Wendell Ottley

Won’t Be There

At 8, I want to be him,
wear his billowy coif
sheened, picked,
smidgeon smaller than his black halo.
Like him, I perform when prompted by adults
equally desirous of amusement
as I, attention,
do his signature spin,
the robot,
wail his wail,
imagine I was born in Gary,
goin’ to Kansas City
as if I could spin there from Queens,
easy as 1, 2, 3 – I’ll be there.
I stop, look over my shoulder honey –
Grandma’s tenement building still rises behind me,
reaches vainly for heaven.

Preacher Preached
~for Richard Pryor

You didn’t tell jokes,
held up mirrors –
a comedic Langston
flaying souls
revealing beauty,

Profanely profound words
touched our core –
prophet’s parables
converted congregations.

Centuries-old aches
breathed through laughter,

Wendell Ottley is originally from Queens, NY, but currently lives in Durham, NC with his wife and three children. He has bachelor degrees from Shaw University in English and Accounting. He is also a member of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, and his work has been published in African American Review, BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review, Black Arts Quarterly, and Rhapsody in Black.