Etymology of Ain’t

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Ain’t
used to be an’t
which comes from
am not as in                               I ain’t you
but also is not as in                 He ain’t me
& also have not as in              I ain’t been
and don’t wanna be

Ain’t is a state of that which is not
Ain’t is a state in the American South
Ain’t country, ain’t hip-hop
Ain’t nappy, ain’t cornrows, ain’t dreadlocks
Ain’t ignores dress codes       no shoes, no socks
Ain’t wears no drawers           don’t own any

Ain’t ain’t never apologized for being
Ain’t never been apologetic
Some say ain’t no future in ain’t
& ain’t ain’t what it used to be
but where ain’t is, is ain’t
Ain’t ain’t metaphysical?

Is you is or is you ain’t? I ain’t         no haint
Ain’t never been three-fifths            of nothing
Ain’t trying to be no more than       I am
I is whole
Before I was born                                  I was all

They placed ain’t’s tombstone        between ‘tis and ‘twas
But ain’t stands defiantly                   as don’t and won’t
Tar & feather me                                    burn me down
I ain’t supposed to be here

But I is

Home

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Of Ash & Dust: for the crew of STS-107, Space Shuttle Columbia

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Things My Father Gave Me (Which I Never Asked for)

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1 Life. A home plate. A backyard with a pitching mound. A split-finger fastball, a slider, a curve. How to break in a glove. When to slide head first. A family name to uphold. Open arms.

2 Time. A Huffy Bike. How to crack pecans. A sandbox. How to piss. How to be a rock. When to till the Earth. How to make a fist. When to fight, when to smile. How to trap a rabbit. How to catch a liar. How to speak when White people are present. (How to talk when White folk ain’t.) The difference between a flathead, a Phillips head, and a hard head. A roof over my head. Room to grow.

3 How to shoot a free throw. When to call a foul. How to drive. A high-top fade. How to ask out a lady, how to let her be a woman. How to use a level. How to keep your cool. When to be cool. Cool.

4 A pimpstroll. How to smoke out wasps. Where to get good fish. Funk & Wagnalls. When to ask for help, when to give it. How to speak up. A love of brown. Talbotton. How to mow the lawn, to hammer, to saw. How to change a tire, when to change the oil, how to handle change.

5 How to tie a tie. How to buy a suit. How to earn an honest dollar. How to lead, how to follow. How to read the spread. When to swallow your pride. How to raise a fence. How to use a knife for a pencil sharpener. When to shoot a gun.

6 How to shake a man’s hand. How to look him in the eye. A thirst to learn. A book case. Muscadines. Nights to dream. Dreambooks. Reasons to cry. Dark skin. Strong teeth. Full lips. Blood. Two brothers. How to care for elders. How to honor them. How to admit when you’re wrong. How to apologize before the funeral. How to love—yes—and how to always come Home.

Urban Percussions

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Neckrollology

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The most venomous
snake in all of Africa
is not the black mamba, though it does
come from the depths of the Congo, pulled deep
from the arch in her back, deep from hand
on hip, winding & winding, wound
up, whip-
lash—reptilian
stance of one about to
strike something. Make space: This
is a cosmic conjure of ancient name like
Zanzibar, Zambia, or Mozambique, which left the Greeks
baffled by its geometry. Its improvised axis
is jazz, falls between
3rd & 4th dimensions. Angular rotation: 720
degrees. Rotational speed: 45 revolutions
per minute. She spun it & spun it
out
of control, a neckroll:
If I had wanted a double
cheeseburger, I would have ordered a double
cheeseburger. How the hell did you get
double cheeseburger
from two-piece snack?

Unmanifesto: Notes on Post-postcolonialism (a 3rd Draft in CP Time)

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Yes, actually this is
another poem about race. (Maybe they all
are. (This time, the arrival ritual
is metaphor; next time, a primate; then, a grass
hut. Anything to show how natural
I am. (But hasn’t my nature
always been the problem? (Am I being
too prosaic? (Is my directness
unsettling?))))) Try unsettling

America. Humor me. Start with Hawaii
& Alaska. Unmanifest
these destinies: Undo the Sioux,
the Iroquois, the Trail of Tears. Undo
me—each shackle. (Hint:
My grinning is not a sign
I’m into bondage.) Undo amber waves
of grain (I mean
the song) & the transcontinental
train, track upon track, each
railroad tie back to free

labor—Chinese, Chicano & other-
wise. Undo sands
across deserts. Undo ours
& centuries. (But who can undo
when bound by Time’s
linear contract? (which I am now

breaking.)) Undo the starless
Black futures of your science
fictions. Undo Blacklessness
on the Jetsons. Undo 3rd
World. Undo un-
namings of Kunta & Biafra. Undo
uncivilized. (No, I mean
the concept.) Undo
these undoings: Navajo,
Inca, Aztec. Backtrack
across the Atlantic to the Gold

Coast. Let us critique you,
weigh you: Determine whether you’re real
art.

On Closing Woodruff Park, Atlanta (for renovation for the 1996 Summer Olympics)

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