TIDAL BASIN REVIEW
T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Spring 2011
Tidal Basin Press Founded 2010 Washington, DC
Editors Randall Horton – Editor-in-Chief Melanie Henderson – Managing Editor Tori Arthur – Fiction & Non-Fiction Editor Truth Thomas – Poetry Editor Fred Joiner – Poetry Editor Marlene Hawthrone Thomas – Photography Editor Editorial Assistant Elizabeth Larkin Shakeema Smalls Fiction Reader Gail Upchurch
Tidal Basin Press, LLC Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010, Washington, DC
www.tidalbasinpress.org A Publication of Tidal Basin Press, LLC
Cover Photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis,
Swing Youngin‘, 2009
Layout Design, Melanie Henderson
For broad distribution. Electronic version not for sale. To purchase print version, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tidalbasinpress.org. © All Rights Reserved, Tidal Basin Press, LLC, Washington, DC.
The Sound of Aleph In and Out of Holy
Summer Mission in Tijuana, 2009
Janée J. Baugher
Guernica, 1937 Het Toilet
Letters That Won‘t Be Sent Either
How to Disperse Three Brothers over Three Continents
Men at Work
Review of E.J. Antonio‘s Rituals in the Marrow
Enzo Silon Surin
High School English Soliloquy of a Soldier
Current Mistaken Spirit
Rain C. Goméz
Poème pour Tonton Jim Misbegotten
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Marlene Hawthrone Thomas
Folk A Forever: We were those People
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Photo Index [2007 – 2010] Pick TSE‘s ‗Frotography: A Collaborative Interview
POST-BLACK/POST-RACIAL SPECIAL 81
i. Emancipation Test #672 v. Emancipation Test #54
Introduction: On Being Post-Black…And Other Lies
What the Tree Took, On the Table Darkly
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
If Free, Then After, We‘ll Read the Bible
Leola Dublin MacMillan
Guerrilla Pimping Post-Black Rhetoric
Postbellum Love Story
Hoke S. Glover, III
My Father Was Post Black before Post Black
After Invisible Man
Mitchell L. H. Douglas
Passing Negro Mountain Hood
All-Black Is the New Post-Black
Claude Clayton Smith
Lights in the Darkness
Do Not Ask Me Census Registration
INTERVIEW: The WiId, WiId West & Ethnic Studies, Niki Herd Interviews Plaintiff in the Case Against HB 2281, Sally Rusk
Mostly to Uncover the Reality of the Myth of Post Blackness Swallow, the Negative
Passing in the Age of Obama We, On the Ground
Afaa Michael Weaver
Florsheims Sermon on the New Land
Leon Weinmann I.
It should be a day in March, or April, when the first blue flowers force their infant heads, when the sunshine lashes the black tree-trunks, and the bare limbs flail in the sweet, raw wind. The day should be so perfect, so true, that do what you will, you will be unable to add a single detail. No one will notice the meandering blood in the bright grass, not even the shrill birds who will continue praising perfect spring well into the dark.
WEINMANN âˆŤ 6
And here the boys, half-drunk on warm banana beer, sweating gold, their sweating massproduced machetes whispering rhythmically, kill the old women with their granddaughters now, the technique identical to that of other dreamers, one quick downward arc, introducing the blade below the knotted mandible, across the bleating windpipe, like praying, fucking, another inherited desire, one of several ways of chasing after wind, releasing breath from body, a gesture impossible to forget, always again, we remember, and of course we have memorials.
WEINMANN âˆŤ 7
Arlington, April 2003
dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot All night the city quivers and is green, a deep-sea dream replaying on TV. Again the bombs (again) sink down like stones. Then, on the bottom, the soldiers swim in camouflage (as harlequins) across the theatreâ€˜s toy stage, their faces motley, blackened under masks, as turtles, hatchling hellbenders, their tasks, it seems, so native to their final nerve, tuned to a single impulse, out to die, to kill, they swarm the crescent, flood and spill the currents of blood and seed, while leagues away the marble eyes of Lincoln stare. He grips his chair. His hands are cold. He will not rise.
WEINMANN âˆŤ 8
THE SOUND OF ALEPH
before sound begins lips shape a form, in expectation before lungs concede, before we know that there is such a thing as openness before one needed to know they needed to know they exist before the imagination stings, stymies before the longing becomes worth more than breath, before there is no breath before breath youâ€˜ll find me at your lips, in the opening before the push of sound before breath extends before the inevitable again before
what i am.
KRAWITZ âˆŤ 9
IN AND OUT OF HOLY
i. friday night, kabbalat shabbat
we praise our bodies at dusk, before night's ever returning release expected we live between birth and death. in twilight we know not when night begins, nor day ends. our holiest days begin betwixt— potential promise of prayer to be heard. and so begins our work of rest, at dusk commanded to celebrate wine and prayer and sex— the infinite, overlooked toil of bodies, running. humbled, between—
KRAWITZ ∫ 10
ii. day, saturday, shabbat
my least noteworthy, least defining note. the not in between, between. thatâ€˜s irony, again. the bookends are where in-between rests, if you call it rest, arrival and departure, capped with candles, wine and swaying of bodies to distinguish the distinct, the what we do not always want to see, the seeing what we see and being ok with not filling it all in. the focus on the cracks.
KRAWITZ âˆŤ 11
iii. saturday night, havdalah
i hum all week the prayers that end another 24 hours of allotted rest in this time between the end and beginning between the turn of the sun's cheek and three stars lighting the sky their lips painted brighter than a drag queen working a one am set senses rekindled my fingers, lifted to the six wicks braided bountiful light pours through the cracks the scent of cloves and cinnamon awaken wine to measure the lipsâ€˜ pauses and careful crescendos, all week i hum, transfixed all week, a praise to the in-between i know these ceremonies best KRAWITZ âˆŤ 12
SUMMER MISSION IN TIJUANA, 2009
The children sing praises while I bring dishes to the kitchen: a shanty with cracked linoleum and a rust-stained sink. I wash cups and plates with a weathered sponge until Pastor Diaz calls. He carries Javier on his shoulders, a boy like a small, bruised bird, and lays him on the wicker mat. I apply the cotton drenched with disinfectant to the boy‘s face, pink and grimy: his lip puffed with cuts. He flinches as if it were stinging lime, cusses in Spanish. I smile and say It‘s alright. After mending his wounds, I tell him not to work for the Cartels no more. He could be killed, like his brothers before him, partying in a house when the bullets pierced their bodies, drilled into their legs and kidneys and thrust hatred in his heart. I will kill them, Javier vows. On Monday, he brings me to a basement filled with his friends. He stores my Bible in a cubbyhole. Not tonight, he says as I watch his bony fingers spray Windex on a paper towel, as he spreads red pepper flakes and ground cayenne with cannabis and wraps them in Saran. He sets the product on aluminum foil and swathes them again in plastic and Bounty. He lays the brick with the rest of the bundles his friends made. Their hands shuffle from Windex to weed like the fingering of rosary prayer beads.
ONG ∫ 13
Before I leave for Los Angeles, I sit on the church steps and smoke a cig, gaze at the palm trees, the streetlights, the moonlit hills. I sigh and ask if God is watching from above or lounging on his throne, listening to a choir of angels. I hurl the dying ember, crush it under my feet, and wipe my eyes dry. As I throw by duffel bag into the van, a little boy tugs at my shirt. He hugs me and asks when will I come back. I smile and pat his head and tell him, Next summer. Then Pastor Diaz runs at me, flailing his arm like a windshield wiper and cries Javier is dead. Shot by Border Patrol. Blood crawls up my ears like a million soldier ants without a queen. My car keys drop to the thirsty ground.
ONG âˆŤ 14
HET TOILET, 1661-65 ―WOMAN AT HER TOILET‖ – after the painting by Jan Steen (1626-1679)
Janée J. Baugher
The whore returns home after a night of men and begins pulling the tight red silk off her pudgy legs. Marks of constriction, strangulation below the knees– the legs deprived of what‘s essential. In crossing one leg over the other, the chasm seen between thighs mouths a scream. The painter‘s arrested her here, alone in her room where no one paws at her laces. But, curled cat-like on the pillow, a Springer Spaniel who neither stirs when she slips into the room, nor moves when her collapse disrupts the bed-springs. No one can say who‘s the tamed and who the tamer. It‘s the whore in each of us deserving of someone waiting home for us like an eternal flame.
BAUGHER ∫ 15
GUERNICA, 1937 – after the painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Janée J. Baugher
Though a metal bar holds us back fifteen feet, it seems possible to mount the newsprint-patterned horse with a sword in its back, possible to roll the decapitated open-eyed head from this side of the canvas to that side, possible to hear wailing from the open-mouthed mother with limp babe in her arms. Like an open-handed beggar open to his hunger, when war strikes everything opens to it. See the rider‘s sword, broken-open to its futility, and the window gripped to its sun. And of course, the brute, the bull, must be rapt. Notice his parted horns and piqued ears? A woman heavy of her spine and dragging her oversized leg behind her like a burden tries to run away, but confusion sends her toward the bull. Her fingernails, tiny canvases where more stories can be sketched. Center-canvas, the interrogator‘s light bulb, unclosed to its light, hangs as a noose hangs. Not even the poor receptive sky can shield the eyes of its gods. In this Picasso prepares us for our imperviousness of men against men and of gods who turn on the open. Look now, beside the bull, the dove of peace: its tears pelting the gallery‘s shiny floor.
BAUGHER ∫ 16
LETTERS THAT WON‘T BE SENT EITHER
Jonterri Gadson I.
Dear Maple Leaves Falling with Grace, You look like empty, upturned hands, catch her.
Dear Empty Hands, Want something.
II. Dear Dad Carrying His Daughter Like a Boombox, Her stomach goes girl girl girl girl Listen.
III. Dear Apple Corpsing in a Knapsack,
GADSON ∫ 17
If only you knew what I have done with a dying you browning on my back…
Dear Butter-Bathed, Swap Meet, Corn on the Cob, Mmmmmm
IV. Dear Japanese Orphans Who Took Their Milk Warm, They made you sing for us. Or maybe we came to sing for you after we toured the shops inside the golden belly of Buddha.
Dear Woman Repeatedly Rebuking Buddha in the Name of the Lord, How soon until Amen, for the love of God.
Dear Brick-Bitten Cheek, Turn?
V. Dear Bean Tombs, GADSON ∫ 18
Does crisping hurt? How do holes feel? Discarded scabs, wound lids they picked you they picked you they picked you over
Dear Carcass Womb, Stillbirth is still birth.
Dear Wept Tissue, Dry. Dear Pregnant Pod Bellies, Have you seen the bean tombs? VI. Dear Lust, Seek. Dear Love, Keep.
GADSON âˆŤ 19
VII. Dear First Sip of Cheap Wine at a Company Function, The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom. The supply closet is a supply closet not a bathroom.
Dear Drunken Indifference, A toast: To yellow mops.
GADSON âˆŤ 20
HOW TO DISPERSE THREE BROTHERS OVER THREE CONTINENTS
Lisa Cheby Kety (rhymes with cake + t): a one road, one schoolhouse stop, a hog in each yard.
Leaders burned my books. Now, I strike my match and smolder my way through fields of mud.
Kety's roads are my boughs I cannot cut away. I'm too old, or too sober, to be foolhardy. Paper, now ash, blows burns in brain as fire turns ash to mud
Rumor one: America wanted unmarried men; Australia took the husbands.
Rumor two: Three kids plus a wife: he did not need a brother's mouth to drink his share.
A new suit to say good-luck to my younger brother as he hums his runaway tune.
A new suit to say good-bye to the drunken bellows of my older brother.
the name of a town on Dad's breath burns with palinka as it pours down the throat. Echoes of bullets' gossip from Budapest to Kety where police sweep dirt roads. Nothing, not even freedom is free: America wanted men who would fire guns. We stood in queues at each country's table; we peed in cups.
My best suit stretched taut over the bulk of my clothes: all I owned on this refugee's trunk.
CHEBY âˆŤ 21
MEN AT WORK
Norman Waksler QB has been driving cab for thirty years, so long that he rarely uses his street guide or city maps. He knows the shortest route between any two points in the greater metropolitan Boston area. He also knows the longest. Which he chooses depends on the time of day, the traffic, how much he‘s made so far, the knowledge or ignorance he observes in the passenger, whether the passenger is likely to become a regular, or is an out-of-towner, the attitude of the one-time only rider: polite, rude, arrogant, considerate, good-natured, grumpy. He has small regard for most of the immigrant drivers who‘ve largely taken over the profession — not from racial or ethnic prejudice, but for their ignorance of the city and suburbs, their fumbling inability to find the most well-known and obvious locations. Granted, he says, they don‘t have his experience. Still. QB has the lap-full of stomach, meaty chest, and jowls to be expected of a middle-aged man who spends ten hours a day, six days a week in a car seat. His skin has a slight coppery tinge that makes people think he‘s, if not an alcoholic, at least a heavy drinker. But this is a mistake. QB likes a beer at the end of a long shift or on a hot day, never more than a couple. The copper skin, he claims, comes from a Native American ancestor, though he has no idea of what tribe or what side of the family. If he could, he‘d drive more hours a day for the enjoyment rather than the money. As much as he‘s seen, there‘s always something new, something to surprise him. But there‘s a limit to his alertness, which is to say, to how much coffee he can drink; a limit to how much his back can take, and to how many potholes a day a cab can absorb. QB has been stiffed more often than he can count. When he was young and just starting out, he‘d try chasing the offenders, eventually becoming philosophical. He‘s come to think of being stiffed as one of the natural bad parts of the profession, like bad drivers, flat tires, antagonistic passengers, mean cops, and other cabbies scooping your fares. He‘s also been held up four times — as a bad part, equivalent to storms at sea for fishing boats or falling platforms for window washers. Three of the hold-ups involved very professional, quiet, but forceful men with your normally threatening automatics. There‘d been a cool, even comforting efficiency to the robberies: give me WAKSLER ∫ 22
the money, here it is, and goodnight. QB had entered into a zone of still silence, moving only as directed, and afraid only to the extent of his awareness that anything could happen when someone had a weapon in hand and was performing an action that intrinsically carried tension and nervousness with it. The other robbery, the third actually, had been much more frightening: a drugged-up post teen and a seven-inch, serrated combat knife with which he kept slicing sections of air around QB‘s head. For the sake of all other cabbies and the world at large, QB had been pleased to hear that a kid of that description waving a knife of that description had been shot by the owner of a gas station during another robbery attempt. Tonight‘s hold-up is the fifth of QB‘s career. A guy in the back seat of the pulled over cab holding a very large revolver and demanding his money. QB couldn‘t claim he‘d been suspicious of his previous robbers (except the drugged-up kid), but he hadn‘t been surprised that their type of individual would end up robbing him. He has been surprised by this guy, who is short, largely bald, with a small black moustache. He‘s neatly dressed, wearing pressed slacks, a sports coat and tie, carrying a briefcase where he must‘ve concealed the revolver. Given the address, a quiet residential street in one of the poorer sections of one of the richer small cities around Boston, these details had led QB to take him for a low level office worker forced to stay late at his job. Instead he was holding the Dirty Harry revolver perfectly steady, and seemed to have enough experience in the robbery business to be, if harsh and direct, cool and unhurried, for which QB is grateful. Through the open slider of the so-called protective shield, he hands the guy the soft canvas bag from the seat next to him. The guy leans to take the bag with his left hand, glances at it, and shoves it back at QB. ―Unzip it,‖ he says. QB does so, and hands it through the slider again. The guy puts it between his knees, dips in. ―There‘s only thirty --- thirty-four dollars here.‖ ―Bad night,‖ says QB. ―You would have been my biggest fare. If you were planning to pay, that is.‖ Assuming that a guy with a briefcase, going to this residential neighborhood, would be going home and would very well know the way, QB had taken he most obvious and direct route, which still made for a substantial fare he wouldn‘t be collecting. Along with a thin, short man‘s voice, the guy has the WAKSLER ∫ 23
Boston accent of dropped and added R‘s, which had made QB think he‘d originally come from Charlestown or Southie , and had moved here to escape the city. ―Give me your wallet.‖ Resigned, QB hands his wallet through the slider knowing what the reaction will be when the guy looks into it. ―Eight dollars? This isn‘t good. What‘s going on here?‖ ―I had to pay my rent this morning. I was hoping to make a buck or two tonight. Not now, I guess.‖ ―Forty-two dollars. What a waste of time. I swear I should shoot you for being so useless.‖ QB doesn‘t know if the guy is expressing a wish or an intention. But in the dim cab on the dark street, with the only other sound the low calm bass of the dispatcher on the two-way radio, the sentence is explosive. ―Whoa,‖ says QB. ―You don‘t want to do that. You‘d be stepping out of your weight class so to speak. Armed robbery to murder one.‖ ―So you say. But you know, there‘s always a first time. It would be a new experience for me. Something to make the evening worthwhile, given that I‘m only getting forty-two dollars out of it.‖ QB doesn‘t like the sound of that; it sounds like the guy is beginning to be interested in the idea. In QB‘s experience, people get angry and excited and become violent, and when they‘re done being violent, they‘ve generally used up their anger and excitement. People with ideas are a different story; you never know where they‘re going to end up. They‘re like someone out for a Sunday drive coolly rolling along until they see they‘re on a road they like. Then they follow it to wherever it leads, not always a nice place. If there was ever a time to smoke in the cab, this would be the perfect moment. Instead he says, ―All things being equal, I‘d rather you didn‘t,‖ avoiding the word ‗shoot‘ with its quick little attractive sound of something being swept away. WAKSLER ∫ 24
―I‘m sure you would.‖ the guys says. ―Ah, well screw it. It‘s not worth the bother. I‘d probably have to get rid of the gun.‖ He opens the attaché case, deposits QB's cash and the giant revolver, snaps the tabs, jacks the door handle, and puts a foot on the street. Then leans back toward QB. ―But let me give you a word of advice. The next time someone hits you, you better have more money. Borrow enough to carry a stash, if you have to. The next guy might not be as easygoing as I am. And for godsake, loose some weight. You look like you‘re ready for a heart attack.‖ He exits, slams the cab door, moves off down the sidewalk with quick, short steps, the briefcase swinging lightly in his hand as he angles away from the cab‘s headlights into the dark, towards where QB assumes he has a car parked and waiting for him. ―Of course I look like I‘m ready for a heart attack,‖ says QB. ―Some bozo with a small canon just threatened to shoot me.‖ He turns the volume up on the twoway, unhooks and thumbs the mike. ―Dispatch, this is QB.‖ ―Go ahead, QB.‖ ―I‘ve just been held up.‖ He gives the location, describes the guy, the briefcase, the gun. ―Aw, I‘m sorry, QB,‖ says the dispatcher, an individual QB has known for two decades. ―Are you all right?‖ ―I‘m OK.‖ ―What did he get?‖ ―Everything, plus what was in my wallet. The only good thing, I was broke. Oh, and he left the wallet.‖ ―Well that‘s a small comfort, I guess. You calling it quits?‖ ―After I talk to the local cops. I do believe I‘ve had it for tonight.‖ ―All right. I‘ll put out a description. You hang loose, QB. ‖ WAKSLER ∫ 25
―Thanks, Dispatch. I‘ll do my best.‖ By the time QB finishes the formalities with the police and returns to the rooming house he calls home, he‘s so tired climbing the stairs to the second floor it‘s as if he‘s carrying the cab on his back, and when he goes down the hall to the bathroom, he doesn‘t stand up to pee. He just drops his pants and sits, rocking the bowl beneath his weight. Once in his room, though, QB doesn‘t go to bed. Instead he opens the cabinet above the mini fridge and takes down his bottle of Canadian Cub. He drinks so little hard stuff that he‘s had this bottle since his forty-fifth birthday and it‘s still half full. Even now he only pours himself a modest shot in a juice glass, takes a small sip, and drops into his easy chair, which resembles half a couch and wears a bright floral slipcover. In the eight years he‘s lived here, QB has worked to make the room as cheery as possible. Besides the slipcover, there‘s a 5x8 red, green and blue braided rug, blue curtains on the two windows, a floral bedspread with a similar though not quite matching pattern. On the walls which he‘s painted a clean cream, there are dogs playing poker. In one picture, the bulldog is sneaking an ace with his paw to the pitbull on his left. There‘s a standard lamp with a white shade beside the easy chair, and across from it, his latest acquisition, a 22-inch flat screen TV. None of which cheers him particularly as he takes another small sip, sets the glass on the end table next to the clicker, and lights a cigarette to send after the burn. QB is far more disturbed by this hold-up than any of the previous ones. It seems to him that if little guys wearing ties and carrying briefcases are going into the hold-up business and threatening to shoot people for not having sufficient money to be robbed of, then maybe it‘s time for him to give up driving, because he can no longer tell the good guys from the bad guys. This thought is as disturbing as the hold-up, since he knows everything about cab driving and nothing about any other way of making a living. When he was younger and somewhat thinner, he‘d worked for six months as an overnight stock clerk in a supermarket, the only details of which remain vivid are how much his feet hurt, how bored he was, and how much he‘d felt like a prisoner in the big, shiny, dead-quiet store. WAKSLER ∫ 26
For the first time since he‘s been driving cab, QB sees that he‘s boxed himself in. He‘s a man without alternatives in a dangerous job. The stiffs, the hold-ups that he‘s philosophically considered inconvenient, but acceptable parts of the job, he now sees as part of a general inhumanity of people on the make, taking advantage where and how they can without regard for whatever else results or who they screw. QB takes another sip of CC, and when he puts the glass down automatically reaches for the clicker, bringing to life the bright repeat of the ball game he‘d listened to on the car radio earlier in the evening. Fifth inning. One out. Man on second for the other team. The next batter, he remembers, will hit a line drive to the shortstop, who‘ll catch the runner off second for a double play. It happens. QB grins as if he‘d been a prophet. ―Too bad I didn‘t bet with myself,‖ he says. ―Then maybe I would‘ve made some money tonight.‖ He clicks off the TV, finishes his drink, and hauls himself up from the chair. He stubs out the cigarette making sure it‘s dead. Too many house fires caused by cigarettes, he thinks. Despite the hard-wired smoke alarms, this wood framed rooming house full of sleeping boarders would go up in a flash; no one would survive. QB wonders what would have happened if he‘d taken tonight‘s hold-up guy the long way ‗round instead of the direct route.
WAKSLER ∫ 27
REVIEW OF E.J. ANTONIO‘S RITUALS IN THE MARROW: RECIPE FOR A JAM SESSION, 2010: BLUEZYGO RECORDS
E.J. Antonio‘s voice is harrowing, alluring and, at times, jarring. Yet it is the centerpiece of an otherwise bluesy and funereal offering that haunts as much as it captivates. The raw and emotive Rituals in the Marrow: Recipe for a jam session eats like a meal, a huge one – to be relished in spoonfuls like a stew. You‘ll have to let this one live with you via repeated encounters to truly savor its rewards. In the wake of Antonio‘s poetic proclamations are these beguiling grooves that alternate between the sumptuous and the minimal. The latter is particularly evident on the hypnotic ―Ballad Mambo‖ where tinny, skeletal percussion is clothed in a mere French horn riff, the proverbial wool blanket clothing these brittle bones. Here, our narrator gives voice to a forlorn woman who recalls a time when she once danced and had the vacant space in her bed occupied. While ―Ballad Mambo‖ revels in the celebratory, at its core lies emptiness or a realization that even our fondest memories fail to salve those gashes imposed by age and loss. A frolicking, old-timey blues brims at the center of ―Shade of the Cedar Tree.‖ Listeners might find themselves lost in these percolating acoustic bass lines. Upon leaving, the echoes of a scratchy harmonica that punctuate this number endure in the mind. ―Shade of the Cedar Tree‖ is a sort of historical retrospective that recalls, perhaps, the ambitions and worries of what some parents and grandparents may have felt upon first entering those great urban centers of the North in the early 20th Century. It is a hearty offering, checking in at nearly eight minutes.
