By Hakim Bellamy
Son, if you came up missing
your hood would not be able to find you.
Unable to pick you out in a crowd,
or a police lineup.
If you made it that far.
If they even came looking at all.
Don’t be anonymous, child.
Make sure you stick out
like a pair of sore thumbs
alongside eight other fingers.
even when their fingers
curl horizontally at your chest.
They won’t pull if you don’t push,
Get ’em up, high.
As though you could actually reach
those pruned dreams above you,
rotting on each and every branch of government.
Like you’re the one being robbed of something,
and everything is suspect.
When standing up for yourself
becomes a crime,
you better stand out.
Like flannel in the summertime.
Like black combat boots and a trench coat
any time of year.
Like Steven Fuckin’ Urkel
pants round your nipples,
or they will put shackles around your ankles.
Hoodies around your neck.
Flowers around your casket.
Because they murder more Stephons
than Steves every single year.
Don’t be anonymous, son.
Even if your comrades wear fatigues
every day in this warzone,
and call it a wardrobe,
you rock those plaid shorts
like a Tiger with no stripes.
Do not enlist in mortal kombat
with a metropolitan military
that can’t see the fathers for the G’s,
our future for the trees.
It is open season on hoodies
and skinny jeans.
The only bulletproof vest
I can offer you is beneath
this three-piece suit.
We’ve worn these neckties for years
because we’re least threatening
at the end of a leash.
Speak jive only
as a second language,
because when in Rome
do as conquered people do.
Empires aren’t covered
’til long after 1st grade
but it’s never too soon to grow up
in this backwards world
of men in backwards hats
getting gunned down in Walmart
for brandishing a toy pistola
While manufacturers live to brand
another day, about how lifelike
their product is…
even cops can’t tell the difference…”
even cops can’t tell the difference.
this is not cops and robbers
this is cowboys and Indians,
and the only way to not get shot in the back
is to dress like a cowboy.
is the only arrow pointing you past 19.
When their life
is in danger,
they cannot tell the difference between you
and the criminal record
they been bumping in their patrol car all day.
The gangsta rap videos
they imagine on loop in your brain
every time you open your mouth
with no “sir.”
They can’t tell,
just like mothers
trying to identify the mutilated bodies
of their babies.
out of a footlocker
of Air Force Ones
and Phoenix Suns jerseys
like it’s a police lineup.
I will donate
your carefully creased curb costume
to a “Pimps and Hoes” party
at a fraternity you will never get in
at a college I am determined to get you to
…in one piece
This retired uniform,
designed to help you survive
these gang infested streets
is in need of a facelift.
To help you survive
a more lethal form of thuggery.
Because your tank tops
will never top their tanks.
If wearing a white flag were enough
I would drape you in that,
but it looks too much like the coroner’s blanket
and Officer PTSD might mistake you
for a frontline in Iraq.
Take off that bullseye of conformity, son.
That bullshit dream of equality,
you can’t wear whatever you want in this country
that blames women for their own rape
because of what they didn’t have on.
You tuck your blackness into your bloodstream
like a white gold chain in the most dangerous part of town,
because the bullets pierce bubble goose parkas
leaving puddles of black boyhood flooding our sewers
And I’m sorry,
but I’d rather have you crying
on your way home.
So you will settle
for being the preppiest kid in school.
Wear your culture
like a butt naked emperor.
Like an invisible man.
They will see you when it’s convenient,
beyond your Birkenstocks and Brooks Brothers
during the next manhunt.
When boys are fair game.
So, whatever you do
don’t be anonymous.
When you go back out to that corner
be the duck wearing a Labrador Retriever costume
in a flock of geese.
At least you know
they won’t shoot you, today.
if you are lucky,
they might even house break you,
and take you home.
About the Author
Hakim Bellamy is a poet, activist, and educator in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was named Albuquerque’s inaugural poet laureate, and has taught at the high school and university levels. He currently works as Director of Community Outreach for the Albuquerque Mayor’s office and is a Kennedy Center Artist Fellow.
A version of this poem appeared in Alternate. Listen to the poet reading here.