Speaking of Rituals

                —Jesuit-Nativity, Fall 2016

we begin class with prayer

            and a conversation about Philando
                          Castile and Alton Sterling and I

                                       think, perhaps this time I can play God 

and provide them an answer.

            we have come back to August and Minneapolis 

                          reeks of blood and spook like Ferguson,

                                      Baton Rouge is this summer’s Chicago 

and at this Jesuit middle school,

              we have not celebrated

                          the feast of St. Claver or Xavier,

                                       but the Black body mutilated is a refrain 

that loops like a glorification

           at the end of all our seasons. this morning, 
                          7th grade is a room full of brown eyes

                                        glowering in my direction,

each uniformed body

              a column of names to be remembered,

                            each beautiful Black boy still

                                          first-week-of-school fresh

with low fade

        with dreadlock

                    with sponge twist

                                with hi-top

with box cut

                with French braid

                                with fro-hawk

                                                with even fade—

with anything tapered and growing

                naturally, anything the others haven’t figured out

                                yet. and when the tallest 7th grader,

                                                           a 12-year-old who, in the dark,

might be mistaken for 20,
                              asks during group discussion, 

                                             if police only kill

                                                         Black people, I say no

one will declare this a genocide.

              no one will declare

                            this a genocide. no one 

                                           will declare this a genocide


will declare	  this	     a genocide.
           this	  a                 genocide.

			no one		will		declare
Black people.	 	      no. 
         police kill
	             during discussion

a 12-year-old,


               anything 	they haven’t figured out
   			      anything	      growing










             each    beautiful	         Black boy still,

                          a column of names	       to be remembered. 

                                     each uniformed body
glowering       in	  my	   direction,


                    at the end.       this morning,


          the Black body mutilated,	    a refrain,
                       the feast

                                    not	          celebrated.              


                Baton Rouge   is	       Chicago

                             blood-spook	like	     Ferguson


                                           and Minneapolis

provide them	           an answer.

            play	God.

                        Castile       	  Alton Sterling and I,

we      	begin    class.

El Williams III’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ploughshares, River Styx, Vinyl Poetry & Prose, and elsewhere. Anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2022, he has received fellowships and scholarships from Cave Canem, Community of Writers, Tin House, and the Watering Hole. Currently, he is a dual MFA/MA candidate in poetry and African American & African diaspora studies at Indiana University.