Image: Ben Kolde
Kodak Black Man Reads Poetry
St. Paul 2021
You double tap hold your Airpods. Noise canceling activated. You have your sunglasses
You are indoors, in a book shop, somewhere in St. Paul, Minnesota. You are waiting for
your turn to read. All these people are here to watch you read. Not just you, though. It’s
never just you.
Your mentor is on stage reading an essay. He is animated. He can spit like a muhfucka.
You realize what essay he’s reading, and how traumatic it is for you to listen to. It
reminds you of the Summer of Floyd, when everything burned around you. When you
were afraid of racists from Wisconsin, who drove through these streets, laying cans of
gas in alleyways. Shooting up Black homes. Coming back later that night to set them on
You ask yourself how on God’s green earth you ended up in a place as racist as America.
You realize you never had a choice. Much like being a writer, you never had a choice.
Your family left Africa for this shit.
On your first night in America, it was a drive-by on your block in Atlanta.
You’ve always told that story and repeated that catchphrase: we left Africa for this shit?
You’re in the thick of it now. That essay is starting to crescendo. You can see the impact
it’s having on your mentor. He is getting more animated in his delivery.
Damn, that nigga can spit.
Also: he is feeling it. You are feeling it, too. Pacing the corners of the room, nervous. You
turn on Kodak Black. Kodak raps about murder, but it calms you down. Kodak raps
about the things which he was born into, which he had no choice but to survive. Kodak
raps about the struggle cuz it made him a man. You know about the struggle, but this
audience of white faces won’t understand.
Your mentor is done reading now. It’s almost your turn to go on stage. You instinctively
start walking towards him. You meet him just outside the audience’s expectant eyes.
White people are always expecting something from us, aren’t they?
You embrace your mentor, now. He is shaking. You see the tears in his eyes. Not quite
tears, but more like… a swelling, of moisture, just shy, of teardrops.
You hug him now. You stand there hugging. It is a shared struggle, these Black male
bodies, in this country built on the understanding that all your bodies are worth
is the price of strange fruit.
Poplar trees, nigga. Emasculation. Manhood stuffed inside of mouth. Tarred
This the country where niggas like you come up missing. Whether you rap about murder
like Kodak, or you stand in front of white audiences like a poet professor. You could come up missing, young nigga. No matter how old you are, you will always be a boy to them.
And you know this. Not even deep down, you know this consciously.
That’s why you don’t care about their praise, about their critique, about their putdowns.
You don’t care about their fear of your manhood. About their fetishes surrounding it.
You don’t care about their cuckold fascination.
White wives, Black dick. You don’t care about it.
You only care about your words, about your honor, dignity, life.
You go on stage to spit these bars, but you don’t even care about them half the time.
You only care about this moment, this shared embrace. Two Black men, acknowledging
each other’s existence. Holding each other in ways that the world is incapable of.
You only care about the now.
And now… you go on stage.
Dim the lights.
Turn off that Kodak.
Fade to Black Man.
Said Shaiye is an Autistic Somali Writer & Photographer. His debut book, Are You Borg Now? was a 2022 Minnesota Book Award Finalist in Creative Nonfiction & Memoir. He has contributed essays to the anthologies Muslim American Writers at Home, The Texas Review’s All-Poetry Issue, and We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World. He has published poetry & prose in Obsidian, Brittle Paper, Pithead Chapel, 580 Split, Entropy, Diagram, Rigorous, Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota, where he was a Graduate Instructor of Creative Writing, as well as a Judd International Research Fellow. He teaches writing to Autistic kids through Unrestricted Interest, as well as in the English Departments of several colleges in the Twin Cities.