Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe



Baraka Maya Toni

Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at James Baldwin’s funeral, 1987. Photo: Thomas Sayers Ellis

Thomas Sayers Ellis’s poem “Polo Goes to the Moon”—an elegy for the bounce-beat go-go music pioneer Reggie Burwell—appeared in The Paris Review No. 209 earlier this year. Now he’s recorded a spoken-word version in “Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe,” part of a tribute to Amiri Baraka to be released next year by Heroes Are Gang Leaders. Give it a listen above.

After Baraka died in January, Ellis and his frequent collaborator James Brandon Lewis formed Heroes Are Gang Leaders, a group of poets and musicians. They recorded the album over three six-hour sessions. Ellis calls it “a signifying groove head-nod to Mr. Baraka,” influenced by Thelonious Monk and A Tribe Called Quest.

The text of “Polo Goes to the Moon” is below.


for Reggie Burwell

There’s been
a lot of talk,
lately, as to whether
or not America
actually went
to the moon.
The non-believers
say there’s no
weather in space
—no humidity, no wind, no rain,
only empty pockets
and crank shapes.
Craters, big ass
asteroids, black holes.
They say waving
our arms, all at once,
is as false as the flag
and We, the people, percussively agree:
looks jive-phony, unless,
of course, you think of the moon
as a snare drum
—half, eclipsed, full,
and consider, as Polo did,
the percussive
nature of gravity,
the forcible way the earth,
like a party, pulls
a body, every body
back to it … every time
some symbol crashes
or the rototoms,
like satellites,
get too-hype and someone
jumps up, as Polo did,
beyond the
regular “lock” of
solar system
like a short, well-barbered
meteor, hurled
into the divine orbit
of coma … beyond the limitations
of all things earthly,
including the notion
of nation, and its local,
ingrown extension: going National.
The whole time
Polo was in the air,
he was in total control
of his own ounce
of lunar sleep,
replacing the handcuffs
around Saturn
with open hi-hats.
The whole time
he was on
life support,
removing vowels.

Heroes Are Gang Leaders:
Thomas Sayers Ellis, Poet
James Brandon Lewis, Saxophone
Luke Stewart, Bass
Ryan Frazier, Trumpet
Janice Lowe, Piano
Warren “Trae” Crudup, Drums
The question “Vowels?” asked at the end by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie