“I’m gonna make a change for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right”
I don’t know at what point you begin to hate yourself,
Studying the mirror: finger tracing the outline of the face,
the one you no longer refer to as “me.”
A W.M.D. in a belt buckle used on an eight-year-
old boy in Gary, Indiana. “I swear to god, lil nigga
you gon’ get this shit right.”
These “Whites Only” (Unless You Can Sing and Dance) lounges,
this Chitterlin’ Circuit that became American Bandstand.
This self-hate makes suicide look like mild irritation.
Carve your children from the soap you scrub across your face
with the hope that it can wash this Race.
In 1979, the first rhinoplasty.
As if someone could put primer on a dance step:
slide, cool pivot slide.
In 1980, the second rhinoplasty.
If you ask me how Michael Jackson should be remembered:
don’t let them forget his afro. Don’t let them forget his James Brown.
Don’t let them forget he’s the invention of breakdance
on a small pox blanket.
In 1984, the third rhinoplasty.
Have you ever seen a photograph of a firefly in black and white?
Imagine this spark, the monochrome smile.
Remind them he died still a Black child.
A potato peeler removes the years of a people
who have always lived too intimately with the sun.
I heard they hid from him the origin of rhythm,
(don’t let Michael know it’s a Black thing).
A boy in North Carolina who calls Blacks
“niggers” and Asians “chinks” because
his daddy does. These are his shoes.
Don’t tell me, America, you don’t recognize
your child, The offspring of Mary Kay and Jim Crow
on the news – high cheek bones, wavy hair, Nordic nose.
Don’t act surprised at which doll he thinks is pretty.
“A willow deeply scarred”
In 1986, the fourth rhinoplasty and added a clef in his chin.
Each year that passes, the news magazines
begin to impress in your skin. The vitiligo within.
Tattoo your face with bleach bottles full of English tea.
Telling the White mother of your children you want your babies
to look like her – white skin and light eyes.
Even if you are the king of everything cool,
you still understand what popular is supposed to look like.
It’s scary how good the acceptance feels. How the kids
at school will crowd around, how you will moonwalk
because you’re the only one who can.
You’re a crop circle.
Ask me how Michael Jackson should be remembered:
remember him how he would look through Katherine’s eyes.
See a Black boy drinking from a “Whites Only” water fountain.
Stomach the rusted melanin and just keep singing:
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer”
Italicized quotations are from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”
ADAM BOWSER was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Virginia Tech University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Black Studies and Creative Writing. He has performed and lectured at several universities, including Depaul, University of Maryland, and William Patterson. In 2006, he was voted Male Performer of the Year in the National Underground Spoken Word and Poetry Awards. Adam has been described as “rapidly becoming a leading force in the spoken-word world” (Home News Tribune, 2007) and a performer with “verbal virtuosity” (The Star Ledger, 2007). He was a writer and the Promotions Coordinator for the Spoken Word Almanac Project (2008-2011), a multimedia and poetry showcase which was named Critics’ Pick of the Week by TimeOut New York Magazine (2010, 2011). He has released both a poetry CD, “Rebirth of the Mic’,” and a chapbook, “Off the Mic,” and is currently an MFA Candidate for Creative Writing at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University.