Thursday, August 24, 2023

"For Malcolm, A Year After" by Etheridge Knight


Compose for Red a proper verse;
Adhere to foot and strict iamb;
Control the burst of angry words
Or they might boil and break the dam.
Or they might boil and overflow
And drench me, drown me, drive me mad.
So swear no oath, so shed no tear,
And sing no song blue Baptist sad.
Evoke no image, stir no flame,
And spin no yarn across the air.
Make empty anglo tea lace words—
Make them dead white and dry bone bare.

Compose a verse for Malcolm man,
And make it rime and make it prim.
The verse will die — as all men do —
but not the memory of him!
Death might come singing sweet like C,
Or knocking like the old folk say,
The moon and stars may pass away,
But not the anger of that day.

Source of the text - Etheridge Knight, Born of a Woman: New and Selected Poems.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980, page 67.

TJB: Formal verse as anger management.  In simple, elegant octosyllabic couplets, the poet admonishes himself to make the elegy proper, empty, prim.

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