Southern Fork. They had copies of it. Two bloggers at Tully’s coffee house were raving about Terrence father’s memoir; and doing it so loud that he could hear it 20 feet away at the counter

“You know, I just found this book at a swap meet” said the man on the left side.  “I’ve never had a book speak to my life like this.”

“I feel you on that brother” said the man on the right.

“I didn’t come from the briar patch, but I know something about coming up from nothing. Freddie Steele foster homes, dawg. Had to fight and claw my way to get that diploma and this degree”  the man on the left said before he took another sip of his chai. He was wearing a tweed jacket with black rimmed bottle capped glasses and had a short-cropped afro.

“The whole part of him reading every book in the negro library, then taking abuse to read in the white one? Nigga… Nigga” said the man on the right. he was bald with a beard, wearing a da-shiki. “That’s how I made my way out of juvie. Reading their library and as much of the downtown branch as I could.”

Terrence got his Iced Mocha, then sat two tables away from them. He had never seen people rave about his father like this . He had walked two blocks from the hotel to get fresh air to plan his article. He thought he would jot down some random thoughts about gentrification and his city while seeing if anyone in the Tacoma Police Department responded to the messages he sent about his brothers case. Yet, as he sat down, he was face to face with this imagined vision of his father that he had never seen before. A vision that came from faces wearing afro centric costumes.  A vision constructued of ideas and actions that were completely foreign to his historYet they were so young, so eager, and so unknowing that Terrence had a hard time getting angry at them for creating it.

“And the shit he went through being bused to school?” Said the man on the left. “The day his teacher died when someone threw a Molotov cocktail in a room aiming for him?

“And how he dedicated to being a teacher after that? “Said the man on the right.

“This is witness, brother.”

“Powerful witness.”

Terrence struggled to think of a time when he had heard of his  as anything but a cudgel.  His whole life he had heard people wield the book as a excuse for his behavior.  Yet for the first time, he was listening people talk about the book itself.  More than that, he was hearing people talk about the person once behind it. The young man they described, young, compelling, with the capability of heroism, seemed like a different person that the father he knew his entire life. Terrence wasn’t filled with wonder as much fascination. They had taken in history so clean, so unfettered by any cost, so different from any experience he had in his life that he couldn’t help looking at them as they were some sorts of aliens.

“It’s such a tragedy that he could overcome Jim crow, but Couldn’t deal with politics, academia, and the pipe.” The man in the tweed jacket said

“I heard he’s been off the stuff for a while. “said man in the dashiki. Terrence notice he wore a medallion, a shiner replica of the ones he saw afro centric students wear as a kid. “what did Cheryl say about him when you got a hold of he

“that sometimes he likes to go to the library”

“PERFECT! Comeback story! The black writer is in the gym.”

The young men quickly folded their laptops,  and left the coffee shop. Terrence watched them up the steep hill on 11th street on the way to the library.  It was an overcast day, but from tint of the clouds,  he could see that the sun was trying to break. He looked at the professionals going in and out of the coffee shop, the donut shop across the street, and the subway in front of him. He remembered when his father would hang out when these buildings were dope apartments. The last time he saw him here, Cheryl drove Sarah, Rodney Jr and himself to a northwest black journalist conference. She and taken the car through early evening traffic right up the hill to the stop lights when he saw him . He was wearing a dirty dashiki and fatigue pants, yelling with a group of men at the policemen who patrolled the Pantages theater before Showtime. It was a picture that he had a hard time getting out of his head, so much so that to see the buildings around the bottom so shiny, clean and colorful gave him a shock.

Terrence finished his Mocha and went up the hill to the library. He thought of his plan to shadow then men and see his father. The hill up to the downtown Tacoma public branch is steep for a healthy person, and Terrence labored and panted to get to middle main road of Tacoma avenue. The library was two blocks down, renovated since he had seen him last, making it look less like a college hall, and more like a mauve colored office building. He walked in to see the place renovated, with computer labs, interactive media exhibits, and comfortable tables and chairs. He saw his father on one table surrounded by books, flanked by the three young men, trying to get words out.

“How long you been off the stuff, brother?” The one in tweed jacket said.

Thirteen…Thirteen years now.” said his father.

“And I can see you are on that comeback trail with the books” said the one in the Da-shiki.

“fifteen, fifteen years since the mark of the beast” he said, looking at Terrance for the first time

He looked better than Terrance thought he would be, and for the first time Terrance became angry at his presence. He was wearing green and brown colors instead of fatigues and a fisherman’s hat. He donned a white beard that was cleaner than any Terence had seen of him. And now, 15 years since Terrence had gazed him last, his father conducted himself among the young men like a tendentious buddha. Terence could barely control his shaking. His brother had died, his mother had died, and here he was, he thought, a gentrifying city’s radical magical negro- carrying along better than any of them.

“Brother Shannon, what is your opinion of ‘Burn That Bitch Down’ the Assassin’s song that got re-released last month? “said the one in the tweet jacket. “Critics have hailed it as a lost classic of the gangster rap protest genre”

“Bo you see it as a response to or an outgrowth of your anti-capitalist activism in Nisqually university and the black action network” said the one in the dashiki.

“and why hasn’t the general or black media given you credit for what you’ve done for the community.”

“The spirits” Rodney Sr said, backing from the table.

“We’ve been thinking about this and we want to help-.” The one in the tweed jacket said.

“The spirits’ he said to the men stammering “The spirits say I ain’t shit.” He pointed to Terrence. “The spirits are coming to get me.”

Terrence suppressed his laughter as the two young men tended to him. A crowd of young and old people looked around him sternly. How am I the enemy in this situation, he thought to himself. This is another act from the old man. He’s nice hustling all these white folks the way he tried to dope hustle everybody on the hill. This bullshit about the spirts is just a way for him to say that it wasn’t his fault. Library assistant and patrons huddled around Rodney Sr, and Terrence held his hand over his head to keep himself from giggling. A librarian came to put her hand on Rodney Sr’s shoulder. He was a young man, white, wearing a black lives matter pin on his V-neck sweater “He’s a good man. He’s only had a few of these breakdowns.”

“I understand” said the one in the tweed jacket looking at the librarian and then looking at Terrence. He then turned back to the librarian to shake his hand. “Damien Gossage. I teach black history at Seattle U. I just found out that he used to be a writer. Southern Fork is one of the great lost memoirs of the black migration, and I wanted to see the man in person.”

“Jim Watford. I heard he used to be a writer but he would get unstable if he’d tell me. I’ve heard stories about him and how He fell on hard times, but I’ve never seen him use here, and I’ve seen people use. “

“Kimani Wallace, “said the one in the Dashiki, shaking his hand. “I run soul people coffee house. We just found brother Shannon, and want to give him the right networks. See if we can get some medicine and get his mind working again” he then quickly and sharply turned to Terrence ” HEY BROTHER! I see you are making my man nervous. What’s you deal.”

“Do you have any business with Brother Shannon.” Said Damien.

Terrence looked at his father, his mouth wide open and right index finger pointing at him “The spirits have come for me” Rodney Sr said

“The Brother SAID to you have any business brother Shannon” said Kimani.

Terrence gave a shrug “I’m with Rap Maandeliske” he said. “I have a piece to finish”

**

The hill from the library to the east end projects is steep;  but Terrence hid his lack of lung power. Damien and Kimani walked him home very slowly. They crossed and went left on every other block while trying to talk to him about his past.  Through condominums next to boarded houses and hole in the wall food joints,  they peppered him with bullet points about his history.

