Michael Warr: Three Poems


Malcolm Is ’bout More Than Wearing a Cap

The problem is not the letter X
or the myriad of emblazoned caps
even worn backward by white boys.
When Arsenio sports a rhinestone-
studded X to match his Armani suit,
I see Malcolm emasculated by fashion.
As if X symbolized a new NBA team
challenging the Pistons, Cavs, and Bulls,
their jerseys blinking “Buy American”
with every slam dunk sponsorship.
Then a sandwich is named Sandwich X,
and a four-wheeler is named Bronco X,
until the substance of X is x’ed out.
A dollar for every X on a cap
can either make a multi-millionaire,
or hopefully help pay for a revolution,
a cry we hear these days almost
as much as we see X’s — in America
where all is commodified.

Will X stand for change or
changing what America wears?
As ruling designers alienate
the Malcolm from the X. Separate
the meaning of Malcolm from the
punctuated power of X.
To Malcolm is to do. Your cap
is clean, but Malcolm is ’bout more
than wearing a cap. Your horn rims
impress, but Malcolm is ’bout vision.
Your T-shirt is down, but Malcolm
is ’bout taking over.
Your enemies will also wear the X,
sell the X, sex the X, film the X,
praise the X, record the X, raise the X,
fraternize and buy the X.
Your enemies will never Malcolm the X.
Only we can Malcolm the X.

Duke Checks Out Ella As She Scats Like That

          To Quincy Troupe

When Ella starts scatting
          she magnolia planted
beside Duke playing
that tonal Ouija board
and he swings her that slick,
startled, “woman you too
bad” intonation,
          when the Duke do dat,
survival becomes a god
to marvel at, even as the creator
of Mt. Kilimanjaro, survival
transmuted from sanctimonious
sanctioned genocide to African
angels swinging that singing
like a trumpet made
of clouds and lightning, toppling
walls in a way that can only be
called biblical, metaphysical,
in the umbilical between heaven
and Hades, where the devil
is an angel stringing sounds
          that defy atrocity.
When Ella starts scatting
and in an approaching layer
of time Nina Simone wails
of Four Women, after Lady Day
cast southern trees in a bright
white light that not only
dreamily signaled death,
but was death,
and we are majestically
resurrected by Mahalia,

              a miracle happens,
          continues to happen.
More than a mere resurrection,
a triumph over inhumanity.
When Ella starts scatting
’cause the Trumpet man Armstrong
then momentously forgot
his words
and spontaneously
started this ingenious tongue
and James Brown
put horns, and strings, and funk,
and things,
a primal electrified scream,
all in the same thing,
thang, thing, thang, thang.
And Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag
tells us it is never ending, never
ending, always something new
interpenetrating the old
like the digital ripping off
of the G-Fatha’s analog riffs
by the hip-hopping Cab
Calloways of today,
a ghettoized tribute
to his funknosity,
to global tenacity,
to the Yoruba way, that lives
in every beat
and b-note created
by our creators,
when Ella scats
like that…

An Open Poem To Clarence Thomas

          “…it’s high-tech lynching for uppity blacks
          who in any way deign to think for themselves.”
                              – Clarence Thomas

To be lynched is not to be castigated by peers, but castrated
by mobs for raping white women that you’ve never seen.

There are trees in Mississippi watered by the midnight murder
of black men. Trees with barbarism carved into them. Witnesses
of animalistic, primal lynching. Lynching for which there were
no hearings. Lynching that committed instead of hiding crimes.

Lynching is not a cloak to wrap oneself in for the magical return
of blackness after wiping its significance away. To be lynched
is more than a memory.

You know the pigment-controlled psyche. America’s sword
of blackness and sexuality. You sit in the seat of a Justice
empowered, unchallenged, enriched, until the break of senility.
If this is being lynched then lynch me. Lynch all of us.

(Written in response to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Hearings and
for the theatre performance “What’s This In My Coke?)

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