Artifact: Skin Like Brick Dust by Saeed Jones
In bed, your back curved
to answer the heat of my holding
& Harlem was barely awake below us
when a half-broken building
gave in. First, a few loose bricks,
then decades crashed to the street
just as a bus pulled up. Passengers,
choking on dust, rushed
to escape the wrecked weight
of someone else’s memory.
Two blocks beyond gravity,
I pressed into you, into you & away
from all the breaking. I didn’t know
your name, so I kissed one
into your mouth. Told myself
he is my body but you
were already on your way
out into the sirens.
Identification: This poem is from Jones’s 2014 book Prelude to Bruise. The work was inspired by a 2012 accident in Harlem where a bus did crash into a brick building, but added the element of his sexuality and the manipulation of another man to seek comfort from the crash. From the text of the poem, it’s clear the narrator doesn’t know the person or their name. The only identifier is the title Skin Like Dust Brick. Besides that, it seems the narrator only wants the unnamed man for his body. According to a Buzzfeed article by Julia Furlan, Jones described this work as an additional prelude to Prelude to Bruise. He said the meaning of the poem was to answer the question, “‘How do we use other people, and their bodies, to express ourselves?’ The speaker in the poem is, whether he knows it or not, using the man he’s sleeping with to convince himself of something. I think that’s deeply human” (Jones). The Buzzfeed article listed includes four other of his poems.
Annotation: Jones’s discussion of the male body isn’t romanticized. Instead, he seems to address more uncomfortable ideas about the human body and our relationship to it, as other LGBTQ authors have done like Whitman. However, unlike Whitman, that discomfort is also tied to our perception of the black male body. This is evidenced in how he links Prelude to Bruise to this poem, which is a heavily uncomfortable description of the African-American body and how it’s treated. In it, Jones’s says, “Your back, blue-black / your body, burning / I like my black boys broke, or broken / I like to break my black boys in.” Saeed Jones’s discussion of race and sexuality is powerful. He exemplifies a raw candor in contemporary poetry that I haven’t seen in years.