Elephants in the Fall by Dwayne Betts

guest-edited by Danielle Evans

for Micah and Miles

I. Micah Michael Zamir Betts

November’s flame in that year of hard sunsets,
of winter’s plangency & days where sleeplessness    
& cognac ran together.
All our thoughts were beginnings,
and you were the roundness
that grew to a moon
above your mother’s hips.
We waited without a name 
for your wonder
& three days after your birth
twice named you after the uncle
you’ll never meet. The names 
questions: Micah, who resembles God.
Michael, who reminds us who has gone too soon.
And we pronounced Micah as we wanted: Mekhi,
              because I always root for the kid from Clockers.
& now when on most days your body
is all blur and bustle - 

Our song is how right we got it,
when the light from that moon spilled
out of your mother’s belly, I tell
             you, you were smiling then,
as if you knew you were the first song
that found me worthy.


II. Miles Thelonious Betts

Named after the trumpet,
after the sound that comes from all
the hurt & want that leads a man 
to turn his back to the world. We named 
you after Monk, too, 
because sometimes you have to: 
stack legends in a single body
already big enough for the sound of them, 
& we imagined that you gave us 
a different tune,
a way to bang keys into each
other until our lives
filled with unexpected music.
I hear you call me daddy
in this land where my father’s
name is sometimes another word
for grave, and I almost pause. It’s the song 

that wants to unravel me.
More crow than
swan, I’ve always been so much cage 
& caged in. & all that changes when we square 
m. This old riff on a shotgun
marriage calls us back: 
your mother’s hand in mine & the shotgun is 
what we aim at the world that threatens,

and I scoop you in my arms,
& you are calling us. Again.

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Contributor Notes

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a writer and poet. Four Way Books will publish his latest collection of poems, Bastards of the Reagan Era. His first collection of poems, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, won the Beatrice Hawley Award. Betts’ memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, was the recipient of the 2010 NAACP Image Award for non-fiction. His writing has also led to a Soros Justice Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Ruth Lily Fellowship, and a Pushcart Prize. In addition to his writing, Mr. Betts serves as the national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice and was appointed to the Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by President Barack Obama. He is currently a student at Yale Law School.