Before the Bullet: A Black Panther’s Sestina

     Before I take my leave
     I smile. It’s the only way I know how to pray.
     Caring a lot about others stops
     my self-love, I have assumptions
     some can, but won’t believe
     you can hear God when a baby breathes.

     I tell my mom just-breathe.
     She doesn’t want me to leave,
     she knows crooked smiles believe
     in bent words, I pray
     minds without certainty don’t make me an assumption
     if I’m stopped.

     Men I don’t recognize tell me stop
     nigger echoes through blackened lungs, they breathe
     My skin, is what’s stopping my soul from leaving
     I pray
     and try to believe.

     when praying
     is useless breathing
     like dying leaves
     I drop my assumptions.

     My assumptions
     when I leave
     my breath, won’t stop
     I’ll breathe
     through tattered lips I’ll pray.

     & pray
     your assumptions
     won’t make my time breathing
     a waste, I believe
     life does not stop.
     Living is a temporary leave.

Grand-Mommy’s 91st Birthday Party

     Crow’s feet stretch
     far beyond her mahogany face
     white strings, pull towards the sky
     a wooden puppet, celebrating each day
     of breath. The body of people circle
     like vultures, swooping down for a peck
     before returning to tables married with glitter
     draped liked a veil, onto an even darker floor.

     Fuck the coconut cake
     off to the corner
     I stand, & wonder
     if giant rooms can extend
     for this moment to last
     until the final balloon

     joins its shadow.

Derick Ebert is a first-year student in the MFA Writing Program studying poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. In 2015, Derick became Baltimore’s first ever Youth Poet Laureate. Derick is the author of Black Boy Archaeologist (Penmanship, 2016), a poetry book that explores the boundaries of bi-racial identity, self-awareness, and young heartache.