I could go on and on about Jamaal, but I’d rather use his own words so you can decide for yourself how amazing he is! I met Jamaal during my MFA Program and had the opportunity to chat extensively with him about his poetic journey. It was truly fascinating. One of the requirements for my MFA was to facilitate a short class on a topic of my choice. I chose to discuss whether or not poetry on the page can adequately translate to poetry on the stage and vice versa. The following poem and video might answer that question for you.
Day 11: Hum by Jamaal May
The Sky, Now Black with Birds
I if I say riot helmets outnumbered the protesters
who, after Troy Davis was executed, stuck around
to throw useless punches into the courthouse grass,
while a woman near the forest of batons
lay sprawled facedown in the lawn gripping a Bible,
a green sea beginning to memorize
the shape of her grief. If I say Death,
cure death, and had such power over the scythe,
how many cranes will it take to lift her
out of this drowning?
If I tell you
Lawrence Brewer was executed
five hours earlier for the murder of James Byrd—
if I ask you to look for birds foraging
between his intricate tattoos,
I don’t mean to distract you from the cross
that still burned on his arm that day.
I don’t expect you to stare into a graffiti
of iron-crosses and spider webs scrawled
across flesh and find a thrush vibrating with birdsong,
but I want you to know why I listen for more
than the cawing of crows:
I wanted Brewer dead.
So dead, my tongue swelled fat with hexes, so fat
I wonder how forgive could ever fit inside my mouth.
Somehow it’s always there, fluttering in the larynx
of Ross Byrd—the man whose father was dragged,
urine soaked, by Lawrence behind a truck.
Watch him say it.
the word has feathers. I want
to learn to get its wings between my teeth
before more retribution
blots out the sky.
When I tell you
glare flickered off a cop’s visor
and startled a single crow away
from the murder that flapped the sky into inky pieces,
I want you to watch close enough
to notice the feathers aren’t black at all.
Like bruises and ink, they are
only this full-bodied purple—purple so rich
your eyes will still swear it’s black the next time
you see it spread out across sky. Watch it
spread like the flush of pancuronium bromide
into diaphragm, watch close enough to pinpoint
when the muscles lock.
If it is said the injection
is humane, we mean to say this
is humanity: no crack of rope, jerk
of limb, no bloated face, clenched jaw, or reek
rising twisted in smoke from a cooked torso—
we mean to say there is nothing to disturb
the nest between our ribs, there is nothing
to make a heartbeat rumble
like a murder of so many wings.