“Unrest” by Rayon Lennon

Rayon Lennon


to DMX, rap icon, 1970–2021

Yesterday they said
it would rain thunder
today, but the sun
sits pretty as a bride
in the uneventful
sky. The weatherman
says nothing is
certain, especially
tomorrow. You know
now if heaven is
real. It would
be a tragedy if
death is all there is.
Life is depression
with some stubborn
rays was the theme
of your songs. In death,
the New York Times
called you a soulful
but troubled
rapper. The Post
had you on its cover
next to a loveable
dead Prince. The headline
called you brilliant
but troubled again. One
paper notes
your 15–17 children,
your legacies. A Facebook
video shows you
in a radio interview
explaining how you
met crack at 14.
How your older
rap mentor tricked
you into smoking
weed. You want
to cry. You say
you can’t believe
someone would
such a monster
to a kid. You say
your rap mentor
was a gift and a curse.
He brought you to rap
and to crack. The guy
on the radio plays
“Slippin’,” your best
song, about growing
up in a fog of poverty,
abuse, crime
and juvenile detention
centers. “I learned to stand
without a helping
hand,” you growl.
“I’m slippin’, I’m fallin’,
I can’t get up.” I first heard
this song when I flew
to CT from Jamaica
at 13. My father treated
me like a stranger
and my stepmother
treated me like
a hurdle to her happiness.
I listened to you
in that song day
and night. How nights
you found comfort
in stray dogs in Yonkers
after your mom kicked you
out. I saw you in concert
once in a smoky
joint called Toad’s
Place. You were 2 hours
late. You started
out by praying for 5
minutes. Then you
rolled out hit after
hit. You stopped
in the heart of your set
to pray again for 20
minutes. I could feel
your tortured spirit.
I was on a bad date
with a woman
who hated my expensive
cologne. She even inched
closer to another
guy and wouldn’t let
me dance with her.
Finally a fan put up
a sign and you plucked
it from the crowd and read
it: “Even Jesus wants
to hear the hits, X.”
You barked out
songs about being
buried inside the cage
of a prison. You would
have made another
one about the headlines
today: cop stopped black
life after routine
traffic stop. There’s more
unrest. People jump
on cars and chant
for equality and justice.
The cop said
she mistakenly pulled
a gun instead
of a taser. People
are not sure how you
died. Some say
overdose. Some say
heart attack. Others
say both and a lifetime
of anguish. You once
rapped about your heart
that doesn’t bleed. I believed
you when you said:
“to live is to suffer
but to survive,
well, that’s to find meaning
in the suffering.”
The sun blooms
again. Too bad
you survived winters
to leave in spring.
A Benz rolls by
on beats, windows
cracked, your voice

from Poets Respond
April 18, 2021


Rayon Lennon: “The iconic rapper DMX recently died. His song ‘Slippin’’ saved my life every day during my teenage years. I was interested in how the mainstream media covered his death. His ‘troubled’ life was highlighted over his artistic achievements. I wanted to write a tribute that was in conversation with this complicated artist. How would DMX feel about the officer who admitted this week that she took a life because she mistakenly pulled her gun when she meant to pull her taser? DMX committed his life to sharing his life and perspective in order to build empathy between people.” (web)

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