malcolm x at the west babylon k-mart, 1990

Poetry by Matt Pasca

i folded hand towels in the warehouse & lived 
for 15-minute breaks on a bench behind the timex 

counter, inhaling your words (as told to alex haley) 
what i needed, really, was a role model

someone to help me own the strange 
species i’d become     box after cardboard 

box i pondered your father’s death
the burning cross, your mother’s flight 

into wallpaper     another break, your 7th grade 
teacher’s swordmouth, the smoke of boston 

juke joints, prison, your journey from aardvark 
to zyzzyva, like mine from page 1 

to 460 (including the eulogy)     your death
malcolm, i was not—am still not—

okay with it     & who am i 
to say this but a trifling teen who punched out 

every wednesday night the summer of 1990 
& wept by the shopping carts in a darkened lot?     

did you know who waved that harlem
afternoon aside & frowned your mortality into view? 

why did you stand before folding chairs made of triggers? 
gallows with a microphone?     almost 60 years on & still 

the only violent thing about you was your end
your calm logic revealed their poison 

cracked their lies open like pearlless oysters 
your only fury was loving black bodies

i return often to your whipclear words, wander 
the fields of your sibilance, correct my posture 

as if you were my father, your hand across 
my back, unbuckling my grief like a holster     

your red beard & bent knees on egyptian 
carpet, your mosque-low supplication—

the powder in their guns knew you were right 
& we’ve spent too many years unlit by your fresnel 

sight, so much pain run aground
you died before they were ready

for your prophetic speeches, analogies detonating 
decades after being wired     i get it     

you were tired of living wired     & certainly 
you never owed me anything, but gave me 

discipline, devotion & resilience nonetheless     
even your martyrdom taught me the senselessness 

of martyrdom     i would love to have 
met you, have my redheads shake 

your hand, joke about them getting it f
rom you, the grandfather i chose for them   
while folding washcloths. i am waiting 
for your star on our flag, your holiday

your face on the national postcard
so that i might call myself, for once, american

Published 21st June, 2023.

MATT PASCA is a poet, teacher and traveler who believes in art’s ability to foster discovery, empathy and justice. He has authored two poetry collections—A Thousand Doors (2011 Pushcart nominee) & Raven Wire (2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist)—and had work published in over 50 journals and magazines. Matt served as Assistant Poetry Editor of 2 Bridges Review and was named 2022 Long Island Poet of the Year by the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. A 2003 New York State Teacher of Excellence, Matt has taught English to high school seniors since 1997.

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