James Brown, Santa Claus, and the Realities of Black Life

Poet, playwright and professor Cornelius Eady’s poem “Neighborhood Kids Play James Brown’s Xmas LP on Their Front Porch, Dec. 24, 2006” is featured in the Winter 2015 volume of literary journal Tin House. It’s a thematically expansive work, paying tribute to James Brown (“… he sounded like the riot of our pigment,”) sketching in hard-knock truths about race and class, and layering warm details of a black neighborhood, all in the framework of a holiday poem.

Excerpt:

Mr. Hard Work is working. 
I have to leave for last minute shopping

So I never get to hear if the loud cassette 
these kids blare on their porch across the street from 
my mother-in-law’s house

Has my sister’s and my favorite James Brown song, 
“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto.”

It’s the day before he dies. 
Who’d guess

Those hot lungs, now screaming through 
cheap speakers, 
could ever 
two-time him,

Since he sounded like a key 
turning over a new Buick,

Since the bottom was tough 
as the bricks on my daddy’s 
BBQ,

And the horns 
high-heeled the air 
like a hardheaded 
skirt.

The full poem can be found here.