Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dear Ai

I love you. Seriously. If there's ever any chance you're reading this, I'd like you to know that I love you. The following poem is yours and I have a few things to say about it and getting a education afterwards which I hope you might sympathize with.

Riot Act, April 29, 1992

I'm going out and get something.
I don't know what.
I don't care.
Whatever's out there, I'm going to get it.
Look in those shop windows at boxes
and boxes of Reeboks and Nikes
to make me fly through the air
like Michael Jordan
like Magic.
While I'm up there, I see Spike Lee.
Looks like he's flying too
straight through the glass
that separates me
from the virtual reality
I watch everyday on TV.
I know the difference between
what it is and what it isn't.
Just because I can't touch it
doesn't mean it isn't real.
All I have to do is smash the screen,
reach in and take what I want.
Break out of prison.
South Central homey's newly risen
from the night of living dead,
but this time he lives,
he gets to give the zombies
a taste of their own medicine.
Open wide and let me in,
or else I'll set your world on fire,
but you pretend that you don't hear.
You haven't heard the word is coming down
like the hammer of the gun
of this black son, locked out of this big house,
while massa looks out the window and sees only smoke.
Massa doesn't see anything else,
not because he can't,
but because he won't.
He'd rather hear me talking about mo' money,
mo' honeys and gold chains
and see me carrying my favorite things
from looted stores
than admit that underneath my Raider's cap,
the aftermath is staring back
unblinking through the camera's lens,
courtesy of CNN,
my arms loaded with boxes of shoes
that I will sell at the swap meet
to make a few cents on the declining dollar.
And if I destroy myself
and my neighborhood
ain't nobody's business, if I do,
but the police are knocking hard
at my door
and before I can open it,
they break it down
and drag me in the yard.
They take me in to be processed and charged,
to await trial,
while Americans forget
the day the wealth finally trickled down
to the rest of us.

A year or so back, in Poets and Writers, which I get for free from my department, I read an article on the death of political poetry. Well, no shit you think it's dead, I thought. The sheer weight of repetition killed it. Not the repetition of the motives, sliced and diced and repositioned so that the intent of the poem has been frittered away, but the repetition of the idea that being sophisticated means pretending that these kinds of things don't matter. Because if we all grow up to be jaded, we won't 'whine' or ever even talk about how life is not fair and should be changed, right? A real appreciation of life is one in which you never try to change anything, you just 'appreciate it' until it leaves you alone. You're supposed to write about something that troubles people and then castrate it until the urgency is gone by being self-consciously ironic in a way that guts the meaning. Oh woe is me that I notice.

This is the shit that handicaps poets and writers and is one of the main reasons why getting out the other end of an education makes it difficult to still make a point and why political poetry from an otherwise deft poet will shoot itself in the foot.

Fuck that. Fuck it without lube or a reach around. And no fucking cuddles afterwards, either. I ain't never growing up. There is no house too comfy, no program too busy teaching me perspective, no sneering dissection of my motives that is going to make me think that feeling like I have something to say is naive, that politics are useless and that I ought to STFU and write about something proper. I am not proper and proud of it. It's taken me 30 years to get as not proper as I am and I'm not giving up on it now.

Ai, if I may, I love you precisely for the fact that it's still there. That all the stuff you've written and I've read is still political and unabashedly violent, obscene, and holds up a mirror to shit without feeling compelled to ask during the poem, in an attempt to appear sophisticated, what's wrong with you for noticing. I fucking love you and I refuse to believe I'm being naive. I have something to say and I will make my fucking point any way I have to.

And this does not preclude self-examination or sophistication. Plus, I get to be obscene on occasion, which is totally bonus.

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