Malcolm Friend

BECAUSE MOM DOESN’T SING EVERY SONG BY THE TEMPTATIONS

Must be something bad in his blood.
Did you feel it—
his hands tugging at my scalp
when Derek put you on the phone?
Did your neck rubberband-
snap like mine when he called you
Rion’s boy?

I told you how I cut my hair
the day after he grabbed it.
How I imagined the flat-ironed strands
that fell to the floor as dirt
covering his coffin.

Did you dead-eye
your Uncle Derek like I did
your grandfather
after he noticed that haircut?

I hope you did.
He had no right
putting you on the phone
with that man.
You ain’t his kid, after all.
The nerve of him.
And on Thanksgiving, no less.

Like Derek doesn’t remember
the Thanksgiving he locked us out
in the Chicago cold, wind
a snake coiling around us,
venom that broke the blood
of his marriage.

Do you understand now
how your grandfather
has always been a rollin’ stone?
Something bad in his blood.
Same thing makes you tap your foot
to “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”
no matter how still
I sit, like you can’t tell I still
taste his venom
crowding my spit
when the grit and gravel
of Dennis Edward’s voice
falls into those horns.

Don’t know I tried to suck
that venom out you and your siblings.
Bit into each of you
the day you were born,
hoped the poison
would flow out your veins.

Tell me, Mal,
Did it work?


Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He has received awards and fellowships from organizations including CantoMundo, VONA/Voices of Our Nations, Backbone Press, and the University of Memphis. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, and Pretty Owl Poetry.