Two Poems & Five Questions with

Poetry / Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

I Tend to Think Forgiveness Looks the Way It Does in the Movies

like two white people kissing in the rain & it is always
white people kissing in the rain on television & it is a question
of hair, I imagine. the things too precious to be given over
to the illusion of vulnerability. I have paid my tithes in this church,
though. drawing my desires long through a city of millions with wet
sneakers & dying flowers exploding from tissue paper & I have emerged
from this shrinking heaven half-drowned & with a heart molding
at the edges & speaking of the heart, I love most what it is until it decides
it isn’t. first a weapon & then not. first a mirror, wherein you see yourself briefly
whole & next to someone else who is briefly whole & then not. I am talking about the end
of love—how the door closes one night & never re-opens. The coffee mug left
with a lover’s unshakable stains in the bottom & the single fork from the infant night
in the first shared apartment & all of the relics we have to craft the leash used to keep
our misery close. what I meant to say about kissing in the rain is that it seems
to be about a mercy that I cannot touch, for what the water has been known to undo &
what of myself I might see in the wake of its undoing. Mercy, like the boy pulling back
a fist as the small stray dog below him trembles with its eyes shut. Mercy, that boy then walking
into the arms of his mother, who once dragged him from a home ransacked by a man’s
violence. Mercy, the city unfolding its wide & generous palms over your skin the way a city
does when it opens itself up & waits for darkness to pour into its open mouth & you, too, wait
for the night to spill itself into your echoing terraces of grief & call you outside & tell you
that it is almost your season, darling. it is almost the season of your favorite flower & the
burial ground giving way to its tiny & exploding lips & how they exist for you & no one else

None of My Vices Are Violent Enough to Undo Remembering

and it is troubling isn’t it
to have a reflection

that always arrives when called
despite the steam pulling

its thick tongue along a mirror’s edges
after I emerge unsanctified

from underneath the raging

and it is really something
to love only the unseen

and still be finite
back in the golden era

a good bluesman
would have a memory

only as long as it took for the last
guitar note to drown itself

in something that burned
the throat on the dance

down and I guess that doesn’t seem so
bad when you consider the times

what I’m saying is that if you’re going to die
broke you might as well also

do it alone
my great great grandfather could not swim

he played guitar for coins on the juke
circuit but never parted his lips

for the drink and so when the yawning
maw of the Mississippi coughed out his

remains there was no other excuse
for what dragged him

to the water except for that which he didn’t
do himself the mercy of forgetting

and in all of the pictures I have his smile
it is dark outside my window

and I see my reflection in everything I see
my reflection in the water

especially the water

Five Questions with

Could you talk a little about the creative path you’ve taken—were you always interested in the arts?

I was in some capacity, yes. Not always writing, but I was often very interested in self-expression. In high school, I was in drama club. I was in plays. I always thought of myself as an artist, even when I wasn’t producing art. I felt like I was capable.

Are there any books or writers that have particularly influenced your writing?

Alice Walker / Octavia Butler / Josephine Baker / Khadijah Queen / Eve Ewing / Angel Nafis / Morgan Parker / Nate Marshall / Franny Choi / that’s just this week.

Could you tell us what a typical day looks like for you? Do you have any particular routines or practices?

Not particularly. My days are so unpredictable and often all over the place. I do like to go to the gym when I can, just to get some time that is only dedicated to myself and my own desires and the music I love and don’t have to tell people what I think about it.

Would you mind telling us about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’ve really just figured out what my second manuscript of poems is doing, so I’m really excited about that. It’s like remembering a language I always knew, but left for a moment.

Are you creatively satisfied or are there things you’d still like to work towards?

I’m never really creatively satisfied, even though I’m happy with how I’m trying, most days. Still, there’s always so much more to be done. Onward.

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released by Button Poetry in 2016. His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, is forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in winter 2017.