Samuel Solomon on "Feelings"
(for Emma Heaney)
We're going to the party why are all these people here?
They're all different kinds of people wait no they are all the same
We spent the day a-marchin' and now we are at the bar.
This bro needs a good neck punch cuz he has no good ideas
About how to get the speaker to the soundsystem. I'm transported
In front of it, am not sure how, and this banner is twisting everywhere
Because it has three different posts. I can't be bothered to explain,
But it was really hard to carry and we're trying to move fast
Among the other moving people. It's much simpler in the bar
To cut vertically thru your teeth with a laser than it is to
Beam the day back up. I'm relieved by some suspension for
I've often described these novelistic feelings but never
Sought to change them. The last thing I wanted was to bring
It to the bar, to explain it to nonpartisans who drink up
Our blood like Manhattans. They could have been there, too,
Or no, they couldn't. Emma, kick me in the pants again,
And tell me why I'm wrong; you wouldn't smile unless
You meant it. I pick friends apart from others and we
Just pick friends apart. All day you were becoming ferocious
But it wasn't a very good protest and this is certainly not a good
Bar and we're getting careless now but talking, we are trying.
You photograph yourself crying and open the little curtain
And yell Hey, get in here, and I get it. I'm tired now I'll rest my head
On the last thing I want to tell you. I tell you by not telling.
Waiting at the bar now a small forward's all I am, but
Waiting at the curbside might just make the day stop leaving.
What happens when the feeling's gone? The occupation is evicted, the protest is dismantled, things return to normal. You go to the bar after the protest, and it's devastating. May 1, 2012: the annual May Day immigrant rights march takes place in downtown Los Angeles in the wake of the Occupy movement the previous autumn. Since the massive nation-wide immigrant rights protests of 2006, May Day has been the biggest mass mobilization in LA, combining traditional international workers' day agitation with a focus on (im)migrant rights in the USA. In 2012, everyone wanted a piece of the march, but in many ways it was less successful than the previous 5 May Day demos that I'd been at—it seemed somewhat over-organized and directionless. I was at the demo with the socialist-feminist organization that I work with; my friend Emma was with a different grouping. We didn't cross paths at the demo, but when things ended we met up for a friend's party at a bar. The poem starts and ends with a regular meter—the pulse of the march dissipates at the party. It returns when Emma and I have talked enough to push the rhythm of the day on into the night and hopefully beyond. This poem is a micro version of the book from which it is taken, Special Subcommittee (Commune Editions, 2017). The book is an elaborative questioning of the durability and inheritance of the revolutionary activities of the 20th century, including those of my own communist grandparents.
There's much more to say (and that has been written) about that demo, and about the intersecting movements and antagonisms that both did and did not coalesce there, but this poem doesn't go there, because it's insistently stuck in its own melancholy. I don't want it to be this way, but it was, for that night, anyway. That melancholy is dangerous, and it's real, and friendship is one way that I've found to work through it. Emma's is one such friendship.
Another such friend, the poet Sophie Robinson, had invited me to give a reading in London at the inaugural night of a queer poetry event, named "Feelings," that she would continue to hold for about a year at Vogue Fabrics in Dalston. I used the occasion to try to write honestly and openly about my own "feelings," something that I might otherwise be too squeamish to admit I was doing (thanks to Sophie for pushing me past that). I asked Emma to write something, too. She sent me an email, and she said, "take take take!!!!" (i.e., she didn't want co-author credit). "Feelings" is about three-quarters my writing, one-quarter Emma's.