washington, dc

31 october 2008


Remembering Bonita Applebum   
Hourglass Flow
Till's Skin
Slow Fade

About Derrick Brown




A syrup of sunlight coats
the hard table

where they lay hands
on dry bones

glossy bones

steady trash talk and chuckles
the snap crack
of spotted flat backs
as point are claimed


Fingers drum the table.

I’m on my third house.
Where you at!? Jati?
HUD is officially
in the building!

a flat palmed rimshot retort
shakes the table
the bones shiver loose
like unhinged teeth

Tight lipped plotting
dreadlocks brush the bones
Jati resets the fracture

smiling as houses
change ownership

Eminent domain Fred!
You getting gentrified!

Shoulders hold the rupture of

Yo! Who’s stirring the soup
now Fred?

The bones rustle.
A field of pale
on burgundy table top.

Brown hands reach in
for another claiming.



remembering bonita applebum

Bonita Applebum is a
onyx colored
Milky Way sprinkled
infinity loop of
a goddess's laugh.
Bonita Applebum be
the pentatonic scale
squeezed into form fitting
denim overalls.
Bonita Applebum be
Coltrane's “Naima” at 88 bpms
riding an Ali Shaheed Muhummad break beat
bare back.
Bonita Applebum be your daddy's
woman before your mama came into the picture.
Bonita Applebum still leaves thugs
breathless, their eyes leaking water
from nostalgia.
Bonita Applebum's eyes shiny like
new vinyl, fresh like a Rudy Huxtable
Bonita Applebum be your
first first. First back porch
summer sunset French kiss,
first pack of Nag champa incense,
first hip hop sample that makes you
seek out its source.
Bonita Applebum is
1989, baby dreads,
salt fish, ginger beer,
sweet iced tea, cassava,
kola champagne,
mud cloth, head wraps,

ashy knees, shea butter,
library cards, bottled water,
and rickety first time ancestor
Bonita Applebum be black folk
in Birkenstocks       and that’s okay.
Bonita Applebum's
bookshelf is bigger than yours.
What you gonna do about it?
Bonita Applebum is a worn
copy of Erotic Noir.
Bonita Applebum is light skinned
girl crushes on Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy,
Pebbles, and Tisha Campbell from House Party.

Bonita Applebum is dark skinned girl crushes on
Sheryl Lee Ralph, Eddie Murphy's first wife
from Coming to America, and Karyn White.
Bonita Applebum still knows the
lyrics to every song on Eric B and Rakim's
Paid In Full album.
 Bonita Applebum be your
first on purpose poke on the
dance floor.
Bonita Applebum be
the reason you got a Sankofa tattoo
on your left shoulder blade.
Bonita Applebum is
the rasp of Q-tips voice
that puts goose bumps on
your girl's neck even now.

Bonita Applebum
ain't 38-24-37 no more.
Bonita Applebum is
33 with a mortgage
and two degrees under her belt.

Your mama still asks about
Bonita Applebum is your
Son’s second grade teacher,
Guidance counselor, tutor.
Bonita Applebum drives a
Toyota Forerunner      hybrid model
with mud cloth seat covers.

Bonita Applebum is still slamming
like a hip hop song.




“To write all night long, the hourglass is still slow
flow from Hellborn to Free Power like Wilco.”
—MF Doom MC

Blame comfort. Blame a city of coffee houses and lounges.
Blame ego and pride and all that clever shit. Blame self.

Blame the crafty inner only child and his addiction to pleasing
and head pats. Blame the anxious inner prospector and gold fever.

Blame the voice that wants to sound like a poet, but not sound
like a poet wanting to sound like a poet. Blame distractions

but again that brings it all back to self doesn’t it? Blame ritual.
Blame fear of failure. Blame the voice in your head that doesn’t like you.

Blame competition. Blame loathing and book deal envy. Blame the workshop
in your head. Blame expectations the size of a pig iron plow.

Blame clock faces and hour hands. Blame stuck keys and humming hard drives.
Blame that lost hour of slumber. Blame unreadable REM sleep scribble.


Remember the ritual of trying, falling, the get up and dust off.
The look to see if anyone is watching. The start over. The hopeful ending.

Remember each day is a draft. Remember possibility. Process.
Remember place. Remember voice. Patience. Remember to forgive yourself.





