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Drapetomania, or James Baldwin as Improvisation

ISSUE:  Spring 2022


Absent bounty, anarchic and asymptotic,
Bedlam banked as beauty, captive cuckolding
Capital and its camel-faced captor, master, the
Devil is in the dove’s details, even doves
Exist as furious, fragile, violent and decent
(Which could describe anyone at all, including
Freedom), even freedom exists, God’s good
Hostage, haint haunting the hootenanny,
If, as in the if-only-you-knew of Patti
LaBelle sung in the broken-bottle falsetto
Of an uncle laid out on the bottom step
Of summer, sobriety, and Miss Such-
A-Much’s sliding-away love, jaundiced
As James Baldwin’s good and lovely dying eye,

James Baldwin existed as an improvisation,
Knuckles calling for a Newport to knock, light,
Lift, lustrous and otherwise, Malcom X
Marking X where it is he loved the poor—
Everywhere, everywhere, which is where
Detroit is red, recalcitrant, panther,
Battlefield where the moon says I love you,
Naysayers, narcoleptics, no-names, nap-
Deprived, on time and out of time, queer—
The color of how we made it over empire,
Petulance, pneumonia, the nubs, neck pain,
Needles nosing in our nana’s uterus, 
Notices of eviction, Notes on the State
Of Virginia, and how negroes ain’t shit

But buckra-beaters, bears, butches, bull-
Daggers and welfare queens, sometimes, cute,
Coons, country, cow-tipped, downward dogs, earth-
Empty, flies, fungible, freaks, gutter-rough,
Hasslers, hijinks, handsome in harnesses, 
Ignorant as ice, juridical conundrums, 
Nappy kitchens, kaput, light and heavy
Work, madness’s martyr and minor
Mayhem, misled drapetomaniacs,
Nothing worth noting, a now made then,
Occult and organized as outlandish,
Pariahs, presidents, quarrelsome,
Roustabouts and randy, skit, scat, and shat,
Tercentennial and tough-going

Mulattoes, tragic and otherwise, 
Translated as any number of ain’ts,
Apocalypses, unaffiliated
And unctuous, various and varicose,
Vestibules of the new world—remnants 
Of light from a cigarette balanced 
Between the knuckles of James Baldwin’s hand, 
Leopard, the remnants of light exist,
Wayward as any many and less
Where the moon fields the night, and the shadow 
Of a boy running through an unplowed field 
Turns the Earth, turns the Earth round, gold, 
Back against the bedlam of being hunted by any 
X, Y, and Z; you, you who survived this Earth.



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