“Four Days After the Passing of Chadwick Boseman” by Chiamaka Okonkwo

Chiamaka Okonkwo


My cousin’s baby was talking since she came out
the womb, she said to anyone who would stare
wide-eyed at the babbling, fleshy child resting

its head on her breasts. Sounds would burst
out of the baby’s mouth, dripping with milk
and saliva that rolled down her moving chin as

she perpetually narrated a story only she
could understand. I imagined that, overwhelmed
with sheer emotion, I might have returned to

the openness of infancy where my thoughts
would stand ready like toy soldiers and rush forth
at my command. Instead, like a fussing baby,

tears coil around my words, choking them into broken
sounds as I reach into the dark and slap blindly around
my mind searching for the most beautiful way to say

I love you to a stranger. Another black man is
dead. And, yes, the method is different but the
pain is the same. The 24-hour loop of telling

and retelling that the Panther has faded
away right before our eyes follows the rich
American tradition of spectacle-izing the gone

negro. But, for once, the pendulum of the universe
has swung the other way and the big, brown-skinned,
nappy-haired guy with a funny name could be the hero.

The children of the Continent can never forget the
pure joy, like sugar and honey rushing through our
veins, that a black savior in Hollywood, dripping

in royalty on the big screen, made us feel. Always one
to say save the casket love, here I am with flowers
for a man whose shadow never even crossed my own,
and there is no one here to open the door anymore.

from Poets Respond
September 6, 2020


Chiamaka Okonkwo: “I told my brother this was the first time I’ve cried over a celebrity’s death. I always found it strange that people could feel so much pain over losing someone they’d never even met, but now I understand. I understand more than ever before that one’s influence can transcend the barriers of space and time and touch the hearts of people from any corner of the world; perhaps it’s that very quality, that overwhelming positive influence, that makes Chadwick Boseman’s death so hard to accept. In light of the murders of black people happening right now, his legacy must be considered in what he meant for the black community. He led a movie with a nearly all-black cast that broke box office records showing the world that, indeed, black main characters could carry a hit film. The beauty of this, however, was particularly in the portrayal of blackness. It showed Africa not as the wild jungle that Disney had given us before but as a booming, futuristic tech metro. He gave us black kingship and royalty, black intellect and advancement, black love and compassion, and, most of all, a black hero. If for nothing else, the legacy of Chadwick Boseman is the upliftment of black people everywhere through the powerful arm of the media. In the words of President Obama, ‘what a use of his years.’”


Join us this morning for Poets Respond Live! Click here to watch …

Rattle Logo