“Brother Shannon” said Damien. “your story- how you got out of the Jim crow south, how you acquired knowledge, how you fought for your people to have representations of themselves-that can help a lot of black men”

“and it’s not over” said Kimani as they got to the top of the hill on 19th and Martin Luther king Boulevard “ it doesn’t have to be over.”

“I can’t think anymore” Said Rodney

“Let’s see if you can get your mind working if you get the right medicine” said Kimani

“no no …it’s my fault.” Rodney responded

“Brother, it’s the dynamics of the era. Nobody knew how the crack game would harm people”. Said Damian.

“Nobody knew what crack was “Said Kimani.

They got to the intersection of 19th and Hillcrest, the one Terrence went to catch the city bus to take him to Nisqually as a kid. He had faint memories of this place in the day time: the block had its midnight to 6 energy blackouts and his routine-in catching the 5:10 bus-was to strain to see enough light from the downtown skyline to get to the bus stop. He remembered those winters, walking on a sheen of frost that made every step seem like he was wearing tap shoes in an ice rink, balancing himself with his calf ligaments while taking perilously slow steps hidden from the downtowns off white glow. The rows of rickety houses that he did remember didn’t gradually improve and blend into the suburbs of division street as much as they stood out like a patchwork quilt of re-models.

“I ain’t shit” said Rodney . They turned into hillcrest. In place of the playground and the basketball court in the middle of the buildings was a field and a series of stones to take a form of a cross. Rodney Sr pointed to it

“is that what you take care of, Brother Shannon” said Kimani. Rodney Sr nodded.

“what a thing you are doing for the community, taking care of the monument of the people who have fallen. You are doing some penance here” said

“I ain’t shit” said Rodney Sr, looking at Terrance

“It hurts me to hear you talk about that elder. Do you know how many people have come back from?”

“I ain’t shit, boy. I know I ain’t shit boy” He said, shaking his hands and crying in a voice voice higher than Terence could ever remember from him” “. I know I ain’t nothing. I know I fucked me over! I fucked my life over I did. I lost my job, my wife, every friend I ever had.”

Terrence looked on the sidewalk was shocked to see the water on his cheeks. For a second, he struggled to remember if he ever saw him cry ” Look at me, boy,” Rodney  said, pointing to him. “ look at me. I ain’t nothing. Ever since I touched that pipe, I ain’t been nothing. I know I ain’t been nothing.”

Terrence looked at his father face to face. Though it was clearer than he could remember he could see the underlying scars in that covered his face

“What’s your deal, man.” said Damien “Are you his “

“it ain’t his boy” said Kimani “ His boy is a crackhead in the nuthouse. This nigga is just some contrarian asshole”

“I’m the asshole” he turned to the two men “ I’m the asshole I’m the asshole I’m the asshole. I’m tired of being the asshole. I’m tired of putting everything on Alabama and the election. I go…I go to the library every day. You know, they got those posters of famous black folks to let the kids know they can be somebody. And I was looking at a picture of Sonia Sanchez” he paused, looked away and looked back at me “And I forgot her name. I taught a class on her for 8 years. And my brain is so smoked out that I always forget her name. Worse off, there are days I can’t even recall I used to teach, That I had a life of the mind. I have lost the right to be a man. I am not a black warrior, an educator, a leader of men. I am a monster”

“But we can help you, brother.” Said Kimani “ That was years ago. We can help you.”

“ You can’t help me” said Rodney  “ because I’m dead.

The men stopped 50 feet in front of his house. “Brother. Brother” said Damien. “ You ain’t lost, you just gone. You just far gone, man. Come on back.”

“I’m dead “ said Rodney “and the spirit has come to get me.” He put his hands out to Terrence, chest together, like a prisoner.

“ Brother what is wrong” said Damien

“ you are very very much alive and we want to help you” said Kimani“ You just broke your brain and you need to come back to the world. Come back to the world, Elder.”

“No no, I am dead and I am in purgatory.” Said Rodney Sr. “ I died the night after my boy died. I was smoking down by the docks with my boys and the devil came to me. I was passing the pipe around not thinking of nothing with Clarence my good time buddy. See I had thought I had kept Clarence and his boys around in honor of my past, the niggas who were there for me when I was a bestselling intellectual and stayed down with me when I had fell to the gutter.

“But that night we were all smoking and talking that big shit, and Clarence said, I heard your boy hung himself. I just thought it was bullshit and passed the pipe around, and Clarence lit the pipe and I saw the devil. I saw his crimson black face, I saw the most intense features I ever seen, and I saw the fire. I saw burning and burning cauldrons in his eyes and me and all the niggas I was hanging out with burning in them. I saw myself in eyes in the fire, crying, crying to get out, crying ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee’ but the sky played every time I put my hands on my woman and my babies. I got up and got out of the room and I heard his voice, so heavy, so twistedly choral intense and dark “ Your baby done hung himself nigga” he said and I looked and all the partners in the room were gone and it was just me and Clarence, and his —”

“Brother, brother” said Kimani ” let’s take you to a center : We need you to get you to a place where you can heal, where you can mend.”

“No no it’s fine. I’m not crazy. All my partners said I was crazy because I saw the devil in Clarence. They told me how not fun was and how I wasn’t the life of the party no more but I couldn’t be what i was. All them banker niggas and old ass factory niggas just going to houses chasing rock after rock. I couldn’t do that anymore. I heard the devil’s voice in tone in everything.”

“but the devil ain’t here.” said Damien ” We ain’t the devil. You are a writer who is about come up and who deserves attention to car”

“you can come back brother”

“But I can’t come back” he said “ I can’t come back. I cheated the ancestors. When I picked cotton and was left for nothing as a boy, my aunties told me to believe in the spirits. The women who would pick cotton with me, who would pick the cotton I was too young to pick, who tended and took care for me when no one else would. They told me believe in the spirits because we didn’t have nothing else. And I didn’t have nothing else. But I had this need to escape through books. And I just listened to the spirts and they told me that books could keep me, and I rode with what they taught me I listened and read and read and read until it got me out of there. Until it got me to the college. Until it got me to the bestseller and the nice condominium”

“Mr. Shannon” said Terrence “I’m from Rap Maandeliske. Did the spirits give you your family?”

“But I stopped listening to them.” He said, ignoring him “I stopped hearing my channels. I got the bestseller and I thought I had to be a nationalist institutional man. I wasn’t supposed to believe in old folklore shit, I was supposed to believe in revolution! I had to believe in rationalism I had to ignore the white man’s spirits because I had to be a nation man. So, I ignored the spirits. I ignored what the aunties told me. I thought I could fly by myself as a star.

But I slowly lost everything. The tide of the school turned against me. The campaign failed. All these warning. The spirits were giving me all these warnings. And I didn’t listen, I was a god. And then I smoked and became a monster. I raged. I hurt my baby I hurt my child. And the spirits sent me to hell”

Terrence started laughing and Kimani pushed Him ” Nigga you are crazier than he is”.

“Listen, you just need to rest, man, “ said Damien to Rodney. He turned to Terrence “ Brotha, you need to leave. I don’t like the way you are working this elder’s nerves.”

“No no he isn’t working me. He is the spirits coming to take my debt because of my new good fortune. I know we live in the spirit world and I know the Cheryl you talked to isn’t the Cheryl I knew. Because I abused her and my women out of their head. And the Cheryl I saw saw me in the lower world not eating and not functioning and in my filth, wasn’t the real Cheryl. She was an extension of the spirits giving me room and shelter for the good I did when I was a scholar. And I tended to that. And I tend to the gravesites of the dead of the after world. I thought I could come back., and I thought I could talk to Cheryl about the past some, I thought I was of this world but she would just not even acknowledge me.

