Shayla Lawson

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man
after Wallace Stevens & Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Against the wall, the car, the flashlight
His limbs spread like a cephalopod and he knew
He was a black man.

This is a gun.
This is only a gun: Little Black Man.
Little black fist.

Even in mosquito August
He is a suit. The black man
Is always a suit.

He loves a woman.
He loves a woman. He loves the same woman
since she was a candied kiss across his cheek;
The black man still wants
To press his lips into her
Inner thigh like breath’s heat.

The black man doesn’t mind
The frayed anger
Blaring bass between his eardrums.
He just hopes
No one whistles “nigger”
After him.

The car defrosting ice
from the window glass,
Not unlike a body drawn in chalk, the absence
Of a man, or soon after. Even in the vapor
They are trying to make black men

We invented the Alphabet, he says
And Algebra. But when his son asks
Who invented the black man, the black man
Asks, Which one?

I know love in accents,
The body a fruit inescapable;
But I know, too
The black man
Knows this better
Than I do.

Sometimes he leaves. To a child
Any man exiting the threshold
Of a door always looks

There are only three words
Written on the road
For Robert Johnson—
     “God, the Devil…”

This time
When the old prude pinches
Her handbag in the elevator, the black man
Turns, shows her his
Perfect teeth.

There is a movement. A black man
Must have been involved.

The record skips—its forgotten
Melodic fades into static. No one
Stops to flip the black man back
To music. The silence
Just keeps breaking.

Shayla Lawson

Shayla Lawson is the Nonfiction Editor for Indiana Review. Her poems have appeared in several journals, including: MiPoesias, Anti-, inter|rupture, and Pluck! She was the inaugural winner of Sou’Wester’s Dr. Fred Robbins Memorial Award for Emerging Writers in poetry. Her work is supported by fellowships from the Giorgio Cini Foundation of Venice, Italy and the Toyota Alumni Fund hosted by the Kentucky Center. She teaches poetry for Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts and is a member of The Affrilachian Poets.