And the hot-toothed clippers stay
hacking hair like field hands.
Everybody quiet for a moment, a few
awkward stares, a few heads
nodding in what seems like agreement but, shit,
they could be keeping rhythm
to A Tribe Called Quest blasting from the stereo.
And in the air cut with alcohol and cologne,
cut with precum soliciting the seams
of a secret desirer quickly licking last night’s boy
from his teeth, pubic hair genuflecting
in his eager saliva, words with blue-black
wings spiraling the tonsils—in that air
where the tumbling balls of hair
are the guillotined heads of uncloseted sons cracked
on every curve, the men hold each other.
Hands on faces, fingers on necks, a thumb
on deck at the chin lifted up for a kiss
from the liner, fingers softly folding down
an ear to get the lining right, precise
as a slice of cake, line can’t nobody cross,
these hands touching like women
are never allowed while men caress other men
into gorgeous. A room full of men is a room
full of dead boys, of imaginations made cruel
because made silent. How can one build
a temple with secrets? I make weapons out of secrets.
See these daggers glisten back a tapered ruin,
every blade a mirror, these lonely hatreds familiar
as a man’s voice asking how he can
make you better. But no one says
anything. I open my mouth to spit
through the agreement. All the men’s names
I’ve kept hidden fly out from me on blue-
black wings. I’m an aviary of fallen kings.
I shoot them bird by bird until no kingdoms
are left. I open my mouth to warn
the to-be-killed sons but I only hear
my barber speaking. And what he says
in my silence is what I say: man
just beat his ass. Don’t kill dude. And the way
he says it sounds like a man
negotiating with options he doesn’t like
because all options lead to looking
at his palms and shaking his head.
Phillip B. Williams is the author of Thief in the Interior, a finalist for an NAACP Image Award and Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He received a 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship and is the co-editor in chief of the online journal Vinyl. He is currently visiting professor in English at Bennington College.