Invisible to Whom?:
Poetic Responses to Invisible Man
Soldier in Crisis
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 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.