Understanding Al Green
When I was twelve, a wiser sixteen-
year-old told me: If you really want
to get that, homeboy, you best be bringing
Al Green’s Greatest Hits. And if you ain’t
in the mix by song five, either she’s
dyking it or you need to re-evaluate your
sexual orientation. Know what I’m saying?
With those words, I was off—borrowed Al
Green in the clutch in search of that thing.
Socks pulled up to my neck. Jeri curl. Real
tight Hoyas jersey was nothing but regulation
and I knew I was smooth and I knew
I was going to be in the mix by song five.
The whole walk from the ball court,
the wise man’s words echoed like somebody’s
mama banging on the door: the panties
just be slippin’ off when the women hear
Al’s voice. Slippin’. Slippin’ because Al
hits notes mellow, like the silk that silk
wears. His voice is all hardworking night time
things. Not fake breasts, but you
and your woman, squeezed onto the couch,
taking a nap while the aquarium stutters
beside you. Nodding off on drizzly days
when you should be at work. The first smoke
after a glass of fine wine you know
you can’t afford. Nobody, not woman
or man, knows how to handle Al Green.
That Girl from Ipanema would have
dug Al. Her panties, flip-flopping right
there by the sea. That sexy passing
the Pharcyde by would have stopped to say
What up? if they were Al. But they weren’t.
And neither were you, last night when
that woman at the club shut you down:
I got a man. . .blah, blah, blah. Hate to tell you,
player, but she’s at Al’s place right now asking
for an autograph and maybe a little sumpin-
sumpin. What is sumpin-sumpin? I don’t know.
But Al knows. And I’m sure you’ve heard that old
jive about Al getting scalding grits thrown on him.
You have to recognize those lies because
he would have started singing and those grits
would have been in the mix, too. For real.
I never believed the pimp-to-preacher story
anyway. The point is, Al’s voice is like g-strings
and afro wigs and trying to be quiet when
the parents are home. The point is Al Green
hums better than most people dream.
Understanding Al Green is reprinted from The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003).
Poem, copyright © 2003 by Adrian Matejka
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse