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All lions must lean into something other than a roar:

James Baldwin, for instance, singing Precious Lord,

His voice as weary as water broken over his scalp

In a storefront Sanctified Church’s baptismal pool

All those years ago when he wanted to be

Somebody’s child and on fire in that being. Lord,

I want to be somebody’s child and chosen

Water spilling over their scalp, water

Taking the shape of their longing, a deer

Diving into evening traffic and the furrow drawn

In the air over the hood of the car—power

And wanting to be something alive and open.

Lord, I want to be alive and open,

A glimpse of power: the shuffle of a mother’s hand

Over a sleeping child’s forehead

As if clearing the city’s rust from its face

Which we mostly are: a halo of rust,

A glimpse of power—James Baldwin leaning

Into the word light, his voice jostling that single grain

In his throat as if he might drop it or

Already has. I am calling to that grain

Of light, to that gap between his teeth

Where the many-of-us fatherless sleep

And bear and be whatever darkness or leaping

Thing we can be. In James Baldwin’s mouth,

My difficult beauty, my weak and worn,

My future as any number of angels,

Which is not unlike the beast, Grendel,

Coming out of the wild heaven into the hills

And halls of the mead house at the harpist’s call

With absolute prophecy in his breast

And a desire for mercy, for a friend, an end

To drifting in loneliness, and in that coming

Down out of the hills, out of the trees, for once,

Bringing humans the best vision of themselves,

Which, of course, must be slaughtered.


Roger Reeves

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