malcolm friend

Failed Blues

Write about Black stuff.

Write about the hood,
and ballin’ and drive-bys
and drug dealers—
make sure you remove
the apostrophe from ballin
when you write about ballin.

Drop some bars.
Pac or Biggie
or Kendrick or Cole.

 Write the word nigga.
(Is your mixed breed ass
even allowed to use it?)

Write it as many times as seems natural
(you know natural means excess):

  Nigga Nigga Nigga Nigga
Nigga Nigga

You Black so listen
to white folks say nigga—

tell you they didn’t mean you.
Don’t nobody ever mean you.
Jumped in oil, deep-fried yourself
past the point of recognition.
You just unknown body
floating downriver.
Other even to Other.
No promise to fetch your body,
drain your lungs,
bury you proper.
That would be
claiming you.

Write about that.
Then repeat.

 It ain’t blues
if you don’t repeat.

The Blues Man Talks Shit To Malcolm


Don’t talk about blackness
like you Black.
Save me your broad nose,
nectar-laden lips, and nappy roots—
What you know about this?

Miss me with that
My mom descends from slaves bullshit.
I look like I give two fucks
about your mama?
Huh, lightbright,
redbone, decaf negro,
house slave?
Ain’t no dip in your step.
You blues with no grain,
blackspeak with no swag.

You think this your birthright
’cause a Black woman bore you?
Mimic our mannerisms
and vernacular
all you like;
you just minstrel show
with a Spanish twang.
Stick to your dale’s,
your wepa’s,
your compaí’s.

Ask yourself:
you really want to claim
this body?
Extension of the poplar tree,
we grow leaves
from fingertip branches.
Flowers bloom in our throats—
where you think blues come from,
The soul?
Nah. It’s always been
this ravaged, leaf-pricked body.

The Bomba Man Talks Shit To Malcolm


You rice and beans
without the onion.
You chuleta
with no adobo.
You bomba
with no cuá.
Puñeta, you just an anglo
with brown skin
and kinky roots—
don’t think your roots
mean you owed shit.

With your I don’t dance salsa,
your We don’t have money for Puerto Rico,
your My mom doesn’t speak Spanish,
your Yo sólo hablo bits and pieces ass.

Fly Puerto Rican flags,
call the island Borinquen,
cook as much bacalao as you want
but in the end
you as Puerto Rican
as West Side Story,
as Puerto Rican as Vanna White.
No bomba, no plena.
You the fading paint
on old shacks in La Perla,
the planes jetting from San Juan
every hour.

You treat your Boricua
like excessive rum:
down it for the buzz,
puke it out the next morning,
go about your day.

Mamabicho, you don’t know
this dispossessed homeland,
don’t know orgullo means
shouting wepa through the vergüenza
of you vomit-stained breath.

Lamento Borincano

        —after Rafael Hernández

“yo soy tu hijo, / de una migración, / pecado forzado”

        Tato Laviera, “nuyorican”

Sale        loco de contento        con su cargamento

       para la ciudad

                                para la ciudad

Dad is 2 or 3, carried by abuela
through hallways with the stench of bacalao.

He smiles at the smell, or maybe he cries—
I don’t really know, can’t know. What I do:

Dad will mythologize this city, tell stories
like how he made of fun of other people’s Spanish,

the white woman who mistook excitada for emocionada.
This is how Dad is Puerto Rican.

 Todo        todo está desierto        y el pueblo está lleno

       de necesidad

                        de necesidad

Every couple winters Dad visited abuela’s family,
picked mangos from the tree in his abuela’s yard.

He swears the fruit was sweeter, that he complained
the entire plane ride back to New York.

But he never went back. Never thought to take his family.
Hopes his bedtime stories were enough to replace coquís

singing lullabies—reasons he never had either,
had to find another definition of boricua.

Y triste     el jíbarito va   pensando así

             diciendo así        llorando así

                                                    por el camino

Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened
if abuela hadn’t died here, if the cancer hadn’t

rotted her inside-out, killed her like
one of her mother’s overripe mangos.

I wonder if that’s how Dad learned this climate
wasn’t made to cultivate us, that the mangos

would always be sweeter allá, over those waters.
I wonder if that’s when he decided he wouldn’t

go back.

Borinquen        ahora que tú te mueres

                con tus pesares

déjame que te cante yo también

Ode To Daddy Yankee, or Movement Backward from “Sígueme y te sigo” To “Gasolina”

—after Dorianne Laux

“The fact that the internationalization of reggaeton was spearheaded by a white, lower-class, handsome Puerto Rican male—Daddy Yankee—underscores the intricate idiosyncrasies of a genre…”

—Félix Jiménez, “(W)rapped in Foil: Glory at Twelve Words a Minute”

“Sígueme y te sigo” is Daddy Yankee’s thirty-second single,
first from the album King Daddy 2. The song layers elements of cumbia
over the traditional dembow of reggaetón. This is an idiosyncrasy
of the genre. Guitar riffs and accordion flares make the drumkit afterthought,
echo of insistent survival. I begin thinking about the snare drum
past, how imperative has always been to drown drums in drift.
If you go back far enough you can hear the hugeness of the drum,
the first DJs who made claustrophobic discotecas shake
under the pressure of a Jamaican riddim and the whole club danced.
Maelo and Cortijo sitting in front of a piecemeal Santurce house
pounding bomba until barril’s percussion pumped through cracked concrete,
before they had to drown it in horns to book gigs at the Escambrón.
And tell me what I didn’t know, that Yankee’s dad played bomba in Loíza.
An idiosyncrasy of the genre. For this handsome white male
to be so versed in drum. And why wouldn’t he? The way the dembow
used to ricochet through his bullet wounds and his limp was swag,
tricked out tumbao. And I admit that the only reason I care
is because in 7th grade Eric Floyd sang “Gasolina” almost every day.
Idiosyncratic that Eric—Black—sang this handsome white male’s song.
This was the same year my family moved out of my childhood apartment
and I no longer had to sleep in its cramped living room,
the dinner table just a few feet away from bed.
There were nights I listened to older boys talk shit
right outside the front window until something popped off
and someone got popped and when Eric squealed dame más gasolina
I thought the dembow’s clap sounded like fists clapping on jaws.
Idiosyncratic that Yankee, handsome white male, probably knew
before me. Probably sat in a cramped Villa Kennedy living room
listening to Maelo. Clapped along to the drum, mouthed sonero-speech
until he could hold it all in his mouth. And of course I hear it now
underneath all the synth he spat back: zúmbale-el-mambo-pa’-que-
mis-gatas-prendan-los-motores, zúmbale-el-mambo-pa’-que-mis-gatas-
prendan-los-motores, que-se-preparen-que-lo-que-viene-es-pa’-que-le-den.
Every breath rushed out until it crashes like dembow or maybe
a body onto concrete in the middle of a fight.

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-1-36-17-amMalcolm Friend is a poet and CantoMundo fellow originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. 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 Respuestamagazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Word Riot, , Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, andPretty Owl Poetry.




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