Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Smith's searing second collection opens with "summer, somewhere," a 20-part suite imagining an afterlife where every slain black boy can finally live out his days in safety, cherishing a paradise "where everything / is sanctuary & nothing is a gun." It's part public lament, part defiant act of the imagination. Smith's capacity for compassionate invention is epic, as is the poet's courage for chronicling a harrowing personal relationship with HIV, that other threat claiming black men's lives with nearly the efficacy of bullets. Smith races across lexicons and spectra, pushing even the boundaries of typography in wrestling with the dreadful fact that the black male body is imperiled from both within and without, a declaration delivered with aphoristic chill in lines like: "some of us are killed / in pieces, some of us all at once."