Malcolm Friend

Afro-Seattleite Fragment #11: My Brother’s Laughter

for Marques Friend


…is pure joy
when I first hear it—
the feeling of Dad’s bedtime stories
or when Mom sings along to Stevie.

Is hearing my first prayer
(or maybe just the first
I remember)
answered so that I am no longer
simply stuck between two sisters.

Is reminder not to complain
when Mom makes you take him
to the park and he’s thrilled
with how high you can push him
on the swings.

Is in tune
with the red rubber turtle
I bounce along
the side of his crib,
or the swing of my head
he’ll still find funny
as a teenager.

Is success.
Is learning at the age of four
that I am
a good older brother.


…is fear.
Not his, but my own.
The tears I stifle
and the echo in my head:
Don’t break Mom’s heart.
Don’t become a statistic.

Is jagged knife
of the officer’s hand
against my cold-stiffened legs
and torso
searching for a gun
I’d never dare to have
while his partner rifles
through my backpack.

Is my jagged breath
when the officer feels
the CD player (gun)
in my pocket
and demands to know (gun)
what it is (gun).

Is my empty pride
when his partner asks
if I’ve ever been in trouble
with the cops before
and I say No.

Is confusion when he responds
You don’t have to worry about that
for another five years,
as if this is rite of passage
I’m never done with.

(Is remembering his words
when it happens again
five years later
in a Spanish train station,
knowing I am most colored
against navy-clad backgrounds.)

Is Dad’s growled order
for my brother not to laugh
when my venting
becomes cautionary tale,
his scolding that this is serious.

Is knowing,
when I wish
it’ll happen to him,
just so he’ll understand
I am the worst
older brother.





Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a 2014 recipient of a Talbot International Award for writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as La Respuestamagazine, the Fjords Review‘s Black American Edition, Alicante’s Informaciónfields magazinePretty Owl Poetry, and elsewhere.