Winter 2013 - THE POTOMAC

Love Poem for Malcolm X

   Jasmine V Bailey

In this poem I don’t compare the color of your skin
to food or drink, and I don’t accuse anyone of demagoguery,
I don’t say assalamu alaykum or make promises. This poem
contains no references to jail or zoot suits or beautiful Armenians.
Every reference is at once to sex and pan-Africanism
and the sublime. This poem circles disappointment ceaselessly,
like an animal that doesn’t understand. In this poem I arrive
without my dress on and you blush but forgive me.
This poem began as an outpouring of ink tattooing me from within.
It appeared to me in my cell and looked lame and sainted.

I made the mistake of believing in the world, and for a little while
people found that beautiful. Then my voice became a zeppelin,
became diamond, and the humble dreams I danced with, a blond man,
a little money, a place to live, abandoned me for heretic.

This is the poem where I blame the world which is to blame,
which wanted every last part of us: our children, our good looks,
our facility with language we didn’t come by easily.
Which found dazzling ways to remind us how small we are.
Which bought us terrible suits and sent us to Harlem and then
away from Harlem. Which will never admit its rotten heart.
This is the poem you can talk about in the laundry room because
it’s self-evident, because any gestures it makes to communism
will be apparent and in bold print, and subordinate to gestures
to the spirit, which we believe politics ought to serve.

I thought to change my mind was an act of humility, of authenticity,
proof that I was searching for the truth. It took too long to realize
no one had believed in truth since Garvey.

Each of us had a childhood, a mesmerizing father, a mother
too good for sanity. Maybe that’s where the similarities end,
I don’t know. I don’t have all the fucking answers,
but I’ll say what I know loud, the words beginning in blood
and staining the page like a consumptive’s napkin.
In this poem I dare to touch your pure socks
where you sit on your eternal rug. I dare to listen
to everything you said without apology or revision.
In this poem I presume to point my finger at the government
of the United States and Zimbabwe and Sudan and the Democratic
Republic of Congo, I touch the open wound of Africa
and the American poor, I go to the grave of Martin King
and demand to know why the geraniums are dry.

This is also the poem where I lay down the sword after a long
day in the desert, a long thousand years in the desert,
and rolling up the entrance to the tent, breathe in the smell
of roasting meat and cardamom coffee. This is where
I lose my head and praise the world that made it all,
and that lavished so much suffering. This is the poem that sees you
sitting at the fire, finished with food, finished with blood.
Stricken and irreverent, this poem leans in toward your lips
and has the grace not to curse the air for what it isn’t.

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