Thursday Poem


The sky was a street map with stars for
house-parties, where blue-lit basements
were fever-dreams of the closest a boy
could get to home after yucca fritters,
rice, pigeon peas, and infinite chicken
made by anyone’s mother before the night’s
charioteer arrived in his beat-up boat
to spirit the three, or the four, or the five, or
as many would fit in the car to the party.
Pennies and pennies bought one red bottle
of Mad Dog Double-Twenty or Boone’s Farm.
“Que pasa, y’all, que pasa,” Mister James
Brown sweated, and the Chi-Lites pink whispered.
White Catholic school girls would never dance
or grind or neck or lift their skirts to these
black boys with mothers who spoke little
English and guarded their young with candles
for los santos, housework, triple-locked
doors, jars of tinted water, fierce arm-pinches.
Love is a platter of platanos.
“Did you hear? Did you hear?” —the young men whisper,
but church calls its altar-boys Sunday noon—
“They danced Latin at the Mocambo Room!”
The tale has been told again and again
of boys growing old, going bad, making good,
leaving home while the neighborhood rises
or falls, and this story ends the same.
Now dreadlocked vendors sell mechanized
monkeys programed to beat guaguanco.

by Elizabeth Alexander
from Black American Literature Forum,
Vol. 23, Number 3 (fall 1989)