On his song “Jump In,” Wale rhymes: “They say cappin I say wellin, I ain’t bout to switch it up.” Both words are synonyms for lie. And I’m reminded of home, how as a youngin in Prince George’s County, Md., “wellin” could be malicious, but was as often a way to invent a world better than the one we live in. Airea’s “From the Pocket of His Lip” takes me back to those days, and how startling it is that even on the saddest days, with the saddest memories, we do more than curse with our pink confessions. Maybe our lies do come from a strange man with an oboe, who reminds us of our flaws, and the flaws of those we love, and how they, too, might play beautifully. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Airea D. Matthews

Smoke rose under my father’s tongue. There, a strange man with
an oboe sat on the ridge of his tooth, playing wide vibratos
through nimbusfog. I asked why he was there, too.

Fine tuning the orchestra of lies.

I nodded. They play beautifully, don’t they?

Especially in your key. Hum for me.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 article in The New York Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. He is a 2021 MacArthur fellow. Airea D. Matthews is a poet whose work includes “Simulacra” (Yale University Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Bryn Mawr College.

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