Ode to Stevie Wonder, or Mom Calls after Milwaukee and All I Can Do Is Listen to “I Wish”


By Malcolm Friend

And, no, this isn’t the first time she’s called
          worried I might not be alive.
Isn’t the first time she’s felt her bones compress
          and think the blood around them
is sitting heavy as one of her children
          sits heavy in the street.
And she remembers Milwaukee.
          How Dad came home bloody one night
after he and a couple other friends got chased
          out a bar a white friend brought them to.
Shouts of Who the hell let these niggers in here?
          stinging his cuts and purpling his bruises.
And haven’t our cuts stayed stinging,
          our bruises kept singing purple?
And it doesn’t matter that Marques
          is the one in Milwaukee and not me
cause aren’t me and Marques the same to her?
          Black sons who don’t call home enough
in a time when Black children are left
          bleeding out in the street.
And I almost cry when she says
          You know I had to check in on everyone.
And when she hangs up I play Stevie Wonder,
          “I Wish,” over and over again.
Let my headphones hum in my ears.
          And I can feel the sound waves in my body
like a hug. And I think about my own nappy-head
          boyhood. How Mom used to cut my hair.
How I used to complain about the sting
          on my scalp. And I think this
is what all Black mothers wish.
          For their children to be children and safe.
Sting of a haircut the worst offense against our bodies
          And I think maybe before Trayvon. Tamir. Aiyana.
And I think maybe we were never children. Never innocent.
          Learned too early to accept these stinging cuts,
these purpling bruises. And I wish we didn’t learn so young
          the taste of our own blood, the splitting of our own skin.


Malcolm Friend is a poet and CantoMundo fellow originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, and an MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, and Pretty Owl Poetry.