Young Black Superhero


for Uncle Richwood


When I was seven

And you were mostly grown

You were the finest man I’d ever seen–

Tall like your daddy, Washington,

Called Wash

Swagger like Billie D in Mahogany

(Before Denzel in Malcolm X)

Copper skin glowing like a new penny

On fresh swept pavement

A suit-dressed action-figure

In a butter-colored Fiat . . .


I used to wait for you

When my school let out

Across the street . . .

I would stand

So close to the window

Of your daddy’s funeral polar

That the two white barrettes riding high on my afro

Clanked against the glass


Richard Haywood

Rich + wood

Called “Uncle”

Cause you were so much older

Called “Friend”

Cause you were just that cool


I never told you how mad I was

That you became the family “don’t do” fable—

That you shrank yourself small enough

To fit inside a liquor bottle

And stayed there

Long enough

To get corked and shelved

You were too brilliant to end up dusty

You were supposed to be the next black super hero

Like Shaft and Ali

Not the “don’t be like” that lingered over James, Brain and me

Throughout our young adulthood


Maybe you couldn’t help it

Being raised in the funeral business and all . . .


My school closed down

The old funeral home did too

Other things changed

Why Couldn’t you

Just be

That black superhero?

Couldn’t you

Just be?


I didn’t look

At the guy

In the box

After you died

Pretending to be you

I never really looked

At the guy

Who kept coming to Thanksgiving dinner

Looking less and less like you

Over the years


I wish had


Next Thanksgiving

I’m gonna empty a pack of cigarettes on the fine china

Douse it with rum

Set it on fire

And call it flambé

That’s the fancy name people call

Bright, sweet things that burn out quickly


I never have smoked

And didn’t touch a drink until 21

Because of you

You always looked at me real tender at Thanksgiving

“Hey little Cuz”

and usually gave me an “I love you”

before the meal was through

I know I said it back

but what I meant to say

Was. . .

You were my first black super hero

In your own way

You kept me safe


I just want to thank you.


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