Poem of the Week | February 12, 2018

This week, we are excited to offer a poem by Jamal Michel. Michel is an English Literature teacher in Durham. His work has appeared in Lunch Ticket, Apogee Journal, and Linden Avenue Literary Journal, to name a few. His future plans include pursuing an MFA in creative writing for film and television.


“Just picking up,” I say to the
woman at the counter, smiling.
She’s got flour on her cheeks
and mozzarella under her nails.
“–You know Jerry? No? Well he’s Black,”
a woman behind me says to the
people at her table,
the people at her table who
motion in their seats, uneasily now.
Stabbing her salad, she goes,
“Honestly, he looks more Middle Eastern
to me than anything.”
A few “mhm’s” and such,
still discomfort and fidgets.
“He said,” the woman continues,
“that he’s had to teach his son
how to interact with cops,
and for the life of me I didn’t
know why that was a necessary
thing to teach your son.”
She split a grape tomato open
and the red seeds sprawled about.
And I wanted to open up too,
wanted to tear this brown flesh off,
like a coat, and maybe allow her
a moment to walk in this skin,
to walk in the thing she did not believe
was a necessary knowing,
but I could not remove it.
It stuck to me since before I
entered that pizza place,
before I left my car,
since before I entered this world.

Author’s Note:

Nino’s retells an experience I had at a pizzeria when I was on vacation one spring. It was on the heels of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling’s slayings when I overheard a conversation behind me while I stood at the cash register. In the poem, I tried mightily to communicate how weighed down the experience was as a whole–specifically with the last line where I comment on carrying this weight since before entering this world. It transcends history and seeps into my skin each and every day. This is no burden, but rather a culmination of history, culture, and politics that flows through my bloodstream, being Black in America.