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Michael Angelo Stephen's Poems

Michael Angelo Stephens is author of more than twenty books, including the critically acclaimed novel The Brooklyn Book of the Dead; the travel memoir Lost in Seoul; and the award-winning essay collection Green Dreams. MadHat Press just published his hybrid work about an out of work actor, told in prose and poetry, fact and fiction, and is entitled History of Theatre or the Glass of Fashion.

The Autobiography of My Father

He was five years old, wandering alien

Streets in Brooklyn, his mother having just

Died and his father nowhere to be found,

The young boy walked around the world that way

Out in traffic of the borough until

Two of his County Mayo uncles found

Him wandering around, raggedy and

Dazed, and already hardened, suspicious

And hungry, he accepted their food as

Well as comfort and let them search the bars

Until they found the drunk, missing father,

Who didn’t seem to know his son or them,

His brothers-in-law, until much later,

Sober, he asked them how his sick wife was.

The Death of Charles Parker

(August 29, 1920—March 12, 1955)

Charlie “Bird” Parker would be 100

Today, but instead he died at the age

Of 34, described by the doctors

In the hospital where he was taken

As an elderly Black man, as if he

Were a mere mortal like the rest of us.

August 29, 2020, Chicago

Spring Cherry Blossoms Falling

I was sleazy and homeless but I had

A book contract and a ton of words in

My head, waiting to be unleashed in spring

Air, walking near the reservoir, cherry

Blossoms blooming everywhere, people

Sauntering in the park; I was with someone,

A girlfriend, though that day we were breaking

Up or at least discussing the idea.

They came out of nowhere, a gang of teens

Wielding knives and boxcutters, threatening 

To kill us if we didn’t have money

For them. I didn’t, but she did, handing

It over to the violent young thugs,

Who ran off in falling cherry blossoms.

Buddy Bolden’S Bounce

(September 6, 1877- November 4, 1931)

Having invented jazz, Buddy Bolden

Tried to imagine what else he’d invent,

Maybe the light bulb or dry cereal,

A cure for syphilis or dementia

Praecox, something he was familiar

With, but he stuck with jazz, American

And quintessential as coffee with milk

And sugar, shrimp gumbo or chicory,

The scent of magnolia blossoms fallen

To the ground after rain. The smell of earth

After rain, cornet in hand, he climbed up

A funky tree in New Orleans, played us

We-the-people music, then flew away

From that perch, never to be seen again.

The Flight Deck

They put him on the hospital flight deck,

Where he sat around playing Coleman Hawkins

Records on the cheap record player some

One or other found for him, so he had

At least some music to listen to as

They dreamed up some clinical diagnosis

To explain how a musical genius

Found himself stranded at a traffic light

In midtown Manhattan during lunch hour,

And him unable to unfreeze himself

From the steering wheel as the cop tried to

Pry his fingers off the wheel, put him in

The red ambulance and sped off uptown

To the immaculate hospital ward.

Praising Darnella Frazier

Darnella Frazier went out to go to

The store. Seventeen years old, already

She had a sense of justice and being

On the right side of the story, she stopped

In her tracks and recorded on her phone

What was happening with the police and 

The poor Black man with a knee in his neck,

Cutting off the blood supply to his brain.

His name was George Floyd, the man who made us

Aware that Black lives do matter, not just

A slogan to someone like Darnella  

Frazier who later when asked why she taped 

George Floyd’s death, she said that the world needed

To see exactly what happened to him.

The Hawk


They said he was loaded on some liquid

His corner concocted, maybe cocaine, 

Maybe just the demons exiting from

His body through those meaty fists, hands

Like tungsten, his speed and fury beyond 

Comprehension, a thousand punches per

Round or ten-thousand punches in the match,

There’s no way to calculate the mayhem

That came from those fists or from that spirit.

How many punches did he throw against

Alexis Arguello? Too many for 

The human eye to fathom or to count.

Two times he fought him, and it was two times

Pryor won in a barrage of punches. 


Perpetual motion was this boxer’s

Creed when he stepped into the ring to fight.

He unleashed his punches one after the

Other until Alexis Arguello,

No slouch himself, collapsed against the ropes

Until the referee stepped in and stopped

Slaughter, not once but twice, as if Aaron

Had to prove to the ringside seats that the

First fight was no fluke, and yet Pryor threw

So many punches in those two fights, it

Was as if he may have punched himself out,

Because not too long afterward, though still

Winning his matches, he also began

To fade away until he disappeared completely.

Homage to the Jewish Boxers: Benny Leonard

Benny Leonard went to town riding in

A yellow cab up into Harlem to

See his mother and the rest of his kin

On Pleasant Avenue, there to assure

Mother he would not disappoint her or

The family, and that he would enroll

At the City College of New York on

The other side of town just off Broadway

And West One-hundred-and-thirty-seventh,

To study in the pre-med program, and

So to become a doctor of medicine,

But instead Benny went to the fight gym,

And became, some said, the greatest lightweight

Champion to lace on the boxing gloves.


After one-hundred-and-ten fights, over

Eighty by knockout, only four losses,

One no-contest, and a draw, he was now

Punch-drunk and dopy, his twitch muscles all

But gone, and he keeps hearing bells go off

In his head, even amid the silence

Of the late afternoon, just him and the

Cat present in the apartment, his wife

Out doing errands; he saw himself come

Out of his corner, ready to do battle

Once more. Ali told it best when he said:

A fighter has only so many fights

In him or herself. Once s/he hits that number:

We know what that looks like afterwards.

Anansi In Kinshasa 

For six or seven rounds, Muhammad Ali

Had allowed George Foreman to think that he

Was winning the fight they had in Zaire,

Ali taking body shot after body

Shot, but by Round Eight, everything turned

Around, and Muhammad let everyone

Know who really was in charge in the ring,

And it wasn’t George Foreman. Muhammad

Became a mythical figure that night 

In Kinshasa, Anansi the Trickster, 

But a trickster there for the lowliest,

Poorest person in Africa and the  

World, a shape-shifter, performance artist,

And, of course, the greatest heavyweight champ.


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