Thursday, July 30, 2009

african tankas

bring the calabash,
ubiquitous forest womb.
inseminate it
with tortoise feet, head & heart
& essence of turtledove.

behold, the life charge.
the fructifying spirit
sings; quickens the gourd.
add vines, amansa guapo,
wakibanga & sapo,

eyes & tongue of cock,
seven human teeth, jawbone
of a goat, a piece
of bone from a lonely grave,
its owner’s name on parchment,

dirt from the gravesite,
seven dimes, seven live ants,
seven mate seeds,
eight aguardiente drams,
& bury in an ant hill.

in twenty-one days
one will come; a slender one
with a pointed tail.
one versed in the use of roots,
who moves as if he would fall.

a one armed wizard,
a one-legged sorcerer
born with his magic
who speaks in the tongue of plants;
who heals in the name of plants.

baba osanyin
the personification
of healing power,
the owner of the forest,
awo òrìşà l’ode

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ogun (40)

african tankas

into the forest
fled a despairing ògún
his heart, cold iron.
civilization’s owner
did forsake his blacksmith fires.

ògún oni’re,
the fallow fields begged, implored,
without yr spirit
nothing grows or thrives or lives—
only death makes feast; enjoys.

return to yr fires
onile kangun-dangun,
the overgrown paths
cried out to him, beseeched him.
we need u to clear the way.

without u eşu
cannot open brand new paths;
òşóòsi cannot
find the shortest, straightest route,
come out of the forest, please!

deaf to their begging
the fields could not persuade him
deaf to their pleading
the paths could not convince him.
he was through with human kind.

man had soiled his gifts;
& had turned his face from life.
soaked his tools in blood;
worshipped death & oppression.
ògún could not forgive him.

into the forest
ọşun came, unbidden &
unsent. her yellow
scarves aflutter, her honey
dripping down her fleshy thighs.

the river’s spirit
danced her sweet seductive dance
her sweet heady smell
did what fallow fields could not,
what the paths & trails could not.

she enticed ògún
spread her honey on his chin
made him follow her
out of the sacred forest,
back into the world of man.

ògún ni jo ti
ma lana lati ode
(spirit of iron
dances outside to open
the road); & opens the road.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the blues had a baby (39)

the blues had a baby
all you people, you know the blues got soul
& this is a story, a story never been told …
the blues had a baby & they named the
baby rock & roll
muddy waters
twas a day of fortuitious forces & events.

in the heavens, the sun promised ideal
affectational exchange, while miz moon fell
sick from overwork. fleet mercury proclaimed
a hope-to-die-paartay, while the deities of
love & war conjoined in fiery coitus never
thinking thru’ the consequences. father time
balanced his budget, dour pluto gave a fierce
libido its head & moody uranus read a letter
full of tears. but neptune was to win the day,
driving a sleek & shiny oldsmobile, the
muscle car of love, into the celestial white only
showrooms of popular song.

down here on the ground, on a muggy march
& memphis afternoon, sun sam phillips put
young ike turner & his rhythm kings on wax
(with ike on piano, raymond hill on tenor sax,
willie kizart on lead guitar, willis sims on
drums & jackie brenston on vocals). the song:
ike turner’s rocket 88. rock ‘n roll exploded
from the belly of the blues, breached its birth
gates with a veil over its eyes; rock ‘n roll was
here to stay. oh how horny hound dogs
howled & fat lascivious roosters crowed for
day & in the acid afterbirth, in the gunshot
accents on even beats, in the keening night
cries of the electric guitar, the hip,
unrepentant glissandi of an infectious boogie
woogie keyboard & wry raucous saxophone, a
dark alchemy was loosed; an amount of alkali
equal to acid fluxed sweet puppy love &
transmuted it into a feral, snarling addiction.

