Three Poems by Jubi Arriola-Headley

Jubi Arriola-Headley’s poetry explores the intersection of the Black Queer experience not only for himself, but for Black Queer men in America. By acknowledging the politics that surround the Black body and the vulnerability that surrounds the Queer body, Arriola-Headley paints a raw, poetic narrative of the world that shaped him…

by: Jubi Arriola-Headley ((Header image is the cover to Jubi Arriola-Headley’s latest release, original kink, available now!))

Still, Life

Over morning coffee I gossip with God. It’s
a green-belly blend, I’m sure of it, whispers
of Maya and maíz throughout. God, being
God, does most of the talking. Between
slurps God lists all the ways in which humans
have broken our covenant. Chief among our sins,
God says, are flowers. Cut flowers. In a still
life, in a vase, in a funeral arrangement. What must
it feel like, God asks, to gut a living thing? To knock
a thing sideways when it should have been monument. How
you’ll hobble a moment when all it wants is to bloom, then
pose its scuttled husk as an act of devotion. An abomination,
God says. Except when God says bloom They pronounce
it Tamir. And somehow (I know) knock comes out
sounding exactly like Breonna. And gut is less a word
spoken, more a crucifixion, an act, a crime unspeakable
in every language except ours. But how is this different from
you forsaking Jesus? I ask. So certain I am of our collective
lack of blame, so certain we are bound for hell regardless,
I think, I’ll take this bullet for humanity. So…who is
the ‘you’ and the ‘we’ in this fiction? God asks, resting
Their chin in Their hands, drinking me in, the way one sits
with any queerness. (God will slip into vernacular at will.)
And have I so failed you, that you can’t think of Me
without thinking of spilt blood? Yes, I think but don’t
say – I’ve been beaten too blue to ever talk smack. Yes.


Parable of the Mule [or, Notes on Capital]

Back in the day, way back, before alarm clocks, before sun
dials, even, if you can believe it, when mules and men used
to speak to each other (you didn’t think, you didn’t presume,
did you, that God so favored your form that They gifted only
you with the light of language), men and mules were a team,
you see; they worked with each other, back when the concept
of for was in the manner of a gift, less an obligation, and of was
a signifier for tribe, not tether. Thus it came to be that one particular
and not-at-all peculiar man, and one particular but not-at-all peculiarly
gifted mule had consented to be partners – collaborators, if you will –
on this great project that would come to be known early on as agriculture
and later free enterprise, and still later, scorched earth. The mule of our story
was an exceedingly supportive sort and would counsel the man on
the best way to load the mule’s back so that the man could in effect
double the weight that the mule could carry. And the mule could smell
which fields were fertile, and which were fallow, and by the tang
of last year’s brome or fescue would know what day, precisely,
to sow, to seed the fields in the season to come. And the man, initially,
could scarce conceal his gratitude, and would thank the mule profusely,
and often, and the mule was satisfied, because isn’t that is all we ever want,
to be appreciated for our art? But, over time, as any man will do,
this particular and not-at-all peculiar man would come to see the mule’s gifts
as his birthright, and by extension, the mule’s craft as work. And he began
to wonder if the mule was working at full capacity – whether, if he could
perhaps optimize the mule’s output by perhaps designing a lighter and
faster plow for the mule to pull, or perhaps changing the mule’s diet,
so that the mule would be leaner and stronger – and, while not productive
in and of itself, more pleasing to the man’s eye, which couldn’t hurt, could it?
And the mule sensed the man’s arrogance, and found it annoying, to be
perfectly transparent, to such extent that the mule eventually, after much
rumbling and grumbling and griping from the man, said why can’t you
appreciate what I give fully, freely, of my own will, for you? At which the man lifted
his arm, hauled back and smacked the mule clear across the snout,
with the back of his hand. Ouch! said the mule. What the ever-living why,
human? Why do you mean to hurt me? I don’t know, said the man. Do you think
it might be, the mule asked, raising a hoof to tender the throb of hurt and blood,
because I do so much more for you than you do for me? That’s fine with me, you know. All
I’ve ever wanted is to be appreciated. I ask so little of you, if you think about it. At which
the man cocked his leg and kicked the mule in the ribs. I’m sorry, I swear, I am
sorry, sorry, SO sorry, I don’t know what came over me, I’m having a rough day, I won’t
do you that way again, I promise, said the man. At which words a soupcon of doubt
crept into the mule’s eyes and caused the mule’s lips to purse like lips subjected
to a drought, to which the man responded by bearing his full weight on
the mule’s back and forcing the mule to splay on the ground. I SAID
I wouldn’t do it again, the man said, but I can see by your face that you don’t
believe me. Where do you get off calling me a liar? At this point the mule thought
it best to be, for now, at least, silent, realizing that the man could not be
convinced of her humanity. No matter how much she cared, or carried, for him.



Imagine now how your fingertips throb (1)
in silence, wild, (2) an oracle done hiding at last,
all the mystery made, (3) all the grave markers,
all the crude headstones – water-lost. (4) I think
by now the river must be thick (5) – red is the operative
word. (6) What a relief it would be to scream yourself hoarse, (7)
let the empty stage receive the light, (8) linger only with
healthy ideas. Salty ones. (9) God give us a long winter
and quiet music and patient mouths. (10) (We talk about God
because we want to speak in metaphors, (11)
como un demonio sin freno, (12) between hot dog stands
and hallelujahs.) (13) Change our fates, shoot down
the plagues, beginning with time, the children sing to you. (14)
Ha.(15) You have to face the underside of everything
you’ve loved;(16) there will be no more sons. (17)

  1. Olga Broumas, […imagine now/how your fingertips throb…]
  2. Cecilia Vicuña, “Jungle Kill”
  3. Carl Phillips, “Unbridled”
  4. Natasha Trethewey, “Elegy for the Native Guards”
  5. Natasha Trethewey, “Elegy” [I think by now the river must be thick]
  6. Linda Dove, “Fear is a Hummingbird Drunk on Taillight”
  7. Raymond McDaniel, “No, You Shut Up”
  8. Jon Davis, “Gratitude”
  9. Alain Border, “Sleep Log”
  10. Adam Zagajewski, “A Flame”
  11. Jericho Brown, “To Be Seen”
  12. Cecilia Vicuña, “Horticultura”
  13. Matthew Olzmann, “My Invisible Horse and the Speed of Human Decency”
  14. Arthur Rimbaud, “To a Reason”
  15. Jubi Arriola-Headley
  16. Adrienne Rich, “Twenty-One Love Poems” [Poem V]
  17. Chelsea Dingman, “Elegy for Empty Rooms”


Jubi Arriola-Headley (he/him or they/them) is a Black queer poet, storyteller, & first-generation United Statesian who lives with his husband in South Florida & whose work explores themes of manhood, vulnerability, rage, tenderness & joy. He’s a 2018 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow, holds an MFA from the University of Miami, & his poems have been published with Ambit, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod,  Southeastern Humanities Review, The Nervous Breakdown, & elsewhere. Jubi’s debut collection of poems, original kink, is available now from Sibling Rivalry Press.

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