Poem of the Week | June 24, 2019

Aaron Coleman is the author of Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, 2018) and the chapbook, St. Trigger, selected by Adrian Matejka for the 2015 Button Poetry Prize. A Fulbright Scholar and Cave Canem Fellow, Aaron is the winner of the American Literary Translators Association’s Jansen Fellowship, the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Contest, and The Cincinnati Review Schiff Award. His poems have appeared in journals including Boston Review, Callaloo, and New York Times Magazine. After completing an MFA at Washington University in St. Louis, Aaron is currently there as a PhD student in Comparative Literature studying poetry translation of the African Diaspora in the Americas.


I Found Kin in a Thrift Store Photograph

Above my bed a black boy leans
his chin down on the dark wood

of a small bridge, his arms
loose over the edge, far above

the rushing water. His fingers
let the wind’s anonymous grace spill

through him. The night is cinders:
flecks of bluish white and human red

trapped inside the sky. His face so
swept up in shadow his expression is

full of the unknowable. A black boy’s body
is a language sculpted out of silence.

Outside of time, inside the picture
this anonymous child has come

to be my family. Somehow
his legs sway with the framed waves

at the same pace loneliness slips
beneath the surface of intuition, floods

the current called desire.
On the far side I will never see

his spine is my creation myth, a bone river
of redemption, a choice to live, despite

unkeepable love. This religion of slow loss
balanced on the balls of his feet.


Author’s Note

An image above my childhood bed and the photographic work of visual artist Jen Everett inspired this poem. Jen Everett’s work led her to explore old photographs not only of her family but also of black folks she saw in old photos in antique shops around Saint Louis, MO. I often think about the fact that African American familial histories have been intentionally suppressed by the ways our names and languages were taken away during slavery. Sometimes I look at old photos of black folks I don’t know and get caught up in everything I can never really know about their lives. Many times I wonder at the off-chance that we might have some level of kinship, some distant connection…and when I think about the gauntlet of American history, I realize: of course we do.