My mother has no idea
where I went during temple.
There was a secret door behind the small chapel;
it led to Blockbuster—
I ate Sour Patch Watermelons during all eighteen
of my classmates’ Bar Mitzvahs.
Nobody could find me.
I hard armpits that grew payos before my face could.
I pulled them out; Scotch-taped them to my cheeks,
never showed anyone the pictures.
I wore it on my chest;
a star tucked into an undershirt
in a middle school locker room.
I kicked my way through the hallways,
saved allowance for an entire year
to buy my first pair: Air Force One mid-tops.
I walked through the holy sanctuary
like a duck;
my shoelaces were anchors.
I had friends who knew who I was
wanted to know I was black first.
I tucked my yarmulke into my suit pocket
before my friends gave me daps
on my walk home.
My grandfather treated his Jamaica
like an accent
he taught my father to not use,
tucked his shirt in each morning—
his corporate uniform a pristine onyx,
not a wrinkle until he was back in his own bedroom.
My grandfather came to this country
a pumice stone, slapped the island
off of my father’s tongue.
He polished my father until the neighourhood
could see its reflection in his black shining skin;
smoothed every aperture, filled each pore.
My grandfather never went back over the water.
“Assimilation” and “Integration” are two poems from Samuels collection of work Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps.
Header image design by Orly Zebak.
Aaron Samuels is the author of Yarmulkes & Fitted caps, released by Write Bloody Publishing. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Asylum Arts, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. Samuels is a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective and ranked 3rd place at the Individual World Poetry Slam. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he serves as Co-Founder and COO of Blavity Inc.