rich quatrone | a poem for amiri


i knew him
and loved him
and was honored to know him
and to call him friend
yet we didn’t hang out
we didn’t socialize
yes there was that time in paterson
when he invited me for a bite to eat
“are you hungry?”
as simple as that
and he and i and ginsberg and
allen’s stepmother edith
and my little son john
and my young wife thuy-duong
we sat at a bar in paterson
amiri and i watched the knicks
while laura boss, always true to
form, got ginsberg to autograph something.
and there were other times
i was with amiri
i even danced with amina once
at his home
but our friendship was not based
on such wonderful and, for me,
unforgettable moments
it was based on something
love actually
love and poetry and a relentless
attempt to speak the truth
to ferret it out
expose it
no matter how unpopular
no matter how readily one is condemned
for telling it
and no matter how awkwardly it is told
and we were joined by our righteous
indignation, you can call it anger,
i will call it fire
i will call it outrage
we were joined by this
although his was greater, brighter
than mine
after all
he was a black man
and had the need, the right, the
reason to be angrier
amiri spoke with absolutely no fear
for the love his people
he never let anyone of us, not me,
not any other white man or woman
not any black man or woman
forget the truth
what had happened
what slavery really was
what the bottoms of those slave ships
really were
he never let us forget for one moment
the endless pain and scourge and torment
and he never kidded us about what black americans
really feel beneath the social programs, the so
called “charity,” the smiling faces, the silences,
the politeness, the rudeness, he never let
any of us forget what was beneath it all
the searing rage and determination
to say fuck you to all of us who sat and sit
silently and give no heed and pay
no attention
while his people are herded into prisons
ignored in the schools
killed on the streets
and then told they have to write
poetry like john ashberry or billy collins
or the flood of ballless mfa “poets” who
rob us of the real poetry
who are tamed and neutered
and pass themselves off as the spokespeople
for our american culture
while young americans, blacks, reds, whites
whom amiri also loved, spoke for, defended,
while we were left out in the cold
these were and are the people of amiri baraka
the audience of amiri baraka
i love this man
and weep this morning not for him
because he has done his work brilliantly
oh, yes, he would say he had so much
more work to do
he told me in an email only months ago
there so much more to be done
in the poems
and in the streets
i weep for myself
and for my loss

rich quatrone
the day after amiri baraka died

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