The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue



george floyd isn’t a “wake-up call” the same alarm has been ringing since 1619 y’all just keep hitting snooze.
—a young woman’s protest placard, June 2020

Snuffed in
     Boxed out
      Snuffed out
Police virus
      Corona violence
Police virus
      Corona violence
Corona virus
       Police violence
Corona virus
       Police violence
Viral violence:
        Violent virus:
1 Adam 12
     Who Adamed Eve?
    76 Pickup sick. 20
     76. Stick up sick.
2020. vision.
      2020’s vision?
$20. Really?
       (911, where’s your emergency?)
1619. Covid-1619. Covid-19
             Covid 19-
     18. Covid 2020. Covid
minus: mine and us. + Covid-
             19. (Mother
before—and if—you
          forgive them
twin this city
      twin its sin)
a knee
    and a neck
a body
    and its blood
Drink up
    beat down
Beat up
    drink down
Check out
      and sit on
Sit out
     and not check on
                      Checked out (officer, please
                check in—
George pleading from that blacktop
                Deal or no deal?
Done deal. A knee sealed it.
            Chauvin’s prison plea deal?
No deal ::
           Who’s crying now?)
Microphone checked:
         one two :: one to
set on
   get off
get on
   set off
Sit out
    or sit in.
Foot up
    or shut up
          You got my body
now you want my soul.

           In and out:
Out and in
          Off and on
on and off: switch:
        Breathe: I can’t
Hall and Notes’ No, No.
          No can do.
Yes we can-can

                  (this ain’t no half-black stump stutter
no ruffled French, Pointer Sisters high kick)
                     But neck and knee
neck and neck (headed toward a bitter, finish line)
                     Knock no head lock
        lock heads no knock
neck knot no less
        knot neck less no
(maybe so-ul?)
        lace neck neckless
less neck necklace
        (some throw back
               au courant neck and necking)
(one’s) calling out
       (who’s) digging in
Digging out
      calling in—sick (is what it is)
Cried out cried
           Too late my time has come
Mamaaaa ooo-ooo-oooh
          I don’t want to die. Some
times I wish I’d never been
           born at all… Scaramouche, Scaramouche.
Check the Mercury.
Boiling point. The fever.
                Check the Mercury. Check
the Freddie. You heard Curtis: Perry’s
                 dead. That’s what I said.

          Snapped wrist.
Shake down
  before the temperature dips
read it.
     Pissed off
march on
         Pissed on
     march off
          The outcry
Crying out.
     Crying out
an outcry
             We got to make this land
a better land. Yes we can can…

             Cried out
         (he did)
I’m all.
       (It’s true)
Testilying?  No.
        That’s all.
I swear.
     That’s all.
My Lord.
    Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The, Th-Th…That’s all


Adam 12—TV police drama
1918—known as Red Summer were where there were race riots across the country
1619—the first enslaved Africans captured by the English were brought to Virginia

There are italicized lyric snippets from Hall and Oates, Queen, The Pointer Sisters and Curtis Mayfield

Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The, Th-Th…That’s all—Porky Pig sign off from the Looney Tunes


As ink might have dribbled from that counterfeit
twinty had you unheard E.G. and M.B.?
(Cancer sticks sometimes harbor venomous
armed henchmen.) Had you passed on some Jojo’s
then dipped from Cup Foods would Chauvin’s pressed knee
not have cuffed your already arrested breath?

Fifteen years ago, a state away, his wife
passed a bad check worth twice your crisp twinty.
(Her ink just a petite misdemeanor.)
Given five days, she took five months to settle.
Yet nights pressed against her ice-green nightgown
Chauvin’s lethal knee would dock in the moist pier
‘tween her hamstring and calf, dock where it’d been trained
to gently take love into custody.

E.G. and M.B: Eric Garner and Michael Brown—as with George Floyd allegedly—both killed in situations involving cigarettes/tobacco.
Twinty—punning on $20 and “twin” cities (one of which is Minneapolis) where Mr. Floyd was killed.
Cup Foods—the store where George Floyd likely passed a counterfeit $20, an act which led to his arrest.
Jojo’s:-potato wedges

Which, Too/Split Flash: Break
(A pregnant, enslaved New Yorker—named either Abigail or Sarah—who, for partaking in the 1712 slave revolt, is imprisoned in New York’s City Hall basement and going into labor before being hanged.)

