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Sample Poems by Jason McCall

Montgomery, 1998

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
the first lessons I learn in 7th grade are I can't
say nigger too loud and all students need
to wear t-shirts under their Barkley jerseys.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
I'm smart enough not to say nigger
too loud so my parents send me away
to the gifted school downtown.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
"gifted" means mostly white
kids who can't fight
or can't afford private school.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
my white friend in Latin won't talk to me
about anything other than No Limit Records
and East Bay books.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
Most of my dreams end with a light- skinned girl's legs
in English class. One or two dreams
will never leave the Latina who gave me my only nickname.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
the school year really doesn't matter
because no one notices me stringing up
my Terrell Davis cross trainers on the first day.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
my grandmother dies
and I feel weak when I try to hold up
my fainting mom in church.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
my biggest failures are my failure to dunk
and my failure to raise
my eyebrow like The Rock.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
I'm the last kid at home, waiting for the hum
of a car in the driveway while I count all the ghosts
I want to be when I grow up.

Wally West at the End of Time

Speed kills
memory. Does lightning

mourn the rent oak?
Does the viper's jaw lament

the hare's lost milestones?
How long did I run

to get back to the apartment before blood
stained the carpet? How many times

have I circled the world
to find myself naked

in the mirror after my first time?
Only the past holds

promise. How many
footprints have you left

on your grandchildren's grave?
Have you ever watched your failures swell

until all earths are pock-scarred and sore?
Every future is a bullet

with seven billion names.
Where are the watchtowers

and guardians? The end is neither Atlantean
throne nor apocalyptic fire pit.

It belongs to the phantom
snails and the star-nosed moles.

Don't lose the sun.
Don't lose the sun.

My First Day of School

I left with lip stick on my collar
and my mother hit me when I came home
with questions about marriage
and mixed babies
and my 5-year-old brain
didn't know how to do much
other than blush and shrug.
I should've seen the way
out of my living room interrogation.
I should've said "What girl
wears lipstick in kindergarten?
You know why I didn't kiss her back?
Because I have home training."
I should have made her into a Delilah.
If I mentioned Delilah, my mom
would've known I did listen
to the sermons while me and the other ushers
thumped each other or took turns
nodding on the back pew.
I wasn't old enough to think
of that, wasn't old enough to kiss a girl
and blame her for having lips.

Maybe Janus

Never really planned on being a god
of clumsy first date kisses,
annual reports, jamboree games,
jump balls, lead-off hitters (can you imagine
Henderson praying to anyone
but Henderson?), security
deposits, drug deals gone
good, Kindergarten romances, James
Meredith and Autherine Lucy and Crispus Attucks,
Comic book reboots, budding
breasts in gym class-how many
throats have gushed
for the smallest
breeze or sprinkling?

What if he just wanted to work
on doors? What's he supposed to do
with a handful of keys
other than his best
Mr. Miracle impersonation
when you want him to catch
time by the tail and hold it
long enough for you to clear
your throat and spit
out a pretty girl's name?