Michael Mlekoday

The History Of The Lumberjack

Paul Bunyan was a hero to most,
but he never meant shit to Chuck D.

D argues that flannel was the name
of the first negro spiritual

and that Bunyan’s appropriation
of the axe was an affront to the memory

of Nat Turner. Record executives claim
Babe the Blue Ox had better flow

than Flavor Flav, but he rejected
an invitation to join Public Enemy

on the grounds that they were from Long Island
and not actually members of the proletariat.

Marxist scholars dispute this, asserting
that the beef between the two camps

is a bourgeois conspiracy meant to drive
a wedge between lumberjacks and emcees,

the two vanguards of the revolution.
The history is muddied.

Still, backpackers say they know the truth:
in the 19th Century, they claim, before

the commercials made him one giant
ad campaign for the timber industry, Paul Bunyan

was known to his followers as MC Bonyenne.
His first mixtape, The Papineau Rebellion,

killed more Brits than a guerilla war.
Once, when Harriet Tubman

was helping runaways cross the border,
she found Bonyenne praying at the river.

She brought him down to Virginia
to meet Captain John Brown,

who introduced his name to Americans.
But Bonyenne and Bunyan

are two different people, or,
more accurately, Bunyan is a lie.

Babe the Blue Ox isn’t real either,
but purists still believe in Flavor Flav.

Bonyenne never turned pop.
Some old-timers still say that,

every year on Bonyenne’s birthday,
if you follow the North Star to the woods

where he is rumored to have been born,
wading along the banks of the river, you’ll find

the widest stump you’ve ever seen. Circle
the tree-rings with your fingers and listen

closely: it’s as if the whole wilderness
has been freestyling here forever.


The History Of The Black Market

started with the archaeologists.
When a new species of prehistoric beast

was discovered at a dig in North Dakota,
paleontologist Robert Frost went rogue—

first he stole a tusk and sold it to a local church.
The trick caught on like a spark

in a California wood. Soon all kinds of bones
were in circulation, and finally, whole skeletons.

Kanye copped a new Jesus piece
made of pure African pterodactyl.

Malcolm X started rocking Tyrannosaurus specs.
Make no bones about it, the eco-terrorists said:

first they came for the dinosaur bones, and I
didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a dinosaur bone

The Marxists elbowed their way
into the conversation. They claimed

it was the agenda of Global Capital
to alienate the worker from his bones.

Global Capital laughed. An eco-critic
shot Robert Frost in the face.

As the cultural climate overheated—
or, some historians speculate, froze over

until the whole icy matter burned
whatever it touched—the feds

busted the black market, prompting the rise
of the bootleggers. Billy Collins

whipped together fake bones that crumbled
under scrutiny. Pusha T constructed the frame

of a venom-spitting dino by compressing
four-hundred pounds of cocaine

and shaving it into shape with a twenty dollar bill.
Some bootleggers started pawning off human bones

as the real thing, including some kids
from Philly who jacked Derrick Rose’s knee.

There were street fights. There were gang wars.
Eventually, in what became known

as the Easter Rising, St. Scott La Rock re-appeared
in the Bronx to issue a sermon, calling for a stop

to the in-fighting, arguing that this was all a conspiracy,
that the war on bone-sellers was nothing more

than an excuse for the white male elite
to further entrench their power,

burying it deep in the earth, pretending
it had been there the whole time.


Michael Mlekoday is the author of The Dead Eat Everything (Kent State University Press, 2014), winner of the 2012 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, and has work published in Ploughshares, Ninth Letter, Verse Daily, Gawker, Phoebe, and other venues. Mlekoday is a National Poetry Slam Champion, serves as Editor of Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press, and holds degrees from the University of Minnesota, Kansas State University, and Indiana University.