Rituals in the Marrow is also full of wistful moments and, at times, despair, particularly on the sepulchral ―Tangerine Moon,‖ when night‘s moon glow is more welcoming than day‘s harsh glare and the only source of comfort, among other things, is a ―great grandmama‘s spineless Bible, passed hand-to-hand at Sunday service.‖ Again, the minimal backdrop gives the narrator room to offer an elegy to the female protagonist not only for her son, but also, a past life that was once ROEBACK ∫ 28
meaningful. Here is where Antonio‘s words teem with the most potency. There are other selections in which Antonio‘s words propel the numbers, as opposed to the music alone acting as the catalytic agent, like on ―bluesman/truth be told,‖ a two-parter in which the narrator details her vice: the ravenous loving-making she enjoys with her bluesman and his ―brackish‖ flattery. But a vice can ultimately lose its allure, as she connotes here with the line from the second part, ―you live forever cold, no pulse to string your intention. And I am no pillar against your wanderlust. Tonight this skin, don‘t fit…‖ Antonio‘s musical co-stars on this endeavor include cats like Christian McBride, Christopher Dean Sullivan, Michael T.A. Thompson, Eddie Allen, Tyhimba Jess and Saco Yasuma, who recall the great jazz, blues and African traditions that inform our antiquity, color our mourning stories and, ultimately, provide entree into the cadence of Black people. To call this a ―spoken word‖ record is indeed a misnomer, as the album‘s liner notes assert. This collection is, if you will, a gumbo – replete with the blood, bone, and meat – the heft – of a people.
ROEBACK ∫ 29
HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH (after Charles Wright)
Enzo Silon Surin
Byron, escorted from the pages, ambulance siren falling away through the frost window. I peer at the clock, alter my route home—long poem. What carries me, a lonely ascent for which the objective‘s clear: regard, both time and reason. The streets pole toward hue and cry and the trek becomes infinite. Better to mean what you say than to say what you mean. Conceal your syntax, bid no explanations. —————— Morning's a standard deviation. Where we live, we know the weight of which, as Komunyakaa says,
depends on small silences we fit ourselves into.
SURIN ∫ 30
SOLILOQUY OF A SOLDIER
Enzo Silon Surin
We don't know which way to walk, all around us, a fresh white broke open in a tenement. Squared suddenly into ditches, we accumulate dust from hovering ash, skin. Seems we were just mixing stars for passersby and blankets, for a moment thought we could treble the sand with songs of mortals and potters. We weighed letters from home on our tongues before they varied. Now a few more uses for a mouth— One: an infinite appeal for the torso‘s skeletal opus. Two: a bed for the voice's feigned coma. Three: a throated clod of dirt, to be forgotten. We don't know which way to draw back, waking up swiftly in a head-to-toe world where everything is white. A renovated air bulges with sand. We spurt in any direction. We don‘t know which way to war. So many open mouths between us, so much crimson breaking from marrow. The only visible road offers no access.
SURIN ∫ 31
Maya Pindyck Carried by the current, the log bobs on, while we resist, our feet planted in the stream bed. We are discussing how black means wicked or stylish and how white means privileged or pearly while seaweed clings to our shins and ankles, mosquitoes dance in the clearing, and the sun, unblinking, burns the skin on our backs.
PINDYCK âˆŤ 32
When we were quietest, my mother shrieked—My mother!— pointing to the spirit of her own mother caught inside a sparrow that entered the studio through an open window. We all watched the sparrow crash into the rafters in search of a beam. Only my mother left her place in the circle to shoo the bird into sunlight, flinging every window wider than we thought possible. But what if the spirit did not really need new form, and chose instead to stay slave to the flaking body securing human flesh? And what if the bird held instead my father‘s father, agitated and unforgiving in all that he had lost? I wonder if my mother would still try to save the sparrow from the interior that housed the many artists circling her many lives.
PINDYCK ∫ 33
POÈME POUR TONTON JIM
Rain C. Goméz
This is a poem for Uncle Jim Who made love to me Sundays after church--His hand over my mouth. Lips blushed first from petal pink To crimson hush, turning purple under Heavy, thin-fingered white blue marbled hand--Til bottom lip split like overripe plums hitting Red dirt soil in too soon summer. Uncle Jim Used to wave to me Calling me to his side when he saw Me walking down the street. His favorite niece, ―Petite nièce pale.‖ I as fairly fetching as any octoroon in Mahogany Hall--- dark hair pinned high, Face protected under wide brim hat--So as not to yellow my slightly Tea stained porcelain complexion. Uncle Jim Kept the line taunt. Taunt as his hands over my breasts Which he coveted--For their fullness, their paleness, Their secret forbidden history. Uncle Jim Refused to acknowledge my sister, ―La jeune fille noire---L'Indien, sauvage.‖
GOMÉZ ∫ 34
She, who resembled too much, Our dark Chahta grandmother--Too much remembrance of West Africa in Creole Blood of our Mother Femme de couleur libres. Uncle Jim Pretended I was abandoned Like his own children left wandering Along Calcasieu and Red Rivers… Their dark mothers silent as bayou waters From too much, too much, too much… Tonton Jim.
GOMÉZ ∫ 35
MISBEGOTTEN (A ―found‖ poem, historic, familial and re-imagined)
Rain C. Goméz I.
1. 2. 3. 4.
unlawfully obtained misbegotten gains of, or relating to, or being a child or children born to unmarried parents. badly conceived, planned, or designed a misbegotten scheme. also misbegot [ˌmɪsbɪˈgɒt] Literary and dialect illegitimate; bastard
War was ragged, had been raged, and colors had melded together, rising, rising, rising in a tidal wave of blood blending flowing in triracial color. Fruit of misbegot schemes, and liaisons fell to finding their own survival, woven between blood, lies, lands stolen, bought and sold. War: uprising. Natchez Indians and African Slaves, between 1729-1731--- Fallout ripples of repercussion throughout Mississippi delta plains, down along wandering bayuks and crescent cities. Color changes the narrative again in Luzianne. II. The Monsieur Valentin Sr had the audacity to die without a legal male heir. Late 18th century, in the heat of future Mississippi and Louisiana sun, Monsieur Valentin Sr, lay in his bed, pallid and weak, the faint smell of sweat, overly sweet sugar and acidic laudanum falls through hot wet saturation of stale air. The papers are signed. The doctor exits, and Valentin Sr.‘s brother enters the room, joining his sister-in-law, whose piled lack luster blonde hair drips over her short pale, fine lined forehead. She clutches a frothy lace square, dabbing at the perspiration that trickles down her neck, with translucent blue veined fingers. The door shuts. Bébé is down stairs, her hair hidden under a brightly saffron tigon. Her hands rough and dark are aged beyond her thirty-six years. Her eyes gleam like obsidian in her vermillion face as she calmly lays out fresh fruits for the family, keeping eye on her son, skulking under the banana palm in the side yard. Her son, Monsieur Valentin Jr., is almost, yet shy of being his own man. His hat covers the fine curl of dark brown hair and in his olive face his eyes shimmer almost green, catching the chartreuse fire of his surroundings. He and his mother have been removed from his father‘s sick bed, at the request of his 1
As defined by Merriam-Webster.com, and the FreeDictionary.com
GOMÉZ ∫ 36
mother‘s mistress. He has no mistress. Misbegot bastard that he is, he is free. Five years later, Monsieur Valentin Jr, has come into his property. Papers signed. At twenty the land and slaves are his. His mother is moved into the big house. A year later, before the century turns, his uncle has seen the local magistrate. III. verdict: (vûr d kt) 2
1. Law the finding of a jury in a trial. 2. An expressed conclusion; a judgment or opinion synonyms; judgment, opinion. The brother of Valentin Sr, is awarded his nephew‘s land. Due to the misbegotten nature of the liaison between Valentin Sr and his half African, half Natchez slave, Bébé. In the court records it is noted that the land could not be left to a savage, not because the son was quarter black, but because his mother was half Natchez Indian. IV. mestizo [m s-t z ]3 n. pl. mes·ti·zos or mes·ti·zoes A person of mixed racial ancestry, especially of mixed European and Native American ancestry. Who are you? Light skinned, green-eyed woman whose features at once harken the rolling hills of Ireland and the crisp hills of Scotland, bayous and palms of Gulf coast and Southern Indians, the shores of West Africa and the windy high plains of Saskatchewan and Alberta First Nations? Reciting the names, calling upon ancestors to light the thread of her life woven into a cast net, red, black and white… Thrown into the cosmos, drawing down the stars whose light greeted her ancestors as they crossed borders, racial divides, ignoring laws of miscegenation in favor of lust, of love, and even of rape… Mestizo comes from the Latin, mixticius; meaning mixed. In lands occupied by the Spanish colonization project, the term was used to define individuals of mixed European and Indian ancestry. 2 3
As defined by the FreeDictionary.com As defined by the FreeDictionary.com
GOMÉZ ∫ 37
V. Griffe4: 1. a person of three quarters African blood; 2. the child of a mulatto and an African 3. the child of a mulatto and an Indian. Height of Indian Removal, Tennessee. Sarah‘s mother was listed in census document simply as a Tennessee Indian (most likely Chickasaw). Sarah went to Kentucky, and from Kentucky to Louisiana, working as a domestic. She ironed with a precession that earned her the nickname, ―Straight Seam Sarah,‖ among her employers. She was a prettish sort of girl, a little too wide of face, too stocky, too heavy of bosom and buttocks to be called truly attractive. Sarah was careful too wear a hat when hanging laundry or going to market, never letting her skin achieve more than sun kissed golden olive hue. Her eyes were wide set, dark pools that reminded men of a doe, as did her fawn colored hair, braided and secured atop her head. She shocked the town, leaving her employer, to marry. Sarah‘s husband was an educated ―country‖ doctor, and a free person of color, gens de couleur libres, whose father, by all accounts was white, letting his ―son‖ buy his freedom. His total worth, or what was paid for his manumission was 1500 dollars, which in the 19th century was quite a sum. Sarah took to marriage, happily learning to make maque choux and jambalaya for her husband. There was an ever-ready supply of chicken, eggs and pork, not to mention the occasional sweets, praline pecans and sugar, from locals bartering for her husband‘s services. VI. Jim Crow Laws: Birthed in 1876, to uphold the premise of separate but equal. The one-drop rule during the turn of the century was made famous, designating blacks based on minimal African blood. This was a new war. A stealthy creeping war, that slithered across dark wetlands like water moccasins blended in the ripples. One bite, one drop and families were torn apart. The Code Noir forgotten, as new Protestants and hierarchies of color tumbled and jumbled across a land--- where the color line had been fuzzy at best. Passe` blanc was a way to survival. Keeping eyes down cast, crossing the street to avoid
Multiple definitions resourced and merged through Gwendolyn Midlo-Hall, Christophe Van der Hogan-Landry, Andrew Jolivette, Brewton Berry and Sybil Kein. 4
GOMÉZ ∫ 38
dark skinned cousins and chance meetings--- Training the tongue to forget Halito and Bonswa, while tripping over square unromantic phrasings that left lips dry and parched with wanting the humid heat of a language that revealed, more than one drop… Mulâtre…Indígena. Sarah‘s daughters married, raising children. They were fair skinned and hazel eyed. Her sons, moreno, nègre… They were separate but equal, taking jobs as field hands, and in domestic servitude… They are now lost to the descendents of her daughters… VII. métis: [mā-' tē(s)] plural mé·tis \- tē(s), - tēz\. Etymology: French, from Late Latin mixticius mixed — see mestizo.5 A person of mixed blood. The offspring of an American Indian and a person of European Ancestry. The word Métis comes from the Latin "miscere" or ―mixticius,‖ meaning to mix. The word has been used in French speaking colonies to describe the children of Indian women and French men. In Greek mythology Métis was a Titan, mother of Athena, and patron of crafting and weaving skills. Métis in Greek was also the everyday word for combined wisdom and cunning, and the origin of weaving… Métis, to weave, to create, a new race, a people… VIII. The Rabbit‘s have a long genealogy. Chukfi Rabbit remembers the stories of his great grandmother, and their emergence from Nanih Waiya. His cuz, Brier Rabbit, made a name for himself, even got his own book. But Chukfi, he wanted nothing to do with Brier… Chukfi tricked a wolf, and Brier a fox. Chukfi‘s mother wove baskets of river cane or pine needles, and Brier‘s mother wove baskets of sweetgrass. Chukfi, well he taught his daughters about Christ in Baptist churches, and Brier, well his kids knelt reciting the rosary. Cuzins separated by color and boxes, and those moved, those left behind, and those too dark to admit they were kin… Color changes the narrative again, in Luzianne.
As defined by Merriam-Webster.com, and the FreeDictionary.com, and Jennifer S Brown.
GOMÉZ ∫ 39
No space for Indian, got to pick a side. Misbegotten laws lead to passing, cause there was no box for Louisiana Choctaws, and her brother had left to Oklahoma, driven by the promise of land under Dawes. So Edna gave her son her father‘s club, skull cracker, carved with symbols of the whirlwind, spirals, and Bear Chief. A remembrance of the time before, even though she made sure they wrote ―White‖ on his certificate of birth. But her son, his eye was caught by the decedents of Brier Rabbit, by way of Cane River, the daughters and granddaughters of women with names like Jemima, Maymae, and Apolonia with fancy French surnames. However, Edna could not deny the beauty of her grandchildren, taking them to dig sassafras and witch-hazel, reading to them from the bible, and singing them a song for crawdad. IX. misbegotten [ˌmɪsbɪˈgɒtən]6
1. 2. 3. 4.
unlawfully obtained misbegotten gains of, or relating to, or being a child or children born to unmarried parents. badly conceived, planned, or designed a misbegotten scheme. also misbegot [ˌmɪsbɪˈgɒt] Literary and dialect illegitimate; bastard
I named my child Misbegot. He is after all, the bastard child of multigenerational mestizos, métis and griffes. Who is he? Olive skinned, green-eyed boy whose features at once harken the rolling hills of Ireland and the crisp hills of Scotland, bayous and palms of Gulf Coast Southern Indians, the dry heat of Southern border towns, the shores of West Africa, the windy high plains of Saskatchewan and Alberta First Nations, and pacific central humidity of Nahuatl peoples? Sitting on the patio in the humid southern heat, I rock him slowly against my breast, singing names, calling upon ancestors to light the thread of his life woven into a cast net, of red, black and white… Rocking, we sing to the cosmos, our words like a net drawing down the stars whose light greeted his ancestors as they crossed borders, racial divides, ignoring misbegotten laws of miscegenation in favor of survival…
As defined by Merriam-Webster.com, and the FreeDictionary.com
GOMÉZ ∫ 40
FOLK A FOREVER: WE WERE THOSE PEOPLE
Featured Artist Introduction by Marlene Hawthrone Thomas The photographer is a visual poet. Their task: to translate the world they drink in with parched eyes, their finger poised above the shutter button. They are hunter and gatherer, spearing memory as it swims out to sea. A successful photograph is one which makes the viewer take a longer look, their contemplation rewarded each second their eyes linger on an elderly man‘s folded hands, the tattered hem of a dress, the hard working feet sliding out slovenly over weary sandals. A successful photograph is one that makes the viewer become poet, even if all that is imparted is a tongue-tied nod. The poet is a linguistic photographer. Their task: transcribe the world they drink in with parched eyes, their fingers flourishing an anxious pen. They are hoarder and gourd, gathering the droplets of the human experience. They are composer and song, harvesters of voice. A successful poem is one which sets a pendulum in the mind‘s eye; one which makes the reader unable to scratch dull the memory of what they‘ve read because, through this gift of words, they have captured moments and become photographer. Thomas Sayers Ellis lives between these worlds. Over a few months some summers ago, I accompanied him, and alongside him documented the District's well-known Go-Go musical community. I admired the camaraderie he shared with the band members, the freedom to wander where he pleased, slapping five-sprawled hands and doling out hugs, quick cheek-kisses; bobbing his head while slinking onstage, snapping a shot, then dancing offstage. Mic. Keyboard. Horn. Bongos. Sticks. The way a go-go go-goes, starting from that very center of your heart, radiating outwards, wrapping around the deft fingers of the keyboard player, colliding with the blaring voice of the singer as he/she keeps the melody of the song. People in the Pocket. HAWTHRONE ∫ 42
We were those People; Sayers, that Person, snug-held like loose change, lenses aimed like missiles at the band and crowd, ready to engage in friendly fire, flashdragging, beat feet, snap shoot, call and response, observe and shoot. Weaving around a thumping speaker. Hunter on the prowl. Decisive moment. Couple kissing and grinding. Snap. A sea of beautiful dancing black folk. Snap. Sweat soaked white-t, Adamâ€˜s apple bobbing in the brown throat-sea, sore tomorrow for sure. Snap snap. Pocket. People. Pulse. Snap. Identity. Repair. We, you, us, needle and thread, stitching healing line across broken skin. Scar. Healing. Identity repair.
HAWTHRONE âˆŤ 43
[2007––2010] Thomas Sayers Ellis
"Baby Bell Rung" "So Scooter Journer" "Rosa Sits, Rosa Walks" "His Choice of Edens" "Grooves Will Bounce" "The Mightiest Meter" "Swing Youngin‘" "Toe Stop Broke Heart" "Club Crazy Demonstration" "Gimme Up from Hunger" "Oral Tradition Winner" "Atlantic Die Ride" "Baby Got Time to Beat" "Home Grown Folks Rule Home" "The Hope of Audio Community Vision"
ELLIS ∫ 44
PICK TSE‘S ‘FROTOGRAPHY A collaborative interview of Tidal Basin Review‘s featured artist, THOMAS SAYERS ELLIS
(Rosa Sits, Rosa Walks) When you decided to take this photo, what sparked your imagination in this particular scene (in particular, what role did the glass window play in your shot?), and can you tell us a little about your choice of title? TSE: The glass window is the secret reason I took the photograph and it is the obvious photography in the photograph––the map of D.C., the pure transparency of the glass between them. The two men are the poem and in the silent stanza break between them is Rosa Parks, the patron saint of all Black bus riders. The way the man was dressed, his posture and the man behind him moving like someone who would rather walk that deal with the body memory of Montgomery and all that occurred there. This is what the imagination felt, a private and historical tug of war. But, it was only after I took the photograph that I realized it was the expression of a choice, to wait or not to wait. At the edge of the gentri-trying Shaw neighborhood in Washington, D.C., What Would Rosa Do Today?
AHMED/ELLIS ∫ 60
AFAA MICHAEL WEAVER
(His Choice of Edens)
What is the communicative space between you and the photograph, either as meditative object in a single project or as an ongoing framing device for crafting poems? In that vein of thinking is this space performative, and if so, what is performed in that space? Finally, do you have comments on what you perceive as the effect of your work on varying definitions of reality? TSE: I don‘t use photographs for crafting poems. I have only written one poem while looking at a photograph and that was ―Photograph of Dr. Funkenstein,‖ which appeared inThe Maverick Room. I actually try to keep the two creative practices separate, but who knows what the senses are up to when we are writing. I do feel related or, I should say, a part of the moment in which the photograph was given. I prefer given to taken. The exchange between photographer and subject through camera can be a performance. I always talk to whomever I am photographing and talk can take various forms. I spoke to the man in His Choice of Edens and let him see me photographing and meeting other people. Then, I walked away from him, gained enough distance, turned and framed it all. Maybe the walking away was like a stanza break. Maybe being given the photograph was an encore.
Read Afaa Michael Weaver ‘s poem and play, pgs. 152 - 158.
WEAVER/ELLIS ∫ 61
Skin, Inc. discusses the use(s) of proper nouns, and is well-filled with proper nouns. The identity-repair method of referencing specific names includes proper noun wordplay, some of it connected to name-coinages in your earlier work. ―The Judges of Craft‖ speaks of the ―prison‖ of the ―patrolled-parole/they feed you./A straightening tool, control.‖ A ―patrolled-parole,‖ via the doubleness of wordplay, can be a ―patrolled-word.‖ Skin, Inc. repairs and unpatrols identity by utilizing the real words, the names, the proper nouns. While the book already discusses the use(s) of proper nouns, could you say even more about the use(s)? TSE: It wasn‘t Skin, Inc. that was reliantly hungry for proper nouns; it was TSE exorcising himself, his contemporary dependency of grammatical government and government names. A proper noun is many things. It is a package, a way of knowing, of knowing known things, ready made things, things the poet does not have to invent because it is as it is in reality and familiar, but things that the poet should invent by opening or exploding the package and watching all of the word seriousness parachute onto the page. Wordplay as a term is played out. The merit of the proper noun is sound-meaning. Amiri Baraka has a poem (not about) but named after Clarence Thomas. The poem is titled ―Tom Ass Clarence‖ because, Baraka says, ―Some people can only be expressed by their backwardness.‖ The exploding of Thomas, the rear (ass) moved to the front, the sense made reverse, the reversal bordering mock-noble. I use names when I need the real and poetry should not avoid the real. Proper nouns are like huge granules of salt. I use them but I also attempt to break them down or sprinkle them lightly over the composition. Too many of them can give a poem high blood pressure which is what I think happens to most readers about ten poems into [Skin,] Inc. All of the exploding may be deafening. One reader said he ducked for cover the moment he saw that the book was dedicated ―For You.‖ A package can also be a thrown shoe.
BERNHARDT/ELLIS ∫ 62
(Baby Bell Rung) Dear Mr. Ellis, both the camera and the poet have eyes. Is this ever a problem? Is there, in your life, ever familial disagreement between the two? TSE: There is disagreement everywhere in my life and everywhere in nature. Some days my legs (even) disagree. I believe that we are all born with more than two eyes, that seeing is multi-limbed. Of course, many of us lose this ability to see with our fingertips and with our ears and knees which is why I am proud to be a Negro (when I am a Negro) because knees know. I like seeing and knowing from positions of my body other than my face and head. A camera is an external position of the body. It helps your Extra be extra and I am already Extra. I don‘t write every poem that offers itself to me nor do I lift the camera every time I see the possibility of a photograph. I don‘t agree with greed. And I don‘t ever agree with the flash. It reminds me of contemporary religion (not church). Flash is such a holy intruder.
All eyes have focal points. Is there a particular landscape where the focal point of the camera and the focal point of your poetry meet? TSE: I like the swim between focus and blur. I like the visual reach and stretch; it is an ideal meeting place––a little blind and a little sight. As writers, we talk a lot about words and their meanings but that space (between focus and blur) is like a definition of the cosmos unlearning itself. Sometimes a subject will step between focus and blur and the photograph will look like a mixture of motion and stillness. Sometimes a photograph can reveal water moving through air. Then it is not a photograph anymore. It‘s light, light separating reality from time.
FINNEY/ELLIS ∫ 63
(Home Grown Folks Rule Home) In the broader sense, is there a relationship between images in your photographic work and images in your writing? TSE: The images in my writing are broken into more pieces than the images in my photographs because I haven‘t figured out how to penetrate my subjects (and look out from them) in the same way that I penetrate my subject-matter, (and look out from it). I know that I am still in what I call ‗observer‘s wilderness.‖ I know that I am still mostly a watcher bur I also feel me slowly removing the awe. I think that photography requires more fearlessness than writing but I would like to operate at a high level of both, the Gwendolyn Parks Gordon Brooks of Perform-A-GoGo-Form.
