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Names We Sing in Sleep & Anger

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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)
Names We Sing in Sleep & Anger

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