by Becky Thompson


for my students, Alvin and Luis

Luis passes Alvin his Virgin
de Guadalupe to put in his bundle

bag. To make up for the cattle
Alvin’s brothers sold, angry that he left

the reservation, trading hay and high sky
for time with books. Luis crossing

his own borders at ten, headlights
off through the steel gazing gates.

They smile, eyes dropping as men
do, intimacy a glimmer, so soft.



In those days when skin was heady & roller

coaster was the intellect everybody wanted

we dressed in our dyke finest on Sundays

for the Dark Room poetry series when the hottest

& the baddest came, when poets read the latest

& the boldest poetry in the days before spoken

word, when reading still followed the line

with a similar slow cadence & Brooks & Baraka

were the elders but not the only & nighttime

love could make or break on who was the cutest

in the crowd so all the Black women

came to the Dark Room with their black

jeans pressed just right & their newly dreaded

dreads twisted just right with the white girls’

hair cut so close, when Pell grants & city

money still kept women flush enough for Patchouli

& two copies of the signed books when

after would be a restaurant, any

restaurant that would take a dozen so we could

dozen ourselves into the evening, looking so

fine, when Evelynn still saw me as her apple

& we could all recite Lorde essays like they

were poetry because they were, when color

was a fashion & a politic & Sunday evening

loving could catapult us into Wednesdays & did.  



In Houston on the air tram the taped voice
announces ride ’em cowboys and I think

let me out of here. At the gate smelling
of hot pretzels and old coffee, I measure out

the two hour flight in twenty minute slots,
Shambala Sun, course readings,

yoga magazine, grade papers. Sleep.
When seven soldiers in army fatigues

and matching back packs sit next to me
I try to switch seats, but cannot, full flight

to Colorado Springs, to my new job
and their two weeks home. I fantasize

Boston, where we read about the war
in the newspaper, only they sit quiet,

their faces still looking for their adult
shapes. We light on safe subjects:

the terrible music piped in, the price
of peanuts, the two birds we saw

flying in the white steel rafters
in search of a way out.



Marx (marks) v. [German.]  1) to fixture myself to the British Museum library, hawking books to pay rent, retrieving them for footnotes. 2) to live in exile: Jenny and I run from Germany, fleeing the censors, her dress the color of a school girl’s blush. We spank the moon in Paris, sell all our trunks in London, the young ones paint the walls of our flat with orange and yellow bursts. 3) to rage: I am Prometheus/ chained to the press/ an eagle devouring/ my liver. 4) to cope: Engels turns the lights back on, ten thousand devils in my hair. 4a) to cry: our three living children/ weep/ their little sister/ in the next room/ we scrounge pounds/ for a tiny box/ how many children/ can a man lose/ to hunger and no doctors/ and still be/ a man? 5) to manifest: water will rain down/ on the people/ make the corn grow/ as the workers rise/ above the chimneys and the anvils/ the time clock clicking backwards/ aprons will tie up the greedy. 6) to dream: we will fish/ in the morning/ paint all afternoon/ write poems at night/ our gaze wandering/ on the following day. See also: Assata Shakur, Che Guevara, Federico García Lorca, Frida Kahlo.

BECKY THOMPSON’s recent books includeWhen the Center is on Fire (co-authored with Diane Harriford) and A Promise and a Way of Life. Her poems appear in the Harvard Review, We Begin Here: For Palestine and Lebanon, Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, Amandla, Illuminations, and Margie.



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