Bury My Clothes

Finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry

Bury My Clothes is poet Roger Bonair-Agard's meditation on violence, race, and the place in art at which they intersect. Amongst oppressed communities, he asserts, art is about survival, about establishing personhood in a world that says you have none—a mode of creation that has transformed both the world of art, and the world itself.

for you who could know me who might love what I love
(after Reginald Dwayne Betts)

Love what i love—and know
me—loping down your block
American Spirit dragging to a crackle—smiling
at babies—love your front lawn
and the Chicago spring tulips
I stop to count—Pay
no attention to the shadow
of hood against my
face—I love Chaka Khan
Journey and Mozart
Love me—black and walking
your block lean-to like
I mean it—love Biggie love
Nicki Minaj love pesto from scratch
and my ex-thug best friend’s newborn baby
girl smiling asleep on my chest—
Do not say you do not know
me—when I’ve been walking
your dreams all these years
waving at your front porch
asking in this fraternity of self-governance

Love what I love—a single
amaryllis shoot the give and
shudder of a woman’s body—what
I give back to it—and know that
these things have saved me
have made me so
and so black I can hardly
contain my joy—when
I see you coming and know
we can love this earth together
the New York Yankees and samba
This is Al Green in my gigantic
Headphones—I’m thinking
of the hyacinths I’ve planted
in my mother’s garden—Love
what I love—American women
and apple pie and Kanye West
and marathon views of the Wire
and black boys in hoodies

It is possible
despite what you’ve been told
to know me if you love
what I love—children
screaming in an open fire hydrant
snow from inside a warm house
Bustelo black coffee and
a good cigar—my fingers complaining
against a guitar string—I
am a man on fire
and in love —Stop me
and tell me about poems
your stint in the army
and Lebron and that time you
met Gordie Howe in an airport
and you said something and he laughed
full-bellied and doubled over
Love me —love bourbon
Love Jesus and Brooklyn—love curry
Love Lucille Clifton’s immaculately
husbanded rage—Love the places
I rest my head—I see
how you hold what you love
64 Impalas and Independence Day
bunting and blondes and Elvis
and I will love them too
I love Muddy Waters and black women and Prince
I love Whitman and guns
I love Lil Wayne and orange gladioli—I want
you to see me and look in my eyes
and kiss me on both cheeks
and love
what I love—know me
I am a man—I’m an American

About the author

ROGER BONAIR-AGARD is a Cave Canem fellow, two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, and author of Tarnish and Masquerade and Gully. He has appeared three times on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and is Co-founder and Artistic Director of the LouderARTS Project in New York.


"Bury My Clothes is a breadth of language that straddles Arouca and Chicago, hip hop and calypso with the brawling, affirming righteousness of the Black televangelist leading us through violence and love to the wealth of unexpected tenderness."
—Earl Lovelace

"These poems offer up a speech textured with both the violence of racial construction and the complicated gorgeousness borne out of survival and adaptation. These poems insist on the beauty of the darknesses we are bound by, and mean to help us live by reminding us: there is no crevice of grief or grace where something does not bloom.
—Aracelis Girmay, author, Teeth and Kingdom Animalia

"Bury My Clothes is the sound of language breaking open. Bonair-Agard is reaching farther both in time and syntax to say more than he has ever said before. It is a master work, in which the poet has found, “the canopy of night black enough for everything he’s ever wanted to say.”
—Karen Finneyfrock, author, Ceremony for the Choking Ghost and The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door

"These unapologetically relentless stanzas, practically quivering with funk and resolve, will slam their fists into places you have not yet discovered. One of poetry's premier storytellers has taught the city to speak with his voice."
—Patricia Smith, National Book Award finalist and author, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

"If there is a poet for this Zeitgeist, of Arab Spring, of governments toppling, a poet to listen to the people, a poet not just for this country but all countries, a poet I have been looking for my whole life, it is Roger Bonair-Agard."
—Sean Thomas Dougherty, author, All I Ask for Is Longing: New and Selected Poems

Praise for Tarnish and Masquerade:

"An expatriot of the islands, these poems explore a longing for home, a bold criticism of familial and societal injustices, all played to the backbeat of a steel drum."
Chicago Sun Times

"Bonair-Agard is a poet who fixes his experience with memory and uses memory image as analyzer of his experience. A poet of live language mastering it's literary "statement". Someone whose poetry can be entered and felt and understood. An impressive work."
— Amiri Baraka

"Bonair-Agard's lyricism is sharpened by a deep sense of politics, a profoundly muscular intelligence and a sensuality that can be wholly and beautifully dangerous. It is always wonderful to hear music in a line. Bonair-Agard is engaged with his world and drags you sweetly into his imaginings through the sheer force of his verse."
— Kwame Dawes

"These sunwashed revelations -- this lilting, uproarious, precise gospel -- brings so much to the table that the reader is nearly overwhelmed. Roger Bonair-Agard is his own revolution, a deft purveyor of unflinching politics, stark sensuality and the relentless drum of the island home that beckons from every page. There is simply no resisting these stanzas."
— Patricia Smith