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malcolm friend

Afro-Seattleite Fragment #19: Ode To Gabriel Teodros, or Mixed Kid Learns to Sing

ConversationsWithStrangers.jpg

                          —after Rita Dove

We both know it never stops: the alarm
going off
that lets everyone know we don’t fit.
You say you were too light to be Black.
For me, it was Brandon, in the middle or our pew.

Telling everyone in Church I couldn’t be Black
’cause I’m mixed. Back when he was still my friend.
Didn’t matter my dad is half-Jamaican
like his mom. Too much salsa singing

on his skin, a thicket in its own making
that kept the words caught in my throat
when I had to hold Brandon’s hand
during prayer and that’s when I learned

each phrase returns. In college Tariq
says I wouldn’t understand Chief Keef
’cause I’m not really Black and he ain’t even
that much darker than me. I had to finish

the last lap in Mario Kart with nothing
but the stupid Rainbow Road flutes whistling at us
and I’m thinking this is why we turn to song.
No chord is safe ’cause we ain’t never been.

Dissect instruments and turntable alive and the notes
stack themselves onto
our skin. Bleed black
onto us. Name us something new ’cause old blood
never took us, our half-breed cries—

There were no wretched sounds. The music
pulls higher and higher.


As of 2016: Malcolm Friend is a poet and CantoMundo fellow originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, WA. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also the recipient of a 2014 Talbot International Award and Backbone Press’s 2016 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl Poetry.

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