17 pages 34 minutes read

Danez Smith

juxtaposing the black boy & the bullet

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Danez Smith’s “juxtaposing the black boy & the bullet” (2014) is a free verse, spoken word, activist poem that deals with gun violence, police brutality, and racial justice. Smith presents the poem in an abstract way, using juxtaposition (a way of contrasting and paralleling two things) to create disorientation in readers’ minds and to comment on the plight of Black people in America. The poem exists within a broader era of social activism and change that exploded into the national consciousness in the 2010s as a result of a number of events, including the presidency of Barack Obama in 2008 and Trayvon Martin's murder in 2012. The poem echoes many of the themes present in the modern American social justice movement—especially those of the Black Lives Matter movement. The poem is one in a long series of poems by Smith about race and injustice.

Poet Biography

Danez Smith (b. 1989) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. They are Black, queer, and use they/them pronouns. Smith began writing poetry in high school, and their first poem, “dear white america,” gained prominence on YouTube. Smith attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where they refined their craft in writing and performance, ultimately leading to their national recognition as a poet and performer from an early age.

Smith earned their reputation with the publication of three books of poetry and a number of chapbooks, as well as through their live performances of poetry. In fact, critics regard Smith’s performance skills just as highly as their writing skills; Smith has earned many awards for both writing and performance, including being a spoken word world champion, being awarded numerous fellowships by schools, companies, and endowments, and winning a number of awards for their books.

Smith does much activist work in the areas of social justice and the arts. They are currently a co-host of Poetry Foundation’s VS, a podcast about poetry.

Smith extensively writes about their identify as a Black, queer, HIV positive person. Critics have continually praised Smith’s exploration of these identities as well as their blunt, honest, and deep messages about the experience of belonging to these various communities.

Poem Text

Smith, Danez. “juxtaposing the black boy & the bullet.” 2014. Split This Rock.


The poem opens by referring to its two titular items—the black boy and the bullet—by simply using the word “one.” No distinction is made between which description is about “the black boy” and which is about “the bullet.”

The first stanza describes one of these as hard and the other as trying to be hard. This is followed by a stanza break and another one-line stanza saying one of these is fast, but the other is faster.

The next stanza is a couplet—two-lined stanza—again juxtaposing the two things without naming which description applies to which. Smith says, “one is loud” (Line 3) while the other is a one-note song followed by silence.

The next stanza returns to the one-line format but does not describe both things; instead, it simply says, “one’s whole life is a flash” (Line 5), meaning either the life quickly passes by or there is a literal flash of light like when a gun is fired in the darkness.

The penultimate stanza is a couplet. It suggests both the bullet and the Black boy spend their entire lives looking for the warmth of a home.

The final stanza, written in three offset lines, contrasts how society sees both the bullet and the Black boy. Smith suggests that some people wish to protect them, but some people wish to completely eradicate them. It is unclear to which item he is referring in this stanza.