Illogic

Illogic

:

This poem is called:
mixed metaphors

or

the physics of nonsense and non-compliance:
radical action in the forefront

or
meager meandering of an eager and creative soul child
or
streams of neon-neurotic non-neo-liberal consciousness
or
things mother forgot to remind me
or
things I think of in between the oppressions
or
the science of living
or

If, as they say, E=MC2
then would ODB and Jay-Z squared off
freestyling in the market place of ideas
make matter reverberate off the window you forgot to put down in the rain storm?
Would your room be flooded with the 2 cents of disaffected black youth?
Could you handle all that realness?
Would the curvature of time-space triangulate slowly if Lauryn sung the hook?
If it got loud enough would it scare the birds in the bush worth the gander with the one Black swan?
Would your investment in bird watching books be squandered?
If, as the world turned faster the days our lives got longer
until a year became the infinity between the end of your first kiss and your eyes opening
would time still equal money?
What if we all woke tomorrow and decided that it would be Sunday
every day,
would we ever get our mail?
Would the mail-man,
mail-people,
persons,
zers be forced to work on sunday?
Would the injustices of the world perpetuate themselves in our own lackadaisical heaven?
Does liberation come with Paid Sick Days?
Does the revolution take water breaks?
Will the water be our grandmother’s lead lined tap water?
What if “Alf” was just an anachronistic prophesy of Clintonian democracy?
How much wood would a wood chuck need to chuck for Chuck and Heavey D to stop the violence?
If our best educated, best prepared, best equipped refuse to fight then when does the battle start?

What if we all got into a room and talked it out?
What if only the respectable folks could hold the mic?
What if I told her I loved her?
What if we all got along, all the time, all the time and love was everywhere?
Would we have room for our beds?
Would we have to sleep,
huddled in our happiness,
peaceful in our orgies because
fucking is the opposite of war?
Maybe the world is just too much.
Maybe we just can’t handle it all?
Maybe the revolution will just turn off the lights
Maybe we will spend our lives on our backs,
staring at the stars at night,
holding hands and signing hyms
praising how simple,
how beautiful,
how lovely it all is when take the time to look at it?
Maybe heaven is a world only perceived through our eyes and ears.
Maybe it just beauty without context.
Maybe this hell is being beaten with false histories.
Maybe death is the daily monotony of work and existing with our blinders force feeding us information and life is everything else…

Strength Without Power

Silence
Deep breaths.
Focus on the food.
Eat away the stress.
Deep breaths.
Center yourself.
Control your anxiety.
Keep it contained in your chest.
Hold it there until it feels like your heart will explode.
Then focus on the pain.
Focus.
Control.
Strength.
Story of my life.

The meeting begins a few minutes late. I was too busy eating to actively notice. My friend is sitting next to me, and even though I’m too anxious to interact with her I’m comforted by her presence. I ignore the pain in my kidneys, I try not to imagine them shutting down. I try not to think of Buddy Boy and if this is how his kidneys felt before he died. I try not to think about if he forgave me before he died. I tried not to think about if my constant remembrances of my uncle means that he visiting me from heaven or that I still haven’t come to terms with his death. I try not think about the pain in my kidneys.

Deep breaths.
Focus on the meeting.
Think away the stress.
Deep breaths.
Center yourself.
Follow the logic.
Control your anxiety.
Keep it contained in your chest.
Hold it there until it feels like your heart will explode.
Then focus on the pain.
Focus.
Control.
Strength.
Story of my life.

At a meeting this evening an older Black man is talking. I don’t know him well and often disagree with him but I respect him. He is smart and real and wise and Black. Authentically Black. Black because he had no other option. Black like Buddy Boy was Black. Quiet but present. I like him but more importantly, I respect him, so I listen as he talks.

He is rambling on the way my people do. It’s comfortable. Familiar. In white spaces this is called a tangent, in Black spaces it’s called talking. Part of me wants to police him, to remind him subtly, under the radar- in the way that Black people do in these situations- that this is a white space. But I don’t, because I can see where his story is going and I want him to talk me there. The facilitator cuts him off gently and tries to redirect the conversation. I’m upset because he got me out my body and into his story, but I understand that it’s a white space. The facilitator though Black, and cool, and smart and authentic is wearing a facilitators hat. Which is a white hat. And We started late. There’s an agenda.

