Tony Medina

Two Sonnets

Volume 16:1, Winter 2015
The Sonnet Issue

Brown Sonnet

The music is inescapable
Pomade gleaming in a pompadour
Slicked back like a three-legged table
Of hot peas & butter, or something new—
The funk & wagnals of The Empire
Denying its progeny of despair
Of chain gang blues & slave ship ire
The wailing caught in the whip’s glaring air
Each split bleeding the sin of skin
Gospel caught in throat like cotton & gin
Each split glide & jerk of JB’s scream is kin
Branding iron tattooed to flesh like kiln
Microphone stand a cross to break or bear
Drum inescapable as blood in the ear


The Autobiography of Michael Jackson’s Skin

How do you go from black to white in one spin
Crotch-grabbing moonwalk atop an auction block
Defying physics, gravity, DNA
Fame: the whip’s lash that thins your gin, strips your skin

I belonged to a poor pure boy black as kin
Whose nose Napoleon tore off in Egypt
Replacing it with Kirk Douglas’ cleft chin
How you go from black to white to black again

Longing for tender white flesh, the standard sin
History’s blanched erasure bargain basement bin:
Money, race, self-hate, invisibility—
I want to sing through such translucency

Scream back from my old brown self, precious cargo
Spinning, sing to him, Where did our love go?


Both of these sonnets are reprinted from An Onion of Wars, Third World Press, 2012, with permission from the author.


Tony Medina is Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University. Two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People for I and I, Bob Marley (Lee & Low, 2009) and DeShawn Days (Lee & Low, 2001), he is the author of a number of books for adults and young people, including I Am Alfonso Jones (Tu Books, 2017), Broke Baroque (2Leaf Press, 2013), The President Looks Like Me & Other Poems (Just Us Books, 2013), An Onion of Wars (Third World Press, 2012), Broke on Ice (Willow Books, 2011), and My Old Man Was Always on the Lam (NYQ Books, 2010). He recently received the Langston Hughes Society Award from the College Language Association (CLA) and the first African Voices Literary Award. To read more by this author: Tony Medina: Plan B Press Issue