Amiri Baraka’s “Incident”

It’s perhaps not too strange than many of us have forgotten the African-American protest poet Amiri Baraka. Born in 1934 as Everett LeRoi Jones, Baraka changed his name to Amiri Baraka in 1965 after the assassination of Malcom X. His voice, even by contemporary standards, was a powerful one: unabashed, unafraid, full of spite and controversy. Critics since have attempted to explain away his overt sexism and homophobia in a variety of ways (he was trying to hide his own homosexual impulses, he was using the colloquial language of the streets, etc.). Whatever the explanation, his poems are raw and unapologetic. At their worst, they fall victim of the dangers of military nationalism and bigotry. At their best, his poems of protest inspire revolt and the necessity for change in a world that often doesn’t listen to those that are quietly marginalized and swept under the rug. The poem “Incident,” which I’ve included here belongs, I think, to the latter.

But he died in darkness darker than
his soul and everything tumbled blindly with him dying
down the stairs…

Baraka would go on to publish ten slim but powerful books of poetry in his lifetime, plus an additional selected edition of his work, Transbluesency, which came out in 1995. However, he was much more than a poet. He also wrote and published numerous works of fiction and nonfiction (including a groundbreaking analysis of blues music, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, in 1963). He also published plays, wrote and directed films, and released three albums of jazz recordings. He died on January 9, 2014.


He came back and shot. He shot him. When he came
back, he shot, and he fell, stumbling, past the
shadow wood, down, shot, dying, dead, to full halt.

At the bottom, bleeding, shot dead. He died then, there
after the fall, the speeding bullet, tore his face
and blood sprayed fine over the killer and the grey light.

Pictures of the dead man, are everywhere. And his spirit
sucks up the light. But he died in darkness darker than
his soul and everything tumbled blindly with him dying

down the stairs.

We have no word

on the killer, except he came back, from somewhere
to do what he did. And shot only once into his victim’s
stare, and left him quickly when the blood ran out. We know

the killer was skillful, quick, and silent, and that the victim
probably knew him. Other than that, aside from the caked sourness
of the dead man’s expression, and the cool surprise in the fixture

of his hands and fingers, we know nothing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: