I write this one with fear and trembling…
I’m a highly-educated white guy, and am more and more aware of my white fragility. Thus, it seems best to me to let African-American, and -Canadian, and other folks, do most of the talking…but I could not stay silent.
Chadwick Boseman was a genuinely good, kind, humble person, and a great actor. This poem is therefore humbly dedicated to his memory.
Panther King (T’Challa): a Poetic Ode to Chadwick Boseman (1976 – 2020)
No heartfelt praise can name the power or grace
Of every staunch and regal syllable;
No shining movie camera can recall
The laughter and the loss of every line.
Behind every regal role, we see the grief:
T’Challa, falling down the waterfall,
Speaks to the burning streets of Portland, and
Of T-shirts blazoned with a hundred names,
Of Kenosha yearning to let loose its rage.
You traverse time and memory, like Augustine
Whose lyric lines still haunt philosophy.
Your liquid voice recalls old Langston Hughes,
Whose fire and form gave new substance to the blues.
As Marshall, you were clipped and loud and stoic,
Creating arguments from shredded silken scarves,
Expelling exhortations from another’s lips,
Exonerating servants from their shadowed shame.
Then, as Davis on the streets of New York City, you
Paired passion with purpose in your tireless pursuit
Of two ex-servicemen with bricks of coke.
Each righteous role retained your body’s prayer
To drink life to the lees amidst your pain,
To show us your submission to your craft.
I’m not like Kendrick, for not many are;
My words come ponderously, for I am slow of tongue.
Your talents blazed up, like some ancient star,
As you were lauding heroes yet unsung
By eggshell crowds in brittle northern climes.
You were a superhero for our times,
A laughing avatar for Truth and Right,
Still speaking to the planet’s long pandemic night.
You were the hero of this world’s deep need,
Because you held yourself with catlike grace,
O jungle-king who gave T’Challa life.
You wore the bone necklace Bravery through your silent suffering,
And held your head high through countless rounds of chemo.
No words can contain our sorrow at your passing;
No torch can bear to hold your living flame,
The fires of rage suppressed for centuries.
You brought your beauty to the burial-ground,
And lo! Each grave-site floods with freshest green.
Still be our star, to light our errant way;
Still be that eldritch music beneath the misted trees
On that stern astral plane that claims us all.
Still come to us before the microphone
With hearty laugh and wrathful iron glare.
Remind us of the best that we can be,
And give to us the terrible oath of kingship,
To treat our subjects with your dignity.
The King is dead. Long live our Panther King.