I never asked about your father.And I won't pretend to understandanything about removing a name,or assuming one. Sound, I know.And how a certain laughter, too,is hand-sewn and set to memory,like braiding, or the way someonelearns how to bead a mask. Oh howwe high-step beneath our paintedumbrellas down the dim-lit avenuesof the mind. Think of those whomust have loved Ali simply becausehe was brash; muscle shifting likesmoked glass underwater, the darkand ever-widening eclipse of his mouth,his hector, his braggadocio, a blackand curling sweetness in the earlike a caramelized orange. Thinkof those who loved, too, the swiftcacophony, the quick falling consonantsof his so-called slave name. His fathermust have known before the press;Ali, Ali, how the name must have setsomething unnamed adrift. You see,I don't own my sons, but I'm sure nowI've mortgaged the brightest cornerswhere I danced until I couldn't breatheand I sang without thinking. Howcould they ever know, what is therefor any of us to understand? [End Page 475]
Affirmative Action Babies
Well, isn't this the worldyou wanted, where the red-tiledroofs and stucco don't remindanyone of the conqueror,and the wealthy are so farremoved even from the storyof money that theirs becomesa politics shaped of pity,or better, a dark geographyof need, where the body standstransmutable as a molluskor weathering the redbay ambrosiabeetle's assault on a conifer.Of course, our parents say,we're living our own reward,as if earning is earningand our education, a handstamp,an entry onto this bright island. [End Page 476]
Amaud Jamaul Johnson is the author of Darktown Follies (Tupelo, 2013) and Red Summer, winner of the Dorset Prize. Born and raised in Compton, California, his honors include Wallace Stegner and Cave Canem fellowships. His poetry appears in Harvard Review, Eleven Eleven, and Gulf Coast. He teaches in the graduate program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.