[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

in chains.

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

in public

and I am drinking on this side of the fence

in public

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.

August 07

Views: 4

Comment by chantal on December 30, 2007 at 1:24pm
This is provocative stuff. Thanks for posting it.

Personally, I've been thinking a lot about, as you touched on in your piece, the massive weight of consumption we're all continually pushed to shoulder. It's getting so ridiculous that a loved one might actually you buy a Starbucks Christmas tree ornament thinking it's a gift rather than an advertisment invading your home.
Comment by Richard Malcolm on December 30, 2007 at 5:54pm
Thanks for the comment.

Check out Adbusters magazine, if you don't know it. There's a lot of stuff about the onslaught of "branding." It's made me think, when I see someone covered with corporate trademarks, that they might as well be branded in the same way that livestock are, with a commercial mark burned into their skin. Graphic, but emblematic of inexorable corporate creep into every aspect of our lives.
Comment by Richard Malcolm on December 30, 2007 at 11:20pm
That shade of difference was much of what I was musing: they were on public property, and presumably bought their beer down the street. I was on private property (the outside courtyard of a bar). Just that legality and an iron fence separated us, though I wonder if their fate would have differed if they had been wearing fancy clothes and dangling BMW keychains . . .
Comment by Don McIver on December 31, 2007 at 2:25pm
Nice Richard.

Remember that incident as well and ruminated in my mind, not on page, as you did. Of course, I'm reminded of the French Quarter in NOLA and Las Vegas where they authorities aren't as uptight about public consumption...
Comment by Richard Malcolm on December 31, 2007 at 9:28pm
When I first went to Las Fiestas de Santa Fe, people strolled around downtown, buying margaritas out the windows of bars . . .

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