Sunday Poem


When I see a black man smiling
like that, nodding and smiling
with both hands visible, mouthing

“Yes, Officer,” across the street,
I think of my father, who taught us
the words “cooperate,” “officer,”

to memorize badge numbers,
who has seen black men shot at
from behind in the warm months north.

And I think of the fine line—
hairline, eyelash, fingernail paring—
the whisper that separates

obsequious from safe. Armstrong,
Johnson, Robinson, Mays.
A woman with a yellow head

of cotton-candy hair stumbles out
of a bar at after lunch-time
clutching a black man’s arm as if

for her life. And the brother
smiles, and his eyes are flint
as he watches all sides of the street.

by Elizabeth Alexander
What Saves Us— Poems of
. . .. . Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump
Edited by Martín Espada
Curbstone Books, 2019