Contemplating Extinction as Theme in Basquiat’s “Pez Dispenser, 1984”

for Malcolm Latiff Shabazz

yellow roses in my mother’s room    mean
I’m sorry   sadness comes in      generations
inheritance           split   flayed    displayed
better than all the others

crown                                    weight

the undue burden of the truly exceptional
most special of your kind, a kind of fire

persisting unafraid      saffron bloom
to remind us of fragility    or beauty       or revolution

to ponder darkly             in the bright
the fate of young kings

the crimes for which          there are no apologies.


Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Kay Robinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wrote this poem shortly after the murder of Malcolm Latiff Shabazz, Malcolm X's grandson, in Mexico City. I was struck by the fact that three generations—Malcom X, his—Malcolm X, his father, and his grandson had all met tragic and premature ends and by the ways his mother, his wife, Betty Shabazz, and his daughters were affected in tandem. Weighing the consequences of genius, of possessing a mind that speaks outward toward the world, is also a mind that sometimes cannot rest in a world where that is still an offense punishable by death. This recalls the work, life, and death of Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose dialogue with the past, present, and future we may just be beginning to actually decipher. The poem also calls the reader to the personal interiority of the speaker, bringing attention to the fact that the fates of these iconic figures are also shared by many lesser known Black men and women who wrestle with the familial consequences of state violence.”
Kristina Kay Robinson