Ariana Benson

Frenetic Musings on the Thumbnail (in American Technicolor)

For Breonna, for George, for all those whose names I wish I had learned while they were still with us // Scrolling past a pixeled thumbnail, I see red / at the scene of white skin entrenched in Black flesh. // To be Black in this world is to know names you shouldn’t, / to know that both knees and ropes have knots  // that, though meant to hold objects together, / serve the same function when applied to the neck. // When knotted knees are applied to the neck, veins / swell and splinter, fragile like glass full of faults. // The function of asphalt, when not cradling the neck, / is to provide a Black back ground, or, a background. // In the thumbnail I see a wash of black ground, / splintering cold like sky scorched by flashing lights. // Red and blue bleed into the heavens, / set the air ablaze, drown people in color. // Lit up like gas torches, white flesh reddens / with blue blood—to know the colors “red,” // “white,” “blue,” “black” is to know that most uniforms

are dyed one or many or all of these hues. // To see ember-red rage rise beneath flesh / cloaked in blue is to know that white bodies use // uniforms as camouflage to naturalize even / their most obvious movements, to blend and blur. // When hunted by the boys hooded in blue (read: white / hoods), embodied Blackness must blend to survive. // Those moving around their natural habitats pause— / an attempt to save themselves with camouflage. // When reading a poem, a death is the punctuation / after an elongated pause, or the silence behind // an ellipsis, before black letters disrupt the uniform, / perpetual negative space of the blank white page. // I can only bring myself to read about the demise / of the bruise-blued souls, the reddened swell of eyes, // the white hand tucked the negative space of a pocket, / the blank faces—mementos of death. // In the blue-lit moments of his death, the last / man I watched bid his body farewell called // out to his mother in
a cadence I can only bring myself / to hear as poetry, a black echo borne of red blood. // I see that thumbnail and vow that when the pulse / of blood ceases to echo in my soul, I will speak // nothing but poetry—not because I am moments / from death, but because it is the only way I know to live. // In the world after this one’s red end, its black farewell, / not a soul will drown awash in white caps // that unfurl atop crushing waves of blue. A thumbnail / will be nothing more than a pink (read: a blend of red // and white) punctuation entrenched at the end of my own / Black flesh. How we’ll function is the answer, never a question. // Every breath will be inevitable, each punctuated by another / in perpetuity. We will then know Black as color, not an absence // of light. In this world, we will know their names, / but not because we have to.

[Ariana Benson] How I situate myself in “American” identity: I am a Black woman, and occupy a liminal space in the American landscape. I visualize my place in this way: if “true citizens” are those represented and rooted by an “American” identity, then I exist in the spaces in-between the very letters that comprise the word. Thus, though I am not exactly “American,” the idea of “America” cannot be fully read or understood without acknowledging my presence, my history, my taking up of space.