Amiri Baraka. Credit: Francesco Truono
Somebody Blew Up Poetry (for Amiri Baraka)

They say it’s some terrorist poet, some old man in Newark who burned his lips on America. They say he one of those radical blacks with an A-Rab name, Amiri Baraka. They say he a suicide bomber blowing up poetry, a communist hatemonger, a beehive near a microphone, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a racist with a tongue of acid spitting on wedding cakes, a traitor raping our smiles. 

They say (who say?) He was trouble. Flush him in the White House toilet so Obama can feel safe with his pants down. But who do the saying? Who taught us Who They is? 

Who was born Everett Leroy Jones? Who was this man, spinning 400 years of slavery into a tornado of words? 

Leroy Jones, a black boy who hated the mirror, hated his bulgy eyes, hated his skinniness, his small prick eaten by men. A boy & his fears, too short, too bi-sexual, too everything at once, the world exploding, held in place by pounding pianos, blowing trumpets as if to shoot the storm in his body out there, where rhythms laid it down. 

Leroy Jones survived high school hunger games to college puppet show. Brain inside an ice cube. He saw Negroes jiving for whiteness, smiling to open the bank. Nothing fit. A roaring gasoline storm inside, a question threatening to ignite, he ran from college, ran from his name, Leroy became LeRoi, a man’s man.    

LeRoi in the Air Force, American corpse factory, shot guns, caressed Leftist books, felt his pulse in the words, evidence of an unknown self. Dishonorably discharged, he lived the West Village, a bohemian brothel of open love, bodies lit by strangeness, everyone hunting answers. 

Searching the streets, LeRoi used liquor bottles as magnifying glasses for the soul. LeRoi who swung deep the Jazz in smoke thick mystery clubs. Fucked and was fucked by men. LeRoi who be a beat poet, beat poetry a Black eye that sees pain between the lines.

LeRoi who married white, married Jewish, married woman. Finally a man’s man. Sex could be aimed like a gun, two children hit the bulls-eye. Who tripped to liberated Cuba, dug the peasants standing on necks of Capitalist vampires. Burned by tragic revolutionary voices, LeRoi spat the ash of his name. 

To be a Black Man. To Be a Problem. To Kill the Devil. To Be Born Inside a Hurricane. 

LeRoi who swallowed the bullets from Malcolm X’s body and forgot how to speak without killing. Who burned his marriage on the Altar of Blackness and rubbed his face with its charcoal for camouflage! 

Who moved to Harlem to make revolution! LeRoi whose mouth was a Jazz Gatling Gun! LeRoi who dreamt of race war! 

LeRoi who smoked the rubble of Newark Riots and hallucinated a Black Nation! LeRoi who used a gun as a pen to write on the pages of history! Who played Double Dutch with slave chains and made House Negroes jump! jump! jump!

Who changed his name to Amear, so only his old self could hear his family weeping in the trashcan. Amear who rewrote himself as Amiri, Amiri Baraka, Arabic for Blessing, to heal minds bleached dead by America. 

Who hated gays, who hated Jews, who hated who he had been, a man bending over, hated who he loved, his first children, bats crying in his skull. Who hated, hated, hated to love the night that never ended, the night his skin was — Amiri’s hands blind with fire. 

Who tore pages of Marx’s Capital to bandage the light coming through the cracks in his mind?

Who saw the Movement recede, a tide leaving his books on the shore, who listened to sea shells for the voices of his slain friends? 

Who lived into the New Millennium, an academic hobo, a revolution in a museum, a grinning wild man whose laughter cracked diamonds? 

Who was hated by the privileged? Who was fired from his job? Who used the craters of U.S. bombs for his stage? Who rattled his tongue on the bars of prisons? 

Amiri! Amiri the poet who sprinkled perfume on lava! Amiri the blind man who never saw the 4,000 shadows he cast in the Towers that fell, in the men who loved men, in the people cold in their whiteness, in the lost and confused and hurt. Amiri who forgot how to speak without killing. 

Who cracked mirrors on the faces of our enemies, each shard a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of his unknown self!

Our Blessing, our Baraka, our triumph, our failure, Amiri who loved fire but not light, who did not open his eyes for fear of betraying the dark. 

Amiri who wept at daughter killed, tears that never found a blank page to blossom, an invisible bouquet on her tombstone. 

Whose son carries his father’s life toward the horizon, Amiri a father of millions of sons, millions of daughters. Amiri in history, Amiri in the Hall of Black Heroes. 

Amiri died of diabetes, old and panting in the hospital feeling the final darkness swallowing him. Who felt the falling into Nothingness. Amiri whose last breath was an unfolding poem, ascending inside us. 

Amiri who died a torch, a self burning flame! 

Who will be Amiri again? Who is the Rage in the Street? Who will turn the Dictionary into a hornet’s nest? Whose mouth will be a Jazz Gatling Gun? 

Like a volcano in your sleep, exploding in your life, in your brain, in yourself.  Who will make the Final Call to the dead! Who will write poems with dynamite! Who will shout questions that shatter our porcelain sex! Who will explode our fear! 

Whooooo and Who and Whoooooooooooooooooooooooo! 

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