Poem for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and not for art’s sake

By Wayde Compton

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Mumia (rhymes with "you-me-a") Abu- (rhymes with "taboo") Jamal (rhymes with "cabal") is a political prisoner on death row in the Pennsylvania, he was a former black panther party member, community activist, and prize-winning journalist, the Philadelphia cops knew him, hated him, pinned the murder of a cop on him, and now he's awaiting his execution, since you might not believe me, but you might care, read Race for Justice by Leonard Weinglass, his lawyer, otherwise at least remember his name so it can haunt you when they admit that he was framed twenty years from now: Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Stephen spender said after Spain fell and franco politicized his shiny boots and wwii had a name and belsen and buchenwald and treblinka were put on the map, that for all his writing, all his aimed poesy, his pro-republican pen, his one talent solidly sent to the task of anti-fascism, for every line that was a kind of translation of "they shall not pass," his writing did not save a single jew from the gas chambers

what're we gonna do?

what're we gonna do?
too many times, too many times
this was deja-vu, lord if it ain't
the noose, the noose
I've had my fill of this
how many blacks dead since the last poem
published about mumia abu-jamal? how many
more years of death spread between the sentences
of death? how many? how many?

the urgent
in downtown Vancouver
victoria, Seattle, everywhere
the urgent
clipped the news and gleaned the times
to see and disbelieve and steel ourselves
when they announced the death date
made it happen
solidified the words into torches
fashioned the baited breath into speeches

he made the magazine covers
he made the braver tv shows
krs-one wrote a song for him
amiri baraka wrote a poem about him
every nook and cranny of the ever
splintered left
had to admit his priority
all this to save the life of one single man
america's lone political prisoner
at the hanging tree's roots
strange fruit
voice of the voiceless swallowed
in the involuntary reflex of only hours
one single man

notorious b.i.g. just died and before that tupac shakur died and before that eazy e died and the last poets had a poem a long time ago called "die nigga!" and niggas keep dying like the last poets said we don't know nothin else but dyin and ken saro-wiwa died and malcolm x died and he knew it was coming exactly like it did and martin luther king died and big surprise and there are the bones of fifty million or more on the bottom of the atlantic ocean that was before they invented the /etho/ injection and did I mention that mumia abu-jamal is fixin to die and I'm supposed to have tears left to cryy?

we burned torches
the death penalty kills almost exclusively the poor
we composed chants
here in canada we have no death penalty any more
we took it to the u.s. consulate
the reform party would cull the bad guys from our midst
we know this is political
louis riel was a bad guy that canada killed
we know this is political
bad guys are the ones with bad ideas
we know he must go

we phoned
and told them there's a story brewin
a bunch of anarchists and other concerned citizens
are fixin to fuck shit up at the u.s. consulate
'cause they're going to kill a man
for having once been a black panther
and for pointing out that poor people
the news dude said, in classic form, "is he Canadian?"
we said, "nope"
he hanged

we lit torches that stayed lit in the rain
we parted the darkness like a sea
the cops fled to whatever cosiness there could be
in a squad car (pigs don't swim)
we burned the streets
we stopped the traffic
this happened
for whatever good it does
this happened
someone didn't get to their date on time
for the concern of abstract justice and one
single man's politicized life
maybe you were in that traffic jam
wondering what those fuckers be complaining about this time
maybe you were on your way to a poetry reading
maybe you honked your sad solidarity
maybe you snarled your late exasperation
maybe you shook your fist
maybe you raised your fist
maybe you were the one who told me to get a job
maybe you were the one who spit on my friend
but if you were trying to drive through robson and granville
after they announced his execution date
motherfucker: you weren't going nowhere

they say he shot a cop
the evidence is as thin as an fbi agent's bald spot
like peltier and too many to mention before him
(a better poem would be twenty pages of names)
he was framed
america has a habit of killing its dissidents
especially the black ones
but this one was gonna be neat and clean
not in the streets like hutton or hush hush like newton
or messy like malcolm or almost like assata
mumia is to die in the full glare of official transcription
mumia is to die on schedule
mumia is to die alone, on his back, his last words caught
in his throat

but his name was made truly global
as global as capitalism is becoming
as global as colonialism was
as global as cnn's silence
people from Vancouver to amsterdam to bombay know his name
and now
you do too
lefties of every shade
knowing that it could be any one
of us on the chopping block
know what it's about:
they kill niggers who read books and figure out
how fucked up the world is
and try to make it better
be careful you don't aim a copy of das kapital at a cop
they more or less can legally kill you for that

recently an ex-kgb agent stated
that the rosenburgs (remember them?)
never gave the Soviets secrets
about the bomb; they committed no treason
but they are dead
by the hand of the state
because they were marxists
because they were jews
no other reasons
they were framed
it is now proven
you can't call this a conspiracy theory

hate to say I told you so
I truly do
hate to say I told you so

and to the future:
are you flipping through this years from now
after mumia is dead? or did this play some small part
in saving him? did the graffitti we spray painted
or the traffic we stopped
or the letters we wrote
or the petitions we signed
keep him from dying?
look around
for the next round
of framing, sing
the names of freedom
malcolm, biko, martyrs' names
sing well
but torches
got a kinda cooler cadence

Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
Redux Handprint
Wayde Compton
Wayde Compton is an award-winning author and editor. He teaches in the faculty of Creative Writing at Douglas College.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
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