Young Barack Obama

Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I’m sure he’s unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He’s so unhappy, to which he replies…
But I don’t care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Two fingers.
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shrink, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ’cause
I see my face, framed within
Pop’s black-framed glasses
And know he’s laughing too.


Pop by Barack Obama.

In the Spring of 1981, Feast, the student literary journal of Occidental College, published two poems by the then-freshman Barack Obama. “Pop” was the longer of two works which show, if not perfected poetic skill, the work of a young writer attempting to play with metrical elements like enjambment and unconventional line breaks.

“Pop” is certainly not a masterpiece. But it’s not trash (at least by the typical undergrad’s standards), either. The subtext of the poem is that “pop” and the speaker are the same person — they share the same stain, same blood, same smell, and same reflection — and that is somewhat striking, given that “pop” is also, apparently, a hardened and fermenting couch potato. Obama’s understandable adolescent struggles with his racial and cultural identity are well known and well documented, and this poem seems to be another piece of that psychological puzzle. Moreover, the poem’s dark and dusky tone probably signal something about the psyche of our Commander-in-Chief.

I’m just not sure exactly what.Young Barack Obama