“ brother brother you are breaking my heart, man.” Said Kimani

“No, no. I tended to the gravesites for years. I believed I was a normal person and we are in the normal world like you “

“No brother we are in the normal world”

“No, you aren’t of the normal world. You are spirits. You are aspects of my best self to remind me of who I used to be before he comes to remind me of what I had done”. He said in a pitch above a whisper. I tried to do my penance with the grave sites but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t use. I kept me a low profile as the groundskeeper. I’ve been doing it for 7 years. But I still can’t escape my shit. I try to not be seen, but these white kids with money that come in here says nice things to me.  It sets the people that used to know me as a junkie in a rage. When I’m healthy I try to go to the library and read some of the books I love, but I can’t hold concentration together. I thought it was me being a drunk and ex junkie but I also know it’s god punishing me for Sarah and my oldest. And you, spirit. It’s god punishing me for what I did to you.”

“Are you his boy?” Said Kimani.

“The last month I’ve been so stressed that I honestly don’t want to go out at all. I was so scared this day would come” Said Rodney Sr. “Music journals from Seattle and Vancouver found me here. They bombard me with these questions about me and my life and I don’t recognize the person they are talking to.  White boys offering me deals again. One white boy offered me a recommendation at a school to get me to teach again.  And my baby is gone. And my babies are gone. And I might as well have killed them.

Rodney stumbled toward Terrence ” You can take me to hell now, spirit.“

“Nigga just who the fuck are you?” said Damien

“He is the ghost of my second dead son.” Said Rodney SR “ My second dead son who OD’d. Please have mercy on me, ghost. I didn’t mean to ever become me when I first got high . But I thought my worlds was ending. Ending. I lost the election. I was losing my teaching job, I was going to be homeless, I couldn’t take care of my family , and nobody was going to give me a goddamn break because I wasn’t a tenured academic. Conservatives at the school were coming for me. And I remember going to the community center and seeing the old heads in the corner. Every day I went by those niggas smoking they little pipe. Decrepit old playas fucking around by the garbage can, telling me “Hey nigga, we just getting fucked up” And every Sunday I would shoo off, tell em to stay away from the kids. But one day I was in so much pain…so much pain. I looked at them, glazed, stupid, not a care in the goddamn world, and I wanted to be like em. For a second….I wanted to be that happy…I wanted to get “fucked upp

“I was out of my head, sprit. I had given everything to that community and stretched my hands to white folks as far as I possibly could. I had built their black studies department from nothing but the regions of my mind, and they were going to take it away because I didn’t have proper accreditation. They didn’t give a good goddamn about accreditation when I led the protests for the studies department and they gave me the job as a Joke, but after 9 years of me doing something, 9 years of holding those classes in the janitor’s lounge, 9 years of me building it up, they wanted proper accreditation.

“So, I escaped. I escaped from my woman my babies and my life. I know I ain’t shit, spirit. I will never have ascended to the above spirit world. Ever since I had heard that Rodney hung himself, I know I was sent to the fallen places of hell .I am a fallen man who is being punished for my sins, and I understand that. But please sir, please have mercy on me
“Mr. Shannon” said Terrence “ I…”

“I don’t use, I don’t mess with people and I keep the monument tidy. Please don’t send me to the burning world. “

“nigga for the last time, who are you” said Kimani

“Mr. Shannon.” Said Terrence,

“what’s your name, nigga!” said Damien

“And I just want to know, how you are dealing with the new-found success and interest in your life.” Terence said ignoring him “ Your ex has died, your son has died , do you feel alone in your triumphs?

“oh with this bullshit “ said Kimani, getting in his face “ You contrarian woke niggas don’t know a goddamn thing about history, creatives or art. You don’t know the demons back geniuses face. You don’t know the prices a writer has to pay to make it and you damn sure don’t know what the nigga had to go through to get here “ to which Terrence laughed and pranced around.

“This nigga is as gone as brother Shannon” said Damien

“ But for what cause” said Kimani ” Have you read this book? Did you know what he went through in his life to be here? I’m not saying this nigga is a saint. I’m saying he’s done good in his life and does good for his community. Can’t he have a chance to do good for his community again?”

“I would like him to answer the question” said Terrence, before cackling in a guttural tone.

“But it’s a leading question” Said Kimani “ and I’m damm sure the nigga on crack at this moment is you.”
“Brother. Or whatever writer you are, let me tell you something.” Said Damien, now in his face “Creators are flawed. You can’t judge a man’s actions back then by today’s standards, and you can’t act like he hasn’t done some”

“Please don’t take me demon” said Rodney Jr

“All right brother we’re gonna take you to bed so you can rest” said Kimani

“Give me a chance to pay my penance to at least not live in the world of fire”

“Brother, you have been through so much, you just need to sleep and get your right said” Damien “ the things you have been through”

Just then Terrence snapped. He went toward him got in his face, played the game, and hissed “ I lied. I liked I am the dead demon son. I was there with the seraphs when you hit your son with a cognac bottle. I was there when you were yelling at your son all those times on MLK. I was the spirit that animated Clarence’s face to tell you your youngest child had died and I am here to.

Just then Damien punched him, knocking him on the ground. He grabbed him picked him up and drug him next to the tree thirty yards by a cliff. “That’s enough, you crazy bougie nigga”

Obvlious to the pain, Terrence laughed and screamed out loud “Why you so sad, old man?” he said “You gonna make a comeback out of the Assassins, huh? I They’re gonna do the NWA psycho fake protest bullshit, and pretend that their psycho killer records had some poignancy. White folks and Niggas are going to eat it up. And you’re gonna turn out the best out of all of us. All these rich radicals will think you a sad beleaguered scholar broken because of activism? Your fighting the system. And you can blame everything on…” Just then Damien punched him again knocking his head against the oak and by curled by the grass above the roots.

Terrence lay there, hearing his father moan and Damien and Kimani rant inaudibly. His left eye was burning and swollen. In the hours, he had just laid there, turning with his Right to see Kimani and Damien setting chairs up and helping his father out in the garden. He remembered the garden shed on the side as a shed where only crackheads slept. The movements of the people there would startle him every morning when he would go past it on the way to school; so much so that he braced himself every dawn when he had to walk by. He bristled with rage, then remembered the drug he was addicted to for the last 7 years.

He looked at his father, in the midst, in the dirt, only seeable in the streetlight but very visible in a gentrified development garden, tending to a row of greens as if he had seen the last scene in The Color Purple and thought if it as some sort of life hack. He stayed out and on the ground till nightfall and the sound of the chain link fence opening, he turned to see crowds of young people wearing the garb one could suspect in a black spoken word coffee house. The street lights went on, one by one, and he remembered how aunt Cheryl would compare them to the lights of the Apollo when the Temptations would come on the stage. Terence thought of her when he saw them at the casino next to a Christian convention that Helen and he skipped; and though they seemed like feeble imitations, he went there for her and the lights went on exactly like she said he did. He turned and his father had gone into the shed. He went across the mulch and opened the door to find him on the plastic floor in a fetal position, praying and looking to the sky

The kids had filled the field and were surrounded by the brother in a da-shiki, a fire was lit, and 5 or six men were playing drum. “spirits who you are, fathers who have guided is, rivers over my fathers, rivers in my fathers, pray for brother Rodney. Give him the courage to come back and come to give to us. Spirts, Fathers establish your good guiding hand to keep him the way his book kept us. The way the spirts of the elders kept him before, spirits come to the brother again.”

“Spirits lift up the assassins who are speaking brutal truths of oppression and what it can do the community. Lift them to focus and lift the black community to see these brothers through and see these brothers to glory and to represent their community to the fullest.”

As the crowd started to exhort and chant, Terrence got up to try and interrupt them. He walked to the fire they had started in a garbage can. He thought of screaming at them that he was their motherless child, the ghost of death past or future, and that he was here to scare them into being black republicans. He wondered how many what he could do if he spun his head around and quoted supply side economic He stated to rush them. He instinctively grabbed his wallet to find a picture, memento or something of his mother, and remembered what he done. He realized that he would have nothing to prove in his vigilance of her. That he had denied her as well as his father. That he had cursed her when he wrote the papers about abolishing black studies. That he had denied her name and every tie to her and became just as much of a junkie as he was.

He sunk his head and looked at his father, still there in the shed. Across the fire, they locked eyes. He waved his hand softly and Terrence waved his, then kneeled down and collapsed.

 

At about midnight Terrence could open both his eyes. He looked at Cheryl’s apartment at the front of the building and saw the new sidings were burnt red instead of brown. Her management complex was unnamed, surrounded by plastic brush upon real brush, that encompassed the back of projects on the hill. He looked and saw her light was off, and thinking she was asleep, thought to call an uber to the hotel.

Laying on the ground, seeing small speckled of light in the clear sky, Terrence ran the story that he would tell aunt Cheryl: I was a scared child. Abandoning you was the callus on his soul that has scarred my 20’s. My success as a black conservative is marked by his subsequent failure in almost everything else. I am a a lonely, lonely man with nothing but a jones and my girlfriend’s money. I can’t turn back time, I understand this . I understand that you don’t want anything to do with me for the rest of my days.

Just then he felt a soft kick on his leg that startled him ” Mister. Mister” said a young woman.” Mrs Cheryl says she ain’t gonna call the cops on you, but you got to get your ass home.” She was wearing two black robes, and a shower cap that bundled her long-processed hair.

“I’m sorry to bother you. Is Cheryl here, I come in peace.”
“Cheryl don’t want to hear about no damn Assassins tonight, man. ”
“No no please. I owe her an apology.”
“I help take care of her at the church from when she had the stroke. You and these niggas are the fifth group of motherfuckers this week on Mrs Sheryl’s door
Terrence’s face went pale. “A stroke? Is she okay? I have access to money”
“Brother, please”
“Are you going to school, do you need help with school? I can help pay. I used to be her family until I turned her away” she turned his back on him and went back to the Cheryl’s apartment. “Do you need to go to a better school? I used to go to Nisqually prep. I could make some phone calls for you. ”

She went inside then came out, with the same box aunt Cheryl tried to give him at the train station. She sat down in on the ground front of him, her face half brown and black in the shadow of the light, and he waited for her to say something. A slight gust of wind ruffled the drapes of her apartment. He nodded as if to ask if he could come in. The sister emphatically nodded no and put her hands on her shoulders”

“Listen, sister, I want you to know that I know I’m nothing. I know you know about the assassins and my reputation, and the way they talk about me is wrong, their substance is right. I have some money but I’m nothing. I made my lot and threw my family away under circumstance. Whatever you do in life, please don’t measure it by monetary gain. I have a monkey on my back. I turned on my loved one when she needed me. I’m gonna go, but here is my number. If you need any money, sister.”

“Her name is J’nessa” said Cheryl.

Ward/Kovalev 2: Quit Crying.

 

 

1-ward-kov2-3In the organic action of a fight- when one boxer is in the middle of throwing a punch and another fighter is moving to a certain position different to where he was before fighter A threw the punch, and fighter A’s punch ends up low-the punch is not an intentional foul. In the case of Andre Ward versus Sergey Kovalev, it was the punch at the end of a terrible beating Ward was delivering toward him, and the only definitively low blow he delivered in the fight.

Not since a coked up, sloppy Julio Cesar Chavez pouted through the final rounds to his loss to Frankie Randall has a fighter that good( Kovalev) put on a crying tantrum that bad in a fight. Only the drug that Kovalev was on was racism, the idea that no African American was tough enough to get in the ring and trade with him( least of all Ward, known for being an exquisite stylist). Well, on Saturday, Ward not only showed the gifts and style for the second stage of his career, he showed Kovalev that the east bay ain’t nothing to fuck with in the street fighter department. If Ward is not fluid, dancing maestro of his 20th, able to produce some of the best boxing performances in recent memory with his split second reflexes; then he is now a formidable, often brilliant boxer puncher, with enough speed and skill to outbox most champions, and enough power and guts to make them think twice about trading with him.

The shaky win he had over Kovalev in the first fight made a lot of people wistful for the Ward who fought Edwin Rodriguez and Chad Dawson, and i’m not alone in thinking that the Ward who fought in those fights was as spectacular as any fighter in this generation or the previous. The fear, after seeing Ward get knocked down and barely cobble enough rounds together to get a win, was that-because of age-we would never see Ward that great again. Technically we didn’t see Ward that great, but we did see was Ward remind the public that he was still a truly great fighter; a champion with more resources and skill than we thought he had.

The person we might not see even good again was his opponent. From his petering out in the championship rounds to the first fight, to the incredulous body language he showed when Ward engaged in a inside fight with him, Sergey Kovalev showed that he’s more interested in being a Trumpian racist henchmen on social media than a world class fighter. He might win another title, but he’s been exposed. Virgil Hunter was right, Ward punched the bully in the mouth and the bully withered on the ropes and whined about the ending. The way that his trainer, the gifted( and black) John David Jackson, disdainfully refused to stand up for him, showed that Kovalev has blown his chance for a hall of fame career. Excuse me if I can’t weep for the man about it, though.

Review: Respect, The Life Of Aretha Franklin.

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She drank some. She had deep agonies in regards to  severe childhood abuse. She was “moody”. She went through a horrible violent relationship. Afterwords, she liked to eat, smoke weed, and have lots of consensual sex. And did I forget to mention she was “moody”. She was not remembered too fondly by her two managers (who both admitted that Aretha claimed they owed her money.)

These are the indictments David Ritz lays toward Aretha’s feet. If this narrative stirs you to outrage over Aretha’s character, you need to get a hobby. Compared to Hemingway, Pound ( or Marvin Gaye, Ritz’s most famous biographical subject) Aretha comes off looking like Florence Nightingale. To be more specific, Aretha comes off as someone who handled a tremendous amount of trauma…remarkably well? Ritz wrote this as a response to not getting the book he wanted from her when she commissioned him to write a bio in first person, and the second biography comes off like a bad Ally tantrum; a white man “down” with the community until he doesn’t get something that he wants, and proceeds to throw a conniption fit. In it, her charity work and activism in regards to Dr King, Angela Davis, and AIDS takes precedents to such daemonic acts as mood swings , outbursts in the process of creation and performing, and (brace yourselves) making up stories to Jet Magazine about her social life.

Most people would see these mood swings as almost middling for any creative, much less the greatest pop vocalist in the 21st century. That Ritz would take a tone of near epic hysteria is telling of the standard fragile male ego on two levels. One is immediately visceral and pertaining to as to Ritz’s most famous subject. As deeply as I love his work and as understanding  I am of the disturbing abuse he took from his father, Marvin Gaye did some sick shit toward women during the end of life, and Ritz’s tone toward him is almost overwhelming devotion. The contrasting perspectives-overwhelmingly understanding toward Marvin’s victim-turned victimizer cruelty at the end of his life, then willing to throw the book at Aretha when her ex manager gives her side of a business deal gone wrong in 1982-are as clear a double standard as I’ve seen in a biographer.

