A Poem I Like #9


A Poem I Like #9

by Javon Johnson (an excerpt from full poem)
Baby girl,
remember that morning
about two weeks ago?
You looked at me.
your eyes were so brown,
you asked
"Daddy, how come
you didn't drink all
of your coffee today?"
I didn't want to
tell you it got cold.
So instead I took your finger,
swirled it in my cup,
drank every last drop,
and then told you,
"It needed a little more brown
sugar." Remember how big you smiled?

Today these men
will try to take your smile.
They will say they assassinated
Malcolm X, a Muslim extremist,
a civil right leader. You
will say they murdered
your father, who
will never see you graduate
or get married if you so choose,
who will not be there
when they ask "Who
gives this woman away?" I
don't want to give you away.
I'm sorry
I will never hold your
children, will never know
their names.

But today these men with their rope
and shotgun justice will come
hunting for a monster.
Baby girl, show the world
how they killed a human being. """

~ ~ ~

It is powerful the way this poem speaks from the perspective of El-Hajj Malik Shabbaz and his daughter. Here, in my opinion, the word choice and stylistic line breaks stand foremost upon the weight of the poem's perspective. We will never know if this conversation ever played out truly as described....it's possible. The audacity of the poem to pretend the be their words couples with the readers image of these figures to produce an intimate sense of yea..they mighta said that . That's a potent literary device, and Johnson uses it well here.

Literary devices aside, this poems makes we reconsider our notion of heroes. Heroes play a critical role in the motivation of a movement and in the vitality of a people. No doubt. Though, I wonder if we elevate heroes to the point of creating false gods, robbing valiant men and women of their humanity, and subconsciously deeming herodom as something unattainable for ourselves.

1) False gods.
We all worship something. Whether or not we subscribe to religion, submission is an inevitability of human nature. There are some who consider themselves free, when really they've enslaved themselves to their own ever-changing whims. There are some who consider themselves free, when really they've pledged servitude to some vague notion of freedom. What does freedom even mean? ...I digress. Heroes serve a purpose in the society, and most certainly in revolution. They deserve commendation for this. However, it is a fine line the respect we allocate our heros and the submission of worship. Navigating that balance is especially difficult when one is not clear on who their God is. Any hero worth regard certainly does not strive to be mistakenly worshipped.

2) Heroes robbed of humanity.
When we consider our heroes to be gods, it follows that we have stripped them of their humanity. This poem makes that vividly apparent for me. My whole life, I have understood Malcolm X as the incredible man and revolutionary that he was. I have read through details of his life and attended lecture dissecting his different movements. He is a role model in many ways. Somehow in the midst of all this however, I forget he was man. He was father. He was a person. I am not sure if I ever really considered the reality of El-Hajj Malik Shabbaz needed to console his daughter in the face of a difficult childhood, or of his laments at knowing he will miss many pivotal moments of her life, or of his worries of his humanity being something erased. I'm not sure. And that makes me uncomfortable.

3) Herodom unattainable.
When we relegate the acheivements of great men and women to be those of nonhuman beings, we tell ourselves that we are incapable of such acheivements. That is a problem. Many men and women have come before and affected our world in incredible ways. However, the world is still a mess (spoiler: it will always be a mess) and we have an opportunity--rather, a duty--to heal problems of today. If we do not believe that we are capable of this....we will never try.
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