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Invisible to Whom?: Poetic Responses to Invisible ManSoldier in Crisis

Kadeem Gayle

In celebration of the seventieth anniversary of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Cave Canem commissioned three ekphrastic poems on the novel and Elizabeth Catlett’s sculpture Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison (2003). The commissioned poets include Cameron Awkward-Rich, Kadeem Gayle, and Lorelei Williams.  

In addition to these poems, on March 1, 2023, Ellison’s birthday, the public program “Invisible to Whom? A Dialogue in Verse" will feature the poets in discussion at the Schomburg Center.

Elizabeth Catlett, Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison, 2003

The allocation of narcotics after a new-born screen  

declares I’m an addict. Keen heme roots run  

through crescent veins  

after fourteen days, 

I repeat the cycle;  

I’m menstrual, but they don’t understand that.  

Dressed in Death’s hand-me-downs  

I run immune to the overdose  

broke buck in its mitosis  

honest incest when terror called for true blood.  

The stigmata crown through my inbound bone  

rippling strokes as the coiled crimson fontanelle  

spills a passage,  

behold the Black Mecca.  

Passed Frederick Douglass Boulevard  

I carried the pain pulse en route to West 134  

Street. At the check-in I’m given a urine culture  

vigor vitals extract nectar  

merging from this ruthless hemoglobin. 

The nurse measures my cadence  

asks if I’m demon possess. 

Nine-ether victims of the malarial plague 

channeling changeling curse name S.S  

the toot of my bane is hell fighter.  

Leaving a barren esophagus  

The taste of cotton floods my enamel  

I bid for a glass of water  

but outnumbered by policy and protocol. 

She walks in with a syringe,  

intravenous Morpheus feeds through  

a chute of opioids  

it’s the eye of the negro noise  

that calms the rocks and eases the spasms  

lunar mumbling madness 

the malicious lineage once a threat to send me to Lafargue Clinic.   

Infused with the pique 

my lumbar lit a lynched  

fag off white-coated lips 

readmitting the sickle smoke. Batter the blow, 

if only my skin were coke—  

I sunk to the cot as they examine my jaundice thoracic, 

pitch-chewed pupil feigned for the kush  

still refused to pass the Dutch.  

I maneuvered the decimal placed after ten  

that wrenching lollygag licking my patients.  

The cat let out my cry to a bronze granite god  

and silence the balance they mistook as catfish.  

Bequeathed banters of my forefathers’ proverbs,  

my knowledge reign of regal kin 

I questioned their bed-manner 

neglect to treat soldiers and reminded 

my ego ain’t legal to judge the laws of Jim Crow.  

They can perform their prejudice as sacred  

when royal chromosomes are nursed   

by imbeciles because to them,  

I’m just a thug in the medical ghetto.  

Kadeem Gayle Poetry Bio

Kadeem Gayle

Kadeem Gayle is a patient advocate, poet, and medical humanist of Jamaican descent, born in Boston, Massachusetts. At three years old, Gayle was diagnosed with sickle cell disease (SCD), a rare genetic blood disorder that causes a serious range of health issues. Despite the challenges of living with SCD, Gayle has found positive ways to live and cope with his illness. Gayle is currently a doctoral candidate at Drew University studying medical and health humanities. Gayle started writing poetry at the age of fifteen and has found writing to be a positive outlet that promotes healing and humanizes the SCD experience. Gayle has written for the Republican newspaper of Springfield, Massachusetts. Gayle is currently a credentialed Independent Patient Advocate through the Sickle Cell Community Consortium. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University and is a third-year Cave Canem Fellow. 

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