Afro-Seattleite Fragment #15: Jimi Hendrix Plays "The Star Spangled Banner"--Woodstock 1969

by Malcolm Friend

“…this was only the very beginning of a long, violent summer.”
—Aaron Dixon, My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain

Distort the note.
Bend it as many ways
over itself
before it breaks.
Don’t break it.
Just burn it.
Let it dangle,
let it bleed—
fragile thing
that can’t breathe
on its own,
parasite leeching
off symbiosis
between man and guitar.
Douse it in gasoline,
and let it ash
in smoke.

Your arson
will be dubbed intro
to a soundtrack
named Vietnam,
as if your muse resided
on foreign soil.
But just one year ago
Garfield Park and Madrona Hill
and Black bodies
bent, dangled, bled—
your Central District
was under smoke,
engulfed in the flames
that have always seared it,
that have always seared us.

So if any ask why
you dipped the note
in gasoline
and allowed smoke rise,
tell them this tune
always sounded like a purge
to us.

Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, and an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Alicante’s Información, fields magazine, Pretty Owl Poetry, and elsewhere.