In a pinched and dank corner cell at the corner
                    of Wall and Broad, without interrogation or constitution, beneath rulings and arches: four dials on a clock, beneath arguments and archives: petit juries and supreme court, beneath criers and bailiffs: peals and flutters, beneath bells and constables and birds and cupolas, beneath perches and deputies: whipping posts and small talk, beneath windows and guilt: wainscot and lawyers, beneath deep thought and bench wigs: warrants and decorum, beneath two floors and black robes: conviction and handwringing beneath plaintiffs and gavels: punishment and appeal, beneath charge and indictment a hung head’s arrest, beneath a trial and its rumors before acquittal and pardon there’s a case and its verdict before a judge and one’s peers, beneath sentences and pillory, evidence and stairwells, between wrongdoing and wrong done and who’s right and what’s wrong:: The City Hall dungeon, where in darkness lies a woman with child. So, no question of where the labor. But when labor/what labor—slave? slave—who labor even in labor. Sarah? Abigail? Which is dying to lie on her left side—shackled to staples with staples affixed to history: stone slaves once quarried to build a wall boiled down to a street. Which one’s water break? Which one gush or trickle: damp to the woolsey, sweet to the nose? How hard? When tender? Abdomen. When hard? How tender? Uterus. Ache—how dull? Shackled to the… stapled to the… bolted to the agony: stone slaves once used to build…pressure: pelvis: how long? When is during between? What is between (en) during? The stench of a Necessary tub? Contractions? Waves: water’s pushy guests. 45 seconds (or so). Which one’s still talking? Maybe one… shackled to the… stapled to the… bolted to the… memory: stone slaves once used… Maybe 15 minutes later. Maybe one. Maybe a minute (or) two later. or half a minute longer. stretch marks. silence. Which one’s stomach’s a punch? Clenched. A fist. Breathe. Into the lower back, into the ache. Knowing you got not even a sip of say-so over your captors’ shoe music composed on the floor above you shackled to the …stapled to the…bolted to these echoes.

A Clockwise Tizzy
(enslaved New York woman’s funeral)

Linen to swaddle her in maybe
 shroud. Brass pins stiff, straight:
  supportive rigor mortis. A coffin: hex-

  agonal, cedar. Beads and schist pepper
 her remains. Conjure bundle broken
stoneware, blue spiral in the bowl’s

heart. Crolius-Remmey kiln
 furniture. Blue: land of the
  ancestors. Say underwater

  say Kongo cosmogram, say cross-
. On her coffin’s lid, this
cracked vessel: small talk between

the living and the dead. Their law insists: light.
 Night—West Africa’s credo. Head headed
  west, pate indifferent to the Atlantic.

  Chin braced for the sun’s untidy rising. If
 the living could build an almshouse of sorrow
they would circle this socked earth: this yawning

soil, this plot. A shriek, a wail, a drum bludgeoned
 anchoring a clockwise tizzy. Yet those who
  forced enslaved and free mourners beyond

  the city’s sullen edges could not believe death
 would be the sole reason for the Negro
clump. There had to be another plot—

an ebon about to be—fixed on an oppressor’s death
 while honoring a loved one’s. Hence no more
  than a dozen Africans are ever allowed to help

  the dearly departed depart. Still, over weeping
 cedar, they pass a suckling’s pudge:
its newborn shadow a pressing matter

between innocence and the dogma of bone.

To the Bones: About the Beads: Talking
(An enslaved woman with 111 waist beads around her hips in burial #340, by far the largest in any New York slave cemetery grave. The large amount indicates she might have held a prominent position in New York’s slave community or back in Africa.)

The 100-plus waist beads strung around your midriff?

They was always hidden under the cast-off
clothes the Mrs. had me wear: stained,
linsey aprons, tattered petticoats. There
something close to home worked my hips

Most were blue

Just clinched echoes of that ocean. small
reminders of the white man’s transatlantic tantrum.

150 beads in the entire cemetery. 110 were yours

My body somebody: an elder here.
A chief’s child: somewhere—else: where?

On that strand of waist beads, there were seven cowrie shells. Why?

I’ve heard seven seas bully
the earth. I met one. three
months: brief-like. wasn’t pleasant.

Tell me more

My every breath—its fleshy
belonging to—reeled here.
Naked. save these beads
that circled my left thigh
and bounced off my hips
              feeling like you’re carrying a country around your waist?

Full Out: Richard
(Free New York Negro, 1750s)

Not Dicky Boy or Rich. Richard.
That’s what I go by now. Richard.
Smith. My names—not odd

   enough to notice. Blend in. Sounding
   like freedom as I straddle up
   John Street and hear my name—full

out from someone’s mouth near
the clapboard Methodist. Decent
white folk Sunday there. Recognizin’

   the name caller, I tip my hat and head
   as if I’m spilling my thinking, the way
   a tippler might spill a drink. Some my wool—

plaited, tied with dried eel—glancing off
my right ear like a tipsy whisper:
some precious secret that ain’t easy in its keepin’


David Mills

David Mills is the author of two books The Dream Detective and The Sudden Country, a Main Street Rag book-prize finalist. He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Arts Link, Henry James Fellowship, Chicago State's Hughes/Knight Poetry Award and a BRIO award. His poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Ploughshares, Jubilat, Fence, Vermont Literary Review, Callaloo, Transitions (Harvard University), Rattapallax, Hanging Loose, Aspeers, Prairie Review and The Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues