A journalist once asked you on the phone,
“Your alma mater?” and you said just “Books.”

My father read by streetlight in the third world;
You read by prison hallway light: the bars
Of shadow didn’t move so you would tilt
The page.

A journalist once asked you on the phone,
“Your alma mater?” and you said just “Books.”
The Holy Prophet’s son-in-law was slain
By his own people as he read a Book;
You were a martyr killed by your own people;
The angels have a shyness near such men;

A journalist once asked you on the phone,
“Your alma mater?” and you said just “Books.”
You made the Pilgrimage to Mecca and
You blended blonde ink black ink red ink pencil—
Re-using pages since you had no books.
Your scholarship is Real; your poverty
Unreal.

“Do not stay in the ghetto—aim for skies,”
“I have inside of me African blood,”
The X inside your name is algebraic;
And algebra is from el-jebr, which—
For mathematicians facing Mecca—
Is Arabic for “parts that reunited.”

The PhD, MA, BS, BA—
An algebraic gibberish—are shadows,
Unless a man can speak the truth to power;
You wielded double lights:
The scorching sun, the gentle moonlight; “What,”
He asked you, “was your alma mater,” and
You said just “Books.”