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from the December 2018 issue

Three Poems

In these three poems, Ricardo Aleixo explores how to be a black man, how to know someone, and how to protest and resist.
 


Video: Ricardo Aleixo reads “My Man” in Portuguese.
 

My Man

I am whatever you think a black man is. You almost never think about black men. I will always be what you want a black man to be. I am your black man. I’ll never be only your black man. I am my black man before I am yours. Your black man. A black man is always somebody’s black man. Or they are not a black man at all, but a man. Just a man. When they say that a man is black, what they mean is that he is more black than he is man. But all the same, I’m a black man to you. I’m what you imagine black men to be. I can spill onto your whiteness the blackness that defines a black man in the eyes of someone who is not black. The black man is the invention of the white man. It is believed that to the white man falls the burden of creating all that is good in the world, and that I am good, and that I was created by whites. That they fear me more than they fear other white people. That they fear me, but at the same time desire my forbidden body. That they would scalp me for the doomed love they bear for my blackness. I was not born black. I’m not black every moment of the day. I am black only when they want me to be black. Those times that I am not just black, I am as adrift as the most lost white person. I am not just what you think I am.

 

I Know You by Your Scent 

I know you
by your scent,

by your clothes,
by your cars,

by your rings and,
of course,

by your love
of money.

By your love
of money

that some
distant ancestor

left you
as inheritance.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by your scent

and by the dollar signs
that embellish

your eyes that
hardly blink

for your
love of money.

For your love
of money

and all that
negates life:

the asylum, the
cell, the border.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by the scent

of pestilence and horror
that spreads

wherever you go
—I know you

by your love
of money.

Under your love
of money,

God is a
father so cheap

he charges
for his miracles.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by the scent,

of sulfur,
which you can’t mask

which clings to
all that you touch

for the love
of money.

For your love
of money,

you respond
with loathing

to a smile, to pleasure,
to poetry.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by your scent.

Smell one of you and
I’ve smelled all

of you who
survive only

by your love
of money.

For the love
of money,

you turn even
your own daughters

to hard currency,
to pure gold.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by your scent.

I know you
by the stench

of your rotting
corpse that

somehow
walks

for its love
of money.

 

Night of Calunga in the Bairro Cabula

I died how many times
in the longest night?

In the motionless night,
heavy and long,

I died how many times
on the night of calunga?

The night does not end
and here I am

dying again
nameless and again

dying with each
hole opened

in the musculature
of the person I once was.

I died how many times
in the bleeding bruised night?

In the night of calunga
so long and so heavy,

I died how many times
on that terrible night?

The night most death
and there I was

dying again
voiceless and again

dying with each
bullet lodged

in the deepest depths
of what I remain

(and with each silence
of stone and mortar

that sheds the white
of your indifference

onto the shadow
of what I no longer am

and never will be again).
I died how many times

in the night of calunga?
In the brackish night,

night without end,
the oceanic night, all

emptied of blood,
I died how many times

in the terrible night
the night of calunga

in the Bairro Cabula?
I’ve died so many times

but they never kill me
once and for all.

My blood is a seed
that the wind roots

in the belly of the earth
and I am born again

and again and my name
is that which does not die

before making the night
no longer the silent

partner of death
but the mother that births

children the color of night
and watches over them

as a panther
who shows, in the light

of her gaze and in
the sharpness of her teeth,

just what she will do
if the hand of evil

even imagines
troubling the sleep

of her cub.
I’ve died so many times 

but I am always
reborn stronger

brave and beautiful—
all I know is to be.

I am many, I extend
across the world

and across time inside
me and I am so many

one day I will make
life live.

 

Author's note: This poem was written especially for the magazine OMenelick 2Ato, at their invitation. It examines the impact of the massacre of thirteen black youths at the hands of military police on the outskirts of Salvador, Bahia, on the night of February 6, 2015. The black activist organization “Reaja ou será morta, Reaja ou será morto” (“Rise Up Or You Will Die”) dubbed the events the “Chacina do Cabula” or “The Slaughter in Cabula,” Cabula being the neighborhood where the slain boys lived. Playing with the double meaning of the word calunga—sea and death—the poem, which I read for the first time in public during a debate in which I participated on March 23, 2015, at the Paris Book Fair, declares itself at once as a protest against the normalization of the extermination of black youth in Brazil and in other countries and also as a tribute to active resistance in the name of life. It is dedicated to my daughters Iná and Flora and to my son Ravi.
 

"My Man," "I Know You by Your Scent," and "Night of Calunga in the Bairro Cabula" © Ricardo Aleixo. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 Dan Hanrahan. All rights reserved.

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