Joshua Bennett

On Stupidity



In the first instance, we might say the word stupid is a tiger the black child does or

does not outrun from birth. The data bears this out, though we can linger with the

following image if we want our claim to be death proof: by the time Ms. Hollinger told

my father I would never function in a classroom, I held as many years as a handgun’s

worth of ammo in my body. The term function is of singular import here. Not only as

an allusion to the mechanical, which is to say, grade school as the Industrial

Revolution’s unclaimed offspring, but also its broader implications for the social field:

the function as a math problem involving one, two, as many unknowns as you can fit

into a fist. Still, it was clear that I was not what most would call stupid, though there

was certainly something stupid-esque about my refusal of Ms. Hollinger’s most basic

orders: coloring when it was time for naps, my index finger sketching narwhals onto

the air as she droned over ABCs: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human

stupidity, but I am not so certain about the universe.” That’s Einstein. Seriously.

Which leads me to believe that what Ms. Hollinger intended was not as vile or violent

as it first seemed. Perhaps what she meant to say was not so apocalyptic at all, but her

attempt at gluing language to the ineffable, not unlike how we give human names to

tropical storms, or look at the stars and say the word stars, like our mouths are big

enough to capture all of the light at once.




as cormorant. as crow. as colon. as comma.

as coma. as shadow. as shade. as show.

as collards. as collection plate. as play cousin.

as dozens. as sea. as depth where light

don’t dare tread. as treason. as gun. as gullet.

as gully. as ghetto came to be named.

as Cain. as antonym. as animal ontology.

as analogy always. as anti-matter.

as bullet’s best bet. as best friend. as bobby

pin. as bobby brown. as brown crayons

color everything in this house. as the inside

of a nap. as mama’s naps. as the hot comb

she used to lay them down like a burden.

as burden. as burial. as breath. as break beat.

as breaking: as anything that burns.

Tenacious Elegy: Insurgent Life in the Era of Trial by Gunfire with a line from Sylvia Wynter



Keywords: kin, walking, home, store, cop, child, mother, gone, shots, badge, blue, no,

no, no, no




To be sure, our moment demands a song. Yet the question of how one responds at the

level of lyric to the relentless event which operates under the sign of the public

lynching—this wound which doubles as the primary ghost of black social life in the

modern era, that is, the transformation of a friend’s life into figures, fictions, ink

almost stoic against the page, details that bloom & fade at the speed of an eye’s

aversion—remains open: a dehiscence, howling. What to do with all of the faces? Or the

trembling they leave in their wake, the toy guns & play dates we take from the

children? How does one marshal imagery in the name of such a cause, asserting flora

where doom has staked its ground, its claim to the very language an author might

wield to smith a vision worth its weight in blood? In an effort to wrestle with these

questions & others until a proper ceremony can be found, this poem is interested in

enacting the world it yearns for, & begins with the image of its speaker on the second

day of teaching his daughter to fly a two-wheeler, the machine’s yellow steel like a

thrush of meadowlarks shredding the natural sky, our speaker thinking for the first

time in weeks that he might not be dead in every meaningful sense of the term, that he

has in fact never felt so full, never felt this much like the sea unbuckling its mouth

that all those old drowned saints might walk.


JOSHUA BENNETT hails from Yonkers, NY. He is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton University, and has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University, and the Ford Foundation. Winner of the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize and the 2015 Erskine J. Poetry Prize, his poems have been published or are forthcoming in Anti-, Blackbird, Callaloo, Obsidian, Smartish Pace and elsewhere. Joshua is also the founding editor of Kinfolks: a journal of black expression.