Pandemic & Protest Poems by Frank X Walker

Pandemic & Protest Poems by Frank X Walker

On Mother’s Day

I’m going to pretend
that mine ain’t dead,
that she just got Corona.

Because she was a nurse
I know she’d be very serious
about social distancing,

hand washing, and the wearing
of masks.

So me and my siblings would
probably plant ourselves

six feet apart
in her back yard,
so that when she got up to
open her blinds and stepped out
onto her balcony

into the sunshine
we’d all be sitting there
in our lawn chairs, smiling.

Somebody would lead us
in a song which we’d sing
badly, but with all our hearts.

She would blow us kisses
and rain down i love you‘s.

We’d linger until she made us go
or some other mother’s Day
pulled us away.

Folks are going to be salty
and complain all day about not
getting to hug their mamas.

Believe me when I tell you,
I really understand.


Hairline Fracture
for Taajwar

Now that shelter-at-home
has passed the three-week mark,
I look in the mirror and smile
when I see my grandfather’s hairline.
I also see my grown man son staring back
and very little of me, since I’ve been mostly bald
for over thirty years—longer than he’s been alive.

But not a primping and preening son
who would ever worry about anything as superficial
as hair, but a Vulcan-like logic son who in response
to uninvited compliments on his new-look beard

in the much coveted Tokyo pictures the twins found
on social media, quickly said, in his defense,

“I joined an on-line group called ‘Black in Japan’
and asked, but there are no products in the stores
and no black barbers anywhere near me.”

It made me laugh then and running my fingers across
my dome reminds me even now, that I may

or may not partake in some groom for Zoom
today, before throwing on a hat, to distinguish myself
from him and my father’s father, however slightly.

I have not seen the inevitable plethora of Corona
t-shirts yet, but I’ll be looking for one that says,
This hairy beast is not the pandemic me

—I’m just missing my son.


Deejay Battle

“When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” president DJ Trump

The oppressors’ private property
is always more important
to the privileged. That power
is what police protect.

Backed by a national guard
fronting a commander-in-cheat
known to incite and encourage
violence against POC by the FOP
and other ‘good people’ vs ‘THUGS’

If you don’t understand
this behavior
or these people
you don’t understand
emotional or psychological trauma.
You don’t understand
generational grief.

And you really don’t understand
injustice or American history.

Know justice. Know peace.
No justice. No peace.

No just ICE raids.
No guilty cops, just us,
dead, dying, and chalk marked
over and over again,
like some wack DJ,
rewinding the bridge or dead refrain,
scratching at our eyes

with already viral
breathless black body porn
professionally made

by the hands, feet and now knees
of thug police again

instead of turning the tables
we drag out turntables
and spin and spin and spin
searching old wax, seeking to sample
something human,
anything truly good to mix
with this black,
with this life,
until we matter.


Y’all Say I Do, We Say Black Lives Matter
for Kerry and Michael

What a powerful way to say ‘til death
do us part. To stand in defiance of murder
after murder after murder and still choose life,
together. To seal your vows and then march

for all our promises, into Philly streets,
swollen with protestors, they replaced thrown rice
with tear gas and pepper spray, but it still felt
more like a large reception for freedom than a riot.

Resplendent in wedding gown and tuxedo,
fists raised high to demonstrate that

Black Love is the Liberation married
to the joy that fills your faces,

thinking only of the honeymoon where all couples
know justice because Black couples know peace.


Mrs. Butterworth, Uncle Ben, & Aunt Jemima

…walk into a bar in America.
Butterworth says, I’m being repackaged.
Ben says, I’m being rebranded.
And Jemima says, I remember
when they branded my mama     on her back.
The bartender says, I could stand in the middle
of Main Street and kill somebody

and I wouldn’t lose any voters.
Butterworth says, then I’ll take eight bullets
in my sleep. Ben says choke me to death
with your knee. And Jemima says,
lock me in a holding cell and say
I decided to hang myself.
The bartender poured the drinks,
said he felt threatened,
and was simply standing his ground.
He said he thought the thug
was reaching for a gun.
The headlines said Well-Loved American
Foods Resisted Arrest, Failed

to Comply, and Were Delicious While Black.
Butterworth’s daughter said here’s to progress
we might finally get an anti-lynching bill.

Ben’s son said I’d rather they abolish
qualified immunity. Jemima’s kid said you know
they abolished slavery once,

then they hung my mama     on that box.


Baptism by Dirt
for Shauna

All believers know about the power of water
though not enough recognize the power of dirt.
My mama used to walk barefooted
in our vegetable garden,
get down on her hands and knees
and almost pray in the dirt.
My wife and I and our two-year old
built and planted three raised-bed gardens.
Watching her dip her fingers into the dirt
to coddle what will feed us
reminds me of mama and then.
What is it that women know
about nurturing a seed into a piece of fruit,
about believing in the power of dirt
and suns and water?
I return from our labor with sore knees
and back, fingernails and hands caked with dirt.
She floats back into the house somehow cleaner
almost burdenless,
as if she spent the weekend
burying all her heavy things,
as if she whispered to something sacred
and it whispered something back.


Commencement 2020

“…ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, [and] respect for others.”
President Barack Obama

I have a grandson in the class of 2020,
the first high school class born after 9/11.
Yo-Yo Ma played “Simple Gifts”
and a little Bach No. 6 on national TV for him
and all his classmates across the country.

And as if just to prove my age, Ma was followed
by a slate of musicians I had never heard of
with names like Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, and H.E.R.

A whole platoon of famous athletes, actors,
musicians, CEO’s and former presidents
showed up to congratulate them,
to applaud their advocacy and service, to salute
their passion, resilience, patience and creativity,
to send them off, to urge them to “demand better,”
to officially hand them the keys to the future.

And why not? Who else has inherited so many
school shootings? Who else has been more invested
in climate change? Who else uses our terrifying work
tools as toys to consume TikTok?

After three years of the current administration,
its anti-education Secretary of Education,
and Zoom physics and calculus, they need no mandate
to change the world.

They already started with at-home proms,
drive-in theater graduations and middle of main
street parade-style processionals. Only parents
are afraid they’ll spend the best years of college
the same way they finished senior year.

In truth, adults have broken a lot of shit.
Let’s not get in the way while they endeavor to fix it.

This class will be forever special if for no other reason,
despite the partisan divide modeled by adults,
the whole damn country graduated together.

Frank X Walker is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, winner of the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, winner of the 2004 Lillian Smith Book Award. The recipient of a 2005 Lannan Literary Fellowship, Walker is Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.