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During the Black Arts movement, there was a lot of poetry written about Malcolm X. I don't know how well a lot of it hold's up. Larry Neal has a beautiful piece called, "The Summer After Malcolm," which I love, mostly because it's love poem for a women, and Malcolm is almost incidental to the piece.


In terms of straight poems about Malcolm, Welton Smith's meditation, anthologized in Black Fire (which my Pops recently republished) is probably my favorite. It isn't without it's problems but those last three lines--"you are not lonely\in my heart there are many\unmarked graves."--killed me when I read them over fifteen years ago. And they still kill me.

malcolm

i cannot move

from your voice.

there is no peace

where i am. the wind

cannot move

hard enough to clear the trash

and far away i hear my screams.

 

the lean, hard-bone face

a rich copper color.

the smile. the

thin nose and broad

nostrils. Betty-in the quiet

after midnight. your hand

soft on her back. you kiss

her neck softly

below her right ear.

she would turn

to face you and arch up--

her head moving to your chest.

her arms sliding

round your neck. you breathe deeply.

it is quiet. in this moment

you knew

what it was all about.

 

your voice

is inside me; i loaned

my heart in exchange

for your voice.

 

in harlem, the long

avenue blocks. the miles

from heart to heart.

a slobbering emaciated man

once a man of god sprawled

on the sidewalk. he clutches

his bottle. pisses on himself

demands you respect him

because his great grandmother

was one-eighth cherokee.

in this moment, you knew.

 

in berkeley the fat

jewess moves the stringy brown

hair from her face saying

she would like to help you--

give you some of her time.

you knew.

in birmingham "get a move

on you, girl. you bet'not

be late for sunday school."

not this morning--

it is a design. you knew.

 

sometimes

light plays on my eyelashes

when my eyes

are almost closed--

the chrome blues and golds

the crimson and pale

ice green     the swift movements

of lights through my lashes--

fantastic--

the sound of mecca

inside you. you knew.

 

the man

inside you; the men

inside you fought.

fighting men inside you

made a frenzy

smelling like shit.

you reached into yourself--

deep--and scooped your frenzy

and rolled it to a slimy ball

and stretched your arm back

to throw

 

now you pace the regions

of my heart. you know

my blood and see

where my tears are made.

i see the beast

and hold my frenzy;

you are not lonely--

in my heart there are many

unmarked graves.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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