By and By

A poem by Michael Nelder

Michael Nelder read this poem at the All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA on Sunday, May 23, 2021, as part of a Poetry Slam honoring the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.

In the church I grew up in
when we’d hear of an injustice so evil you couldn’t explain it away …
the kind that would make your eyes burn and your lungs cave in
and your inner voice begs your mind to turn off the news
because seeing one more black body, chalk outlined
on the pavement, might shatter your pop culture fantasy of life,
the same one that won’t allow you to look a homeless person in the eye,
or admit mass incarceration is slavery in disguise, or see that in this country
you only get as much justice as you can pay for…

The old, black church mothers would say to us,
“baby, you’ll understand it by and by”
my Grandad says, “son there’s some lessons
you only learn through gray hair”
The book of Ecclesiastes says,
“with much wisdom comes much sorrow…

This week was the first time I wished for ignorance,
for the bliss of a care-free, mediocre white man,
working at Starbucks…wearing t-shirt and jeans
do I have to be black hoodie all the time,
center of conversation on race among performers,
commentary for Daunte Wright, George Floyd, Mikayla Bryant
I am still sick, vomiting after taking the red pill of American History

I told my therapist to begin asking me how I feel every time
a black person dies because there is a graveyard inside my throat from all the
news I bury and never talk about

Another poet told me being black means
you are already dressed for the funeral because all you get
is funeral and repast, funeral and repast, not another funeral…

Lately, I been wanting to ask God, “if we’re all supposedly made in
your image, then why do people hate it so much they want to kill it?”

Michael Nelder (@michaelnelder) is the son of a preacher, author, and spoken-word artist.  At the United Way of Greater Los Angeles he served as Impact Speaker using the power of storytelling to bring awareness, inspire action, and raise capital to combat poverty. A love for poetry and prose inspired his TEDx talk on the power of poetry in facilitating spaces for self-discovery and identity development.  He’s been invited to speak, perform, and teach at universities, businesses, churches, and prisons. He is currently the Director of Hope for LA, a local outreach vehicle that focuses on impacting homelessness, loving foster youth, and lifting up families in need. He resides in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles, where he enjoys raising his new pup, Luna.