Kevin Powell’s Poem “When I Found Malcolm X” (via Complex)

When I Found Malcolm X
By Kevin Powell

I shed tears the way a dam
bursts wide open when exposed
by an awful hurricane
that moment at age 18
after the first time I
hungrily ate the words of
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
because I did not
know a Black man
like him could even exist
I cried—hard—because they had
bowed and arrowed
bullet after bullet
into Malcolm the way
hunters murder
a defenseless lion or deer:
he was both a lion and a deer
a lion undaunted by
America’s naked jungles
a deer forever thirsty
about what is
underneath the there
they bamboozled
us into believing was freedom
I howled like an unwanted ghetto baby
dumped into the trash bag of history
because in his book
I was able to hold
and hug my own face
for the very first time:
a Black boy ruthlessly damaged
by abuse hate self-hate
mental illness racism
and that violence
we call poverty
I wailed as we had
wailed at those
bluer than blue
church revivals
as the preacher-man
like Malcolm’s daddy the preacher-man

made us believe
there was a heaven
for the holes of Black folks—
I went to school like Malcolm
was the Negro mascot like Malcolm
made un-safe love to the streets like Malcolm
was the prison waiting for myself
like Malcolm
I was there when he
was re-born, once more and once more—
I set that book
down and rolled and smoked
his speeches
the way I have been
smoking this joint called life
since my father told my mother
“he ain’t my son”
when I was eight years old
I puked fresh buckets
of Ivory soap and muddy waters
because in this dead
Black man
I had found
God-the holy ghost-and the father
I knew
would never forsake me
gave me what
I was missing
he instructed
me to posterize myself
to be nothing but a man
with a stainless-steel backbone
and legs locked into place
like Jesus’
on that march
to that cross

Monday, February 1, 2021

Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, civil and human rights activist, and the author of 14 books, including When We Free the World, a new collection of essays plus one poem. His 15th book will be a biography of Tupac Shakur.

Click here for more information.


Complex | Kevin Powell

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