Saturday, November 29, 2014

from White Noise; White Lies: A Closet Drama (in progress)

Scene: A Bar with $40 drink minimum at the Ronald Reagan Airport

Status: “Subject exhibits a fast mind that used to be called brilliant…

Quo: “It still could be called that…

Status: “But that’s no longer a compliment. It’s as worthless now as the kind of work ethic that earns an honest buck…

Quo: Well, we can’t tell him we think that way…

Status: We can’t tell him we know it’s true, much less that we make it true….

Quo: Ha ha! Yes, leave him back in his illusions of his earnest mission, his self-betterment through the liberal arts!

Status: What we used to call arts and letters, and sometimes put on the news…

Quo: You mean like when our green grandfathers let Malcolm X on TV to rave and lambast the white devil we called the voice of common sense….

Status: But it backfired…he came off way too rational….

Quo:  And even entertaining…

Status: He had our guys cowering…

Quo: So we had to make sure no one that articulate (by our own standards) for that cause would ever be allowed to speak again….

Status: We still haven’t totally pulled that off…

Quo: But we’re getting closer. We gotta take a bow here. We did a pretty good job of ensuring that what they felt was their calling, their essence, their vocation or career even would be seen as a mere orgy of thoughts dancing in an inconsequential echo chamber…..Ah, yes. All his carefully revised sticthing and unstitching, his seductive raps or resume would now be merely a sinful orgy that knows know just moderation…

Status: Yes, we did a good job of feeding them McDonald’s so of course he’d grow up to spend more time in our hospitals that advertise THRIVE!

Quo: McDonald’s, or a PhD or a 5 star review  in Pitchfork…it’s all the same “happy meal….”

Status: And now that they’re so thoroughly defeated, we can retrain them, reprogram them….

Quo: why even bother? They’re damaged goods. We can wait a few more years when their kids (from ages 3 to 18) will only have our voices to listen to!

Status: Yes, to get them in the ward where we’re the doctors

Voice From Speaker System
You think this is the future, but it’s already happened

Quo: What did he say?

Voice From Speaker…
Flight 1984, now arriving at Gate 4 with a stopover in St. Louis

Status: I think they’re calling my plane

Quo: Where are you going?

Status: To crush those protestors in Ferguson. Did you hear how those white guys named Anonymous recently exposed the KKK, as if they’re trying to recreate the Deacons for Self Defense or something?

Quo: Yes, but it’s not like I was banking on the KKK to carry us across. They were only plan C….

Status: Plan F actually….

Quo: We’re working on many fronts….

Status: Indeed, by any means necessary….

Quo: Ha ha, that’s good one. I love the way you take that phrase they wear on t-shirts and use it against them

Status: Only we can back it up….

Quo: You’re going to Saint Louis?

Status: It’s just a stop over. I won’t leave the airport, just transfer en route to HQ in LA. I don’t have to be on the ground. Hell, I don’t even have to be in LA, except I got kids there. I can work from the plane just as easily. I can even moonlight and help the Israelis take over the Gaza Strip and gentrify Jerusalem while I’m at it….and help that new mayor of Oakland with her push for the kind of “affordable” housing that can price out the undesirables….and scatter the blacks from the potentially threatening (to us) compact inner city neighborhoods just like we drove the citizens of St. Louis way out of town into Ferguson….but even that wasn’t enough to separate and dispirit them……yet!

Quo: Affordable!! Yes, you’re a brilliant user of language!

Status: I learned that at the K-Street Think Tank, straight from the Center for Consumer Freedom!

Quo: You’ve always loved the frictionless flow of capital….

Status: Globalization, baby!

Quo: The new diaspora…

Status: I hear some are on to it; they call it the new Jim Crow….

Quo: One guy even called it the new Dr. James Crowe, Data Analyst….but they’re still scratching the surface……really, it’s the new Mercy

Status: Yes, The new Slave Ship called Mercy, like the one that rescued Phillis Wheatly from her pagan land….and brought her to our secular land with "In God We Trust” plastered all over the devalued currency we let the peasants use once we “freed” them….

Quo: Okay, see you later, bye…

Status: I don’t buy. I sell. Let them buy, and think they make!

Quo: Yes, let them buy even if they have to die to do so….

