I recently saw Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's famous baseball-and-language routine again, "Who's On First," and it reminded me of a witty and appealing book of poems I'd read a while ago that had something to say on the subject. This is from Paul Beatty's Joker Joker Deuce, published in the Penguin Poets series:

Why That Abbott and Costello

Vaudeville Mess Never Worked

With Black People

who's on first?

I don't know, your mama

Here's another:

Quote Unquote

I'm telling you white people...

are evil

how can you say that

your own mother is white

then don't you think

i should know

what im talking about

Beatty was born in Los Angeles. In this poem, too long to quote in its entirety, the poet is in New York, considering the possibility of fusing the rhythms of Allen Gisnberg and Thelonius Monk into some grand new rainbow-hued aesthetic:

from At Ease

i admit theres an urge

to merge ginsbergs

ice age incantations

with some inspired spitfire monk vibes

but no tai chi for me "g"

nix on the tye dye

wont hindu my blues nor

tofu my soulfood

im gonna be

the bulemic bohemian

eating up my people

then purgin their regurgitated words

on the page

and the poems

become self made

little icarus birds

immaculately hatched

from the multicultural nesteggs

of the east village and west l.a.

born to sing lyric segues

while caged

whats the latin


slave name

for pretty peacocks

whose colors span the flesh spectrum

but are stuck on with wax

it looks nice

but can it fly

Reprinted from Joker Joker Deuce by Paul Beatty.

1994 Viking Penguin