Self-Determination with the Question of Race

In the razorblade tiny coarse curls gather,
Coarser in summer. I let my body
Tan in California and say Maybe now
Shara asks what it means to be seen and she is 
Exactly right. I laugh. Most days I quietly fight:
I refuse your stale gaze, your arrogant pity. 
Don’t you know you’re implicated too.
I take my coffee black, I brush my teeth,
The hair on my dying scalp, I try to love
Other Black men because the world.
If Mary and her lamb. If Allah. If you.
If latitude and longitude. If the trees,
Once emptied, stood upright again.
Some of us don’t even see how we see.
I take nothing from you when I say I am.
Once, I wrote on a napkin, I just want to live
And it startled me, true as it was. 
From a distance Safia takes my hand.
Al-asmarani, I see you, my brother. After
Giving my lover head, I wipe my mouth
With my shirt sleeve, like a child. 
If there is a question. If it is how much
Blood. From the monkey bars, a child
Hangs by his knees, face flush, counting
The coins on the playground rubber,
Then climbs to the top of the slide and looks
Directly into the sun. If you need me to
Measure or pour. Since there is a question.
If you need me. If you need an I that is yours.

Charif Shanahan is the author of Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing (Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, 2017), which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and Jones Lectureship at Stanford University, and a Fulbright grant to Morocco, among other awards and recognitions. He is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Northwestern University, where he teaches poetry in the undergraduate and Litowitz MFA+MA programs.