I like my coffee black,
like my father
likes his coffee black, black,
like I like my thoughts—coiled,
shine of a coral snake black
and red and yellow, red and black
friend of jack: jack the bear?
Yes, but the king snake fools you. Bear
with me, I know this is a bad joke, but,
sometimes, I am a bad joke.
Red and yellow kills
a fellow like my plagues black
jjjjjjjjjjjlike my Fridays black
jjjjjjjjjjjlike my mambas, my little dresses.
Can’t you consider yourself as anything more
than a hot beverage? Against alabaster and marble
and orchids of stone shining quiet as snow—
“Are there many black students at your school?”
Asked an old sandstone woman, and it seemed
I should have known how many. I shrugged. Lighten up.
When the BSU found me that first week of school,
they had a flyer with my name on it and an extra
for my roommate. They said, “you don’t have to be black
to be down,” said, “you don’t have to be black to be
down.” But it helps, I think, it never hurts, I want to say.
Layla Benitez-James’s work can be found at Acentos Review, The San Antonio Express-News, The San Antonio Current and Gulf Coast. She lives in Houston where she recently received her masters in poetry and will be moving to Spain in the fall to finish a translation project.