Meeting Apollo


I met Apollo,
My favorite god,
Standing solo,
Playing lyre,
Last week—
So unexpected,
So unclear!

I met him not in Greece,
Nor did I have to go back
In time to ancient Rome;
I was just in Harlem,
Walking down 125th street,
Towards Lenox Ave, around midnight.

As I passed the Apollo Theater,
I saw him standing right there!
I thought I was hallucinating,
But, no, I wasn’t! Nor was I dreaming!

He approached me first
Before I said anything;
He said he was wandering,
And he felt like visiting
New York, and especially Harlem,
Where his lovely name
Still inspires a cultural emblem.

He spoke not in Greek,
But in a fluent Amharic,
And I was taken aback!
He wore not a human flesh;
He was just a bronze sculpture,
But he breathed, appeared fresh
Like a 3-D character!

I was spooked,
But I stood there
In awe, and startled.
I wanted to ask so many questions,
But I had no idea where to start and where to end;
I was too excited, and too nervous.

I realized no one was aware
Of what was happening;
I was the only one having
The weirdest interaction ever
With an alien intruder.

I rushed not into action;
I just decided to enjoy the moment,
And listen to his funny accent;
Though he was fluent,
His pronunciation of Amharic felt
Foreign to me, but still sweet.

I wanted to touch him
To make sure that I was not in a dream!
But I pursued it not
Since I was afraid I would ruin the moment.

He began reciting this famous Amharic poem:
Basha Ashebir ba Amerika”
Basha Ashebir in America.
I remained mute
As he recited the poem all the way to the end.

I wanted to tell him that was a beautiful tribute
To my favorite Ethiopian poet who boldly exposed
Some of Ethiopia’s inglorious past,
Using America as his preferred lens
To shame racial ignorance and injustice.

Basha Ashebir,
A government official, a naive visitor,
A memorable fictional character,
Came to the United States
Back in the sixties,
And one day he walked into a DC bar,
Unaware of the sign: No Blacks Here;
When he was asked to leave the bar,
He responded with anger,
And fought with valor
To defend his pride, his honor,
To give the owner a lesson that he was no lesser;
The ordeal, though, suddenly reminded him
Of the place that he dearly called HOME;
The ethnic divide, the injustice, the racial slur
That he left behind,
That he never questioned,
Now it became crystal clear
As he found himself thrown out of the bar.

As I stood there,
Listening to the god of the sun,
Music, medicine, and poetry,
I wondered why he particularly
Chose to recite me this poem
Right in front of the theater in his name;
I wondered, too, why he picked a lame
Like me who just wanders in his dream;
Just as I was about to question,
He was already gone!
I did not even get a chance
To say goodbye.
That was not nice!
It wouldn’t hurt to say bye.

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