Luther Hughes’ You Smell Like Outside: Again, Death
“You Smell Like Outside” is Luther Hughes’ wonderful column for Frontier where he seeks to answer the question every month: can poetry help us with our real, day-to-day life? For February, Lue is thinking of Trayvon Martin— lays bare the pain, the struggle of remembering Trayvon for his death.
You know the story. Trayvon Martin walks into 7-11 and buys skittles and an Arizona Tea. As he heads home, George Zimmerman follows him. They get into an altercation. Trayvon is shot dead.
Every February, I am reminded of this. And every February, I try writing about him. In an earlier post, I talked about why this story, why Trayvon’s death hit so hard. I don’t remember what I wrote then, but I’m not going go into detail about it now. On some levels, it feels unfair to feel this way. Or I feel that is unfair because so many black people have died since then. Shouldn’t they deserve my attention, my grief just as much as Trayvon? Yes. I mean to say, to use this post to say, this month is always a hard one. This month I cannot stop thinking about him. I mean to say, I want to let him rest in peace. I cannot keep this up.
I do not know what else I could say, and I am sorry for that. I am sorry, Trayvon, that I keep bringing you up. I am afraid that I am using your death as a catalyst. I am afraid I am taking advantage of your death. I am afraid of killing you again and again.
This is about as much I can say. I have tried writing this post over and over again. I have erased numerous drafts, erased an entirely finished post. All of it seemed fake or too much or made light of how I felt. This is about as much I can write that feels the truest to how I feel. Because of the lack of prose, here’s a poem I wrote dedicated to Trayvon Martin.
The Sound of Hunting
His howls, I hear.
Whoever he was, he is
now nothing but screams
and a constellation of holes.
From habit, more howls.
The mouth, I imagine.
The blood crowning, deep red,
the head of a flattened rose,
days sour, fallen from its stem.
As if there is anything left,
I turn up the volume of his suffering,
flinch as though seeing my fly-flooded figure
pushed in front of the gun’s eye.
I am trapped by the anchor of his dying.
The screams have ceased.
The audio over.
I am heavy.
My hands press against my thighs.
I don’t know how to inhale
death, so I rewind the audio.
I hear him again slipping away.
When shot once, scream
When shot a second time,
let loose the lion
from your throatcage.
If shot a third time,
transform the lion into a harp
and strum your way to sleep.
I speak his name
when a man gardens into me.
I watch his blood blemish
the bedsheets like a painting
I ask the man,
What makes you different?
What makes you alive?
I claim, I am finding myself.
Because I am finding myself,
I wake, drunk, in the arms of another.
He is dead,
I tell him.
Because I’m black,
he is always dead.
My hands will not release him
into the earth. I give the night
a loose definition of moving on:
blade to the wrist-flesh and a robin
flitting through the thin air.
A version of this poem was published in The Shallow Ends
Luther Hughes is a Seattle native and author of Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is the Founding Editor in Chief of The Shade Journal and Executive Editor for The Offing. A Cave Canem fellow and a columnist for Frontier Poetry, his work has been published or is forthcoming in various journals including, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, TriQuartlery, Four Way Review, and others. Luther received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.