Julian Randall

Either I’m Nobody Or…

With Thanks to Derek Walcott

a failure of mirrors
maybe not even the right
kind of disposable   just lost like
all precious things     I am nothing
special but I could be    multiply
my reflection and I might just
make the whole country post-
me     shoot I might get on some
real gangsta shit    fuck around
and become a country    how
hard could it be    I know hands
and I’m told that’s what takes
getting used to   how can you be
a country if nobody wants to
live in you     you can’t be
a country if you’ve never been
invaded     what kind of nation
never been touched    so I guess
that makes me lucky to know
what kind of fiction I am



Ode to the Last Boy I Almost Kissed

There is a thin border
between celebration and poison
once again         I am both
we are at the party
the night before I don’t graduate
wounded and ambitious
I stumble
bottle in hand and danceless
ricocheting somewhere
in the dark between high note
and shame


and maybe this what gave me
this slick ass mouth
I slur into everyone
the impulse      to talk bold
just to drink that look off his face
          I honey till all your teeth gold
he smirks     and I’m drunk off that again
Maybe then I was the man
I had always feared to be
 I wanted to fuck him    well
for years
I wanted him to be mine
because nothing else was
I pulsed with how unlovable I am
I wanted him     though I had no idea how
I beckon say          I am like nothing
you’ve had before

He smiles
ice chuckles against glass
tells me to find him later
I don’t      I run      I always
maybe I only wanted
to be beautiful or burned or familiar
a virginity offered      to summon
a judgement   I’d beg you
to name me a sacrifice
but I beat you to it
the story never changes
the night is unpunctuated
I am running            still



Frank Ocean Sighting #206: Mike Swear He Saw Frank Ocean Ordering No Less Than Two Packs of Twinkies and a Mountain Dew Code Red at A 7 Eleven in 2013

Or it might have just been another Black dude
after all         Frank could be any of us
but Mike is sure that it was Frank
because he caught him staring at his lips
as if he meant to cradle something there
and channel ORANGE lays soft
at the back of our necks     as Frank conjures
out the back of Mike’s speakers
and the bass gives the ghost
who is not a ghost     a pulse and hands
and other things we’ve been taught to watch
but never for long enough to consider
the watching itself     and Mike say Frank
look like he eat a lot of twinkies
Mike say he know all about Frank’s mouth
Mike swear he has no appetite for softness
and I know Mike is prolly lying
and Frank’s humming phantom reach
inside me        as I holla Nigga shut up
Nigga    ain’t nobody seen Frank
since the Grammys
Nigga    ain’t nobody seen Frank
since he admitted to his own mouth
ain’t nobody seen Frank since that
nigga plead guilty to hunger
and outside the car another July
beckons us to Lake Minnetonka
past dark to waltz with each other’s
college stories     and I tell none
of the ones where I am shaking
I tell none of the ones that do not guard
my ill-conceived body      its many rusting cities
I do not say I am like Frank
I admit my hunger
and I am already vanishing



Nearly 7 Years After The Fact A Boy Whose Nose I Nearly Broke Hits Me Up For Brunch

And I feel compelled
to say I was not unprovoked
when I pushed myself into the bridge
of his face       and it was not the rage
that it could have been     I was 15
body of buckshot
and ready to break anything
that threatened
to look like me     loneliness
is also a kind of dependency
and he was the only other
Black boy in the school for years
and this was what first made us friends


The issue was that he and our other
Black friend     remembered my mother
and memory has never made me anything
but an island     they refused to pronounce
instead my mother becomes another country
and I am alone       I am too much      I am
barely      other amongst others
they threw their belts at me     and this was how
they showed me their mothers
who made a practice of throwing skin at them
for bad behavior      I was a trespass


And I came home dressed only in my salt
and G-Unit sneakers    I look like no one
they say Your momma an illegal
Your momma tongue is an elective
Your momma must have pulled you out
of the river     
and I was both of the shorelines
so when I say     river      I mean you cannot belong
to something you cannot drown in
I mean I resemble something
that also breaks bodies in defense of its belonging
I mean sometimes being Biracial
is to have two half-filled glasses
and die of thirst anyway




I Keep Thinking How Young You Can Die From Old Age

The thing about dying is you don’t need a plan

Death is a game of inches

Shoot    niggas die everyday
                                             and the laugh I bite down
when I am asked about

the future at 3am
when we can mistake

the moon for our greying hairs
like a country   once set aflame    now settling


I am borderless       in many ways     not like a country
or a body with a word for boundaries
it is not so much that I plan to die
as it is a religion of preemption
I do not want the bullet              so I gobble down the smoke
I do not want the river                so I don’t drink till past noon
I do not want this body               so I eat one that has been dead

for months
and praise that I remembered to eat
because I am forgetful      like my country
in this way and only ever this way

I am eager to praise my amnesia
that I “forget” to eat
is a tribute to my desire
to die like an American            by my hands

but not by my plan
I do not want to die
I forget how to say goodbye in most languages
but it is now the season
that makes a widow of everything
and I have acres of hands      a country’s worth
eager      for sun

for blood

for the crimson kiss of something
I look and it is morning
I am trying very hard to stay
I am trying too hard to stay?
I am trying
I am trying
I am trying?


Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. He is a 2016 Callaloo fellow, Lois Morrell Poetry Prize winner and the 2015 National College Slam (CUPSI) Best Poet. He is also a cofounder of the Afrolatinx poetry collective Piel Cafe. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in NepantlaWinter Tangerine ReviewVinylPuerto del Sol and African Voices. He is a candidate for his MFA in Poetry at Ole Miss.

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