Nothing left but the lines on the page the
surface of the yard or all the green that pops
up from the ground I’ve never seen so right
there’s nothing left but crossed wires the
firmament of gel or what I mean is jealousy
not gel it was a way to go get something the
lines in the skypage of this dream where did
that plane go the one whose tail the image
caught whose lives in these houses I only know
there are people there I don’t know anything
I see I don’t want to see I don’t care for
those things oh OK I understand all the lines
moving toward one another an emphatic bow
fixated on the powerhouse too far to leave the
image I only have the image it’s all I have and
the house house all the house houses in the middle
somewhere like a tongue and beyond that a bay with
boats with masts and a sail stuck in the back
hitting the flap it’s sadness that prohibits naming
it’s anger that demands naming I’d like what
we call each other to happen somewhere
the street in front of the house house slipping
Tony Robinson, Shot Dead, a young man, African American, Just Down the Street
But it’s not just down the street
And we are these people standing in front of the house
What do we do? Clap in unity, speak at the same time, become a body to gather strength
Who must we speak to in order to say, my body is not my body, my voice is not my voice
We don’t want this particularity
Obama began his speech yesterday at the Tribal Nations Conference by addressing the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police that killed Eric Garner.
But Obama didn’t say anything about the police that killed Eric Garner. He said something about the police that “interacted” with him.
Why is it so hard to say? Police killed Eric Garner.
It is hard for me to say somehow. It doesn’t sound right; it doesn’t sit right.
This is not because I don’t believe that it’s true or believe that it’s possible. It’s not because I don’t believe it at all. In fact, I believe with all of my self–a self that is not hardly singular, a self that has never once believed in the de facto goodness of the police or the government or authorities more generally–in fact, I believe that it is precisely the police, law enforcement, the military, and the country whose name is attached to those whose job it is to “control”; it is precisely this place and these bodies that are asked and trained to control (kill) black men specifically; it is precisely the police and history of policing that killed Eric Garner.
And Michael Brown.
And Malice Green.
And . . . and . . . and . . .
I’ve been italicizing believe because it was a word that jumped out at me when listening to Obama’s speech: “I am absolutely committed as president of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.”
What do we make of having a president who is committed to having everybody believe this? Are we going to believe it as an end point? Because we’ve seen it to be true? Or does he imagine we must believe it first in order for it to become real?
The problem is that belief is precisely what is not enough. There is a gap between what we say, what we believe, and the enforcement of the law.
The gap between what we say, what we believe, and the enforcement of the law is measured by the dead (killed) bodies of black men.
Everybody does not believe that we are equal under the law. Every body does not believe we should be. Some bodies think they ought to be bigger than the law, and that is because they are the law and so they get to decide (consciously or not) how big the law is.
Police are taken by and given the power of the glory of the law to subdue and kill someone in the street.
Some of us kill people because we believe we’ve been given permission to do so. It turns out, we’re right. We have.
Yesterday was a lovely day for the Madison Pride Parade. It was a bit understated, as most things that might be flashy in Madison are–a lot of humbly dressed and kind-looking folks rather than the fireworks of pride that might come with a bigger city–but that’s alright. It was totally sweet and, actually, more than sweet. I was moved to tears. That might be saying more about me than the parade, but it also might be saying something about the parade and what it can mean to witness people moving down the middle of a street together on behalf of desire–a desire for desire, a desire for recognition–and to be a part of that, to be one of those who delight in watching the display.
I really love most parades.
I also want to say a thing about crying at the demonstration for Palestine in Dearborn several weeks ago, how I told my friends that I probably wouldn’t be chanting but they should go further into the crowd to chant, and then at some point, I wanted to chant and also cry and so I did both.
“Show me show me show me how you do that trick the one that makes me scream she said the one that makes me laugh she said,” where those lyrics are usually about romantic love, but “parade” and “demonstration” have so much they want to show and so much that needs to be seen, and I, like the girl in “Just Like Heaven,” want to see more; want for the one who’s done the cart-wheel or played the tuba to show me more, for the men on the steps of Dearborn City Hall to be on one another’s shoulders, wear V-for-Vendetta masks, painted like the Palestinian flag, to show us. And this is to say something about my desire to see others showing themselves when they are asked to carry their erasure.
Sometimes I want to say, oh my god, it’s such a small world. And I do. I say this after running into people I never expected to. But then it seems, this is not really true. The world, as it is, is not particularly small.
Since traveling over the past month, visiting London, Bologna, and now Detroit (my hometown), I have bumped into the following people:
1. Bhanu Kapil, a poet who lives in Colorado, at the Tate Britain in London
2. Dave Zohrob, someone who used to be a DJ at WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, at a coffee shop in Detroit (he lives in New York)
3. Casey Girardin, one of my very best friends from childhood, at Sinbad’s, a restaurant on the water in Detroit (well, my parents ran into her, but same difference)
4. Lewis, a person I used to be a bus driver with for Ann Arbor Public Schools, who is a security guard at the Whole Foods in Detroit
[Me and Bhanu with a Francis Bacon triptych far in the background. The class I took with her at Naropa was about triptychs and Bacon’s in particular. We were stormed by the magic of our encounter.]
