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two poems

by Mitchell L. H. Douglas

Our Youth, Oh Lord, Burns Longer Than the Night

Folk Art

(for Bill Withers)

His voice is the radio. Momma drives

across the Sherman Minton through New Albany

to elementary

in Kentucky. We rise & defy. Four

seats & us two

ramble across the river.

This far above the Ohio, the only current

is sound, the churn of guitar

& a deacon’s voice bless

our ears, the white Opal: jewel

of a ride from another time. Another day

means one more chance for anything.

Dawn ropes my conscience,

Bill’s voice sweet charm

of gold. We cradle him

in the squawk of car speakers, tales

about the hands of a matriarch

like the one a river away.

All through the day—arithmetic

puzzles me, comic books a breeze,

& spelling tests, spelling tests . . .

be gone already.

I can be a mess of a boy, forget

it’s picture day & show up in my uniform,

or think it’s field day & come to school

in street clothes. “Street” clothes

makes me laugh, like the fabric

is as rough as the roads we ride.

Fierce about my time, give me

a ball & a court, no nets required. Give me

a bike to sneak

off the block, a synthezoid

of green & gold, his blue fur friend. Tell me

one day math will make sense,

that addition & subtraction can feel as good

as phasing through walls, me

minus restriction, the world one sound & shape.

Let the radio play.


Poet and visual artist Mitchell L. H. Douglas is the author of dying in the scarecrow’s arms, \blak\ \al-fə bet\, and Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem. A 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, he is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a Cave Canem alum, and cofounder of the Affrilachian Poets.


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