John Warner Smith

Louisville Lip

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

—Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask”

Cassius created you, the actor

who spun his own silky satin persona
with a mouthful of words – loud, audacious
doggerel and trash talk,

signifying, prophesying,
and stirring up the amen corner,

just in time for prime time,
magazine cover stories,
and talcum-splashing barbershop big talk.

He styled you like

Gorgeous George without curls and capes,
Fred Astaire in Pat Boone shoes,

high-top and polished,

Sugar Ray Robinson dishing out the salt.

Fans loved the circus clown
and the Mardi Grasp mask

in a king’s coronation

with brass horns and bass drums
bringing up the rear.

One character, many faces,

but Ali always brought the mojo
to back you up.