• a.k. payne

on juneteenth & summer in my city

Juneteenth comes running w blood on her hands screamin emancipation got some cloaks of white and is spitting up bullets. New face tackling kids on the street corner to round up for this thing called prison or Hades, whateva name suits its fancy for a Tuesday, whateva name better shields true intentions.


We filling air with smell of barbecue this Juneteenth, that wafting smell that leaks up and through and around till you just spinning in sweat & scent of fried meat. You take some books about being black to the pool, freshly painted toes bask in this summer heat. Sun sets past nine and for once this city got you feeling free, you recall careening down South Oakland sidewalks on that pink rusty bike, the overlook on Lawn cradling a horizon like a basket of heavn. You recall midnight talks with dad on the red house porch & the giant dollhouse from the crib on Suncrest where you created whole worlds or chocolate sundaes from the mckeedees @ the corner of Brownsville dripping down your shirt or walks from South O to the center of the universe at the crack of dawn where the cathedral raised up like a God above you cause it alone had to be the most magnificent building in the world. Recall dad’s blck truck named ebony sputtering over to the side of the pond in Highland Park & a rolled up bag of half moldy bread fed to birds, hours spent playing tag in the wooden park w ya sistercousin as the sun began to make love to the west. Recall last day of sixth grade and spinning down that hill in Garfield to dad who just had got out of jail; recall walking hand in hand through Homewood like the whole world was half notes and poetry & dad knowing every motherfucker on the block from the icey ball man to Mr. Monroe— who “had the biggest fuckin ego and didn’t know when to stop knockin’ niggas out. mama told me if I ain’t stop hanging with him, I’d end up like him”—who did twenty years and got shot in the back and won’t never walk again, to Mr. Dwight who used to kick it with your fly ass grandparents up and down frankstown to Mr. Louis  who sells knockoff inspection stickers to Aunt S who sat next to Great Gram every sunday @ the AME. Recall dragging cots out w ya sistercousin to the porch of Nana’s highrise, 9th floor, where we slept cause Nana kept the air on too high for anyone’s own good and we needed all the sky in the universe to hold our dreams: Spice Girls by the time we were twenty.


This is summer. And Juneteenth comes bloody spinning out of master’s house to announce freedom and you’re sitting there like what where who who who and then…your newsfeed gets filled with some bittershit and Juneteenth who be seeing the future and prolly was a prophet in some other life got a face with a hollow shell and she looking not at you but through you. And two shots pierce subconscious, pierce conscious, pierce…1. Local rapper fatally shot in Pgh neighborhood. He was 21. Everybody on your timeline talking about stay inside stay inside stay inside. Your pops frequents this neighborhood so you call him and try to hold the shake out ya voice.  2. teenager shot and killed in traffic stop. Was running from the cops. Mayor like: ten miles outta pgh ain’t pgh ain’t our problem ain’t for us.


Sistercousin got out of prison last week and got a job at the mckeedees and you are more proud of her than you can manage. Six years since you saw her mugshot on the tv and your breath got caught in the back of your throat. Spice Girls by the time we’re twenty. Pull up at Nana’s highrise and she’s chilling on the porch and for a second she don’t even recognize you knocking at the door. When she do, ya’ll hug for a good five minutes and try to hold on to something in this heat, on this Juneteenth– 153 years since we been free. We let go and look at each other. Hold our breaths & feel laughter bubbling up in these stomachs.

This is summer.



Grandma Alexis, Aunt Colette & They Squad, Pittsburgh Hill District Circa 1956