National Poetry Month Day 5: “Tar Baby” by Amaud Jamaul Johnson

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Tar Baby

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Given that Tartarus stands undisputed
As the very bottom of Hell, where even
The bones of the damned are scattered
By Hector’s dogs and the Gorgons weep
Blood into its veined marble floor,
Then maybe our mascot is fitting.

Noted for their venom, the Tartars,
Too, were a fallen people—hunted,
Then abandoned, and consumed again
In the Gobi by the Golden Horde. So then,
Maybe we honor them, the Little Tartar,
The scared and wolfish, the vengeful.

And who among us even remembers
Our white past, Fruit town and the Farms
Before the wig shops and gutted lots,
Miss Compton’s tinseled scepter, her bob,
A motorcade of Impalas peeling the corner
Of Cocoa and South Oleander.

So tonight, at the stadium, the Tar Babe
Prances in his Columbia blue diaper,
Welding his foam scimitar, a broken tooth
Winking like a search light from his mouth.
And those sticky mouthed foxes, clustered
In the stands with their Cracker Jacks,

Their expressions stuck between grinning
And crying, tugging at their matted hair,
And tearing the black from their paws.

-Amaud Jamaul Johnson

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Amaud Jamaul Johnson is the author of Red Summer and is a graduate of the Cave Canem workshop and a former Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. He has received scholarships from the Hurston/Wright Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Johnson teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


From time to time, The Rumpus publishes new poems. Check out this multimedia collection of poetry we've published. More from this author →