Can You Hear Me Now


Can you hear me now,

now that my tongue’s inflamed

and the tongues of flames

that rage across the city’s precincts

are setting off alarms, again,

as the din crescendos across a nation

tone deaf to chants

and last-gasp desperation?

Can you hear me now?

Are you listening now?

Are your ears burning

like eyes are burning

with tears and tear gas?

Burn, baby, burn.

I remember Watts.

I was there. I watched

the occupying all-white force

make its stand at the strip mall

on Rosecrans and Central,

my father’s 38 on the seat between us,

resolute as we rolled past the palisades.

A Tuskegee Airman and hero now

but just another black father then,

remembering the young black man

he was when deputized white men

dragged from a bar

and beat a black man to death

in the street

in plain sight

in the dark night of broad daylight

that was welcome-home-nigger


Keep your hollow thanks

for his service.

Black men in uniform were lynched

for their service

while America looked the other way.

Go wave the colors elsewhere,

where the view’s unobstructed

by red summers, white rage

and brown shirts in blue uniform.

My father’s victory’s not your victory.

His survival won’t buy your absolution.

The blood-soaked shroud

his uniform could have been,

surely would have been

but for the broad porch column

that concealed him.

He never told his mother.

I never did tell mine

how police and plain-clothes detectives

drew weapons

and threatened to kill me

in the alley behind

white America.

Running from what?

the detective demanded.

If truth be told,

from 400 years of slave patrols.

That’s not what I said.

What I said was, “Nothing.”

But enough is enough

and I can’t say nothing.

So, no, I won’t condemn the violence,

the tragedy of your shattered glass

and smoke-smudged precious brick

and mortar.

Call it burnt offerings

to unanswered prayers.

I’m calling down hell,

fire and damnation.

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

Long as my tongue’s tied up in my shoe,

Long as I sing righteous hymns and walk softly,

Long as I’m just praying for justice

to one day roll down like waters,

you look, you yawn and look away,

back to the current day’s trading.

So, no. Fire this time!

Can you hear me now?

Fire this time!

because you value property

more than life,

because you swear your agents

to protect and serve property,

because they’re still patrolling

for runaway property.

But I’m not your property.

And you don’t get to dictate

how I fight for my life.

Look to your soul,

my soles are worn through.

It’s now up to you.

Is the fire this time purgatory

or just eternal damnation?

–Khephra Burns


Khephra Burns is an author, editor, playwright, poet and veteran of television, stage and live events productions. He is a partner and executive with the International ArtsGames Committee (IAC) and senior producer for the ArtsGames. He’s also editor-in-chief of The Boulé Journal of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.