what kind of love was this that made
me manic; made me want to jump & shout;
that flaired my big fleshy nostrils wide at
eight? was it the fearful floride in the chalky
southern california water…or something more
sinister in the music? lurking in the lyrics, in
the velvety smooth phrasing of ivory joe
hunter was the germ of an idea that lovers
might be delusional; i was surely feeling
things i wasn’t supposed to feel. was i

i asked jackie p. in the fifth
grade to go
steady with me. or maybe she
asked me.
it was all over in a mere short
week &
i almost lost my mind. i followed her

around for days like a hang dog, my heart
going bo-bom-doo-wop, bo-bom-doo-wop & i
in my ten year-old tenor sang like frankie
ervin of the shields: u cheated, u lied, u said
that you loved me – until her big football
playing fourteen year old brother threatened to
kick my narrow ass if i didn’t stop. a year
later i fell in love with pretty brown evelyn t.
who called out my name when we were
picking spelling partners in class. her voice
mouthing my name made my skin ripple &
flutter. i felt a sudden forceful flow & swift
release of affective force – since i met u baby,
my whole life has changed – but alas, evelyn
had older sisters who entertained grown men
in their home & with her watching. soon she
was mimicking them with an older boy from
across town. what’s he got that i aint got, i
asked howard, my best friend, indignantly
the reply was
quick & brutal. a dick, he said.

i felt weak in the knees, like little willie john,
& loose in the head: my baby had left me i
wish i was…dead? no i didn’t want to die. i
was almost twelve years old & fighting mad! i
wanted the little girls to stop doggin’ me
around. that was it! in fact, i didn’t even want
a little girl anymore. jackie wilson had it right;
helped me sort out what i wanted -- i wanted a
woman, a lover & a friend! & i’d wait.

changed schools again following my soldier
daddy, the third move in eight years. the girls
would have to wait, would have to grow up
‘cause i was playing football & basketball &
running track & listening to smokey robinson,
imagining my jesus loving mama telling me to
shop around. i started going to the youth
center on the army base on saturday nights &
after three months of looking, gathered the
courage to ask joanne b. to dance. she agreed
& i danced with her every dance thereafter,
slow & fast (even though i couldn’t really fast
dance) until the place closed. she was medium
tall, pretty, black & stacked & she liked me;
called me on the phone every day. between
phone calls i’d work on my dancing moves
with my sisters; even fixed my twist. when we
next met at the center on the following
saturday night, i did myself, dee dee sharp,
chubbie checker & hank ballard proud. i did
the twist, the wa-watusi & the mashed
potatoes, too. i found that the slow drag &
booty grind came naturally to me. ooh it felt
so good when our hips & crotches rubbed
against each other, made achingly sweet
friction as smokey sang who’s lovin’ u. we
snuck out back & under a monterey cypress
tree, i kissed her. she ruined that first kiss by
sticking her tongue in my mouth.

three times we tried to get it right, the last,
memorably, with both our eyes wide open.
she saw my uneasy disgust & confusion &
dismissed me as a lame. she never called me or
saw me again & i took comfort in ray charles’
declarative: born to lose i 've lived my life in
vain; every dream has only brought me pain,
all my life i've always been so blue, born to
lose & now i’m losing u. to add injury to
insult, i broke my leg trying to deliver
newspapers on roller skates. i was laid up in
the hospital mending for 3 months until it was
time to move once again – this time to a black
city & a black high school.

i grew four inches
while in the hospital.
i went in 5’11” & came
out 6’3”. i thought
i was now big enough to
find me a real woman.
my good friend, melvin,
17 & the baddest sucka
in town (who beat
up his older brother who used
to be the
baddest sucka in town) had hooked up
our high school spanish teacher. she was a
real grown woman, white & too fine. she
would come & get him. take him away. i
thought i might do something like that until
sam cooke was shot to death in an l.a. motel
by a real bad woman.

he had had it made; had
29 top 40 hits, but his
version of a fool’s
paradise rang truest: i often
think of the life
i've led & oh, it's a wonder, i ain't
dead…but he
was dead – just like that, wacked
by a woman.
like "cleanhead" vinson said, who
never loved
& said he never will, i knew then
that a loving
proposition could most definitely
get u killed.

i had to back up, hold up & regroup. i had to
think this through. if i learned to really talk to
a woman, maybe steal a lyric or two, from
smokey perhaps, or the temptations, like:
it would be easier to take the wet from water,
or the dry from sand… or… one day u will begin
to realize by the look that’s in my eyes how
much i love u… yeah, that’s it, like that. & learn
to kiss, learn to suck on a tongue & explore the
soft inside of a woman’s cheek -- maybe, if i’m
good enough & if the planets ruling the day favor
me, i just might get the right woman & …
i just might get laid!

