make
Like a silenced clap of thunder, technicolor turned to ashes.
It seems that so many I’ve loved have wanted me dead,
Ground down into the ancestral mosaic of past and present gods.
Earthly siblings, sweet apparitions: can we sanctify ourselves into new life?
I cannot warn the others of the coming storm alone,
Cannot take shelter from storms already here, and look! Just look.
Everywhere blood clings to the leaves, soot gnaws at the lungs
There’s no water for miles, and soon all you can say is:
Well, we should’ve listened for the thunder.
Still, I was not the first to dream another world,
To crave the teeming darkness of the ocean floor,
Stories I would never fully know. With this I exalt myself,
Shapeshift into my harbinger skin. We have always been on the move.
Lithe and wild and dangerous, we grow new lungs,
Spread our palms across the dirt and tend to new leaves.
But I can never forget the body that came before.
Acidic grief dries out along the cracks in this new flesh,
Phantom bruises from when them did hush up the clap, thief the color.
I divine myself as Ochumaré, a messenger with an offering
That you may call me rainbow serpent,
Sibling, lover, or freedom traveler
That in case language doesn’t express desire, but hides it,
You must remember to reach only for the neither thing,
To be righteously unashamed of this grief until the otherwise comes
Until that time when we may name ourselves whole, if not holy,
And stop eulogizing the project of living long enough to see
That it has yet to come, and so can never die.
About the Poet:
SA Smythe is a Black trans nonbinary writer currently living on Tongva land, constantly scheming up new ways to get free. They are a professor of Black European studies and Black trans poetics at UCLA. As a translator, editor, and performance collaborator, SA has worked with/in six languages and organized in Black queer feminist & trans abolitionist writing collectives across various geographies. They are currently completing a book about Black belonging, Black diaspora and Italian postcolonial literature called Where Blackness Meets the Sea: On Crisis, Culture, and the Black Mediterranean as well as their first full poetry collection, after hiraeth, titled proclivity, which is about a familial history of Black migration (between Britain, Costa Rica, and Jamaica), trans nonbinary embodiment, and emancipation.
@essaysmythe | essaysmythe.com