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Poem: "You're Dead, America" By Danez Smith

"you’re dead, America / & where you died / grew something worse"

Posted on November 9, 2016, at 5:47 p.m. ET

i fed your body to the fish
traded it at lunch for milk

i know where they buried you
cause it’s my mouth

they tell me bootstraps
& i spit up a little leather

they tell me Christ
but you don’t have black friends

during the anthem
i hum Niggas in Paris

i cha cha slide over the flag
C-walk on occasion

i put a spell on you
it called for 3/5s of my blood

apple pie, red
bones & a full moon

but instead i did it
in the daylight, wanting you

to see me ending you
stupid stupid me

i know better than to fuck
with a recipe

i don’t make chicken
when I don’t have eggs

look at what i did: on the TV
the man from TV

is gonna be president
he has no words

& hair beyond simile
you’re dead, America

& where you died
grew something worse –

crop white as the smile
of a man with his country on his side

a gun on his other side


tomorrow, i’ll have hope.

tomorrow i can shift the wreckage

& find a seed.

i don’t know what will grow

i’ve lost my faith in this garden

the bees are dying

the water poisons whole cities

but my honeyed kin

those brown folks who make

up the nation of my heart

only allegiance i stand for

realer than any god

for them i bury whatever

this country thought it was.

Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Danez is also the author of two chapbooks, hands on your knees (2013, Penmanship Books) and black movie (2015, Button Poetry), winner of the Button Poetry Prize. They are a 2014 Ruth Lilly — Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, a Cave Canem and VONA alum, and recipient of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. They are a 2-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, placing 2nd in 2014, and a 2-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam Champion. Danez is a member of the Dark Noise Collective.

  • 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

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