©Joseph McNair;2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

a casual look (38)

a casual look

for trudy wells & the six teens
lyrics from “a casual look” by
ed wells (1956)

in an age of innocence where happily ever after
began with an idyllic wedding walk down the aisle
just days before a conscripted groom shipped out
overseas, i raptly listened, my eyes bulging with pulsing
heart-shaped pupils, to trudy wells, barely a teen
herself, as she fronted five other teens to sing:
a casual look, a little ring, can reveal just what u think…
trudy’s girlish voice fleshed out my simple love;
painted the self-coherent, internally consistent setting
along with all those do-do-do-do-do-do-do-dos, for my
acting out hormones to play at love. i could be her
unshy soldier guy with the frozen face; i could
practice what would become a lifetime of begging:
darling can’t u see that i’m going overseas
for two, three, four years, don’t know how long its
gonna be …
my romantic fantasy lay hidden in that voice; leaked
out into my real world through that simple lyric,
opened up the timeless for me to step into & stay
there. but my real affairs & numerous nuptials,
which began sweet & innocent enough, more often
than not ended in trouble, heartaches & pain.
& just to think all it took
was a casual look…
there were no songs to tell me that openings were temp-
orary, that fantasy could neither balance love & need nor
even hint of the impossible selfwork involved in making
a relationship last. like a man trying to relive his first
coital release, i’ve spent the goodly part of my life trying
to reprise the thousand delights cloaked in a casual look.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

raindrops (37)


for dee clark, ray charles,
smokey robinson & james cotton

delectus clark in ‘61 characterized
a particular strain of mangrief,
gave silky voice, swooping
falsetto & sundry other truth-
effects to a particular kind

of mentalizing, a mediated affect,
& episodic memory retrieval;
the engrammatic imagery of heartache
& pain coaxed into a blue metaphor,
into raindrops falling
from my eyes.

betraying an upward flow of air
in the head; air containing water
vapor cooling below the dew point
into a mighty cloud condensing
into raindrops falling
from my eyes.

ray charles robinson sang of it in ’56,
thru’ phlegmy & fey vocal chords,
thru multivalent performative effects &
oracular wilderness crying to warn
of raindrops falling
from my eyes.

falling so copiously, so prodigiously
that they threatened eminent inundation,
even drowning for those swept up
in the violent, unceasing torrent
of raindrops falling
from my eyes.

“smokey” bill robinson, past master
tunesmith, bade us look in ‘65 behind
the phoney smiles & laughter, pierce
masquerading gaiety to see the tracks
of raindrops falling
from my eyes.

see the flood damage, the aching hollows
that pockmark the heart’s bereft landscapes,
feel the rending agony of the fear of being
replaced scored on the soul
by raindrops falling
from my eyes.

james “superharp” cotton in ’96 dug up
murderous sentiment interred in billie’s
long gone blues; bluntly pointed to
abandonment, where it surely leads
with raindrops falling
from my eyes.

made me think of how closely i held u,
away from gawking eyes; how I bought
yr time & attention, even possessed u;
how I plotted yr demise when u left me
with raindrops falling
from my eyes.

but there is no cloud in my head, nor is
my heart a rock that gushes forth water
when tapped twice by a miracle staff.
i am just another lonely guy making up
about raindrops falling
from my eyes.

