Monday, March 16, 2015

#72 The Elder Presences

B. wrote this while he was living in Washington with his wife of the moment and with his mother in the apartment downstairs, and he would take his daughter to the park across the street from the Supreme Court and play with her on the swings. It was a time for him of nearly constant alcohol abuse, though, and not much work, though he did manage to get out this poem. It was the last one to be written for the first volume, 77 Dream Songs.

It’s a bit of a puzzle, like usual. The first two stanzas are pretty straightforward, although I’m not sure about “the justices lean, negro, out, the trees bend.” “Negro” I guess, is an aside to Henry? Or are the justices or their statues somehow adopting a "negro" style of leaning? Seems too ridiculous to consider. Whatever. “Man’s try began too long ago” is an intriguing line—Supreme Court or not, an institution ostensibly dedicated to law, order, and rationality in the administration of justice (it’s too partisan these days, having been stoked with moles by criminals, and doing real damage, but that’s another story), the institutions are playing out over the long decline of history.

“Henry’s perhaps to break his burnt-cork luck.” Wow—burnt cork, of course, is what the minstrel blackens his face with. In a period of near constant drunkenness, the decline of the self is evident, and the erosion of self-confidence. He’s feeling his end, here. He denies that good got us up that “broad shoreline”, but instead greed may have been the motivator, though “like a fuse,” with the implication that it’ll all explode soon enough. The Court overlooks it all. It’s a fairly bleak pronouncement, and doubly sad when prompted by swinging one’s daughter on a playground which is supposed to be fun. It is fun for her: The innocent little girl playing with her daddy, and daddy ruminating on 1) the slow, dolorous decline of the human institutions representative of light, justice and reason, and 2) whiskey in which bar tonight?

I’m closer in spirit to the girl for the moment, even though I just now moaned about our corrupt Supreme Court too—stoked with partisan moles (Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Alito) by criminals (Bush, Cheney). I haven’t swunged too much lately, but it wasn’t so long ago. Tonight, even the memory of swinging’s better than moaning about conservative radical shites, so to heck with the Supreme Court. I’d rather scrub toilets or mine coal or be a strip-club pole-dancer than a lawyer anyway. (But Ruth Bader Ginsberg rocks!)

1 comment:

  1. Looking back: Maybe not a focused or coherent treatment this time (that's OK--not every day could be a winner). "The justices lean, negro out"--the court's opinions tend to marginalize certain groups on racial grounds. The key in this one is that Henry denies that good has gotten us here. Maybe greed will get us through, he muses. It's mainly a bleak pronouncement on not only the Supreme Court, but the entire societal project of shepherding ourselves into some sort of equitable future, which we're botching. As always, though it's subtle--or, I guess not so subtle with that burnt cork crap--Henry is establishing his ties with a disenfranchised group, African Americans. The poem is profoundly bitter, and the activity of swinging an innocent little girl doesn't relieve the bitterness it merely accentuates the sweeping injustice of a racist, greed-driven society, which by the way, treats poets and English majors and artists with the same contempt it heaps on those disenfranchised in other ways, through the circumstances of their birth. This all figuratively weighs down even the trees at times. In the end, the comparison of Henry with the injustice imposed on African Americans is inexcusable. In the end, it's absolutely racist. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, voting rights denied: No coddled white fucking academic poet, no matter how humiliated by his own embarrassing actions, is allowed to set himself up as a commensurate victim with the injustices suffered by African Americans in US history. It's racist to do it, because while on one hand the intent is to validate the speaker's suffering by setting it next to serious, life-destroying suffering of African Americans, the result actually is to invalidate the suffering of African Americans--a racist outcome driven by a racist lack of real empathy. There's one early poem in this cycle about a lynching that gets it right, I think, but the overall move of making this comparison is disgracefully racist and deserves to be forgotten. I can say this now in 2018 because I see it, and I see it because I worked my way through this stuff in 2015, thought about it and earned an opinion. It's obvious to me now, but the received burden of legacy racism is deep and takes concerted and deliberate effort to ferret out. It will be a life-long struggle.