On another level, it tells a tale of what happens when men think of women as goddesses and not human. To those we give powers to, we expect things from. Goddesses are always expected to be on, to perform magic, to constantly give positive stimuli, and because a human being cannot do that every second of the day, it is inevitable that said “goddesses” wont “live up” to the standards set upon them.  This is the perverse reasoning that keeps so  many men have from having healthy relationships with women. This is also the distance between the Aretha in the subtext of Respect and the Aretha that Ritz is trying to sell you. Funny, witty, brash, smart, persevering, gifted in knowing to have a good time, the Aretha Franklin that is hidden in this book would be charming even if she couldn’t sing a note*. But to David Ritz, she couldn’t be “On” and “confessional” about her life the way he wanted. She couldn’t give her the cookie, the kibble he was looking for. And as a result, he raged. And as a result, Respect is the single worst biography of an artist I have read in my life.

 

*and maybe, just maybe, if she didn’t charm( and had the demons most artists of her statue had) it wouldn’t matter in regards to her body of work? Just a thought?

Joshua/ Klitschko: Requiem For A Cosmopolitan Heavyweight

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Sports fans will come to really appreciate Wladimir Klitschko. Cultural critics might come to appreciate him on several levels.  A big, hard punching, but flawed fighter who spent the first half of his pro career being averse to conflict, he hired Emanuel Stewart one of the greatest trainers in the history of the sport to remake his career. He spent over a decade reschooling himself as a fighter and became a smart, clinical technician with tremendous power.  As a star athlete, he dedicated himself to being a conscious figure, making several commercials about anti-racism in soccer, and speaking up about sexism and homophobia last year.

For those who might not be up on the cultural dynamics of boxing, I’ll phrase it a different way. In a sport where a fighter like Paulie Malignaggi can use racial appeals to parlay his unwatchable skill set into several million dollar paydays, Klitschko chose to be the un-white hope, making decisions that cost him hundreds of millions of dollars and doing them on principle. He made statements that went against the beliefs of a fight public thirsty to support any white fighter.  Instead of a white boxing team, he went and got arguably the most iconic African American trainer in boxing history. More than that, he listened and learned from him.  In a century where the alt-right has made Nazism painfully real and to the forefront, Klitschko stuck his neck out as the uber-race traitor, a doctor, cultural pluralist, and man of reason and ethics.

And from the middle of the fifth round of his fight with Anthony Joshua, when he summoned the will he didn’t have as a young fighter to comeback and dominate the middle part of the fight, Klitschko reminded all but the most jaded fans that he is a great fighter and was once a truly great heavyweight champion. For 4 and a half rounds, Joshua looked like a well-schooled young titan. Instead of trying to knock him out early, Joshua used his hand speed and a solid jab to pick apart the old former champion, waiting for him to-once hit hard-revert back to the form that got him knocked out by such plodders as Ross Purity and Lamon Brewster.

 

And in the 5th it looked like he had Klitschko, and done so with a series of lefts that caused the former champion to buckle to the ground and caused Joshua to try and finish the old man in a frenzy. What Joshua got, however, was one of the greatest last stands in the history of the sport, as Klitschko took all the fortitude that Steward schooled and built in him to almost have Joshua out in the end of the round, then have him down and almost out in the 6th, then beat him from pillar to living post in the 7th.

 

The theater of it all was tremendous: The old man-at the brink and end of his career-summoning his old self for a few rounds, then-when starting to tire-relying on his wits to outthink a great, yet green young fighter. I must admit I was fixated on Klitschko’s lateral movement, jab, and ring generalship in rounds 8, 9 and 10, that I didn’t fully see Joshua recovering. It seemed like an afterthought, the old champion schooling the young fighter in what was going to be one of the late career wins any fighter would have had in the history of the sport. I thought of Larry Holmes in his Early 40’s, having forgotten more about boxing than Ray Mercer had ever known, conducting class on the ropes and outpointing him in a formidable performance.

Only what Klitschko got, however, is what every fight fan and almost every sports fan in Europe is talking about right now. As well as being one of the most marketable stars and the most marketable boxer in the continent, Anthony Joshua is a terrific, brave, courageous fighter, a champion of staggering will, and remarkable quality. Surviving shots that could have brought down lesser champions, Joshua recouped his senses and hit Klitschko with one of the greatest short uppercuts I’ve ever seen, leading to a flurry that knocked the old champion down, then starting another flurry to knock him down again; ending one greatest heavyweight fights in the last 40 years.

Also, it led to one of the greatest personal moments in the sordid sport of boxing’s history. Joshua has been reticent to talk trash toward his opponents, and against Klitschko, his code took on an aura that old school fight fans could love. The appeal of Joshua was that he was a breath of fresh air that was also old air. This wasn’t Mayweather being a sick ogre. This wasn’t Tyson and his disturbed theater or cruelty. No, Joshua was a neo-classic fighter with classic ethics generations before were attracted to when they watched the fights. Joshua had the nobless oblige of a gladiator who respects his opponents; and against Klitschko, he respected the fact that his opponent was a great fighter and a great ambassador for the sport.

And when the former champion lost in a great, great conflict, so did 90,000 fans. There were no knockout bro memes making fun of his loss. There wasn’t the scorn of a racialist boxing nation that Gerry Cooney felt when he was game but outclassed by Larry Holmes. No, just 90,000 people sophisticated enough to give a fallen fighter a standing ovation. In the biggest heavyweight fight in a generation, Wembley showed fight fan culture at its absolute best.

Speaking of best, how will Joshua, who looked like a bigger Evander Holyfield with tremendous power in both hands, evolve as a champion? I don’t know, but tonight he looked like a great one.  He also beat a great champion who gave one of his greatest performances. And the result?  Call the sports cemetery! Get the jock morticians! Tell the network funeral homes to rewind the wakes and ceremonies! Impishly, strangely, and shockingly boxing has come out of its grave again. It took a supernova type star in Joshua to do it. And it also took a great (and good) former champion to push him.

Dave Chappelle: American Bro.

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I thought of this skit when hearing Dave Chappelle protesteth too much about Key and Peele.

What did i think about the specials? In the times when he wasn’t trying to be Americas creepy old hipster black friend from the frat, he could be hilarious. In the times he wasn’t being hilarious, he was being America’s creepy old hipster black friend from the frat. Which is flawed enough but take into account that Chappelle has spent half a generation publicly breaking and braying like a wounded sparrow about his feelings when the frat humor at his show was directed at him. And after all that to come back as homophobic and transphobic as any southern republican congressman. And to make the rape joke on SNL a week after we elected a rapist as president. Is Chappelle completely useless as an artist? No, but he’s a fucking coward. And he’s projecting on Key and Peel his own greatest weakness: that he can dish it out, but sure as hell can’t take it.

How The Week After Biggie Got Shot Ended My Hip Hop Fandom.

The day I really began to develop a dislike for mainstream hip-hop was the Monday after Biggie was shot. I was a senior in high school and only had been in a stable home for about five years, after considerable drama and living in a nasty housing project. Feeling the sting of being made fun of for my lack of funds and my “blaccent,” I was desperate to forget and shed off everything “hood” in me, so at the time, and for a long time after words, Biggie wasn’t my cup of tea. But on that Sunday morning when I heard the news of his death, I felt a deep sadness, a certain familiar emotional pang that so many African-Americans feel when we hear of a young life wasted over something insignificant.