But the older Black man won’t be redirected, he knows it’s a white space but also that it doesn’t need to be. That’s not why he’s here. He talks about walking next to the highways in south of his youth. The scary, southern gothic south. Swamps and strange fruit and crosses burning. The south of my parents.

He talks about instinctively ducking down into the tall grass whenever a car went by. You had to hide he said, or else white people might get out to mess with you. He remarks that this is something the youth don’t see. It’s not our reality, though it’s very much his. For the first time that night, he’s wrong.

In that moment I remember walking down highway 24,the long stretch of road reaching off into the eastern expanses of my youth. A highway that feels old and probably smells like yesterday’s America. It’s the middle of nowhere Colorado in the early 2000’s not the South Side Chicago of my grandfather’s childhood or my father’s Alabama or the older man’s Carolinas. Fly over, sleep through and die-in middle of nowhere Colorado.

I must have been 11 or 12, the age at which these sorts of things make a disproportionate impact. I knew I was not supposed to walk home down this road even though I lived less than a mile away. My mother said I could get hit by a car but I wonder now, with all that I know of the world, if that was just the only danger my mother could bring herself to voice.

A car- in my head it’s a pick-up but I can’t see it clearly- drives by and shout’s nigger and throws a glass bottle in my direction. I freeze, terrified, traumatized, confused and the memory ends.

Nigger. Nigger. Nigger. Nigger. Aaron.

Deep breaths.
Focus on the meeting.
Breath away the stress.
That pick-up truck is years away now.
Deep breaths.
Center yourself.
Don’t follow the highway.
Control your anxiety.
Keep it contained in your chest.
Hold it there until it burns.
Then focus on the pain.
Focus.
Control.
Strength.
Story of my life.

I sit in the meeting, relieving this moment, over and over again. I see the menacing headlights grow over large as I replay them on a sadistic automatic loop in my mind’s eye. I start to rub my adolescent fingers together methodically, meditatively in a trauma induced trance as all the blood rushes to my chest and legs. My body is screaming for me to run. But I sit in the meeting, remain silent. I put on the mask.

Slick, composed and coolly dispossessed of emotion. Faux confidence that becomes real as I harden. The old callouses begin to reform as the meeting continues. I begin to push the memory away, make it less real. Then I remember that I refused to let this world make be hard. I remember what I once wrote to my friend, a facebook post that lingers in my mind:

“Tragic. But I think, and I might be wrong on this, that we have to force ourselves to process the pain in order to be able continue to see the humanity of the victims. By turning aside we are not just avoiding bad news, we are telling ourselves that its not happening. Then, when it inevitability happens to us [albeit on smaller scale] we are shocked, in disbelief and doubt our feelings because we’ve spent so long telling our selves that this is not the way the world works. By getting in the habit of processing the pain we can get stronger without having to get harder. We can deal with the terrible things in the world without closing ourselves off from the joy and the warmth. IDK. Just my thoughts…”

I remember that this is just the way the world works. Highway 24 is still there. I force myself to feel it, to process it to make the memory useful somehow. But I can’t bring myself be vulnerable in this space. I soften; I raise my hand non-threateningly and tell my story, quickly. I’m triggered I say, this story reminds of my childhood I remember walking down highways and men throwing bottle. I stop.

In my head I continue:

I remember the disdain of white children. I remember the pity and contempt for the children of Cain. I remember being told I was going to hell. I remember being called gorilla. I remember their fear and how it always seemed to lead to violence. I remember the inhumanity of being feared by children whose words ripped you apart.

Silence. Next topic. We have agenda. This is a white space.

I note the little response, much less than the woman who earlier started crying. The kind, caring and hard working woman whose audible tears stopped the meeting, if only for a second. I’m not angry at first. She should cry, she had a shitty day, why should she hold it in? Who am I to police her pain?

It is not her fault she passes for white sometimes. It is not everyone’s fault that they feel compelled to respond to white tears with empathy. It’s not their fault that they have never learned to empathize with my pain verbalized.

I want to cry in that moment, more as means of communication than as an emotional release. I want them to understand how much it hurts to realize at 11 or 12 years old that the whole world hated me and would continue to hate me for something I couldn’t control. I relive that moment, over and over again until highway 24 stretches from the year 2000 till the present moment and beyond.

I walk down that road until that highway stretches from my grandparents chained to slave ships and on and on and on until my grandsons sit in jail cells. I relieve the trauma of being Black in America, silent, alone in a room full of friends I can’t trust to vulnerable with.

