Malcolm Friend

Why I Can’t Watch Any Videos Where Black People Are Attacked

I can’t even watch Glory all the way through. Skip the scene where Denzel is whipped—can’t remember it’s not actually Denzel, not his scars on his back, the beauty of make-up. Single tear slow rolling down his cheek the beauty of make-believe. I don’t like to play make-believe with this very real body, something about seeing pain inflicted on someone who looks like me, who I’m trained to imagine looks like me. Imagine for a second your lover watches someone who looks like you murdered, begs to move somewhere they won’t kill us and you can’t imagine that place exists. Every night you sleep with corpses in your bed, see your face in every one of them, wonder how your bed became coffin, mass grave. I keep hearing these videos are important, necessary—see friends posting them. Saying we need them. How else will people know what’s happening? I want to say I already know. I always have. Why can’t you tell?

Because the Animal Has Always Been Human To Me (Or Maybe the Human Has Always Been Animal)

            Freshman year, my high school’s Olympic Week has a “Hip Hop Day”

The mostly white student body jokes about dressing like hoodrats

                      asks the first Black student they can find for an extra basketball jersey

                                              or durag and

in Season 1 of Friday Night Lights,

            Smash Williams is called a junkyard dog

                                  by one of his coaches

                       Only an animal could be as ferocious

As he is on the field and

            it’s 1960 1970 1980 1987 1988 2006 2009 2010 2011 2013 2014 20—

and a banana is thrown at a black soccer player

                       in England Scotland Spain France Turkey Mexico Russia Italy Germany

                                              [Insert Name of Country Here] and

            in 2014 I’m in Spain and a friend’s bag is stolen while we aren’t looking

When we ask someone nearby if he saw anything

                       he says the guy was a moro: como tú. he points,

                                                           his finger a leash choking the Spanish from my throat and

in 2016 a student of mine writes a racist paper

details how Black people have to resist their primal urge

                       to use vernacular in order to advance as a people and

            every morning I greet the animal in the mirror

Its eyes lock on me, fixated, hunting, clawing out of the glass

                       It growls at me, calls me every name I’ve never been called

            Says you monkey, you dog, you hoodrat, you sloth.

                                  Says you nigger don’t you know I’ve always been here

on the surface, your precious little mouthpiece?

Failed Bomba


We them
                  cane canecutters,
                  them peloteros,
                  them goya-bean-eating,


¿Y qué decimos?
                  Pa’l carajo.

We just
We don’t know
                  no better.
Can’t speak English
                  govern ourselves.

Pero we love our bomba
                  you keep saying we
pero tú no eres real—
                  take out barriles, drum loudest,
                  drown out anyone who calls out
                  your mimicry, self-inflicted bullet wounds
                  to match Filiberto or maybe Daddy Yankee.
How long you practice
those notes, anglo,
                  that acento?

Think we won’t throw you in the ocean?
                  Let the tiburones pull you apart?
                  Just keep playing and you’ll see.

Malcolm FriendMalcolm Friend is a poet and CantoMundo fellow originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also the recipient of a 2014 Talbot International Award and Backbone Press’s 2016 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Word Riot, , Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl Poetry.

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