February 12, 2015KR OnlinePoetry

No Offense

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Winter 1993, Vol. XV, No. 1

If you wonder why
I’m not laughing, go ask
Brian, the sixth grade cut-up
the one with the most dirty jokes
who requested the tribal African song
Tina Singu, each music class, black
vinyl spinning while Brian made
faces, knocked his knees together
like eggs. If you are curious about
me, just ask the boy who riddled
the whole playground or me
& my friends walking
home: What do you get
when you cross a black person

with a smurf? I am sure today
he would answer you, would explain
now that he meant No offense just
like he did then above the crowd
of girls leaning close or the boys
trying to get his timing down,
just as after the punchline
he always said You know I don’t
mean you
. It’s OK. And when
you see that boy whose last name
I don’t seem to remember, be sure
to tell him that this here Smigger

could care less yet could never care
more, that my blue
& brown body is more
than willing to inform
him offense is one hostage
I have never taken.

Kevin Young is the author of ten books of poetry, most recently Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015. His Book of Hours was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Prize; his book The Grey Album won the PEN Open Award, the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. This essay has been adapted from Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, longlisted for the National Book Award.