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I've taken to calling it
"Whiteness," that 

low hum,
that cloud of unknowing.

It just keeps running.
I don't know how to turn it off.

It's caused amnesia 
at a cellular level.

Try to put a finger on Whiteness
and it slides away

like mercury:
liquid, metal, baffling.

If I spoke magic I'd conjure it thus
and try to hold it still: come, be bound,

tsunami of broken mirrors,
snowfield of washed crosses,

tangle of lilies, thicket of oleanders,
angular dramas, spoiled seeds...

Can you truly say 
it is not its own distinct thing?

It cannot be defined any longer
as absence or default.

If I stare into Whiteness
long enough and hard enough 

I lose myself in it -- no surprise;
it was built in such a way

that one can't help
but stare into it:

the far end 
of a hall

of locked doors.
A television permanently tuned

to a news station that promises
your story will be read soon,

right after this word,
right after this word from our sponsor.

It's not about the nature
of individuals, exactly,

except when it is --
except when

one of them doesn't see how
they're soaking in it;

except when they call it
"the norm"

to cancel out
"the other."

It's not about how hard or soft
someone has

or hasn't had it, exactly,
except when it is --

except when
it silently opens a stuck door

and things are even a touch easier
for someone who denies

or doesn't even realize that they
carry that key with them everywhere.

It's not about
anything other than 

itself, really, and that
is the problem: how

slippery it is
with its privileges, how slick it is

without admitting it,
how invisible it is to itself.

But I can see it tonight
as I stand under the eaves

of my father's house, rain coming down
just beyond my nose; there's

Whiteness in my face, in my ear,
in my blood, all over me

be one with me...

I don't know.  

it's that flag
of bones it's wrapped in,

maybe it's knowing how many bones 
were abandoned

in deserts far and near 
under that flag, 

maybe it's knowing
how many bones drifted down

to the seabeds
of the Middle Passage. 

Maybe it's
the long goodbye 

I'd have to make
to my otherness

once I accept
the name for my own, 

or maybe it goes back, all the way back
to those childhood Saturdays 

where the question at playtime
was always

whether I wanted to be the cowboy
or the Indian

and I always chose what felt closest.
It was fine until

one day 
someone asked

why I always wanted
to be the bad guy

and never
the cowboy.

Hello, Whiteness,
is what I should have said then

but I was young and uneasy,
afraid not to play along.

I hung up my cap guns
soon after that for safety's sake -- 

but we were just getting started,
Whiteness and me.

Whiteness started haunting me, needling me,
kept repeating:

why do you always want
to be the bad guy?

in that supple voice.
It spit that

a million different ways
and they all meant the same:

why celebrate
difference? why you gotta 

be like that? calm down
and sink into me

like you would a milk bath, 
like you would surrender to

a horizon wiping blizzard.
Go to sleep. I promise

it will be warmer

That voice eventually faded into
a low hum, a cloud of unknowing.

Whiteness, let me tell you,
maybe I'm wrong, 

maybe it's amnesia 
at a cellular level,

but maybe I fear you so much

I can't recall anyone
ever saying 

it made them warmer
to die a little.

[A recording of this poem is also available on Indiefeed @ 

About Tony Brown

A poet with a history in slam, lots of publications; my personal poetry and a little bit of daily life and opinions. Read the page called "About..." for the details. View all posts by Tony Brown

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