When the Famous Black Poet speaks, I understand that his is the same unnervingly slow rambling method of getting from A to B that I hated in my father, my father who always told me don't shuffle. The Famous Black Poet is speaking of the dark river in the mind that runs thick with the heroes of color, Jackie R., Bessie, Billie, Mr. Paige, anyone who knew how to sing or when to run. I think of my grandmother, said to have dropped dead from the evil eye, of my lesbian aunt who saw cancer and a generally difficult future headed her way in the still water of her brother's commode. I think of voodoo in the bottoms of soup-cans, and I want to tell the poet that the blues is not my name, that Alabama is something I cannot use in my business. He is so like my father, I don't ask the Famous Black Poet, afterwards, to remove his shoes, knowing the inexplicable black and pink I will find there, a cut gone wrong in five places. I don't ask him to remove his pants, since that too is known, what has never known a blade, all the spaces between, where we differ . . . I have spent years tugging between my legs, and proved nothing, really. I wake to the sheets I kicked aside, and examine where they've failed to mend their own creases, resembling some silken obstruction, something pulled from my father's chest, a bad heart, a lung, the lung of the Famous Black Poet saying nothing I want to understand.
From In the Blood by Carl Phillips, published by Northeastern University Press. © 1992 by Carl Phillips. Reprinted with the permission of Northeastern University Press. All rights reserved.
Carl Phillips is the author of several books including Pale Colors in a Tall Field (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) .He is Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.
Date Published: 1992-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/passing