©Joseph McNair;2009

true love (36)

true love
rejoice with those who rejoice
& weep with those who weep…
st paul

the apostle who verily wrote of spiritual gifts,
who claimed sweet love to be the best of these
was no more an authority than johnny lee williams
when he sang in ’59 his only lead for the drifters
before being finessed aside by ben e. king:
if u cry i know my heart would break
that would be much more than i can take…
could that holy, humble apostle, who repudiated
women – said they sinned first, were created second,
& should by all means keep quiet – even measure up
to the doo-wop balladeer whose slick androgenic
stylings honey-dripped with such unerring empathy.
if you cry i don't know what i'll do,
baby cause i'm so in love with you.
& if i knew that i had caused you pain,
my tears would fall like the rain.
u’d have to be deaf, dumb & blind not to know
that johnny lee truly loved his baby. & in that same
way i hoped to love mine, whoever she might be.
her joyeous joy would be my joy; her precious
pain would be my own, her life my cherished life.

how pristine pure the framework, how striking
quaint the lens an eleven year-old looks thru’ to
interpret, to interact in his world. most of my
ideas & beliefs about love came from someone
else, somewhere else; were uninformed by

my own dormant perversity. sieved thru layers of
st paul – a year before paul anka’s anthem on
transient, adolescent love – my amorous notions
crystallized. but i could only see thru’ them darkly –
& only what I wanted to see.

i could not see the markers for tragic long-term abuse,
& there was no one to explain to my youthful heart
that love & obsession were identical twins that
sometime had the same euphoric feel; & happy
ever after depended on telling one from the other.

so i opened up a vein & mainlined the music;
introjected doo-wop voices to tell me what my
mama couldn’t or my daddy wouldn’t. about my
baby, my sweet baby, like tommy bullock of
the fiestas sang, she’d most definitely be:
… so doggone fine
…loves me, come rain, come shine…
fine. my simplistic motivation for attachment.
that’s all she had to be. big lipped, heavy hipped
& built up from the ground; could come in any
shade. no confusing eroticism for love. the two
were, of course, the same, like intensity & intimacy.

my baby, captured by my powerful induction,
would ooh-wee bring the drama, change my mood,
provoke me to make her over & endure my jealous
rages as proof of my devotion. she would supply
my every need.

i couldn’t see it then but i can see so clearly now,
looking back over the wreckage & withdrawals of
four different matrimonies, a bevy of broken romances;
over all the what-went-wrongs – there is no true love
in a doo-wop song; no true love at all.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

o gba a giri l'owo osika (35)

o gba a giri l'owo osika

father of heaven,
to manifest abundance
give me the power!

eşu is about;
will stain my clean white robes with
palm oil’s penury.

deliver me from
languishing in şango’s jail,
bereft, forgotten.

let it rain cowrie
that i might take from the sky
what the sea denies.

my soul is a cup
that never fills; a parched poem;
b’emi ta afi.
(let there be peace in my soul)

my heart ever plates
an offering, an ebo
pleasing in yr sight.

father of heaven
inflate my flagging spirit
& see thru’ my eyes

please, oba igbo.,
clear my cochlear snail shells
& hear thru’ my ears.

push my will aside,
take hold my stammering tongue
& speak thru’ my voice.

do let the cowrie
shells drape me like eşu’s cloak,
chief of the white cloth.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

yemọja (34)