Lesson #1


Second to last summer
before high school
me and Brooke Petty were
a neighborhood item.
Sugar water lovers.
Ten speed bike sunset rendezvous
at a creek bed.

Here we would trade spearmint kisses
and work the squeeze play
between first and second base.
Goofy love. Twitterpation.
Awkward overbite love, braces
knobby knee headgear romance.
The best two weeks ever.
I would put mad miles on my
Schwinn to sit with my first freckle
faced white girl who lived at
hop-skip-jump address.


Mom was cool and let it ride.
Our talk on interracial dating
would come later after the
inevitable ending. But for now
there’s Brooke’s birthday party.
Me, the only boy invited
and five other

My ego does
the running man.


There are two cars.

Her mother’s station wagon and
Daddy’s Caprice Classic dark blue.

One packed with a giggling
Crayola box of girls and room
for one more.

I am imagining
the smell of bullfrog sunscreen
mingling with juicy fruit gum.

There are two cars.
Her daddy suggests I ride
with him. Just us fellas he says.

There is one car.


We ride in silence.
Forty five minutes
of quiet. No warmth.
His eyes are bird
eggshell blue. Mouth
a tight sharp crease.
He watches the road
only. College ring
big as a billboard.
Red is pulsing
under his knuckle skin.
Something tight in
my chest unbinds
crawls up my throat
sits in my ear tells me
not to make conversation.
We get there early. Goddammit!

No station wagon.
He won’t unlock the door.
We sit. He won’t look at me.
C’mon station wagon.
He pops the lock.


I don’t remember the
taste of her cake the present
I wrapped myself.
I remember laughter.
The brown ebb and flow of the
lake shore.
My toes wiggling near
white ones in dark sand. I don’t
remember how I get home.
I taste metal hug Mama.
Throw up in the bathroom.



Slow fade

For James “J-Dilla” Yancey

Transition with a real  slow fade
—Erykah Badu, "Telephone"

Scratch hiss.

Crisp and needle sharp.
This is your life on vinyl.

Your ear has the forty-niner’s intuition
for black gold spooled and disc shaped.

Your heart is a divining rod.
You, resurrector of rpms.

keep digging.

Since you left
what you've known of hip-hop is over.

Its all repetitive keys
greased stripper polls
and choruses.

There are no more breaks.
Just dumb tongues forsaking
to suckle from soul.

Momma always said getting it natural
was better than formula.

Son of Motown

Minister of the head nod

Encoder of hypnotic soulquarian drums

Seamless tailor of the beat match
and blend so tight you never caught
the progression to the next song.

Low End Theory practioner
all you felt was the bottom.

your beats still called exclusive
even after lupus started its
slow fade throughout your body.

Who else can hold the claim
of finishing an album
from their death bed?

I imagine
as your heart hiccuped
an epilogue,
you    drumming out a beat
with your gaunt fingers.

Head bowed
your slip cover body rippling
with kick drum snare,
your brain, caught in a stubborn loop
willed your hands to  sound out breaths
slap skin to ignored dinner tray
cafeteria style

as your mother dictates
recording  at your bedside
she   a butterfly net
catching the last of your
winged light before
the next transition




holds an MFA in Creative Writing from American University. He has studied poetry under Dr. Tony Medina at Howard University, Cornelius Eady and Henry Taylor at American University, and Sharon Olds at The Squaw Valley Summer Writers Retreat. He is a former Lannan Fellow and a Cave Canem fellow. His work has appeared in such literary journals as Warpland, DrumVoices, The Columbia Review and the online journals Capital Beltway and Howard University’s Amistad. He currently has several poems that will be published in future issues of the online poetry journals Drunken Boat, Ginosko and Proudflesh. His work has also appeared in The Washington Post and New Orleans Times-Picayune newspapers and such anthologies as When Words Become Flesh (Mwaza Publications), Taboo Haiku (Avisson Press), and Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (University of Michigan Press). In 2006 he released his first chapbook of poetry entitled The Unscene and has recently completed a full-length manuscript entitled Gist. He teaches two poetry classes at The Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts in Washington, DC. He is the Poet-In-Residence at Busboys and Poets bookstore, which is operated by the non-profit Teaching For Change.