Within Malcolm Friend’s Bomba-Blues Suite we find that diaspora is a bruise that will not stop singing. And it would be as easy to fixate on the bruise, the abrasion, the wound beneath the skin; as it would be to limit this to being a suite about a “split” identity; to leave it at simply “my body like this sound—a disturbance”. But in truth, Friend has been so kind as to tell us explicitly that this “has never been about separation but about letting all the ghosts / rise from their sleep and sing.” This is as much a choir of blood as it is a suite of poems, pulsing and unabashed in their fervent music. Here in Friend’s first poem “Bomba-Blues Dream Sequence” the sestina form highlights the ways in which the melody of Afrolatinx existence necessitates improvisation, pivots and intersections, reintroductions of the same word in order to make the new. Malcolm Friend is a poet for whom music cascades into obsession seamlessly and then back again.
Perhaps what I have come to love best in this suite in which there is so much to love is the ways in which Friend turns form to create meaning in ways that are equally surprising and accurate. In “The Bomba Man and the Blues Man Argue Over Who Has to Bury Malcolm’s Body” we see the harmony in the body labeled “disturbance.” This contrapuntal format simultaneously invokes the musical dexterity of Friend’s ancestor Tato Laviera and the elegiac tradition of Miguel Pinero with each note begging the question of how much of the body can be ours when we are born of two musics? When “all that’s left of the body is his”?
I want to praise here the decision to end this suite on a final monostich, the third in the contrapuntal similar to a chorus morphing before our very eyes. Here the body, though argued over is at once, whole as well. The speaker for the majority of the suite, an autobiographical manifestation of their author, has the Blues Man’s tongue and the Bomba Man’s arms but are these not his arms as well? Does the body not dance as each stanza of these poems does? A limb then another, a note then another, fragmented then miraculously, all at once.