the steps came easily,
naturally. how easy this dance, how eloquent the drums, how comforting the rhythm –
gege of the seven strokes –
a cool & undulant rippling of rhythmic waves, so like the sea, so deceptively pleasant ‘round the place where u wade or bathe, but treacherous ‘neath the surface, dragging u down down down.
yemọja gives with one hand
but takes with the other
one with those rhythms the woman sinks down into their blue-green mystery. into successive, changing symmetries of fish swirling in multicolored schools, into vertiginous bits of coral & sea shells & kelp, planckton & ocean stones surrounding her, protecting her, loving her.
the goddess comes
revealing herself –
half woman,
half fish, taking her hand,
drawing her down into the
deepest of depths
into a timeless realm
where all human acts play
themselves again & again
without ceasing
yemọja gives with one hand
but takes with the other
attached is she to memories; pleasant & painful, always in her mind. she forever reminisces, looks back into the past & remembers distant things: distant things still close to her. the goddess takes her head makes her dance; makes her face a deep dark shame, an every woman’s fear & shame, replete with conflict rising from her separateness, from desires & strivings for separate love.
random rape, real &
imagined; indifferent
battering; physical &
emotional; incest in word
& deed; neurotic self-undoing,
purging &
concealed larceny &
autistic detachment –
acting with convincing
politeness; abrading a
young girl’s soul..
makes her look at her secrets, her loss of innocence again & yet again, until she can bear to look no more,
yemọja gives with one hand
but takes with the other
until the dead space in her spirit begins to stir. giving way to a murderous rage, which subsides into caustic anger. the goddess does not relent, but takes her back to that place again & yet again until anger gives way to resentment; gives way to boredom & she grows tired of seeing the same old scenes.
“look until u see something new
& interesting,” yemọja demands,
taking her back to look again. the steps come easily, now. how easy this dance, how eloquent these drums, how comforting this rhythm –
this gege of the seven strokes –
the epiphanic laughter announcing – like green trees bending announce the storm – the abrupt, invisible/electric mediating force of yemọja, a healing hilarity reducing the prurient discharge of spirit decanted from a woman’s open psychic sores to pure élan vital, transmuted by the power of forgiveness.

©Joseph McNair;2009

ọya (33)

a princess tears a cloth in twain
that falls to earth a potent spell.
the mighty niger floods the plain;
ọya springs from its lusty swell.
ọya is the hurricane,
witch wind & summer breeze.
brings trouble & abundant pain
brings healing rains & love’s reprise
her power sweeps away deceit;
she is corruption’s mighty foe.
her justice swift, severe, complete;
for truth she strikes her surest blow.
mother of nine, owner of winds
she nurtures sans distraction
the egungun, four sets of twins
& every marketplace transaction.
ọya gifts the breath of life
& takes it back when life is done;
şango’s bloody bearded wife,
more terrible than anyone.
ọya, thus, is absolute change
her winds explode, uproot & spew
destuction. how passing strange
this force that brings the new.
ọya is the electric storm,
clears the way for the lightning bolt.
unwavering champion of reform,
provocative spirit of revolt

© Joseph McNair;2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

a nose opened wide (32)

a nose opened wide

a nose opened wide recalls the scent of musk
melons & clotted cream, the delightful penetrating
odor of ripening, is nothing more or less than
pheromonic sorcery.

a salivating tongue remembers sweet sugary
cakes, baked in a shallow tray & filled with jelly
or butter cream, is nothing more or less than
sweet sortilege.

the flavors & aromas of my aroused woman compel
my nose & tongue like gravity, to blaze salacious,
salivary trails to the source; to that tangy, slippery
salt lick to irrigate a delicious opening,

to pause, like a blues lover, at the door of a favorite
joint, to soak up, savor the sounds; show sensual
sapience before hardening up & sliding in, giving
in to luxuriant lubricity,

giving in to the tao of love like a fervent farmer
breaking ground to sow his seeds, like an intrepid
warrior breaking thru’ enemy lines, like a stallion
bucking wildly in a stream or

a huge stone sinking into the sea, into the welcoming
wetness, into the swelling tumidity of wonder, into
the shimmering not-self of release, is nothing more or
less than tantric play.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

peaches (31)

a hendecasyllabic hymn for a long,
lost love…
yr loving arms hold me like lanceolate
leaves, broad & pinnately veined; yr yellowbrown
flesh, delicately scented & easily
bruised, its soft colorless hair perfectly plates
the visual euphony that u are; yr
sweet, solitary purplepink flower, whose
fragrant, contractile petals close at my tongue’s
raspy touch, sings to me a sultry siren
song, drawing me stiffly into yr warm, wet
stoneless center, yr delicious friction,
again & again until i’m passionspent.

