Four Poems


on a windy day breaking
those hottest Midwestern months


where most everything is
wishing for death


or winter, a single dried petal
from that little blue flower


with a cute colloquial name,
shrunk beyond its living


weight and crumbled a bit
on its edges, falls


from somewhere that is not
knowable to the backseat of your car


in a park, the kind with trees
and paths but not a path


through the trees, surrounded
by city and city


and suburb and trees and
something catches your eyes


in the sparse canopy. your whole
body follows until one is


captured and catalogued
by a benevolent satellite employed of a science


repeating, “When’s the last time you heard Michael Brown?”




on my blue eyes in a hall of mirrors


every generation confronts the task of choosing its past.
            —Saidiya Hartman

condemned & exalted; tumult &
art; horizon & dancefloor; arrested
& passing; conjured & static; static
& static; static & unmagic; static &; static &
locomotion; static & arrested; static & refusal;
refusal & adjacent; & next door; & stacked
one on top of the other; no architecture
ever kept us closer & dancefloor; & beams;
beams & beams; beams & abundant; beams
above & the u-shaped hull; beams & oceans
not seen; beams & branches & beams
from branches; & being; & being
extinguished upwind; & beaten down-
stream from the extinguished; & beams;
& matchsticks; static & sulfur; measured
& traded; brilliance & seduction; & future
waiting in the wings; breathe & concrete;
scene & subjection; future & comedown;
cast & backstage; made-up & spot-
light; détente & searchlight; static &
blanching; static & suspect; scattered &
wretched; uplift & betrayal; & coal
from diamonds; & passing; & salvage;
martyr & scapegoat; martyr & shoulders; martyr
as survival & static; coerced &
confession; & boundary; & witness; condemned
& exalted; to dream & impossible; unbroken
& captured; unwritten & un-written &
static; drowning in horizon & dancefloor
as tumult & art & canvas, collision




We cannot weep, together


the idea
no one thought of where


all we have is everything
to lose by the same rules


as everyone else
defines these days


of change with in
these days of change—in a word,


silence. despite what you heard
[we are not made of brick]


few closures are complete
as the narrative ones. inside


this therapy of the past
tense palms scatter


where faces are stored
in a vision or someone


to believe it folded
between shoulders and rib


or hiding beneath
some prettier thing


like tendrils or sunset
where there is no closer


that’s not hurting, whirling,
& waltzing to the stupid music


we name the percussive
anxiety of just being


some way to die.
how many stars


must we possess before?
we are mistaken


for light, a clear sky
full of just your kind


of birds, drawn
with just one line.



You will pay for your osmosis
& it will make you smile


So many true things sound
fantastic when transposed
to the west, to our present,
to the soothing associations


we grant the English language
the heroic civility of our
frustration, calls to action
patiently waiting a generation


to monetize them, to our catch
phrases masquerading as
vernacular, to our tshirts,
all our fucking tshirts, stiff


black text over white
cotton or black behind
softer white words, the way
labor is spelled the same


whether it comes before
power or camp, if not
to our mutiny at least
to our comfort where


there is time to memorize
our refrain: am I making
something or am I reiterating
the idea of myself. We are


chanting just below mutual
recognition so that “we”
cannot hear another’s
effacements never meant


for answers but to lay bare
better questions. We’ll never
grow big and strong or
tender or mild without


learning to appreciate what
we can’t understand:


the object cannot explain
the walls built around her


even as they wilt against
the grease on our fingers


toward an irreparable humanity
now too powerful to resist


now recognizable as the same
boots they have always been


When you meet the hologram
and give it a name you lose


faith in everything but the optimism
of writing ourselves in human



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Isaac Pickell

Isaac Pickell is a mixed poet and PhD student at Wayne State University in Detroit, where his work focuses on the borderlands of blackness and black literature. His chapbook everything saved will be last is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, and recent work can be found in Black Warrior Review, Fence, Ninth Letter, and Sixth Finch. Isaac has taken a seat in all fifty states and has so much to look forward to.