Herbert Nehrlich

Rookie (04 October 1943 / Germany)

Nigger Malcolm * - Poem by Herbert Nehrlich

His name was Malcolm,
he hustled next to me
behind the counter of
beloved Martindale's.
Books, New and Used,
including Paperbacks and Maps,
and Texts for Medicine,
yes, Jurisprudence and The Arts.
Open 'til nine, on seventh street.
Downtown, one block from Rubens,
Jewish sandwich shop,
and, if too busy, Pershing's Square.

Oh, yes, LA, the early seventies,
the smog so thick that eyes were custom red,
poor Malcolm had a history of trouble
with the old pump, it wasn't sealing right.
My favourite hours were right after six,
when Stumpf, the German Dragon had gone home.
We'd have a proper sandwich sent,
also some Heineken, green label,
though burping only when the store was quiet.

Malcolm had not a single hair but jungle eyebrows,
as tall as me, the skinny kid from the old country.
But, unlike me, he suffered from a constant hiccup,
he was convinced it was a signal from his heart.
' Releasing bubbles now', he'd mumble between bites,
and we would sit and study books of diagnosis,
and cardiology as well as Nature Cure.
I was a student then, pretending to be teacher,
we were determined to extract from inch-thick volumes
if not a cure, at least prevention for the guy.

His doc had warned him to have all affairs in order,
thus to avoid embarrassment in that rare case
he did keel over in an unexpected failure,
though Malcolm stated many times that he could care,
' once you are history you don't much worry, right my friend? '

And, thinking back it still gives me the 'willies',
we had some serious talks about the world in general,
even the subject of skin colours did come up,
and I made immature remarks about 'them Niggers'.

There was no prejudice at all, I was just dumb,
back in the Fatherland the folks were lily-white,
but in the circumstance I felt the need to take
an educated and well-seasoned stance.

I worked with Malcolm for a year and a few days,
and never knew (he did not tell me) he was black,
it was amazing, come to think of it, but true.
I would be shattered Malcolm, if you did come back.

And so the world in Southern Cal simply kept turning,
until the day of lush pastrami dinners ended,
it was his birthday, come next Sunday and he left
his post to personally fetch some culinary treasures

and celebrate, he'd carried back eight bottles,
two triple-deckers, lots of onions, Polish dills,
potato salad and cheesecake dessert.
I do recall that something like a premonition
hung in the air for me, one does not celebrate
one's birthday prematurely, wait until it hatches
inside the calendar, but, quite needless to say,
I did not warn my friend about this evil omen.

But he was right to have a preemie on that night.
When Sunday came and his black mistress went to wake him
with 'Happy Birthday', not one word did leave her lips:
Malcolm had passed on to the other side.

I used to scold myself for never finding a solution.
Three decades later though that lifeboat looks the same.
I've seen the books, yes, all of them since then.
Too many questions and a scarcity of answers.
But I can tell you, don't postpone a single pleasure,
the only certainty -though you may never know-
is that the day will come when you will have to go.


Note: When at last I had realised that Malcolm
actually WAS black, I confided and it became
our private 'joke'. He always insisted I refer to
him as NIGGER.
(No disrespect meant to other Blacks) .


Comments about Nigger Malcolm * by Herbert Nehrlich

  • (6/21/2005 5:40:00 AM)


    Thanks Liam, for the support. I think this citizen Kane must be black, some of these minorities are very touchy about things.
    But you are right, I looked at two of her poems and must say AchDuLieberGott.
    It's those who can't........
    Are you right in Geneva or a suburb? If in Geneva, go find Hunzikergasse and you will come to a Butcher Shop which has the best smoked hams outside of the Fatherland.
    Best wishes
    Herbert
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  • (6/21/2005 5:11:00 AM)


    if you must use a racial epithet, at least use it within a poem that is truly a poem and one thats sensible, creative, lyrical and pointed; not this hackneyed, chopped up, poor prose with a cliche trope and a weak, probably untrue excuse to use a racial slur. I'd have given this...errr...group of words less than a one, but negative numbers arent used on the system. you're living proof that the top 500 hundred poet list is based purely on blind hits and not actually talent. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Poem Edited: Tuesday, November 11, 2008


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