The Black Plague

“What did they do

during the Black Plague?”

I ask.

My friend,

whose skin

is the color of

tree bark

in moonlight,

takes a drag

from his

cigarette,

in defiance of

both God

and cancer,

then answers:

Drink.

Pray.

Die.

1.

I am 24 years old

and already so

acquainted with death. 

When my brother turned

22

we went rollerskating.

He glided

around

the rink,

Black boy joy

personified.

When I asked

if he wanted

to go dancing,

or to karaoke,

mark his

milestone

in any of the

usual ways,

he took a swig

from a fifth

of whiskey

and said

“If I make it to

25

we’ll turn up then.”

That ‘if’

burrowed itself

in my chest

and I have been

carrying it with me

ever since. 

2.

When my grandmother

tells me

she is tired.

What I hear

is

“I am ready.” 

I do not blame her.

Existence is exhausting

especially in this skin

and the world

is cruel.

When I tell my mother

about anger,

about the hopelessness

that threatens

to swallow me whole

she pats my hand,

tells me she

remembers that fire, 

but that things

do not improve,

then offers me

a platitude

about God’s grace

and the evil of men.

3. 

I am so tired 

of seeing my people

buried 

before we are

even allowed to

live. 

Replaceable and then

essential. 

Immune and then most

vulnerable. 

And didn’t we know

this all along?  

Don’t we laugh

because we feel

the reaper’s noose

at our necks

even now?

Don’t we know

that our laughter

is proportional

to the strength

in our limbs 

and the breath

in our lungs? 

Don’t niggers laugh loud

and run fast?

Don’t they always

catch us anyway? 


Black people are more likely to die of covid-19 than any other group in the U.S.

By the Numbers:

  • 70%: The percentage of people who have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana that are Black, compared to 33% of the population
  • 40%: The percentage of people who have died of COVID-19 in Michigan that are Black, compared to 14% of the population
  • 72%: The percentage of people who have died of COVID-19 in Chicago that are Black, compared to 29% of the population

I wrote this poem after reading an article in the The New Yorker called “The Black Plague,” detailing the systemic and historical inequities that have lead Black people to die of covid-19 at higher raters than any other group in the U.S. The article goes beyond citing underlying conditions to explain the reasons for our underlying conditions, and ends with this line:

To fulfill the promise that black lives matter, the United States must change in systemic and not superficial ways.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, The Black Plague

Last week, the president announced his plan to re-open the American economy, despite acknowledging that doing so will lead more people to die. Most of those people will be Black.

So tell me, does my Black life matter?

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