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.

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