The Colour of James Brown’s Scream
For Steve McCarthy and Todd Bracey
I have known you my many names
but today you are Larry Levan,
your hand on the plater in the smoky
room of a Garage regular’s memory.
You are keeping ‘When Doves Cry’
in time, as you swing your hips,
and sweat drips from your hair
the colour of James Brown’s scream.
King of King Street, we are still moving
to the same sound, though some
of us don’t know it is your grave
we dance on, cutting shapes
machismo lost to the beat –
every road man is a sweetboy
if the DK plays ‘Heartbroken’
at just the right time for these jaded feet.
Teach us to shape-shift. Legba,
you must know I’d know your customary
shuffle, that phantom limp, anywhere;
that I see your hand in the abandon
of a couple, middle of the floor,
sliding quick and slick as a skin-fade
by the hands of a Puerto Rican clipper-man
who wields a cutthroat like a paintbrush.
Let us become like them, an ode
to night, ordering beer in a corporeal
language from a barman who replies
by sweeping his arms in an arc,
Willi Ninja style, to fix a drink our lips
will yearn for, a taste we’ve been
trying to recreate ever since.
from Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus, 2017), © Kayo Chingonyi 2017, used by permission of the author and the publisher.