Rita Dove

from Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring 1997)

Cassius Clay by Basquiat
1982, acrylic & oil paintstick on canvas

Kevin Young

I'm pretty!
I shook up

the world! Clay shouts
to the announcer

after trouncing
Sonny Liston--

the next day he
will turn Ali.

Butterfly,
bee--none stung

or swole carpet-red
as the paint B covered

this canvas, drawing
blood--not even Cassius

called out his name.
Refusing to recognize

Allah--like Terrell
or fool Floyd Patterson--

will get you a new haircut,
whether you want one

or not. How
he hounds

Liston, waving
his prize belt--

a noose for Sonny's ex-
con neck. Petty crook.

Ali just bout serves
time himself

--title stripped
like paint

--Army taking away
his right to fight

when he won't fight
them Viet Cong

who've done him
nothing wrong.

Houston, we gots
a problem--will not

bow or stand
when his no-longer-

name the Draft
Board calls. Lords

over Liston
-- Get up, you bum!

--who will fall to a phantom
punch 1st rd, forget

to get up. (Died,
Liston did, five

years later, in Vegas,
the needle in

his arm, the neon.)
Ali, now he could hit you

into next year--
but apart from the flogging,

his flaunting, were the taunts
challengers heard ringing

Uncle Tom! Come on
Come on White America!

even above the ten count
& crowd--his undented smile--

that smarts still.

 

Poems by Kevin Young
Cassius Clay by Basquiat | Hollywood Africans | How to Make Rain |
Letters from the North Star

Back to Faces

 

 
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