Poetry Rocks Black Voices

Walker has published eight poetry collections including, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers; Buffalo Dance: the Journey of York, winner of the 35th Annual Lillian Smith Book Award; and Affrilachia. He has also won an Al Smith Fellowship and Lannan Poetry Fellowship. He is a professor at the University of Kentucky, in the department of English and the African American and Africana Studies Program.
________For the princes at 2nd Street School
© 2017 Frank X. Walker, source: Rumpus Original Poetry
They glare at me
with their nostrils flaring
then avert their gaze
When I don’t wilt.
They puff out boney chests
spread their shoulders
like lizards in the wild
needing to scare off
a would be predator,
but I step closer
let them feel my presence,
let them measure themselves
against all the space I claim.
In the blink of an eye
I tell them I am a man, black,
that I recognize their bullshit,
smelled it on them as soon
as I walked into the room.
There are no other black men
in this space, so they have
filled it with faux braggadocio
fueled by the smell of their own piss
have laid claim to the space
by default.
The teachers, all young and white
and undertrained, fear them,
fear their hair, their clothes, their music,
their shoes, their body language,
their silence, fear any and everything
that smells like confrontation,
simmers like unmedicated-able rebellion
and looks like the 6 o’clock news.
But I am not trading in fear.
I am only afraid
that they have been in captivity
so long they won’t recognize my scent.
I pace back and forth and show my teeth.
I lean in like alpha males do.
I need them to understand
that we are from the same pack
and I am here to show them
what they will look like.
For ninety minutes
I become the father they never had.
I am the chorus standing behind
their mothers, the ones who are white,
the ones who are not,
insisting that they listen,
to me, the women who gave birth
to them, their teachers, everyone
responsible for their futures,
—lest they have none.
I am the disciplinarian
promising consequences
for their unacceptable behavior,
pushback for their initial disrespect,
Hell to pay for their indifference,
remedies, directions, and road maps,
for their short attention spans,
for their yet unrealized dreams
but only because I love them.
I love their potential.
I love their wide-eyed promise.
I love their well-masked fears.
I say all of this
without ever opening my mouth,
with a gentle but firm hand
on every shoulder
with serious eyes
and a don’t test me smile
every time I arrive any place
with a room full of cubs
where I am the only lion.