© Joseph McNair;2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

if u...(30)

if u…

the goddess bastet:
a feline in sweet repose,
toying with her food!

if u
cd have
seen my
after yr
u'd have
they can't
© Joseph McNair; 2009

jamesetta on my mind (29)

jamesetta on my mind

jamesetta hawkins, who for me is to the lovesong what
gwen brooks
is to the sonnet, transposed her birth name
to etta james & in early
1960 supercharged the colored
clouds of fine auric substance in my
desire; molded &
shaped my juvenescent feeling core
singing the lines:
i heard church bells ring,
i heard a choir singing...
in the echoing halls of my desire, those plaintive words
metaphoric moisture & vapor rise, made sensate
particles collide,
rub together, raising the charge to
hyperelevated levels. made my
blues electric, bright &
clear;made heartbreak a necessary nemesis;
taught me
that tears may be all one has when powerless:

all i could do was cry;
all i could do was cry…
her voice cried for me. made me love/hate the heartbreak
hooked me on the drama, the memories & fantasies
that made
the feeling worse. but this was what love was
about,wasn’t it?
later that year she put to wax the magical
words i needed my
beloved to say to me:
all i need is someone like u
my dearest darling, please love me too...
in the matrix of my desire, specialized structures were built,
set &
embedded; loss & need, two polar pillars stood in mutual
connected numbness, disbelief, separation, despair,
sadness &
loneliness with clay-footed, flavor of the day love
objects, the
embodied narcissistic essentials of well-being…
i don't want nobody if i can't have you
oh i can't love nobody unless i'm loving you...
& then came “at last”, that 1942 mack gordon/harry warren tune
that etta breathed life into. this song was the promise & the prize
& her voice sealed the deal. i ached with 13 year old anticipation,
visualizing what my true love would look like, what it might feel
like to have a thrill to press my cheek to …
at last, my love has come along,
my lonely days are over,
& life is like a song...
in the magic theater of my desire, love donned its wizard robes,
called for its transmuting wand, touched loss to make numbness
feel, make disbelief believe & separation whole again. gave
despair hope, made sadness glad & brought to loneliness an
exquisite, lingering humantouch. love transformed need into
self-efficacy & self-respect:
ohhh you smile, you smile
& then the spell was cast
& here we are in heaven,
for you are mine, at last!
but it never lasted, etta. it was always so ephemeral &…
temporary. u never sang of the outside fix that love could
be. u didn’t prepare me for the time when love stopped
working, stopped making me high;when i couldn’t stop
my mindless stumble thru a long life of ugly relationships,
no matter how hard i tried…
alone from night to night you'll find me
too weak to break the chains that bind me.
i need no shackles to remind me,
i'm just a prisoner of love.
but u couldn’t could u? warn me, that is. yr life wasn’t that
much different than mine. could it be that the reason yr
voice sings softly but unmistakeably in the background of
all my memories is that we are bound by the same addictions,
the same obsessions. is that why i hear yr voice so loud & clear.
i want a sunday kind of love
a love to last past saturday night
i’d like to know it’s more than love at first sight
i want a sunday kind of love
well, we have grown old together, peaches, & since i’ve
known every type of love, been ground down thru the
mill of love, reviewed the wreckage, revisited the scenes,
i need u, etta, the one who has been with me longest,
to sing to me once more, tell me that its not my fault,
that i’ve beat myself up enough, & that i’ve finally
paid the cost.

tell me, baby please, that self-forgiveness really
is the greatest love.

© Joseph McNair;2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

ọşun & the gẹlẹdẹ (28)

