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
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
and my girl—they used to be the best of homies;
Usher tantalizes himself
screws shutters over his eyes so he can say
he never witnessed women’s
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,
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.