Kirwyn Sutherland


Prayer For Open Closure



Nigga say ahh and the riot commence


Effigy: schematic of a cop car burning on my tongue
I body all the smoke


Imagine a cell phone video showing
The cone of a flame scaling down
A head and gathering around the lips


Nigga say ahh and the laugh track
Vibrates Apple


All phones matter when America melts
Skyscrapers down around bellies
Flags now vapor
Soupy Metal
Wade in the dirty water now


New Negro spiritual: They who already died
by system cannot be killed in the rupture


Nigga say ahh ahh ahh
Only air alive is the History of Negroes


And Now I say after Amen is church
After Church is spill
Joy unspeakable
And then Instagram


We are translations of each other
Old, new
One unfurls an ink-caked napkin
One cuts blubber with the edge of a crop square


Expression don’t have a medium to call primary home. In other words, the paragraph
I am about to write can be just as much metaphor as verse. When I consider who has
consequence for moral deviation, I wonder if I truly know the transformative properties
of slavery. Slavery as idea, Slavery as person, Slavery as old weathered traveler of the
blood. And then I think about unlearning phenotype. Genetics of generational trauma.
How the riot is also a gnashing of one’s own skin as a vessel for massa’s teachings.


Because, serves me right
for building a ship out of
A ship

In the hull,
I am trying to save
Needful things:
Success, validation,
The idea of appearing white


You can’t codeswitch
And get away clean
I am pointing at myself
My gut
And trying to sink it
Appear thin
to all the right people
as thinness is a sort of currency

What is it to be fat with assimilation?


Then I get why everybody is concerned about talking white
You get gawked and pointed at

In your mind?
Is that in your mind?
Is the mocking just you ashamed of the
air blowing back at a rate you are not
Familiar with?

Essential Questions if you want to
Find where you are on a spectrum

‘Cause we measure how black I think
Often and it creates a distance
I don’t know if good or bad


Can we measure it?
And then collectively
Pull the person out of the trope

Uncle Tom is just the
Shadow one inhabits
When they are scared of
Their skin hitting the light

And there is treatment for that?


This is more of a map, so many locations of identity and not enough white space to defeat


Do we need it?

This isn’t about whiteness as
Much as it is about blankness

Starting from 0,
Not naïve but

Trying skins to see
If they work and then
Maturing into shedding
When the rebellion
Is outgrown


How we always have been but ain’t know
How the tools of this generation are ours
And the disgust we have is for how
Whiteness views black party

And that can be where we debate
But I refuse to shoot niggas who
Eat watermelon in the sun

While I eat it softly
Behind a wall
And call that having
Some respectability


This is a mapping of selves
The black you use and
The black you think you escaped


Or at least left spread across blacktop
So much unapologetic sweat back then
Rip and run up the court
Drug deal
Craps game
Scab and blood and upright again
Parents arcing over the tableau like domes


Hood chapel
Heaven under surveillance
A voice you think is God because
You can’t see it’s mouth
Tells you:

To be reborn pure
You must
Burn the memories and
Replace them with
Idols of shame


What you praying to
But the thought
Of corner boys
Come to un-slick
The bond you
Got with performance

At night
By spotlight
When the buck-dance scream the loudest


I am no better




Assimilation, After Sarge In A Soldier's Story


A black can be white
to get off all fours
A black can un-beast
A black can order the body
to lay still when the moon is fully erect
A black can pour bleach over
hands and conjure a receding of shade
A black can swap colors
A black has all the spit
to breed a field of black
A black can offer up
seed to be picked for the right price
A black can be cash crop
and seller of own people
A black can have a heart that
beats outside of

Language Acquisition

My mouth is clean with education,
elaborate diction,
Robust vocabulary
Sentences that bend and dip, short and
long, conjoined or fragmented
I can do it all.
I know the white man’s English
Better than he do.
I don’t slip past slang,
I wash the taste of riff out of my mouth
and pour in standard oldies
I am now gold,
with gums the color of the American flag


Dear God,
In this dream I am on a ship.
It smells like a landfill of corpses
I can see the sky after a body leaps past the sun
I can hear a loud splash
and foam and foam.
I see a shark fin darting through the water
through the screams I hear a dull moan
sound of death becoming as necessary as food
I feel hard cold metal in my hands,

I shake the chain to hear the clanking and look up
And see dark faces in columns and rows
in all forms of decomposition and
I am holding the anchor and


That other nigga at my job don’t know
how to shut up,
mouth so big,
You can see his teeth gleam
smile so bright it bounces off a cubicle
Laugh so loud I’m sure the manager
Perk up,
she on the look-out
for the next nigger to cut and
serve to the unemployment line,
ain’t going to be me
I evolve
I know how to swim in an ocean
of milk
that nigga lactose intolerant
Last time I saw him
he had a bloated stomach
washed up on the shore of some
ghetto, can’t remember if I said bye


When I heard my co-workers say nigger
It almost knocked the whiteness
out of me but I caught it with my
Fist and prayed whiteness wouldn’t confuse
the grabbing for a power move,
Because I want it
I want to be looked at as worthy
I want to be held up like a trophy
I want the glory
Even if I have to pin down the hood in me
I want to get it out
I bring the lynch mob
I draw up the bath of fire,
while the white faces
and I match their notes
and I see my new face


Ars Poetica I

I found nigga
after                    years

The unassailable smile fell from the
sculpture and here I am looking

angry stumble fumble/rollie pollie
bullet trying to find a target

I am not an angry boy. Every throw
back film excavated says well-fed and
shiny and American dream-ready

I learned the pose from schooling
beatitudes of black boy taming
tools for fitting
I think this is what they call
an education, Underground
Railroad ticket; but you gotta
sell something first
When did the well-dressed plantation
owner escape from the textbook
and time travel? Ran right past
my flattening. If we both arrived
at the scene from a rendering I guess
we are family
on different sides of the barrel
Nigga exploded in my face; a word
with a surprise in the middle and
on each of its facets my face
Looking like “Nigga will the utterance
turn you inside out” or
There are reports that say I am
fractured on the issue because:
My family used to be a row of
swaying strange fruit and
Nigger was the breeze
air under the picnic table
smoke emanating from the camera
I didn’t call myself a nigga until I was called
a nigger. That’s the rope-a-dope/okie-doke.
A racist calls me the bane of his history
and I make the space between us
a partition of night.
One-way mirror
looking glass
I see shadows
I see horned velocity
I see artifacts for my killing
I see burning in black
I see


Kirwyn Sutherland is a clinical research professional and poet who makes
poems centering the black experience in America. His work has appeared
in American Poetry Review, Blueshift Journal, APIARY Magazine, Mad House
Magazine, Drunk In A Midnight Choir,
and The Wanderer. He currently serves
as an editor for WusGood Magazine and previously served as poetry editor
for APIARY Magazine. His first collection of poems, Jump Ship, is forthcoming
from Thread Makes Blanket.