Thursday, May 29, 2014

For Brenda Hillman (#3)

For Brenda Hillman

I saw you in a store
The other day and I
Wanted to say hi
But started to cry
And had to hide.
You had faith in the work,
The poems, the essays,
The teaching, the talk
Even the music and saw
How it could all come
Together to serve, to create
A deeper community
In this land of the car.
You stood up for me
& strove to ease the
difficult transition.
I was green & I strove
to make you proud
to show I could speak
Shakespeare to impress
the others who didn’t want
or get the Harryman 
or Baraka.

I remember the challenging
Nurturing light you shone
Sustained me in the cold
Unfamiliarity of this post
9/11 place. We shared
Deep subversive Smiles,
as I tried to curb
the New York manners
Where it’s okay if someone
Talks over you because you
Know she’s listening too

And I remember the
Seemingly little things
Like the department meeting
With talk of using a building
The college had in downtown
Oakland as a kind of extension
Campus to serve the city
Community and you may
Remember how excited
That made me feel, and
That maybe someday
We’d have more clout
With the funders to help
Make that a reality. I didn’t

Know.... the terrain, what
You're up against, what
We're up against, especially
Once... the car hit...
And helpless, bedridden
On vicadin, the economy
Crashed so the rich could
Get richer…and I couldn’t

no, you can't turn back the hands of time to April 6, 2004....

My Stupid Little Sep Tepy Rant

“Spirituals were the blues too. You need a psychiatrist to figure that one out.”—
Dizzy Gillespie (To Be Or Not To Bop).

“I’m not anti-white, I’m just pro-black.”  Jack Gibson
(on being called a reverse racist because he didn’t believe Black Radio should start playing more white artists during the late 1970s)

I can say we need a cultural renaissance.
I can say rebirth is the same as birth: a new first time.
I can say America needs Sep Tepy.
I can say we are waiting for Sep Tepy,
But then a remember an old poem,
A standard of “Beat Poetry” from the 1950s
By Lawrence Felinghetti, called “I Am Waiting.”
He was waiting for a rebirth of wonder,
He was waiting for a renaissance of wonder in American culture.

When I first found this poem in the 1980s,
It was still considered contemporary poetry.
“I Am Waiting” seemed very profound when I was 18
And many of us did feel solidarity with this struggle
In the America of Reagan and Bush
And I championed its catalogue form,
Its sonic repetitions that could create a trance
Of public poetry, which was beginning to be called “spoken word”

But it was also very much of its time and culture,
A historical poem, since much had changed in 30 years.
I understood its historical relevance
In terms of what is often called “The New American Poetry”
And the challenges a new generation of writers
Posed to the staid, European cadences and formalism
Of the dominant academic poetry of its time.

One of the things Ferlingetti is waiting for
Is an American culture in which two famous mass-culture icons,
Elvis Presley and Billy Graham, could “exchange roles seriously.”
I felt that. It’s the same need that William Blake felt, and tried to meet,
When he wrote “The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell”
A need to overcome the dualism
Between the so-called sacred and the so-called secular,
Between religion and entertainment,
And even between soul and body, (or at least mind and body)—
This could create the cultural renaissance, the Sep Tepy

But one of the things Ferlinghetti couldn’t really hip me to,
One hunch that Amiri Baraka, another “New American Poet,”
confirmed, was that this Cultural Renaissance, this Sep Tepy,
was actually already happening, and was alive and well,
even in the Post-Slavery Traumatic Syndrome,
in the very Rhythm and Blues music that Ferlinghetti
obviously didn’t know much, or care much, about.

Yes, black people in America were already combining
These two roles in their art and their culture.
They were doing so in African culture before they arrived on these shows,
They were doing this during Slavery
They were doing this during Jim Crow
But had to pretend to divide the two
Or could only be understood as dividing the two
In the eyes of white American Culture.