Status: We can make another killing! (the two clink glasses)

Quo:  Who do you work for anyway?

Status: For the news media and the developers…but I’ll work for the government too, and the bankers and HMOS…or even the Government in its quest to divest itself for our benefit… They are trying to learn from us, and be more like us…..and they’ve come a long way….

Quo: You’ve always loved that revolving door!

SCENE: LA, Studio of UCN (United Cable News)

SR (speaking into cell phone): Did you find some fearful white folks there? Or do we have to stage a scene? (phone voice on other end). Good to hear. I knew there would be some to go around! Let’s go with the one about the insurance man who bought a gun….just in case….He’s got a great quote about why those who aren’t afraid are stupid!. (phone voice on other end)…..and make sure not to interview any of the demonstrators, especially that Ashley Yates (phone voice)….Yes, I know that Bassem Massri guy will try to shout over the woman we hired to play the role of a reporter….but don’t worry we’ll just edit it out on our end
Nah, you don’t have to interview the KKK. Let the Coyote network do that, and you don’t have to make up this New Black Panther Party thing. We must appear more level headed. Yes, the ex-mayor and his “I Love Ferguson” campaign…that’s a good one. He’s folksy, and seems sympathetic…..some of his best friends are black….wait, let me put you on speaker phone….
PV: .but the protestors are onto the fact that he just wants to increase property value…
SR: But the rest of the country doesn’t have to…don’t worry, we won’t give this nearly as much air time as the story about Bill Cosby, or other black men, living or dead, on trial for sexual abuse….but don’t worry even if we don’t run with your stories, you’ll still get a handsome Kill Fee as if we did….
PV: I’m working on an exclusive with Darren Wilson’s new wife!
SR: You know he’s now a millionaire after the non-indictment.
PV: I bet she’s gonna buy some cool stuff….
SR: Great! Great!___
Location, guy’s locker room, Downtown Oakland YMCA
Willie (a retired 70-something black Vietnam vet)
Ron (a 60 something black man who teaches ESL part time to the children of Asian Immigrants and Refugees)
Lou (a 40 something white college teacher)
Bart (a 40 something white Bus driver)
W: The media coverage of Ferguson shows that the power structure has a stake in keeping people confused and divided, to prevent any ground swell of organizing unity…
R: How?
W: For instance, they make it seem like the protestors burnt the church where Michael Brown’s family went; they make them seem like looters, and make the looters seem like protestors…
R: They do kind of overlap
W: But they’re different….many of the looters are anarchists
L:  …and white anarchists at that
W: They’re not really down with the struggle
B: But some think they are…
W: breaking into a paint store so they can spray-paint “Fuck The Police” on the walls of a black owned coffee shop whose windows they smashed?
B:  Not all of them do stuff like that
L: But I know quite a few who do: “Fuck the police. Burn down indiscriminately. Destroy!”
W: They have no plan, no strategy. And choose the wrong targets…
R: I went to some of their protests for Oscar Grant or during Occupy. They really didn’t want an older man around…
W: Especially an older black man
L: My students told me they feel as threatened by these white anarchists as they do by the cops…
R: They’re just as bad as the cops. In some ways, worse
W: I wouldn’t be surprised if they work for the same people….there’s a long history of coming at us from two seemingly opposite sides
B: Do you have any proof they’re doing that now?
R: It doesn’t really make a difference, whether I do or not….
B:  Yes, it does. It would make your point more convincing to the skeptic….
R: Not really, because the result is the same. Blame the angry black men and women, blame the victim….
W: There’s got to be something we can do with all this anger and despair
R: We’re working on it. Even now, by talking about it…
W: But first you gotta accept that the white folks looting are much more destructive…
L: When it comes to burning and looting, there’s a double standard. Hell, a baseball team wins the world series, and that can get white people burning and lootin….
R: But a cop shoots a black man and the media starts talking about how whites are afraid of looting before it ever happens……
W: And remember when the news showed that picture of the white couple waste deep up in water during Katrina with a bag of groceries they ”found” to survive before they’re rescued or the water subsides…..but they can show basically the same picture…with a black man….and they call it “looting.”
