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Jericho Brown 

I think revision is all about knowing when you’re talking and knowing when you’re singing…and understanding you’re not done with your poem until all of it sings.  I usually get rid of the ideas I already knew and keep the ideas writing the first draft allows me to discover.  It’s a good idea to delete any point you find yourself making.  I’ve gotten more positive feedback on this poem than I have on any other. That’s probably a reason not to show you that it didn’t spring from my head fully formed. But only our honesty is what progresses poetry.

< draft > 

2014

That summer we learned the names
Of flowers strong enough to take
Heat and light and all elements
Classical philosophers thought
Could change us.  They seemed to bloom
Against the will of the sun, which was—
According to news reports—warmer
On our planet than the sun guilty
Of sweat our fathers once wiped
From their necks and foreheads.
Baby’s Breath.  Bird of Paradise.  We
Had nerve enough to say names
As if our fingers in the dirt meant
It was our dirt.  Cockscomb.  Cosmos.
Earth hotter than ever, men like me
And my brothers took daily video
Of the garden we planted and sped
It faster to see blossoms brought
In seconds.  Star Gazer.  Foxglove.
Names like prophecy on our tongues
All summer.  Eric Garner.  John Crawford. 
Mike Brown.  
Such color bright before
Our weeping eyes:  orange, lilac, red,
And black.  Then, to hit our lessons
Home, somebody showed us how
Simply, a dark flower—because it is
A dark flower—can be cut down.

< REVISION >

THE TRADITION

Aster.  Nasturtium. Delphinium.  We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us.  Star Gazer. 
Foxglove.
  Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks.  Cosmos.  Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford.  Eric Garner.  Mike Brown.