I will begin with braces
strung across a man's teeth
like a downed kite might
string itself across four lanes
of a seven lane highway
and bid a barefooted child
to wade into evening traffic
and slip. I will not focus
on the wasp at the window,
the cat's white hair stretching
along this orange peel,
or even the train's green breath,
its asthmatic clack
upon these arthritic tracks
that turn every head
into a cautious metronome. No,
I will not focus upon the spine
of the men walking these rails,
yelling cerveja, coca-cola, agua,
these men who bear no resemblance
to ghosts but even as they pass
disappear into motes
of dust most of us are too busy
to notice falling
inside a sleeping child's mouth.
I will focus all of my attention,
now, on the man with braces,
asking me if I am a member of the C.I.A.
Have I come to infiltrate
the Black movement.
This man who I have peeled
two oranges for
since this train left Rio de Janeiro
and, because his hands were full,
placed each quartered wedge
in his mouth. What are you here for?
The children waiting for bottles
of water to be thrown from each car.
The bee above his head, the kites
drifting from the hills, the white puffs
of cloth, slew-footed, wading into the sky
like a wasp drunk on insecticide.
Those are suicide notes, he says, the kites.
Soon there will be gunfire,
drugs, and dead children head to foot
along the paved and unpaved roads
leading in and out of this favela.
Do you have this in America?
This, meaning kites. This, meaning
children. This, meaning winter rain
unable to flow into the gutters
because of bodies lining the streets.
I think to tell him of Katrina,
but I say nothing of water-
melon vines growing around the dark
and dead, an un-hoed road
of children my uncle has left
in graves from North Carolina to New Jersey,
the bomb, M.O.V.E., the symphony
hall of atrocities in which every seat is full,
but is this the meaning of Diaspora?
I come with the dead tucked in-
to my duffle, my genocides
folded into my wallet and you
come with yours and we shout
across the chasm of this train car
comparing whose dead sings louder
or more often or now.
Is this Africa: a split trench
and a split lip, a photograph
of a police chief smoking a cigar
as the ear of a dead child catches his ash.
Why isn't my hand
dropping these slices of orange
onto your tongue, Diaspora?
Why have I come to Brazil, Brother?
To infiltrate the Black movement.
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