BY MALCOLM FRIEND
For JR, For Ola, For Cameron, For Julian, For Gabriel
And for a moment we’ll ignore Andy Montañez is also there,
instead focus on the two in this performance who have no business
singing most songs, let alone Maelo, but this isn’t to drag them.
Rather, to say I understand the impulse; that I, too, have dared
to sing songs I have no business singing to anyone who will listen
and, really, who among us hasn’t been so caught in the grain
of a prieto’s voice that the only way to sift through it is by
scraping whatever remnants of it we can find out our own throats?
Who among us hasn’t hoped to fill the vacant air around us
with the songs we grew up on? And I admit part of what draws me
to this performance is the sight Don and Tego together, how even though
the grain of this YouTube video I can see Tego’s vest matches Don’s jacket.
How I see Don’s cornrows, Tego’s fro matted down under hat and know
Maelo is somewhere in the audience singing his sonero-improv over
these two negrito successors, born in the same Santurce as him. How I see them
decked in gold—dripping from their necks and fingers—think who wouldn’t
let the grime of their sweat sully a gold chain’s sheen in their ancestor’s name?
Lose a ring in the folds of a homie’s collar or shoulder—and even still I must admit
I’m most drawn to this video for the brief moments where they forget Andy Montañez
is on stage with them: when Don slinks his arm over Tego’s shoulder, when they turn
and sing to each other. How I have most often let a tune slip from between my lips
in the company of my niggas. How I have never been shy to sing in front of those
I know wouldn’t ask that I stop, in front of those who would never deny me
their song as refuge. How I see the strain on Don and Tego’s faces as they reach for notes
their voices could never scratch, let alone hold, and know what it is to tell your homies
you would stretch your voice any distance to fill it with their songs.
MALCOLM FRIEND is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, WA. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017) and the full-length collection Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple (Inlandia Books, 2018). Together with JR Mahung he is a member of Black Plantains, an Afrocaribbean poetry collective.