Poems: Len Lawson

Portrait of My Depression and Anxiety as a Floor Plan

(1). The door has teeth / with a scraping tongue / swallows remnants of chewed ambition with
an aftertaste of dreams digested in slow motion / This threshold is not created to pass over

(2). Is this truly for the living / the bodies above ground / or is it a coping dimension before
the living room space below ground we call the grave / The coffin is a couch / plusher than
any sectional or Victorian sofa for swooning with one’s hand gently resting over one’s eyes
to simulate darkness / I’m in this room only because the door gulps me in daily and the walls
do not feel like a vice / further apart than in other rooms / but they still / whisper / look in
disdain at the spectacle I am before them / If these walls could talk / they would use the silent
treatment / They know they are undertakers preparing their dead

(3). My bowels are already filled with self-loathing / I can still prepare meals for distraction /
for a punchline / I will vomit what my hate-filled belly rejects / because it is a jealous god

(4). Let this be my set-apart / my indulgence / my mind laid out on the anvil of a TV and
changed every second by the sledgehammer of a remote to ensure I remember that I am
nobody / never good enough / unfulfilled / incompetent / unpopular / with the reverberations
of more toxic adjectives / The fireplace snaps with a prophecy that perhaps I will join a
multitude of souls destined for California wildfires parading in their eyes / wailing hymns of
violent screams / and gnashing of teeth filed down by the insatiable swirling blades of a dusty
ceiling fan

(5). Staring contest with a mirror that never loses / Such a bully / What my mirror says, Ms.
Clifton, is this / Why are you still alive / Why were you born / Is this the best you have in
that vacant dimension you call a body / And who would want it / Haven’t you blemished
creation enough / What are you looking for / What are you looking at / That’s right / Nothing

(6). My bed is altar / dinner table / playground / yoga mat / mountain to climb / launchpad for
dreams / a dream itself I cling to when I’m away / desk / another couch / My bed is two
invisible corners to stumble over / dresser for piles of discarded clothes / live band playing
hit after hit of my body’s movements inside her / another coffin / cave / womb where all
other furniture is birthed / the warm body I truly desire over that of another human / You
leave your bed because you must / I leave mine because I am not the lover it deserves / I am
magnetized by my guilt / But my bed is definitely not for sleep

(7). This is not a trap / This is not a curse / not a cell / not a hiding place / This is vanity / the
very idea that we need space to house things we covet / This space will always remain empty
to remind me that I can never achieve becoming anyone’s commodity / I do not even own the
house of my own body / I lease with no intention to buy / There is more art anyway in
keeping every piece of clothing / every article of linen / every possession spread over every
square foot of the floor / for visual consumption / This box is not for clutter / This is my body
/ broken / not for many / for me

(8). Exit but never forget / Call it a home / Call it a loft / Whatever its name / it will never be
sold / My demons won’t allow it / You don’t have the credit score high enough to match the
heat in Fahrenheit generated by my meltdowns / Let’s just appreciate this space for what it is
/ what we’ve now matured to accept it as /
A disorder


The President Is a Racist.

This is not breaking news.
When has he ever not been
a racist? When has any
other white demagogue in
power not been? When has
any other fascist not
imagined brown bodies
burning? When did he
never want to see black
bodies fry like the Central
Park 5? When did he not
want to see a bonfire with
their bones licked by
howling flames? When has
he ever asked for
permission to spew hate
and vitriol? When did he
not try to surround himself
with his most loyal black
and brown bodies to hide
his hate? Look at my

When did he not attempt to
banish black and brown
women whom he could not
grab by the pussy? When
did he not try to heap
brown bodies into I.C.E.
chambers of horror where
the stench rises to his
Pinocchio nostrils? When
did he not try to keep
brown bodies out of his
MAGA agenda? When did
he not try to exploit
dreamers with his ponzi-
schemes and scheme to
ship Dreamers out? There
will be no impeachment.
There will be no arrest,
indictment, or arraignment.
This is the occupant
chosen for the highest seat
in these United States by,
of, and for the people.