Does your writing influence the ways in which you frame a photograph? TSE:
Legs Wreck Lines Tangle I write like I walk. I walk when I am photographing. The purpose of framing is the habit of boxes.. I wear glasses, black square ones. We used to wear frames without the lens when we were slick, young Boosters, the nerve of influence acting like weather.
CARROLL/ELLIS ∫ 64
Between Some Men NATHALIE HANDAL
(Rosa Sits, Rosa Walks) Where is the poem between the two men?
A The poem between The two men Was never written.
B It was never in a book Or dependent on paper It wasn‘t published anywhere
C Except in the air so the people could hear it. Playas inhaled. Macks ex…
D Don‘t go to a museum! Let‘s sit around and watch Unwrinkled women.
E Old enough to have been Read wrong, My rights ride by. New cars ain‘t cars.
F Language used to do What ears wanted Language to do. The Naked-Breathe.
HANDAL/ELLIS ∫ 65
Some photographers resist letting subjects to engage the lens and acknowledge that they're being seen; your photos seem to welcome that moment of connection. TSE: ―Welcome‖ is the perfect term and connection is vital in most (not all) of my DC photographs. The connection lets you know that there is another human being behind the camera and that this act, this exchange, is not the usual brand of technical voyeurism one might find at a place like The Navy Memorial, that the photographer‘s interest is longer than that of a tourist. SANDRA BEASLEY
You're not afraid of letting people show off for the camera. Is there a philosophical reason behind that? TSE: I show off too. I show up with my Leica, black with a red dot. I shoot in manual, focusing and choosing aperture. I rarely stand still. The camera is quiet. The lens does not look like a weapon. When they show off, they are pleasing themselves. Pleasing themselves is a form of Portraiture. It makes it active. SANDRA BEASLEY
A practical reason? How is the "gaze" of one of your photographs different from the "gaze" of one of your poems? TSE: I am in front of my photographs. I am behind my poems. SANDRA BEASLEY
What strikes me most about this photograph is that while everything about the subject's body suggests irreverent motion--center of gravity pitched forward, arms out, tongue caught by the camera--there is a tremendous stillness in the subject's eyes, a maturity that seems beyond his years or his mussed clothing. A kinetic energy that might be at home in BEASLEY/ELLIS ∫ 66
a crowd seems curious in a plaza that's deserted (or framed to look deserted). Set the scene for us: what drew your gaze to this subject, this shot? Your art takes on issues of race but your art also examines age, generation, and cultural inheritance. Do you look at this photograph and see a boy, or a man? Why? What are the rites of passage unique to growing up in Washington, and how do your photographs reflect that? TSE: I see a man in a boy, the struggle in their dance, and the triumph of the symbolism in his improvisation on Black Power gestures. Both fists are now being used, horizontally, not vertically. Growing up in Washington teaches you not to touch anything Federal, to keep your hands to yourself when you are downtown, He is in defiance of that. SANDRA BEASLEY
Since you are a writer as well as a photographer, I'm inclined to pay a lot of attention to the titles of your images. Sometimes your titles offer straight biographical information, whereas other times the title is impressionistic or incantatory. Is there a method to when or why you switch between those modes? TSE: I often let the technical elements in the photograph have some say so in the structure of the title. My titles are also ways of starting a conversation. I signify. I try to make them suggestive or gathering, and interactive with enough worry in them to make the act of naming bothersome. Mode switcher, no, I am a Mode mixer. SANDRA BEASLEY
Is the phrase "Swing Youngin" an observation, or an imperative? TSE: I think you know that itâ€˜s Black Literary Advice.
BEASLEY/ELLIS âˆŤ 67
(So Scooter Journer) Part of what strikes me about this photograph, is that the little girl is looking straight into/at the camera. She knows she's being photographed. But do the people in front of your lens always know? Can you say something about your role as a photographer? Do you have relationships with the people you photograph? Do you photograph *strangers*? & how do you deal with the (perhaps) thin line between voyeurism & documentation? Are you an insider or an outsider? Both/all? & what does the camera (physical object) have to do with how you perceive/are perceived? TSE: The little girl knows she is being photographed, and therefore, assumes a pose of acceptance or agreement or indifference within the frame and with the gaze. I even imagine her imagining what the photograph will look like. Her acceptance of this is also like a photograph of me being taken (or given) by her. We are both posed. I am interested in posing (which contains waiting), prepared and unprepared. I believe posing has stages or anatomy, and by the time the photograph was given (from the little girl to me), she has settled into rest upon her scooter, journey beginning or journey end? This is the only relationship that matters, the only one that is created in whatever degree of exchange is achieved. Waiting is a difficult thing to separate from posing. I wait on her. She waits on me. Every photograph I have ever been give contains some form of an agreement or disagreement between the photographer, the subject and waiting. Much is made of light but you can paint with time too. ARACELIS GIRMAY
I've read your manifestos. What do your photographs have to do with community? Power? & would you say you have different interests/goals/concerns in your photographs than you do for in your writings? TSE: This series of photographs has to do with both vanishing folk culture and community in Washington, D.C. I am not one of those photographers who thinks that his photograph is preserving something. Who knows if they will, but I am interested in images of resistance. In Swing Younginâ€˜, I mentioned Go-Go (Music) to the boy and he began a dance with gestures, though horizontal, reminiscent of Black Power arms and fists of the 1960s. The poems and the pictures fight the same fight. GIRMAY/ELLIS âˆŤ 68
PATRICIA SPEARS JONES
(Oral Tradition Winner)
In that photo were you trying like the Italian neo-realists to offer a more elevated and/or different way to look poor men, criminals, thugs, et alia and their stylishness? Or is this simply another picture of a Black man with gold teeth and a way into a kind of thuggish stylishness that under girds funk and other forms of Black music? It don't mean a thing w/out some swing and swagger. Is this a way to bring cinematic values to your poetry through the lens (literally). Italian neo-realists come to mind, but also Bunel's films of the late 1960s/early 1970s The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie in which said bourgeois people try to eat their dinner, but are always interrupted by violence, dreams and storytelling. There are often interruptions in your poems from real life incidences to discourses esp. in Skin, Inc. Are those interventions the narrative related to those gold teeth--da grille? How/why/ and do we always have to "get" the connections? Because in many ways, I do and I don‘t. TSE: I am trying to recall the first portrait I ever saw in my life and I cannot but I hope it wasn‘t Jesus. It is, I think, an impossible task trying to remember such. Some faces get shoved down your throat early––the Mona Lisa, Che Guevara and JFK, MLK & RFK, those living room rug-portraits. At Harvard, I saw a film titled Fred Ott‘s Sneeze (also known as Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze). In the five-second film, one of Thomas Edison‘s assistants, Fred Ott, takes a pinch of snuff and sneezes. I met the man in Oral Tradition Winner in Drew, Mississippi. He was sitting outside rolling something to smoke but not smiling until I began a conversation with him. I have never rolled a joint, but I asked him how fast he could roll one and he laughed and rolled a few for me. In the series of photographs given to me by him, there are many interruptions. But, the gold teeth are the only ones imposed on the portrait by him. It comes from within-within the composition of the photograph and it challenges flatness. Yes, cinema has influenced me, but so has the postage stamp. Oral Tradition Winner is also a haunting photograph for me in the same way that the final frozen frame of The 400 Blows (Truffaut) is but more adult with a signifying grin thrown in. I am always braking away from the regular walk to gather or tighten or loosen the line in poems. This photograph attempts to loosen the portrait. I don‘t think ―thug‖ when I see this photo. I think ―worth,‖ the worth of a mouth and what words, our words––slang, slanted language, slanguage––are worth. If this photograph could talk, it might say something heroic.
SPEARS JONES/ELLIS ∫ 69
(Gimme ―Up from Hunger‖) I am struck by a kind of Hi Fidelity in your photos, even classic (e.g. Classic DC). To what (or Who) are your images faithful? TSE: This is probably due to the fact that there is no paperwork in the photographs. Faithful is unknown, but I also feel as if I am always standing between some version of the battle between David and Goliath with one exposure left on the roll and faced with having to decide in which direction to point the camera. I think I am full of faith in all things public. Images are moody. Mine seem to be grateful to have been born of film, in this day and age. The images are faithful to light and to preserving the legacy of ―the Bama‖ in Washington, D.C. The city owners are done with Bamas, are done with the Black South. Slavery did not happen. I am trying to aid in the recovery. AILISH HOPPER
Conversely, what treasons or infidelities do you approach or avoid? TSE: I avoid the gaze of tourist, but it is a trap that creates a swamp. One might be accused of carrying and using one‘s camera in very different ways in Washington than in D.C. Washington is always calling for a wide lens and the wide lens in the bag can be heard calling for Washington. So, I purposely use a 50mm lens which means that I have eliminated all of that false Paris and Rome that is downtown Washington. If you get a monument, you get a piece of one––just to break government. I think Roy DeCarava did this as well in his D.C. photographs. The opposite approach is true when I am shooting in the community. I will use the wide angle because people like to stand side by side and have their picture taken, so a 35mm or a 28mm lens will add space and room to the neighborhood. AILISH HOPPER
Likewise, I'm struck by the use of symmetry, personalities, even Nature. A composition that's Beyond the Page? In other words, is there a Page in there? Why/not ...?
HOPPER/ELLIS ∫ 70
TSE: There are many pages in there and many places where the pages are being ripped out all over Washington. There is, now, a law against photographing government buildings and I found out the hard way: Police: TSE: Police #2: TSE: Police: Police: TSE:
Sir, you can‘t take picture here. Why not, isn‘t this a public building? It‘s a government building and we have to protect it. Is that a law. Yes because of 9/11. May I see what you took? You can‘t. It‘s film but I was just practicing my skills at speed-focusing in manual setting. Okay but be more careful next time. Your camera looks like an antique. I‘d hate to see it confiscated.
The page has joined the stage, development arrested.
Read Ailish Hopper‘s poems, pgs. 81 - 82. HOPPER/ELLIS ∫ 71
(Atlantic Die Ride)
I appreciate the fact that, as a photographer (and a poet), you consistently use African American subjects, and capture candid scenes of African American life. How do you decide which scenes to capture, and, more important, how do you choose which pieces to present to the public? As an artist, do you feel any pressure to present certain aspects of African American life while concealing others? If so, how do you deal with that pressure? The cover of your most recent book, Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems, features a photograph of a young woman with albinism, a choice for which you got both positive and negative feedback. What prompted you to photograph her, and what made you decide to choose one of her photographs as the cover? TSE: I am a physical photographer and a social one. I walk the streets and I bother people or I walk the streets and wait for them to bother me and when they do I try to be ready. Summers are humid in D.C. and as I was leaving a newsstand, Chinyere aka Chee Chee was entering it, rushing in to get out of the sun. She was wearing dark shades and we were both near Dupont Circle––me with all of my hair and her with barely any. She was striking. I waited outside, photographing strangers and when she came out of the newsstand, we both just sort of waited for me to ask if I could photograph her. I did and she said yes. We walked to a bookstore and the waiter brought water and I waited for her to have a few sips. Then, the photograph was given to me. She smiled and laughed and we ate and we never said skin or albino or albinism. She said she had been looking for someone to take photographs of her and I said I would. I casually used to rolls of color film that day. I used a Leica M7 alternating between a 50 mm and 90 mm lens. I never said, ―I wrote poetry‖ and I did not photograph her with Skin, Inc. in mind. I had my heart set on a black and white painting by Kerry James Marshall that I had seen on the cover of BOMB Magazine. It was not until I began work on ―Gone Pop‖ (about Michael Jackson) that Graywolf asked for cover ideas and I remembered the photographs of Chinyere that seemed to grow on me more and more for the joy in them. It even occurred to me that many of the public photographs that I had seen of albinos contained very little joy as if they were being studied or forced to stand under the camera‘s microscope.
BIRDSONG/ELLIS ∫ 72
The answer that I am avoiding giving you is that I photographed her because I felt in the presence of a familiar and extra alphabet, beautiful and unlike anyone I‘d ever photographed. I even knew without knowing that she was African. DESTINY BIRDSONG
Also, could you talk a little bit about the public reception of your cover, and how you responded to it? TSE: Mostly, all I‘ve heard is that the book is beautiful and, as we know, that cannot be the whole truth. Before it was published, a good friend said that it looked like I was saying that the woman on the cover or women (in general) needed Identity Repair. Another poet simply asked, ―Why is she smiling?‖ None of the reviews have mentioned the cover yet. It is a two-fold homage. The front cover references the first edition of Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe) and it is designed, typeface and layout, as a tribute to In The Mecca (Gwendolyn Brooks). In that way, it is an African American Power Object and it will take most readers some time to come to terms with the cover portrait as being anything other than what it is not: just a cover.
BIRDSONG/ELLIS ∫ 73
(Grooves Will Bounce) Between the necessity of witness and documentation there arises the question of authenticity and cooptation; there are elements in the photograph that suggest this is a staged shot, yet the details within it are important to honor and uphold. How do you as artist negotiate these positions? And what if this photo is "100% natural," with kids skating around with their Go-Go vinyls, or posters? The question still stands, I think, just as all the details in the photo, including the bystander (by-sitter) woman on the bench in the background, speak of so much narrative, so much journey through time. Where does a photo cease to maneuver around traditional representation and break free into a new becoming? TSE: The photo invents a truth. The camera extends reality. If the art is alive, the art is also partially a lie and when it comes to ways of seeing, that means a new truth. The boys were skateboarding when I encountered them in Southeast, Washington, D.C. I was driving by in a car with friends but I had two cameras with me as well as a shopping bag of Go-Go records. I‘d gotten in the habit of stopping people on the street, asking what their favorite Go-Go song was and if I could photograph them with the song or another Lp. I usually let them look through the Lps and pick the one they liked. On this particular day, what caught my eye was how much one of the boys resembled a young Barack Obama. I was hoping that the element of resemblance in the photograph would suggest the possibility of political and cultural continuance; that Obama‘s run for office might reach the households of Anacostia and Go-Go somehow. The staged elements are framed by reality. The boys are standing near one of the worst bus stops in all of D.C. See the woman behind them; now imagine ten of her, and six of them with small children. There is nowhere to sit and not be a part of the rubble left behind by the Construction Company. If you look behind them, there‘s the Washington Monument (I believe Rita Dove called it ―a bloodless finger‖). There is no place to sit but a narrow, concrete slab. It is at the intersection of three very busy streets: Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Howard Road and Sheridan Road and there is nowhere to sit. No shelter from the Corporate Warzone or inclimate weather. There is no way to be at that bus stop and not be in danger. The folk at the bus stop, what do they see, the profanity of Construction sites, a birth row of Condominiums all along the road. When I was a kid, Trouble Funk used to drop the bomb there. JOUDAH /ELLIS ∫ 74
(So Scooter Journer) In the ―perform-a-form, photo-elegy with footnotes for feet work‖ that opens the James Brown section of Skin, Inc., you foreground the astonishing page-performance fusion that permeates the book—and at the same time accompany every page of text with a photograph. In that poem, at least, you‘re stretching the poetic page both aurally and visually. Do you envision doing more ―collaborations‖ like this between poetry and photography? You may (but needn‘t) answer this question by writing a poetic-performative (and/or) note to accompany ―So Scooter Journer‖—or by explaining why that‘s not at all the way you work. TSE: It‘s frustrating that I could not make them one, that I am still at the place (as an artist) where photography and poetry have to happen separately or one-at-a-time (in book form) even when they so badly desire togetherness. I guess I could blame technology or ―Building, are you ready ‗cause we gonna tear you down,‖ which is what James Brown says to the Apollo Theater during a performance of ―There Was A Time.‖ It‘s easy to envision, so I would rather not plan or path with the new work. I wish the page would stretch itself so I would not have to; isn‘t that the partial role of form––to extend the journey, visual and written? So the Journer is one of Truth for the Youth, so the little girls on their scooters might lead us someday. I am only drawn to magazines that do both. If I had a Perform-A-Form in me, I wouldn‘t be sitting here writing this. I know my place in the sentence. I fuel nouns. I used to want to be a filmmaker, but all of the eyes slowed me down. A journal ain‘t nothing but a series of small, blank screens. All photographs become funerals, eventually. There will come a day when I will raise my camera and words that no one can see will come out. In that hour, cinema will apologize to poetry for everything that it stole and sold.
COLLINS/ELLIS ∫ 75
(Baby Got Time to Beat)
I‘ve been a fan of both your photos and poems for some time now, but I want to know more about your photography since I am a luddite in that department. Your photos always have this sense of entropy, even of a seemingly 'still' portrait or scene/landscape. It's like when I close my eyes, I can picture the subjects of your photographs moving and continuing on and on...you know--living!--and they are never static. I guess the closest thing I could compare that to is when I read a killer line and it comes back to me in the unlikeliest of places, like when I am gardening or sprinting up a staircase. I like having that unexpected visit of sorts, long after I've put the poem or photo down. My question-and there IS a question--is, simply, can you discuss timing or sense of beat or rhythm when you are taking photographs? Maybe compare/contrast that to how you tap out a line on the keyboard? I'm interested in the mundane, the corporeal--do you feel yourself holding your breath when you snap a great shot? Does your heart race? I know when I am in the zone, that moment of writing where I block out everything and have absolute concentration, I sometimes catch myself holding my own breath, only exhaling after I finish the line or sentence...I know you work with actual film where you have to wait and see what the shots look like when they get developed. I can sense when I am 'onto something' when I am writing--not that I'm not surprising myself during the composition process, but I definitely know when a poem of mine is working or not going anywhere. By now, do you have a sense of what shots are going to be 'good'...or is it all mostly a surprise later? TSE: Ghosts can ruin a photographer so I forget the shots after I am given them. I have to and I want to or they will hold onto me like a poem that has worked and, to me, that is bad for the next shot––being held onto…and the next poem. I surrender and then I let go, rapidly. Rhythm in photography is a very different thing, to me, than rhythm in poetry. I shoot in manual. I focus. I choose the aperture and or shutter speed. Much of this is determined by what kind of light there is and how fast or slow things are moving in the subject-area. A few years ago, I was asked to photograph the wedding of a very popular D.C. musician and during the wedding, I realized that I wanted to snap more photographs of folks getting ready to be photographed than the actual posed photographs. After a roll of this, I started guessing where folks where going, physically and emotionally and beating them there or meeting them there. This was my way of capturing the intervals, the moments between readiness. It also made for a wedding album that was more like the making of a wedding, the creative process of matrimony. I will say this: there is not enough creative process in contemporary poetry; the lines are too linear. Control, too, can behave like a mob.
NEZHUKUMATATHIL/ELLIS ∫ 76
(Home Grown Folks Rule Home) What is a poem? How do you define a poem (for yourself/to yourself)? And how does your work participate in the process of undefining and redefining and renovating the medium in order to keep it from collapsing into the abyss of comfortable tropes? TSE: The first problem is that a poem is Writing. You either accept that or you don‘t. I do. I accept that what we mean when we say Poem is Writing or has to be written. The second problem is that I do not accept this same definition for Poetry. Poetry is not Poem and Poetry can even be at odds with Poem which is why, I often believe, we need form––to make Poetry fit within the hold of what can be read, to make it Poem. Before the golf course became a wonderful and manicured green thing, it was something wilder or something whose design (by nature) was wider, more patterned, wild and free. A place where you might even get hurt or lose your life but not so anymore; now you can play on it and putt your ball in and out of birdies, bogeys and pars. Today‘s page has become something of an Augusta, a Masters and workshop is, without a doubt, something of a helpful, misguiding caddie. Poetry wants its rough back. HARMONY HOLIDAY
(How)/Have new media allowed you to fill in some of the perceived blanks between your writing and your photography? TSE: No. No way. The blanks, as you refer to them, are natural. They make the writing and the photography more organic. They close the gap between the writer and the reader and between the photograph and the viewer. Modern Art is such a blank eraser. The Modern Artist must be re-taught that the human senses are all reliant on one another, that blank is where breathing begins. HARMONY HOLIDAY
When are you gonna collaborate with Bootsy Collins? TSE: I‘ve asked him and he says soon. Soon he is going to invite me to The Rehab (his HOLIDAY/ELLIS ∫ 77
farm in Ohio). Sounds like Identity Repair to me. He has a son who is a poet or a wrapper or a wrapoet. He gave him a copy of The Maverick Room, dig that. I‘ve seen photos of Bootsy and George Clinton on tractors at The Rehab. Boosty told me that fishing is therapeutic and George collects stuffed animals. They say they saw aliens together. In some odd way, I feel like we‘ve already collaborated on me.
HOLIDAY/ELLIS ∫ 78
BARBARA JANE REYES
(Baby Bell Rung)
This question goes back to your essay from POETRY Magazine (February 2009), "The New Perform—A_Form: A Page Vs. Stage Alliance." I've taught this essay in some of my poetry classes, and while the most impassioned response from students is agreement with you regarding allying page and stage, form and body, this agreement is accompanied by an aversion to your use of "new." Above and beyond contemporary "spoken word," oral traditions are very old, and entail verse performed from memory, crafted in verse forms to aid memory, carried in the body, conveyed by voice and body, not fettered by one discipline over another but coupled with music, dance, political debate, ceremony. Why then use "new"? What's so "new" about it? TSE: I saw this question coming (in my head) when I was crafting the ―The New Perform-A-Form.‖ I used ―New‖ because I was speaking (at the time) in the Big House (POETRY Magazine) to the Big Boss (English). I grew up in ―the field‖ and in the field I know what your students know, know and knew it in our bodies and without theory or naming. It was natural. It was play and it was ritual, sometimes coded and sometimes fearless. But the history and practice and behavior and vibe of the Oral Tradition thins and vanishes the further you go up the American Poetry ladder and I was speaking at Harriet Monroe‘s table. Your students don‘t realize that this is ―New‖ to a great many people who have separated their bodies from their minds. Your students don‘t realize that ideas don‘t need feet in many places in the Academy, that feet would lead the poem to action and action happens in the streets. In much of Skin, Inc. I am speaking to Whiteness and I have been shocked (not) by the number of White reviewers who have gotten away with reviewing the book without mentioning Whiteness, any brand of it. I also knew that I was just scratching the surface of and simply renaming very scared folk cultural terrain when I wrote ―The New Perform-A-Form‖ but so many poets are afraid of their own mouths and their own bodies because of the operating table known as workshop and the hospital know as American education. I wanted to start the argument. I wanted to get the people who know more involved.
REYES/ELLIS ∫ 79
KELLY NORMAN ELLIS
(Oral Tradition Winner) I hear a wealth of Black musical influences in your poetry, but I'm really interested in the way Blues and Funk inform your work as a photographer. Your work seems at these crossroads of black culture. How have these aesthetics shaped your ear and eye? The doo rag, the gold tooth, the blunt? TSE: I am a folk magnet. I am drawn to folk, the people who do the real living and the real dying in this world. The folk are also my favorite manufactures of culture. The first art gallery I ever experienced was my grandmother‘s living room where she kept most of the family‘s photographs and photo albums. I would sit on the plastic-covered sofa for hours and flip through the past––the faces, the clothes, the cars, the double exposure of my Uncle Vernon double-fist crossed in front of him like an X, his last name: SMITH across his chest and headed to Vietnam. My grandmother and my two aunts in tight, long dresses posed like Diana, Flo and Mary (the Supremes). My father when he was skinny and not even a father yet and not even a ‗fro yet. We kids stayed upstairs while the grown-ups drank and danced and played cards and the dozens. It was all folklore to me: the black light posters, the Lp covers and racks of 45s. The men wore matching jackets and pants and the women, leather or suede, but we stayed upstairs and learned how to be cousins and learned the lyrics to everything that rose up to us from under the basement door. And that‘s how the images and the words got together in me, really fast, in a funky way like the Blues sped-up. So many of my photos are an attempt to slow lore down, back to folk time. My dad is gone. My grandmother is gone. The crossroads you ―sense‖ is me making folk a forever.
