Praise Song for the Table in the Cafeteria Where All the Black Boys Sat Together during A Block, Laughing Too Loudly

Joshua Bennett

What is this nonpower at the heart of power?
     —Jacques Derrida

Thomas was a riot. By which I mean funny
to the point you thought he practiced the same
set of jokes on the bus each morning

with the sole intention of ruining AP Bio,
but also as a gesture toward the chaos
he brought with him when he entered

the room, what his presence stole free in us.
When he walked by, white girls would flicker
their eyes at him like golden apertures, as if

they were trying to copyright his splendor
or keep his swagger as an exhibit in a museum.
Quiet as it’s kept, the combination of Me & Thomas

& Jeremy & Devin & Eddie was the most color
our school had ever let through its doors
in a single year, our collective body both

a kind of shame & a pretty sweet school record
all by itself. All we had was A block’s release:
Thomas clowning everyone’s clearance-rack running

shoes & lack of game; Devin’s impromptu raps;
Eddie’s impressions; and Jeremy, silent as a marble,
speaking only when he had a gem of a dagger

to drop like a dead bird in the desert, like the day
he called Thomas a corny ass rich boy
& how from then on I could think of nothing

but the force of the slur as it sailed across
our plates, how selfish it was of Jeremy
to kill the vibe that way. I mean, really,

what’s a biography worth
if your boys won’t let it stretch?
Who in their right mind would want us,

our threadbare lives, without a little legend

to sweeten the frame?
What mattered the miles
between The Hood, its protean

borders, & our actual homes, or the first times
that never happened, or the nicknames
no one called us in real life,

when such warm fiction was shared
among this huddle of strangers
made lifelong friends

by a Scantron’s omniscience,
by our careful parents & their justifiable
fear of the world?

 

Read another poem by Joshua Bennett by downloading our iOS digital app available in the iTunes store. For Android users, click here to access our mobile-friendly site. Or, purchase a print copy of the Jan/Feb 2017 issue here.

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