When Ferlinghetti published this poem,
James Brown was doing it.
John Coltrane was doing it
Chuck Berry was doing it.
Martin Luther King was doing it.
Malcolm X was doing it.
Malcolm compared himself to Billy Graham.
Billy Graham was combining politics and religion.
Black folks knew that white religion
Was always an expression of white politics
Despite the “separation of church and state.”
And black people were always trying to create
A cultural renaissance, a true rebirth,
Of a cultur that understood that
Religion, entertainment, politics and art are one!
A true beginning, a first time—
Even if it had to mean destruction
Of “America as we know it” (Baraka).

This is the beauty of African-American cultural history
That is still unfolding today if not crushed by hostile external forces
That tell us it’s not happening,
That make us feel we need to be waiting
For what is already happening
Or you could be nourishing these seeds
Planted at The East-side Arts Alliance
Or in the Gospel Music of Lenora Johnson
Or in the movement that helped Ras Baraka
Become Mayor of Newark, or local music
And art you will not yet hear in the corporate media
But may hear on KPOO
Or poetry that may be written about in The New York Times
But only by taking away the spirit that actually makes it Sep Tepy,
And not just the wing of a few now scattered isolated individuals
Like a poet-laureate of the nation’s first black president
Who will soon be history
Just like the “Cultural Renaissance” that books
And talking heads of literary history tell us
America actually managed to find
In the great heroic era now enshrined in the
Mostly-white Beat Museum.

5. 27. 14 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

A homeless man asked me to kill him today.
I didn’t know he was homeless at first.
There’s an illusion of democracy in the water-walking lane of the pool.
No dumpy clothes, and the cleanliness and chlorine.
And when we began to speak, we spoke with reason
And he didn’t seem particularly wide-eyed
As we spoke about culture mostly.
Literature, music, gentrification
And the United States’ attempt to overthrow
The government of Venezuela.
He spoke of the things he learned from his students
And I could tell he was a great teacher—
Brilliant, open-minded and humble—
The kind I wish I had had, or tried to be
And when our time in the pool was through,
I saw him limp over to the hot-tub
Where the retirees were making talk
About their day-to-day lives: their bodies,
Their gardens, their cars and their kids
And I saw him turn in on himself.
Outside, I saw him again. I tried to smile.
I could feel his shame. It kept my mind off mine.
I didn’t know what to say. I asked him
What he has planned for the day.
He said, he didn’t know. I shouldn’t have asked him
What would I say if he had asked me the same thing?
That’s when he asked me to kill him.
It was barely a whisper, but I could hear it.
I wanted to ask him the same thing.
A homeless man asked me to kill him today
And I’m not strong enough to do it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

...(i can't afford a gravestone)--written on facebook

I can't afford a gravestone,
don't believe we should be buried in a box
(as we too often are forced to live alas),
but I kinda like the idea of an epitaph
(since I can't afford to make a will
or find a literary executor)
and perhaps that's what all these tweets are for
to prepare--to master the pithy form,
the short status update I always sucked at
(unless of course mere witty quip)--
to sum up a spirit from the grave...
"I could have done much better--
the soul we shared in classrooms was as close as it got"
It was never a dead lecture, never a ghost
and yes I could do much better--
there's some writings that point,
some unfinished puzzle pieces
that don't make sense without the lives
but this ain't about the shed skins
that you may discover and call "Chris" after I die
it's to be worthy...of your beauty
and, yes, your righteous purpose...
and be a vessel...

Monday, May 5, 2014



All art is collaborative, even when it doesn’t seem so….
Often, if not necessarily always, in artistic collaboration,
There is a struggle of temperaments, visions or ideologies.
Sometimes it comes as anger, other times as music.

May you have a moment of ideological clarity
And fall back into the reality of the private ghetto
Of the bourgeois creations your editors shaped for you?

And not merely in writing, or performing
The Apollonian fetish, the stoic creation of sublime objects?
There is more of a glut of that than ever
And it’s not beautiful to you
Because it has the wrong politics, and vice versa

And beauty is never a purely aesthetic issue.
True. Some say, “It’s bad for my soul, my health, my survival,
But it’ beautiful!” Or, “Okay, it’s ugly. But I love it
And get along better with it than all your so-called beauty.”
And have you accomplished anything of lasting,
Useful, collective (even revolutionary) value in your “art identity?”