Three Poems by Nate Marshall

Poetry: Nate Marshall


Surprise escapes your lips as you soar
into the sinking of having your shins
kicked from under you. If you’re lucky
the full nelson that folds arms origami
will keep your knees from crashing
into the concrete. Your flight will be
brief. Pray you have enough time
to kick back into the kneecap
of the third assailant. If the fourth member
of the crew sees your retaliation,
it’s a tossup. He might be merciful,
dock his Nikes into your stomach,
ribs, knees & not face, head, spine. He might
not be merciful. Hopefully the other three guys
will only tap dance on your hands, break
something that might heal. If a car stops,
you’ll make it. The driver isn’t on their side,
this time. This time, you’ll only miss one day
of school for the emergency room visit,
the negative x-rays, the scratched retina,
the doctor’s orders, the protective eyewear.
This time five years from now you will miss
all of this, the simplicity of an ass beating.
It will surprise you at first but five years
from now you will understand the beauty
of soaring, or being sore. You will value
the knowledge that once a blow has landed,
it is done.

indian summer

heat is a cruel mother,
pushes us out into the neighborhood
to play & burn. the sun sit up top
like an old folk on a tall stoop
fresh out from Stateville
& nervous around four walls.
the clouds circle vulture
or blunt session or after school fight
above us. we out here
playing in the heat with one ear
gaping, both eyes low. summertime
& dying is easier. june is jazz
or a funeral dirge. july is thick thump
of a rap record or dull thud of
a rap cliché. the weatherman says
the forecast is clear, beautiful &
sunny. that’s a cloud in our sky.
your play cousin got good hair,
indian in her family. maybe
she can pray for rain.

in the land where whitefolks jog

he walk down the road
dark & abandoned
skull cap & scowl
quick stride & limp
he mug & bump
the sound of fuck you up
in his headphones.
he hear what goes
bump other than him
in the new moon’s no light
he brace for everything
he slide his key in between
two fingers in his fist
readies to aim somewhere
soft & exposed
he contemplates a cheek
or eye socket

he raise his hand out of pocket
like a holster & cocks elbow
& the pat pat of New Balances
bounce down & around the
corner & she glows in her
peach thigh & sunflower
shorts & she pat pat &
he remember key in fingers
is for locking & also entry

he enters a decade earlier
& hoping for glory
to wash him in high school
he straps up high top only
athletic shoe he owns & is off

he around the corner & over the glitter
of exploded wild irish roses he thump
thump & across the path of the pits
& shepherds & rottweilers
he see the neighborhood people there
& he thump thump & they do in unison
he know they never seen someone run
in not their hardest way
he never ran in less

he never been in land where
jog is a memory
he never knew someone to run
without having to join them
or stop them in their tracks

Nate Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. He is the author of Wild Hundreds and an editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-HopWild Hundreds has been honored with the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s award for Poetry Book of the Year and The Great Lakes College Association’s New Writer Award.His last rap album, Grown,came out in 2015 with his group Daily Lyrical Product. Nate is a member of The Dark Noise Collective. He completed a B.A. in English and African American Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Nate has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Poetry Foundation, and University of Michigan. He is the Director of National Programs for Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Northwestern University.

Image: The Odyssey Online

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