On the Diversity of Black Identity

A Black poet answers the questions you’re too afraid to ask.
poem-hip-hop.jpg

“No, I’m not a studio gangster brainstorming street beef scenarios with an agent, or rhyming in the booth about imaginary riches.”

Photo by Ewholomeyovwi Jeroro.

What’s my street name?
No, I was never gunned down several times.
Yes, my name is Alan.
No, I never dove for cover behind parked cars
during a drive-by. No my life never flashed
before me like a hologram.

Oh? You think I look like 50 Cent?
My rap sheet only exists in the minds
of those who shutter when I ask for directions
or say, “excuse me,” when they block the sidewalks.
No, I never had a record deal.
I did get invited to read at a poetry festival
in San Francisco. No, I’m not a studio gangster
brainstorming street beef scenarios with an agent,
or rhyming in the booth about imaginary riches.
I did write a poem once about mouth-shaped orchids
and their aromatic kisses.
I never took anyone’s life, or made anyone
give mouth-to-barrel resuscitation
to a loaded weapon. I did almost cry the day
my niece was born.
Huh?
No, my battle scars came from climbing trees and
playing with fire.
Oh? You think I look like Olajuwon?
No, I never had dreams of ballin’ in the NBA.
I dream all the time about one of my collections
winning the National Book Award.
I’ve never knuckled up with guys who hid
switchblades under their tongues.
Never been knocked unconscious,
left lying on a club floor.

Never bought a hoodie—wait—I did buy a hoodie once.
But I never bought rolling paper or reefer.
Never bought blunts, used box cutters or brass knuckles.
Never bought anything beginning with the letter “B”
except books, Blistex, and a Bible—oh yeah—and Blow Pops.
I never inhaled marijuana shotguns blown
from Death’s lips. Never wrote a love song to a firearm.
I did write a love poem for an aunt I lost to cancer.
I guess my presence intimidates. But
that wasn’t me handcuffed, sitting on the curb,
while police searched my car.
Oh, you rap, too?
That nice, huh?
Oh, you got tattoos?
That street, huh?
I think I know you.
Weren’t you in the movie Jackass?

“Sure, You Can Ask Me About Hip-Hop,” a poem from Point Blank by Alan King, Silver Birch Press, 2016. Published with permission of the author and publisher.

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