ICON, A Reading by F. Douglas Brown

Happy reading Friday! Please enjoy a reading of 2 poems from F. Douglas Brown’s new book of poetry ICON, now available from Write Large Press

F. Douglas Brown, inspired by Lawrence’s 1938 panel series, which observes both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, brings ICON, a biographical/poetic reflection doing the task of considering and re-considering role models, heroes. Through conversations with poets, pop stars, comic book sensations, and of course, the historical characters Douglass, Tubman and Lawrence, Brown distills this discussion into an examination of the self.


Free Hymns

Douglass Panel 15

I am a sailor
I am a skif
Jetting across the black stream

Sail me without selling me
Send me into legend
I am free

Not a Bailey
Not a Johnson
New York will take me as I am

Just man with swollen hands
Tired fingers, dirty and cramped
But free

She is there to cling on to my courage
There to bear fruit
We grow and gather together

A bag of potatoes or roots of good fortune
Ours in matrimony
Free to eat or share

The sky is kind, watches with warmth or with rain
Rinse the dust and heal my bruises
There are marks that will not dissolve

Indented pain will pass on to my kin
I can be a friend to my blood again
Free to hold him tight into me

I am of the isle and lake
Douglass by day
Douglass by night

Douglass the safe water
Gathered in a bay or a bottle
The responsibility of freedom inked in my name



Un-Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Everyone got high levels of entitlement in our veins.
–Morgan Parker

I sever my name and hell still breaks
my dead father. My move away
from his name, not a move

away from him, but from you,
lion eyed icon. What little
I have earned being a “Frederick.”

Distance from pain
Leathering my back or knees—:
I buckle at traffic, long lines

of coffee drinkers at a café,
or the rude woman on her phone
in the store, so damn loud. I am far

from your anguish bending planks
for white folks so they can live
right, but also far from the boy

who grew up in a one room matchbox.
We drove out the roaches
but couldn’t stop the rats

or San Francisco housing hikes:—
public housing requests,
those deadlines, circled blood

and scribbled prayers on calendars
alongside birthdays. Maybe the isolated “F”
was for “fight,” the temperament

a scared and broke boy takes
on when the odds have beady eyes
that scatter when the lights “flick.”

“F” for “food fabricated” out of thin
boxes our church delivered to us.
“F” for food stamps or for tacos (I know

that doesn’t start with “F” but fuckin’
good does). “F” for freezer-burned memory
because I just hung up the phone

with my sister and we cursed
our sick mother into a fine
paste, who the “F” does she think she is?

“F” for the privilege I “force”
“fling” “forge” :—
“F” for “forgetful” :—

“F” for “frequency” (and the lack
there of ):— “F” for all
the “flavors” I will miss

when mom’s body calls
“finished” before she’s ready,
when her strength no longer “formidable.”

At this rate I will only be able
to say “failure” “frail” “feeble” “frayed”
and it will mean me:—

not her, not my father,
and Mr. Douglass,
definitely, not you.


F. Douglas Brown is the author of Icon (Writ Large Press 2018), and Zero to Three (University of Georgia Press 2014), winner of the 2013 Cave Canem Prize. He also co-authored with poet Geffrey Davis, Begotten (Upper Rubber Boot Books 2016), a chapbook of poetry published as part of URB's Floodgate series. Brown, an educator for over 20 years, teaches English at Loyola High School of Los Angeles, an all-boys Jesuit school, and holds fellowships from Cave Canem and Kundiman. He is the co-founder and curator of un::fade::able, a quarterly poetry reading series which honors the legacy of Sandra Bland while examining restorative justice, and ways to address racism through poetry.