"Signs" & Other Poems


Language is a hooded brigade.
Somewhere, a theory professor lectures on Saussure—the signifier and signified.
The same professor cannot theorize the way a tongue might cower from itself.
At a spades table I say renege and hear all that I’ve been denied.
Meaning is not joining, but a separation—a jailbroken music.
English separates me from what I already know—a horse’s neigh means run in another tongue.
The word for nightmare is actually hooves clopping.
A rib can brittle beneath a boot.
Sometimes language can make you your own enemy.
Audre Lorde says, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
But what if you want to live in the master’s house, claim a bedroom?
I use this language to dismember and remember myself at once.
Do I write everything in half-cursive because I am longing for connection?
Punctuation sutures the wounds words have left me.
The emdash—the largest stitch in our language.
Yes, of course, the words—but what about what I’m saying between them.
All of this time we have been taught that the white space is the quietest part of the poem.
I would argue that everything I’ve ever needed to say lies there.
Return to the first line of the poem.
What did you put into the white space that follows it?

That Loud-Assed Colored Silence

after Douglas Kearney

I hate the word “microagression”
because there’s nothing small
about that violence, or how loud I gotta be
quiet when it happens. Like back
in eighth grade, when my white teacher
accused a student of “talking black”
and the silence in the room
turned up. How long we sat trembling
in the bass of it, the same way my friends
and I had simmered in someone’s basement
the week before during a birthday
party—music so loud we gave ourselves
over to reading lips, the bass’s ear-itch
a necklace of letters we hooked
from our ears. Common tongue. Quiet
was so loud in the classroom it took me back
to a stoop in Chicago’s south-side,
where me and a few friends sat bow-legged
in a sherbet dusk, and a man’s subwoofer
rattled the sky back to still-wet
watercolor. What could we say when
it was heaven’s turn to talk? What
could we share that hadn’t already moved
through us? The quiet in the classroom
turned up and we were used to
that extra noise. The quiet turned up
and the teacher winced, went crazy looking
for the source. I’m telling you, me
and my friends turned the silence up as loud
as it could go and waded in it, never
speaking to each other. I promise you,
I still heard every word.

A Ghazal On Leaving America

after Australian cartoonist Mark Knight’s Serena Williams cartoon in the Herald Sun

On Twitter, a Black woman tweets that she will leave America for the island breeze
of the Caribbean. I’m sick of the white supremacy here. Her ideal life awaits, overseas.

Another woman tweets a caricature of Serena Williams, drawn by an Australian. Her lips exaggerated, her
hair like the end of a witch’s broom. The caption; they still racist overseas.

I look at a map of the world and I’m shocked again to find borders, dark black lines
inked around the edges of everything, the different names printed over seas.

I consider the question of border, of boundary. How this sentence can begin and end
and so. How a border is like skin and skin cannot escape history, even over seas.

And of the skin, who respects my borders? A white woman crosses the dark line of my faux locs
to test their weight. In a white man’s poem, my naked black body becomes a border he oversees.

In anatomy class, I learned of different names for different borders—permeable, semi-
I trace America with a jagged fingernail, consider what is let in, what bleeds overseas.

I return to the map’s endless blue. Everything we wish to escape in America is in the water
we must cross to run from it. History will tell us that nothing good awaits us, overseas.

Taylor Byas

is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is now a third year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She was the 1st place winner of both the 2020 Poetry Super Highway and the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and a finalist for the 2020 Frontier OPEN Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.

All contributions from Taylor Byas

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