ELLIS/ELLIS ∫ 80
IN THE HOSPITAL FOR THE NEGRO INSANE
i. Emancipation Test #672 Instructions: Please draw ‗slavery.‘ (Facilitator: first remove all slavery from the room) Score of 4 Drawing of person. Crowds Brown Legs And Head Around Tiny Torso. In Chains 3 Caucasian Monster. Legs Float in Space, Arms Not Obviously Connected. Head is Not Present 2 Drawing Reveals Some Indication of Tree Being Received. A Rope Score of 1 Blue or Green Lines Totally Distorted. Encroached by noise
SCORE _____Almost the same hardly any better at all a little somewhat slow better
HOPPER ∫ 81
IN THE HOSPITAL FOR THE NEGRO INSANE
v. Emancipation Test #54 Instructions: Tell the doctor what you see
in the letters below
HOPPER âˆŤ 82
INTRODUCTION: ON BEING POST BLACK…AND OTHER LIES
―My frame of reference, is of course, America, or that portion of the North American continent that calls itself America. And this means I am speaking, essentially, of the European vision of the world- or more precisely, perhaps the European vision of the universe. It is a vision as remarkable for what it remorselessly diminishes, demolishes or leaves totally out of account.‖ – James Baldwin, On Being White…And Other Lies
WAKE UP Hit the alarm clock. Wednesday, November 5, 2008. Throw the sheets back and head for the shower. Lather and wash the dusty shadow of every election before yesterday‘s. A new political future rolls over your hair and shoulders. You step out of the curtains. Carefully reach for a towel to wipe the wetness from your chest. Track excess water back into the bedroom. Turn on the morning news. The President of the United States of America is qualified, experienced, direct …and good-looking. Big Boi might say your President is ―cooler than a polar bear‘s toenails.‖1 By all American definitions— your President is a Black man. The arrival of this Black man at the helm of United States‘ and world politics is a drastic change from the long-standing W.M. regime. The American people want change, but none of us really knows what this change will look like beyond the refreshing phenotype of our new Commander-in-Chief. Nevertheless, the way we think about ourselves begins to change. We even revise the way we speak about all matters American. A bold new term, post-racial, is coined in a grand attempt to describe how drastically America is altering; an old term resurfaces with new meaning—post-black. Though the terms surfaced and resurfaced simultaneously, both terms cannot be gauged or addressed similarly. The post-black concept does not call for the national discussion that post-racial may warrant. The members of the ethnic group America has named and renamed through the centuries of social evolution (i.e., Black, African-American, Negro, Colored, and some few derogatory others) must consider 1
Big Boi, Atliens, Atliens
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the meaning of post-black amongst its members as opposed to its use on a national front by other Americans. Amongst Black people, it is like an argument with family in closed quarters. Get out the perspectives, roll some eyes, and maybe, even curse each other out a bit. Hash it out. But, by all means, talk. Self-define.
POST-BLACK Etymologically-speaking, the prefix post means after or placement at the end. In the context of American society, Black means of or having to do with people of immediate or distant African ancestry. Consider the origin of post-black as a movement in the visual arts. Post-black art is a phrase that refers to a category of contemporary African American art. It is a paradoxical genre of art where race and racism are intertwined in a way that rejects their interaction. I.e., it is art about the black experience that attempts to dispel the notion that race matters. It uses enigmatic themes wherein black can substitute for white. Some suggest the term is attributable to the 1995 book The End of Blackness by Debra Dickerson, who is a favorite of Rashid Johnson's. Johnson is a prominent post-black artist today. However, Thelma Golden claimed to have coined the term ‗post-black‘ art with friend and artist Glenn Ligon in the late 1990s. In 2001 the phrase was explained in detail in the exhibition catalogue for The Studio Museum in Harlem‘s exhibition entitled Freestyle, which launched Johnson's career. Freestyle was an exhibition that included twenty-eight up and coming artists of African American backgrounds. Golden defined post-black art as that which includes artists who are ―adamant about not being labeled ‗black‘ artists, though their work was HENDERSON ∫ 84
steeped, in fact deeply interested, in redefining complex notions of blackness. She continued, â€•They are both postBasquiat and post-Biggie. They embrace the dichotomies of high and low, inside and outside, tradition and innovation, with a great ease and facility.2 One might consider this movement in visual art a bold attempt of Black artists to show themselves varied in their blackness. To be certain, any attempt for Black people to define themselves for themselves is admirable, particularly in the American construct which has lopped all Black people into one indistinct duffle bag and closed the zipper. However, more recent espousing of post-black, as articulated by such writers as Ytasha Womack,3 author of Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African-American Identity, offers a rather interesting perspective. Womack insists: Post Black speaks to the new diversity and complex identity in African American culture. Whereas the social dynamics of decades before required a uniform black American identity to battle impending social injustice, the new opportunities afforded the generations of today as a result of victories won and fallen barriers have given rise to a growing diversity that some are enthused about and others are not. Meet the "invisibles" aka a Gen X and Y assemblage of young professionals, black immigrants, the GLBT community, spiritualists, those of multicultural identity, and non hip-hop artists.4 Some of the points Womack makes in her book are well-received. Black Americans of today are a different breed, for better or for worse. We feel a greater sense of entitlement, much like our white counterparts, but I suspect none less than was felt at the turn of the 20th century by the great American heavyweight boxer, Jack Johnson,5 Post-Black Art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-black_art. Accessed October 20, 2010. Womack, Ytasha. Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity. http://postblackthebook.blogspot.com/. Accessed October 18, 2010. 4 Womack, Ytasha, Post Black: How A New Generation is Redefining African American Identity: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ytasha-l-womack/post-black-how-a-new-gene_b_504590.html. Accessed October 18, 2010. 5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Johnson_(boxer). 2 3
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who was completely unapologetic in his blackness. We redefine ourselves constantly. We are innovative. However, as a member of Generation Y, I have to reject the notion of invisibility. I reject the assumption that the parts of Black society, outside of which post-black theory wants to operate, are lesser or undeserving of having a seat at the table when we begin to define Black identity. Moreover, post-black seems to operate rather disdainfully outside of the framework of the civil rights movement and the ideologies of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. Marc Monaghan comments that Womack‘s ―line between those cohorts and the ones that came before, particularly the baby boomers, is drawn a bit too sharply.‖ 6 Many of the liberties Generation X and Y enjoy were afforded us by such generations and their political movements. Though I cannot speak for past leaders, I am not sure Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree even slightly with post-black theory, which to this day is a sketchy and illdefined concept. To be judged on the content of character instead of the color of our skin does not suggest the denial that we have skin with a color—with a large history with which we can move forward upon. Another group pertinent to Black thought in America, which post-black thought wants to leave in the kitchen away from the dinner table discussion determining Black identity, is the Black Panther Party. With its 10 Point Program which called ―for decent housing, equal employment opportunities, decent education, free health care, an end to police brutality, fair trial by jury, and last but not least a general sense of justice,‖7 Monaghan suggests that the Black Panther Party just may have been the original post-black movement ―in the sense that it veered off the beaten path of traditional black protest and took guidance from Marxism and Maoism.‖8 To be certain, the initiatives of this party of young, vibrant, strong-minded Black people at their prime in the 1960s and 70s are relevant to Black people today considering the disparities facing Blacks are not improving as Bob Herbert espouses in the New York Times‘ article, ―Too Long Ignored:‖
Monaghan, Marc. Leaving ―Black‖ Behind. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/ytasha-womackpost-black-african-american-identity/Content?oid=1691773. Accessed October 18, 2010. 7 Yancey, R.J., Black Panthers Project: http://www.scribd.com/doc/92443/The-Black-Panthers. Accessed on October 20, 2010. 8 Monaghan, Marc. Leaving ―Black‖ Behind. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/ytasha-womackpost-black-african-american-identity/Content?oid=1691773. Accessed October 18, 2010. 6
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What is needed is a dramatic mobilization of the black community to demand justice on a wide front — think employment, education and the criminal justice system — while establishing a new set of norms, higher standards, for struggling blacks to live by. For many, this is a fight for survival. And it is an awesomely difficult fight. But the alternative is to continue the terrible devastation that has befallen so many families and communities: the premature and often violent deaths, the inadequate preparation for an increasingly competitive workplace, the widespread failure to exercise one‘s intellectual capacity, the insecurity that becomes ingrained from being so long at the bottom of the heap. Terrible injustices have been visited on black people in the United States, but there is never a good reason to collaborate in one‘s own destruction. Blacks in America have a long and proud history of overcoming hardship and injustice. It‘s time to do it again.9 While I support communities moving themselves in united efforts, to my family who promote the concept of post-black, my blackness is non-negotiable. I want a seat at the table when we attempt to (self)define Blackness for our generation as no one group of Black people can accurately do so single-handedly or single-mindedly. To begin at the beginning, redefinition is not the true task at hand; the task is to establish a primary self-definition. The blackness of Generations X and Y is not different, in essence, from that of Boomers, Bridges, or such previous generations. For many years, a type of blackness has been imposed and we, seemingly, have let it prevail despite having known for centuries that Black does not mean monolithic. More disturbingly beyond social markers, Black people in this country have not overcome many of the injustices which faced us at the onset of organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and other proponents of the civil movements for Herbert, Bob, ―Too Long Ignored‖: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/opinion/21herbert.html. Accessed October 20, 2010 9
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the Black uplift in America. It is quite presumptuous and perhaps disrespectful to discard any parts of history to lighten our walk toward the future.
THE DEADLY DUO What is clear about post-black and post-racial is that both are a denial of two concepts, blackness and race, which are heavily ingrained in the American psyche. I agree whole-mindedly with Reginald Dwayne Betts suspicion that ―we have turned myopic in our views about race, and discuss it as if it is a costume that can be taken off or on at whim. Post-racial seems nothing more than a cloak of invisibility that allows some of us to walk around America without the more obvious stressors that come with being black.‖10 Everything we do, the way we live daily, is affected by the American psychosis as defined by our deep belief in race. At present, we have not been able to get around or remove race from our habits despite our most altruistic efforts. If one were so ambitious, he might follow the steps of James Baldwin and leave the States to even begin to understand himself in the human context and outside of the powerful, however, fallacy-based American context of race.
POST-RACIAL (OR POST-WHITE) As noted earlier, the etymology of the prefix, post, means after or placement at the end. In the context of American society, racial means of or having to do with race, the power structure employed by European governing bodies to establish, enforce, and maintain the servitude of so-called subcultures. White means of or having to do with people of European ancestry, generally characterized and identified by skin of low pigmentation. In his 1984 essay, ―On Being White…And Other Lies, Baldwin makes a stunning case for the purpose of race in post-colonial society:
Betts, Reginald Dwayne. Open Letter. http://www.newmediapoets.com/claudia_rankine/open/rdb.html. March 23, 2010. 10
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There is, for example – at least, in principle – an Irish community: here, there, anywhere, or more precisely, Belfast, Dublin, and Boston. There is a German community: Rome, Naples, the Bank of the Holy Ghost, and Mulberry Street. And there is a Jewish community, stretching from Jerusalem to California to New York…It bears terrifying witness to everyone who got here, and paid the price of the ticket. The price was to become ―white.‖ No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country. It is probable that it is the Jewish community – or more accurately, perhaps, its remnants – that in America has paid the highest price for becoming white. For the Jews came here from countries where they were not white, and they came here, in part, because they were not white… America became white – the people who as they claim ―settled‖ the country became white – because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation. No community can be based on such a principle, - or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal of a lie.11 If what Baldwin provides is accurate, to undo the power structure as established by white settlers of America, subsequent to the settling of our land by Native Americans, how does one make the case that America is immediately post-racial, or somehow freed of the concept of race upon the election of a Black president? The concept of race is heavily-engrained in all American peoples. It is a time-honored psychosis which still remains relevant, as exampled in the blanketing race labels that appeared in questions 8 and 9 on the 2010 Census Forms.12
Baldwin, James. On Being White…And Other Lies. http://www.cwsworkshop.org/pdfs/CARC/Family_Herstories/2_On_Being_White.PDF. September 19, 2010. 12 United States Census 2010: Explore the Form. http://2010.census.gov/2010census/how/interactiveform.php. Accessed October 20, 2010 11
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Here is where misnomers like post-black and post-racial get tricky. If we wake up one morning, like the morning after President Obama was elected, and American society is by some act of God post-racial, what a day that would be! Post-racial does not only imply a failure in Americans to see the Black woman, the Yellow child, or the Red man; it additionally, and primarily, implies a failure of Americans (particularly those of color) to see the White man. Considering collective whiteness has allowed the maintenance of Americaâ€˜s power structure over people of color as proposed by Baldwin, what would America do? In the late Fall 2010, Tidal Basin Review made an open invitation to American writers challenging them to begin a dialogue and to either make a fighting case for the appropriate use of the terms, post-black and/or post-racial, or to advocate for a world of academic and common thought, in which the terms are not used. Understandably, many of the responses grapple with the social, emotional, and political complexities of the terms. Some reach back bravely into their unbringings and family histories, while others deal in the present to arrive at some logical conclusion. With no doubt, all are courageous in questioning and accepting accountability for the social homes, ruts, and trenches in which their American births have placed them.
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WHAT THE TREE TOOK, ON THE TABLE*
Wood that has grown around a fence post over the years enclosing it the metal in a swirl of grain a tree that has taken a bullet from the civil war shot suddenly exposed in a tabletop being made grown into the open hand seats us at the bench of our own consequence shown all around us we don‘t get away we don‘t get off race though we know genetically does not exist does not erase but is enacted as our history in us is enacted as America the tree does not ungrow the shot unfire the whip unlash from the hand having to build here nor its scars but to remain in grain
*What The Tree Took, On the Table, To See the Earth Before the End of the World, Wesleyan Poetry Series. Reprinted with permission of author.
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Ed Roberson Some of them are more light than they are a color the flower‘s ultraviolet that in a certain cloudy sunlight blurs the limiting borders out of sight and glows; or ice with the sky running around inside its facets switching the flashlight blue to milk green almost phosphorescent, a glow-in-the-dark moment for in daylight. Glass is always light in that it‘s not there as a color transparency is thin air until you smack into it clearly a lie; everything you saw on some other side. Some of the colors tar baby the light into not getting away from us as color, like the hole that swallows everything and never shines and were never color anyhow to some only something black. Like back when Ellington‘s music was only nigger noise or, if even music, only popular not so art clearly on the other side. Whatever side of the light this is of seeing, this is that ―darkly‖ raised to seeing through in American glass without distortion of nay kind of wisdom or having seen. How far off that surface does it have to bounce before blue dissolves back from color into light *Darkly, To See the Earth Before the End of the World, Wesleyan Poetry Series. Reprinted with permission of author.
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IF FREE, THEN (after Wallace Stevens and Raymond Patterson)
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
1. A woman is a bird: Birdy Black. A being patched against sky and earth.
2. Birdy rises early with no consolation. Not even a measly worm.
3. The swelled knuckles of Birdy‘s hands. This time, arthritis. Next, Child, you better move.
4. Once, Birdy thought she might fly back over the water. She discovered no translation for wings.
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5. Birdy decides to love herself and talk about it in public. Birdy is called angry. Birdy is called ungrateful. Birdy is called object. Birdy and Zora become best friends.
6. Birdy Black is a woman. Now add to that, Birdy Black is a black woman. And see her. What does that equal?
7. Does anyone know Birdyâ€˜s age? Smooth skin: reparations for slavery.
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8. Birdy. Sky. God. Jesus. Sky again.
Birdy, meet Bird. Jazz.
9. Birdy reads a book. The book speaks of water, of slavery, of earth, of bad, loud women.
Do you know me?
Birdy asks that book, which has started talking. Yes, it replies,
before you were born.
10. Come day, Sunday: for God so loved woman, He called her Birdy. Then, He bade her to fry chicken.
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11. World is world. Life is life. Birdy is here to stay, alive or dead. There is need for complaint, but no supplication.
12. Given: if Birdy, then free. If free, then singing. Thus, the Gospel of Birdy.
Soon one morningâ€” song done, and here morning be. Birdy in the wind.
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AFTER, WE‘LL READ THE BIBLE
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
The way you holler, how you call God‘s nine-one-one, wait for the Secret Po-lice to come catch us. I‘m grown: disobedience is a great beat-down and you can really dance to it. 2 Ask the snake with a patch on his other eye. 3 And Gabriel, that high-C trumpet Brother. 4 Woe is sassy me. Surely and you, too, baby. Woe is the mule-garden woman. Okay, okay, and the Original Black Man. Woe is my seventy-eight percent of the apple versus your whole goddamned tree. 1
I‘m sorry. I promise to be nice. Walk over to me.
