Monday, October 20, 2008


Obama's Adolescent Poem

The following poem has been published in the Guardian. It's by Barack Obama. I liked it quite well, and felt that it has a certain lyrical urgency. He was 19 when it was written.

It was published in a student journal at Occidental College in 1981.

The poet to whom he is writing in the poem is pretty clearly Frank Marshall Davis, whom he addresses as "Pop," and who is one of Obama's mentors in Dreams of My Father.

Davis was a communist poet who was under heavy FBI scrutiny for decades due to his adherence to the CPUSA.

If you want to find his FBI file, it exists online. It's not clear to me to what extent Obama's mentor and he himself share a political line. But they shared poetry. I think Obama is quite lyrical in this piece.

Some think he didn't write his books, but I say he did. He clearly has an ear, and an eye, and a soul for poetry. See what you think. (The word shink three fourths of the way down may be a typo. It has a dictionary meaning of to shrink away.)


Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes,
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I'm sure he's unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he's still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He's so unhappy, to which he replies ...
But I don't care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I've been saving; I'm laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from
his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Two fingers.
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I've got on mine,
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites
an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shink*, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back;
I see my face, framed within
Pop's black-framed glasses
And know he's laughing too.*


northern seer said...

Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me...

I see my face, framed within
Pop's black-framed glasses

pretty obvious- no?

Pastorius said...

Pretty good writing.

So, do you think this poem means that Obama came to know, relatively late in life, that Davis was his father?

Reliapundit said...

well pasto mah friend...

of u'd red all mah posts, then u'd know datz zacklee wut i tink.

he found out while at occidental and got serious about fulfilling his REAL father's dreams, and used davis connections from there on out.

J said...

A lot of people are quick to think of the sexual overtone of Pop, but if you try not to interpret it sexually, I thought that the Maybe the amber stain and smell was just the Seagrams?

gettingitdone said...
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