Malcolm Friend

Two Poems

Grifería: Clemente Responds to Luis Palés Matos



Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a 2014 recipient of a Talbot International Award for Writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Alicante’s Informaciónfields magazine, The Acentos ReviewPretty Owl Poetry, and elsewhere.


Yo soy niche, / orgulloso de mis raíces / de tener mucha bemba y grandes narices

         —Tego Calderón, “Loíza”


Los negros bailan, bailan, bailan

ante la fogata encendida.


Black people dance

to burning effigies

in the darkness,

orange flames flicker-flirting

with the sky’s black skin,

with our black skin.

We must all dance,

ancestral rhythms pulsing

through fango-mud-bound bodies.


todos somos.

But what of me?


Los negros bailan, bailan, bailan

ante la fogata encendida.


Jazz, blues,

calypso, rumba,

bomba and plena—

we dance, dance, dance,

bodies swaying back and forth

with Caribbean waves,

cinnamon-melaza mirrors

to river of black,

the pez de plata moon

silver fish bearing witness

to this pasa,

this tuntún,

it’s eye burning bright

as the fire it observes:

tum-cutum, tum-cutum, indeed—

ba-doom, ba-doom—

but what of my dance?

¿Si ñam-ñam

yo no soy?


Los negros bailan, bailan, bailan

ante la fogata encendida.


I do not dance

with effigies.

Son of the cane cutter,

I have seen the machete

smiling with sunlight

as it swings and slices;


my bat swings

no rhythmic ancestral motion,

but still

in step with Caribbean waves,

in step

with the pez de plata moon,

silver fish swimming

through the sky’s black skin,

through my black skin,

my bomba-calypso-blues.


Is my tuntún

too off beat?

Was my body not sculpted

from mud,

fashioned with the same sediment

seeping from earth?

Am I not

allowed to dance?

Lamento en bolero (Clemente’s Pain)


for Cheo Feliciano and Michael Friend


“For Clemente, those [salsa] moves were too fast, undignified, not cool enough, and he wasn’t any good at them. He liked the Boleros, the slow dances.”

         —David Maraniss, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero


     ay, que cansancio de todo

     de seguir esperando


Vic says

I can’t dance salsa,

tells people

it’s too fast:


“Ooh, baby.

Roberto dancing salsa?”


Tells people I got them piernas

made of piedra.

Says I’m too stoic,

too static to feel

enclosed lightning

sounding trumpets.


Says I’m too cool

for congas—

that’s why I dance bolero.

He’s wrong.


     ay, se acabó la esperanza

     se perdió la confianza


Forget about

shifting hips

and frenetic feet.


lets my limbs

hang languid,

brings my electric movement

to stasis.

I languish

to a bolero-man’s



Bolero is pinballing disk

in my back—

pang as it pops

in and out of place;

it’s the pinch in my neck

when I face pitchers,

the strain as my shoulder

drags heavy lumbered bat

across the plate;

it’s the accusation

that I’m faking it all.


Bolero is every shot

at my accent

in the Pittsburgh papers:

“I hit many

what you call

‘bad bol,’”

“We have good speerit

on Pirates thees’ year,”

“I have friend

in Puerto Rica.”



is leaving Puerto Rico,

trading the blue

of the Caribbean

for the blues

of not having the words

to describe it.



cantante del bolero.

Que sigas trovando.


I’ll dance,

your song,

feet dragging on pace

to your slow cadence,

if only because

your throat forces out

mirror reflecting my pain:


     ay, que cansancio en el alma

     de esperar tu regreso



© The Acentos Review 2015