Smile

I’ve become synonymous with historical poetry but that’s not all I write about; I do attack different subjects, including mental health.

That’s what this poem is about. Mental health problems can sneak up on the best of us and this poem is a few thoughts on trauma.


People don’t give Black boys enough credit.

Even now at 22 I’m still studying and the last time I studied a positive Black person was when my schoolteacher told us about David Harewood as Othello.

That was ten years ago in 2008, a long time, long enough;

ten is the Capricorn Zodaic sign;

is highest score at a poetry slam;

ten years (plus two) is the difference between my brother and I;

is the difference between boy and man;

was when I first fell in love with the song ‘Son of Man’, in Tarzan.

Photographer: Dean Ward on Unsplash

I was reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower (love it). I was walking home one night and was thinking how White and hetero-normative young adult fiction is.

It might not seem like much, but it’s about seeing yourself reflected and not as someone else’s crutch.

I view reading as breathing and when I read I frown; when I’m in photos I find it hard to smile (on demand). I’m sad, and deep in thought.

I’m always down.

People tell me to smile.

Strangers telling strangers to smile.

Sweet old ladies that mean well saying:

“You’re too young to look this sad. Smile, sweetheart.”

Grandparents saying:

“Be happy. Just feel better.”

Weird, isn’t it? Telling someone you don’t know / those you do to look happy and feel better, treating depression like a headache.

Photographer: Taylor Grote on Unsplash

A smile takes one muscle more than punching someone in the face, that last one is what those who look like me are synonymous with.

Violence. Shedding more blood than tears.

Tantrums over thoughts –

ideas left hanging from a noose, swaying in the wind at the top of Empire State, contemplating jumping from the Golden Gate.

Knives through veins and vital organs, trying to take on something you know is bigger than you could ever vanquish.

Something that has killed plenty before and will kill plenty after; because if there is no attempt you lose the at least you tried speech.

Don’t tell people with depression to smile, because they might still be trying to scrub the trauma, a confession more holy than sin.

Scrubbed with boiling water – tap water, bottled water, holy water, it all flows under the bridge. A boat sailing to the slaughter.

Photographer: Aaron Blanco Tejedoro on Unsplash

Don’t tell Black boys to smile. Compliment, maybe – don’t demand.

Allow the contrast to funnel through, and if he does want to force a smirk, he will do it of his own volition, not at the behest of you –

with someone he can feel vulnerable with,

not some plastic grinned,

fish-eyed nice guy (or girl)

who finds the frown as scope to blame the victim.

He might have a good reason to be sad;

could be overcoming grief;

could still be in shock after a recent event

or he simply needs a good reason to smile.

It is not your mouth and they’re not your lips.

Not yours to find solace in

when the windows crash and shatter from the storm outside.

When your cardiac muscle crashes around your moneybox

like seeds in dry soil refusing to grow without moisture or sunshine.

And if you really want a sad boy to smile,

a Black boy to smile,

a grieving man to force a grin,

to wither in sin despite the depression they’re in –

talk to him until  you’re hit by

the blunt force instrument of mental health,

until to them it smells like flowers and not a graveyard,

until they re-open historic wounds to find roses and not a corpse.

Photographer: Nikita Tikhomirov on Unsplash

I am not yours to tell to smile;

if you keep saying “smile”, no one will ever want to.

And if you get too close,

you might get bitten and the victim will smile red.

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