The morning Biggie was on the topic of almost everyone’s minds in Curtis high school, located in University Place, a suburb of Tacoma. Almost to a person the expressions ranged from shock to astonishment to contempt. I didn’t pay much attention to them until one kid said “Oh, boy who do you think is gonna die next, snoop? Nas?” Just then the realization hit me so hard I nearly doubled over. Two talented young men had died over something painfully trivial, and to these privileged kids, it was a game, an event, something you watch for pleasure, as if BET and MTV were the roman coliseums and both rappers were the Christians and the lions. The kid was salivating over a young man’s death as if it was a punt return for a touchdown.

I went home with those conversations ringing nightmarishly in my head. I locked myself in my room and looked at all my old vibe and the source magazines and started to cry. Instead of practicing an old and strange craft called journalism, something even to this day all too foreign to hip-hop magazines, I had read article after article egging both sides on, hyping rumors, blowing events out or proportion, almost helping to orchestrate the east coast/west coast beef like kids circling around the school fight. That night I burned each and every last one of those magazines. I felt like a hunted animal and the rich kids who were hip hop fans the game wardens.

For the longest time, always thought America’s relationship with biggie has always has been a Brecht play come to life, an upper crust audience dancing to the confessions of a haunted hustler. I still think that’s a part of the story that can’t be thrown away, but to make it the whole story discounts how unbelievably charming he could be. Rest in Peace, Big.

A Liberal Heretic’s Notes: On Yeats, Lost Friendships, And The Pain Of Being “Magic”

Writers Notebook:

There is a poem of Yeats’ that makes me nauseous, but I totally understand if people love it.(taste is personal) “Song of the Wandering Aengus” is one of the better-structured poems of his early neo-romantic period; he had just found the effectiveness of sprung rhythm and slant rhyme, and it reads better than some of his twee, Shelleyian early form pieces. It has a concocted dream reverie and pitch that stick into the reader’s mind. One one or two levels one can see the appeal of its theme, a young man, spurred by heartbreak, reimagining himself as a mythical folk figure who will search for the dream woman for him to process his heartbreak

My queasiness toward the poem comes from the experience of being at the business end of white liberals dream reveries(and seeing my friends at the business end of male liberal activists dream reveries). More than a few former friends have vented their spleens in the last two months about their cultural disagreements with me and how they someone psychically contributed to the election(I don’t have to go through em, yall have read me). The anxiety and terror they’ve had when they’ve listed the offenses of my disagreeable political opinions and my disagreeable tone left me rattled. What they wanted from me was magic, for me to be perpetually on, for me to be perpetually charming, to be perpetually patient and heroic in crusades to change the souls of people who hold reprehensible beliefs. I couldn’t be a person who could respectfully agree to disagree with them on some things but values their take in the spirit of dialogue. I had to be a Dream Brother.

And a lot of my friends had to be magic, and when they couldn’t be, when they couldn’t be magic pixie dream girl progressives or magical dream rapping negroes, a lot of white liberals were done with us(and any interest in our human rights). I hear the same liberals friend talk dreamily about Kamala Harris, and I feel sick to my stomach. Not because harris isn’t a great politician and exemplar of progressive values. But because she’s human, because of that and the inevitable nature of politics, she will do something to break the fever dream the frail monarchs atop liberalism have of her; and leave them as sputteringly contemptuous toward “identity politics” as they are right now. But another politician will come. Another cool black guy. Another groovy bae “not like those other feminists”. And maybe they won’t ever say no. Maybe they won’t talk back and be super cool forever and ever. Maybe the magic, the vaunted magic will come for my old liberal friends. But good lord, what real pain comes when people separate you from being human.

All of The Places We’ve Been: On Up South.

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My grandmother had the greatest basement I have ever seen or will see. The ground floor the house she lived with my grandfather was conventional enough to blend in with the houses in the area. A flight of steps down was two bedrooms, a small bar, a card table, a bookshelf, a tv console, a speaker system, and a place for the 2300 records she acquired while tending a pool hall for 28 years. After a combination of Alcohol, harassment, and Panther extortion forced her to retire from both the Army laundry room and the 6th street bar in 1970, she collected her regulars almost every week there to get together and play cards.

When I was 9 years old, I became her “Right Hand Little Man”. My father had had a breakdown in his sobriety, a cyclical tantrum in which he had given me a black eye,  apologized profusely, and then-in a move of desperation-tried to pass it off as a form of punishment for my hyperactivity and addiction to candy. Caught in a bind between her sensitivity to the cards dealt to him and anger toward his actions,  my grandmother broke him down verbally. She told him that if he wanted to be either dope or liquor sick, the least he could do was drop my brother and I off at the house.  That night, my grandmother taught me to make Hoagy Sandwiches, Brandy Alexanders,  and Whiskey Sours, then proceeded to tell me the rules of the house( most of them which centered around me being quiet).

Along with the table of books and articles my mother and her aunts used to have and pass around almost every weekday, my grandmother’s basement was the template for my education and imagination. Being a 10-year  “Son-of-a-white-feminist/grandchild-of-hard boundingly graceful-pool-hall-boss” wasn’t the way to make yourself popular in my age group, but it was a binary center for some of the most wonderful memories I ever had. For five years-that October evening in 1987 to the summer of 1992 where my mother and aunts stopped speaking and my uncles decided they couldn’t ever be in a room with my father again-my childhood was filled with their brilliant discussions about art,  sports, literature, history, and culture.  As many of you know, it was filled with moments of unspeakable trauma; but when I decided to try and get healthy, it was those memories-what my family and extended family taught me-that helped me get better as well develop the coping mechanisms to survive in society.

To be more specific about the last sentence, it was my grandfather taking me in when I was a 23-year-old mess and being my male role model.  And If “Homeboy Songs” was my book, then “Up South” is my Grandfathers. And my Grandmother’s. And my aunts. and uncle And everybody who came from the south to give Tacoma the foundations it has.

When I wrote The Homeboy Songs, I  was surveying the territory of my life and trying to see it in context with the lives and territories of other writers. I’m proud of my first book.  It was the thing I needed to write before I could write anything else. I had to name and make sense of my home turf and do it in the street and lyric languages inundated in my head growing up. I knew nothing bout poetry politics or what black writers were supposed to do or say when I wrote the poems in them, and I’m grateful for the audience reception to them.

 

But Up South had to be my surrealist folk book, and my reasons for writing it are complex. I’m not a political writer per se, but the current events of this decade shocked my imagination into a sort of surreal state. I have fewer rights and am in more danger as a conscious black person than any time in my life or my parents’ life.My response to this was to go inward, create art about grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles, and try to understand the rituals and coping mechanisms they had to make it in society. My political act wasn’t to make poems that served as rhetorical statements but to center my imagination around the world of my ancestors and the complex ways that they affected the community that they lived in.

I also wanted to go deeper into the rootwork that I dabbed into in “Homeboy Songs”. My goal with my first book was to incorporate the language and rhetoric of the black church into form the way that  Federico Garcia Lorca incorporated the language and rhetoric of flamenco culture into various forms, and with “Up South” I wanted to go deeper with call and response and various Muslim and west African linguistic chants and refrains( The Kharja, Especially) and connect them with various linguistic and cultural rituals of black people.

Another thing I wanted to do with this book is continue to broaden my voice.  In the past few years, I had become furious with the unwillingness of so many American postmodern poets and scholars to engage in global discussions about experimental poetics. These past few years, I got heavy into the Ultraists, the school of 1927, The Creationist School, and the Polish School of poetry, and I did so to get my mind off American “innovators” engaging in hipster street theater over dead black bodies.  This global century has fostered beautiful dialogues about imagery, metaphor, breath, and the poetic line, and too many American discussions have mistaken innovative though with versions of white racial grievance politics, littered with man-baby provocateurs who belch out “finished” first drafts in the name of “automatic writing”  and demand you believe their skill on faith.