I realized that another way to understand these run-ins, rather than saying “it’s such a small world!”, is as the consequence of having moved a lot and, I think, having jumped from one class to another. Or, if I haven’t jumped, these run-ins can be thought of as one outcome of having lived at the intersection of working-class neighborhoods, jobs, and public education on the one hand, and relatively elite education and artistic communities on the other. (Understanding these scenes as distinct produces a number of problems, especially since most poets I know do not understand themselves as part of an elite anything, but it’s important to understand that I take the time and pleasure to make this blog post. I can take the time and pleasure to write and read poems and I have the education to know what that is, how that might happen, and that there are conversations about poetry that go far beyond my own intervention. I am not isolated. In this way, I am not an outsider.) I also “ran into” several people I went to high school with when I went to my 15-year high school reunion for Roeper, an undoubtedly elite private high school, which was the third high school I went to, after attending Renaissance in Detroit and Stevenson in Livonia. Basically, it should be clear, that I have covered some serious Metro-Detroit ground.
Expansive and strange, strained and dispersed, on the heels of having spent weeks in such an extraordinarily different city, London, I have many, sometimes too many, places and people to compare to one another; many worlds to understand in relation; many landscapes and habits, methods and sites of exposure to measure, fuel, and digest.
The experience of the so-called uncontainable is ubiquitous. I mean, what cannot be contained is something we (and now I’m talking about us as academics) talk about a lot. Most folks (many kinds of folks) would not deny that they have encountered something that they couldn’t swallow or take in; something they couldn’t properly or desirably hold in their minds or bodies.
When I skate across the surface of these highways, I pass any number of exits I’ve taken to arrive somewhere that used to belong to me. I return to see if I can hold it again, but if I slow down, if I pause for too long, say, in front of the house I grew up in on Longacre, I make the people that live there nervous. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. It’s not mine; or, it’s not exactly mine.
[6425 Longacre, a still from a video of driving down the street]
And as my friend so brilliantly suggested regarding Detroit in general, there’s no here here. It’s cut up by highways, spread out, most of the city is ignored. They’re shutting off people’s water. And, as the clerk at Rite Aid said, “it’s Detroit. People’d steal air if it wasn’t free.” (He’d said much more than he meant, we decided. It’s not that people steal just to steal, but that Detroit is the kind of place where you might have to steal air because they might start charging for it and folks here, meaning many Black folks, would not be able to pay for it.) (The comment about there being no here here needs a bit more context, but it has something to do with the desire to signify Detroit to itself. I sit in a coffee shop and the conversation beside me includes “Detroit City of Lights” or something like this. There are plans on the tables for spaces in Detroit.)
The surge of pleasure that capital metes out, and which we (the class of mostly white artists here) squeeze out despite and/ or because of capital, thrives in the tiniest parts of this behemoth city.
Wherever I go, Detroit is being symbolized, both outside and within the city. The place we go for our high intensity workout tonight is decorated with photographs of the Train Station, which is only up the street from our workout. The instructor wears a Detroit City shirt. I have my Detroit Detroit tattoo.
When there is a Tiger’s game, everyone is wearing Detroit schwag. People have old English Ds on their cars. A Whole Foods truck indicates something like “we’re in Detroit now” or “we’re happy to be in Detroit now.” Their sandwiches are listed as “Detroit favorites.” I have a drink at Rock City that is made with Faygo Rock n Rye and I get it because of that, because Faygo symbolizes Detroit. Motor City Brewery has a beer called Ghettoblaster. Shinola’s advertisement on a downtown building reads: “Before Detroit Made Watches and Bicycles We Made Nice hashtag saynicethings.”
[Billboard pic taken from the car]
The city, perhaps in a unique way, perhaps not, needs to symbolize itself within its own borders. But a city can’t signify itself. I don’t know how to understand this. Does this affirm its boundaries or express the desire to expand? “Me, a name, I call myself; Fa, a long long way to run”??? I get that that it’s part of selling stuff. People want to buy the brand Detroit. But it also feels bigger than that. Or the desire to make the brand and buy the brand and trade the brand involves the circulation of feelings that are not always clear to me, especially as I see that I am someone who, unwittingly, participated in the reproduction of this symbol by attaching it to myself. I thought I was saying, I am attached, too attached, let me put this symbol there to objectify it. Let me objectify my attachment to Detroit in some way to lift it off its surface; let me make this desire to make concrete and solid the word “Detroit” an object of knowledge that is more external. This poetics frightens me. A fantasy of liberation hinges on how the freeway asks us to skate through, allows me to collect images from my car, which I try to slow down to live inside, briefly.
[Bankruptcy pic taken from the car]