Dr. John Carlos recently appeared, along with Dave Zirin, on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. The show is definitely worth viewing on her site. I ran track in junior and senior high school and I wrote poetry. These Olympian runners helped shaped my consciousness. When I recite my poem “Man Within the Boy,” in which I reference the historic protest of John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics, in the back of my mind I wonder how many in the audience know what I am talking about. Zirin’s recent “Fist of Freedom” article provides a good overview.
The poem “Man Within the Boy” is a story about my relationship with my father, which I tell by wrapping it in what I call “poetic memoir.” My intention is to simultaneously capture the internal storms swirling inside my family as well as the turbulence in the external “world” that my parents tried to “protect” me from by wielding religion as if it were a shield.
Man Within the Boy
by Michael Warr
…for there is no man that does not sin….
– 1 Kings 8:46
I stumbled on unsuspected flesh,
a woman wrapped in black fishnet,
looking up from pages of a private
detective magazine buried deep in
in his station wagon’s sunken trunk,
under cans of oil and tarnished tools.
My flash of fascination lost in loyalty
to the secret him, aware at that age of
Father worship, that if he could sin, then
all men sinned. Our tacit treaty stored
away with soldering irons and caulking
guns, trowels and levers, obscuring
the nuts and bolts of us.
During The Station Wagon Incident
my hair exploded in noisy disruption
of familial bliss in the battle zone of the
family Ford, me worried about my “do,”
a sculpture I’d chiseled myself, each
stony strand in palatial grounds precision.
Not mere hair, but an afro-lutionary
manifesto to raised fists sheathed in black
leather gloves in Mexico City, occupying
an altitude high enough for a world of white
to see it could not divert black cyclones
from hurling attitude against oppression.
Punching America in its two faces.
My ‘fro a bomb of symbolism my father
wanted to defuse, countering Black Power
with rows of negro-tillery against style he
could not contain or understand. His throat
spraying a disgusted volley of “sissy.” The
backseat igniting with the slur, scorching
my insurrectionary hair, dissipating in the
nuclear atmosphere never to be heard again.
In the muted aftermath I would never
know if “The Man Who Knew Everything,”
from Corinthians to pouring concrete,
followed as Gloria led me far from Jehovah’s
flock to a spot secluded from believers and
sheltered by the fairground’s abandoned stage.
She pinned me flat – a blacklight poster against
the wall. Then he pedaled by. I caught him
in the edge of my eye, pretending we sinners
were not there, so thrilled to see his “sissy”
sinning, that Gloria became an angel
with lips for wings.
He would forgive the treason of a kiss,
but never the blasphemy of blackness.
At our once tranquil dinner table he became
Negro and I was Black. Protest grew
from the roots in my scalp, to the tip of my
tongue, from our dining room to a coliseum,
where 16,000 Christian followers voted as
one on some rhetorically righteous question,
all speaking the preordained answer –
a unified, sheepish,“ yes.”
Yet from a nearly front-row mountaintop,
with revolutionary hair glistening,
I shouted “no.” The vote 15,999 to one.
My tongue recruited to the vanguard.
My “cousin” choking on a swallowed laugh.
My “counter-revolutionary” father
sitting too far away to launch
a pre-emptive slap in fear of what I might
do next. His stare a skin-disintegrating
beam of light from the Ark of the Covenant.
My brain on fire. Expecting execution.
My model family, awaiting its place
in Paradise, sitting in stunned silence.
A notch against us in heaven.
A notch against me on earth.
No “Wild Wild West,” no “Monkees,”
or “Star Trek” for three months.
Now my father was Mussolini…