Lit Issue 2019 | Poetry

here i am at the National Portrait Gallery

mostly people want to see the portraits of the Obamas.
directions to their locations perch on the lips
of the women at the front desk before i even reach them.
i go up the marble stairs.
i give Andrew Jackson the finger and
wish it could actually change anything.
above the hall of presidents, i imagine a banner:

is it possible to lead a people and not become a mass murderer?
there’s a shrug emoji at the end.

elsewhere, there is a room
where Michelle Obama’s portrait is kept.
she is unsmiling. she looks at me without blinking and i know
in an instant that one may not enter this room carrying
any of the dusty lies with which we have built all
our tiny fragile.

a black woman painted her. only black women
can see other black women,
like see see other black women
and sometimes not even then.

in the same room is a portrait of LL Cool J.
there is a curator out there, floating around this erupting world
who knows what it means to have leveled a portrait of LL Cool J
in the National Portrait Gallery of a country the likes of this one.

sometimes when i feel suddenly uninvisible, it is enough
to make me cry.                                         behind me

a white woman raises her gaze to the portrait of the first black First Lady, and voices “she’s too serious in this.”

above the room, i imagine a banner:

i don’t owe anyone my joy. if i want, i can keep all of it
to myself and nothing would be wasted.

water in the well.

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