L: this is systematic…this is what I try to teach my students, or air out and legitimize their anger about it if they already think it’s true. I try to get them to express this anger in ways that might be able to persuade whites….
W: And white folks might listen to you more than they’re ever listen to me…
L:  I don’t know….I don’t think I can convince some of the white anarchists they’re not helping….I’m so frustrated and pissed off about them
B: They really think that they’re rebelling, and burning in solidarity…
L: Like those Oaksterdam stoners with the Bob Marley t-shirts doing their bruning man ecstatic dances to “Burning and Looting….”
B: Or that old Clash song. “White riot, I wanna riot! White riot, want a riot of my own….”
L: Oh god, I used to think that song was so deep… “Black man’s got a lot of problems, but they don’t mind throwin a brick/ white people go to school, where they teach you all to be sick, and everybody’s doing, just what they’re told to….and no one wants to go to jail…. “ As if throwing a brick or going to badge of some kind of honor….
R: Or they just want some free Thanksgiving turkey….
B: I know a few of them who teach Psychology at UC Berkeley, and put out a call for academic papers about why Riot is better, and more pure, than Rebellion…and they don’t get fired for their support of incendiary anti-establishment actions….
L: I know some of these people. They think they got freedom of speech. But they’re only allowed to say this because they have the same enemy as the power structure does….
W: Just like in the 60s when white kids protested the draft….
R: and some even spit on black soldiers….
W: All they did was help privatize the government…to make our vote more useless…..just like the right wing had been trying to do…
L: Yeah, these anarchists may think they’re so radical, more radical than the protestors, because they’re against negotiation….
B:  You’re just talking about the ones who think about it….others just wanna throw a brick….
R: But the property owners don’t really mind—like that landlord who got caught burning his own property down….
L: It was a good way to get the people to leave the rent controlled building he couldn’t evict them from…so he could build a new building with government subsidies and bring in others who could pay more rent…
W: It’s ethnic cleansing. They’re trying to drive us out of compact neighborhoods close to the centers of commerce in the big cities….They have felt threatened by it, by us, for years…but now they’re stepping up actually doing something about it…
R: It was a long term plan…
W: And that’s what they’re trying to do in Ferguson too…Many people who live there were already pushed out of Saint Louis proper….who needs tanks or an army if you can just price people out with rents?
R: Just like San Francisco and Oakland. Ferguson is just like Richmond….the Richmond of St. Louis…
W: And Richmond is trying to organize against Chevron, which in its own way is as much of a killer as the police…
R: And Richmond and Ferguson are still too threatening to people like Chevron. They must scatter us even more….
L: That’s why they gerrymander the districts
W: I vote, but it don’t mean shit. Gentrification is the deeper than gerrymandering….
R: They’re taking what property we’ve fought for…this dispersion, or new phase of the Diaspora, is exactly what you’re seeing in Ferguson….Here in the bay area, it’s not as violent, blatant martial law as it’s been in Ferguson since August 9th….that’s really the only difference…but that’s only coz we haven’t stood up
W: It’s just as violent here, and some invisible wounds prove as fatal and crippling as 12 gunshots from a cop. It’s just harder to get on camera….”
R: But the bigger point is that it’s not just the corrupt cops. It’s the corrupt District Attorney, who was clearly biased in favor of the cop he was supposed to be prosecuting……the whole damn kangaroo court system…the governor, the attorney general….all the way up…
L: And the news media who clearly sides with the cops and puts forth an image of the Poor White Victim, and the Black Bogeyman, in the kangaroo court of public opinion…
R: That’s why they brought Bill Cosby up when all this was going down…
W: Even my wife agrees with me about that one. Even if Cosby did rape these women, why paint a target on him much bigger than the target you paint on whites accused of the same crimes…
R: Like Woody Allen….
W: …and notice how they often get black women to be the ones reporting it in the news…
