The Poetry Project

POETRY: Justin Philip Reed


after Tafisha Edwards
To disappear Black girls at a low volume of sustained public panic is
to insinuate the inconstancy of Black girls. The disposability of Black
girls who are prone to disappearance. A body bag somewhere waits
with little hoopla about its lot. Absence becomes the lot of Black

____ will eventually accept as fact that absence becomes a lot of
Black girls. In what becomes the normal day-to-day, Black girls are
harder to find, ____ would think first, not that there are few
attempts to find them. The question isn’t whether or not Black girls
often go missing: if no one else, Black girls miss each other.

____ would be remiss to not recognize how everything is made
less in the absence of Black girls, if ____ could miss what
_____ have never been required to recognize, such as:

Unlike missing Black girls, taking Black girls is a Western custom. It
seems likely that such a statement will soon appear inaccurate: the
white space in new textbook editions will have nothing to say about
it, if the white spaces behind those textbooks have anything to say
about it. That Black girls are quintessential American palimpsests is
not a question but an anxiety. ____ would rather forget that
Black girls were made receptacles for what the authors of Liberty and
would not speak. That Liberty and Independence were
imaginable only in the absent-presence of taken Black girls, enslaved
Black girls, Black girls on whom a foundational economic system so
depended that white men would kill each other and take taken Black

The constancy of Black girls is someone’s anxiety. The soil is thick
with hidden Black girls, the myth that only quiet Black girls are
worthwhile Black girls. The soil turns as _____ turn away from
loud Black girls and their cacophonic insistence on Black girls.

_____ have not insisted enough upon the fact of Black girls, are
often loudly shocked to find Black girls disappeared. Loud,
unsustained shock has a way of disappearing Black girls. Outrage, too,
has a way of being disappeared.

Justin Phillip Reed was born and raised in South Carolina. His work has appeared in Best American Essays, Boston Review, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. Coffee House Press will release his first full-length poetry collection, Indecency, in Spring 2018. Justin lives in St. Louis. Come see about him at

#254 February / March 2018