Two poems from TESTIFY by Simone John

A Brief History of Murder
after “The Last New Years Resolution” by Kazumi Chin

The last black girl they killed wore beads in her hair
on picture day. Her name is swallowed instead of spoken.
Her hash tag—trending until they kill the next black boy.

The next black girl they’ll kill is writing this poem.

The first black boy they killed was neither black nor boy.
Seen as some rare breed of African wildlife
to be captured. To be carried across the Atlantic.
To be sacrificed to the sea when his body broke
in the belly of the ship. The first black boy
they killed had a mother.

The last black boy they killed had a mother, too. She is
crying into the camera. Sitting on stage with a sorority
of sonless women. They welcome her to the club she didn’t
ask to join. Daily, my mother prays not to join. I don’t
believe in her god but my poems pray too, in the way poems do.

The next black boy they’ll kill is sitting in my classroom
passing notes to the pretty girl who always does her work.

The next black boy they’ll kill is my older or younger brother, my cousin.

The next black girl they’ll kill is driving with the windows down.
Obeying traffic laws. Listening to a man on the radio talk
about the last black boy.  Trying to get home while she
is still whole. Trying not to flinch at the sound of sirens.




“[The cops] made everyone lie on the ground, face down. A friend of mine, whom we called Fat Kevin, asked,
‘Why y’all treatin us like animals?’ One of the cops shouted, ‘Because you are worthless!’
though he also used a much more vulgar, and round here a much more common term.”
— D. Watkins, The New York Times

A Much More Common Term

White people use nigga as shorthand
for I’m still mad I can’t own you.
The word they reach for
when the fear flickering
in their mouths has been kindled
to a flame big enough to swallow Baltimore.

White people use nigga as a proxy
for the word worthless
like a black body is a crash
test dummy, humanlike but hollow.

In their quest for efficiency
white people have boiled hate
into these five letters. Why waste words
when you only need one?

White people use nigga like a nickname
for Freddie Gray and Mike Brown
Aura Rosser and Natasha McKenna
MLK and Obama
Jordan Davis and Emmett Till
Usaamah Rahim and Terrence Coleman
Joyce Quaweay and Korryn Gaines




“A Brief History of Murder” and “A Much More Common Term” first appeared in Testify

Purchase Testify from Octopus Books



Simone John is a poet, educator, and facilitator based in Boston, MA. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College with an emphasis on documentary poetics. Her poetry has appeared or been reviewed in Wildness, The Boston Globe, Public Pool, PBS Newshour, Bustle, and more. She is a contributing editor at Gramma Poetry and chief creative officer at Hive Soul Yoga. Testify is her first full-length book of poems. Find her online at and on twitter @simoneivory.

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