R: Why? I bet the fact that he tried to buy NBC a few years back has something to do with it….
L: Yeah, just like the second James Brown started buying radio stations, the power structure stepped up their plan to destroy him….
R: that’s part of it. Cosby, and Brown—and any strong black man with money—becomes a threat to the establishment.
W: Ironically, he’s more of a threat for the same reason we used to criticize him a s a sell out, or even a Tom,  as if he wasn’t “black enough” on The Cosby Show
R: He did help humanize the black family man to the sick Racist mind of white America….he was helping a healing process….
W: Not as much as Malcom X, or Chuck D. or Shock E…”
R: I’m not defending Cos….Whatever you think of him, or the black and brown folks in that catcall video that white guy named Bliss made which edited out the white sexual harassers…..
W: The main point is that all this stuff was really useful in helping them change the national discussion about Ferguson into blaming the victim for not being purely spotless, inhuman and flawless….precisely because it seemed to have nothing to do with the killing of Michael Brown, and the violent crackdown on protestors….
L: it’s played into White Fear which could flip the script so Darren Wilson, the cop on trial, would become the victim….It’s all so interconnected.
W: They want us out of here….though we may be allowed back in the city after a 50 mile commute if we work as janitors for them….They wanna scatter, and divide us….Even when they divided our families up back in plantation days, we were still too close to each other in Hush Harbors to organize….
R: They have more power over us in Prisons than they did in plantations. It’s much harder to organize…..
W: Every time we come closer to having some say about the land we live on, they found some way to take it away. Wars were always fought about that; their search for a warm water port….They brought our grandparents to Oakland to work here, and then realized even in the ghettos, we were able to claim too much. Then they realized they made a mistake and wanted them back. They didn’t need us to work anymore….they got Chinese slave labor for that.
B: They’re shooting themselves in the foot and don’t even know it. Maybe the protestors in Ferguson are helping them know it. Their message is clear.
L: But the media is covering it with static, white noise. Like the cops, the media has been licking its lips, patting themselves on the backside, when some looting broke out. It’s what they wanted. It makes “better news.”…more ratings. More dollars….Mumia calls it Fear TV
R: You give the media too much credit. They’d get more advertising dollars even if they didn’t get ratings. Ratings don’t matter as much as you think….
B: Just like the Dow Jones average going up doesn’t help the economy…..
L: If anything it makes it worse….: The only true demands the media serves are the advertisers….Looting only makes better TV because Hollywood made people think violence is more exciting than negotiation…
B: I still think looting has a place. We can’t demonize the looters. We’re not necessarily smarter than any of them…
W: But you do need to get your definitions straight….How do you define outside agitator?
L: Nyles Fort, by my definition is not an outside agitator, but some of the looters are.
R: The media purposely blurs that line…and so many of these white self-proclaimed radicals….
B: or the anarchists….
R: just can’t conceive, much less understand what black folk are fighting for. In many ways, they’re like those SDSers that Gil Scott Heron criticized in Comment #1
W: What Martin Luther King said about the “White moderate” he saw in the clergy 50 years ago, and those Smiling Facers in those early 70s soul songs, is at least as true of the “White Anarchist” today…..and that really pisses me off…
L: SO any update or rewrite of Letter From Birmingham Jail would have to mention the shallow understanding of the white RADICAL, along with the moderate MLK criticizes
R: …or the KPFA [Pacifica] liberals…beneath much of their high talk is the simple fact that they can’t let themselves be part of a movement that is primarily lead by blacks…!”
L: Exactly, whether they know it or not, they’re being used to help break up the movement before it has a chance to grow…
B: But aren’t you forgetting that this is first and foremost about Michael Brown?
R: No… But we need to find new ways to fight the media, to get the truth on the media…
W: Oh, damn, there’s more helicopters…
R: The white anarchists in Oakland are at it again…
W: I better get home before they block off the freeway…

