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
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,
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