Loup-Garou Kid

Who was that

dog-faced man? they asked, the day I rode

from town.

– Ishmael Reed, I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra

I’ve said before that I have a handful of favourite poems, and Ishmael Reed’s ‘I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra’ is at the top of that list. Do yourself a favour and read it. It’s like some sort of funky magical rite, an invocation to either an old god – or a new one.

I like it. I don’t know why. I read it a lot, especially when I’m in need of inspiration. I take it apart and focus in on certain bits – ‘I hold the souls of men in my pot’; ‘bring me my bones of Ju-Ju snake’; ‘Vamoosed from the temple, I bide my time’. It’s all good. Every line is a story, a chapter in a saga. Is it Osiris, returning from the dead? A sorcerer looking for his rival? Both, neither, something else entirely.

Maybe that’s why I like it so much. It’s every story and none.

Anyway, if you enjoy it, I also suggest you check out some of Reed’s other works, especially Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down and Mumbo Jumbo, both of which I regularly reread.

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.

– Ishmael Reed, I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra