Paulette Beete

Freddie Gray Breaks Free

I found the straw that broke
my camel’s back

in the rear
of a police wagon
no seat belt, just these cuffs

to keep my hands focused
on the work of shedding

this black body

I was free
so terribly free
that white van my proving ground

I didn’t want to go
yet I wanted to be done

with that roll call of ways
to keep myself safe

I cried out so they’d know
I was free

to throw myself from side
to side in that van

free to rumpus
free to break my own back
if I wanted to

shed those ill-intentioned bones of my spine
that had locked me into this shape
called black man

what freedom was that?

I let them go
those injurious vertebrae

I slam-danced a freedom jive
for 20 minutes straight in the back of that white van

I felt my self snap
I broke my self free


Please Excuse This Poem

There is no more to this poem than this:
this heart of mine is my fault

which is to say it is neither superpower nor burden
which is to say it is neither gift nor penance

it is perhaps nothing at all
it is perhaps the same as everyone else’s

though it chooses to belong to no one
don’t feel sad it can’t learn how to belong

to anyone not even me
don’t feel sad for such a stubborn beast

it will answer your questions
it will press itself deeply into your sternum

if you ask it to if you want it to
it will forget its own boundaries

it will burst with high regard for you
it will run across the high wire

of your regard for it like a bull
charging lovingly at its last matador

it will even beat quickly for you
all the while encouraging the doors

the windows and even the garden gate
to stay shut

it will pretend as my grandmother once did
peering through the sidelites

that no one is at home
no one with the language that means

oh yes, oh yes
please come in

Author Portrait

Paulette Beete’s work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Escape into Life, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and the Found Poetry Review, among many others. Her chapbooks include Voice Lessons (Plan B Press) and Blues for a Pretty Girl (Finishing Line Press). She earned her MFA at American University. prior to which she was a Winter Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She blogs (occasionally) at You can also find her on Facebook as Paulette Beete, Writer.

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