Let‘s move to atheist, dry foreplay on the kitchen table: DuBois is a bad, double-bind mofo. You like that, don‘t you, baby? 7 Switch: trope role play. 8 Yes, it‘s so hard when Big Daddy leaves you alone in broken home Eden. The wide open world. Hard. All you can do is pray on your knees while I ask my questions. Hard. 9 Since your mama ain‘t my mama can you please stop calling me Sister? Can we skip the nasty incest and get to the two backs? 10 Leave the light on and let there be holy submission. Flip me over, authentic Eve-like. Stuff that fraction of an apple in my mouth. 11 After, we‘ll read the Bible in the tub, and none of this will matter. Amen, awomen, and the river between: 12 Chapter him and her and pink-in-the-middle rib. 13 Verse wiggling hoodoo toes. 14 Unh-huh and praise and Noah cursing Ham with rhythm. I don‘t much mind: 15 Colored church is the best place for unveiled, broad women at the End-of-Times. 5 6
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GUERRILLA PIMPING AND POST-BLACK RHETORIC
Leola Dublin MacMillan
Although it is still one of the most significant categories of difference, one that often cannot be camouflaged (unlike class or sexuality), in many circles race has become passé. As a country, we have reached a point where despite the glaringly obvious reminders of how we are not post-racial, we engage in a process of myth-making and national narrative construction that suggests race does not matter. Disproportionate numbers of Black people in the United States are part of the criminal justice system, labeled as ―learning disabled‖ and steered into special education classrooms, and lack access to the basic necessities (adequate housing, food, education). Our bootstraps mentality and the meta-narratives that sustain the myth of meritocracy make it possible to attribute all of this to individual failures, conveniently obscuring the existence and function of structural inequality. I want to interrogate the notion of a ―post-Black America‖ by employing the same type of rhetorical analysis that I teach my students to use. One rhetorical concept in particular, kairos, seems useful in this line of inquiry. From the Greek rhetorical tradition, kairos has no direct translation in English. In recent years there has been a push within the field of rhetoric to revive the notion of kairos, though these efforts have arguably been hampered by the volume and variety of meanings assigned to the term. Though it has no direct English translation, kairos can loosely be thought of as time, in a contextual, rather than a chronological sense. In my analysis of Post-Black rhetoric, I define kairos as situational context; the contours that imbue a particular moment in time with meaning. For the purpose of my argument, I will define rhetoric here as language created and employed with the intent of persuasion. When we interrogate any particular rhetoric, we must be mindful of the kairic moment that produces and informs an argument. This is particularly true of the rhetoric of a ―post-Black,‖ or a ―post-racial‖ America. Scholarly treatments of ―post-Black‖ insist that the term simply signals a turning point in the articulation of identity.1 Blacks in America are refusing to be pigeonholed by their race. In the language of my students, they are ―changing the game.‖ While I am an emphatic supporter of all people being free to articulate their own identities (and my own scholarly work bears this out), this is not yet a privilege widely enjoyed by For a book-length discussion of this, see Ytasha L. Womack‘s ―Post Black: How a New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity.‖ Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books. 2010. 1
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most racial minorities in America. Extending this privilege without respect to race is in opposition to the way our society is structured and functions. While there are many individual success stories, the articulation of minority identities is still embedded in the language of race. This language is laden with meanings that reflect the unequal distribution of power along racial lines. ―post-Black‖ as a movement toward selfdefinition is not, however, the context in which I hear the term. While ―post-Black‖ may have a specific meaning among academics, when I most often hear the term, it is in conversation with newly arrived blackfolk. Born at a kairic moment when the gains of the Civil Rights movement allowed them to envision their race as a modifier that no longer deserved primacy, the disciples of ―post-Black‖ rhetoric join the chorus of voices proclaiming our ―progress.‖ Those who claim the United States has moved to a moment in time where race – and in particular Blackness – has lost its significance as a category of difference synonymous with inferiority elide numerous examples to the contrary and proffer specific evidence to validate their argument. The most popular exemplar I have heard (and continue to hear) goes something like this: ―But, we have a Black President now.‖ More than 200 years have elapsed since George Washington became the first President of the United States. That a single Black candidate has finally been elected does not negate the disproportionate representation of Black people in the criminal justice system2, the astronomical rates of new AIDS and HIV cases among Blacks,3 and the stagnant percentages of Blacks in this country with inadequate access to high quality health
Blacks are six times more likely and Hispanics are three times more likely than whites to be incarcerated. ―2010 State of Black America Report.‖ nul.org. The National Urban League. Web. 30 Jan. 2011. 3 The Centers for Disease Control has reported that while African-Americans represent only 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they made up nearly half (47 percent) of all new AIDS cases reported in the United States in 2007. African-Americans are estimated to make up nearly 40 percent of the annual new HIV infections, including: 57 percent of all infections in women, 34 percent of all infections in men, and 39 percent of all total infections (in 2007). In 2002, AIDS was the second leading cause of death for African-Americans age 35-44. Researchers estimate that one in 50 African-American men and one in 60 African-American women are infected with HIV. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Surveillance Report, Vol. 19. CDC, ―Basic Statistics,‖ http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/stats.htm. The situation is even more grim in our nation‘s capital. The Whitman Walker Clinic reports that Washington, DC has the highest rate of new AIDS cases per 100,000 population in the United States -- a rate that is 12 times the national average. In DC, 81 percent of all AIDS cases are among African-Americans. Whitman-Walker Clinic. http://www.wwc.org/hiv_aids_services/statistics.html. 2
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care, housing, and education.4 While ―post-Black‖ rhetoric offers selective evidence to support its claims, there remain incontrovertible examples that suggest otherwise. One of these is the ―guerilla pimping‖ phenomenon. I would like to challenge the rhetoric of a mythical post-Black America by exploring how guerilla pimping can only exist in a society with an enduring racial hierarchy. Guerilla pimping is possible because those who profit from it know that race –together with class and gender – continue to inform national narratives about who matters. An NPR broadcast entitled ―Missing Girls Who Shouldn‘t Be Missing―5 introduced me to a new term: ―guerrilla pimping.‖ Guerrilla pimping is a relatively recent phenomenon that involves young women of color being abducted, drugged, gang raped, and tortured – typically through starvation, emotional and psychological abuse – until they relent and agree to work for their new pimp(s). The broadcast hit me like a physical blow. I was left shocked, dazed, and infuriated. After my initial outrage subsided, I tried to identify what were the specific issues I was reacting to. I realized that the two biggest problems for me were the term and the underlying statement about the way race and other categories of difference continue to matter in the United States. The term. Guerrilla pimping trivializes the word guerrilla and makes a mockery of the way that word has come to describe the necessary tactics employed by people around the globe who are struggling to break free of the yoke of oppression. It also continues to glamorize pimping. Even more problematic, however, is the fact that the men who are doing this to young girls of color are choosing their victims based on a very solid understanding of the way race, class, and gender work in this country. They choose victims that are unlikely to be missed;6 girls whose disappearance will not evoke a visceral national response. Brown girls. If we have truly arrived at a moment in American history where race is no longer 19.1% of blacks and 30.7% of Hispanics are without health insurance, compared to 10.8% or whites. Less than half of black and Hispanic families own a home (47.4% and 49.1%) compared to three quarters of white families. Blacks and Hispanics are more than three times as likely as whites to live below poverty. For the population over 25, whites are more than one and a half times as likely as blacks and two and a half times likely as Hispanics to hold a bachelor‘s degree. ―2010 State of Black America Report.‖ nul.org. The National Urban League. Web. 30 Jan. 2011. 5 ―Missing Girls Shouldn‘t Be Missing from the Media.‖ Tell Me More. Narr. Michelle Martin. Natl. Public Radio, 24 Jan. 2011. NPR.org. Web. 24 Jan. 2011. 6 Martin reports that while African-Americans make up nearly 13% of the population, African-American children represent 34-42% of all missing youth under age 18. ―Missing Girls Shouldn‘t Be Missing from the Media.‖ Tell Me More. Narr. Michelle Martin. Natl. Public Radio, 24 Jan. 2011. NPR.org. Web. 24 Jan. 2011. 4
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relevant, if our particular kairos suggests that we have moved beyond the color line, how then do we explain the continual sexual exploitation of young girls of color? How does guerilla pimping exist within a post-racial America? In major cities across the country, particularly those with a high minority population, a growing number of men have discovered a new avocation. Though the motivations of guerilla pimps are largely unconfirmed, there is much speculation that there are several primary factors that influence their predatory behavior. Experts note that many men are transitioning out of drug trafficking into the more lucrative sale of young girls. Trafficking young girls requires no start-up costs, no knowledge of how to process or refine a drug, carries little risk of arrest and incarceration, and yields more money with less effort. A pimp who has three girls bringing in $500 per day (the industry standard) will net more than half a million dollars in tax free income per year.7 The costs of providing food, clothing, and shelter for the captive girls are comparatively negligible. In most jurisdictions, when the police do get involved, it is the girls who are prosecuted. Rarely seen as victims of a crime, sexually exploited girls are typically charged with prostitution. This term is especially troubling because it suggests that young girls are choosing to work for the pimps. In any other circumstance, these young women are considered below the age of consent.8 In all fairness the ―pimp game‖ is not new. Sadly, neither is the sexual exploitation of minors. But guerilla pimping is new, and different. Guerrilla pimping, in stark contrast with ―finesse‖ pimping relies on violence and fear to coerce girls into the sex trade. There is a deliberateness in the selection of the pimp‘s girls that is deeply disturbing. What makes guerilla pimping different is that the men who are profiting from the sexual exploitation of young girls of color9 possess a profound understanding of the enduring significance of race. They understand the lie we tell when we assert that we have reached a moment in time when race does not determine the extent to which a child‘s disappearance will elicit a national response. Guerilla pimps are not necessarily men of color, but they fully comprehend the way contemporary American society devalues young black and brown girls. For them, the X, Erricka and Min Lee. ―Sexually Exploited Minors Conference Brings New Light to Old Problem.‖ YouthOutlook.org. Yo!Youth Outlook. 26, Nov. 2008.Web. 29 Jan. 2011. 8 Amber, Jeannine. ―Black Girls for Sale.‖ Essence. 41.6 (2010):164-170. 26 Jan. 2011. 9 The Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County, Ca. (which contains the city of Oakland) states that since 2006, domestic sex trafficking has risen nearly 100% (―Black Girls for Sale‖). In the Bay area, 75% of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who are sexually exploited are Black or Latino (―Sexually Exploited Minors Conference Brings New Light to Old Problem‖). 7
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notion of a post-racial America is ridiculous; their very existence disproves the possibility that we have moved beyond race. Guerilla pimping is uncomfortably reminiscent of another kairic moment in American history. Preying on young girls of color, using violence to ensure that they do not resist sexual exploitation. America has seen a variation on this theme before. We are no more ―post-Black‖ now than we were when Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was written. What has changed is the degree to which we are willing to admit that – in this particular kairic moment – black and brown girls do not matter as much as white girls do. The abduction, rape, torture and exploitation of Black and brown girls is met with indifference from a national media that can broadcast an Amber alert within seconds of a child‘s disappearance. We are a nation who plasters the faces of its missing children on the sides of milk cartons and mailers. There are television programs dedicated to finding missing children. We have established that the abduction of children is a national concern. When a young white teenager disappears in Aruba on a class trip, there is an international outcry.10 The disappearance of black and brown girls remains minimally reported and infrequently investigated every day. How then do we explain why some missing kids matter and others don‘t? How do we explain the existence of guerilla pimping within a post-racial society? A rhetorical analysis calls for an examination of the rhetorical moves made by an author; it asks what rhetorical strategies are employed and to what effect. Ethos (the author‘s credibility), pathos (appeals to the audience‘s emotions) and logos (the factual evidence to support an argument) must be considered along with kairos (the situational context). The rhetoric of a post-Black America suffers from the absence of kairos. Without an accounting for the kairic moment in which we now find ourselves, any claims of the insignificance of race undermine the credibility of those who make them. Such claims suggest a willful disregard for the substantial body of evidence which demonstrates the extent to which race still matters. Feel-good examples of individuals who have ―made it‖ do not change the fact that as a nation, we are in no way post-racial, or post-Black. In May of 2005, Natalee Holloway disappeared while on a class trip to Aruba with her high school class. Her case drew immediate, international response. The search and investigation for Ms. Holloway involved the FBI, 50 members of the Dutch military, three F-16 fighter planes from the Dutch Air Force, and thousands of Aruban civil servants who were released from their job responsibilities to join in the search. Holloway‘s senior picture was shown repeatedly as part of the search efforts; she was 5‘4‘‘, 110 lbs., had light eyes and straight, blonde hair past her shoulders. 10
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POSTBELLUM LOVE STORY
Peeking through the stained glass portal of their Chesterfield home, Toya watched the unmarked squad car drop off her husband under the cover of darkness. Affably, Clarence unfolded himself from the back seat and Toya noticed how, even now, he took the time to shake the hand of the burly cop. Always a politician. As Clarence wobbled toward her, Toya realized that her love for him had long fermented to pity. There would be a headline the next morning about how Clarence Hardwick—a shoo-in to become the state‘s first black U.S. Senator—had been picked up on another DUI. It was a mark of how far African Americans had come, that the suburban police officer hadn‘t hauled him straight to jail. She stood in the doorway as he approached. Already he was glazed with the hunger for another drink. She could let him in, or kick him out. This was it; her moment to escape. When Toya was fourteen, she had been sitting in eighth grade history class. Heather, the freckly captain of the County Day field hockey team, asked why Africans had bought and sold each other into slavery. Other questions percolated: Why didn‘t the slaves just commandeer a ship and go back home? And if things were so bad in the South, why didn‘t they all just run away? ―I definitely woulda run,‖ said Philip, whose authority was cemented by the light tinge of a moustache. The others chimed in, agreeing, but the chorus was missing one voice. Toya‘s. ―Why would anyone endure being enslaved?‖ she wondered. Of course, the answer was love. Slavery times were not like these, when mothers could run away from home to find themselves, but still send birthday cards and Christmas gifts and Skype once a week. In the time of slavery, escape meant you had to leave behind everyone that you loved and probably never see them again.
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Toya doubted that Heather with her slap shot, or Phil with his almostmoustache, would have gone anywhere if it meant being alone. But as the only Black kid in the class, she didn‘t want to be pegged as hostile—like the bossy Black women on the reality shows. That would mean no more invitations to parties, or chatty sleepovers, or weekends at the mall. So when everyone looked to Toya for her opinion, she just shrugged and said nothing. At the front door, Toya waited for Clarence to say something—anything. But he only stood there swaying slightly with his head down and tears raining, a refugee on his own doorstep. A neighbor‘s car turned into the cul-de-sac, and Toya pulled him inside, her heart pounding with shame. In that moment, she realized that her mother had done the easy thing by leaving; Toya was much stronger. Long past the day when she had stopped loving Clarence, she‘d found other loves to bind her. Love of their happy children, with their riding lessons and camping trips. Love of their sprawling home, so tastefully appointed. Love of her heirloom tomatoes and bright holiday parties. Love of being a revered Black family in this sea of white incredulity. She touched Clarence gently on the shoulder, and he nodded gratefully before stumbling upstairs to the bedroom. She watched him shakily ascend, knowing that in order to keep everything she loved, she would need to be there for Clarence tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after. Just as she‘d suspected in middle school—she was no runner. The history teacher had finally made the class settle down by telling them the story of Harriet Tubman. How the woman they called ―Moses‖ ran away from the Maryland plantation rather than risk being sold. Harriet worked in Philadelphia, saved her money, and had gone back to rescue her sister and her sister‘s children. On a second trip, she ushered her brother and two other men to freedom. On her third trip, she went back for her husband.
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Fourteen-year-old Toya had never heard this version of the story, and her heart startled. Even Harriet Tubman had realized that freedom wasn‘t worth the price of abandoning her family, so she‘d come back home. She‘d risked it all for love. But when Harriet stole back to her old plantation, she discovered her husband with another woman. He refused to come with her. As Toya listened to the story, she broke down. Her classmates thought she was crying about the slaves, but she wasn‘t.
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MY DADDY WAS POST BLACK BEFORE POST BLACK
Brother Yao (Hoke S. Glover III)
When I first saw the ―Green Is the New Black‖ t-shirt, admittedly, I was a bit confused. Assuming the message was about money, I initially felt like I was watching news of America bombing the Iraqi‘s in a backwards spectacle of patriotism. My dizziness was genuine. It seemed African-Americans had lost another piece of valuable ground as a community. The teachings of Elijah Muhammad state, ―a good name is better than gold,‖1 and the Bible concurs as it points out, ―A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.‖2 If black could be replaced by green, it suggested that blackness had lost some of its insides. The term was relegated like an English Premier team to one of the subdivisions. Yet, I could relax. Eventually, I learned it was not green, as in money, but, green, as in ecofriendly and hybrids and black, as in crude oil, or black as in the color of fashion which goes with any and everything.3 Apparently, I was living in another world thinking ―Green is the New Black‖ meant the radicalism associated with Black struggle and protest had been re-appropriated to the cause of saving the environment.4 Post-black, post-racial views contrast dramatically with those posed by some Americans in the wake of Barack Obama‘s presidency. While I am uncertain exactly what the definitions of post-black and post-racial are in this context, they must have something to do with African Americans placing demands on the country‘s agenda in relationship to African-American history. To let the post-black, post-racial folks tell it, our issues have been resolved and our demands and concerns are simply complaints. However, this is a surface analysis. Both my perspective, and that of my father‘s, hinge on the recognition of African American suffering in this country. The postracial, post black camp recognizes African-American suffering as resolved. My father recognized this same suffering and was still unresolved. Yet, his post-black thought
Muhamad, Elijah. Message to the Blackman. Newport News: United Brothers Communications Systems, 1965. Print. 2 New American Standard Bible. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, 1998. Print. 3 Menkes, Suzy. ―Eco-friendly: Why Green is the New Black.‖ New York Times. 31 May 2006. Web. 14 Feb. 2011. 4 Olopade, Dayo. ―Green is the New Black.‖ The Root. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 9 Feb. 2011. 1
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sought an end to the arguments in the hope that somewhere in this country, folks would recognize his humanity and, subsequently, his suffering. His post-black thought was the seeking of a safe ground where one‘s knowledge of self and acceptance of his own humanity and suffering was substantial enough that recognition from the larger society was unnecessary. In addition to my initial confusion with terms and phrases in popular culture, I have two more confessions. The first is I never really knew what black was. I thought I knew after I studied Black Arts, but much of that was and has been dissolved in critique and chaos. What I thought was a movement of power has now become a muddled world with terms and mazes which I am not sure I have the strength to engage. My choice not to engage those terms makes my life seem much simpler now, leaving those who know the truth of these matters to their podiums, rostrums and exclusive appointments in the government or universities of this country. Moreover, I confess that I adopted James Baldwin‘s view of his father from The Fire Next Time, when he writes ―[your grandfather] was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him.‖5 I was mesmerized by one of the greatest writers of all time and caught in the flood of his tragic beauty. I had adopted that view of my father, a man who was quite different from those who were bound to prevailing social attitudes. My dad was the man who told me, after I had read much of his personal library full of Malcolm, Elijah Muhammad, Julius Lester and countless others, ―I don‘t need to study black history; I lived that shit.‖ For combining Baldwin's literary figure with my own flesh and blood, I must make an apology to my own father. I am sorry, Dad. As for anger or believing what white people said about him, I can neither remember him ever assuming such a posture nor being consumed by an uncontrollable rage or subsequent holiness. My father never seemed to embrace either extreme. I lied to myself and spent many years after his death searching for anger in his journals, my memories, and the stories he told me. One story he would tell me, which may shed some light on this, is one about him as a little boy. My father was riding the bus in the 40‘s from the tiny town of Waynesboro, Georgia to the even tinier town of Humboldt, Tennessee. He was traveling alone and, for some reason, the bus was delayed at a stop because the mob or the police were looking for someone. This looking of course is the form of ―looking‖ which means someone will be found. It is the type of looking that always ends in someone being found 5
Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: Random House, 1993. Print.
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whether or not they are guilty. The men boarded the bus and told him to open his mouth. Apparently, something in the mouth of the accused was the identifying trait and evidence of guilt. My father refused, ―I ain‘t opening my mouth.‖ When he says this, there is a childishness in his voice that is not funny. A change in his breath, a blankness in his eyes. The police told him, ―You better open your mouth, nigger. Or I‘m gonna blow your goddamm head off.‖ He told me he cried. Like a baby. I was humbled and confused by the story and always remembered it. There is something fatalistic about my father‘s story which still smells like America even today. I recall as I read my father‘s books during my last years of high school, I screamed at him a lot. I told him all of the thoughts I figured he should have had considering he read the books before me. Now, I have figured it out. My Daddy was post-black and post-racial. Recently, I watched two videos with my sons. They were the shooting of Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station and the beating of Rodney King. The trial of the officer in Oscar Grant‘s shooting occurred last week and the officer who shot him, Johannes Mehserle, received a controversial two year sentence with credit for jail time served.6 As any may know, Oakland was the birth place of the Black Panther Party in 1966. While we may not be post-black, we are definitely post Black Panther Party. But, one does not need to wonder how Huey P. Newton, the organization‘s founder, would feel about the shooting. Grant was unarmed and restrained when he was shot. The camera clearly shows this. The camera does not lie. So what about justice? Post Blackness? My favorite quote regarding the ruling came in November of 2010 from blogger Joshua Lazard of the Uppity Negro Network. He writes that ―Michael Vick received and served more jail time than Mehserle will probably serve.‖7 If there is a post-black or post-racial perspective, it exists in the nothingness and numbness of the aftermath of the Oscar Grant killing. In our media age, we have been convinced that the camera would save us. This is the repetitive and tragic insult to injury African Americans experience just as we did in the Rodney King case. We all saw what we knew had happened before. Yet, many African Americans like my father needed no movie cameras; they ―lived that shit.‖ What needed to be proved to Bulwa, Demian. ―Johannes Mehserle Sentenced to Minimum Two Year Term.‖ San Francisco Gate. 6 Nov. 2010. 7 Lazard, Joshua. "Johannes Mehserle‘s Verdict in the Oscar Grant killing." Uppity Negro Network. Blogspot 6 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Feb. 2011. 6
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America was already on the hard drive and replayed numerous times, at unexpected times. Maybe some of my father‘s drinking was connected to a bad memory stuck on rewind. There is no great leap in this assumption; the mistreatment of African Americans in this country is all too common. I would suggest that the post-black, postracial movement is one with the goal of eradicating or suppressing the memory of African American history in all its suffering while slowly coming to the conclusion that it may never be rectified by much of the country. Too many still need proof AfricanAmericans have a history, a position and legitimate grievances, but Blacks do not. Yet, we have consistently sought to prove what was already evident to us in order to make our lives and America better. Yet, something gnaws at us when proof is not proof enough. There is another story of my father‘s. However, it is important to know that he was not the storyteller; my mother was. After migrating from the South to New York and graduating with a Masters of Public Health Administration, my father was employed by the government in Montgomery County, Maryland. One day, he entered the restroom and heard a supervisor state ―Don‘t let Hoke get ahead.‖ My father came home shaking his head and shook it all night. He could not reconcile what he‘d overheard with his new-found residence in ―the promised land,‖ with his fine house in the suburbs and his children rushed off to private school in the mornings. Surely, the world was different, but, apparently, it was not. Within the Negrodome, there are some parts of Black history that are simply not worth telling. Inside the African American community, everybody has a bucket of these stories. We are compassionate. We do our best to listen to each other. Yet on the wrong day, our minds wander into a ―Whatcha moaning about? You think you the only one‖ mode. Perhaps, another reason for going post-black is to avoid a personal sense of self-pity and to escape a world in which your personal sufferings do not matter because they are lumped together with so much other unrecognized suffering. One is made to feel almost selfish expressing what he feels or has felt, especially when the feeling is pain, fear or sadness. The loneliness which occurs as a result of this internal trapping of emotions leads to a chronic dysfunction, which is all too common in many of our communities. Of course, I have my father to thank for sharing with me those times when he was humbled, small and alone. I know I am not the only one when I feel these ways. I was taught this. GLOVER ∫ 109
On the flip-side, the post-black and post-racial concept in the national context considers Barack Obama‘s presidency the most important and final sign that America has owned up to its history. I imagine my father was post-black because he doubted America would ever own up. Somehow, he was forced to make a distinction between what he knew and what he was able to teach. Many of the African Americans ravaged by the black power movement‘s aftermath have taken up an internal journey, which is in essence post-black. Traces can be seen in our fascination with spiritual philosophies of Africa and the East that teach one to confront suffering as part of the human condition. One begins to ask questions of destiny and path to make sense of the difficulties which seem to be rooted in being Black. Of course, these questions have already been asked, but in black power‘s aftermath, the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those repressive years afterwards, there is an introspection and self-examination, which often times, test the dimensions of Christianity. My father was not so lucky with some of his habits. He, like many of us, adopted a post-black posture, but still lived in a cage where he questioned if he had not taken the wrong road. His thoughts and feelings were suppressed and a reasonable measure of stability in his family and financial life was maintained. But, in the process, there were things he could not afford to confront if he was to stay calm and not exhaust his energies. He was not full of despair, but he was very tired. He pulled his shift on the long walk from the amnesia of slavery to the Promised Land. Like King and Moses, he saw it, but would not get there. Post-Black comes after amnesia has been applied to American history and the futility of the struggle to end racism is placed within the context of the human dilemma throughout the ages. It is not a question of those who suggest they can move beyond a blackness they have never embraced. America still suffers from amnesia, dementia and genuine fear when it comes to African Americans, Native Americans and countless other minority populations. Post-Black as an internal strategy like my father‘s approach to Black History, I would suggest, is a beginning point for a new departure into the world of racial relationships. While internalization of suffering is often viewed in our society as an unhealthy process (also exhibited in my father‘s life) one must realize that most suffering, if not all, occurs on a mental landscape. Meditation and any serious inquiry into one‘s life demand introspection. Too often the debates over blackness are viewed and studied as primarily external phenomena. One of the great conundrums of America‘s dilemma with race has been its definition in terms of polarities, reactions and contradictions. These GLOVER ∫ 110
scenarios consistently link us to a maze of thoughts and illusions centered on how we are accepted by the larger society. While none can deny the reality of this acceptance as central to our access to our rights, there is a de-centering which frequently occurs. Black by definition is too often filled with negation or posed as the opposite of white, inevitably leading to a longing to be accepted and recognized by white, not merely for issues of self-esteem but sometimes out of need for survival. Post Black as internal strategy, similar to my fatherâ€˜s approach, at least begins to seek a ground and place to thrive which is not the opposite of white and therefore needs no acknowledgement or recognition from an external source. The hidden beauty of this post black and its ultimate power is it can be black, white or whatever it wants to be.
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AFTER INVISIBLE MAN
1. protagonist's boy i have ridden around the sun thirty-nine times and have learned color surrounds us and communicates without cadenza life a long procession in and out of palpable light while being hums along a string of equations equal to all things at once i am that man's grandson it has been many nights since poppa loved light let us go back to that jazzshaped space and reify our own.
2. odetta's song in the beginning is dark you can't see but come on
in the room come on BANDELE âˆŤ 112
in the room break your eyes into minor chords face turns lyric in the growing glow-moon waxing, until i disappear into glare.
3. affrilachian's lesson i still go back to his hole to hear the voice (he gives me medicine) a song his hymn he lines out to angels
i love the lord
he heard my cry
unconcerned with form i leave the lights off where i'm from black mountains float down river to burn where i'm going soon there is no darkness hiding no eyes to keep from seeing.
BANDELE âˆŤ 113
PASSING NEGRO MOUNTAIN (Garrett County, Maryland)
Mitchell L. H. Douglas Admit it,
you read the title & thought
Here we go again— another race poem, (aren‘t we Post-black?)
or the word ―Negro‖ stuck its shackled ankle in your path, reveled @ the trip—thud… or you asked ―Negro?‖
What century is this?
Perhaps, you laughed at the way Passing leaned into N, a hint of identity intimacy, the vacant trade of dark for light. Imagine being black, warring w/red brothers, this mountain the last place your chest knows rise & fall… warrior buried in a hill to heaven, body pushing bark w/charcoal feet to gun fire air. …& the kicker, in your long dead honor, this bitter root: the antiquated name. DOUGLAS ∫ 114
HOOD Mitchell L. H. Douglas In memory of smokestack lighting, red brick wall & wait, graffiti buzz scrawled high & wrong, the misspelled misrepresented; in sweet run sour, endless slabs of cement, bath of street lamp, gutter litter, alley to alley end zone, BB gun aim, tree climb, bird‘s eye view, calls ignored for lunch, for supper (sorry, too busy in branches); in the wake of Uncle Buddy‘s fist & forearm through side door glass, ambulance on our would-be 50 yard line, suture map of fold & tuck, flesh envelope. No need for meds, he thinks, I‘m fine (never mind the call to swallow); in contempt of stilted tongue, shuttle black alphabets like lost blood—L&N wind & lash, KY to TN—or skip prattle like hopscotch grids in lime, lemon, pink electric—asphalt body rock—until there is no curb between street & skin—warm, black, waved.
