The Author Reflects on His 35th Birthday

By Ishmael Reed b. 1938 Ishmael Reed
35? I have been looking forward
To you for many years now
So much so that
I feel you and I are old
Friends and so on this day, 35
I propose a toast to
Me and You
35? From this day on
I swear before the bountiful
Osiris that
If I ever
Try to bring out the
Best in folks again I
Want somebody to take me
Outside and kick me up and
Down the sidewalk or
Sit me in a corner with a
Funnel on my head

Make me as hard as a rock
35, like the fellow in
The story about the
Big one that got away
Let me laugh my head off
With Moby Dick as we reminisce
About them suckers who went
Down with the Pequod
35? I ain’t been mean enough
Make me real real mean
Mean as old Marie rolling her eyes
Mean as the town Bessie sings about
“Where all the birds sing bass”

35? Make me Tennessee mean
Cobra mean
Cuckoo mean
Injun mean
Dracula mean
Beethovenian-brows mean
Miles Davis mean
Pawnbroker mean
Pharaoh mean
That’s it, 35
Make me Pharaoh mean
Mean as can be
Mean as the dickens
Meaner than mean

When I walk down the street
I want them to whisper
There goes Mr. Mean
“He’s double mean
He even turned the skeletons
In his closet out into
The cold”

And 35?
Don’t let me trust anybody
Over Reed but
Just in case
Put a tail on that
Negro too
                              February 22, 1973

Ishmael Reed, “The Author Reflects on His 35th Birthday” from New and Collected Poems. Copyright © 1980 by Ishmael Reed. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: New and Collected Poems (Self-published, 1988)

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Poet Ishmael Reed b. 1938

Subjects Growing Old, Humor & Satire, Living, Arts & Sciences

Occasions Birthdays

Poetic Terms Free Verse


One of America’s most significant literary figures, Ishmael Reed has published over twenty books of poetry, prose, essays, and plays, as well as penned hundreds of lyrics for musicians ranging from Taj Mahal to Macy Gray. His work is known for its satirical, ironic take on race and literary tradition, as well as its innovative, post-modern technique. Critic Robert Elliot Fox described Reed’s work: “In his writing, Reed is a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Humor & Satire, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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