In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Redemption, and: The Black Outside
  • Joy Priest (bio)

After Killer of Sheep by Charles Burnett

Across the street, the Atlantic is draining from the harbor.The aquatic pulse of the twelve milliongoing back. A voice washes into the bay—

It's my father. The fatherI once lost, pulling me back from my single mind.Dance with me, he is saying

at the bar beside me. Studying him,I think about the Black worker: his grandfather,a sharecropper in 'Bama, then a factory worker

at U. S. Steel in Cleveland, his father on the lineat White Motor Co., then later my fatherfirst to think himself a citizen, signing up

to join the Navy, a specialist of machines.I want to say the most important thing in the roomis the jukebox. But it is the sea, the tide starting to come back

into his eyes. Dance with me, he pleadsfrom that place we go to sip brown, slip the blue collar,where four hours into the bottle he hears God's voice [End Page 172]

and I hear his. Now I'm thirty-one days sober, decidingto lead myself on this path beyond January. A Shepherd,not a killer, or a specialist of killing machines.

I study my father beside me at the barand I think of Stan in Killer of Sheep.Stan back in Watts, stringing up lambs

to feed his family and his daughter at homedogfaced. Stan. My grandfathers. Time travelersin the Great Migration, the peripatetic pulse

of the six million coming up. Dancewith your father, they are commanding me nowand I refuse with my eyes. I want to say

the most important thing in the room is the music,but it is the water: Stan, chained to the small shipof America's imagination, listing

on the restless sea of time. My father listingdrunk on the stool now, Blue Magic gas leak laborcoming out of his eyes, God

all around him, and the devil right with 'em, specterstossing him back and forth—until suddenly(like that time in church, struck with glory

when he ran across the pews)he is hopping up, stepping out onto the blue-litfloor, yelling, I'll dance alone! I'll dance

alone! After all, I am an African. [End Page 173]

The Black Outside

The enclosure is so brutal.

—Saidiya Hartman

The jazz, it puts you on a swing in your project neighborhood.Where you learned the antithesis of ownership.Where you learned to live with the loudnessof your neighbor's living. It brings an ecologyof sincerity. The thought of the Black outside.& you believe, you believethe hollowed-out trunks, the tree house of our speech,the way we say things. Had to quit carrying on with folkswho don't have a history of being hiddenor community plumbing issues. Done with jazzless folks,who ask why you still have feelings.Your being, wayward with us now:—in the Black outside. The jazz, it puts you on a swingin the gentry's neighborhood, which used to beyour neighborhood. Where you pinned your personalityon a shared clothesline. Where you placed your speakerin the courtyard window to bring us out. On a swivel nowin the bureaucratic fabric. On a walk you've taken to escapethe mind so close to itself it cannot see itself,like the eyes above the nose. What doesn't pursue you? Now,you are even after yourself. On that walk all the way [End Page 174] to Waugh & back down, worryingabout the way you look, feeling unstable on the inside,you write from above yourself.& on at Van Buren, when you turn backtoward Montrose Blvd. There it is: an olive Buick stalledin the median. & Suddenlyyou are in the Black Outside:—              Dear Beloved in the Future,              are you still maroon? Lover,              are you there? Am I there too? [End Page 175]

Joy Priest

Joy Priest is the author of Horsepower (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. She is the recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the...