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ALL-BLACK IS THE NEW POST-BLACK
What is there to do but harden?—Keith S. Wilson, Jocko On Veteran‘s Day in 2010, a compatriot of mine, a gifted artisan and belly-dancer named Hadara ―Haddie‖ Rae, posted a status update on Facebook about how everyday going to work, she walked past a hideous blackface lawn jockey in a wealthy neighborhood. The jockey, cement-cast in a traditional style known as the "Jocko" suffered from severe disrepair. He had sustained the loss of his right arm so rusted steel rods were protruding from his shoulder where an equally rusted lantern hung haphazardly at the end. His foundation, feet, and much of his silhouette had been corroded by the elements and he spent his days chained at the ankle to a front porch. His jockey silks were fading and in some places home to moss, webs, and spider mites. The exceptionally disturbing characteristic about this jockey was that his skin had been clearly the only part the owners were interested in keeping freshly painted, so he was tar-pit black and his eyes remained bright as well. No irises. No pupils. Just the whites, either rolled back in his little Jocko head in ecstasy, or staring blindly ahead, unable to see the world around him. Jockos have mixed roots. Legend has it that a 12-year old slave boy named Jocko Graves held up a lantern to mark the location where he was standing watch over George Washington's horses the night Washington crossed the Delaware. Jocko froze to death and Washington was so inspired by the boy‘s heroism, he had a statue iron cast in Jocko's likeness and called it "Faithful Groomsman." The popularity of the American lawn jockey enjoyed its height from the late 1700‘s to the early 1990‗s and primary use as a hitching post. The blackface caricatures are overwhelmingly consistent with the advertisements of the day depicting people of African descent, which is why they have now garnered such ill repute as poster children for racism. On the other hand, slave narratives document jockeys as serving a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad, pointing the way North, or bedecked with a bright red or green ribbon indicating which house was a safe house. Many lawn-ornament businesses that specialize in present-day Jockos along with Anglo-featured jockeys cast in cement and aluminum, boast original molds, quality SPRIGGS ∫ 116
materials, and time-honored casting techniques. While authentic Black Americana is considered increasingly rare and valuable to collectors all over the world, contemporary blackface lawn ornaments including Jockos, watermelon-eating gnomes, and fishing boys are sold on eBay and manufactured by private companies around the nation. There is even a jockey brand cast and sold that lampoons our current President. ——————
Art is that which endures—Gwendolyn Brooks On Facebook, several of us chimed in on Haddie‘s status. "Paint it white!" "Paint it silver!" "Bedazzle it!" "Make him a mermaid!" There was an overwhelming desire, it seemed, to re-appropriate the jockey and turn it into a work of art. Around 2 PM later that day, I received a text message: "We got the lawn jockey. Do you want it?" As soon as I could, halfway fearing illegal activity, I met Haddie and another friend, author, JD Lester, in the parking lot of a well-known local café. There, beneath the raised trunk of JD‘s minivan, in a cardboard box, I laid eyes on the jockey for the first time. He was every bit as ugly and worn down as Haddie had described in her status. I was immediately repelled but also pitied the poor guy. JD told us how she walked right up to the owner‘s front door and asked the woman who answered to buy him. After "shaking her down" as JD put it, the woman agreed to sell the jockey as long as JD bought a rickety old cart as well. Which she did and even managed to snap a photo of the jockey with her cell phone on the down low while negotiating the sale and being growled at by the woman‘s menacing dog. So, that's how I ended up with a Jocko in the backseat of my car for the next couple of weeks living on one of my coats. I didn't know what to do with him, quite frankly. But then, my husband and I took our first trip to IKEA in Ohio and went through the entire warehouse managing not to actually buy anything. On our way out, I saw a small black tea-light lantern for $3.99 and thought immediately of the cement man who‘d ridden up with us. I knew it would perfectly replace the Tetanus-lantern he‘d carried for so long Finally, on the warmest day in November, I hauled the seventy-five pound jockey out of the backseat with the intention just to clean him off. But a little elbow grease SPRIGGS ∫ 117
wasn‘t enough. I decided then to draw upon the suggestions of the people who had immediately chimed in on Haddie's Facebook status. I wanted the jockey to be able to rest, but I also wanted him to be a monument, a living testament to what can happen when Art steps in to reclaim something that was previously considered negative. Here's the rub. The historian in me had a really hard time with the prospect of altering the statue. Are you crazy? This is an artifact! she screeched. Why don't you just go bedazzle a sarcophagus while you're at it?? On the one hand, her rationale is sound. We are so close to the racism that blackface lawn jockeys represent, we often don't see their historical value. For better or worse, this jockey IS part of American history and cultural trends. It is important to acknowledge and study the evidence and effects of black caricatures from Lil' Black Sambo to...well, far too much of Hollywood's content. But the other part of me is not an historian. She is a revolutionary. She shouted from the other shoulder, "Take that brother out of his misery!" Ultimately, the revolutionary won. Probably because this wasn't just any old jockey. The state of this jockey had personally offended a sister-in-arms of mine. We needed to save him. He needed liberation more than he needed preservation. So, step by laborious step, I scrubbed, sprayed, waxed, silver-leafed, rhinestoned, and sealed every inch of the Jocko in resin, turning him into a bonafide Rocko! ——————-
kin tucky/beautiful ugly/cousin/i too am of the hills—Frank X Walker, Kentucke Ask any two Kentuckians whether Kentucky is considered ―The South‖ and odds are you‘ll get two different answers. Northerners considers us fully Southern. Southerners consider us more Northern. Kentucky is touched by seven states altogether which on their own are distinctive regionally: Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia, Missouri, and Illinois. A state of paradoxes, from border to border, the land and subsequently the cultural climates could not be more different. Regardless, the cultural landscapes of Kentucky and much of the Appalachian Region continue to be portrayed as the homogenous, predictable portrait of rural working class whites. But as founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, Frank X Walker, reminds us in his poem, ―Kentucke,‖ ―indeed/some of the Bluegrass is black.‖ SPRIGGS ∫ 118
Central Kentucky seems to suffer the worst from this identity crisis. I attended a small liberal arts college, Transylvania University in Lexington (Transylvania is Latin for ―across the woods‖). Transy is the thirteenth oldest university in the country and linked to notable Americans including both President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and prominent abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay. There remains parallel evidence of both enslavement and emancipation throughout the downtown area. Within a few streets from one another, historic locations link to the Underground Railroad but also places like ―Cheapside,‖ a restaurant located on the same site where ―cheap‖ slaves were once auctioned. But go down the road about half an hour, and you‘ll come across Berea College, another liberal arts college that claims the status of the first racially integrated co-ed college in the South. Berea is also the current academic residence for noted American feminist, bell hooks, who was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Never has living in a border state become clearer to me than over the past several months of altering blackface lawn jockeys. I am learning that Black Americana in general is essentially the physical manifestation of the word, ―nigger.‖ The psychological and verbal reactions to Rocko are as varied as the complexions and memories of the people who respond to him. My mother remembers how blackface lawn jockeys were everywhere when we first moved to Kentucky. Now, they are a rarity in our town. She guesses they are all stored in basements or attics, out of the way, and out of sight. Most of the jockeys now, twenty years later, are displayed near driveways or front porches with Anglo features and painted accordingly or wrought entirely from metal. When I mentioned my burgeoning interest in lawn jockeys during a writing workshop one evening recently, one white woman excitedly described how annually her parents paint their jockey's silks to match those of the winning Kentucky Derby jockey that year. She insisted the lawn jockey represents Kentucky horse-racing heritage. On the other hand, two black friends growing up in Central Kentucky destroyed any blackface jockeys they found with TNT or baseball bats. A white friend, while in college, ―liberated‖ them from wealthy homes and used them as decor in his apartment. Even my husband has early memories of seeing a jockey in blackface stationed outside the residence where his grandmother went to work everyday. SPRIGGS ∫ 119
When I decided that I wanted to rescue more jockeys, I posted an ad on craigslist saying I was looking for any jockey, black or white, in any condition, any material. Within a couple of hours, my want-ad was flagged for removal and then removed by ―the craigslist community.‖ If I wanted to purchase a blackface lawn jockey today, I most likely would have to have it shipped from California, Louisiana, or New Jersey, or drive six hours to Illinois to pick it up in person. Online, antique jockeys run anywhere from hundreds to multiple thousands of dollars, but around here everyone seems to know someone who knows where to get them for next to nothing in fringe county flea markets and thrift stores. Since I felt Rocko belonged in full view of our community, that he didn‘t belong to any one person, I asked the owner of the café, an artist and arts enthusiast, if she would let him live there temporarily along with the other art in her shop (from Haitian metalart to projects by special-needs citizens) to commemorate the site where he first embarked upon his new destiny as a lawn jockey with a new groove. And within three days of standing mostly out of sight by an ice-cream cooler, she asked me to come pick him up, that she couldn‘t focus around him because of his ―powerful juju.‖ She went so far as to move Rocko all the way to the back of her storage room and on a piece of paper taped to the jockey, wrote: ―(angst) this guy - even though liberated and set free, exudes way to much energy of a ―disruptive‖ and angst producing sort?!?‖
And so, Rocko is now back in the living room, where, for the moment, no one but the handful of us whose lives he touched, can see or celebrate him. SPRIGGS ∫ 120
...pledge your allegiance/Get your fatigues on/All black everything/Black cards, black cars, all black everything—Jay-Z, Run This Town The notions of ―post-black‖ is useful in that it unfetters people from the confines of expectation that their lives and art, if they happen to be artists, in some capacity must reflect the black experience and aesthetic. On the other hand, the term itself is problematic on at least one level because it implies a conscious divorce from one community, almost in favor of another. Almost. And it seems that this is not just a parting of ways, but a part that came about because the former community is somehow damaging or damning to a person‘s life in the perception of the latter community. As a black woman whose nickname in grade school was ―white girl,‖ I can‘t remember an age where I wasn‘t constantly interrogated about my complexion, my hair, and my heritage by not just black folks and white folks, but Latino, Arab, and Asian folks too. I guess I just have one of those faces. But, while I understand the positive entry point for black people to want to move past the discourse of cultural markers in their lives and work, the word choice of post-black keeps me from integrating it into my lexicon. Ultimately, rather than say, ―let‘s move on,‖ I say ―claim it all.‖ For me, ―all-black‖ is a much more efficient way to describe this new direction. By definition, the color black absorbs all frequencies of light in the visible spectrum. Or black can be defined as an absence of color. To me, this can be a concept applied to one‘s life and artwork that can at once render notions of color and race both relevant and moot. So, what is all-black? All-black is as much Bad Brains as it is Leontyne Price. As much Basquiat as it is Charlie Williams. As much Cornell West as Kanye West. As much Michael Jackson as Jesse Jackson. As much Colin Powell as Ru Paul. As much Denzel as Dave Chappelle. As much Beyoncé Knowles as Angela Davis. As much Aaron McGruder as Tyler Perry. As much black president as it is black janitor. All-black is an altered blackface lawn jockey that doesn‘t stand shackled to a front porch anymore. It is the physical representation of ideas too great to pin on any one black person. It is the color of rich earth where healthy things grow in abundance. The appearance of space as one emerges from Earth‘s atmosphere. All-black lives both where our roots are buried and where the universe floats us cosmic inspiration. All-black is everything. All-black everything.
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LIGHTS IN THE DARKNESS
Claude Clayton Smith
THE first time I ever saw an African American (or Negro as one would have said then) I was five years old. I had gone shopping with my grandmother at Paradise Green in Stratford, Connecticut, and as we walked along the sidewalk hand in hand a large black woman suddenly stepped from one of the stores, literally stopping me in my tracks. My grandmother tugged my arm, but I continued to stand and stare, my response one of total curiosity. Then my grandmother tugged me a second time and I sensed that something was seriously wrong. But the black woman smiled broadly, then came over to us and said (I remember her words exactly): That‘s all right—the little boy knows, the little boy knows. It took me a while to realize that the people my Great Aunt Vera (my grandfather‘s sister) called niggers (They smell, she said) were what my father called Darkies and included the colored woman (my grandmother‘s term) that I had seen. A second ―close encounter‖ came on a fishing trip a few years later, when my father, grandfather, older brother and I were waiting on shore for a party of men to return a rented rowboat so we could use it in turn. My grandfather was drunk (he was always drunk when we went fishing) and so was one of the blacks in the returning boat, a black man so old that his hair was white. He was singing loudly, and as the boat crunched ashore on the gravel bank, my grandfather did a little jig in time to the old black man‘s singing. There was laughter, a clumsy exchange of fishing gear, and (this time, at least) no tug on the arm. There were no blacks in the grammar schools I attended, but there were blacks in town, several dozen families confined to ―the project,‖ a group of apartments and duplexes by the regional airport in the south end, almost in Bridgeport. But when I was in junior high, a black family moved into our neighborhood—just four houses away—the only black family for miles around. I had a paper route at the time and passed their home daily, hearing neighbors talk in hushed tones about selling out before ―the area goes downhill.‖ A few FOR SALE signs did, in fact, go up, but no one, finally, moved away.
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This black family, the McMillans, had two children—a boy and a girl—whom I soon recognized in the halls of David Wooster Junior High School, together with their mother who was a teacher there (and later head of the Social Studies Department). I was never one of Mrs. McMillan‘s students, but I remember well the surprised expressions of the students who found themselves in her class on the first day of school. Mrs. McMillan‘s husband, whom she called Mack, was a professor of history at the University of Bridgeport. Ironically, in the innocent ignorance of the times, the year before the McMillans moved to town the major junior high fund raiser was a minstrel show, in which the white men of the community—my father included, playing the banjo— darkened their skin with burnt cork, donned white gloves, and sang and joked the evening away for several nights running, much to the delight of capacity crowds. Needless to say, the advent of the McMillans put an end to minstrel shows at David Wooster Junior High School. The McMillan‘s son—Lawrence McMillan—was called by his middle name, Benét, because his father had been a personal acquaintance of Stephen Vincent Benét. Like his father, Benét was small and thin, but his sister Liz was as stout as her mother. Once, on Halloween, when Liz came to our door, I was embarrassed by my mother who, not realizing who it was, exclaimed: ―Why, look! It‘s Aunt Jemima!‖ Benét was a serious student—his sister Liz more of a carefree spirit—and I got to know him well in high school. During my senior year, when I was student council president, Benét, then a junior, was vice president, succeeding me as president when I graduated. What I remember most about Liz was her contagious laughter and bevy of friends. One Sunday afternoon Benét and Liz took me along to their church beach party on Long Island Sound in Bridgeport, where I was the only white among a hundred or so blacks of all ages. The blacks didn‘t know me, some introduced themselves, but most ignored me, and I found myself experiencing for the very first time that sense of total isolation that blacks are made to feel around whites. What struck me, however, was the family spirit—the raucous, uninhibited joy shared by the group, and I remember telling myself, with an air of surprise, ―Hey, these people are
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normal human beings!‖ My only other acquaintance with blacks at this time came at Bridgeport Hospital, where I worked during the summer months. There, however, the blacks seemed more rough-edged, more streetwise than those at our high school, and so I generally kept my distance. There were several other blacks at our high school besides the McMillans, most from large families in the project. In addition, there was one mulatto about whom it was whispered: ―His mother is white and his father‘s a Negro!‖ which was exactly the case. Many of the blacks (I recall only the boys, with the exception of Liz) gained acceptance as athletes. One, by the name of ―Chubby‖ Robinson, played on the basketball team with me and we were in the same physics class, which Chubby would have flunked had he not sat beside me. I remember observing his brown body in the locker room, his fuzzy head scraping my cheek as we fought for a rebound one day in practice, but mostly I recall the night of ―the big game‖: I am at the foul line needing to sink two free throws to secure the victory. Chubby steps over, pats my rear and says: ―Jus‘ like a lil‘ ole physics problem.‖ His astute perception of the situation astonished me—made me ashamed for ever having underestimated his intelligence, for having condescended to help him in class—and suddenly that basketball game seemed silly and unimportant. I sank those two foul shots as in a dream. A year later, during my freshmen year at Wesleyan, a man from the admissions staff approached me and asked if I would write a letter to Lawrence McMillan from Stratford, who had sent a note requesting an application. The admissions officer seemed delighted when I told him that I knew Benét well, that we were neighbors at home, and that I‘d be happy to encourage him to apply. What I didn‘t know was that Wesleyan University was one of the first in the northeast to actively recruit capable black students. The campaign, in fact, had only recently begun, and my letter was very much a part of it. ―The university is a great stepping stone to graduate school,‖ I wrote to Benét, repeating a line I had heard from an upperclassman. I had no intention to going to graduate school myself—four years of college seemed quite enough—and the paternalistic tone of my letter was pure rhetoric. But it worked. Benét joined me at Wesleyan the following year and did use the university as a stepping stone, for an MBA plus a law degree from Columbia (he later represented Count Basie), a plan that, I am certain, had been in his head from the start, whereas graduate school for me would become a reluctant necessity. SMITH ∫ 124
During my senior year at Wesleyan Benét and I shared a suite of rooms in the fraternity house. He had joined the same fraternity that had accepted, over the years, a number of pledges from Stratford. Realistically, however, his allegiance was to another fraternity—that small group (no more than a dozen or two) of young black men who, like himself, had been accepted at a white man‘s school and greeted with lavish scholarships. But in what I considered the fraternity, the Eclectic Society of Phi Nu Theta, there were only three blacks: Benét, a Nigerian by the name of Tunde Ojo (who didn‘t count as a black in my mind because of his quaint accent and exotic background), and a young student who was no more academically inclined than Chubby Robinson and who only remained at the university for a semester. I regret now that I never took the time to get to know Tunde Ojo. He employed a clownish sense of humor to keep us at bay, but I do recall one serious diatribe that seemed out of character for him but was, in fact, the real Tunde Ojo—in which he lamented that his brothers and sisters in Africa carried transistor radios and danced to western music in blue jeans. One evening Martin Luther King, Jr. came to campus and a group of us from the fraternity went to hear him speak. He was a friend of a professor in the Religion Department, whom we had bailed out of jail following one of the civil rights protests in Selma. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the personification of patience. He spoke in the chapel, where, sitting in the second row, I could tell he was tired—he had been uttering the same words again and again, from college to college—and yet he spoke as if his ideas had just occurred to him, in a calm tone that was at once respectful and utterly convincing. On another occasion I went with Benét to hear LeRoi Jones, the black poet who later assumed the African name of Amiri Baraka. But I was put off by Jones‘ ostentatious spelling of Leroy, by the red streaks in his large yellow eyes. LeRoi Jones began with a remark about ―the vibrations‖ in the room—once again we were in the chapel—a remark that drew a ripple of laughter from the blacks that were present. The audience, as with Martin Luther King, was mostly white, and the only image I recall from the poetry of LeRoi Jones was something about ―sticking a cock in Eisenhower‘s ear.‖
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Afterwards, back at the fraternity house, I said to Benét: ―Wow, that guy sure is angry!‖ To which Benét replied: ―He‘s got a right to be angry.‖ And it would be months before I realized that what Benét really wanted to say was: ―We have a right to be angry.‖ The contrast between Martin Luther King and LeRoi Jones struck me deeply. Following the Jones reading, many of the blacks stayed up all night with him at a private reception, and shortly thereafter they began growing their hair Afro style. Ralph Ellison came to campus, too—we had read The Invisible Man in class— adding another point of view to the boiling black pot. Yet other black visitors came to town apparently free of any political or social baggage. One party weekend I danced on stage with Bo Diddley himself. On another I sang along with Gary U.S. Bonds. Benét was the social chairman for the Eclectic Society, and as a result of his business acumen the Chiffons came to sing at our fraternity house. To accommodate the group and its entourage, Benét and I gave up our suite for the night. Drunk out of my mind during the Chiffons‘ performance, I shouted myself hoarse singing ―He‘s So Fine‖ (do lang do lang do lang), giddy with the idea that those fine black ladies were actually staying in my room. In the morning, as soon as they departed, Benét personally returned our suite to order, leaving the rooms cleaner than they‘d ever been before. One night that same fall, when Benét hosted a party in our suite for his black friends, I walked in on the crowd by accident, returning from the library. An album by a black comedian was on the record player, and as I opened the door I caught the line: ―We‘re all good runners,‖ which made Benét and his friends convulse with laughter. But my sudden presence silenced them, and someone lifted the arm from the record player. During the second semester of my senior year Benét moved out of the fraternity house and took a single room by himself in the dormitory. It was only then that I began to realize the struggle he was going through—trying to discover and retain his own black identity when he had lived (thus far, at least) much like a white man.
