[Since Don & the Slam led me to this page, I'll kick off my occasional diatribe with this from this summer's archive.]
Hakim is speaking in the District courtyard about black men stacked in ships
Fifty feet behind his back
on the other side of the fence
four cops are rousting two men on the outdoor mall
locking handcuffs behind their backs.
The two men—one black, one brown—
were drinking on that side of the fence
and I am drinking on this side of the fence
and the bars of the fence are like the bars of a jail
except that the free people are inside the bars
except: are any of us free as we obediently buy well-advertised products
and pay the taxes that pay the cops to enforce the law
so that if we drink outside the bars we get handcuffed?
And the poetry goes on and the cops move slowly
and the men in handcuffs sit quietly
but nervously and resignedly
as if they’ve been through all this before
and they know where they’re going
and their brief moments of drinking outside the bars
were almost worth the time they’ll spend behind bars
with three hots and a cot in an illegally overcrowded slammer.
A cop pours a can of beer into the bushes,
destroying the property of a man who paid more dearly for his drink than I did for mine.
And was I free from the neon hype that assaulted me
as I crossed Central Avenue
hearing poetry echo down the mall
hearing the alcohol-inflamed passion rise into the summer night?
Behind the bar
a black woman bends gracefully toward me
and I have to wonder whose ancestors—black and white—were where
when those ships sailed in Hakim’s poem
and what are the stories of the lives and the loves
the rapes and the chains
that brought us to this moment
when she stops in perfect balance
and serves me fine tequila in a plastic cup;
our human interaction colored by a business transaction.
The cops uncuff the black man and take the brown man away
and some kind of order is preserved
on the other side of these steel bars:
some kind of order that stretches back
to the point in time when one human first imposed his will on another
to the time when one human first declared his own superiority over another
to the time when one human life was first valued above another
and that value locked in by the creation of a cage.
The memory of that moment is in our genes, yours and mine;
in the seed of every moment of our lives.
The shackles are ours to break.