R: Maybe they’ll go after a real target today….and help make the message clearer….

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Notes On A Failed (But Published) Love Poem: A Dialogue Between Man & Muse?

Since I ask students to write a self-analysis of their work, I felt I should try my hand at it, so I open my last full length book of poetry to a random page to find a piece I write over a decade ago to analyze. My first thought is. “Damn, I didn’t choose one of my better poems,” though there must have been a time when I did believe this was better, worthy enough of inclusion in a book, choosing it over many other possibilities. I dedicated it to my girlfriend, so I must’ve thought it was something special, but it makes me kinda cringe now! As the notion of the “author” is an abstraction we create from a piece of writing, I imagine a dialogue:

He: “Honey! Here’s a love poem I wrote just for you. I never did this before. But you have helped me be less bitter and cynical about love and “I got to praise you like I should” (breaks into that song sampled by Fat Boy Slim circa 1999, dancing around the room)

She: (smiling, with a warm glow in her face, and sparkle in her eyes): Can I see it?
With a little embarrassed trepidation, he hands it to her….
She (reading): Are you sure this is the right one? It’s called “No More Pesticides.” That doesn’t seem very loving to me….

He: I know. That’s kinda weird. But, see, two negatives make a positive! I’m saying you’re not a pesticide, that I don’t need those toxic pesticides anymore, thanks to you!

She: Does that mean I’m a pest?

He: No! Not at all, but it does mean you’re helping me turn over a new leaf, and letting myself be more natural!

She: (reading): There are little white clouds growing out the sky today…
                        The way buds spring from a tree in shoot.
                         I like the first line. It’s more gentle than those “Darth Vadar” poems you
                         Wrote to those other women. It’s kind of cute, the bright little words, the
                          Subtle alliteration….I like your use of the verb “growing.”….But that
                          Second line is clunky, with its unnecessary and distracting inversion….
                           It’s a bad joke, not even clever.
                          Why couldn’t you just let yourself be simple and say:
                          The way buds shoot from a tree in spring?

He: I didn’t want to be cliché….I was reading Fanny Howe

She: That’s an occupational hazard, a tic, you got to learn to let go of…

He:  But then they wouldn’t call it poetry anymore….

She:  Who’s they?.....I do like the image of clouds being like blossoms in spring. It shows those tender feelings you have for me. It makes me tingle like I’m feeling your fingers, but that damn inversion makes it harsher. “In shoot?” Like it’s just about blowing your wad, the money shot! You need to embrace the heavenly labials and get out of your world of gutterals (as Stevens says)….

He: I’m sorry….what do you think of the next lines?
       By tonight, they may be in full flower
      And even fall in the form of rain.

She: I feel like you’re giddy in anticipation of meeting your lover----presumably me—in a few hours….

He: Yeah, that sounds pretty good….

She: But in the next line, but the sky is not a tree-   you take away everything you already gave (not that it was much). It’s all that damn Ashbery….erasure….

He:   But even if I say, the sky is not a tree, can’t you still picture a sky, and a tree?

She:  Yes….are you the sky and I the tree?

He:    It could be the opposite. I don’t want to fall into the literary cliché of sky gods and earth mothers….

She:   Or the philosophical cliché of men as the phallic tree of materialism and women as
           Space, as spirit?

He: Yeah, that too….

She:    You and your fear of cliches….

He:    I wanted to give you something that couldn’t be digested in one sitting, something you’d want to, even have to, return to over and over, something that tickles your intellect so you feel my presence on your long journey away from me….

She (reading): though it has
Roots beneath the ground on which you walk
Or from which you grow, extended.
It seems like you’re taking pains to write all this just to say “I am your world” or you see what you love about the sky in me….even that I am both nature and culture!...
But that is just a really clunky way of putting it…..EXTENDED???? You don’t know how abrasive your words can be, like Shoot, and Pesticide. You’re really groping and struggling here…

He: It’s really embarrassing…..but do you like it better when I sang it?

She: I do like the song better, but mostly because you change it, and add that beautiful ending…..Hold me, forgotten, where I wasn’t no I couldn’t dream….I just love the way you sing that even if I don’t know what you mean….I hear the warmth and longing….
But I have to say this poem doesn’t come close to the sweet nothings you’ve whispered to me. It’s formal and stiff, and not even witty. I’ll take John Donne’s compas metaphor any day over this…..!

He: Well, that’s only the first stanza….can the other two verses redeem it for you?

She: Okay, I’ll keep reading. But this is tiring, and getting me out of the mood for you. It’s taking more from me, and not giving anything back…

He: (reading it to her, trying to use his most sincere, earnest, show, low, voice):
       Still the weather forecasters say the cloud
Has come from the west,
Is part of a pressure system approaching
Like a conquering army invading
The baby blue innocence of the sky,
The bare tree under which there’s no shade.

She: That’s an interesting little metaphysical argument about perception, like a poor man’s cliff notes of Merleau Ponty or something, but what’s love got to do with it?
I see you’re back to the clouds again, the clouds of your desire or lust or longing….

He: Yes, that tingling feeling, those feelings that aren’t just in me, but the way I feel
       Now that we’re together, even when we’re apart….

