cameron barnett

Stop Me

If I ever met the president you might
have to stop me from calling him

a nigger—reparations. I don’t trust people
who speak simply about complex things—

kid wisdom: the floor is always lava; don’t step
on the cracks in sidewalks—superstition:

a ghost story is a conjuring, not a burial—
witness: the twine it takes a sycamore

to still a black body—silence: if I ever met
the president, it wouldn’t be a question

whose button is bigger, his red and mine Black
Lives Matter—take a knee. I sit in the back

of a poetry reading and notice all the funny things
that necks do—predictable: I stand for the anthem

and notice all the funny things people do
to remind themselves they love something—

desperation: sometimes a recipe can be too
literal—knuckle blood: bigotry wears the same dress

to every party, dances the same tired
dance—lonely: I’m no good—lonely: I’m

no good without a good drink and a murder
of white women walking by—ghost story:

stop me if this sounds familiar to anybody;
I am not a tissue for drying your racism—thin:

the property line between a blessing and—a privilege:
If we ever meet, I’d have to tell you that we have

no better angels—privilege: all my windows
and mirrors are beginning to look the same—

stop me: first place in a swim meet in a sewer—politics:
If I ever met the president: yuge, hubris, hyperbole—

If I ever met the president: stop me—if I ever met
the president, I’d remind him about the funny thing

necks do between twine—witness: if I ever met
the president I’d be no good without a ghost—story:

all the funny things bigotry does backlit with—
gaslighting: when I take a knee it’s for the undoing

of knots around the necks of my ancestor’s—rewind:
if my neck ever does something funny, stop me; if I ever

step on the cracks, stop me; if I am ever murdered
by a white woman, stop me; if I ever introduce myself

as a ghost story, stop me; if I ever call the president
a nigger—silence.


Cameron Barnett holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was poetry editor for Hot Metal Bridge, and co-coordinator of Pitt’s Speakeasy Reading Series. He teaches middle school at Falk Laboratory School, and is an associate poetry editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Review. His first collection, The Drowning Boy's Guide to Water (Autumn House Press) was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.