1. Home
  2. Poems & Poets
  3. Browse Poems
  4. Names We Sing in Sleep & Anger by Amaud Jamaul Johnson
Names We Sing in Sleep & Anger

Related Poem Content Details

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

Related Poem Content Details

  • 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 human record is at last a mixed one: violence, shame, betrayal, and fear, but also joy, courage, love and, yes, hope. Red Summer gives us the stirring debut of a restorative new American voice.”
    Influenced by Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, and Robert Hayden, Johnson’s poems combine narrative and lyric to explore the roots of violence and desire. In conversation with poet Douglas Kearney for the Boxcar Poetry Review, Johnson discussed the connection between his poetry and his prior work...

  • Poem Categorization

    If you disagree with this poem's categorization make a suggestion.

Other Information