“A Black Poet Looks Back at his Boyhood”

two eleven-year-old boys / I teach
have my bones / knotted & brittle
the pair spewing taboo / darkest tales
I sealed in locked jaw / at their age:
I don’t like sports / don’t like church

words I tried to grit / out my prayer hole 

but mama & granny forbade / I was a 

curve-ball in this family / so I forced in 

my mouth-guard & repented / dimmed

of shame trying not / to let scriptures blur 

through clenched tears / eyes misting

like yard lines on rainy days / the same way

I posed as my own pastor / in bible study 

pretending to preach verse / when the bible	

only a cover / I wanted to surrender / arms 

of field goal / yet held onto silence / taught 

quiet by mama & granny / their sharp trills 

piercing / again & again / they choired 

boys play sports / take their butts to church 

Amen / yet my students / two boys / smart 

sumo spirit / today sing in my class a unison 

psalm: we don’t like sports / don’t like church

Their voices rise in praise / to their own souls

curl me / behind my desk / I am choked 

up: a cleat shoved down / my throat 

from wanting to run home / my own 

homerun back to childhood / & fumble 

the covenant forced / upon me like a 

league’s code / to know mama & granny 

love me / meanwhile these two young

scholars elevate me / blast like Gabriel’s 

horn their parade in corner / a power 

to be free agent / praise the honest 

cast out the shame / mama & granny, 

young boys can brawn into solid men 

without physical games / today I sprint 

to the solid man / to Ralph Ellison, with 

his brain; brilliant Baldwin / with his pen 

& sacrifice to Him / my sorrow & give 

glory to the boys who / bear my resurrection.

Morse lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theater and leads a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature, a Finalist for the 2023 Honeybee Poetry Award and a Semi-Finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. A Warren Wilson MFA graduate, Oak has received Pushcart Prize nominations, fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, Twelve Literary Arts, Cave Canem’s Starshine and Clay as well as a Stars in the Classroom honor from the Houston Texans. His work appears in Black Warrior Review, Obsidian, Tupelo, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Nimrod, Terrain.org, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, among others.