I want my friend to hug me but she can’t read my silence.

Deep breaths.
Focus on the meeting.
Think away the stress.
Deep breaths.
Center yourself.
Follow the logic.
Control your anxiety.
Keep it contained in your chest.
Hold it there until it burns.
Then focus on the pain.
Focus.
Control.
Strength.
Story of my life.

So I remain in control. Refuse to put the mask back on and instead sulk in petulant silence as some sort of half-assed compromise between Robinson’s mask and being vulnerable. I revel in that control briefly. I revel in the ability to remain calm until I remember that white people don’t have to. I revel in my self-control until I realize that it’s not self-control… its self-policing. I see myself forcing my emotions to be respectable, presentable, professional, non-threatening, to keep from rocking the boat.

I begin to realize this control was merely a prison with walls built from the tears I hold inside. I begin to resent this emotional panopticon of my own creation. It’s this moment that makes me begin to resent having so much strength with no power. I begin to resent having a heightened ability to police myself without being able to stop society from policing me. I begin to resent every minute spent in white spaces.
Deep breaths.
Focus on the meeting.
Think away the stress.
Deep breaths.
Center yourself.
Follow the logic.
Control your anxiety.
Keep it contained in your chest.
Hold it there until it feels like your heart will explode.
Then focus on the pain.
Focus.
Control.
Strength.
Story of my life.

My heart is pumping so much blood into my legs that I can see my thighs twitching. I want to run. I need to leave. But leaving would be admitting defeat. It would be letting them win…it would be letting my friends win a game they are not playing. Leaving would mean losing a game I didn’t create and hate playing. But I play it because I’m good at it. I’m so fucking good. I’m strong. I can keep my cool. I can put on this mask and shuck and jive silently, in place. I am in control. I am so strong!

Even if I have no power…

Deep breaths.
They gunned down Africa on skidrow.
Focus on the meeting.
This pain is eating away my abdomen.
Think away the stress.
Deep breaths.
Center yourself.
Follow the logic.
These moments are too large to be micro aggressions.
Deep breaths.
I realize that Whiteness is a parasitic virus not a people,
A single celled ameba that consumes my culture while enfeebling its host
Turning white ethnics into fragile powerhouses
Glass steam engines that turn the word counter clockwise but can’t stand criticism.
Control your anxiety.
Keep it contained in your chest.
Hold it there until it feels like your heart will explode.
Feel everything burn.
Then focus on the pain.
Let it fuel you.
Focus.
Control.
The only thing worse than being a push over is being a monster.
Strength.
Respect and Fear are not compatible.
I am so strong!
Story of my life.

The meetings ends. I write this. I share it, maybe it will make the catharsis real. Maybe sharing it will keep me from breaking things. I can’t get arrested. I have more meetings tomorrow.

#TBT I Say Falling

IMG_1923
In between seconds, as the river rushed closer, illogically slow, the accountant counted. He counted his heartbeats, he counted the number of nights spent on the couch where he avoided the wife he no longer loved and, remembering his mother, he counted the hairs on her head after the chemo: one. He counted like he had always counted. Each item formed a brick that he then meticulously placed on the wall he had been building all his life. He did the usual roll call of events, from childhood till now, in the usual order.

 
Miraculously, about 10 feet from the water and having calculated every visceral detail of every memory, he ran out of things to count. It was then that, the first time in a long time, he realized he was no longer numb. The sensation that reminded him of a vacuum with cool air he couldn’t feel and of a sort of dull slowness had passed. He was faced with emotions like a warm ocean squall sending a wave of superficial self-awareness that threatened to overcome the wall of the man who refused to learn to swim.

 
Immediately his body felt heavy and his muscles seemed to detach themselves from his conscious control. As a slightly painful tingle which made him feel suddenly alienated from his walking corpse surged throughout his body every breath became an enormous undertaking. His labored breathing was soon coupled with thunderstorm of apprehension rumbling within the pit of his stomach. He was nearly crippled by the tonnage of guilt, anxiety, fear and anger of a life half lived. His breathing became a staccato cacophony as years of unprocessed emotion putting massive pressure on his underused tear ducts.

