Black History Month (Week 3)

Narrative: Ali

BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDER

a poem in twelve rounds

1.
My head so big
they had to pry
me out. I’m sorry
Bird (is what I call
my mother). Cassius
Marcellus Clay,
Muhammad Ali;
you can say
my name in any
language, any
continent: Ali.
2.
Two photographs
of Emmett Till,
born my year,
on my birthday.
One, he’s smiling,
happy, and the other one
is after. His mother
did the bold thing,
kept the casket open,
made the thousands look upon
his bulging eyes,
his twisted neck,
her lynched black boy.
I couldn’t sleep
for thinking,
Emmett Till.
One day I went
Down to the train tracks,
found some iron
shoe-shine rests
and planted them
between the ties
and waited
for a train to come,
and watched the train
derail, and ran,
and after that
I slept at night.
3.
I need to train
around people,
hear them talk,
talk back. I need
to hear the traffic,
see people in
the barbershop,
people getting
shoe shines, talking,
hear them talk,
talk back.
4.
Bottom line: Olympic gold
can’t buy a black man
a Louisville hamburger
in nineteen-sixty.
Wasn’t even real gold.
I watched the river
drag the ribbon down,
red, white, and blue.
……
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