Poetry, therefore, is not what we simply recognize as the formal “poem,” but a revolt: a scream in the night, an emancipation of language and old ways of thinking.
[Currently re-reading one of my favorite books of all time–Robin D. G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination–for an essay I am writing on the prison abolitionist imagination. Here is the first chapter.]
“WHEN HISTORY SLEEPS”: A BEGINNING
When history sleeps, it speaks in dreams: on the brow of the sleeping people, the poem is a constellation of blood…. –Octavio Paz, “Toward the Poem”
My mother has a tendency to dream out loud. I think it has something to do with her regular morning meditation. In the quiet darkness of her bedroom her third eye opens onto a new world, a beautiful light-filled place as peaceful as her state of mind. She never had to utter a word to describe her inner peace; like morning sunlight, it radiated out to everyone in her presence. My mother knows this, which is why for the past two decades she has taken the name Ananda (“bliss”). Her other two eyes never let her forget where we lived. The cops, drug dealers, social workers, the rusty tapwater, roaches and rodents, the urine-scented hallways, and the piles of garbage were constant reminders that our world began and ended in a battered Harlem/Washington Heights tenement apartment on 157th and Amsterdam.
Yet she would not allow us to live as victims. Instead, we were a family of caretakers who inherited this earth. We were expected to help any living creature in need, even if that meant giving up our last piece of bread. Strange, needy people always passed through our house, occasionally staying for long stretches of time. (My mom once helped me bring home a New York City pigeon with a broken leg in a failed effort to nurse her back to health!) We were expected to stand apart from the crowd and befriend the misfits, to embrace the kids who stuttered, smelled bad, or had holes in their clothes. My mother taught us that the Marvelous was free—in the patterns of a stray bird feather, in a Hudson River sunset, in the view from our fire escape, in the stories she told us, in the way she sang Gershwin’s “Summertime,” in a curbside rainbow created by the alchemy of motor oil and water from an open hydrant. She simply wanted us to live through our third eyes, to see life as possibility. She wanted us to imagine a world free of patriarchy, a world where gender and sexual relations could be reconstructed. She wanted us to see the poetic and prophetic in the richness of our daily lives. She wanted us to visualize a more expansive, fluid, “cosmos-politan” definition of blackness, to teach us that we are not merely inheritors of a culture but its makers.
British taxation on America without sufficient representation:
*results in Boston Tea Party, revolution, etc.*
These acts of property damage and militant resistance are justified and good =) because Britain was clearly tyrannical =) liberty needs to be fought for sweaty =)
Eight people control more wealth than half the world's people, climate change threatens to bring catastrophic damage to the planet, and a proto-fascist sexual predator was just made most powerful man in the world:
*results in some shattered windows and limo bonfires, calls for revolution, etc.*
Um =\ violence is never the answer =/ protest is good and all =\ but this is taking it too far =/ can't you see you're just hurting any credibility you had =\ protests shouldn't interrupt my day =(
Fight back. He won. But it’s not over. It cannot be over with so much on the line. I know you want to give up. I know you want to lose all hope. I’m having an anxiety attack on my morning bus as I write this: so, what does this tell us? Does this tell us that giving up and losing hope is going to help us? We can’t afford it not to. I feel like I’m having a heart attack. I will not let it stay.
So fight back. Fight back with all you can. Fight back, and stay safe in the meantime. Don’t you think about hurting yourself over this. I assure you, it’s not the right choice, or even the helpful one. We can fucking do this. Think of John Laurens and the other abolitionists; think of Susan B. Anthony and the other feminists and activists; think of Hamilton and other immigrants who came and made this country their own and never gave up, ever. Think of all the people you have got on your side. I am on your side. My anxiety-ridden ass with fight with you. Bonus points if I can aim my vomit at the enemy.
Think of all the power you have got in you. You are more important than you realize. You are a being of fingernails and teeth and scars and fight, and you will not be taken down so easily. I know you. I know. You are stronger than this fear; love is always stronger than fear; we have got something worth fighting for. They have nothing but hate. Love wins against hate in the end. Love wins.
I know it’s hard to believe in anything I’m saying. I’m trying to believe in anything I’m saying. I’m on my way to high school in the country, where people ride tractors to school and have Confederate flags attached to their trucks and wear WhiteLivesMatter shirts for the hell of it. To a high school where I am the president of the GSA. I am so afraid.
But I do not fight depression and OCD and anxiety and anorexia to give up over a terrorist and a bigot. I do not fight every day to give up over this. This isn’t a mess I made, but I will sweep it up. And when I burn the ashes, you better believe something spectacular is going to rise.
America the privileged is a country of comfortable white men. But America the true nation is a country of brave minorities and allies and fighters. We are a people who have not given up since white men first came over. Ask the Native Americans who still fight to this day for basic human rights, ask them if you should give up. Ask them if, for one damn second, they have given up since white men came over. You think they could have afforded to? You think my ancestors escaped Italy and were faced with racism and bigotry here, just to give up in the face of it? You think the slaves who died and fought and rebelled would condone you giving up? You think the activists we know and love would give up?? You think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Gandhi and Angelica Schuyler and Susan B. Anthony would? Anthony died without the right to vote, but she died fighting for what she knew was right. Dr. King might have died before he saw the fruits of his labor, but he died creating hope and belief and fight in the brave black people of this country. He died changing history.
You can be that person. A tiny white gay girl from Columbus. A trans black man from Philly. A Muslim woman from New York City. You are all Dr. Kings and Gandhis and Schuylers and Anthonys waiting to happen. You have all the power. And we have all the power if we band together.
It is not unbelievable. We grew up reading about heroes with swords and dragons, heroes who fight for what was right no matter how young they were. We grew up imagining battles against evil. We fell in love with Liberty’s Kids and Hamilton and Les Mis and The Hunger Games. Now is the time for you to join the revolution you always yearned for.
Hear the people sing. The song of angry men. And women. And others.
The song of humanity.
Hear the people sing. The song of humanity. A humanity that will not be slaves again.
The pan Italian queer girl from buttfuck Hicksville