White People Trying / The Kiss


David Daniel

Art by Glenn Hardy Jr.


White People Trying

Once, at Capitol Records in LA,
A bunch of us were talking music
In the elevator when the door opens

And there’s goddamn Miles Davis
Staring at us but not moving at all,
Not getting in, and we’re all turned

To stone because it’s goddamn Miles Davis,
And finally he says, expressionless,
Just as the door’s closing, Too white for me

Then that metallic chunk as it shut
And we all laughed and laughed
Because anything else would have

Meant that we didn’t get it and we’d spent
Our lives trying to be people who get it,
But that was years ago, and my wife

Has taught me it wasn’t funny at all, not really,
And she’s right, but when I told the story
Over dinner to our friend Jeff, who’s black,

He cracked up, and I smirked a little at her,
And he joked that when he goes to Whole Foods
He wants to wear a placard that says,


“I Don’t Work Here” because people always
Ask him where shit is, and he’s laughing, and he
Expects me to laugh, and I do because it’s hilarious

And we love him—I mean, we all love each other
So much, but there’s some sort of static in my head,
A kind of hiss behind a song on a record in there,

And I get serious and tell him that I formed
A union after a dean told me that if my older,
Black poet friend Sam had wanted benefits,

He should have found another job, and when
I told Sam what I’d done, that I’d fought the power,
He looked down and mumbled, I wish you hadn’t mentioned my name,

Which wasn’t funny at all and made me want
To cry, then and now. That’s when Jeff steps in and
Says BlacKkKlansman was made for white people,

You know, which began sinking in, and I thought
Of how many times my wife and I have cried over
Do The Right Thing and Mookie and Radio

Raheem, and how we’ve always tried to do
The right thing, and how often we’ve failed
With this love of ours, how sometimes I’ve

Heard Miles Davis playing in Whole Foods,
Picked up a glossy fruit, and almost turned
To the guy next to me and asked, How are the Fujis?


The Kiss

In 1957, Little Joe Cook’s doo-wop
Rock single “Peanuts” peaked at number
22 on the charts—a huge and singular

Hit for him and the Thrillers, who by now
Played Friday and Saturday nights
To a packed house of mostly Harvard

Kids at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge,
His pearl early-’70s Caddy with “Peanut”
Plates parked illegally out front

And me stalled with the other scoundrels
In the back where shit gets dark and weird no matter
How cheerily the students shout

“Lady in the beauty shop, you make my
Heart go bipidity bop” over and over, Little Joe’s
Local ’80s disco semi-hit—I’ve just slit my wrist

About an hour before, duct-taped it up,
Then stumbled down the street to have
A bad time in public because what’s the use

Of being sad and alone when you can feel even
Sadder in happy company, or because my
Almost wife ran off to Vegas with someone else


Or just because Jesse and I went the week
Before and now he’d been stabbed to death,
Or maybe it’s a prayer for the love of strangers,

Who knows?
Everything blurred then. Everything bled
Into everything else—I mean, Deborah just

Fell in love, and Jesse’d made the mistake
Of being in love with a black girl from the projects
A few blocks away and wearing a jacket that

Someone else loved and wore bloody
A half-hour after killing him, when his life
Ended, too. Love is so hard, so full of promises

To make life suck less, to decrease the world’s
Overall suckiness even, and it does, it really does:
I love fucking Little Joe Cook despite myself,

Love how those crazy falsetto notes quiver
Between sorrow and joy, “I love you, love you,

Peanut and I’ll never let you go.” I love how he plays
That song three times a night because he must,
Because he was a preacher’s kid from Philly

Who, for a second, was on top of the world,
And in this verse says, “Peanut, I love you and I’ll
Never let you down,” as if that might be true


For the huge crowd bopping with hope’s forgetfulness,
And for me leaning against the side wall crying hard,
Then I look over them toward the bar, and maybe fifty feet away

This dark-haired beauty is staring at me
And everything but she and me pulled out of focus
And it got all quiet in my head, just like some

Movie director god was shooting it
And I figure she’ll turn away, but she doesn’t:
Instead with her fingers she traces a smile up

Her cheeks, then she
Blows me a kiss—not the mocking one I’d have
Figured in slyronic Cambridge, but a real one,

A 1957 kiss, one that might have come from Little Joe’s lips
That said: I don’t know you and never will.
But I love you and you can love me, too,
Now get on with it. And, with a little wave back, I did.


Fall / Winter 2023

David Daniel

David Daniel’s book, Seven-Star Bird, won the Larry Levis Reading Prize for the best first or second poetry book of the year, and his most recent book, Ornaments, inspired poet Tom Sleigh to write, “No one in any generation is writing poems like these: smart, visceral, and immensely pleasurable to read.” He has just completed a new collection, “What Love Is,” which is where the poems here come from. Daniel was the poetry editor of Ploughshares for more than a decade while teaching at Emerson College. He is also the creator and producer of FDU’s WAMFest: The Words, Art, and Music Festival. WAMFest has been celebrated for its progressive arts programming by the National Endowment for the Arts, and has featured Bruce Springsteen, Robert Pinsky, Chuck D, Rosanne Cash, Talib Kweli, Neil Gaiman, and dozens of the most important artists and writers of our time.

Glenn Hardy Jr.

Glenn Hardy Jr. (b. 1995) is a self-taught artist born in Washington, DC, and raised in Waldorf, Maryland. He is a graduate of Towson University in Baltimore, MD. He is known for paintings of black life liberated from the burdens of racial stereotypes and conflict. Figures and scenes are idealized, as Hardy depicts a world of black figures existing in comfort, in moments of relaxation, enjoyment, even triumph, free from the realities of existence as a marginalized minority in America. Hardy’s works are chronicles of lives lived black - black talents, black comfort, and black voice. In a style influenced by Kerry James Marshall and Ernie Barnes, Hardy’s work seeks to subvert, transcend, and ultimately replace stereotypical, negative depictions of American black life. Hardy is based in Waldorf, MD and is represented by Charlie James Gallery.

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