Jabari Asim
Let Me Clear My Throat

How about we take a ride?

Hit me up and we’ll slide 

Like a zip-liner on a cable.

Better yet, let’s cruise

Through certain Negro avenues,

All strut and swag in our sweatshop shoes:

The streets unfold in twelve-bar blues.

The night is young yet

And we are calling to collect a debt.


Two, four, six, eight:

See the sisters undulate.


Form follows Funk, so the fog rises 

Thick and chocolate as a church girl’s hallelujah hips.

Through the window let’s get lifted while she licks her lips

And rebukes the devil in the name of De Lawd. 

In the choir loft, Fats Waller’s ghost grins and leans on the steam.

The organ shivers and the Funk persists

In puddles and alleys, under streetlights and awnings

As echo and mist, until the bright splash of morning.


In the meantime, the tension mounts.

We are bearing witness and taking accounts.

Losses, gains. 



Indeed there will be time and temptations to resist,

Time enough for stop and frisk

And deadlines to be missed.

Time for going and staying, 

Time for rushing and delaying

And hundreds and hundreds of hesitations,

Commitments and procrastinations.

It only seems as if it’s getting late.

Linger a while, and pontificate.


“I have seen the best behinds

Of my generation

On BET, in heavy rotation.”


Shall we take our time

And revisit the Problem, the Question,

The Color Line?

The post-racial fences

To be mended?

Shall I leave my blackness unattended?


(“Any suspicious-looking or unattended blackness found in or near trains, planes, stations, vehicles or buildings should be immediately reported to the police.”)


On a whim,

Let’s explore the interim,

The middle ages

Where guts grow round,

Hairlines recede

And First World wants

Trump Third World needs.

(I used to wish upon a star

For a sweet young thing and a sporty car.

But that was before redlining and subpriming,

Layoffs and buyouts,

Pensions pinched

And mergers acquired;

That was before my Visa expired.

I have miles to go before I lunch

And time-cards to punch.)


And indeed will there be time

To discover who I am,

To love a woman who gives a damn?

To gesture and reflect

At the crossroads

Where fates intersect?

Who I was and might have been:

The careless youth,

The now and Zen.

What the world owes me

For the tears I’ve spilled,

The investments and the yield.


Indoors and out,

The Funk, like fog, continues to rise

High as the listening skies

Higher even than the cost of living.

The Funk rolls on,

Omnipotent, forgiving.


(Within the Funk, a field hand howls

With parched tongue,

Black spells born 

When Anansi was young.


Here is where the drummers drum

Enabling ring shout and kingdom come

Enabling hip hop and holy hum

The one o’clock jump and the lindy hop

The bodacious bump and the elegant bop

Here is where the horns holler

Here is where the emcees spit

Here is where the singers wail

Of a love that’s so precious and too big to fail.

Of doo-wops and teardrops and tender regret,

Brand new bags and cold, cold sweat.)

History is young yet.

We are calling to collect a debt.


“This call may be monitored for your protection.”


The mask slips, the grin fades.

The Funk exposes my charades.

I’ve been searching like Kerouac

For something magic, something black.

I have wandered wide-eyed like a drone

From deadly Dixie to the Combat Zone,

I’ve given my harness bells a shake

From Lake Forest to Forest Lake.

Stalking the ’burbs at break of dawn,

I have seen the jockeys on the lawn.


Two, four, six, eight:

If love is theft, then what is hate?


I have heard the Lady with the golden throat

And her big band matching, note-for-note.

Grab a good table, a ringside seat,

Pat your foot and nod to the beat.

On and on and on and on.

Rinse, repeat.



See the sisters come and go

While the tricksters stomp and blow

In tails and spats and pork-pie hats.

The cash register rings as the Lady sings 

Of black bards and backs scarred,

Hearts broken and lessons learned,

Funk borrowed but seldom returned.


All night long I hear them chant

In joints where the jukebox swings.

All night long their voices carry,

Dukes and counts and kings.


Stepped into history and the waves were cold.

They chilled my body but not my soul.


Nod your head and pat your feet.

Rinse. Repeat.

Found In Volume 43, No. 05
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  • Jabari Asim
Jabari Asim
About the Author

Jabari Asim an associate professor of creative writing at Emerson College. His books include A Taste Of Honey: Stories (Broadway, 2010) and Only The Strong, a novel (Agate/Bolden, forthcoming in Spring 2015).