This work was featured in Issue 18:2, Spring 2017 — Cave Canem 20th Anniversary Issue

Brandon D. Johnson

Two Poems

Chalk

How the first medicine man knew
The proper thickness, the perfect curve,
How to get the lines so straight
To repel ghosts,
He might never learn.

But there was that dark summer night
A wall held a magic mural.
He watched strange folk run from the party,
Emptied after chant and chalk in a Brujo’s hand. 

He remembered this as he crouched,
Pivoting on toes, arm extended,
The white gypsum in his hand drawing
An unbroken curve around his body.
This, while his doors strained against hinges.

Something out there sizzled touching
The patipembas his friend left behind.

He was not known to be a religious man,
But this night, he found a prayer.
Recited like an oath, he watched words undulate
Against the walls like the sage Aunt Agnes told him burn
After she saw what was coming in his eyes.

 

Winter

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively
conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
—James A. Baldwin

Often, clued up folks work to understand what is wrong in the world.
Harry spent his life in study to find the essentials for good.
He turned his cheek and bent his back in ways most folks found funny
in his futile attempts to find peace. But a series of events made him
about through trying. No one was sure whether it was the twelfth
job turn down, or the fifth loveless date that put the man on edge,
but he began a different work.

He read books by, and about, Malcolm, watched interviews
and speeches from the’60’s, as if trying to will himself into Baldwin’s rage.
His chronological review of the source material was so thorough
that by the time he’d reached 2/21/65, the once calming spirit
became a boiling pot to fear.

By winter, his footsteps melted ice, and milk curdled
before it touched his lips. Soon, no one understood a word he said.
When he stopped talking, and in his presence, crowds cried as if his being
were tear gas, his once close friends knew there was no use trying anymore.

Brandon D. Johnson is the author of Love's Skin (The Word Works, 2006), The Strangers Between (Tell Me Somethin Books, 1999), and co-author of The Black Rooster Social Inn: This is the Place (Spike and Pepper Books, 1997). He is included in the anthologies Gathering Ground, The Listening Ear, Cabin Fever, Drumvoices 2000, Winners: A Retrospective of the Washington Prize, and Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC. Born in Gary, Indiana, he received his B.A from Wabash College and his J.D from Antioch School of Law. He lives in Washington, DC. To read more by this author: Two Poems, It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Vol. 10:2, Spring 2019; Six Poems, Vol. 3:2, Spring 2002.