Wednesday Poem

Modern Fiction

First book assigned in Modern Fiction
is Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the Narcissus.

The professor: dandelion lady
tall & thin, an old head capped

in gray-blonde wisps, spits
the hard R from her chest day one,

then again day two, then switches
to the Conrad novel every other time

like she’s not sure if there’s a max
before graves beneath her feet—below floor

and stair and brick—snap,
reach high, and drag down.

Tour guides say Thomas Jefferson went here,
but none detail the dense

death that shrouds
Williamsburg grounds,

the dead who live well
and those who stay dead.

Thomas Jefferson is a modern fiction.
The students here call him TJ,

his statue fixed to Old Campus like a sundial
telling no time but these,

different times,
some say, where charges

like rapist or slaver hide
on the flip side

of his proper noun height,
far below land

his own hands wouldn’t tend.
The end of slavery is a modern fiction

we students roost and lounge on,
feet dangled off wood dorm sofas

and seats built by prisoners.
They earn fifty to eighty

cents an hour, look more
like me than the school body,

with faces brown as God.
Their griefs are transient … less felt,

and sooner forgotten with them,
wrote TJ of black folks.

Once, when a man hurls
dirty ass niggers from his truck as the girls

and I stroll Richmond Road,
what strikes breaks skin, soars past bone,

through each lobe and out, like ghosts
emerging suddenly from stone.

by Kyle Carrero Lopez
from Poetry, May 2021