Ghazal Between Icons: An Imagined Conversation for Freddie Gray by F. Douglas Brown

Jacob Lawrence Ekphrasis: Frederick Douglass Series

Ghazal Between Icons: An Imagined Conversation
for Freddie Gray

“Going to live at Baltimore, laid the foundation, and opened
the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity.”
–Frederick Douglass
Douglass Panel 32.

U.S. flag, never half-mast for you, black Baltimore Boy
Red stripes match my red shirt— portrait of a black Baltimore boy.

Son of red brick and Westside, been with you in these blood-beaten Streets.
“Privileged men” nearly gouge the eyes out of me, a black Baltimore boy.

I scream streaks, 33 minutes of cries and a lonely road. Unrelenting
Field swallowing the air of a black Baltimore boy.

The news wraps you in lists, trying to destroy the light of your name,
Waxing moon sliver of light— metaphor for black Baltimore boys?

Some say: new moon is you turning in your grave. Others say: new moon when we
Together. We a dark so stone thick, they name it: Black-ass Baltimore Boys.

Son, I yearn to know things have changed. Tell me our black shines gold.
Tell me I paved nothing but golden tulips for all blacks, dear Baltimore boy.

U.S. flag, stem and post, higher than sea breeze, but not my goals.
Because of you, my dreams sky high— Imma proud black Baltimore boy.

No more silence for you. Our names sing a stargazed funk. Even in
Similar sleep, our rest— proper tunes and beats for black Baltimore boys.

Mr. Douglass, none of us die in vain, right? You— the lion who makes that truth.
Freddie, blue haze-heaven awaits. Beautiful as black and you, Baltimore boy.

Jacob Lawrence Ekphrasis: Harriett Tubman Series

Pieta Ghazal: Harriet Tubman Mourns for Freddie Gray
for Freddie Gray

Tubman Panel 29.

I return to deliver a hurt clean—
I come to lay a boy to rest— His clean,

Sparks, yanks me from the past— I’m vibrant,
Again— an angel caressing him into a clean

Baby sleep— Yes, Lawd, again, I’m the one guiding
Saints— I knows which roots will heal a boy, clean—

Knows all kinds of elusive, elixirs to turn women into tiptoe-
Fog-whisper— My herbs had men ghost-walking clean

Through fortress walls, damn its thickness— Worked,
So this boy could stitch freedom on his sleeve— clean—

O sweet Baltimore boy, did you bring me back for
Tricks & chats, ‘cuz I can’t conjure a clean

Pulse in you— This resurrection, too
Late to save, restoring the clean

Merit of our folks— Too late for fear to strike out
And stunt your bolt, so I’m left with this clean

Option: Be Moses of the drift, pulled here to lead you home—
Here to soothe and sing you clean—honorably clean

Jacob Lawrence Ekphrasis: Harriett Tubman Series

after Jay-Z and Pharrell

Tubman Panel 10.

Here— a canopy of night, and here, your broken
Chains, shattered shackles you stock
For the journey—nothing wasted while North
Beckons. The dazzling stars friend and find you
Modest, wanting. But you radiate, not a weary bone
In your body, just a red bag & my blood.

I’m a hustler baby, I just want you to know.
     It ain’t where I been, but where I’m ’bout to go.

Here— a crag to contain, and a mountain
To blister your grip. Here— a weed to wrangle
Steps, creeping vines, thick with thorns to tear
Into your feet. Dirt muddled with tracks of flesh.
If not careful, they’ll come for me— They’ll slither & strike
Me down. Sweet Harriet, your thoughts cannot give,
Cannot succumb to green or to river. A wall
Of rocks— the unyielding you learn from.
Their hardness all I need to hold.

I’m a hustler baby, I just want you to know.
     It ain’t where I been, but where I’m ’bout to go.

Here she be, Lord, all twenty-five years of her
For your sky to behold, a squint of energy
Swirling about, like a child— a free child
Amongst streaked blue night. The Good God air
Is a finger calling forth, reaching towards while
Harriet’s grace gestures— I be gone, onward.

I’m a hustler baby, I just want you to know.
     It ain’t where I been, but where I’m ’bout to go.


F. Douglas Brown is author of Zero to Three (University of Georgia 2014), the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize recipient selected by Tracy K. Smith. He also co-authored with poet Geffrey Davis, Begotten (Upper Rubber Boot Books 2016), a chapbook of poetry as part of Upper Rubber Boot Book’s Floodgate Poetry Series.

F. Douglas Brown
Brown, an educator for more than 20 years, currently teaches English at Loyola High School of Los Angeles, an all-boys Jesuit school. He is both a Cave Canem and Kundiman fellow. His poems have appeared in the Academy of American Poets, The PBS News Hour, The Virginia Quarterly (VQR), Bat City Review, The Chicago Quarterly Review (CQR), The Southern Humanities Review, The Sugar House Review, Cura Magazine and Muzzle Magazine. He is co-founder and curator of un::fade::able – The Requiem for Sandra Bland, a quarterly reading series examining restorative justice through poetry as a means to address racism. When he is not teaching, writing or with his two children, Isaiah and Olivia, he is busy DJing in the greater Los Angeles area.

“Crescent Moon” image by John ‘K’.