there, on the ground like dirt or a bird
december froze & may thawed, blood

misted, crying for any mother, the boy
who called your mama a bitch bleeds

our love for you, his wings frozen & fighting
the cold wind of our sneakers.

we storm him because we love you
& your mama has fed us & only us

is allowed to call her out her name
because we know her name, Ms. Jones,

& she bad & only we can say that
& when we bad she has permission

from our mamas to beat us like we hers.
we hers like you hers. you our boy.

we pool our punches into the boy
like quarters for a bag of flaming hots.

we make him look like a bag of flaming hots.
lord forgive me, but i don’t regret it.

&, on the real, all these summers later,
i miss it. i wish a little bit to gather around

a man’s body & stomp in the name of love,
beat what he said about my next to blood

back into his vermilion mouth, to make
his mouth a beautiful, smashed tomato.

really tho. Leland, you remember
how we beat that nigga? our middle

school ritual, that thirty-second eternity.
later, i licked his blood off my nikes

& dreamed we were water lilies
holding the water down.

they were around me like


nigga2      nigga3

nigga4     me     nigga5

nigga6       nigga7


& i felt    ...    safe?

what could be safer
than a circle of boys
too afraid of killing you
to kill you?

the fists that broke my ribs also wanted me to live.

i praise each one true god
for each foot that was not
a sharp anything.

i had always wanted 8 niggas on me (but not) like that.

each hand laid upon me like a rude & starving prayer.

after a while i started to           like it
i leaned into it      unblocked my face

the bottoms of their shoes were the sweet of a well-chewed eraser.
i was their promise. their ink.

you should have heard them laugh
a language so delicious i cracked up cracked grin & all.

i didn’t know
a thing about love
until those boys
walked away
so happy.

my heart pouring from my nose.
More Poems by Danez Smith