Red Salute to Cousin Comrade Wayne Pharr

Lil’ L.A. cats playing army,
Make believe battlefields,
Backyard theaters of war
Rough and tumble, mannered
Boys, 3 meals a day, 0 body fat,
No phone bill, fun and innocent days—
Cousins ‘Billy,’ ‘Stevie,’ ‘Mikey,’ and
Ronald—sons of steel workers, school
Cafeteria workers, carpenters, mariners,
Maids, teachers and real community
Organizers we could look up to and believe in

‘Billy’/ Wayne had army men, and
Played imaginatively, played intensely—
Ron loved coffee cans he played before
Bongos entered his life, before he’d circle the globe
Slapping Gon-Bop & LP drums; I loved to rhyme at the
Time; and Steve, Steve loved baseballs, gloves
Bats, leading to his contract with the Yankees…

Living on 81st and 83rd Streets between Avalon and
Central we learned the Devil wore dark blue, not red,
Delivered hell up South, out South in black and white
Cars, and dying wasn’t necessary for seeing his pale,
Hate-deformed face—three or even four times a day…

Slauson Village ‘The Vee-LA” was like
Fanny Lou Hamer’s sick and tired of being tired!
Tired of the LAPD occupation army tasked to
“Protect and serve” apartheid: Beat-downs, frame-ups
Keeping Black men and women without work, bellies growling,
Tired of ‘testi-lying,’ the smog curtain concealing crimes
Like police murders of Ronald Stokes, Leonard Deadwyler,
Gregory Clark, and others, tired of Hollywood sci-fi
Lies that made Octavia Butler blush—cars lurching forward
Causing ‘service’ revolvers to “…accidentally discharge,” “…furtive movement,”
“…reaching in his waistband,” “…brandishing a knife,” “…becoming combative” lies

Even as a lil’ boy, Wayne had a Jones for justice and
Fairness and was never cool with bullies, it’s no mystery
He too grew tired, grew into a soldier, warrior
Not an olive green, G.I. Joe, plastic plaything
We ambushed, blew up, in the backyard, not a Karangatang
Robot, pork chop nationalist provocateur, punching, kicking,
Shooting servants of the people; Wayne became a soldier
Organizer of BSUs, free breakfast programs, clinics, a speaker,
Debater, agitator for self-defense, Revolution, Power to the People,
Soldier in black beret and leather jacket, who grew like a
Bunch of greens, the Tommy Lewis, Masai Hewitt* crew,
Bunchy Carter core coming from Wayne’s Auntie Caffie Greene’s
Teen Post, 79th and Central Avenue— Bunchy called it ‘The Stem’

December 8, 1969 41st & Central—wild boars, SWAT,
Didn’t batter down doors to bring beer to the party and
Discuss perils of policing, as Rose Garden Negroz do; terrorist
Murderers came to kill Wayne, Peaches, Cotton, Roland, Tommye,
Redd and the others in their sleep, like they’d murdered
Mark Clark and Fred Hampton in Chicago, days before; the
Pigs didn’t come by 1s, didn’t come by 2s, didn’t come by
10s—they came 300— thousands of rounds and reinforcements

Wayne couldn’t get out, but then again, they couldn’t get in…
He was “Free at last,” like Frederick Douglass on the road
Escaping the plantation, free like General Tubman leading her
Charges to Canada, taking marching orders from the North Star

5 hours freedom in his 64 years on the planet…5 hours,
5 hours and he’d savor every second, relish for a lifetime
Peoples’ Servant of Steel,
Truth-teller, author, historian, father, esteemed elder—
Not bad for a lil’ L.A. cat who played army with his cousins
In his backyard; Not bad for a lil’ L.A. cat with 9 lives…

He needed a heart, but we couldn’t just rip open, unzip,
Un-bolt hollow chests of his torturers, his captors—
Thugs who choked him under color of law, fired thousands of rounds,
Through cover of darkness, fog of surprise, to halt his work—
We couldn’t just pull their puny, mustard seed hearts…their
Miniature tickers, they are far too tiny to fill the crater of
His big black bayou heart—really, we believed if anything
In this world was, “Too big to fail”—it would be Wayne’s heart…

Former forklift driver/warehouse worker/janitor, Raymond Nat Turner is a NYC poet; BAR's Poet-in-Residence; and founder/co-leader of the jazz-poetry ensemble UpSurge!NYC. Read other articles by Raymond Nat, or visit Raymond Nat's website.