It is National Poetry Month. I am indulging myself with one of my favored poets and poems by Audre Lorde. This was written in the late 1970s, published in 1978 by W. W. Norton & Co. It requires no commentary from me.
To the poets and poems that have preserved me.
Eulogy for Alvin Frost
Black men bleeding to death inside themselves
inside their fine strong bodies
inside their stomachs
inside their heads
as large as a dum-dum bullet
eaten away from the inside
death at 37.
Windows are holes to let in the light
in Newark airport at dawn I read
of your death by illumination
the carpets are dark and the windows are smoky
to keep out the coming sun
I plummet down through a hole in the carpet
seeking immediate ground for my feet to embrace
my toes have no wisdom no strength
they curl in a spasm of grief
of fury uprooted.
It is dawn in the airport and nothing is open
I cannot even plant you a tree
the earth is still frozen
I write a card saying
machines grew the flowers I send
to throw into your grave.
On occasion we passed in the hallway
usually silent and hurried but fighting
on the same side.
You congratulate me on my latest book
in a Black Caucus meeting
you are distinguished
by your genuine laughter
and you might have been my long lost
second grade seat-mate named Alvin
grown into some other magic
but we never had time enough
just to talk.
From an airplane heading south
the earth grows slowly greener
we pass the first swimming pool
filled with blue water
this winter is almost over
I don’t want to write a natural poem
I want to write about the unnatural death of a young man at 37
eating himself for courage in secret
until he vanished
bleeding to death inside.
He will be eulogized in echoes
by a ghost of those winters
that haunt morning people
wearing away our days like smiling water
in southern pools
leaving psychic graffiti
clogging the walls of our hearts
carving out ulcers inside our stomachs
from which we explode
or bleed to death.
The day after your burial
John Wade slid off his chair
onto the carpet in the student cafeteria
and died there on the floor
between Abnormal Psychology and a half-finished
cup of black coffee.
Cafeteria guards rushed him out
the back door between classes
and we never knew until a week later
that he had even been ill.
I am tired of writing memorials to black men
whom I was on the brink of knowing
weary like fig trees
weighted like crepe myrtle
with all the black substance poured into earth
before earth is ready to bear.
I am tired of holy deaths
of the ulcerous illuminations the cerebral accidents
the psychology of the oppressed
where mental health is the ability
knowledge of the world’s cruelty.
Dear Danny who does not know me
writing to you for your father
whom I barely knew
except at meetings where he was
by his genuine laughter
and his kind bright words
Danny son of Alvin
whenever it hurts
remember to laugh
even when you do battle
stay away from coffee and fried plastic
even when it looks like chicken
and grow up
black and strong and beautiful
but not too soon.
We need you
and there are so few