This tequila morn
only we winos awake
to breathe the scents of petals
withered from a yellow rose...

So Plato had condemned us—
some two Millennia ago—
my poet brother,
my brother poet,
not of my flesh,
not even a micro-second close
to the same life-experience…

Your hands and feet
shackled beneath the pterodactyl wings
of the skyscraper shadows
that overlord the fickle trade winds
that cast Zong ship slaves
into the fathoms of Atlantic oblivion
and that now asphyxiate
all those who lurk in the toxic fumes
of the urban swamps below
in the everlasting quest
for pieces of eight...

Ade, in the catarrh
of these coughing blizzards
I feel your suffering
as ancient as the diverse paths
that emerge omnidirectional
from the Universal Energy
along the now rancid tributaries
of the Niger, the Odo-Oya…

Your suffering as inscrutable
as the Yoruba mysteries
of your chosen name…
and as street-wise
as your long forgotten
Anglo-Saxon name
that was once tattooed at birth
upon your forearm
yet so painstakingly etched out
with razors dipped in the acid rains…

Your suffering…

Once pen marks paper
marked is our blood
mocked by the Republic
for which it stands
One Nation, Under God,
In… creasingly… Divisible…

Predestined by Official Decree:
There is no room for Poets in this Empire.

For a Poet is nothing
but a poor pathetic creature―
a wino, a druggie, a junkie, an addict—
a tagger who spray-paints the graffiti
of lies, revenge, rebellion, despair...
and lies again…

And in the belief of this Platonic Lie—
and Plato, himself a poet,
spread that Lie—
We are forced to walk the plank:
Ridiculed… if not totally ignored...
Persecuted… if not blacklisted...
And perhaps... tortured... assassinated...
like Lorca... like Neruda...

Or perhaps transmogrified
into that Living Lie
even if not smeared or censored…
tempted by Visions of Cloud Nine
Soul-Blood transfusing
with China White or Black Mud
in the ultimate quest
for instant Transcendence…

Or else, under the Curse
of that Platonic Lie,
a Poet might walk the plank alone
in a sad raggy tune of weary blues
so as not to be eaten

Ade, your words cried out to us
and demanded that we shatter
the concrete that cements our feet
so that we could then swim
into the vibrant non-stop chords
of that River of Jazz…
that Be-ing Jazz…
that vital infusion of Jazz…

With Davis, there are many more “Miles Ahead”…
“Kind of Blues”, “Blues in Green”, “Lift to the Gallows”...
And with Mingus, You are “The Man Who Never Sleeps”…
You are “Blues and Roots”... With Parker, You are “The Bird”...
And with Coleman, “The Jungle is a Skyscraper”...
Definitely, “The Question is Tomorrow”...

And although Harlem never taught you to swim
that day... spontaneous...
we would bask in the incandescent glory
of the dawn…
Never again to be willing Slaves...

Ade, your words throbbed
in these school children's hearts
and probed far deeper
than the needle and its greasy spoon!!!

Ade, your words danced
upon the fire hydrants
and brown brick tenements
of this Harlem
upon traffic jammed streets
where neither ambulance
nor hearse can cross
where bricks and rocks
are tossed upon the rooftops of cars
aimed at a gang who raids
the local shoe shine parlor
with pistols pointed—
a front for teenage junkies
who snake down streets
porting plaid pajamas
and the welts of their habits,
like the cattle brands
of the slave market…

Your family cries out, “Duck down!
Get to the backroom!!!”
My white Mask of Death must not be shown…

In this Harlem without your words
there is no rhyme nor reason...
The pigeon cooing of portable beat boxes
whines within this taxi city
and provides meager sustenance
for this un-living
moment to malnourished moment
never sure of the next…

You once told me
how your father
was blown away
by a street vulture —
a bullet to his skull
like a rat
in a back-alley parking lot—
for not even a handful
of crumpled

And yet no one, no one,
expected that night
of your roulette madness...
No one expected
that you too would be blown away...
And by your own hand...

And no one suspected
that your Son, your Son,
fast asleep, far far away,
would dream a bullet pierced his own palm
and a yellow rose would blossom
where rivulets of blood
eroded the floor boards
like the torrent of a dam bursting...
He saw himself like you
in a flood drowning,
then buried alive,
the dirt shoveled upon his skull.
he awoke his weeping mother
who could not console him:

"No—my son—your nightmare was not real."

And now it is his soul
who is diving even deeper
into those Rivers of Jazz…
that Be-ing Jazz…
that Vital Infusion of Jazz…

Immersed in Kuti’s “Zombie”… Monk’s “Dream”…
Kollington’s “Austerity Measures”…
“Koko“ is revolutionized by Charlie Parker…
after swinging to the Duke. Then reborn Ayinde
to the talking drums of King Sunny Adé…
Coltrane’s “Ascension” … “A Love Supreme”…

I stand upon this hallowed turf,
this moonscape of tombstones,
astounded by the absurdity
of the push-button recording
of a three-gun salute
and sour army bugle
as it snorts taps
at your GI funeral,
your hallowed right
to a GI funeral…

Ade!!! Did you truly expect
that chamber to explode?

Locust of tractors buzz
in the background…
Livid... we weep beside
your closed casket
unable to witness the fierce glance
of your jaguar eyes.

No poems… No words…

Our flowers wilt in disgust:
Your grave is not even prepared for you—
You who once painted yourself
Hammer and Sickle Red,
and then Black as a Panther.
You who would have preferred
to have been buried in a clown suit
than to be mimicked
by those Christian ministers,
absolutely un-able
to utter the incantation
of your Yoruba name...

Let alone utterly un-able
to comprehend the fiery cadence
of your blasphemous words:

The protestation of a Poet
crushed like an alley cat
beneath the skyscraper foundations
of the Empire....


The original version of this poem, Weep Harlem for Your King is Dead!, was first published by E. Ethelbert Miller in Sol, Washington, DC, 1980.