After “Portrait of Christopher D. Fisher, Fourth Reich Skinhead, 1995,”
“Who is this,” you asked
yourself, then swiped right
across the white boy’s face.
And the rest was history.
It’s immense—larger than Williams’ canvas;
larger than the skinned head of that framed white boy
staring back. I’m talking an old big boat,
a Portuguese schooner named Arrogante.
It’s an old story: the ship trucked
its swiped cargo all the way from Sierra Leone
only to be captured in Montego Bay.
In the hull of the ship, a boy
whose skin and hair were brighter than any
the sailors had ever seen before. Out of curiosity or love
of ritual from the old country, they held him down;
pulled his head back
—the neck opened faster than his wrists or ankles.
If you were there, you would have mistaken his begging
for song, you would have heard the splash
of their laughter. You should have seen
the head, its brilliant blond halo, put out in the Atlantic.
Oh, you too would have found yourself in the hull of the ship;
hungry. Bad horse meat, you would have said.
You’d never be able to get the blond strand
out of your teeth. Refuse to eat and the men
would have made sure you never hungered
again. As a charm or votive to God, the men,
before eating it, held that boy’s heart in their hands
the way Williams’ white boy has yours now. Now, don’t go worrying
your pretty little head, all of that stuff happened a long time ago.
A long time ago, after the white boys in blue
beat Rodney King, I was there watching
when the Black boys dragged Reginald Denny
from his truck; my face was cast in the television set;
my face, an American intersection, the black sun
of my face burned into four Black sons;
An old story: once you fell for a blond boy
with black suns for eyes; fell to your knees,
put him in your mouth. It was immense,
you could not breathe. He held your head
down there for so long. Oh, he couldn’t help it
that he was so beautiful. Why would he want you
to lift your head, meet his gaze in the middle of it—
a reminder of what you both were to each other.
That’s an old story—one in which
your body became nourishment
for his. You didn’t resist
when he held your head down,
your nose pressed against his pelvis,
his head buried in your throat
an old salve. He couldn’t help it,
that boy was so sweet, so devastatingly pretty.
Whose face is this?
my eyes, the crowns of their heads; my face,
many faces in the crowd—it was an old story,
historical, there was no difference; we all looked alike,
no one could tell whose face was whose,
An eye for each soft eye—are they not guilty
of innocence? The face swiped
across the canvas could be anyone or no one—
simply a mask staring back. In the portrait
of the subject, always the likeness of its maker,
there is no difference between you and me.
It’s your painted face, a blackened face,
that can’t stop smiling, you’re the skinned
head, the one the white boy held
between his legs until you lost your Black mind,
until you choked on all of that whiteness, blond hair
caught in your teeth. It’s a story heard before,
but you wanted to save the white boy
from history, so you begged him to use your body;
let him call you his salve; make you his
absolution. When he tells you he’s sorry,
how could you not fall to your knees,
my God, lick him clean?
when we dragged that white boy to his knees,
we dragged all white boys
who have trucked their way through history;
we dragged him as if we meant to save him
from his whiteness; we wanted
to skin the skin right off of him,
Who is this, you ask the face, because you can’t see
the race. It could be anyone staring back—
the tendons woven back over then across
themselves like history’s ashen fibers.
No, not across, just underneath the surface,
always there ordering each cord to raise
or fall, like when a Black man opens his mouth
wide enough to accommodate a white boy,
of course, the way you did, the history around your lips
tensed, then slackened like rope or a noose or
a tied knot. You wanted to marry your body with his
until there was no difference between you and me.
Who was it that said: in the portrait of the subject
is always the likeness of its maker?
Whose face is this, whose face is this?
so many witnessed the white man’s skin,
soft as history, how it gave up, how it caved,
how it surrendered his skull, how we recognized the face
of every white man that took shortcuts before him;
when we were done, he was unrecognizable; we were infamous,
the L.A. Four, we made a name
Christopher: the name of Williams’ white boy
is the name of the white boy who
pressed your head down on his little head,
then you bared your teeth a little, enough
to eat him, he wanted it to hurt a little—
a little forgiveness that was not forgiveness,
he wanted you to scar him a little,
give him something tangible enough
to heal from, it’s an old story, you gave him what he wanted,
you did not heel your big Black mouth, you were always hungry,
he made sure you were never hungry again,
he flooded your mouth, and (see?) you did not drown,
your throat clear enough to sing: O my white longing,
O my long pig. You were not the past,
you were past racial, so you sucked his long pig
to divorce him of his kin, to force all of him in your mouth;
his blond head thrown back as if he might laugh;
his face swiped in shadow; his eyes shut to history’s cuckold.
for ourselves; we got that white boy on all fours,
he couldn’t talk, we made him swallow
his words; he wasn’t innocent; we were wronged;
okay, we didn’t drag him, but he climbed out of his truck;
why didn’t he stay inside; why didn’t we stay inside;
why did he have to face us; why did we have to face him;
who did he think we were; who did we think we were;
we made him sorry; we were sorry;
he called out for help; we were calling out for help;
we were just kids; I was just a kid—
my mouth wide open, I swallowed
the Black boys, I swallowed the white boy,
I held my head down, I choked up, I was so sorry—
whose face was that; whose face is this?
There is no difference between you and me.
I am in love with a white boy, he is beautiful,
so sweet. You should see him, I mean really see him:
the way his head gets framed inside the crook of my neck;
my nose pressed against his forehead.
When he holds his hand to my chest,
a salute against my heart,
is this not a pledged allegiance, a vow, love
of ritual from an old country?
Let’s call this an epithalamium—
an old story about balls and chains,
one you’ve heard before. Through the blinds’
slats, the sun catches his face and
he is so beautiful. I lose my breath
when he pulls my head back,
my eyes meet his eyes and I want to drown
in them. My Black suns in his eyes.
I give him my heart.
I’ve lost my head, it’s an old story.
Whose face is this; whose body falls now from my mouth?
History: Arrogante: big boat: swiped cargo: swipe right.
I can’t speak. Whose tongue is in my mouth?
Copyright © 2020 Tommye Blount
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.