Download document

KNIGHT, Etheridge

For Malcolm, A Year After

Compose for Red a proper verse;

Adhere to foot and strict iamb;

Control the burst of angry words

Or they might boil and break the dam.

Or they might boil and overflow

And drench me, drown me, drive me mad.

So swear no oath, so shed no tear,

And sing no song blue Baptist sad.

Evoke no image, stir no flame,

And spin no yarn across the air.

Make empty anglo tea lace words—

Make them dead white and dry bone bare.

Compose a verse for Malcolm man,

And make it rime and make it prim.

The verse will die—as all men do—

but not the memory of him!

Death might come singing sweet like C,

Or knocking like the old folk say,

The moon and stars may pass away,

But not the anger of that day.

He Sees Through Stone

He sees through stone

he has the secret eyes

this old black one

who under prison skies

sits pressed by the sun

against the western wall

his pipe between purple gums

the years fall

like overripe plums

bursting red flesh

on the dark earth

his time is not my time

but I have known him

in a time gone

he led me trembling cold

into the dark forest

taught me the secret rites

to make it with a woman

to be true to my brothers

to make my spear drink

the blood of my enemies

now black cats circle him

flash white teeth

snarl at the air

mashing green grass beneath

shining muscles

ears peeling his words

he smiles

he knows

the hunt the enemy

he has the secret eyes

he sees through stone

Apology for Apostasy?

Soft songs, like birds, die in poison air

So my song cannot now be candy.

Anger rots the oak and elm; roses are rare,

Seldom seen through blind despair.

And my murmur cannot be heard

Above the din and damn. The night is full

Of buggers and bastards; no moon or stars

Light the sky. And my candy is deferred

Till peacetime, when my voice shall be light,

Like down, lilting in the air; then shall I

Sing of beaches, white in the magic sun,

And of moons and maidens at midnight.

Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane

Hard Rock / was / “known not to take no shit

From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:

Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above

His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut

Across his temple and plowed through a thick

Canopy of kinky hair.

The WORD / was / that Hard Rock wasn’t a mean nigger

Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,

Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity

Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,

Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,

Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.

And we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep,

To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak

Of his exploits: “Man, the last time, it took eight

Screws to put him in the Hole.” “Yeah, remember when he

Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?” “He set

The record for time in the Hole--67 straight days!”

“Ol Hard Rock! man, that’s one crazy nigger.”

And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit

A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came, to see if Hard Rock was really tame.

A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch

And didn’t lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock

From before shook him down and barked in his face.

And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and looked silly,

His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock

Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name,

We told ourselves that he had just wised up,

Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long,

And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.

He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things

We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do,

The fears of years, like a biting whip,

Had cut deep bloody grooves

Across our backs.