The 2015 Whiting Awards: Roger Reeves



Roger Reeves



From “Some Young Kings”

The Mike Tyson in me sings like a narwhal

minus the nasally twang of sleeping in a cold ocean,

the unsightly barnacles latched to the mattress

of skin just below my eye, the white horn

jutting out from the top of my head—

oh god bless us mutts—the basset-blood-

hound mulattoes, the pug-mixed puppies

left behind the dog pound’s cinder-block walls

as German Shepherds, Labradoodles,

and Portuguese Water-Dogs turn their inbred behinds

and narrow backs at our small-mouthed blues.

It’s hard to smile with an ear in your mouth,

two names, and a daughter hanging by a thread

from the railing of a treadmill. Oh neck

and North Carolina and a white coat of paint

for all the faces of my negro friends

hanging from trees in Salisbury.

Greensboro. And Guilford County.

The hummingbirds inside my chest,

with their needle-nosed pliers for tongues

and hammer-heavy wings, have left a mess

of ticks in my lungs and a punctured lullaby

in my throat. Little boy blue come blow

your horn. The cow’s in the meadow.

And Dorothy’s alone in the corn with Jack,

his black fingers, the brass of his lips,

the half-moons of his fingernails clicking

along her legs until she howls—

Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker.

Oz is a man with a mute body

on an HBO original show that I am too afraid to watch

for fear of finding my uncle,

or a man that looks like my uncle

which means finding a man that looks like me

in another man’s embrace or slumped over a shiv

made from a mattress coil and a bar of Ivory soap.

Most young kings return home without their heads.

It’s 1941, and Jack Johnson still loves white women,

and my mother won’t forgive him.

If she can’t use your comb, don’t bring her home,

my mother says in 1998. It’s 2009,

and I still love white women.

Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker.

Often, I click the heels of my Nikes together

when talking to the police, I am a cricket

crushed beneath a car’s balding black tires.

Most young kings return home without their heads.


Roger Reeves received an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in English from University of Texas, Austin. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Best American Poetry, and the Indiana Review, among others, and he was included in Best New Poets 2009. Reeves was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2008; he is also the recipient of two Bread Loaf Scholarships, and a Cave Canem Fellowship. In 2012 Reeves received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize for his poem, “The Field Museum.” He is an Assistant Professor of Poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a 2014-2015 Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University. King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013) is Reeves’s first book.