[By Clarissa Richee]
Margaret Walker’s poem “For Malcolm X” joins a tradition of literature honoring Malcolm X and his legacy after his death in 1965. Walker’s poem focuses less on Malcolm the man and more on those he stood for and the movements that grew out of his influence.
Walker begins her elegy by first calling out the beginnings of that movement, the various factions of the African American community who felt they’d been “violated” by their cultural position. Walker writes to this community in frank, bold descriptions, calling them out with a second person “you,” signifying that they are her true audience, and relating readers to their plight.
Walker paints members of this bitter and burdened community as victims of Malcolm’s murder. She describes them as “black faces [that] have hollowed pits for eyes,” and she names them using words like “violent dreamers,” “heartbreak,” “cries,” “hooked,” “bums,” and “burning.” Such descriptions invoke a sense of both pain and desperation. Similarly, the way she calls them to “gather” around their fallen champion is almost prophetic of the gatherings that resulted from his death.
In the second stanza, Walker continues to use imagery as a tool to evoke emotion in her readers. She also changes her “you” to include herself, stating “Beautiful were your sand-papering words against out skins!/ Our blood and water pour from your flowing wounds.” Here, she paints Malcolm as a Christ-like figure and mourns not the mortality of the man himself, but for loss of the impact he had on a hurting community.
She ends the poem by calling for a replacement, hinting that is could arise from anywhere “Old man mumbling his dotage, crying child, unborn?” The question mark at the end is both hopeful and suggestive; the new revolutionaries are yet to come.