Lit/South Awards 2022
Poetry Competition- Second Place

Junious Ward

Imagine Me

I. Playing the quadroons, middle school, at the wrong lunch table

where I ain’t cocktail, I ain’t chemistry class
beaker, I ain’t Pit and Black Lab, I ain’t sound
studio hip hop ’cross subwoofers and tweeters,
ain’t a review of the latest Cole album—

don’t call me mix-taped, confused, half
what you want, half what you tolerate.
Black history month ain’t just 14 days
for me. There is no struggle for light

and dark within me. My skin has not revealed
a George Lucas plot-hole, I ain’t a light version
of bad or a Sith variant of Jedi. I ain’t a %
or a poor hand in spades, don’t call me one

and a possible. I ain’t forked tongue, duplicitous
speech, like you casting well-intentioned daggers
talmbout ‘best of both worlds’ where my pigment
is the punchline concealed under your breath.

II. Filling in the circle, as required, before moving on

a yin and yang remix to Desiigner’s song Panda
ending in two chords played at once, contrapuntal
on piano where all the keys gray into themselves,

my brother and I side to side while a stranger questions
the hammered strings under the lid and who makes
the better music while who might be more readily

applauded, or the light blue t-shirt I wore in kindergarten:
a dazzle of zebras frenzied across a vague plain, too tempting
for classmates, too wild with agency, too on the nose.

III. In a dystopian society borne from your comments about babies

where the future is as beige as the children. All races
and cultures blend into a blinding chorus of kumbayas.

Every music video looks like Drake featuring Drake.
Even the Republicans say we are one people now,

and the liberals really don’t see color anymore.
The pandas are gone.

Every face is a paper bag. There’s only two
boxes on your medical form; other and not other.

There’s a stigma about bringing non-mixed love interests
to meet your parents—the horror, just think of the kids;

confused throughout school. World history badgering:
what could’ve been, why so cruel, lighten up—

could privilege, try as it may, deny itself through laughter?
A joke can forecast unspeakable things and thirty years

later the teller regrets or denies. Saying “they always come
out so beautiful” means to dig a hole deep enough to bury

the prophecy you set in motion. Disavowing the prophecy
is to say I don’t think you understood what I meant.

About “Imagine Me,” poetry judges Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs write: What first struck us about this poem was its expansive scope: it moves with lyric dexterity and limber associative leaps in three acts, opening with a knockout list of brilliant and surprising negations of all the things this speaker of mixed-race is not(from a “cocktail” to a “forked tongue” to all the well-intentioned platitudes as “punchline”). From there, it moves on to a look back at how the speaker was perceived from childhood on before leaping forward in the final section into a dystopian future where everyone believes “all races / and cultures blend into a blinding chorus of kumbayas.” Along the way, this sequence bends and twists, alive with music and wit. Truly, we were taken with the verve and honesty of this piece, how it’s equally as playful with its palate of references as it is serious in its subject matter.