With "Dark Matter," Kelsey Smoot writes about the other love of grief: loving something you never were, but somehow used to be. Using the formal constraints of the sestina, this complicating and uncompromising ode to Black womxn explores the reflexes, annulments, and returns of gender.

"Dark Matter"

There is no wrong way to be a gay Black girl.
Butch bois and golden dyke mouths spit glitter and even
the ones who never really were jazzy or sassy or
rascally can become legitimized between the knees of straight
girls and elsewise. I don't know if I can still speak for us.
Or them. Damn these pronouns and all their dark matter.

Damn every straight girl who made me feel like I didn't matter.
I can hardly deny that I miss being a girl
even if I never really was one. But I know how much it means to us–
naming things and all that. Binaries and all that. Feeling right and good and even.
I've come out as so many different things I can't keep my words straight,
Back before I was jazzy or sassy or rascally or

a boy or depressed. All the gay Black girls I grew up with look happier now. Or
maybe they're just better at pretending. Matter
of fact, maybe they're just on the straight
and arrow thing because stud was once prison slang and a gay Black girl
looks like a grown man under blue lights. But I'mma even
up the score. Get our lick back. I know I can protect us.

I'm not afraid to spit glitter or spit venom or step behind us.
Pull up behind you mask off like pre-Covid or
plastic surgeon mask-on and cut your shit off like they did mine. Even
trans bois can be dyke matter—I mean dark matter.
Keep a strap on us like a gay black girl;
I've never been the violent type. But I'mma always keep my niggas straight.

I look back on my life and try to keep the facts straight.
How I decided to slut out a type of joy that was never meant for us,
how I decided that I couldn't spend the rest of my life pretending to be a girl.
Even though I love gay Black girls and I'm really not either or,
just dark matter. A little jazzy and sassy and rascally and I matter.
I've had to learn how to quiet my rage and get on my knees and get even.

I'd like to think that I am becoming better, even
though I can't think of anything better than a Black girl, gay or straight.
So maybe not better, maybe just different, a dark matter
man, girl. A little jazzy butch queen in golden light. A little light for us.
I feel divinely lucky to live out the rest of my days as a soft boy, or
whatever they will call me in 30 years. Maybe a retired gay Black girl.

I will always remember what it was like growing up gay, Black, and girl.
What it meant to us to matter, if only to each other or
ourselves. I do not regret the girls who created my boihood. There will always be us.

more from grief & other loves

Sister Sister

Episode 2 of 'Great Grief with Nnenna Freelon,' Season 1: Wailing Women.

No woman makes it through life without a sister. Through faith, family, and struggle, we inhabit a deep solidarity that allows us to hold one another close, even at the very end. Nnenna Freelon walks us through her journey of losing her sister, Debbie.

The Color of Grief

Photographer Justin Hardiman, a collaborator with Jasmine Williams and Sarah Jené's 'How We Get Over: We Grow On' project at the Mississippi Museum of Art, shares stunning portraits and excerpts from his audio-visual project, 'The Color of Grief.'

When Grief Speaks

Episode 1 of 'Great Grief with Nnenna Freelon,' Season 1: Wailing Women.

Grief is a woman with plenty to say. In the first episode of Great Grief, Nnenna Freelon asks us to consider what happens if we stop running from our grief, sit down, and listen to her for a change. Listen and read along with the podcast transcript.

Kelsey (they/them/he/his) is a PhD candidate in American Studies. Their work and writings explore the process of identity formation at the nexus of race, gender, and sexuality. He is a cultural and gender theorist, a writer, an advocate, and a poet. Having grown up bicoastal and spending the majority of their adult life in a state of transience, they draw from their eclectic life experiences both deep fear and great optimism regarding what people are capable of. Kels seeks to illuminate the experiences of Black queer folks, navigating the contemporary U.S. sociopolitical landscape.