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In one of my classes I read Norman Mailer‘s famous essay, ―The White Negro,‖ which left me feeling ashamed about being white. As I understood it, white people, unlike blacks, led lives that were anything but intense and gritty. We were not hip. We lacked soul. We were barely alive. But when I traveled to Hilton Head Island with the golf team for spring break, black men in white uniforms served us drinks on the veranda of the country club, never meeting our eyes, and I couldn‘t reconcile those blacks with the New York hipsters that Mailer wrote about. Nor could I understand the stances of southern writers like William Styron and Reynolds Price, who came to campus after we had read their novels. The blacks in their books seemed like those I had seen at Hilton Head, a far cry from Mailer‘s soulful hipsters. The prevailing attitude in the fraternity, despite the black movement fomenting in our midst, was one of prejudice, conscious or unconscious. One of our fraternity brothers, who had been dating a black girl for some time, married her after graduation and moved to Boston to attend graduate school in philosophy. Word came back that they were having trouble finding an apartment. ―But don‘t worry,‖ one of my fraternity brothers quipped: ―They‘re taking it philosophically.‖ Of course, there were liberal students among us, whom we bailed out of jail in Selma along with the professor from the Religion Department. And there were fraternity brothers from the south, as well. One of these—a guy I used to kid because he said pa for pie, a guy I never took any more seriously than Tunde Ojo—one day told me point blank: ―You guys don‘t live down there. You don‘t understand what it‘s like.‖ And he was right. We didn‘t understand. But we were slowly being made to care . . . Two weeks after I graduated from Wesleyan I found myself in summer school in New Haven, beginning a year-long MAT program at Yale in preparation for a career as a high school teacher. In September I would be required (in addition to the classes I‘d be taking) to teach one English class daily at Hillhouse High School, an inner-city school where the student population was nearly fifty percent black, where students threw dice and smoked marijuana under the stairwells. The assignment petrified me. The only image I had of Hillhouse was of its basketball team—a perennial state power—whose fifteen (all black) players wore high knee-socks (forbidden by the high school conference in which I had played), sported mustaches (which we could never get to grow) and could slam dunk a basketball (which we couldn‘t do either). Whenever a team from home had played Hillhouse in the state SMITH ∫ 127
tournament, it had been demolished, psychologically, before taking the court. The lone senior English class I taught at Hillhouse that year was first period in the morning, and for that I was thankful. I could ―get it over with‖ and walk hurriedly through the littered streets of New Haven back to the safety of the Yale campus. There were only half a dozen blacks in the class I taught, but two of the girls were on their second pregnancies. I tried to find shelter for one of the boys whose father—drunk and on welfare—had kicked him out of the house. One colleague in our MAT program lasted only two weeks at Hillhouse. A group of blacks walked in on his class, called him ―queer,‖ and beat him up on the spot, after which he spent the year engaged in a lawsuit. Another colleague, a young woman, quit after two days. It was basketball, ironically, that helped me survive. Early in October, not long after the start of the school year, Hillhouse unveiled its basketball team in an annual benefit pickup game against the faculty. But on the faculty that year was a young white teacher who had actually played Olympic basketball for a foreign country. I was still in shape from college sports, and together we put together a motley squad that managed to defeat the vaunted Hillhouse varsity on the strength of my last-second hook shot. After that game I had an audience in class. Kids would listen. If you could play ball, you were OK. That winter I coached a team of Hillhouse students—not good enough for the varsity—to the championship game of New Haven‘s YMCA league, an experience that would help me obtain my first job at a school that needed a basketball coach along with an English teacher. Meanwhile, my teaching at Hillhouse—my main reason for being there, after all—was largely remedial for many of my black students, requiring one-on-one after-hours tutoring of those who found themselves unable to speak or write the white man‘s language. Later that year, for one of the education courses I was taking at Yale, I returned home to interview Benet‘s father, who had been making local headlines by speaking out against de facto segregation in Stratford, which now had two highs schools—one in the north end of town and one in the south. And because the project was located in the south end of town, most of the blacks attended Stratford High, where I had spent my sophomore year before graduating from Bunnell High School in the north end of town. I talked with Dr. McMillan about a number of things—from SMITH ∫ 128
the traditional neighborhood school concept to the need for Affirmative Action programs—and as we concluded I asked him, with the same degree of naïveté that had always characterized my relations with Benet: ―What‘s the solution?‖ Dr. McMillan paused for a long moment, smiled, then said with a twinkle in his eye (offering the simplest and only real solution): ―Wanting it!‖ Heading back to New Haven, I felt nothing but guilt and confusion. Later that year, as I prepared to leave Yale, I had three clear choices for the future: I had been offered a job in the English Department at Hillhouse High School, I had been accepted into the Peace Corps (to set up a secondary education system in the Windward-Leeward Islands, where the population was ninety-nine percent black and the language patois, for which my New Haven experience and college French had allegedly prepared me), or I could teach English and coach basketball at Churchill High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the wealthiest public school systems in the nation. Flattered by the offer to remain at Hillhouse, I nonetheless turned it down, not wanting to press my luck in an environment in which I had never felt comfortable. As for the Peace Corps, I asked myself: ―How can you set up a secondary education system, when you‘ve only taught a single class for just one year?‖ Picturing myself surrounded by blacks on an island in the Caribbean brought to mind the beach party I had attended with Benet and Liz McMillan years earlier, and I suppose that had something to do with the fact that I accepted the teaching job in Maryland. And my decision, finally, seemed vindicated. The following fall, safely tucked away in Potomac, Maryland, I read in Time magazine that Hillhouse High School had been closed by racial riots, and my island in the Caribbean had been devastated by a hurricane . . . Fast-forward now nearly twenty years. I have my doctorate and am an assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech. Benét‘s mother, who has long since retired from teaching, has been discovering her roots in Africa, capturing her experiences in a multi-media production. I invite her to give a program on campus and to stay with us at our home. My wife and I have a son who is four years old, the very age at which I first saw a ―Negro.‖ But he has been raised on Sesame Street, and so he shows Benét‘s mother his red plastic fireman‘s hat without batting an eye. The post-racial age in our family has begun. SMITH ∫ 129
DO NOT ASK ME
Do not ask me what I am. I was not born here. There are things that come with knowing. Let me be. I want still to laugh like my mother laughed when the hairdresser in Rome, Georgia wondered if she was passing, her dark brown eyes, black curly hair. ―No, honey! My mother‘s Puerto Rican.‖ She said nothing of the uncle her mother kept a secret, el negro, the one her abuelo had con esa mujer, said nothing of her Persian-Puerto Rican cousins, they were los raros, los otros, los locos. Better to know not all this mixing. Do not ask me. I do not want to know. I was teaching Spanish in Memphis when a student, a quiet black girl asked me, ―Professor Paden what are you? I mean what race are you?‖ When I said I don‘t know, she insisted, ―Aren‘t you Italian? You were born there. You look it.‖ And I said, ―No. But my mother‘s mother is Puerto Rican and on my father‘s side I have some Cherokee.‖ And she laughed, ―That‘s nothing, everybody‘s got some Cherokee. I got some Chickasaw, now that‘s something!‖
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I was thirteen when my father asked, ―Do you want to be White, Hispanic or Indian?‖ Cruel joke. Confused, I replied, ―White?‖ Only then did dad (who taught me to sing Territory folks should stick together, the cowman and the farmer should be friends) confess his dream, despite our ancestors never having known how to frame a tepee, to have had enough blood to have followed the roaming buffalo across the Great Plains, only then did he tell me our ancestors were people of the corn who lived in lodges in the eastern mountains, only then was I told how his great grandfather lied to the man from the census bureau, —yes siree, my boy‘s not even half, you see—, only then was I told of how he and his son on a moonless August night, left the Nation West and walked to Dallas. I never thought the third grade primers I found in my father‘s library about Indian boys finding their name had anything to do with me, grandson to a Lubbock farm kid turned soldier who ran from cotton fields and that Oklahoma dust that blew south like his own kin fleeing the reservation, its barren land and stale stories of fertile mountains and chestnut groves back east. In those days, pawpaw Franklin‘s lighting out on that dark night with papa was just a whisper, a tale told by boys trying not to fall asleep.
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In those days, you kept your head low and worked the land you had, blamed the sun for your skin, and if you were young, you found a way leave:
Sure, sergeant, I know how to ski ever heard of sand dune skiing? Itâ€˜s the rage in West Texas. He and his half-breed brothers tired of hoeing cotton, dusting church benches on Saturday afternoons for a quarter a week, tired of sneaking off to the depot to smoke stolen cigarettes and play nimbly toes, tossing pocket knives at naked feet, jumped to join-up in the wake of Pearl Harbor and never came back to sod-busting. There are stories that families never tell or wait until it is too late or tell so obliquely, what could have been a lush riparian forest of cottonwood, willow and ash is little more than a washed out river bank.
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THE WILD, WILD WEST & ETHNIC STUDIES
Niki Herd Interviews Plaintiff in the Case Against HB 2281, Sally Rusk
In Arizona, House Bill 2281, prohibits the teaching of Ethnic Studies, specifically Mexican-American Studies in Tucson. The state argues that Tucson‘s MAS program ―promotes the overthrow of the US government and advocates ethnic solidarity.‖ Eleven teachers from the Tucson Unified School District are challenging the state with a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of HB 2281. One afternoon, I got a Art: Save Ethnic Studies, Inc., Val Cañez chance to meet with one of the plaintiffs, Sally Rusk. In a small outdoor cafe, we talked about the Ethnic Studies fight, how students and teachers have been affected by the legislation, and what it means to live in a time, defined by some, as the postracial era.
NIKI HERD: Sally, I want to jump right in, if that is okay. It has been argued that Ethnic Studies in the state of Arizona promotes racial solidarity or ethnic chauvinism, and leads students to believe they are oppressed. What dispute do you have with this characterization? SALLY RUSK: The class I teach is American History through Chicano Perspectives, so the class is focusing on the contributions of Mexican-Americans in US history by using a Chicano lens. Chicana/o history, like African-American history, is not just for one particular ethnic group, and these classes are not just directed towards Chicanos. We are teaching American history and putting into the curriculum figures and movements that have been left out of the traditional white dominant narrative. So that idea of ethnic chauvinism, I take issue with. We are in the Southwest. This area used to be part of Mexico. Mexican culture is all over, and you have to respect the culture and the history of where you are. You want your youth to know that history, and to know that they‘ve been part of this country‘s history. Furthermore, people of color don‘t need to be taught that they are or have been oppressed. NH: The state believes students should be treated as individuals. HERD/RUSK ∫ 133
SR: Of course students are individuals, but this whole thing about a color-blind society is...I don‘t understand it. Throughout history people have come together to fight for social justice and to fight for their rights. Ethnic groups supporting one another is normal.
NH: Do you believe Arizona, and former superintendent Tom Horne, are being honest in their assessment? I ask this because many of the state laws that have gone into effect over the past several years have appeared to target Latinos, and to not treat people as individuals. Years ago, there was concern with the use of Spanish in the public sphere, more recently teachers with accents have been under fire, and then there is SB 1070 that is seen by some to promote racial profiling. SR: Clearly. Yes, and why is this law directed towards Mexican-Americans, Latinos, Chicanos? If we look at the current situation, first, we have to acknowledge the current demographics—the Latino population is growing and all of these laws go after this rapidly increasing population. So no, I don‘t think the state is honest. Second, I think one who professes to have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. [Horne] would embrace multi-cultural perspectives. But again, who are they auditing? What department is under investigation? Whose curriculum was stolen from a teacher‘s classroom out of their file cabinet and then posted online and written about by journalists? Yes, this action is a slap against any Ethnic Studies program, but the focus is Mexican-American Studies. The State of Arizona and Governor Jan Brewer believe we are trying to overthrow the government.
NH: Your statistics1 show student success. For example students who experience difficulty passing AIMS (Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards) are more likely to pass once enrolled in Raza Studies, and for the past six years, your students have enjoyed higher graduation rates than those not enrolled in Mexican-American Studies classes. SR: Their grades are going up. They are more likely to go to college. They are engaged in their classes. They are critical thinkers. And, I think that‘s another big issue. Because the students are looking at society, and are being taught to question, "Myths & Truths." Save Ethnic Studies | 2281. Web. 30 Dec. 2010. http://www.saveethnicstudies.org/ 1
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this makes people nervous. Students are self-selective, meaning anyone can choose to take the classes, but the curriculum focuses on critical literacy, which is why we are having success with test scores, graduation rates, and the number of students going on to college.
NH: So, despite the student success aspect, ten percent of designated funds may be revoked if Arizona deems a school district or charter school in non-compliance of the law? SR: Right. So this is dividing our community of teachers. I think that is another goal of the law because we cannot function as a district without ten percent of our funds. Absolutely not. And here we have these results that would make any school superintendent say Wow, let‘s expand this. And I have heard teachers ask Are you
really going to push this? Are you really going to keep teaching these classes? You know we can‘t function without ten percent. And yet, I can‘t imagine these classes
being taken away. It takes awhile for students to become conscious, and now you can see their awareness increase, their vocabulary, their willingness. It is the most moving thing. I can‘t believe that these classes are possibly going to be removed, and that‘s why we‘re fighting. I don‘t think we can ever let them be banned.
NH: Are you finding support from the other departments like African-American or Asian-Pacific Studies? SR: Yes, but it‘s quiet. Many of my colleagues work in the different departments, and they give support and we appreciate it. But some think Why push this because we‘re next. We feel that HB 2281 is a non-sensical law that can be implemented at a whim; it‘s a discriminatory law. It‘s unconstitutional. So our attitude is, we don‘t want it on the books...because if African-American Studies becomes more vocal in the community, then they may be shut down too, and so forth. And I say vocal in the sense of getting that media attention, like with Dolores Huerta.
NH: As I understand it, the plan is to also target the University of Arizona and Raza Studies there as well?
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SR: Right. Exactly. And the proponents of HB 2281 want to target the University of Arizona Education Department because every year we have an institute for transformative education, and it is co-sponsored with the Ethnic Studies groups and the Education Department. We have speakers from all over the US who are social justice educators. It‘s one of the most amazing conferences right here. And there has been talk that the university and the College of Education are next.
NH: Can you describe the social justice model of education? SR: The social justice model of education is based on constructing knowledge together. The teacher is not all-knowing. Everyone in the classroom is a facilitator of knowledge. We look at the issues in society, the root causes, the historical context, and then with that level of transformative critical consciousness, we look at how to take action. As students become more conscious, of course, they become angry, and that is what scares people. When you realize you don‘t know about the Tuskegee Airmen or that Mexican-Americans in World War II were decorated with medals of honor, there‘s a natural frustration because we have a system that is still attempting to brainwash our kids, though that‘s a very dangerous thing to say. And a lot of teachers don‘t realize that because they are brainwashed themselves. You know what I mean?
NH: [laughs] Yes, I know exactly what you mean. SR: We want our kids to come to understand that they can be active participants and agents of change.
NH: Earlier you mentioned, Dolores Huerta, co-founder along with Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers of America. Huerta spoke with students at Tucson High in 2006 and said Republicans hate Latinos2. Tom Horne set up a follow-up discussion that required students to submit questions in advance. No questions were to be taken from the floor. If students asked questions, they were threatened with in-school suspension. "New Arizona Law Targets Ethnic Studies - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. 12 May 2010. Web. 30 Dec. 2010. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/05/12/politics/main6476501.shtml 2
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In response, some students attended with duct tape over their mouths before they walked out in protest. SR: They walked out quietly.
NH: I think this is funny. I am always surprised, intrigued, and thankful when students are socially engaged, even if I disagree with their stance. SR: I love you for saying that...even if I disagree with their stance. Absolutely. They‘re taking action. They‘re experimenting. They‘re engaged.
NH: So what role does protest play in public education, specifically in Raza Studies? I ask this question because if students that day had been protesting in support of military action in Iraq or Afghanistan, I doubt there would have been a problem. SR: Have you read the Tim Wise article ―What If the Tea Party Were Black?‖3
NH: [laughs] Yes, I have. SR: One thing I want to say about Dolores Huerta is that it was 2006. It was an election year, and this was the year that virulent anti-immigrant legislation was proposed. There were organic protests all over the country. Hundreds of thousands of people were marching in DC. There were marches in NYC. So to get back to the role of protest, this was being done all over the country. But the state thinks that students taping their mouths and walking out was taught by the teachers. And yes, of course, we want our kids to be active. But we‘re not saying walk out, of course not—but US history is full of protest. We‘ve been told by our lawyer not to call this racism, to let people come to their own conclusions. But it is. And I was there with Dolores Huerta, and she said something like given all the Republican legislation, seemingly against
Latinos, maybe you students should start a postcard campaign, write to your legislators and ask them why Republicans hate Latinos. Her words suggested that this is the conclusion to which one can come, so what can be done about it. Wise, Tim. "What If the Tea Party Were Black? | | AlterNet." Home | AlterNet. 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 30 Dec. 2010. http://www.alternet.org/story/146616/what_if_the_tea_party_were_black. 3
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NH: You and the other plaintiffs have been accused of pushing a socialist agenda, and I can‘t help but see similarities between now and the McCarthy era. Do you agree? SR: Oh, I agree. I have never felt self-conscious in my classrooms, but under this climate, I am worried about someone seeing Che Guevara posted on my wall. I am worried about readings being taken out of context. Right, it is like the McCarthy era.
NH: And these are the same people that believe our President is a communist. SR: Right, and he wasn‘t born in the US, and is a Muslim. It‘s really frightening. I think Fox News and this anonymous blog era where people can spew hate speech on the internet contributes to riling people up. A lot of our materials have been called into question. Everyone critical of our materials goes to Rudy Acuna‘s Occupied America4, which I use limited parts of, and picks one quote from one guy that says ―Kill the gringos‖—and this is suppose to show what we‘re teaching, and this is why we are promoting resentment towards whites. Yes, so I‘m very conscious of what I wasn‘t before.
NH: So in the context of this lawsuit, and the place in which you find yourself in this current time in history, what comes to mind when you consider the word post-racial? SR: What does that mean? What does that mean? Is it because we have a Black president that we can say we‘re in a post-racial era? I mean how do you understand post-racial?
NH: If post-race is defined as a racism-free society, then it‘s a no-brainer for me. Do I wish we lived in a society that encouraged the unique cultural attributes of all people? Yes—but I can‘t even imagine it. SR: And this is why we need a multi-cultural perspective. Certainly, people want to be judged as human beings. Absolutely. And if post-racial means living without the Acuna, Rodolfo. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. Print. 4
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systemic hierarchies, then, yes. But, until we embrace the experience of all people, gays and lesbians, transgendered people, all ethnicities—we‘re just not there.
NH: You‘re Anglo, and you‘ve taught for twenty years at a predominately Latino high school. Can you talk a little about your background and how you became part of this movement? SR: I really lucked out because my sister suggested me. She was part of a professional learning community group, and they were looking for a MexicanAmerican Studies teacher. I feel so lucky because it has allowed me to be the teacher I wanted to be. When I was going to college during the Reagan years, I felt like people weren‘t thinking. People weren‘t looking at the historical context, and I remember thinking that this lack of political consciousness starts much younger. I feel lucky because these classes are about the progress of humanity, about analyzing society. They‘re not about teaching to the chapters or teaching history chronologically, or falling victim to the same-old, same-old, taking that same narrative and denying the counter-narrative. The goal, in these classes, is active citizenship, community involvement. We are not objects and history does not just happen. So often history is taught as something we study, as opposed to what we‘re living.
NH: There have been threats against your fellow plaintiffs and their families. Do you have fears for your own safety? SR: [pause] No. No. I don‘t know how to say this, but I recognize that by being white, I have had a lot of privilege in my voice because my voice is non-threatening, because it‘s part of the dominant narrative. I guess I am not afraid, and I think my colleagues are not afraid either, because we know we are right. I really do think we‘ve progressed and that this movement will win.
NH: So you are not worried about the legal action jeopardizing your career as a teacher? SR: What I fear is the safe relationship I have with my students. It‘s been very HERD/RUSK ∫ 139
important for them to talk about racism and their experiences openly, and I fear that this safety will be compromised.
NH: So as we saw with SB 1070, which fostered states to pass similar laws as Arizona, the courtâ€˜s decision in the HB 2281 case will set precedence for Ethnic Studies programs nationwide, both at the secondary and post-secondary level. Is this an all-or-nothing fight? SR: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely, this has to be an all-or-nothing fight.
NH: So how do you want this to end? SR: I want the law to be overturned, and I want our department to grow. I want African-American Studies to grow, and Pan-Asian Studies to grow. And I want our students to become textbook writers and active citizens.
NH: Active citizens. It sounds like what it means to be a citizen or what it means to be American is where the disagreement rests. SR: When my students close their eyes, and imagine what it means to be American, they see a white person with blonde hair. What does this say about our country? This is wrong.
Niki Herd has published work in several journals and anthologies and has been supported by organizations including Cave Canem, the Astraea Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her debut collection of poems, The Language of Shedding Skin, was a finalist for the Main Street Rag Poetry Award. Sally Rusk grew up in Tucson, Arizona and has taught at Pueblo High School for 21 years. She loves her job because she learns from and is continually inspired by her students and their commitment to social justice. She currently teaches 2 American History--Chicano Perspectives classes, one American Government class, and 2 bilingual World History classes. HERD/RUSK âˆŤ 140
MOSTLY TO UNCOVER THE REALITY OF THE MYTH OF POST BLACKNESS
He left me wounded in a room full of artists and none of them had black eyes. One had brown eyes but she wouldn't speak up. She looked at me forgivingly, paralyzed. Some of them saw me but not really. One did but he only wanted to fuck. If only I could stop bleeding. His eyes were as open blue as sky and I could go but I know there would be an ending I didn't choose. My brain moved faster and faster. They saw me tremble and not so much as a white tissue. I could kneel down and pry at the floorboards with a scream and broken fingers and they would just keep talking like I was a ghost, or a shadow. Then go to the biergarten and chug cheap pints. Then take long walks in the woods conversing about the nature of art and objective disappearance. Then spend a year painting in Uzbekistan, wearing thin shirts with holes in them and never new shoes. They could chew gum loud and starve, or fish and get fat and take shitty photographs of moonlight in trailer parks and above "urban nightlife." This is how it begins and happens and ends: drawing right past me, as if I am the one keeping still.
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SWALLOW, THE NEGATIVE
I haven't written "a black poem" in
must plummet to the musty depths
"a coon's age"
of conscious not-memory
I know how to hold my music to dodge the blind leap into paranoia exert
and who's counting really but (sucked teeth) a vast collection of oblivious fingers
the terrifying influence
scooping privilege from bowls of precarious nuts (occasional rediscovery
on burned out treeline scour the drybrush with sly and incurable faith twining the rocks How many dark women "wild Indians" mulatas Negritas and quadroons must I un-erase ( ) (Audible sigh) How many enchanted half-things— baby shoe woodcut cupped breast "ethnicity"—
I forget how
to hold that tongue Snag a Delphic crotch and blow pucker and light brasstone and so human don't want to have to
can't hold the livid inside the trepid Skip this slippery cicatrix Come on baby manna bird Come on
QUEEN ∫ 142
PASSING IN THE AGE OF OBAMA
Times were good. Buppies had relaxed their afros. Jheri curls were drying into office appropriate coifs. Our dashikis had given their place over to the navy power suit. We were post-Black Power. With Clinton in the White House, blacks had been coaxed into a calm we had never known in our cultural history. And, I was feeling young and strong and full of future. In the midst of these saxophone soaked good times, I flew from Little Rock, Arkansas to Easton, Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother. We spun records on her stereo. Old Motown records, with a circular crackle, and resonant memory. In between the thud of a tiny hammer splintering crab legs, my Nana sang along. She sang melody, harmony and back-up. Wisps of her cigarette smoke formed an unclouded sky above our heads, while we played Uno with spade-like fervor. We laughed out, and talked trash, while the next album dropped. Uncle Billy, Aunt Trish, Nana and me. The next morning, Nana and I were sitting pretty in her midnight blue Cadillac with the white interior and wheel kit on the back. We drove to where the bus picked up shoppers to take them to the stores in King of Prussia. We shopped all day. We said ―one more store,‖ so many times that we had to chase down the last bus leaving. And, when we arrived at the car, we were still breathlessly laughing and bumping about with our shopping bags. We decided to end the evening with a dessert at Perkins Restaurant. After choosing our desserts, we were overwhelmed with laughter when our waitress returned with desserts piled up high and almost spilling over dinner plates. My Nana‘s signature, ―Oh, my God,‖ lifted high, as her forehead fell into her open palm and her eyes closed as her head shook from side to side. Our little section of the restaurant turned to laugh with us. Soon we settled in, picking at our desserts and recounting our day over coffee. My Nana‘s face settled into an expression, difficult to describe – part serious, part musing, somewhat stern. She gestured to a table behind me. ―See those women at that table? They are our cousins.‖ BRIM ∫ 143
I looked behind me. There was a table of two elderly white women. They looked up and returned my Nana‘s expression to us. I began to scoot my chair from the table. ―Let‘s go and say ‗Hi,‘ I said brightly. My grandmother didn‘t move. ―No,‖ she said calmly. ―We can‘t say ‗Hi.‘ They are passing.‖ I turned around to look at them. One woman looked into her coffee cup, stirring it slowly and deliberately. ―Do they know who we are,‖ I asked my grandmother without turning back. The other woman took the napkin from her lap and dabbed at the corner of her mouth and ceremoniously replaced it in her lap. ―Yes,‖ Nana said, not averting her graze. ―They know who we are.‖ I turned back to my grandmother and melting dessert. Later, I turned again toward their table. The women were gone. Only their lipstick stained cups and napkins testified to their past presence. I have thought of these women over the years, at random times for random reasons. I have wondered what it has meant for them to pass. Perhaps, they used their lives with the prowess of a double agent, hiring blacks in their workplaces, teaching little black children without bias and serving on juries. Only then, could I forgive their absence in my life. When did they begin passing? The 1940‘s or 1950‘s? Who could blame them for playing the genetic trump card they had been dealt - the creamy white skin, the angular nose, sharp features and silken hair? I knew of our German/Pennsylvania Dutch/Indian/African lineage. It had manifested itself in a lottery-like grab bag of features throughout the generations of my family. Only the old folks can say who a baby looks like. Yeah, she has Aunt Anna‘s posture or Mama‘s people‘s nose, or Tom‘s sisters‘ hair … These sisters most likely looked around at an America eager to embrace some immigrant dreams, but contemptuous of the Negro contribution to its emergence as a BRIM ∫ 144
world power. These girls considered doors – front doors for white girls, back doors for Negro girls - and, slammed doors for the faces of little colored girls who didn‘t know their places. I imagine their mothers took them to work, the way my greatgrandmother took my grandmother and her sisters. These girls most likely watched their mother scrub floors, cook meals, wash clothes and be ordered about by little white children. Perhaps they wondered, well, my skin is as white as theirs. It could be so easy. I don‘t imagine that passing could have been easy, though. It would mean divorcing oneself from family: Negro mother and father, siblings too dark to pass, cousins you run into at Perkins. Former classmates might recognize you. In the presence of ―other‖ all the time, there is a short-hand one isn‘t privy to and a shorthand one must hide. I wonder how the sisters kept the color from rising in their cheeks when cocktail parties filled with segregationist political talk or at PTA meetings when proper ladies lamented the encroachment of Negroes on proper white neighborhoods. Did they pretend not to love Sam Cooke and Billie Holliday? Did they ever make love to their white husbands after hearing him grumble about the lazy niggers on the job? Did my passing cousins hum spirituals to themselves when the labor pains hit? To whom did they pray that their little white babies would be white enough to keep their secrets? I am glad that the sisters held hands and walked into their newly whitened world together. They had each other and their memories of black spaces: beauty shops and kitchen tables, pressing combs and Marcel irons, a black baby Jesus in the manger, and healing hands. Maybe they met to cry in each other‘s arms at the death of Dr. King. Maybe they sipped coffee and watched James Brown‘s entire funeral on C-Span. I wonder if my cousins even still see themselves as black. If my passing cousins have lived to see the inauguration of America‘s first black President, what was their response? Did they scoff politely in proper circles, but close the poll curtain behind them to vote for a new day? Are they heartened to live in an America where ‗passing‘ might become obsolete or do they shake their heads at all of the silken weave flowing from Negro heads? After Jasper, Texas and Jena, Louisiana – do they feel more or less safe passing? BRIM ∫ 145
Times are not so good now. Our hope is tempered by a sagging economy and so much fear. We fear terrorists, tempests, but most of all each other. Is this familiar to my cousins whose parents remembered the Dust Bowl and who themselves lived through the Great Depression and Jim Crow? Are they disheartened that we all havenâ€˜t come farther? I wonder if my cousins even want to continue to pass in this age of Obama. Do they wish that they could out themselves? Stand up for Shirley Sherrod. Call on the ancestors. Share a dessert with me at Perkins. Be black again.
