Poetry: How to Play Dead (Again) by Brittny Ray Crowell

A poem for your body, Brittny Ray Crowell’s “How to Play Dead (Again)” invites you to perform power over the power of death itself (employed as it is by the racial caste system to kill in infinite ways and leave you standing).


How to Play Dead (Again)

Inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” Dedicated to Charleston (amend as necessary).

beware of “black” suffixes
++++++restrict your syllables
++++++like haiku
name the child so they bear witness
++++++to words planted against
++++++them like a rancid kiss
++++++lest your children
++++++become the sluts or thugs
++++++they believe
++++++we are so bent
++++++on becoming

lame your violent tongues
++++++cripple your swarthy mouths
++++++even your silence
++++++is angry—
cloak and bind the swell
++++++of your ripe teeming bodies
++++++but not before the tableau—

hold a covetous pose
++++++to be shattered, then mimicked
++++++nod in awe of your redacted image
smile wide—prove you are not dangerous
++++++—bring the corners of your broad mouth in tight
++++++display a great lunette
++++++of moon varnished teeth

make your eyes soft
++++++and vacant though they are dark

your head.
offer the swirling dark
serifs of your temples
the grapevines of your dark
thistled “kitchen” above
your neck—tilt
your eyes to earth
make yourself still
pretend that you are willing
discomfort is rude and dangerous
++++++better petted than bruised
++++++at your own expense

learn to carry your eyes
++++++like hail storms, your throat
++++++a tourniquet, running the chasms
++++++of your noxious blood backward
swallow all the words
++++++you want
++++++to say but can’t

hug no man/woman/child
you love for fear your arms
may crave embrace—pray
without getting shot
know there is no such play
as safe make yourself small
infinitesimal, fetal as a curl
reason with your scourge
pretend you know what it is
to be lovable
bounce a ball
gospel a song

make room for younger ancestors
++++++this world is for those too old
++++++for death’s childish palette

but what if I’m too dense to bow
++++++++++++++++++too stubborn to swoon?
well—if all else fails, chile
++++++—when they come for you

++++++set a kettle—
++++++hear the rising fume scream

imagine your courteous death



Brittny Ray Crowell

Brittny Ray Crowell is a native of Texarkana, TX. She received a B.A. in English from Spelman College, and an M.A. in English from Texas A&M-Texarkana. Her work has been published in The West Review, Glass Poetry Press, and the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered. Her work focuses on hidden mythologies of the contemporary South. She is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Houston, where she serves as an Assistant Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast.

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