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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Len Lawson

My S. Carolina Concealed Weapons Permit Instructor Notices That My Driver’s License Mistakenly Indicates I Am Not a Black Male

The word black is a gong in the lady’s throat

Scrapes the walls of her cheeks, cracks

her uvula, searches the worn grooved tongue


rolls itself around, a dog learning to scratch

its back in tall grass, lolling tongue escaping

the beast’s mouth through jagged bone


Between us, a steel shadow clutches

the instructor’s hip, echoing in her laugh

where she finds a home. I want to hide


in its emptiness, bury my head

in its barrel, rest it below the hammer’s

punch, baptize myself in its imminent fire


She seals my documents with a milky tongue

Holds my indigo-stained fingers to the pad

Ink still fresh from my Igbo brethren


crushing the plants on Beaufort shores

I’m just up the road from their bones

in Johns Island sand. I hear their hollow


Blade my tongue with their chants

Fish my heart with flaming nets

rife with gun smoke, brooding


I am boiling dye

simmering in a cauldron

My stench rises to her nostrils


My ringing hands remember

the shot I just aimed, flames just tamed

Quenching my peoples’ thunder


No, we are not the same


She feels I will not laugh with her

She releases my soiled fingers

I release her cold shadow

Black Child’s Fifth Grade Homework

If your neighbors
have a whites-only
tree house, do you
protest so that you
can be admitted
to the tree house or
do you build your
own tree house?
I will plant
more trees


Len Lawson is author of Negro Asylum for the Lunatic Insane (Main Street Rag, 2023), Chime (Get Fresh Books, 2019), and the chapbook Before the Night Wakes You (Finishing Line Press, 2017). He is also co-editor of The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry (Blair Press, 2021) and Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race (Muddy Ford Press, 2017). South Carolina Humanities awarded him a 2022 Governor’s Award for Fresh Voices in the Humanities. He has received fellowships from Tin House, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Callaloo, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts among others. His poetry appears in African American Review, Callaloo, Mississippi ReviewNinth Letter, Verse Daily, Poetry Northwest, and has been translated internationally. Len earned a Ph.D. in English Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A South Carolina native, he is currently Assistant Professor of English at Newberry College.

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