 
Yet he was too close to that sweet nothingness to cry. Instead he thought back coolly and perceptively on the string of endless possibilities that had led him to this seeming eternity of falling. He took comfort in the new endeavor, of categorizing already counted events. As the categories become clearer, and more numerous he channeled them towards the breach of his emotional damn. As a sense of familiar control returned so did his mnemonic acumen. With this his mind cleared, his heart vanished, the vacuum returned and he started counting again. He counted the events and calculated probabilities and explored several scenarios and hypotheticals until he had narrowed it down to one possibility. It was decision that would, in essence, stop him from falling. With only a few blissful milliseconds left, the accountant could now meticulously muse about that decision and the alternate universe it created.

 

Forty years ago to the day the accountant made what he thought was the most important decision in his life. That day the paint on the walls of the funeral parlor was pealing. The ebony walls had turned as gray as the mood and Death permeated through the walls like the 159 paint chips lying on the ground. His father, in a new $600 tux, new hairdo and brand new $120 glasses had never looked better. It seemed almost disrespectful to look so good at a funeral.

 
There were exactly 50 people surrounding him, enough that for a time the future accountant successfully forgot that it was his father’s funeral. The accountant continued to count, much like he does now, until everything was accounted for. The leaves on the fake plant, the pews, the cracks in the ceiling, the number of times the white haired women said “um”– every little detail noted. It was first time in his life since that counting began that he could remember it stopping so abruptly, having merely run out of road. It wasn’t until then that he cried.

 

“How did he die?” Everyone seemed to whisper at once.

“I think he had a heart attack” Replied one elderly man with a dubious connection to the deceased.

“At his age?”

“No, he was shot. I heard the gun blast myself.”

“You sure? I think I would have heard about that on the news.”

“They don’t report suicides on the news, Darline.” His mother said quietly and bitterly.

To the accountant, the voices were just tidbits of gossip coming from vague bickering shapes. The accountant remembered wanting to shut everyone up–by force if necessary–but that was not his mother’s way. She still played bridge with the woman she knew the accountant’s father had been sleeping with for years.

 
A slow moving worn down man with a face full of wrinkles (none of which were laugh lines) and thick horn-rimmed glasses walked down the main aisle of the death filled room. He had slow but powerful and fluid gait. He seemed like a man whose youthful vigor still clung around him unused. He stopped, periodically, to talk to some of his parishioners who were in attendance. It must have taken him fifteen minutes to walk to twenty yards from the entrance to the podium.

 

Once at the podium the Pastor the Unitarian Church of God John Ignatius, wise beyond his considerable years, preached.

 

“Good evening. We are gathered here today to bid farewell to a loving father, dutiful son but never-the-less deeply flawed man. It is with a heavy heart that we say good-bye to a fellow soldier against evil who lost the final battle with himself. We all know that this final battle, this inner struggle with ourselves, is difficult. Yet the lord did not intend this battle to be fatal. He saved us through his grace and it is by this grace that we persevere. We give ourselves to the lord and receive everlasting life so in metaphoric death comes rebirth. When we give into ourselves, when we create our own timeline, there is no rebirth. As we consider this self-forsaken soul whose death strikes a foreign cord in all of us, we can only ask ourselves ‘how do I wish to die?’

 
The eulogy went on but the accountant stopped listening after the pastor asked that question. Thinking back on it now, there had been some more respectful eulogies in that church. Yet the accountant’s mother was angrier at her husband than sad at his premature death and she must have let Ignatius know. As a boy, all he could understand in those 132 words was the final question. Unfortunately the father idolizing accountant heard that question and decided on: falling.

 
Had the accountant thought of any other word at that precise moment it was possible, even likely, that he would not find himself standing on a bridge looking down yearning for nothingness—reaching for death’s embrace. But as it stands he was. He remembered, in a strained yet absent way, that usually he forgot about the moments he spent deliberating that question when he counted the worries to form the bricks for his wall. However, peering over the edge, his potentially falling children, souls struck by a receptive cord, flashed through his mind and he stepped back for the 40th time. Yet unlike the 39 times before he felt something about himself that he couldn’t grasp. He felt a strange almost ephemeral call to action. A call to start living. He felt a desire to reach out, to call his children whose phone numbers he had memorized. With that eerie yet profound feeling teetering on the rim in the recess of his mind he turned around, got into his car and drove home to the wife he might love again. As Paul got in that car without counting the steps he still found himself thinking: Maybe next year.

 

*Thanks to Quinn for helping with this revision of an old short story of mine