Malcolm Friend


—after Kevin Young and Kimberly Grabowski Strayer




Seattle, summer,

75 and sunny,


Mom has sent you

out to play


with Mook and Ronk.

The golden rule:


Give her the day

as she gave you life;


don’t come back

until dinner


and when you do

get back,


keep your skinny butt

out of her kitchen.


Sweat has already

taken hold of her hair.


Roots nappy as yours,

best not try traverse them.


I don’t care

if you’re thirsty.


I don’t need more bodies

in this hot kitchen.


But you can’t help it.

Your ears sizzle


to the tune

of that crackling oil,


sweeter than any siren’s song,

more earthy, more blues,


like normalcy with big

punctuation marks


of struggle and there it is,

golden brown,


perfectly crispy

like the smack


upside your head

Mom gives you,


the jolt crackling

like oil in the pan.




Mornings away

are cold,


the nights



though warmed

by mofongo:



of plátano


fried golden,

then mashed with


chicharrón and garlic

under a pestle’s weight.


The action

is listless—


no, it’s persistent,

insistent on binding


as much as breaking.

Like the boleros,


tales of heartbreak

Dad boomed


from any CD player

harder than his machismo,


his bravado, his



This was meant

to bind him to Mom,


demonstration that he is not

just sharp salsa,


that even the greenest plátano

can be broken down.


You exist only

in front of them.


That is,

these sliced-up plátanos


(nose sparking

to the garlic of this grind,


the crackle of wood-

smashed chicharrón),


but maybe also

those boleros,


Ismael and Celia and Cheo

grinding your soul


under the weight

of their voices,


Cheo, especially,

voice a croon stretching notes


over drums and maracas

that crackle like oil.




Maybe you belong to both.

Maybe mofongo


is fried chicken,

the rhythm


of light and dark

and oil,


the rhythm

of crackle—


Cheo’s voice

is Mom’s hand


upside your head

is chicharrón.


Platános exist

to be fried.


Chicken exists

to be fried.


You exist

in front of them.


You that oil.

You make it all crackle.


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 his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbooks mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017) and Case Study on the Afro-Seattleite (e-chapbook, forthcoming, Radical Narratives), and has received awards and fellowships from organizations including CantoMundo, VONA/Voices of Our Nations, Backbone Press, the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics, and the University of Memphis. His manuscript Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple won the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize, and will be published by Inlandia Books in 2018. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl PoetryHe currently serves as a Poetry Editor for FreezeRay Poetry.


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