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Mar 7
Ali's Song
by Michael R. Burch

They say that gold don't tarnish. It ain't so.
They say it has a wild, unearthly glow.
A man can be more beautiful, more wild.
I flung their medal to the river, child.
I flung their medal to the river, child.

They hung their coin around my neck; they made
my name a bridle, "called a ***** a *****."
They say their gold is pure. I say defiled.
I flung their slave's name to the river, child.
I flung their slave's name to the river, child.

Ain't got no quarrel with no Viet Cong
that never called me ******, did me wrong.
A man can't be lukewarm, 'cause God hates mild.
I flung their notice to the river, child.
I flung their notice to the river, child.

They said, "Now here's your bullet and your gun,
and there's your cell: we're waiting, you choose one."
At first I groaned aloud, but then I smiled.
I gave their "future" to the river, child.
I gave their "future" to the river, child.

My face reflected up, dark bronze like gold,
a coin God stamped in His own imageβ€”BOLD.
My blood boiled like that riverβ€”strange and wild.
I died to hate in that dark river, child,
Come, be reborn in this bright river, child.

The poem above has been set to music in a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong.

You are free to copy the poem for noncommercial use, such as a school project, essay or report, or just because you like it and want to share, but please credit Michael R. Burch as the author.

NOTES: (1) Muhammad Ali said that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after experiencing racism in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Confirming his account, the medal was recovered by Robert Bradbury and his wife Pattie in 2014 during the Annual Ohio River Sweep. The Ali family paid $200,000 to regain possession of the medal. Ali later made a joke about the incident that caused him to toss his medal into the river. He said that he took his medal into a white downtown restaurant and ordered a cheeseburger. The waitress told him, "We don't serve negroes." Ali replied, "I don't eat them either. Just bring me a cheeseburger!" (2) When drafted during the Vietnam War, Ali refused induction, reputedly saying: "I ain't got no quarrel with those Viet Cong; no Vietnamese ever called me a ******." (3) The notice mentioned in my poem is Ali's draft notice, which metaphorically gets tossed into the river along with his slave name. (4) The poem was originally published by the literary journal Black Medina. It has since been published by Other Voices International, Thanal Online, Freshet, Poems About and Poem List.
Written by
Michael R Burch  62/M/Nashville, Tennessee
(62/M/Nashville, Tennessee)   
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