Something About a Black Boy

after “Unidentified Portrait” by Christopher Murphy, Jr., 1937
oil on board

A revolution rests
behind his eyes
where the tears of
mothers sleep

A mind to explore
the world that didn’t
ask for him brims be-
yond his jagged hairline

He sits patiently
like sand waiting in
an hourglass or like
a Mona Lisa smile

yet he’s ready to
run all day and
never get tired
run straight up

to heaven and
shake God’s hand
then his daddy’s
then his granddaddy’s

and more to slap
his shoulders and
pat that briar patch
he’s got for hair

But people stand ready
to march the streets
just to have him back
on this side of glory

Mona Lisa may sit
and smile too but
there’s just something
about a black boy


Len Lawson is the author of Chime (Get Fresh Books, 2019) and the chapbook Before the Night Wakes You (Finishing Line Press, 2017). His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He has received fellowships from Callaloo, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the North Carolina Poetry Society. His poetry appears in Callaloo Journal, African American Review, Verse Daily, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. Len is also a Ph.D. student in English Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He currently teaches English at University of South Carolina Sumter and is a Poetry Reader for Up the Staircase Quarterly.