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Aesthetics

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we must know a force
greater than our weaknesses

            —Jean Toomer


like most boys, ignorant
or fearful of beauty, we
pinned back the wings

of butterflies and plucked
off their legs, and watched
and watched them tumble

from leaves like pinecones
wheeling from rooftops;
and we laughed.

we crumbled alka-seltzer
for the pigeons, “those
flying rats” my mother’s

ex-husband once called.
their bodies floundering like
toys flung from a window.

white foam from their mouths
stark against the asphalt
framing their artless convulsions

and we laughed
with open-mouths until
tears dripped from our

chins and our throats
were raw with the rightness
of god.
Amaud Jamaul Johnson, “Aesthetics” 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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Aesthetics

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  • 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...

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