She: But what see and feel these words express most is your fear of me as a threatening other, like a pest, that is getting worse, like a conguering army…

He: But I’m denying, refuting, that interpretation. That’s what those weather forecasters think. I’m saying how they’re map is wrong, how their myth of where the cloud comes from is wrong. Their so called science is a false language, and it doesn’t matter to predict what can happen. They don’t embrace the chance that is our love….I’m saying how I am, how we can be, different than them….
She: Methinks thou dost protest too much that you are not the dreaded “typical male” who can’t muster up the necessary negative capability necessary to truly love…….but your metaphor gives you away. You spend way too much time and passion talking about the very thing you wish to negate and distinguish youself from. It fails to convince me….

He: But maybe if you just thought of it as a picture. I mean, I’m just looking at a cloud as it’s forming, as the moisture in the air is condensing to form a visible, if mutable, shape, and wanting to share the beauty of that tender solitary moment with you. That most poetic feeling of wonder! Just think: before I met you, the sky was clear, all too clear, and empty and lonely before I met you…but you have brought cute little clouds into my life, and brought me back in touch with innocence and the possibility of higher innocence…

She: And they may turn stormy by tonight

He: And I’ll love that as much as any pleasant partly sunny day….I wrote this in NYC. Remember our post-thunderstorm kisses on Lexington at 11PM?

She: How could I forget?.....Yet….you could’ve put it in better words…and why do you hate the weathermen so much….

He: They try to crush us with their metanarratives! And reduce out connection. They’re like those who say the earth isn’t the center of the universe, that the sun is the center, and not even of the universe, but merely of a solar system….they wish to make us feel small….

She” I don’t mind feeling small…besides, the earth ISN’t the center of the universe, it goes around the sun….everybody knows that….

He:   But that’s not the way it feels….

She: Okay, I get that, but if feeling’s so important, you must realize your reader may feel like you’re calling her a high pressure system, a conquering army….

He:   But what you’re conquering needs to FALL; that’s why they say falling in love. I don’t need a weatherman to tell me I’ve fallen for you…..

She: Do you realize how ridiculous this is…..and cold. It’s cold, or barren like the hottest desert….

He:  Maybe that’s the point….

She: The poem has to be cold to show how cold you’d be without me?

He:   I’m sorry…..Well, maybe the third stanza can redeem it….I try to bring it back to what you’ve given me, and what you teach me…..and let whatever tension was there unwind in soothing comfort that feels that it must yeild before the wisdom of a child:
         The sky knows better, the tree knows better
And so if you ask me about
The sunset we watched last night
I can only remember its beauty in the form of you
Who teaches me how airbrushed
The clearest skies are
In postcards of this city
Your parents bought for you to send them

She: It sounds like you’re making fun of my parents

He:  That’s not what I meant. I love your parents…I meant to praise you.

She: How?

He:  Isn’t it obvious

She: No

He: I loved when you told me about those postcards. I thought it was sweet that your parents brought them for you. That gesture suggests so many touching kindnesses for me, so many possibilities for us, and what we could be……I mean, in a way, my poem is like giving you a postcard too….
She: Except yours doesn’t airbrush the clouds! Is that your point?

He: Yes, and our love does not, will not, airbrush or photoshop the clouds, the beautiful clouds….of sickness or of health….

She: I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

He: Me, too, like from above when on a plane flying from California while you were on a plane flying from NYC….

She: So we could meet in the middle….in New Orleans….

He: Yes!....and see Ernie K. Doe…..sing “Mother In Law”

She: And Fats Waller play “I wish that I were Twins….” On Valentine’s Day…

He: Yes (embracing her; long mutually empowering kiss)

She…..But that ain’t in the poem…

He: …..there’s only so much you can put in a postcard. It’s in us though; I left the other side blank for you to write or draw on….

She: And I sent you an anthropomorphic heart with a mouth and eyes, and legs…

He: I loved that….it makes me terribly sad

She: Why?

He: Coz I know it was better than my poem…

She: You can still write another

He: But I can tell you like my love songs better….”La La La Means I Love You.”

She: I thought you said you weren’t trying to airbrush our love!

He: No more dispersants!

She: No use crying over spilled oil…..