BRIM âˆŤ 146
WE, ON THE GROUND
My oldest is newly 18. We take one car to the polls. We make history, together vote a black man for President. He goes first, leans over the table pants sagging, pooling over gleaming new sneakers. He votes his conscience and then, I vote my hopes. I watch the news, all of the news, clicking between stations, giddy, scarcely able to breathe – There is a pall over FOX, as if all Hope has died. There is dancing in the streets – in Harlem, Chicago, Kenya. The streets of Little Rock are quiet. I call my Nana. She has gone to bed. She couldn‘t take it, she says – She whispers, Well …? I whisper back:
He is President.
BRIM ∫ 147
The next morning, I go to work – The campus is oddly empty and quiet. No one has died; there is no comforting conversation. It is cold. I am afraid, somehow. A white colleague comes up to me to offer her joy. I smile and nod cautiously I walk across campus, shoulders hunched against the cold. A black colleague smiles and winks, I smile broadly back at him – Neither of us breaks our stride as we pass. That evening, I go to Wal-Mart to fill a prescription. A white woman is blocking my way.
Excuse me, I say politely. Fucking Nigger, she responds. My younger son is wounded.
BRIM ∫ 148
My daughter is angry. I draw my children to me.
We know who we are, I tell them. And, we know who we are not. In the check-out, I ask for boxes. Exiting the store, the doors open wide. A ruddy-faced man eyes me sternly. My eyes settle on his t-shirt, which proclaims:
The South will rise again.
BRIM âˆŤ 149
Tammy Tillotson My son begs, ―Please, help me?‖ He wants to play Monopoly— he wants to be the shoe (since I usually am the shoe). I open the box, to gently remind, we can‘t both be the shoe. It doesn‘t seem to fit, he doesn‘t understand, sharing silver tokens. Slowly, moving the hat forward, I tell him, how at first, the game never came with pieces. Folks were just expected to use little things like pennies. Buttons. * Outside, the flag on our mailbox is up. In it, all our letters. Later, when we sit down we will eat hot, Healthy Choice soup for lunch— TILLOTSON ∫ 150
it wasn‘t on my list, but when I saw it in the store it was on sale— I went on ahead and bought it. I even stopped and splurged— for some rainbow goldfish crackers (my son and I both just love them).
TILLOTSON ∫ 151
Afaa Michael Weaver Glow in lamp light, our neighbors in kind faces, bonds in weakest edges of shadows, what we can not see into, thin traces of the past--
I‘m a rolling through an unfriendly world A shine in Penn Station pops a rag across North Carolina, a slice of ham, a slice of steak, old ties now silk and handwoven, elocution the grace of talking back to what stood next to curtains riding on night air in Georgia--
I‘m a rolling through an unfriendly world Peace, make us whole, Faith, let our feet dance in a brave choreography against our memories that won‘t believe we never were a monolith--
I‘m a rolling through an unfriendly world
WEAVER ∫ 152
SERMON ON THE NEW LAND* (A PLAY IN ONE SCENE)
Afaa Michael Weaver
an African American man in his mid-forties
a septuagenarian African American woman, a church matriarch
three to five African American men in their fifties and sixties
Setting Any of a number of African American Episcopal churches in Philadelphia.
Time Early 21st century America
WEAVER âˆŤ 153
Scene 1 As the play opens the church is settling from the preliminaries leading to the sermon, and the minister approaches the pulpit. The stage has minimal props with recorded sounds, music.
Minister Consternation came to mind when thinking about the text for today, Moses looking out over Promised Land-Deacons
Yes, sir, preach! Minister I havenâ€˜t even gotten started, you know the scenario as they say, talking about the pundits now, the commentators who know it all-Mother Adams
Bless you, Reverend. Minister I appreciate the love, but I need to get warmed up here. Consternation, yes my Soul. The word came to me while making my notes on Saturday night, I went from the Bible to (pause) the Oxford dictionary because I want to get this right. Itâ€˜s laying on me, on my heart like a fire waiting to be lit-WEAVER âˆŤ 154
My Lord, what a preacher. Minister Your love is gracious, Mother Adams, but let me lay the foundation now. The dictionary says consternation is amazement or dismay causing mental confusion. I put the big book down, the dictionary now, not the Bible, and I put it down for this reason. Moses, in my mind, is he who gave his life in recent times, our own Dr. King, and brothers and sisters and children alike, let me tell you, if you don‘t know. We are in the midst of a crisis. How did this happen? How did we forget how to define humanity? Disintegrated, polarized, afraid of the places where we were born, how could we?
(using his handkerchief to wipe his forehead)
God didn‘t leave us alone. Minister I am feeling now what I am talking about, this consternation. But I‘m here this morning to bring you an answer--
WEAVER ∫ 155
Talk the talk, Reverend. Minister Dr. King like Moses looked out over what we all thought was the New Land, and it‘s where we are, computers everywhere, folk logged in, connected to the internet, the climate changing, Minister ocean currents shifting, birds falling out of the sky, fish dying in millions, seas giving up the dead, and what do the dead say? I said what do the dead say now? (slight pause) I‘m waiting on the Spirit-Mother Adams
Take your time, Reverend. Minister Thank you, Mother Adams. Time is all I have in the great accounting of things. So here we are looking back on the trail of some peculiar tears. We cried because hope seemed so large for us and some of us went on to live large. We cried because the things we knew no longer served us, the things we built with generations of hope and fear and glad hands put together in prayers for the weak WEAVER ∫ 156
among us. So here we are, Dr. King, it seems none of the old ways of making sense make sense anymore. The children discover our recent histories and think they found the ark of the covenant, a mystical path to the light, and I ache. O Lord, I ache to see how quickly, how like the flash of lightning stealing the night away we forget our accomplishments-Deacons
Lead us over the bridge now.
Minister Consternation. The word came out of nowhere. I don‘t like consternation. It bespeaks a certain potential crisis in the soul. (using his handkerchief) The end can‘t come this way for us. My answer is this for all who hear me.
We are the bright and various treasure on a mantle of gold, cast in the mold of humility and courage. This is why we will negotiate and navigate this New Land with the same challenges the same impediments to truth-Mother Adams
I pray for you.
WEAVER ∫ 157
Minister We are the gift of the Spirit to this troubled world, our pain crafted in the hot blood of injustice until we have the Spiritâ€˜s vision, torn and shredded but not asunder, our very breath is the light of what makes human beings human, and yes, my God, we, the downtrodden in this place that claims God, we are going to change this world, and let the blind know we are the light, the insuperable light.
Bless you, sweet holiness. Amen, amen.
*Note: this text is intended for dramatic performance, and as such, the author should be consulted for granting of permissions. WEAVER âˆŤ 158
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Dilruba Ahmed‘s debut book of poems, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf, 2011), won the 2010 Bakeless Prize for poetry. Ahmed‘s writing has appeared in Blackbird, Cream City Review, New England Review, and The Normal School. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and lives near Philadelphia. Web site: www.dilrubaahmed.com. Photo: Mike Drzal Makalani Bandele is a Louisville, KY native. A member of the Affrilachian Poets since 2008 and a Cave Canem fellow, his poetry has been anthologized in Storytellers, and can be seen in Mythium Literary Magazine, Platte Valley Review, and Black Caper Journal. He is a winner of the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize and Literary LEO 1st Prize in Poetry. He has a forthcoming volume of poetry with Willow Books coming out Fall 2011 entitled Hellfightin'.
Janée J. Baugher‘s poetry has been adapted for dance and set to music at University of Cincinnati, Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, and Dance Now! Ensemble in Florida. She holds an MFA from Eastern Washington University, is an editor and teacher living in Seattle, and is the author of the collection of poems, Coördinates of Yes (Ahadada Books, 2010). Photo: Jason Cameron Bourguignon
Sandra Beasley won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for I Was the Jukebox, selected by Joy Harjo and published by W. W. Norton. Her first collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize judged by Marie Howe. She lives in Washington, D.C. Photo: Matthew Worden CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 159
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Deborah Bernhardt is the author of Echolalia. Her recent work appears in Barrow Street, Free Verse, Trickhouse, and elsewhere.
Destiny Birdsong currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned an MFA in poetry and is now a PhD student in English at Vanderbilt University. Her poems have appeared in Southern Women's Review, Torch: Poetry, Prose
and Short Stories by African American Women, Georgetown Review, and Tabula Rasa: A Journal of Medical Humanities. Antoinette Brim, author of Psalm of the Sunflower, is a Cave Canem Foundation fellow, recipient of the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a Pushcart Prize nominee and an Assistant Editor of the NAACP Image Award nominated Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History by Dr. Julianne Malveaux. Photo: Demetrice Anntia Worley
Willa Carroll‘s poems have been published in Tin House, Tuesday; An Art Project, Mary Magazine, and Readings for Writers (12th Edition). Willa was a 2011 nominee for a Pushcart Prize. She‘s a MFA candidate in the Bennington Writing Seminars, and holds a BA from Bennington College. Willa has a performance background in experimental dance and theater. She lives in Manhattan. Photo: Andreas von Scheele CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 160
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Lisa Cheby is a poet and an educator in Los Angeles, CA. Lisa earned an MFA from Antioch University and is on the Board of Directors of the Valley Contemporary Poets, an organization working to promote poetry in the San Fernando Valley. Her poems have been published in poeticdiversity, The Citron Review, The Splinter Generation, and Provo Orem Word. Photo: Amy Bennett-Maman.
Martha Collins is the author of the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006), as well as four earlier collections of poems and two co-translated collections of Vietnamese poetry. Two collections are forthcoming: White Papers from Pittsburgh in 2012, Day Unto Day from Milkweed in 2014. Photo: Doug Macomber
Desiree Cooper is the former co-host of public radio‘s Weekend America, and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated, Detroit Free Press columnist. Her poetry and fiction have been published in Simply Haiku, Torch, Best African American Fiction 2010, Detroit Noir, Other People‘s Skin and My Blue Suede Shoes. She is a founding board member of Cave Canem, a national residency for black poets. Photo: Ann Marsden
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 161
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Mitchell L. H. Douglas is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. His poems have appeared in Callaloo, Ninth Letter and the anthology The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South among others. A Cave Canem fellow and cofounder of the Affrilachian Poets, his debut collection, Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem was nominated for a 2010 NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Literary Work-Poetry category and a 2010 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths Leola Dublin Macmillan is a Doctoral Candidate in American Studies at Washington State University, where she also teaches English. A North Carolina native, Dublin Macmillan was raised in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She received a B.A. in English from the University of the District of Columbia. Her scholarly work examines the connections between contemporary representations of Black women, and more specifically, Black women‘s bodies and the larger structures of power within the context of the United States. Her work articulates these connections and then explores their potential impact on identity development in Black adolescent girls. Kelly Norman Ellis is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Chicago State University. She is also the director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at CSU. She is a poet whose work has appeared in Sisterfire: Black Womanist Fiction and
Poetry, Spirit and Flame, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, Boomer Girls, Essence Magazine, Obsidian, Calyx, and Cornbread Nation. She is a recipient of a Kentucky Foundation for Women writer‘s grant, a Cave Canem fellow, and founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. Her first collection of poetry Tougaloo Blues was published by Third World Press in 2003, and she is co-editor with M.L. Hunter of Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS (Third World Press). CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 162
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Thomas Sayers Ellis liked to open used Magic Cubes when he was a boy in Washington, D.C. In 1979 he met filmmaker Hal Ashby and actor Peter Sellers on 7th and 0 Streets, NW outside the John F. Kennedy Adventure Playground and was asked to dribble a basketball in a scene from Being There. In those days he owned three cameras: a Polaroid and two Kodak Instamatics. Alfred Veney pretended he was Roberto Duran and Sayers pretended he was Sugar Ray Leonard and they took their shirts off and posed like weigh-in enemies. He loved his cameras and they loved his friends but he knew they were cheap and that he would have to go to school and publish poems in order to buy a Leica and a Mamiya. He took his camera everywhere, to Karate School, to Dunbar High School Swimming meets, to the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Old Key Theater and to Go-Go's. A good friend sold him a stolen 35mm camera (in DC) at the same time he moved into a house in Cambridge Massachusetts with a dark room in it. He was taking pictures before he was writing poems. His photography is mad at poetry for interrupting its breathing. Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Head Off & Split; On Wings Made of Gauze; Rice — which received a PEN America Open Book Award; and The World is Round — which received the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry. Finney is also the author of Heartwood, a collection of short stories. She has been awarded the Kentucky Foundation for Women ―Artists Fellowship Award‖ and The Governor‘s Award in the Arts. She has taught at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, and is a former faculty member at Cave Canem, a writing home for African-American poets. In 2006, Finney edited The Ringing Ear, an anthology of African American poets writing and reflecting on that historical American geography known as ―the South.‖ She is presently professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 163
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Jonterri Gadson is Debra‘s daughter. She is a Cave Canem fellow and a 2nd year poet in the University of Virginia‘s Creative Writing MFA program. She will serve as a Creative Writing Instructor for gifted 8th-10th graders in the Duke Talent Identification Program. Her poetry has previously been published in Muzzle, Torch, Conte, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and in other journals.
Aracelis Girmay is the author of changing, changing, Teeth, and Kingdom Animalia (forthcoming--fall, 2011). She teaches in Drew University's low-residency program & at Hampshire College.
Bro. Yao (Hoke S. Glover III) is an Associate Professor at Bowie State University in the English Department. As a poet he has been published in Crab Orchard Review, African American Review and other journals. Photo: Demarcus Davis
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 164
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Rain C. Goméz, Sutton Doctoral Fellow English at University of Oklahoma won the First Book Award in poetry for Smoked Mullet Cornbread Memory, from Native Writers‘ Circle of the Americas. Poetry and critical work has appeared in various journals including Ahani: Indigenous American Poetry and American Indian Culture and Research Journal. National Secretary of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, she‘s working on her second poetry collection, Miscegenation Round Dance.
Nathalie Handal‘s most recent book, Love and Strange Horses, got an Honorable Mention at the San Francisco Book Festival and the New England Book Festival. The New York Times says it is ―a book that trembles with belonging (and longing).‖ In 2011, she became a Lannan Foundation Fellow, and the recipient of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature.
Niki Herd has published work in several journals and anthologies and has been supported by organizations including Cave Canem, the Astraea Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her debut collection of poems, The Language of Shedding Skin, was a finalist for the Main Street Rag Poetry Award. Photo: Jennie Scott
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 165
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Harmony Holiday spends most of her time in New York, by way of Berkeley, by way of L.A., by way of Iowa, by way of the Delta, by way of Jamestown, by way of the Middle Passage, by way of Ghana, by way of the planet Sirius, by glint of the gibbous moon, because of sunspots on the sun...
Ailish Hopper‘s chapbook, Bird in the Head, was selected by Jean Valentine for the 2005 Center for Book Arts prize. Other poems of hers have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, and Tuesday; An Art Project, as well as other places. She‘s received grants and fellowships from the Baltimore Commission for the Arts and Humanities, Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo.
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the author of three books, including Red Clay Suite (Southern Illinois University, 2007). Her poems have appeared in Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, and The Civil Rights Reader (University of Georgia, 2009), among others. Most recently, she received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Vermont Studio Center. She teaches at the University of Oklahoma. Photo: Wick Poetry Center
Fady Joudah is a poet and translator in Houston, TX.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 166
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Cole Krawitz‘s poems and articles have appeared in such publications as Connotation Press, Zeek, OCHO, Newsday and The Forward. A Lambda Fellow, he received an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Cole has lectured in June Jordan's Poetry for the People Program at University of California, Berkeley and the MA in English Program at Holy Names University. He lives in Oakland, CA.
Rickey Laurentiis was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. His manuscript, One Country, received an honorable mention for the 2010 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, judged by Claudia Rankine, while his other honors include a 2010 Pushcart Prize Nomination, and first- and third-runner up in the 2009 International Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize, selected by Carl Phillips. The recipient of fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, his poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several literary journals, including Indiana Review, jubilat, Knockout Literary Magazine and Vinyl. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of Lucky Fish, At the Drive-in Volcano, and Miracle Fruit, all from Tupelo Press. Awards for her writing include the Pushcart Prize and an NEA Fellowship in poetry. She is associate professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 167
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ AJ Ong is a copywriter by day and a struggling wordsmith by night. He enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures, often absorbing people‘s emotional energies in the process. If not thinking about human nature, he likes to read thrillers. His poems have been published in the New Plains Review, Tayo Magazine and Mosaic. For more information, please visit www.aj-ong.blogspot.com.
Jeremy Paden was born in Italy and raised in Latin America. He is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and a member of the Affrilachian Poets. His poems have been published by or accepted for publication in the following journals:
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, the Atlanta Review, Christianity and Literature, and the Cortland Review. Photo: Axel Liimatta Maya Pindyck is the author of Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press, 2009) and the chapbook Locket, Master (Poetry Society of America, 2006). Her poetry has won Bellingham Review's 49th Parallel Poetry Award and has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Tusculum Review, Southern Indiana Review, The Cortland Review, and Poets & Artists. She lives in New York City. Photo: Eric LoVecchio
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 168
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Khadijah Queen is the author of a poetry collection, Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic Books 2008), and a chapbook, no isla encanta (dancing girl press 2007). Her second full-length collection, Black Peculiar, won the 2010 Noemi Press Book Award for Poetry and is forthcoming in fall 2011. Visit her website: www.khadijahqueen.com. Photo: Han Fung Arts 2010.
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd.). She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.
Ed Roberson is the author of eight books of poetry, including Voices Cast Out to Talk Us In, a winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, and a recent collection, The New Wing of the Labyrinth (Singing Horse Press, 2010). His Atmosphere Conditions was selected for the National Poetry Series and nominated for the Lenore Marshall Award from the Academy of American Poets. His latest book, To See the Earth Before the End of the World, was published by Wesleyan University Press in the fall of 2010. A recipient of the Lila Wallace Writers' Award and the 2008 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, he is Distinguished Artist in Residence at Northwestern University. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 169
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Tacuma Roeback is a writer and life-lover from Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications like the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, WarpLand: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, and the SAGE Encyclopedia of Identity. Roeback has a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Chicago State University. Check him out at his blog: fabmanramblings.tumblr.com.
Sally Rusk grew up in Tucson, Arizona and has taught at Pueblo High School for 21 years. She loves her job because she learns from and is continually inspired by her students and their commitment to social justice. She currently teaches 2 American History--Chicano Perspectives classes, one American Government class, and 2 bilingual World History classes.
Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio Northern University, Claude Clayton Smith is the author of seven books. His latest work of creative nonfiction is Ohio Outback (Kent State University Press, 2010). He is also co-editor/translator of The Way of Kinship: An Anthology of Native Siberian Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), with Alexander Vaschenko of Moscow State University. Photo: Ken Colwell
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 170
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Patricia Spears Jones is the author of three poetry collections Painkiller (2010) and Femme du Monde (2006) from Tia Chucha Press and The Weather That Kills (1994) from Coffee House Press and two chapbooks Mythologizing Always and Repuestas! She has a MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College. She has taught at Poets House, St. Mark‘s Poetry Project, Cave Canem‘s New York City Workshop, Parsons School of Design, Sarah Lawrence College, and summer courses at Naropa University, Pine Manor College, University of Rhode Island, and is scheduled for Manhattanville College, summer 2011. Her website is www.psjones.com.
Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem Fellow, Bianca Spriggs, is a freelance instructor of composition, literature, and creative writing. She holds degrees from Transylvania University and the University of Wisconsin. A recent recipient of an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, Bianca Spriggs is the author of Kaffir Lily (Wind Publications) and How Swallowtails Become Dragons (Accents Publishing). Photo: Rebecca Gayle Howell Enzo Silon Surin is a Haitian-born poet, writer, playwright, advocate and the author of Higher Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2006), which was nominated for the Massachusetts Book Award. His work has appeared in Reverie: Midwest African
American Literature, Freshwater, The Caribbean Writer, Pine Island Journal of New England Poetry, among other literary
journals. He currently lives in Massachusetts where he cofounded and serves as an editor of the Bunker Hill Bridge: a Literary Journal of Bunker Hill Community College and heads the literacy initiative INKp.a.l.s, a project aimed at using poetry as a tool to increase literacy and affect social change. Photo: Kenny Chung CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 171
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Tammy Tillotson lives in Chase City, Virginia with her husband and two small tireless boys. She earned her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hollins University. Her awardwinning poetry appears and is forthcoming online and in several anthologies, though it often gets returned or lost in the mail.
Afaa Michael Weaver (b. Michael S. Weaver) is a poet, playwright, short fiction writer, translator, editor, and journalist. Afaa has been a Pew fellow and taught in Taiwan as a Fulbright scholar. He has received an NEA, a Pushcart prize, the May Sarton Award, and the the PDI Award in playwriting. His tenth collection of poetry is The Plum Flower Dance (U Pitt 2007) and his eleventh collection is Kama i‘reeh (Like the Wind) (2010 Kalima Project) a translation of his work into Arabic. Afaa works on translation projects in contemporary Chinese poetry and teaches at Simmons College. His website is: www.afaamweaver.com. Photo: Lynda Koolish
Leon Weinmann's poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The Antioch Review, Boston Review, and Blackbird. He has just finished his first book of poems, Mortal Forms, and is at work on a book of essays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 172
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Norman Waksler has published fiction in a number of journals, most recently Storyquarterly, Madison Review, Chaffin Journal, Edgar, and Epicenter. His most recent story collection, Signs of Life is published by the Black Lawrence Press. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For a nice picture of his Cairn Terrier, Glennis, as well as further information, see his website, Normanwakslerfiction.com. Photo: Frances Waksler
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 173
Tidal Basin Press, LLC Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010, Washington, DC
Published on Apr 5, 2011
In The Black Issue (Spring 2011 E-Issue), enjoy the creative works of 30 talented writers, 18 of them responding to the national phenomena o...