Aaron Samuels is a Pushcart-nominated poet, a TEDx speaker, and an acclaimed facilitator of critical identity discussions. Raised in Providence, Rhode Island, by a Jewish-American mother and an African-American father, Aaron discovered spoken word poetry at age 14 when his English teacher told him he was not allowed to break meter. After declining this advice, Aaron went on to become one of the premiere performance poets in the country, featuring on TV One’s Verses & Flow, HBO’s Brave New Voices, and TEDx Washington University. His work has appeared in multiple journals including the Tidal Basin Review, Apogee Journal, and Muzzle Magazine. His debut collection of poetry, Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps was released by Write Bloody Publishing in fall 2013.
Broken Ghazal in the Voice of My Brother
Irrefutable fact / my brother is black jewish
Kink hair & a wide nose / that’s gotta be black, jewish
He said look in the mirror / naked / if it ain’t black—jewish
If we don’t do it to ourselves / first / then they do it to us
Said he loves countin’ stacks / is that black? / jewish?
Said we loves eating chicken cause we black-jewish!
Said, you gotta keep it real / listen to black music
If you wanna keep your teeth / you ain’t allowed to act jewish
And that’s jewish / Night of the broken glass jewish
They’ll beat your face in with a bat / until its black.
They raped your great grandma, and that’s a fact, jewish
Say a prayer for the secrets your family keeps, Kaddish
See Aaron, you run / but I learned to attack: jewish
In order to survive, you gotta be black, stupid
Let ‘em tattoo my arm, that’s how I act Jewish
That’s how I be black / but that’s not what you did
Got yourself a “good job,” where nobody’s black / jewish
Cut the slang off your tongue / it’s too black; jewish
And, you never came home / Aaron / where it’s black-jewish
And not coming home / is black
My dad gave me an ice cream cone the first time
I was suspended from school. Let’s cut to the chase—
racism. My only mistake was that I played tag with
a white girl. A teacher confused our joy for violence.
I remember the first time I felt joy
I was two and found a pool cleaning net,
the small ones made with a hollow rod, to grab
the leaves and insects from the surface.
My first friend, Zachary, a white boy,
ran away screaming while I held this weapon
with new strength. Leveling the net
over his womb-curls, drinking in my first capture.
Years later, when I am surrounded
by twelve boys, without hesitating,
I break the biggest one’s nose. I crush it first
with my hand, then my boot, then hold his
curls in the net of my fingers as I clap his head—
an applause against the sidewalk.
This is the part where I am suspended,
or where I am my father, or his father,
where I remember the first time I found this feeling
and hold it behind my teeth,
as my smile grows larger,
with every strike.
Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps, (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013)