With “Up South” I didn’t want to be an Ugly American. I wanted to show intellectual kinship with some of the ideas in innovations I saw in Vallejo,  Dario, Paz,   Mistral, Hikmet,  and Amichai. These poems have called for a different style than the “Street/Schooled Lashley Voice”. My primary fear is getting out of that style, that comfort zone, and whether or not the poems succeed or fail away from it.  I’m scared. But I’m also excited.

I want to thank Small Doggies Press for allowing me to be in left field, and being cool people with a lot of integrity. I want to thank my friends who “kept me” in the last three years through some really scary times. Two weeks before The Homeboy Songs came out, I lost my closest friend to a heroin overdose, and tried to commit suicide by a vodka, pill, and cough syrup cocktail. I couldn’t have dedicated myself to sobriety and made it through some horrific pain if it wasn’t for them, and they know they are.

America, I would love to see you. The next couple of years will be a hell of a ride.

 

 

A Liberal Heretic’s Notes: On Donald Trump and The Slum In The Human Heart.

In 1990, my father decided to move to the Hillside Terrace housing projects, a move that repulsed the last of the friends he had before he became a drug addict. He had people in his life that-if not willing to give him a safety net-wanted to provide him with housing considerably safer than that dangerous strip of land in the late 80’s. In his addiction and relapses, he kept going back to that place, not just for drugs but also a spot where he could get away with unspeakable acts.

What they didn’t understand was that he was much addicted to self-pity as he was cocaine. He had palpable agonies in his life, but in the end, he cherished them more than any personal relationship. He quit college because he couldn’t integrate northwest radio, even though black radio stations were beating down his door. He turned to cocaine to escape the racism he faced doing the landscaping for the El Toro marine base, even though he had a wife who loved him, children, and a two story house. He had to work to alienate his alma mater and friends who propped him up to do the grounds keeping for UPS.

That toxic sense of self, the using the obstacles of one’s life as a card to not be held responsible for anything and the bottomless well of cruelty that came from it, was the glue that held “scumbags row”, the strip of land between Ash Street and Tacoma Avenue. Men could do whatever they want to women or young people, gangs could terrorize whoever they wanted, and drug dealers of every economic stripe could run menacing throughout the area because “of the history of oppression”. It did not matter that there were real people they had brutalized and it did not matter that they had brutalized them in worse ways than their oppressors did to them. Their pain was their card to get out of life.

The only way that scumbag’s row was aggressively muted was when the Hilltop Action Coalition made aggressive inroads to make my community safer.  For 25 years they established good faith networks with activists, members of the police department and people who lived in the block to change hilltop from being one of the most dangerous places to live in America. They didn’t want to retaliate against the people who were hurting them, and could go toe to toe with anyone over their experiences and scars with racism. They just wanted control of their lives and the agony that they and their loved ones had to go through to stop. Scumbag’s row was their community too, and they didn’t want it to be “it” anymore.

**

I know there has been a lot of handwringing about what the left needs to do now, and agony that the white working class has felt for a long time. I am not an absolutist on this issue: I have spoken exhaustively about how the left never again needs to have a campaign manager say that “white working class voters aren’t worth getting”. Every poll showed the white working class going that voted voting for Hillary by 10-12 points, they just showed that they didn’t go.  As much as I find a great deal of Barack Obama’s presidency admirable, even he would attest to the gutting of the grassroots networks of the OFA as the most crippling mistake of his presidency. I do have space in my heart to invest in a broader conversation about liberalism, one that isn’t run by white-woke fiefdom (Robby Mook), one that gives support to liberals who know their soil to appeal to the voters that didn’t show up.

I have also seen the violent, vicious, first month of the Trump presidency combined with the steadfast fervor of his supporters. I’ve seen Muslim bans, Massive roundups, threats to allies, threats to end NATO, a staff filled with nazi’s, a twee nazi demagogue who doxxes immigrants and leads to people getting shot, and the dire warnings of the spy community; and i’ve seen them be met with the breadbasket formed delusion of a white base that still thinks he’s an honest man who will drain the swamp.  And as I take all this in,   echoes of hillside terrace dance in my head. Only now, almost everything about this country will be badly damaged because of it.

What do I think liberals should do in 2018?  Establish that tent as big as humanly ( and as humanistic) as possible. Broaden what the gorgeous mosaic means beyond smarmy social media woke offs.  Try to reach as many people as they within it by giving them reasons as to why they should vote for them. And if that tent draws disillusioned Trump supporters, god bless them for coming in.

What I can’t do, however, is have space in my heart for the people who look at the damage Donald trump is doing in this country and think it’s a good, measured response to black lives matter. I can’t have space for people who still can’t be bothered to know how much of a sociopath the president is even though his pathology is taking apart some of the best aspects of this nation. I can’t engage with people so base, so tribal, so entrenched in their own self-pity, that they can’t criticize a member with the same skin color because of the bad hands they have been dealt in life.

I am for fighting to maintain what’s best in this country, and extending a hand to people who want to fight (or are willing to be persuaded to fight as well). I don’t believe the Trump vote is a scarlet letter, and I am willing to play a role to elevate the rhetoric of the left to make it a space more tenable for liberals to go to in the future. But I will not pretend that the Trump vote has no meaning on the character or the soul. Quite frankly, I’ve heard it all before. And if Trump supporters never lose their faith in him no matter what he does, I ( and we) will be haunted by “it” for the rest of my life.

Goodbye To All That Shit.

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Picture with me if you will, the vestibule of Tacoma Public Library. It is late October.  As an aunt and his nephew are about to leave, an eager political field worker meets them at the glass door. He sidesteps the aunt to try and give the young man a flier about how he should support his beloved political leader. Horrified at being snubbed and of what he knows of said leader, the aunt berates the young man for peddling out racist literature and supporting a racist.

The young, man, horrified, says that-while his leader may say horrible things-he isn’t truly a racist, but someone who cares and speaks to the pain of his people like no leader has done before. The aunt says coolly that-while his community has been ignored and marginalized-she didn’t understand how the leader would improve said communities by spreading base hatred of her. The young man proceeds to accuse the aunt of not being sensitive to his pain. The nephew sticks up for the aunt while she explains what she has believed in her life and tried to do for his community; while also saying that she can’t help him if his operative goal is her head on a chopping block.

The young man’s friends join him and say that if you want to reach them, you must not call them a racist for believing what they believe. The aunt points to numerous outburst of why their leader is a racist and explains that she can’t expend energy trying to convince people who hate her that she is a human being. The argument ends with librarians breaking them up, and the young men yelling at her about how insensitive she is, how she and her people have never understood their pain (and this leader does), and how she is the true racist for being completely intolerant of their leader.

YES ROBERT”, some of you are saying “THIS IS WHAT’S WRONG WITH LIBERAL DISCUSSIONS TODAY. If the aunt hadn’t called the person a racist, they would have treated them better. She should have seen the trump supporters side, understood that pain that drove them to their vote, and spoke to them in a way that didn’t escalate the conflict. “

But this scene wasn’t between a ” PC liberal “and trump supporters. This scene was between supporters of the nation of Islam and my aunt Pat (who was Jewish).  My aunt graduate with a degree in Eastern European literature. She later became a teacher and volunteered for civil rights organizations for a great deal of her adult life. But she wasn’t a doormat. She (and my aunt Marilyn) tried the “Please like me, bigot or person who supports a bigot because they can’t examine their beliefs for an hour” approach, and all they got was traumatized out of their skull.

