For Miss Shirley LeFlore

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© 2019 By Kevin Powell

Poet E.J. Antonio reading at a book signing celebration for Shirley LeFlore hosted by author/poet Layding Kaliba in his Harlem home.

I want to say

thank you

Miss Shirley LeFlore

for being a supernatural word 

warrior who 

allowed your poet laureate tongue

to be baked and bronzed by

the smoke-y laughter of

sister-girl hair salons

and the ham-hocked hallelujahs

of ancient Black churches with

Black Jesus in their ancestral bones

just means you

done seen some things 

that you knew

as a little Black girl

resurrected there in the gumbo pot

of African soul they

baptized Saint Louis

that you were born

to witness 

the weary blues

of a people

who made high ways

from no ways

just means

you is fearless

Miss Shirley

you is mad cool

Miss Shirley

you is forever

Miss Shirley

like the sugary taste

of a ripened watermelon

busted open

the way 

your poetry

busted open

your womanhood and your Blackness

and your purple majesty

as the queen 

you were ordained to be

the way 

your momma and your grandmommas

were queens

the way

your daughters

are queens

the way

Black girl magic

is Miss Shirley LeFlore

swinging and bebopping

from World War 2

through the soul struts of Vietnam

and Civil Rights

to the boom baps of hip-hop

and orange monsters in the 
White House with crooked eyes

yes, the way

Ella Fitzgerald

Gwendolyn Brooks

Billie Holiday

Nina Simone

The wash lady

The numbers runner

and the school teacher were magical

‘cuz magicians dare, Miss Shirley

like you dared

you made a march to Washington

you made a commitment to poor people

and the arts and the telling of


like it is

because you dared to believe

that art was for the people

all people

your people

your beautiful lightredbeigebrownchocolatedarkblack


“I am the Black woman”

you said, Miss Shirley

and the people’s church said a-women a-men ashe

go on with your bad self, Miss Shirley LeFlore

teach us how poetry is 

Buddy Bolden cutting a rug

with the blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey

while Miles Davis and John Coltrane

blow segregated nightmares into the wind

move us, Miss Shirley

from Saint Louis to New York and back again

embrace the young poets of my generation and the young

poets of today’s generation like they are your equals

make me feel like you are one of my mommas

you Audre Lorde Sonia Sanchez Nikki Giovanni

Mari Evans Amina Baraka Camille Yarbrough Maryemma Graham

sister-girls who survived 

sick and tired of being sick and tired

to become, like that God they call her,

sacred healing women 

keepers of our culture

protectors of our sanity

believers in the spiritual voodoo 

we call freedom songs

Miss Shirley LeFlore is not

good enough for you any longer

you are now dancing with the ancestors

cool jerking and twisting your woman-child

around the sweaty nostrils of the sun

and you are now Saint Shirley

Shirley, yes, same name of my birth momma

you are


you are


you are


you are

Unapologetically free

a caregiver and a caretaker to the very end

I cried Saint Shirley when I was told

you left us

On Mother’s Day

but then I smiled

because Black women

like you

are the mothers

of this nation

are the mothers

of this universe

if there were no you

there would be no us

none of us

so take your bow

and your grand exit, Saint Shirley

I see you with your pressed and creased angel wings 

hovering over

Saint Louis

hovering over


hovering over

our sobbing hearts

reminding us

to kiss laughter daily

reminding us

that when we channel

rivers of women

we must drink slowly

from their eyes

we must swallow the juice from their tears

so that we can be




as you 

Saint Shirley

always were—

© Kevin Powell 2019

Kevin Powell is a poet, essayist, blogger, screenwriter, journalist, activist, public speaker, and author of 13 books, including his autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood.


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