Frederick Douglass: A Triptych by Albert Abonado



Frederick Douglass is on fire. You try to tell him that he is on fire, but he insists this is how he has always been, that he has been building a sun one room at a time. He starts to play a piano just to show you that he does not require any assistance. He is all spark and disco, banging the key with such intensity the strings snap. Soon, the hammers have nothing to strike but smoke. Soon, sheet music covered in flames fly into your hair, but Frederick Douglass refuses to stop pounding the keys. He does not look at you as he does this. He does not tell you what song he has been trying to play.



Frederick Douglass is a house without windows. Someone has painted windows in places where windows once belonged. You cannot see inside of Frederick Douglass, so you imagine a house full of greasy children knocking over the furniture. A man offers to give you tours of Frederick Douglass where he explains how one Frederick Douglass reveals another Frederick Douglass, the cathedrals are catacombs waiting to be buried. You may think the tour guide is Frederick Douglass because he is comfortable with the intimate details of this architecture, but Frederick Douglass would not guide you through his body. Frederick Douglass is an elegy to missing windows. If you peer hard enough, you may find a gap into Frederick Douglass, a way through to the other side



Frederick Douglass is made of snow. You try to read the palms of Frederick Douglass, but they crumble inside of your grip. When you open your hands, you find your face reflected in water filled with tiny fish swimming in circles. You wonder how long you will have to live like this, careful with your praise, unable to acknowledge success with applause. The fish start to die one by one, until you are alone on a bus with a fist full of dead fish. You want to hide the fish in your coat. You want to know what you did wrong, what you could have done better. That is not the point. The fish are dying. They have been dying the whole time.


Albert Abonado is the Director of Adult Programs at Writers & Books. He is the editor of The Bakery. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in issues of Fourteen Hills, New Ohio Review, Phantom Limb, Pleiades, Sixth Finch, and others. He lives with his wife in Rochester, NY.