The nation is burning.


Long before George 

and Breonna

before Atatiana,

            Mike and Philando 

before Yusef’s 16-year-old black body 

            was found bloodied 


            in Bensonhurst 

before crack rocks cooked 

            in sooty pipes 

            over high flames

before Bushwick’s Broadway burned in 77


We have blazed. 


Do you know the anatomy of a fire? 

The head 

             its fastest moving portion 

flames beside it

             its flanks

heel or tail

             its slowest moving stretch


A fire’s head is its greatest sweep

in length 




Wailing sirens 

twisted johnny pumps 

snapping canines


The head 

in all its bountiful glory 

                                                                           and thickened rage

gets the most aggressive attack 


The nation is burning. 


This muthafucka been ablaze. 


Black at the head

Black under siege

Black the most furious 



The nation is burning. 


Black will deliver its ashes

                                           and curate its remains


The nation is burning. 


Black will deliver its ashes

                                          and curate its remains. 


The nation is burning. 


Black will deliver its ashes.


Black will curate its remains.




Nicole Shawan Junior was bred in the bass-heavy beat and scratch of Brooklyn, where the cool of inner-city life barely survived crack cocaine’s burn. She’s a black, queer and poverty-born counter-storyteller. Her writing appears in Lambda Literary's anthology Emerge, Roxane Gay’s Medium platform Gay Mag, ZORA, The Feminist Wire, Color Bloq, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art and Action, and more. She’s a Hedgebrook Writer in Residence as well as alumna of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hurston/Wright Foundation’s Writers Week, Lambda Literary’s Emerging Voices Writer's Retreat, Tin House Workshop, VONA, and more. To learn more about Nicole, visit www.NicoleShawanJunior.com.