What's African American about African American poetry?
Fragments/(pieces of myth in the science, or is it pieces of time in the silence or is it The Loud Minority, deluxe remix edition, directed by Spike Lee, and starring Spike Lee and me (gotta have it) to get it), filmed from above with a free floating dolly so we look like we're flying and falling at the same All/ways: an omni-directional demonstration of what it is and what it is, like when a question makes you so numb to answer you become its slant, To the Race Industry in crisis: obvious as an ear, though you are close to my heart, but you, Black and Beautiful Industry, it's you I love! And poets won't save you. Pimps have a better chance, a chant that sounds so African it bends the shape of Louisiana into Yoruba, until the quiet comes. And into the quiet come some shy verses about inside feelings that earn you a whiskey and a seat at the piano. Julliard, grand scheme. You send a letter home to your parent(s): They won't exploit me I promise. I speak like a child learning to make the sound I reverberate, go wild, go will, go subconscious, go Freud, go James Baldwin. Speak like a chill running up and down your spine when the singer's voice cracks into lilt/falsetto/glow for short, an unlimited crevice/menace/mercy of double consciousness until you forget that you are the singer, that's you up there singing, at least that's your body, some kind of Coptic replica or whatever. Up where? Speak and you shall find—
(The Tower of) Babel is to Babylon as the Cabin is to Uncle Tom. He's in there, speaking in tongues like these, plus sun, like he saw his mom being at the Pentecost each (and every) Sunday. And they say melanin is chaos. I heard it on the radio. I am the radio. I heard myself say it. I said on the FisherPrice boombox during a boomtime for doomsayers, shepherd-like, a little higher-priced at a high-class auction. White-collar price. This goes out to chaos. Hydrogen bomb. Atomic bomb. If they push that button... All I know is the girls were calm as smithereens, conned, dreaming backwards. I don't mean to be vulgar. It just so happens. I was weeping and then I saw a neon jesus (on my mind) and almost laughed, but it wasn't funny, it was like… math from the sunlord bleeding through the number runner's pretend storefront. Someday My Prince Will Come. (It was) Like a promise, like a sacrifice, solstice sliced into death and rebirth and best things, like the bull or the cow running into the proud fire, but it was Michael Jackson. Saint saint sinner saint, so sin/serious, hero, ya heard, scum, paint, to sniff, to smear, to pollock, to politik, to picture it from hearing it. It's painful to know him so clear (ly). He into whom everybody's Orpheus poem sinks as the Nile on Nihilism or designer drug window huddle, and blackface, afro to match, and as if to say... yo momma's so black the only english she speaks is the singing, and the only singing she knows is the blues. Your hero's so black you can't see him no more. Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah. That's not a dis, though, that's a compliment. And where does the slang dis come from— what's some etymology, distance, comfort, or distortion by closeness. A musician on tour washing dishes at the club between gigs. Langston Hughes in Paris washing dishes at the gig between clubs. Love oh, love oh, careless love. That's Bessie Smith, almost at the hospital when the blood strokes midnight. We choose life! Dammit. Eternal life. Atum Ra, Ptah, Ma-At, Osiris, thief who stole my sad days, us-and-them usher-inners, how many of us black gods do you want. Stealing is not like earning but it blends in with want like a turn in the phrase please don't go, I wah-nt you to stay the sad banner preys (and prays and praise and preys again) right in front of the abandoned schoolhouse turned bootleg abortion clinic turned whorsehouse turned house of the rising sun, turnt out, turnt up, bout it! Where Sun Ra is to Miles Davis as... all I know…is… And Miles is on everyone's latest album and mind as fantasy playing the lantern like it's got tone to burn while his wife Betty sings Turn off the lights; I can't see a thing. Third wife. Forth dimension. Polygamy is African/American as poetry is griot chicken grease. Game recognize game. Fifth side of... Circle of fifths. Wildlife by Tony Williams. That talking drum/ the ticking mine, the minor prosecuted as an adult. Eighteen ways of gazing at a blackman. Preaching to the choir as he chants Chances you are my Chances, or I'm an African, I'm an African, and I know what's happenin' (refrain), and the mime re-insinuates him by tapping his eyes 3 times on the contract so that it turns into a scroll from the Emerald Tablet, the one that reads, as above, so below repeatedly— the neurosis of the cusp, as of the custom and so too, the customer. The beyondtime they say doesn't exist but you spend your life searching for it/ between words you see orders and follow them toward the beat where they hide out, feel safe, gyrate, keep heat by the waist for those that playa hate, and it hits you, I wrote this cause I feel aw(e)fully black today: devoted, improvised, a living archive, a success, a succession of western/eyes, like I came to this country as a slave and turned into an ever better slave (entertainer), what sophistication from both sides! It's the meaning, not the use, that spread. Not changed. The ink on Prince's face in the 90s before he told jesus it would be alright if he changed his name. Our poetry (so-called for the purposes of being/hear(ing) African American Poetry) is being itself, its beauty, its truth, it's best and most cruel-to-be-kind, when it renames everything it comes into contact with, subvocally or otherwise, and even everything it generates, toward an honest and honorific and subtle and soulful and fully sold and bough back, resonance, starting with itself. My name is Harmony Holiday, my name is Saffronyellow and I'm a black/cauc/black/blues/half/you/half everybody/trio/complete/who do you/love, poet, pimp, tiny dancer, god, slave, sun eater, etcetera, forever, for my father, for my father's father, and my mother and my niggas and gut-reactions, for youknowhowwedo, for now-now, for just now, for now—
Put another way, there's a velvet rope type of texture that invokes depth just by the angle you touch it (at). It appears to be so smooth and monochromatic, but rubbed, or even grazed, diagonally its skin reveals another faster-than-words or watchers, dimension, and with such sublime reluctance it's almost trance, so lucid and loose to itself. Our poetry is that way, even when we write nature poems we're writing human nature poems. No tree is gratuitous. We're hanging and smoking from every leaf and limb and it feels like being suspense, like we're the moment of terror tethered to myth just before a collective scream in a packed movie theatre, and the moment of relief just after a pact— to the race industry in recovery, we'll always need new slaves and poets.
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An audio essay accompaniment, composed of songs and sounds referenced in this piece: