Are We Not Obsidian?*

by    /  May 5, 2020  / Comments Off on Are We Not Obsidian?*

for Bekezela Mguni and Saretta Morgan
by Lauren Russell

This is not the death
I dreamed of, so it must
be life. Red moon bullseye
playing peek-a-boo
with the idea of a cloud. A black-
bird vessel sprouting porcelain
feathers. It’s spouting steam—
can’t hiss so it chuckles: COO COO
COO COO, some relentless heckler.

I never wear black but it’s wearing me
down, so many weights and shades
playing peek-a-boo with the idea
of a shroud. Black velvet   charcoal
cigarette ash   newsprint   rubber   black sponge
black lace     black paint flaking    recalcitrant
black ink overcrowding the looseleaf.
Out of the black I carve portholes
with a view of more black. Out of the view
I scoop lakes lined with black tar and burlap.

Red moon bullseye plays peek-a-boo
with the idea of a cloud. I never wear black
but it’s wearing me down. The politicians
in blackface croon COO COO, COO COO, rehearsing
a round for the six o’clock news.

This is not the death I swaddled
so it must be life. A blackbird vessel
sprouting porcelain feathers cackles a jingle
into the night. I want to dance with a hematite
ghost, flat-hatted shadow sneezing
smoke. She’s burning a fleet of funereal
boats. She dips and billows, she spurs
my pulse, sings How can
BLACK LIVES MATTER
and not your own?

*title after Ellen Gallagher’s “Are We Obsidian?”

The question at the end was inspired by the Ferguson Voices: Hands-On Community Writing Workshop facilitated by Bekezela Mguni and Saretta Morgan at the University of Pittsburgh in February, 2018.



Lauren Russell is the author of What’s Hanging on the Hush (Ahsahta Press, 2017) and Descent (Tarpaulin Sky Press, forthcoming June 2020). She is a Cave Canem and NEA fellow, and her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. She is assistant director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh and will join the faculty of Michigan State University and direct its RCAH Center for Poetry in fall 2020.



City of Asylum believes that
All Pittsburghers are Poets. With the Poem of the Week series, we seek to increase the readership and appreciation of poetry locally by publishing poems written by residents of Allegheny County of all ages and levels of experience. In partnership with the Poetry Editors at Sampsonia Way Magazine, City of Asylum advances our mission to defend, celebrate, and build on creative freedom of expression. This project received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).

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