Carolyn Joyner


Something about the rhythmic
flash, the pattern, the flicker
of high yellow against the shadow of dusk;

the firefly’s entering, but
even more, its leaving
with the tiny lantern attached

to the underside of its belly gone.
We knew nothing of lampyrids, luminous
nocturnal members of the beetle family,

the precise system of signals that bring
the sexes together. To us they were simply
lightning bugs, the chance to adorn

fingers and wrists with diamonds, give
ourselves something that we had never had.
Pretty belonged to someone else, not

colored girls with swollen plaits
and stiff ponytails, skin too brown
to be Rapunzel in the school play.

photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Title from a Blake Gopnik Washington Post article

Day yells red in a familiar hue, but not like the wood
of a red fir, or the buds on a red maple, it’s more the color
of a president caught red-handed, the smell of a bank
redlining, not like the bodies of red mullet or red snapper,
but shades of the red herring media moguls smoke
for copy-cat screens. It bears no similarity to redeye
gravy or cayenne, it’s the red of surveillance agencies
red-dogging (like life’s one big football game), the red-
baiting red of those who resist, brave the red heat
of red hot to make sense of the white, the blue—
stars and stripes whose stripes disappear when you get
up close, dissolve, like blue tears in white snow. The blue
blanched into a bloodless face. Whitewashed. A white
collar stiff with starch. White. Like the outermost ring
of an archery target, a sundown town with signs,
Whites only within city limits after dark, not the white
of elephants, fish or caps on the Red Sea. Definitely not
the white space where poets make their homes, but
the white-hands-around-the-necks-of-red-people white,
the color-of-maximum-lightness-perceived-to-have-no-hue
white, a spotlight-casting-red-shadows-similar-to-that-
of- blood white—technicolor blood, staring from white
building sides, red alleyways screaming with white scrawls,
“Neighborhood evicted,” “Bring ‘em home,” “Ridin’ the buzz,”
alongside T-bone, Roach, Calypso Girls, Long Bill—homies
gone, but not forgotten. Rico. Writing on walls in holla back
red, praise the dead white, blurred shades of raw, the somber,
the bleak.


Carolyn Joyner has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from The Johns Hopkins University and her work has been featured in the anthologies 360° A Revolution of Black Poets, Beyond the Frontier, Gathering Ground, and Family Pictures. She has taught workshops for DC WritersCorps, the River of Words project, and the African American Writers Guild's Summer Quest Program. Joyner has been a Cave Canem Fellow, a Hurston-Wright Fellow, and a writer-in-residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and is the recipient of grants from the DC Commission on the Arts. She has read at the Octagon House Museum, the Baltimore Museum of the Arts, the Lincoln Theater, and Gunston Arts Center.


Published in Volume 10:2, Spring 2009.