backstage drama

By Thulani Davis b. 1949 Thulani Davis

for Miami

They all like to hang out.
Thinking is all rather grim to them.
Snake and Minnie,
who love each other dearly,
drink in different bars,
ride home in separate cars.
They like to kiss good night
with unexplored lips.
They go out of town
to see each other open.
This they do for no one else.
Minnie does it all for God.
Snake does it all for fame.
Backstage is where they play their games;
that’s why i know their business.

I was gonna talk about a race riot.
They say they’ve never played that town.
Fleece tells me he’s seen an old movie
about a black town attacking a white one.
Sidney Poitier was the young doctor,
accused, abused and enraged.
There were Ossie Davis and Woody Strode,
Ruby Dee and a hundred unknowns.
Also Sapphire’s mama as a maid.
“What was Sapphire’s mama’s name?” says Inez.
I was goig to talk about a race riot
but we were stuck on Kingfish’s mother-in-law.
Minnie kisses Snake so he’ll forget about that
and I say, “They’re mad, they’re on the bottom
going down, stung by white justice in a white town,
and then there’s other colored people,
who don’t necessarily think they’re colored people,
leaving them the ground.”

“That’s just like the dreads, the Coptics,
and the Man-ley-ites,” one drunk says too loud,
“I and I know,” say he.
Snake yells, “Are you crazy? No, it ain’t,
and no, we don’t.”
“That’s just like Angola,” Terri chimes,
“Sometimes it’s not who but what,
sometimes not what but who.”

I’m trying to talk to these people
about this race riot,
someone is walking on the bar,
and every one of us belongs even now to Miami,
to people we have never seen.

Pookie and Omar want to know what’s goin’ on.
They always do,
’cause they’re always in the bathroom
when it’s goin’ on.
They do everything together and not for God,
and not for fame, but for love.
At least that’s what their records say.
They are a singing group that’s had 13 Pookies.

Omar asks me, “What do you want to say?”
Inez interupts, “She don’t know what to say,
she just wants to say something,
I understand that.”
The 13th Pookie chirps, “This race riot sounds like
all the other race riots.”
Fleece says, “And you sound like
12 other Pookies, Pookie.”

I am still trying to talk about this race riot.
Minnie looks up and says, “We don’t have anywhere
to put any more dead.”
Snake puts on his coat to leave alone,
“We never did, we never did.”

Thulani Davis, “backstage drama” from Playing the Changes © 1985 by Thulani Davis and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Playing the Changes (Wesleyan University Press, 1985)

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Poet Thulani Davis b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Photography & Film, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Popular Culture, Cities & Urban Life, Music

 Thulani  Davis


Thulani Davis is an interdisciplinary artist who has written poetry, novels, plays, and screenplays. As described on the poet’s website, Davis’s work in all genres “shares a passionate concern with history, justice, [and] African American life and is marked by the journalist’s eye for the uncovered truth.” Her poetry collections include Playing the Changes (1985) and All the Renegade Ghosts Rise (1978). Raised in Virginia . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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