Names We Sing in Sleep & Anger

By Amaud Jamaul Johnson
Like fishermen at dusk, the soldiers returned
from war with stories slumped over their shoulders;
their fingers firm at the knot, the netting, thick
and tangled with the names of the dead.

None could explain how the flood of life all around
them escaped like water from between cupped hands,
how the bodies of men they loved began to crust
the earth like salt, how destruction danced slapdash
and unashamed everywhere, and still they survived.

When I came home from college proud, my educated
mouth agape, a tackle box of words, slick and glossy
and I saw the names of my friends, the young men
I fought with, learned to drink with, and left behind

LilRocc, Pumpkin, Ulysses, Junebug, Aghoster
names spray-painted throughout our neighborhood
in memoriam, I couldn’t understand how a god
could make one life possible and strip the world
clean of so many, or how, like high-watermarks
the dead remind the living of the coming of storms.

Amaud Jamaul Johnson, “Names We Sing in Sleep & Anger” from Red Summer. Copyright © 2006 by Amaud Jamaul Johnson. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.

Source: Red Summer (Tupelo Press, 2006)

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Poet Amaud Jamaul Johnson

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Religion, Faith & Doubt, God & the Divine, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Living, Death

 Amaud Jamaul Johnson

Biography

Born and raised in Compton, California, poet Amaud Jamaul Johnson was educated at Howard University and Cornell. His debut collection, Red Summer (2006), examines the infamous race riots of 1919, during which nearly a hundred African American men in cities across the country were lynched. The book won the 2004 Dorset Prize from Tupelo Press. Selecting the volume, judge Carl Phillips noted that “Johnson’s poems remind us that the . . .

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Poems by Amaud Jamaul Johnson

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Religion, Faith & Doubt, God & the Divine, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Living, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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