For Malcolm X joined the river of elegiac discourse elicited by Malcolm X’s bloody murder in 1965 by Nation of Islam congregation members. Walker’s sonnet expresses collective African American grief. Its loose Petrarchan form uses the first eight lines (octet) to describe the mourners, who gaze upon the dead Malcolm in the climactic six lines (sestet) that resolve the poem.
Line 1 to 8 address the “Violated ones,” the African Americans who may enact the internecine violence of brothers killing brothers. They are street people who hate the white oppressors and the middle-class black people economically sealed off from the African American underclass. The stanza’s final line summons the hearers to Malcolm’s coffin to feel the great loss of a beautiful surrogate for them—a “swan.”
Lines 9 to 14 frame the dead body of Malcolm as it lies in state. His message to his mourners was difficult. Christ-like blood and water of the mourners flow from them and from Malcolm’s wounds. In Walker’s earthy diction, Malcolm is credited with having entered the hearts and minds of his mourners—“cut open our breasts and dug scalpels in our/ brains.” Malcolm is irreplaceable, and there is a profound desire to see him incarnate in someone new.