Jericho Brown

The Ten Commandments

But I could be covetous. I could be a thief.
I could want and work for. I could wire and
Deceive. I thought to fool the moon into
A doubt. I did some doubting. Lord,
Forgive me. How will I speak of Joe Adams
And his wife? In New Orleans that winter,
I waited for a woman to find me shirtless
On her back porch. Why? She meant it
Rhetorically and hit me with open hands.
How many times can a woman say why
With her hands in the moonlight? I counted
Ten like light breaking hard on my head,
Ten rhetorical why’s and half a moon. Half
Nude, I let her light into me. I could be last
On a list of lovers Joe Adams would see and first
To find his wife slapping the shit out of me.
I could be sick and sullen. I could sulk
And sigh. I could be a novel character in
A novel by E. Lynn Harris, but even he’d allow
Me some dignity. He loves black people too
Much to write about a wife whipping a man’s ass
On a night people in Louisiana call cold.
He’d have Joe Adams run out back and pull
Her off of me. He wouldn’t think I deserved it.

Jericho Brown
“The Ten Commandments” first appeared in New Madrid.