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Terence Winch

Reginald Dwayne Betts: Pick of the Week [ed. Terence Winch]

Reginald Dwayne Betts. Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya

























Reginald Dwayne Betts. Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya


Blood History


The things that abandon you get remembered different.

As precise as the English language can be, with words

like penultimate and perseverate, there is not a combination

of sounds that describe only that leaving. Once,

drinking and smoking with buddies, a friend asked if

I’d longed for a father. Had he said wanted, I would have

dismissed him in the way that youngins dismiss it all:

a shrug, sarcasm, a sharp jab to stomach, laughter.

But he said longing. & in a different place, I might

have wept. Said, once, my father lived with us & then he

didn’t and it fucked me up so much I didn’t think about

his leaving until I held my own son in my arms & only

now speak on it. A man who drank Boone’s Farm and Mad

Dog like water once told me & some friends that there is no

word for father where he comes from, not like we know it.

There the word father is the same as the word for listen.

The blunts we passed around let us to abandon the English

language. Not that much though. But what if the old

        head knew something? & if you have no father, you can’t

hear straight. Years later, that same friend asked about

longing, wondered why I named my son after my father.

       You know that’s the kind of shit turns the rest of your life

into a prayer no dead man will answer.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is the founder and director of the Freedom Reads. A poet and lawyer, he is the author of four books. His latest collection of poetry, Felon, was awarded the American Book Award and an NAACP Image Award. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, an Emerson Fellow at New America, and a Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. He holds a J.D. from Yale Law School. [For more about Reginald Dwayne Betts, click here.]


William H. Johnson. Man in Vest. SAAM b                                                     William H. Johnson. Man in Vest. Smithsonian American Art Museum


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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