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•MOTION” ::

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.