ọşun & the gẹlẹdẹ

the mysterious power of the
feminine repelled the assembled
powers of heaven…
(woman is the gateway
tween ọrun & àiyé)
the same that is taboo to the
uninitiated; those magical potencies
of patience, those efficacies of
control & reverence –
(the mothers art mightier
than the òrìşà)
the mothers who overshadow
all women; who are bound
to them by menstrual
(blessed are the mysteries;
the vaginal rites)
who dwell in a village of women,
the àjé, the gẹlẹdẹ , the mothers who
place the crown;
(even heaven cannot prevail
against the mothers)
beat back no less than şango & his
thunderstones, ògún & his knives &
swords, omolu & his plethora of
(great is the collective power
of the feminine)
beat back the almighty host of warrior
ancestors, the ibora egun, for in truth
they were only men.
(the mothers know the secret of life
& cannot be defeated)
when yemọja & her mountainous tides
& ọya of the electric storm joined the fray,
they, too, tasted bitter defeat. Even the awon
iyami were rebuked & could not prevail.
(the mothers art mightier
than the òrìşà & the ancestors)
òrìşà & egungun to heaven returned defeated
& filled with despair. never again would
they engage the mothers
(ọşun sits at the vertex of creation
& procreation)
ọşun, the primal erotic feminine, secret ally
of the mothers, placed on her head a calabash,
danced & sang from ọrun to àiyé, from
heaven to earth,
(ìbà ọşun kayodẹ, i respect the
spirit of the river; owner of the dance!)
beating the calabash as a drum she danced to
the center of the village of women, into the
reservoir of feminine energy,
(yẹye komaya, mother, bring the power
of the mothers)
compelled the mothers to join in her dance,
rousing the cellular force felt in every vulvate
contraction, secretion & climax; in the
stretching & tearing of childbirth…

the very same dance they do today.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

emmett till: the shaping of a people's dream (27)

emmett till:
the shaping of a people’s dream

o distant sky, wide earth, vast seas,
do not crush & don't destroy the wicked.
let them destroy themselves!
itshak katzenelson

gunnar myrdal surveys southern whites
on miscegenation:

what do u think the negro mostly wants
from integration?

“cain’t u see?” they said.

“nigras want nothing more, nothing less
than to marry & fornicate with white women!”

what he didn’t ask:

“why do u feel this way?”

that terrifyingly tumescent query would tear,
rend & rupture:

the membranous tissue of lies that partly or
completely occludes the rabbit hole to certain
sexual disintegration & mental sadism;
the plausible reasons given to explain away
purely phobic behavior driven by the prurient
delusions of mass psychosis. false sensate
perceptions elicited by what drug,
what wish or dark phantasmal desire?

the brutish african with his abnormally large
penis lasciviously leering at the fleshy
contours of whiteness; breaching, eroticizing
racial borders – mothers, sisters, daughters –
no matter; seeking to desecrate what was
proclaimed unsullied – the whited receptacle
for small but sacred fetishes.

see him, that mortal black behemoth, mount
the helpless rapunzel, climb her hair, take her
roughly, rending, tearing & stretching, his
sloshing pleasure drowning out her screams –

while a diminutive white boy, humiliated by
his small endowment looks on thinking
ruinous thoughts; complicated, conflicted
thoughts that make him want to kill the beast
& rid the world of its kind; to string him up on
a poplar tree, boil him in oil, strip off his flesh
& castrate the offending member. or failing to
do so becomes himself degraded, a human
toilet, a cleaner of ejaculate, a cuckold & a

while a little white girl, bewildered by
unwanted sanctimony, ambivalently totters on
her pedestal, looks on not knowing what to do
or think. conflicted, she like shamhat of old
with the sweetness of temple harlotry. but religion
succors not her lust, only her guilt. she yearns for, is
repulsed by what she sees & aroused, makes
the vision obligatory for sexual functioning.

she plans furtive liaisons she can disavow if
caught; pawns beast & sexual intimacy for

emmett louis till is born. no avatar of man-the-
whole is he; just a little black boy, raised
without a father, who in untimely death gave
conscious shape to a people’s dream.
a people’s unconscious, massed for
action, becomes aware of a light in
its collective darkness; a luminous
phosphorescence flitting, hovering
over swampy ground caused by
spontaneous combustion of hopes
unrealized & dreams deferred…

emmett louis till, a pawn in a cosmic chess
match, a piece of the lowest value blunders
onto life’s eighth rank & is promoted to a
symbol of power.

