V. Wukuada

for Freddie Carlos Kweku “Pepper” Gray
 Wukuada 1989–Kwasiada 2015

Raheem tells the story best,
of how Freddie got his nickname.
              It was after football practice
              in the Pop Warner

peewee league. Freddie was the same
even back then, small as hell, quick too.
              Even quicker
              with his tongue.

During the last play of the scrimmage,
Freddie broke a 30-yard run, wiggled
              through 3 tackles, and used
              his signature spin-move

to sneak into the end-zone
for the score. He couldn’t stop
             jawing at all the players he’d juked.
             Especially, Chaz who froze

when Freddie put the spin on him.
Yo, Chaz, your uniform lookin’ extra wrinkled today.
             When you get home be sure to ask yo mama
             to put it through the spin-cycle.

Cortez tells the story best of how Freddie
kept his nickname, “Pepper.” The dogdays of 2014
             had hit West Baltimore hard, fleecing
             the air with gummy gusts

from the Chesapeake. You could feel the brackish
mist tattooing your skin. Freddie had just
             finished working on his van, nursing
             the engine fan and coolant fluids.

He then heard the pied soundtrack of Mister Softee
     ‘round the corner, off of Lorraine and Greenmount.
         Just like that, kids gushed from Gilmor porches
                gunning to best their friends in line.

Freddie had had a good week. His van repairs, minimal. He
       politely waded through the brimming line. Smiling at the
incredulous looks from kids ready to condemn his breach of
                                         no-cutting-in-the-ice-cream-line decorum.

He smiled. Pulling a slim wad from his left pant-pocket. He
looked back to the eager patrons behind him and winked. He
whispered to the kid closest to him, what’s your favorite flavor?
         Satisfied with the response of Banana Twist,

he countered, Aight, I’ll grab it for ya, first tell me a joke.
Then the next kid, and the next, and just like that
         he purchased ice cream
         for the whole block: “Pepper.”

From Saltwater Demands a Psalm by Kweku Abimbola. Copyright © 2023 by Kweku Abimbola. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.