Two Poems

Poetry / Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

:: The Four Seasons – “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” ::

my father comes from a place
where at least the churches

weren’t blown from their foundations
while little girls prayed to a god

busy cleaning the floors of their rooms
in a heaven not on fire

I say I have arrived and the black people in the room hear
No one was eager enough to see my father dead

the story, as I have heard it told, says that winter was a blessing
for those who needed a place to hide a body in the north

in the south, before the world began to swallow itself, it never snowed
the bridges would sag with the weight of death

it is romantic, what the ocean lapping at your brothers blood
will drive you to on the perfect night

there is the joke written by men
about how virgins will be the only ones spared in the horror film

the horror film, as I understand it,
has never had any intention of sparing me

oh, undertaker
I am beneath you again tonight

forgive the clumsiness with which I drown
in your endless feathers

watch, as I press my lips to your neck
and vanish from all of my baby pictures

:: Carly Rae Jepsen – “E•MO•TION” ::

There is more than one way to cover a temple in platinum. Maybe we both long for an era when there were less things to record death. In the interview, they asked if you believe in love at first sight. You said I think I have to. You didn’t say we are all one hard storm away from dissolving, vanishing into the frenzied dusk. But I get it. I know what it is to walk into the mouth of an unfamiliar morning and feel everything. I touch hands with a stranger who gives me my change at the market, and I already know their history. I suppose this is survival. I will love those who no one else thinks to remember. This is all that is promised: there will be a decade you are born, and a decade that you will not make it out of alive. All of the rooftops where the parties were in the year of my becoming are now dust. No one dances so close to the sky anymore. I say I, too, am a romantic, and I mean I never expected to survive this long. I have infinite skin. I keep dry when the rain comes. There will always be another era of bright suits that don’t quite fit, but must. There will always be a year where the cameras are hungry for whatever sins we can strangle out of the night. There will always be another spoon for boys to lick the sugar from.



From the writer

:: Account ::

This is perhaps a little funny, but I became interested in exploring all of the songs that I didn’t know were about sex until a time much later than my first listen. I started going back and making a mixtape, of sorts. “Songs that I didn’t know where about sex when I was younger.” I started writing poems using the songs (or albums) as a prompt, but I was interested in writing poems about my fears and anxieties, as opposed to just poems saying “Hey! This is a song about sex and I had no idea!”

I feel like I enjoy this process so much because it takes me back to my earliest consumption of these songs. I got to be oblivious to them, and build my own place where they were about what I needed them to be. I like doing it with newer music as well. Songs and albums that I love and know exactly what they’re about, but want to see what might be resting underneath the surface for me. It’s like I’m approaching everything with new ears and eyes. It is maybe the closest I’ve been to writing erotically, in a sense. It feels like I’m undressing the bedroom and putting up fresh wallpaper, new curtains.


Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. He is a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine, a columnist at MTV News, and a Callaloo creative writing fellow. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, is being released in 2016 by Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press.