went down to mississippi, ridin’ the
southbound train
went down to mississippi, ridin the
southbound train;
& there found death awaiting to
take me home again.
three days in money was all it took. money,
mississippi. three days for the whimsical
innocent, traipsing along the crags of phobic
southern life, without regard for hidden peril,
to trespass racial borders, to stir the dragon of
sexual psychosis.

perhaps he got caught up in the glamour of
southern serendipity. thought he was in a
humphrey bogart movie. thought like a
fourteen year old. thought pretty carolyn
bryant was lauren bacall & that her conflicted
look meant:

u know how to whistle, don't u,
emmett? u just put yr lips together
- & blow."

emmett louis till, or maybe some other
faceless black phantasm, escaped missus
bryant’s psychotic subterranean chamber of
horrors & whistled. she gave him up to
redeem her virtue; to save husband roy & in-law
j.w. from the whirlpools that tear the
fabric of white southern mind & body.

three days later they came for him. before day
on a sunday, retributive white wrongness
snatched the boy out of mose wright’s house
& taught him a lethal lesson.

two redneck paladins of white womanhood;
killed a young buck because they could.

the mississippi delta, pristine symbol of soul
merging with the absolute, of spiritual
nourishment, tasted corruption; tasted the
desecration of adolescent whimsy

the good old boys had a good laugh when
they dragged the mutilated body out of the
tallahatchie. said:

“aint it just like a nigger to try to
swim the river wit a cotton gin fan
chained to his back.”

a bloated fourteen-year-old corpse not
worth a
goddamned whistle.

his mama cried:

"look what they’ve done to my son!"

put his reliquiae & american insanity on
immediate display for the world to see...

if a thousand, it was fifty thousand black
chicagoans on that grim september day who
looked upon that body; those remains:

a people’s unconscious, massed for
action, gravitates toward a gory
image, becomes identified with yet
another cruciate symbol; an
emblem of suffering & shame…
they marched around that coffin in robert’s
temple of god, some passing out from the
sight, their footfalls raising prescient echoes of
marches yet to come, some shouting as their
inner walls of fear & trepidation broke &
came a’tumbling down.

meanwhile, back in mississippi:

nine white farmers, two white carpenters &
one white insurance agent deigned not to
disturb their ancestors nor turn them in their
took minutes to acquit the accused in spite of
the sudden emanation of radiant courage from
moses wright who fingered them in open
court, or the damning testimony of willis reed
who forfeited his sanity when reaching asylum
in chicago.

a people’s unconscious, massed for
action, moves; releases power.

bends the mind of an alabama seamstress who
got sick & tired of being sick & tired until she
becomes spirit in act;

floods the ego of a young georgia preacher who
identifies with a glory image of freedom
until he becomes spirit in act;

opposes the unctuous whore & witch whose spirit
endures in america’s psychic vineyards; the susceptible
ahabs, the roy bryants & j.w. milams who don hats or
hoods, suits or sheets, literally & figuratively to fend off
morbid flaccidity,

becomes fuel for an endless journey of
collective growth…

we give thanks, emmett, for yr immolation,
much like the faithful who, venerate agony,
transubstantiate flesh to bread & blood to
wine. we offer up yr body that our celebrant
collective memory may take, eat & remember!

we give thanks, emmett, for the gift u have
given us, first to move us up out of our apathy
& resignation into anger, then to help us
release that anger into self-affirming action.

we need to remember!

in remembering, we can revisit yr bloated
visage again & again, not to wallow in inertia
& recrimination, but to test our emotional
wounds to see if they are healing; to see if we
have outgrown our need to build collective
identity around past atrocity.

in remembering, we can, if we choose, give up
our grudges, resentments, hatreds & self-pity,
knowing that we do not need them to punish
those who have hurt us; knowing that we were
never truly victims.

in remembering, emmett, we can do honor to
yr sacrifice, drawing on its fullness & power
to rediscover strengths we’ve always had;
relocate our limitless capacity to understand &
accept others & ourselves.

in remembering, emmett, we can heal &

© Joseph McNair; 2009

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