Everything that right wingers and populist liberals say about the trump and the white voter, far left liberals said about Louis Farrakhan and black people in the early 90’s And the result is that a hustler and a gangster helped destroy communities.  Karl Evanzz’s The Messenger goes into detail about what so many have known and suspected for years, that the NOI was a racist, sexist, self-hating( Light skinned blacks have a quicker track to heaven) and viciously anti-semitic junta that did almost nothing except cipher off to minister Farrakhan.  I’ve had hard problems with Barack Obama’s respectability politics, but it took him to banish the last vestiges of the NOI’s anti-reason, hatred, and venomous fable to the margins of mainstream dialogue. But Obama is a pariah now: On one side a socialist, Kenyan Muslim, on the other an “identity politicians”.

I don’t know what the hustler and gangster that the electoral college put into office will do to this country. I do know what we’ve lost. Like my aunt pat’s generation, I-and so many people I knew-wanted to be different than our predecessors. I had seen the excesses of militancy and wanted to build a sense of self-worth that was cosmopolitan enough to be absorbed into numerous coalitions. Deep in our hearts, we once believed that American could be something better, that things were going forward, that race relations would be better if we extended our hands a little more in friendship.

And what did we get? Stand Your Ground. The end of The Voting Rights Act. White Supremacists Infiltrating law enforcement. Black people being extrajudicially murdered in the street, and conservatives trying them for their deaths before the bodies get cold. And by all intents in purposes, the most racist, sexist, and malicious demagogue this nation has ever seen ascending to the presidency.

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From Mark Lila to Jonathan Pye to Kevin Drum, to countless numbers of white liberals on social media, the clarion call of the white, populist left to this election has been a repudiation of identity politics. Every essay, viral rant that has come from them has the same theme

” The election was lost because the heartland was scared of being called racist. The election was lost because the heartland heard race too much and didn’t hear anyone talk about their issues.  People had deemed minorities to be against them because they had seen these activists protest in colleges. They had escaped to the bosom of Trump because he told them they mattered and these activists didn’t and that why they voted for trump. They’re not racist, they were just tired of everybody calling them racist (and when they mean everybody) they mean the handful of times they read on a blog about black activists acting out. And if you are going to talk to them about race, you have to talk to them nicely no matter the context to make your argument’

Let’s ignore for a second that there isn’t that much evidence that Hillary, a centrist democrat, ran the campaign like she was Constance Rourke talking to the African Bandung Conference. Let’s assume for a second that every single one of these essayist complaints about the left and cultural activist is valid (they’re not, but let’s assume). The people making these claims don’t really understand how base and pathological the subtext of their argument makes them look.

“Because 3 or 4 people offended me on the innerwebs, I’m going to firebomb (or be okay with someone firebombing) almost every single foundation of the American Experiment  that so many people hold so dear. Women will die because of lack of health care. Members of the LGBT community will die because of rights rollbacks.  Muslims will die because of a white nationalist junta patrolling communities. Black people will die because a neo- Nazi regime will make unchecked police states out of inner cities. And I (and millions upon millions of white people) let that happen because I got butthurt by some college kids in these 4 blogs I read. And the only way we’ll fix it is if that if every single non-white dude goes above and beyond being kind.”

That isn’t my aunt’s tragic liberalism, ground to a halt because of erosion and neglect. That’s the philosophy of Miss Millie and the mayor from The Color Purple, brutal and pathological in its sensitivity, retrograde as the social papers of 100-150 years ago, and the prevailing philosophy because of millions of white votes and sensibilities. So many of my friends and I must deal with the specter of oppression and death as every day coping activates, and in doing that must forget every weekly (and sometimes daily) slight of abuse to see people in context and not succumb to rage.  And so much of America just told us that they are willing to torch our basics right and permanently damage the nation because a few students actions got them in some feelings.

And to be honest, I’ve forgotten more about liberal social media bullshit then Pye or Lilla will ever know. I’m arguably the most controversial black poet under 40 in America: I have a Rolodex of opinions about the black panthers, the black arts movement, and hip hop that have made me the source of countless social media scrums. What they don’t understand is that-until Nov 8-their powers were small. The people who have called me a militant or have protested me have had it blown up in their faces. Kids in colleges who in certain( but not all) cases wrongly acted out either were dealt with or had their protests peter out of neglect. Outside of the conservative and populist liberal blogosphere, the protests didn’t have an impact outside of the towns the students lived in and barely had an impact in them.

And now Trump and Pyre’s America have been amplified them to the nexus of a terrifying white rage. They have also made them the center of an acute black fear. Because there are 35 million black people in America, because those people are not magical, and because they are human beings, there will always be a student who doesn’t act right in regards to trauma or a bad actor when it comes to race relations (or gender, or LGBT issues). And if all Trump and Pye’s America needs to see is a few of those actors  to turn violently against my humanity, then those masses of white America are places I shouldn’t engage with but try to avoid at all cost.

To survive, I will still see people in individual context. I’ll do it partly because of survival, but I’ll do it partly because I believe in the verities of liberal enlightenment. I believe every individual deserves a chance, and that every individual deserves the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of their own happiness. In my beliefs, will be the same standard of inquiry that will take in people that disagree with me and see where they are coming from.

But I am not magic.  I smile only when I feel like smiling. I like to debate, will talk back, and will not rubber stamp everything a progressive man tells me. And that means I do not engage in the aggro progressive conventions that liberal populist men have engaged with this year. I will do such antiquated things as criticize a movement of men that makes a predator/ doxxer like Julian Assange a hero. I will not rubberstamp a rapper like Killer Mike, nor the progressive institutions that though a rapper with a painful lack of understanding of consent would be the best surrogate to get the black vote. I will not pretend that Castro murdering tens of thousands of dissidents, gay people, and basically anyone who told him now should be overlooked because of Bautista and that time he took a photo with Malcolm X

And  I can’t grovel for my basic humanity to a Trump supporter, and I can’t do it in soft words.  I have some dignity. I’m not a magic political negro butler who can take a superhuman amount of pain to convince a bigot of my humanity. I will have to take the fact that my role as a citizen will be violently diminished forever. ( as well as the roles of everybody who isn’t a straight white man). But I can’t fucking do the free labor so many angry Berners want me to do right now.

I won’t stand in their way of them talking to their people, and dear god I couldn’t; this election has ratified non-cis white men as brutally beaten powerless groups. If they want to do the work of getting and molding their bigoted kinfolk, go ahead. Never mind that Trump supporters have high median incomes, and don’t fit into conventional narratives about poverty. Populists should go get them. They should tell these people who in poll after poll show the most scum of the earth beliefs about non cis white dudes that they are misunderstood. They should tell then it’s because too much attention was paid to black lives matter, LGBT rights, or abortion/reproductive rights. But dear god, they shouldn’t demand my free labor in this. I’m not a boy. I’m not a fucking boy. I’m not a fucking tap dancing Jacobin boy.

3

I remember sitting with my Aunt Pat in the car after the incident. It was Sunday, the seasons were changing and cooling, and Tacoma avenue was filling up with fog. She sunk in the front of her beat up Chevy, and just sat there silent for an interminable amount of time. Without looking at me she said ” I can’t give anymore, Robert. I’m human. I just can’t give any more.”

There hasn’t been a day since the election when I haven’t seen her in the mirror.