Just some thoughts and ideas going around in my head while trying to figure out where I am and where everyone else is going.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Black History Month Redux

I have always read books. I like to read books. I would like to say all types of books, but that wouldn’t be true. I don’t do non-fiction well unless it’s a history, and even then it would depend on what kind of mood I’m in for me to read it. I like novels. Give me a good fiction that tries to explore the “human condition” (cliché) and I will be wrapped up for days if not weeks trying to get to the end. Then I’ll spend even more time trying to decipher how the story relates to my own life. Right now I’m in the middle of Anna Karenina, Oprah’s book club version and even though I know how it’s going to end, I’ve seen at least 4 movie versions of the story, I’m still enthralled. I should have that same feeling for poetry, but I don’t.

That’s the reason why I have never seen Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. I don’t think I could get into it. In fact the only poem that I remember from high school is Macavity the Mystery Cat by TS Elliot, and that’s only the first 2 lines. Poetry for me has always been an arduous task of reading between phrases and trying to find meaning when I would be so much happier if someone were to just slap my face and say, “Hey this is what I want you to know.” But no one ever did that to me, except for Essex.

I have been thinking about Essex Hemphill for the last couple of weeks. I’m not sure why, maybe because of Black History Month or maybe not, but Essex was a poet. He was also an editor and an activist. I met him at a barbeque party for Marlon Riggs and himself in West Philly. I think the party was to celebrate the release of Marlon’s film Tongues Untied, I’m not sure. I was just there for the free booze and red meat; I was young.

I had read and skipped over some of Essex’s poetry in the book In the Life, so I knew he was, but I didn’t really have much to say to him. Nevertheless we did talk for a little bit, about what I don’t know.

I remember that he had this way of asking a question that made you know that he really wanted know what your answer would be. He had a way of looking at you and you could tell he was analyzing you. He would look into you as far as you could let him and maybe even a little further without being obtrusive. He had the ability to take your thoughts without you being aware of it happening and then place them back where they belonged before you knew they were missing.

I knew Essex for about 2 years and he would do this to me again and again. I only saw him 4 or 5 times but each time was so intense that I would have to have a cigarette after talking to him. It was almost as if we’d had sex and I had walked away panting, trying to catch my breath. Then Essex died.

I went to the memorial service they held at the Quaker Friends Meeting House for him. I didn’t really think that I would miss him. We weren’t great friends, but I did.

I still do.

So I found this poem written by Essex and I’m working on trying to understand it. I hope the family doesn’t sue me.



Conditions XXI

You judge a womanby the length of her skirt,

by the way she walks,

talks, looks, and acts;

by the color of her skin you judge

and will call her "bitch!"

"Black bitch!"

if she doesn't answer your:

"Hey baby, whatcha gonna say

to a man."

You judge a woman

by the job she holds,

by the number of children she's had,

by the number of digits on her check;

by the many men she may have lain with

and wonder what jive murphy

you'll run on her this time.

You tell a woman

every poetic love line

you can think of,

then like the desperate needle

of a strung out junkie

you plunge into her veins,

travel wild through her blood,

confuse her mind, make her hate

and be cold to the men to come,

destroying the thread of calm

she held.

You judge a woman

by what she can do for you alone

but there's no need

for slaves to have slaves.

You judge a woman

by impressions you think you've made.

Ask and she gives,

take without asking,

beat on her and she'll obey,

throw her name up and down the streets

like some loose whistle --

knowing her neighbors will talk.

Her friends will chew her name.

Her family's blood will run loose

like a broken creek.

And when you're gone,

a woman is left

healing her wounds alone.

But we so called men,

we so called brothers

wonder why it's so hard

to love our women

when we're about loving them

the way america

loves us.

"Conditions XXI" © 1986,1996, 2002 by Essex Hemphill

13 comments:

  1. I LOVE THIS POEM!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ingrid,

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I thought it was something that might appeal to some people.

    ReplyDelete
  3. DAM POWERFUL

    Her family's blood will run loose


    like a broken creek.


    And when you're gone,


    a woman is left


    healing her wounds alone.


    But we so called men,


    we so called brothers


    wonder why it's so hard


    to love our women


    when we're about loving them


    the way america


    loves us.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah T,

    It is something that I think represents Essex. It's not something that you shout from the rooftops, but it's deep and strong none the less.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I can appreciate it all and I am truly pleased to hear that you have a passion for good books, and it appears that you are well read. "Happy Black History Month to you." Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My pleasure Chet. I just wanted to talk about someone who touched me and say that I thought he was important and that I remembered him.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love a good fiction book and I sometimes love great poetry. I will say that I have never read or thought of reading Anna Karenina. It just never seemed to be my cup of tea.
    Damn, I have not read a good book or did any art work or any damn thing creative in months. How sad is that?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lola,

    Thanks. I assume you are referring to Essex's poem because he was deep and I'm just glad that there are works of his around to show how true that was.
    __________________________________

    OMO,

    I just got the book because I saw Oprah's name on it and I decided that it was time that I started reading the classics. Plus it was a story that I had seen before and really liked it.

    As far as being creative, I am not even sure Picasso did creative art everyday. Well maybe he did, but that's because he was an art factory that sold everything he could think of, good and bad.

    If I were you I wouldn't beat myself up. Just wait for your inspiration and something good will come because of it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think this is the essence of his poem.

    But we so called men,
    we so called brothers
    wonder why it's so hard
    to love our women
    when we're about loving them
    the way america
    loves us.

    I guess you have to think about how america loves us. The meaning isn't coming to me either. Or manybe it's too many thoughts about this statement. I like to be slapped in the face too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. D-Place,

    Actually this is one of the few poems that I can figure out and relate to. I think it asks how I as a man can be blamed for treating women a certain way when I am in fact treated the same way by society. The payoff is at the end like you said where he does slap you and say, "here, this is why, this is what I really mean to say." I can get that.

    There is other poetry out there that is just as good and in some cases probably even better than that, but they can be so comlicated that they just leave me holding my jewels saying, "Huh?"

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for visiting my blog. Your blog is incredible. I plan to visit often.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Whoze, thanks for dropping by. Please come on back when you can and feel free to say how you feel about something. Good or bad, it's all welcome.

    ReplyDelete

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