“boys with hands behind necks,” a Poem by Ntozake Shange

From the Collection Sing a Black Girl's Song

September 13, 2023  By Ntozake Shange

my boys / so fulla gumption &
appetite/ I cd feed em all the day
long/& they’d still/ come back for
somethin/ anythin’ at all/ problem is
they growin hand over fist/ they growin’
& that cd mean some trouble
comin/ trouble comin every which way
cd be some beggah boy wit
a knife or a gun/ cd be a drive-by
mistake cd be the police/ tellin
my boys to put they hands right
where they got em/ locked b’hind
they necks/ looks now they practicin’
for what they think is they fate
i’ma pray on that/ Lord don’t let
my boys play just thata way
no more/ they got no call to lock
they hands that a way & I surely don’t want em to
lord/ let em be children
just a bit longer
til they men.


From Sing a Black Girl’s Song: The Unpublished Work of Ntozake Shange, edited by Imani Perry. Forward by Tarana Burke. Copyright © 2023. Available from Legacy Lit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange (1948–2018) was a renowned poet, novelist, playwright, and performer, best known for her Broadway-produced and Obie Award–winning choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. She wrote numerous works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including If I Can Cook/You Know God Can, Wild Beauty, and Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo.

More Story
Zakiya Dalila Harris on Bringing The Other Black Girl to TV Zakiya Dalila Harris's debut novel, The Other Black Girl—about an editorial assistant named Nella who discovers something...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.