Black Thought(s) on Metabolism

Illustration by Margaret Hu

published March 11, 2016

The global Black experience post-1492 has been inextricably tied to the dehumanization and subordination of Black bodies.  For centuries, Black and brown bodies have faced physical, sexual, and psychological violence in and outside of the United States due to enslavement, colonialism, and state-sanctioned executions. In a ‘post-racial’ Obama era, it is a mistake to believe that violence towards Black bodies is a thing of the past. In 2006, the Women of Color Network found that 40 percent of African American women have experienced sexually coercive contact by the age of 18. A similar study by Black Women’s Blueprint in 2011 found this number to be 60 percent. In 2015, the Washington Times found young Black men 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. During that year, more than 1,000 American lives were lost at the hands of the police force. Despite the passage of time, Black bodies continue to bear the brunt of America’s tormented past, beginning with the colonization of Indigenous land. 

If metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life, then Black Metabolism is the set of processes that work to preserve Black bodies in spite of overwhelming violence. The following poetic conversation, written by Black undergraduates at Brown University, engages with the sensory experiences linked with this metabolism. While each stanza does not grapple directly with issues of Black survival, the various voices work in conjunction to discuss personal notions of the Black body, whether it pertains to romance, loss, or (emotional) paralyzation. We chose to publish this anonymously because we prefer to explore these issues as a collective body rather than as individuals.  


Here, the voices of a few confront the circumstances of many.

All those nights I talked away

In basements

(and addicts)

My body remembered


I found them on Sunday mornings

Wrestling to quiet

Shaking knees


Grass and gasoline tugging at

Narratives tucked in my pocket as I found myself

Among bodies

Laid to Rest


i’m filled to the brim with ghosts tonight.

them pale creatures found refuge on my back:

jumping out of my mouth, 

crawling 'round my skin, 

dark brown body so tired.


i can’t move a step without one of them 

old phantoms 

grabbing some part of me, 

taking hold and voice of me,

tightening the grip they got on me...

real comfortable in me.


surrounded by ghosts like memories.


i still see fragments of you in my sheets:

if i wanted to, i could look over right now and find you standing in the spot

where the cheap xmas lights made your empty eyes look like altars.

i start to pray 

and hands, not mine, trace circles on my shoulders.


but then i blink.

ghosts of you are back under my skin.

never imagined i’d learn to crave the company of something dead.


These days your grasp was barely real

Your memory I relish in (dark rooms) [nightmares]


Where I circle round white castles

Searching for anything to breathe into


Cold silk draped over 

Meat: Thick skin

A helmet of bare bones growing through tears


Tension in (our) upper middle back

Cradling the fears and memories

Of (our) livelihood



sometimes I start crying before i've realized why

i look into my eyes for two minutes 

and follow the trail of glass tears down my cheek for the rest. 

i ask "why?" when i look at my lips

and if they press shut, tighter, pouting but revealing underneath

the graceful corner has already started 

the phrase my voice will not say.



I sometimes find my mind

Awake before the rest of my body

A presumed agency over myself soon to be invalidated

I can't move my own body

At times I simply lay in bed

As my body contends with itself

For control over my very own limbs

But other times I simply give in

And take the easy way out

Exiting my own mind

In the hopes that I can awaken

To a blissful ignorance

So far

I've always managed to wake up

It's less so that I try to remembers these instances

But more so that the exact feeling

In these moments never leaves my being

Nevertheless I try and focus on rejoicing

In the ability to move

My hands and feet as freely I please

And my sense of self



I lie here

Strapped to train tracks

Between the conscious and unconscious

I’ve already been run over

Several times

Do I get up—?

I think I’d rather lie here

Stretched limb to limb.


black me·tab·o·lism

blak/ məˈtabəˌlizəm/


1.     the chemical, spiritual, physical, and 

    psychological processes that occur within a 

    Black body in order to maintain life.


I would wake up and feel sunlight

Penetrating through the window

I would wake up and feel like sunlight

Warmth enveloped me under the blanket

The feel of his bare skin

Soft, would awaken my senses

I would turn over

Align my body with his

Calibrate my face with his

He’d open his eyes

Right, then left

“Good morning”

Before I knew it I was falling into his eyes

And then his lips



He spreads his fingers.

Clutches nothingness.

Releases his grip.



Soon his arm contorts.

He rests his left hand upon his right.

His fingers slide through the cracks.

Then fall dead.

But very much so alive.

Will it last?

Torso twitches.

Sends a wave through his body.

His toes receive the message.




The wave ricochets back up.

His legs intertwine.



His entire body reconfigures.

Legs spread far apart.

Separated onto opposite sides of the bed.

Arms flow away from his head.

Isolated from each other.

He listens intently to his breathing,

As if it’s not his own.

Almost as if he can hear someone else’s

He focuses

Listens more closely

Breathing in and out.

Out and in

He begins to drift into the bed.

His eyes begin to fall into his eye sockets

And his mind follows.

Tunnel vision.

He imagines a scene

Then another


They collapse onto one another

Free flow?

Soon he is asleep

Mindful and mind full

Muscles relaxed

His body still.

At rest.