I constantly get asked about my tattoos, especially the words inside of each forearm. People want to know what they mean, but the meaning goes deeper than the mere words. See, when my mom went to college in Sioux Falls, S.D. back in 1971-72, she came home and read to me the works she had to memorize. There was a particular poem that had a certain beat that I loved and begged her to read over and over.
Fast forward to 1998. I go to college and take a lit course and find this poem in my Norton anthology. I read it and immediately feel that I've found a familiar friend. I call up my mom and we talk and she tells me the above. I had totally forgotten.
What's interesting, is that this is an identity poem. It's about who you are and who you want to be. Reading the words, I realize I've become many of these. Through some form of osmosis, the words of the poem meant something to me. They actually made me. They formed who I am today
So enough of me. Let me present the poem in it's unaltered state.
One more thing. Ishmael Reed is from my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and currently resides and a professor at Berkley.
I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra
by Ishmael Reed
'The devil must be forced to reveal any such physical evil
(potions, charms, fetishes, etc.) still outside the body
and these must be burned.' (Rituale Romanum, published
1947, endorsed by the coat-of-arms and introductory
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra,
sidewinders in the saloons of fools
bit my forehead like O
the untrustworthiness of Egyptologists
who do not know their trips. Who was that
dog-faced man? they asked, the day I rode
School marms with halitosis cannot see
the Nefertiti fake chipped on the run by slick
germans, the hawk behind Sonny Rollins' head or
the ritual beard of his axe; a longhorn winding
its bells thru the Field of Reeds.
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. I bedded
down with Isis, Lady of the Boogaloo, dove
deep down in her horny, stuck up her Wells-Far-ago
in daring midday getaway. 'Start grabbing the
blue,' I said from top of my double crown.
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Ezzard Charles
of the Chisholm Trail. Took up the bass but they
blew off my thumb. Alchemist in ringmanship but a
sucker for the right cross.
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Vamoosed from
the temple i bide my time. The price on the wanted
poster was a-going down, outlaw alias copped my stance
and moody greenhorns were making me dance;
while my mouth's
shooting iron got its chambers jammed.
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Boning-up in
the ol' West i bide my time. You should see
me pick off these tin cans whippersnappers. I
write the motown long plays for the comeback of
Osiris. Make them up when stars stare at sleeping
steer out here near the campfire. Women arrive
on the backs of goats and throw themselves on
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Lord of the lash,
the Loup Garou Kid. Half breed son of Pisces and
Aquarius. I hold the souls of men in my pot. I do
the dirty boogie with scorpions. I make the bulls
keep still and was the first swinger to grape the taste.
I am a cowboy in his boat. Pope Joan of the
Ptah Ra. C/mere a minute willya doll?
Be a good girl and
bring me my Buffalo horn of black powder
bring me my headdress of black feathers
bring me my bones of Ju-Ju snake
go get my eyelids of red paint.
Hand me my shadow
I'm going into town after Set
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra
look out Set here i come Set
to get Set to sunset Set
to unseat Set to Set down Set
usurper of the Royal couch
imposter RAdio of Moses' bush
party pooper O hater of dance
vampire outlaw of the milky way