Kyrah A. Ayers, 'My Soul'

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An African American man in a white suit jacket, dreadlocks, and a necklace, in a green field
Kyrah A. Ayers. (via Kyrah Ayers)

Editor’s Note: Welcome to National Poetry Month. Twice each week in April, KQED Arts & Culture will present a poem by a Bay Area poet. This series is curated by Rightnowish host Pendarvis Harshaw, who also speaks with each poet about their work.

“My Soul,” by Kyrah A. Ayers

My soul

Is tolled with knowing

As my sons get older

That their lives are valued less

As they inherit our mess

My shoulders weighed down

With the task

Of explaining that English, Science and Math

Are not the only tools they need to survive

For black men to stay alive

We have to appear non-threatening

Grin through every sock to the chin

And send Thank You cards to the assailant

Be stronger, but appear weaker

Be smarter, but be the listener and not the speaker

Even when the speaker’s wrong

Hold your tongue

Master the language

Of the corporate world and where you’re from

I’m raising sons

In a world that’s seen a Raisin In The Sun

Numb to the fact that gun control

Only applies to the victims

Reactions based on fear

Appear justified

It’s clear that as my sons prepare for college

They may meet campus police

Overzealous and partly jealous that they’re obtaining degrees

Scared of what they can’t imagine

Keeps his hand near his piece

My son could die on the way to a study group

While the murderer is released

In self-defense

My head is heavy today

But I must walk tall

Because small minds

Devalue what they can’t find

As useful to their own kind

The truth is often combined with perspective

But there’s no rewind

When bullets fly and sons lie

On concrete for hours

No chalk outline is necessary

We see him; we all see him!

Some have the luxury of living through mistakes

Not my sons

Born with two strikes

In a world where we lose rights

Like car keys, or five dollars at the craps table

Go ahead and roll the dice

We play odds and think twice

Through forced smiles

Absorbing pain from cop car lights

Internalize it and ignites

A flame within us

Sparked by a fear of being out too late at night

Driving while black, naw you don’t understand the plight

Ever been pulled over three times in a week

And issued warning after warning

How do I warn my sons so their mother isn’t mourning

So that they’re still alive in the morning

And still not be ashamed of the skin they’re born in

What a fight…

My soul

Is tolled with knowing

As my sons get older

That their lives are valued less

As they inherit our mess

May the souls of the lives we’ve lost… rest

Kyrah Ayers and family. Left to right: Amir, Lilly, Kyrah, Kayden (up top), Reggie.
Kyrah Ayers and family. Left to right: Amir, Lilly, Kyrah, Kayden (up top), Reggie. (Via Kyrah Ayers)

Pendarvis Harshaw: Was there a specific instance that inspired this piece?

Kyrah Ayers: This piece was written in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Like many people, this was based on mounting frustrations after the loss of too many black people under similar circumstances. It’s difficult being a father and raise kids in love while watching so many injustices occur to people who look just like us.

What has been the response from this piece?

This piece has been well received for the most part. Many tears, some of them mine, have been shed. We’re all fed up with these injustices.

The Bay Area has a long history of well-known poets. What does it mean to be a part of this legacy?

I’m honored to be a part of this legacy. I started writing at age 11 as a creative outlet. I didn’t start sharing my poetry until ten years later. In 2008 I founded a poetry show called “Poetry By The Bay” in Vallejo, which grew to become the largest and longest running poetry show in Solano County. Recently I’ve been blessed to start another show called “The Revival” which takes place once a month in downtown Oakland inside of my wife & I’s store, Queen Hippie Gypsy. It’s hosted by the incomparable Bri Blue. The next show is on April 17, where we will honor National Poetry Month and are excited to feature the phenomenal work of Darling Tiara.

For more details on Kyrah A. Ayers and the poetry series ‘The Revival,’ see here.