The Only Black Kid at the Punk Show

After Kevin Young’s “On Being the Only Black Person at the Johnny Paycheck Concert”

The girl in the Green Day shirt

wants to touch my hair. It looks so soft, she says.

I inch towards a pack of boys

with multi-colored mohawks like mixed drinks

they’re too young to have; a boy briefly looks

at me before returning to his conversation

on how Courtney killed Kurt Cobain.

She’s head of the Illuminati, he says with conviction—

conspiracy theories laid out like a buffet

for his friends to consume.

The merch booth behind me sells band shirts

that are almost antique. Suburban kids 

pass gossip around like flavored vape pens

and block the way to the bathroom.

The band enters the stage. The crowd sways,

an ocean of salty skin under a shelter of speakers.

I stand in the back, an outcast,

not old enough to reminisce

when Black rock stars were as common as record players.

When rock ‘n’ roll just meant the blues,

when blues just meant wicked songs

dipped in gospel, when Black was just

the rule to be in rock. I’m just a kid born too Black

to rebel with rap bleeding

from headphones. Too Black

to know Nevermind by heart.

My heart, black and bleeding, ripped

from my body and thrown on stage.

The band throws it to the crowd

saying, I love you all, you’re too kind.

(“You’re too kind” is quoted from the Kevin Young poem, “On Being the Only Black Person at the Johnny Paycheck Concert.”)

Chavonn Williams Shen (she/they) is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was a 2022 McKnight Writing fellow and a first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction Contest. She was also a Best of the Net Award finalist, a Pushcart Prize nominee, a winner of the Loft Literary Center's Mentor Series, a fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, and an instructor for the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. A Bread Loaf, Tin House, VONA, and Hurston/Wright workshop alum, her writing has appeared in: Diode, Anomaly, AGNI, and others. Her debut book, Still Life with Rope and River, is forthcoming in September 2024 from Finishing Line Press.