Cornbread Othello at the Loco, by Alan King

A line inside of Coco Loco stretched along the bookstore walls, wrapped around the Poetry shelves and passed through the Biography and Fiction sections. Every Thursday night, eager performers rushed Fatback McGristle for the list as they cried, "Ohh.. mee, mee!!" The tired host let out a frustrated sigh while his gold tooth gleamed among the other three remaining teeth.

Outside. Cornbread Othello was brushing back his sandy-brown 'fro before taking the Black&Mild from over his right ear, lighting up and puffing tight O's that stretched to loose hoops the higher they climbed the cool air.

"I ain't never seen people this excited for the open mic since Yogi Records in Adam's Morgan. But that was years ago. A few of these pups were nursing their mother's tit then." Cornbread peeks inside at Fatback gesturing wildly that the list is closed, and that there were no intentions of squeezing on late-comers.
"This was a whole different scene nine years ago. D.C. was fierce then. Can you imagine being at a reading and every poet there at the caliber of those in the Black Arts Movement? You left every reading ready to put pen to paper under some desk lamp or whatever light you had to work with."

Cornbread recalled how he got his name. He had been reading on the scene for a while when the older cats took notice and was feeling his Shakespearean flow--everything from sonnets to rhyming couplets. After the council of elders had watched Lawrence Fishburn play Othello, and after considering that his skin was lighter than corn meal, they unanimously decided what to call him. The rest was history. From there, he'd go on to grace international scenes such as Switzerland, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Austrailia.

Cornbread's work was in several national and international anthologies. He published over 20 collections of poems, 10 novels and numerous articles for the Washington Citypaper, The Afro, EMERGE, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Cornbread was also nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and the National Book Award. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and journalist was invited to do speaking engagements throughout the African continent.
The D.C. scene was definitely a different place then. So much onus was on the writer to study their craft and not to take the reader for granted. Even the audience was well-read not just in poetry, but other literary genres and current events going on around the world.
"One night, this self-proclaimed elder got up on the mic and started doing this number by the Last Poets. He never even acknowledged that it was their piece." Cornbread takes a long drag on his Black&Mild, now smoked to the mouthpiece. He holds it in as long as he could before releasing a stream through his nostrils.
"I felt so sorry for that cat when he finished that poem. Right after, the host counted to three and damn near everybody in the place recited the same poem back to him before they banned his ass from ever performing there, again. That was then. Recently, I was at another spot nearby. Nag Champa was burning strong that night. This one cat does a poem and bites several lines from Saul Williams' "Amethyst Rock." But everybody was so busy being righteous that they didn't catch it and the chump got daps and back pats. I was so disgusted that I left. "
Cornbread pushes through the heavy double doors. Cornel Shalom was on the mic. Cornbread couldn't stand this extra-righteous brother. Something about the guy's whole image seemed artificial. Cornbread ran into many of these dudes preaching that "king" must love the "queen" rhetoric. Most of these guys were womanizers, who postured as photographers, poets, teachers, and founders of non-profits. At 6' 4, Shalom--who was bald--was wearing a long flowing ceremonial garment.

"The Tax Man's!!...the Tax Man's debt!!" ranted the militant, who was said to resemble Morpheus. "The Tax Man's!!...the Tax Man's debt!!" He said it as if he were somehow stuck on repeat, as if the idea were a scratched record struggling to play past that point. "The Tax Man's!!...the Tax Man's debt!!" At first Cornbread thought he was having a seizure. He was reaching for his pick just in case the performer tried to chew off his tongue. But he realized it was a part of the performance when he picked up on the dramatic pauses and the way Cornel looked intently into the eyes of the mostly-women crowd. Five more runs of this and his piece was finished.

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Sankar Roy