When did he not live
among us? When do we
not see him every day on
our streets, in our homes,
in our churches, in our
government seats? When
does he not teach our kids
sitting on their beds with
his arm around their
shoulders looking into
their blue and green eyes
saying, Never trust them
? When did his
megaphone never blare
on every street corner, at
every sit-in, at every
boycott, during every
lynching and Klan rally,
Go back where you came
from! White Power!
thoughts and prayers are
with him which means
absolutely nothing.


Aim High: Space Force

obviously there will be niggas in space
who else will the Space Corps harass

somebody apparently will have found a way
to make weed & crack smokable in space

& niggas will be on corners of space stations
from five in the morning selling the work

& that means niggas will be walking through
space neighborhoods minding their business

& get their spacesuits stopped & frisked
which means tasers of space rangers

will be set to kill for unarmed black bodies & their
space rovers with tail lights out & for alien profiling

which will erupt into riots on the moon & inhabitable
asteroids & planets with plasma gas thrown into crowds

so the Space Corps will institute martial law strapped with
invisible riot shields & laser clubs & anti-gravity cages

& of course we will have the largest mass incarceration numbers
in the galaxy so we must eventually construct a correctional facility

the size of the Death Star that can be destroyed less easily
with limited square footage of oxygen in solitary confinement

& implanted chips into the wrists of inmates for commissary
somehow niggas will still sneak in flat screen TV’s & cell phones

while broadcasting on Spacebook Live from their cells & with this
president the penalty for escape will be getting jettisoned to the sun

in fact your 45th president will no longer be Space Commander-in-
Chief before he discovers we cannot produce Star Trek in real life

nor can we produce a Death Star or a border wall but we can hack
elections and suppress black voters so hey we can always aim high


I See a Former Co-worker in Walmart Whose Name I Forgot

& I contemplate if all black people will be forgotten this way
possibly not even having a future when we’re hated for sport
We may dissipate into pixelated dust by the Reality Stone
erased from the future in a puff of Black & Mild smoke
no blacks to be found like in Back to the Future II
only in the past like the first movie
on stage playing the blues for white folks to dance
Synchronized uniforms just missing the shackles
Faces shiny and glistening with Jim Crow grease
until a little white savior shows us how to McFly
by playing rock & roll that a brother will invent in a future
we don’t belong in playing Johnny B. Goode like he
invented it, like he raced from the present in a time machine
to the past and collected all the black inventions to
sweep through black legacy with Thanos’ infinity gauntlet
with no black heroes left behind

            I pass through the peanut butter aisle and wonder
when a white man invents a time machine if it should
have two dials: one for the white past & one for the black
& which one does George Washington Carver fit into
half the store items & half the customers would be gone
but store managers might be happy though with nobody
posting videos of Walmart fights from their stores
& nobody to follow around for stealing
& nobody gossiping loudly across the aisles
telling all my business to everyone who does not want
to listen to things I’d rather keep private anyway
& then I remember her name


October 29, 1979:
50 years to the date of the beginning of the Great Depression, I was born


A satirical prophecy 

A radical protest to manifest destiny 

A sovereign rebuke of my obscure blackness 

A theory to explain my lifetime of ineptitude 

A whimsical frolicking judgment on pillaged soil 

A gentle nudge to awake from my ancestors’ veins 

A crash on the bloody shores of decency and order 

A throat-slash rebuttal to being never satisfied with self 

A forerunner for my messiah of Babylon on Black Friday 

A damning generational indictment on a legacy of poverty 

A seminar in the only way to ascribe the moniker of Great to my body 

A journey beginning on Black Tuesday and ending in my depression made flesh 

A blackface minstrel raining pale horses of depression worse than the tropical variety
A golden anniversary of how a black boy can implode a nation—without dying this time 



Len Lawson is the author of ”Chime” (Get Fresh Books, 2019), the chapbook ”Before the Night Wakes You” (Finishing Line Press, 2017), and co-editor of ”Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race” (Muddy Ford Press, 2017). He was a finalist for the inaugural 2015 Berfrois Poetry Prize.  He has received fellowships from Callaloo, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Weymouth Center for the Arts, and the Emrys Foundation. His poetry appears in Callaloo Journal, African American Review (forthcoming), Verse DailyNinth LetterMississippi Review, and elsewhere. Len is also a Ph.D. student in English Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of PennsylvaniaHis website is lenlawson.co.  

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