Third Degree

This poem by Langston Hughes (1902-1967) struggles to have a voice and ends up feeling detached, looking in from an outsider’s perspective.

Two sides of a brutal interrogation fight for the reader’s attention, as if he wanted to avoid being a victim to his own poem. Faced with both views at the same time we end up without either, and can only wonder if he intended the reader to be a fly on the wall:

Hit me! Jab me!
Make me say I did it.
Blood on my sport shirt
And my tan suede shoes.

Faces like jack-o’-lanterns
In gray slouch hats.

Slug me! Beat me!
Scream jumps out
Like blowtorch.
Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

Bar and floor skyrocket
And burst like Roman candles.

When you throw
Cold water on me,
I’ll sign the
Paper . . .

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