Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Watch Us Elocute

June 18, 2015

So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Bublé & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around

in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present

in few strokes—when, into the room walks
this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman obviously

from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background
in nonprofit arts management. & without much coaxing

from me, really, none at all, she whoops, Gosh, you’re just
so well spoken! & I’m like, Duh, Son. So then we both

clink glasses, drink to whatever that was. Naturally,
not till the next morning & from under a scalding

shower do I shout: Yes, ma’am. Some of us does talk good!
to no one in particular but the drain holes. No one

but the off-white tile grout, the loofah’s yellow pores.
Because I come from a long braid of dangerous men

who learned to talk their way out of small compartments.
My own Spartan walls lined with their faces—Ellison

& Ellington. Langston, Robeson. Frederick Douglass
above the bench press in the gym, but to no avail—

Without fail, when I’m at the Cross Eyed Cricket
(That’s a real diner. It’s in Indiana.) & some pimple-

face ginger waiter lingers nervous & doth protest
too much, it’s always Sir, you ever been told you sound like

Bryant Gumbel? Which is cute. Because he’s probably
ten. But then sometimes I sit in his twin’s section, & he

once predicted I could do a really wicked impression
of Wayne Brady. I know for a fact his name is Jim.

I’ve got Jim’s eighteenth birthday blazed on my bedside
calendar. It reads: Ass whippin’. Twelve a.m.—& like

actually, that woman from the bimonthly
CV-building gala can kick rocks. Because she’s old

enough to be my mother, & educated, if only
by her own appraisal, but boy. Dear boys. Sweet

freckled What’s-His-Face & Dipshit Jim,
we can still be play friends. Your folks didn’t explain

I’d take your trinket praise as teeny blade—
a trillionth micro-aggression, against & beneath

my skin. Little buddies, that sore’s on me.
I know what you mean. That I must seem, “safe.”

But let’s get this straight. Let’s call a spade a—
Poor choice of words. Ali, I might not

be. Though, at the very least, a heavyweight
throwback: Nat King Cole singing silky

& subliminal about the unforgettable model
minority. NBC believed N at & his eloquence

could single-handedly defeat Jim Crow.
Fact: They were wrong. Of this I know

& not because they canceled his show
in ’57 after one season, citing insufficient

sponsorship. Or because, in 1948,
the KKK flamed a cross on his LA lawn.

But because yesterday, literally yesterday,
some simple American citizen—throwback

supremacist Straight Outta Birmingham, 1963—
aimed his .45 & emptied the life from nine

black believers at an AME church in Charleston.
Among them a pastor-senator, an elderly tenor,

beloved librarian, a barber with a business degree
who adored his mom & wrote poems about

the same age as me. I’m sorry. No, friends.
None of us is safe.

Credit


From Silencer (Mariner Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Author


Marcus Wicker

Marcus Wicker is the author of Silencer (Mariner Books, 2017). He teaches at the University of Memphis.

Date Published: 2017-10-02

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/watch-us-elocute