Isaac Pickell

Two poems from Isaac Pickell’s  It’s Not Over Once You Figure It Out

followed by a note on the author

what words won’t put me in the ground

if black were human
it would be already

if you were breathing
you would be ready

for all of their bark,
if opinions were just

like assholes after all
& not the trap

doors into our dying box,
if brown were human

it would already be
clear there was not

enough for everyone,
& that not enough

was the problem
& not all of us,

scared white as human
after being reminded:

if human were enough
it would be already.



my mother had to tell me

one day I was black and the past
almost let her laugh. She had to

be told, too, but no one ever
bothered so she shared what she had

chance learned through a life
running: “they will kill you

if they catch you so you mustn’t
let them catch you.” Even now

I say the word us too much
for someone who blends

into so many thems, into a crowd
of our streets and say our names

& syncopated rhythms knowing
equality is the future &

always will be; I say stop killing us
even though I already know

I can always choose to breathe.

If I had been owned by another
Time, would I brave marching

to claim my name, choose pride
and right and right and right over

coming fear, coming the easiest
path—around and not through—

dodging a whole nation plumb
with chimneys’ vent, picturesque

curls of smoke, the slowly burn
of pain that’s learned it’s best

delivered patient, returning a body’s
investment over handshakes.

most of the time. a black seam,
a coal running endlessly

under every foot fall, under a land
in unison, in no rush to know when
it would run out because it would

never run out. I’ve always had that
chance, a good name and eyes
light enough to choose to see

more than they were seen;
you’d be a fool to choose to be
profit instead of reaping it.

you’d be a fool to even tell
a child he had another way.

I knew I was black when I was
seven-years-old and only knew

because before seven I knew
I was white. If I was owned

by another time only a fool
would let it slip, like

I had a choice.

“They will kill you if they see you
so you mustn’t let them see you.”

When I got the talk she made me

promise to remember you can
always be invisible.



Isaac Pickell is a passing poet & PhD student at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he teaches and studies the borderlands of blackness and black literature. A graduate of Miami University’s MFA program, his work has been featured in Crazyhorse, Fence, The Journal, The Missouri Review, and Ninth Letter; you can find his new stuff online at Black Warrior Review, Protean Magazine, and Sixth Finch, and his 2021 debut, everything saved will be last, was published by Black Lawrence Press. Isaac is the founding editor of The Woodward Review, a journal of call and response hosted by Wayne State.

“what words won’t put me in the ground” was first published in Protean Magazine, November, 2020; “my mother had to tell me” was first published in Sixth Finch, August, 2020.