Thursday, April 15, 2010

Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week: John Murillo

Enter the Dragon

.....Los Angeles, California, 1976

For me, the movie starts with a black man
Leaping into an orbit of badges, tiny moons

Catching the sheen of his perfect black afro.
Arc kicks, karate chops, and thirty cops

On their backs. It starts with the swagger,
The cool lean into the leather front seat

Of the black and white he takes off in.
Deep hallelujahs of moviegoers drown

Out the wah wah guitar. Salt & butter
High-fives, Right on, brother! And Daddy

Glowing so bright he can light the screen
All by himself. This is how it goes down.

Friday night and my father drives us
Home from the late show, two heroes

Cadillacking across King Boulevard.
In the car’s dark cab, we jab and clutch,

Jim Kelly and Bruce Lee with popcorn
Breath, and almost miss the lights flashing

In the cracked side mirror. I know what’s
Under the seat, but when the uniforms

Approach from the rear quarter panel,
When the fat one leans so far into my father’s

Window I can smell his long day’s work,
When my father—this John Henry of a man—

Hides his hammer, doesn’t buck, tucks away
His baritone, license and registration shaking as if

Showing a bathroom pass to a grade school
Principal, I learn the difference between cinema

And city, between the moviehouse cheers
Of old men and the silence that gets us home.

-John Murillo

From Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher Books, 2010). Used by permission.

John Murillo is the current Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. A graduate of New York University's MFA program in creative writing, he has also received fellowships from Cave Canem, the New York Times, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He is a two-time Larry Neal Writers Award winner, a former instructor with DCWritersCorps, and the author of the poetry collection, Up Jump the Boogie.

Murillo appeared on the panel Aqui Estamos: A Sampling of Poetry from the Inaugural Acentos Poetry Festival during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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Alexandra van de Kamp said...

Great poem! I love the "orbit of badges" and other wonderful metaphors that get the reader into this childhood atmosphere at the movie theater. Then, we witness another kind of "theater" in the darkness of the car ride home and the father's trepidation before the police. Compelling, intimate details bring home this painful moment of recognition for the child/adult narrator and the difference between cinema and the real power and racial struggles in our world. We want our parents to be heroes always and forever and sometimes they simply cannot be.

Sarah Browning said...

Terrific comment, Alexandra. I love this poem, too!