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"Northeast Youngin'" (2007), by Thomas Sayers Ellis; courtesy of the artist

The Shrimpy Grits

Y’all All Ban Knee Negroes Shld Gro Y’all Own Corn

for Amiri Baraka


                                         what it is,

                                         what it ain’t

First thang they cost. And money being green, true that,
all greed contains corn.
                   what it is, what

                   it ain’t

Just because it ain’t Crack or Heroin or Coke or embalming fluid
that don’t mean a ghost didn’t cook it.

                                                                        it is, what it ain’t

The Shrimpy Grits. Before they ghost you, ghosts eat them.

                  what it is,

                  what it ain’t

Something, probably a Go(d)vernment, reformatted the grits
into little bite-size, slave trade triangles just like they done
the Atlantic.

                                                   what it is,

                                           what it ain’t

Soft and warm one minute, cold and stiff the next—like hate.

what it is,

The Shrimpy Grits.

                  what it ain’t

Throw anything in them—cheese, bacon bits, Giuliani,
Bush I, Bush 2 and they still won’t change. The Shrimpy Grits.
                                                                     what it is,

                                                                     what it ain’t

Is it a soft, perishable, souvenir, pyramid scheme or hominy,
held together by a hoe cake of hope?

                                            what it is, what it ain’t

It ain’t progress or processed but someone said you can put
peanut butter in it
and make Deodorant.

what                                                it                                             is,

           what                                                        it                                              ain’t

Watergate like a stomach ache. CIAin’t telling the court what I ate.

             what it is,

                                                                                                     what it ain’t

The Shrimpy Grits.
If you put them in a movie, the ratings will change, so it’s better
to lynch one instead.
                                            what it         what it

                                            is,                ain’t

Sticky and stays on your television and your tongue a long time,
very Evangelical.
             what it is,

             what it ain’t

Like the N-Word the Shrimpy Grits got they own corner store
but don’t nobody know who own it.
                   I runs my own Contras, diction.

The Shrimpy Grits
                                         TheShrim py Gr its
                                                                                         TheShr impy G rits

It ain’t shit, Government issued. They ain’t shrimp.
Can’t be.

 Listen to "The Shrimpy Grits" by Heroes Are Gang Leaders featuring Thomas Sayers Ellis.

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A recording from Heroes are Gang Leaders (The Amiri Baraka Sessions)

Janice Lowe, piano
Michael Bisio, bass
James Brandon Lewis, saxophone
Dominic Fragman, drums
Thomas Sayers Ellis, voice

Nod to Mal Waldron
Arranged by Thomas Sayers Ellis and James Brandon Lewis
Produced by TSE

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Thomas Sayers Ellis

Poet and photographer Thomas Sayers Ellis is the author of The Maverick Room and Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems. His work has recently appeared in The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, Tin House, and Best American Poetry.