• Oak Morse

Selected Poetry by Oak Morse

Original Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons


Come get your tennis-racket back.

You never yearned for me.

You soared for a shiny Mack-Daddy

with a flock of Instagram admirers

who could glisten your essence,

but not cherish it like I could.

Now I’m in a hypothetical,

wondering how you will feel

when I’m reciting poems on SNL,

guest reading for Random House

on a cruise to Turks & Caicos,

sipping wine in Notre Dame,

inhaling inspiration—writing poems

in blueberry ink, eating Italian


with leaders of the NAACP, cocking

my head back laughing like I’m

modelling for a Gap catalog,

but secretly laughing at you

& how you said we were going to

play tennis every Sunday until

my serve became pure voltage—

you missed the point with me.

I don’t want to hear how you miss me

when I glimmer through your

TV screen teaching master

classes in Switzerland,

world-building for Cartoon Network,

as I invent new onomatopoeia—

sounds with a southern twang

while I rest my spirit in my

Hollywood jacuzzi. You bragged

about a half volley return you

could do that will make any opponent

curl up & cry, but right now,

I’m too sweetly consumed to cry.

I’m writing spoken word speeches

for the King of the Netherlands, watching

my quotes get painted on every

sidewalk in Brazil, while Hallmark

appoints me

director of their new

Eat Your Heart Out collection

& my fingers can barely grip time,

composing librettos for Broadway,

opening literacy camps in


& rolling around on the motherland

like an over-the-top tennis player,

who can’t get enough of playing,

but I can’t play now, not like I

once did—John Legend is calling me

for his first biography &

I have walkthrough appearances in libraries,

a grand per minute & I’m soaking

in serenity, ghostwriting the words

to describe the needle splintering

your flimsy decision. Now don’t try

shattering my peace, with your

I’m sorry off-key symphony

because I’ll tell you, you better

see Serena with all that racket.


I saw my first vagina on top of a hill—in third grade, she was in fourth,

her legs were long like electric poles; she introduced me

to Dr. Pepper and Mr. Goodbar.

Tiny hairs stand upright and this is where it starts.

I fantasize living in a mansion down the street from heaven. Many young years

I woke up lying in lemonade, call it bladder blues.

Now sweat drips down my nape.

My thirtieth birthday I saw a psychic to see if I was

still going to be somebody in spite of all my sins.

I totaled my first car trying to kill a spider.

Once I tried the Atkins Diet to make

the Little League football team, thirty pounds overweight,

and a week and a half to lose it.

I learned how to dance from Mary J. Blige. Here my artery pulsates.

Once I walked to the gas station and bought an armload

of fifty-cent king size Little Debbie oatmeal pies.

Me and my mom ate them all night until our sweet tooth decayed.

I sometimes yank back the shower curtain just to make sure there aren’t

any serial killers waiting on me.

Once I rocked fake Jordan shoes—

I was the coolest thing senior year.

My skin meets blade.

I still haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird.

For four months, my urine split through my meatus

in two directions, like an old water gun.

I got fired from Quik Trip for saggy pants during my first week of training.

This is not the first time I’ve died.

Once I overdosed on laxative—blood pressure plummeted,

passed out, coffee table crashed on top of me.

I still overthink eye contact.

For years, I confused my anxiety for a speech impediment and in pre- k, I hit

a girl on the bus for not understanding how to tie her shoes, right after

I taught her. She said it didn’t hurt, just like the truth shouldn’t, but it does.

Vulnerability is the act of beheading, for the sake of love,

for the sake of beauty. I still have harder deaths to go.

Sediments of Black Blood

I once thought I was a magenta lily

Then a parasite with no afterlife

I was fine being America’s vine

Growing through its historical

Negligence with whips then cuffs

Or even its underwater forest

Stuck in a place where I was

Half living and half drowning

Then I was antlers tied in a noose

Then tiny fossils that spelt B.L.M.

When reality rushed up under me

And snatched me off my branch

Usher’s a Drama King, But We Got to Love it

We put up our ears to the sweets sounds of guilt,

the serenade of lovers

entwined, her

and my girl—they used to be the best of homies;

Usher tantalizes himself

with temptation,

screws shutters over his eyes so he can say

he never witnessed women’s

seductions; funny,

caught up, creeps up on him like a disappeared condom mixed

with very little conscience, next thing,

his chick on the side

say she got one on the way,

dangerous living,

dancing in the wrong

arena then forgetting

to wipe his feet; you make me wanna

leave the one I’m with,

start a new relationship

with you, an emotional

enjambment as he

grapples with love affairs,

then lets it all unfold

like issues of

In Touch Weekly; melodies

packed with women playing

tug of war for his

affection while he’s

somewhere else, moving

mountains to prove his

yearning for another,

leaving women weary,

some rowdy. We hear

his world decorated with women,

you remind me

of a girl that I once knew,

see her face every time.

I look at you, now every girl

is the same girl, like

his drawer of black fitted tanks worn to swoon women.

And look at us, consumers of

these soap opera

ballads, many of our own

little muted mysteries,

as if Usher took a whiff of our

secrets and exhaled

them in song, an exhilarating therapy, and just like

incense, let his songs burn all night,

front row seats

to boldness meshed with melody. We love it, Usher,

and don’t let it climax either—

where the volume

will soon have to go down on these flaming bad habits

spinning on repeat because

we’re too strung out

on them, and we got it bad.

The Bluest Alibis

My soul once nudged

me to attend fake funerals

that fell out of the sky,

sent me to see my sick sibling

at the hospital when

I didn’t want to work overtime.

So, underneath, I grin hearing that

this is your third friend

who has died this year.

Are all your friends surrounded

by a plague or do they

choose to dive underneath life,

or could your tongue be too

fragile to grow claws and

grip a better lie whenever

your heart calls you to escape

a commitment? Underneath,

I breathe in guilt when I hear

you come to work the next day

dandy, with no mourning

spirit, blood drizzling from

your sky, or memorial date.

I’m sure the one who

wrote the book on ethics

once was a crook and still

revels in lies from time to time.

It seems our excuses go in

for the kill, like slamming

a sledgehammer onto

our loved ones’ head, as if our

tongue is forever a ruptured

tentacle that can’t grip

onto an excuse that stings less,

yet can slither through

the cracks. Perhaps one day

our bad habit will die off,

or maybe one day we will

lie so hard we’ll believe

we are strong enough to live by truth.

Oak Morse lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theatre and leads a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature, a Finalist for the 2020 Witness Literary Award and a Semi-Finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Currently a Warren Wilson MFA candidate, Oak has received Pushcart Prize nominations, fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, Twelve Literary Arts, Cave Canem, Palm Beach Poetry Festival as well as a Stars in the Classroom honor from the Houston Texans. His work appears in Black Warrior Review, Tupelo, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Nimrod, Terrain.org, Witness, among others.