Poems by Malcolm Friend


Image courtesy of Walter Keller. Shared via a Creative Commons license.


Sugarcane Fields Forever (Clemente’s Big League Dreams)

—after Miguel Hernández

Flesh of sugarcane,
chopped down by the machete,
I was born more beautiful
than humble, albeit a little…

still sweet to sight
though I have spent years scorching
underneath a Caribbean sun,
years being cut to the root,

trickling from forearms and foreheads
the only coronation I receive,
the only coronation I need.
The machete is sharpened to cut
—–and kill,

but I, caña de azúcar,
I intend to mimic it,
the slice, the swing—
it is work and it
—–is life.

That slice will be mine,
my only inheritance.
Pero antes de ser hombre
tengo que ser—he sido—
—–niño de la caña.

I am, and always will be
—–the son of the sugar cane.




Clemente al Sonero Mayor

———-—after Tato Laviera

“Parece que era el hambre…yo te dije hambre porque sonaba como con una rabia, una fuerza, loco por salir del arrabal, inconscientemente…Todo fue una cosa del pueblo, del negro…Clemente empezó a repartir palos y nosotros entramos ahí, tu sabes, con nuestra música.”
———-—Ismael Rivera

It begins:
—-your voice,
scrape of güiro
—-interrupting horns:

Yo soy un niche
Que salí café con leche
Me colé en una fiesta
A la cual no me invitaron
Y me echaron
Me botaron

—-Sonero Mayor!
Right on,
You lace lyrics
—-over the combo
like the cinnamon crooners
—-I grew up with—
¡Canta, cangrejero de canela!

Cuando quise regresar
A vacilar con las negritas
A coro todas dijeron
“Maelo vuelve atrá’ con tu’ blanquita’”
Y me echaron
Me miran, me botaron

Yes, not just
—-anglo yanquis.
Even those whose skin
—-is hued
with a shared pain
—-reject me as I am—
the accent
—-of my sway,
feet stumbling
—-as I try keeping pace
with your banging
—-barril voice.

Yo quiero vacilar
Con la’ negrita’ y la’ blanquitas
Porque yo soy un negrito
Que no ’toy creyendo en colores

Pero, Maelo,
you know
—-it’s not that easy.
Their sheet music
—-marks this skin
as out of step,
—-out of tune
with whites and blacks.
—-They boot me
from more than parties—
—-Maelo, you know
what they’d do to you:

Mataron al negro bembón
Mataron al negro bembón
Hoy se llora noche y día
Porque al negrito bembón
Todo el mundo lo quería

Why do they drown out the sound
—-of their own hatred?
They kill blacks
—-in this country,
sin causa, sin razón,
—-would kill me
for protesting my place.
—-Why are they surprised
when I say I don’t
—-want to be treated
like a negro?
—-No sonero-
improvised lines
—-to the cuá’s strike
and maraca’s shake
—-are powerful enough
to play savior.

E’conde la bemba, que ahí viene el matón
E’conde la bemba, que ahí viene el matón
E’conde la bemba, que ahí viene el matón
E’conde la bemba, que ahí viene el matón

Pero, ¡ecuajey!,
We gotta keep on
—-keeping on,
right, Maelo?
—-We have to quiet the tune
of this skin,
—-this speech—
as if they aren’t music.
¡Pa’l carajo,
I swing my bat
—-for Carolina
and Cangrejos
—-and Loíza.

A la ley, a la-ley, a-la ley.
Las caras lindas de mi gente negra
Son un desfile de melaza en flor…

Reparto palos
—-por nuestra gente.
We gotta keep pushing
—-this blackness,
rejoice to parades
—-of molasses,
you in Cangrejos,
—-me to Carolina.
We gotta keep pushing
—-this puertorriqueñidad
with bomba
—-and baseball.
Keep playing, Maelo.
—-Sing black
Spanish notes—sound
—-breaking barriers.
We feel no shame
—-saying “Right on”
our way:



Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a 2014 recipient of a Talbot International Award for writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as La Respuesta magazine, Alicante’s Información, fields magazine, Pretty Owl Poetry, and elsewhere.