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  • Mike Crossley

The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: MIKE CROSSLEY

from o’ to be young black & gifted

“You don’t have to be black to be in the dark.”

—Helene Smith

You can’t be this dark, handsome & broken

You can’t just be browsing

It’s 10:00PM, the parking lot is empty

You can’t just be here

I smell marijuana

Smile so I can see you

You look angry

You don’t have to be dangerous to look dangerous, so.

The other side of the street feels safer

You don’t just go grocery shopping, order a pizza & walk home

Practice being non-threatening

You can’t just be upset / You have to cause a scene

It’s not Hey, how are you it’s I want something from you

You don’t have to be a smartass

Plenty of words start w/ n i g-

Nightstand nightstick Nightingale

You don’t have to be that dark & mysterious

from o’ to be young black & gifted

La Santa Muerte is lit af.

My homeboi sells blanca niña

but has never been high.

Don’t get high on your own supply

or anyone else’s, No entiendo:

Both of us were born at night

& since time is a flat circle

it is always that night. No entiendo, mira

mira, lo que tiempo.

Yo, too trill. We fill the silence w/

Trick Daddy & Lil Rob.

Sometimes I look at where we live

& can’t believe its beauty.

Sometimes the love just pours out of your chest.

from o’ to be young black & gifted

This du-rag ain’t gonna wrap itself

I need help; the line for social services is out the door

& around the block I’m dying, my Elohim

I’m dead. Damn my nigga

This new mind state really has me trippin

The sudden rain in LA falls at a rate commensurate w/ our malaise

In non-technical terms: yo, we tryin survive

I put on Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

some Ann Peebles, Dusty Springfield

The light goes on

The light dims, there’s nothing­—

Motion sensors tracking the ghosts we’ve left behind

While I’m in this club turnt off Henny

Life’s a trip & then you keep living

People can be all rage, no effort

I woke up this morning & applauded everything I’ve never done

Oh Buddy, when I say I am in trouble…

I mean, this wave-cap ain’t gonna cap itself

Or maybe it will, here hold this L

On the corner of Slauson & wonder how you played yourself

A few good words with Mike

BVS: The title of the long poem references the Nina Simone song “To Be Young, Gifted, & Black”—what does this song mean to you? How do you feel like “o’ to be young black & gifted” speaks to/with the original song? How do you think your iteration troubles the original’s tone?

MC: There’s definitely a starkness to it, these poems, this contemporary life. In the song Nina is more hopeful, you know, she could be hopeful about the end of the world. Nina’s discography, specifically this song and its tonal antithetical, “Strange Fruit”, along with Gwendolyn Brooks, made me feel as if I were weaponized. I knew what was up. However, notice the switch of “Gifted & Black” between the iterations. Black has new currency. Both in the poems and in the streets. With Nina’s song, she’s in the living room and we’re at her feet. In my iterations we’re out in the world, rappin’ about poppin’ the Draco or reading about Einstein’s redshift. We’ve grown up. The previous generation allowed us this gift to be Black in a chamber of new capacities, like we’re set to do for the next comin’ up. I mean, there’s definitely a starkness. But yo, our entire existence is politicized. So I see the tonal shift between my iteration and hers more as a natural extension of the times, and the change of audience. This is a remix; a DJ Drama mixtape.

BVS: As a Los Angeleno myself, I waxed nostalgic in the last section where you wait “on the corner of Slauson.” How does your experience as a black man in Los Angeles influence your poetic practice?

MC: You’re an Angeleno? That’s a trip. Yo, word to the city of angels. As a kid in Whittier my best friend’s mom would always call me her lil mijo. I feel like most of us had multi-cultural experiences. There might be tension between people, and we can do better, but LA has the ability to be strangely inclusive. I was reading Steven Johnson’s “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software” and there’s a section on Los Angeles; how the city is very much connected via highways and roadways allowing for large pockets of inclusivity, and simultaneous isolation. That juxtaposition between knowing your neighbor and not knowing plays a huge role in my writing. This is why one of my poems might reference a Konami game, Hype Williams and quantum field theory. Not making a direct assumption on what you may know, only sharing the experience and leaving the sole assumption as: You’ll understand what you understand.

BVS: What current black-created song will poets be writing poems after, 60 years from now?

MC: I’m about to spaz: Jidenna’s “Long Live the Chief”, 90% of whatever Rihanna does, any track on Michael Kiwanuka’s “Home Again” or Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”.

Mike Crossley lives in Los Angeles. His fiction, poetry and photography has been published in Bayou Magazine, Hobart, Prelude Magazine, Columbia Poetry Review, Apogee and The Atlas Review, among others.

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