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Category: Kwame Dawes


First your dog dies and you pray

for the Holy Spirit to raise the inept

lump in the sack, but Jesus’s name

is no magic charm; sunsets and the

flies are gathering. That is how faith

dies. By dawn you know death,

the way it arrives and then grows

silent. Death wins. So you walk

out to the tangle of thorny weeds behind

the barn, and you coax a black

cat to your fingers. You let it lick

milk and spit from your hand before

you squeeze its neck until it messes

itself, its claws tearing your skin,

its eyes growing into saucers.

A dead cat is light as a live

one and not stiff, not yet. You

grab its tail and fling it as

far as you can. The crows find

it first; by then the stench

of the hog pens hides the canker

of death. Now you know the power

of death, that you have it,

that you can take life in a second

and wake the same the next day.

This is why you can’t fear death.

You have seen the broken neck

of a man in a well, you know who

pushed him over the lip of the well,

tumbling down; you know all about

blood on the ground. You know that

a dead dog is a dead cat is a dead

man. Now you look a white man

in the face, talk to him about

cotton prices and the cost of land,

laugh your wide openmouthed laugh

in his face, and he knows one thing

about you: that you know the power

of death, and you will die as easily

as live. This is how a man seizes

what he wants, how a man

turns the world over in dreams,

eats a solid meal and waits

for death to come like nothing,

like the open sky, like light

at early morning. Like a man

in red pinstriped trousers, a black

top hat, a yellow scarf,

and a kerchief dipped in eau

de cologne to cut through

the stench coming from his mouth.

from Duppy ConquerorFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Kwame Dawes
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.