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"Not An Elegy For Mike Brown": Two Poems For Ferguson

Poet Danez Smith's "Not An Elegy For Mike Brown" and "Alternate Names for Black Boys." Republished with permission.

Posted on November 25, 2014, at 4:12 p.m. ET

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

not an elegy for Mike Brown

I am sick of writing this poem

but bring the boy. his new name

his same old body. ordinary, black

dead thing. bring him & we will mourn

until we forget what we are mourning

& isn't that what being black is about?

not the joy of it, but the feeling

you get when you are looking

at your child, turn your head,

then, poof, no more child.

that feeling. that's black.


think: once, a white girl

was kidnapped & that's the Trojan war.

later, up the block, Troy got shot

& that was Tuesday. are we not worthy

of a city of ash? of 1000 ships

launched because we are missed?

always, something deserves to be burned.

it's never the right thing now a days.

I demand a war to bring the dead boy back

no matter what his name is this time.

I at least demand a song. a song will do just fine.


look at what the lord has made.

above Missouri, sweet smoke.

Originally published on Split This Rock. Used with permission.

Stephen Lam / Reuters

alternate names for black boys

1. smoke above the burning bush

2. archnemesis of summer night

3. first son of soil

4. coal awaiting spark & wind

5. guilty until proven dead

6. oil heavy starlight

7. monster until proven ghost

8. gone

9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash

10. going, going, gone

11. gods of shovels & black veils

12. what once passed for kindling

13. fireworks at dawn

14. brilliant, shadow hued coral

15. (I thought to leave this blank

but who am I to name us nothing?)

16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint

17. a mother's joy & clutched breath

Originally published in Poetry. Used with permission.

  • Picture of Danez Smith

    Danez Smith is a 2014 Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow. He is the author of [insert] Boy. His writing has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Beloit Poetry Journal, Kinfolks & elsewhere.

    Contact Danez Smith at

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.

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