"Wanda Why Aren't You Dead" by Wanda Coleman

Anyone who clings to the tow rope of self as we climb - as circumstances and others flit and swirl around to make you change, which of course is everyone - can relate to "Wanda Why Aren't You Dead".

This poem is already great, patters, vernacular, evocative of a variety of voices. With race riots in the news, again, with rage and hope fueling masses of people with demands for long overdue justice - many lines resonated with me. This poem is much grander than race, but "wanda what is it like being black" brought to the fore a dynamic that has jabbed many times.

Oregon is not a diverse state, and has a deeply racist past toward blacks in particular. And when talk of race arises, if there is anyone present at all who is non-white, that person is not only "other" in a room of whites, but often feels obliged to speak not on her/his behalf, but on behalf of the experiences of millions of people that run a range of experiences and a spectrum of barely-related shades spread across continents (but of course are people born and raised for generations in the U.S. like most everyone else in the room). And these obligations to speak on behalf of entire races/skin tones often leaves hanging in the air: "But what does she/he think as an individual?"

But that is only a part of Wanda Coleman's poem which wittily comments on womanhood and the human condition and the way we try to control one another, and how we have to resist being defined by others.

The photo montage in the video below, with many photos of Wanda Coleman in various stages of her life as Coleman recites her poem, is a brief & worthwhile. Coleman died in 2013. Her biography at Poetry Foundation.

Wanda Why Aren't You Dead
By Wanda Coleman

wanda when are you gonna wear your hair down
wanda. that's a whore's name
wanda why ain't you rich
wanda you know no man in his right mind want a
          ready-made family
why don't you lose weight
wanda why are you so angry
how come your feet are so goddamn big
can't you afford to move out of this hell hole
if i were you were you were you
wanda what is it like being black
i hear you don't like black men
tell me you're ac/dc. tell me you're a nympho. tell me you're
          into chains
wanda i don't think you really mean that
you're joking. girl, you crazy
wanda what makes you so angry
wanda i think you need this
wanda you have no humor in you you too serious
wanda i didn't know i was hurting you
that was an accident
wanda i know what you're thinking
wanda i don't think they'll take that off of you

wanda why are you so angry

i'm sorry i didn't remember that that that
that that that was so important to you

wanda you're ALWAYS on the attack

wanda wanda wanda i wonder

why ain't you dead


Ultron, the Emily Dickinson-quoting supervillain robot

Ultron would like you to look at his Dickinson-themed journal and let him know what you think.

The New York Times reports that Joss Whedon wrote a line in the upcoming Avengers Age of Ultron movie where Ultron quotes Emily Dickinson (Huzzah as the Venn diagram of comic nerds and lit nerds fizzes with glee...). James Spader, who voices Ultron, was later given a line from Pinocchio about not having strings for the final version (Bo-ring...)

I have tried to find out what the Dickinson quote was. However, after multiple minutes of Yahoo, Bing, and Google searches have yielded no answers, I am snatching the internet speculation license and claiming it mine.

Let's assume that Whedon would go broad and choose one of Dickinson's most recognizable poems. While her buzzing flies would work in many ways for an action film, let's go instead with a scene where Ultron, the fate of humanity seconds from ruination, decides to regale Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Thor — and, hell, let's add Loki — with a recitation that causes each of them to close their eyes and imagine sitting in a Carriage with Death and Ultron, the giant robot.

Imagine yourself, dear reader, watching a montage of soft-dissolve film edits as each brightly colored muscle-bound oaf, blood trickling down the forehead just so, gasping final breaths, ponders the point of it all.

I grew up on DC comics and don't know what the deal is with Ultron from Marvel comics, but I am eager to pretend James Spader as the preppie from Pretty in Pink has converted to robot form and aspires to more destruction than making fellow preppie Andrew McCarthy feel bad for dating someone trashy like Molly Ringwald.

Fingers crossed Walt Whitman and Hulk are combined in the next movie. DOES HULK WHITMAN CONTRADICT MYSELF? THEN HULK WHITMAN CONTRADICTS MYSELF!

Because I Could Not Stop for Death (479)
By Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

The male gaze & Paul Blackburn: The Once-Over

"Persimmon" by Robert Rauschenberg (1964). Taken in the Art Institute of Chicago... by ME!

The "male gaze" is an important concept. However, the phrase often diminishes the sense of power held by the person being gazed at. Beauty and social hierarchy has its privileges, and its nuisances. "The Once-Over" by Paul Blackburn from the late 1950s holds that sense nicely.

"Stirring dull roots with spring rain" alludes to "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot (which I wrote about here), putting Eliot in the role of Blackburn's "preacher". While attending a religious service with T.S. Eliot holds some novel appeal ("Hey, that's T.S. Eliot!" would be my recurring thought), I'm not sure Eliot would hold my heathen attention for more than a few minutes on the topic of religion. Maybe if he talked about his banking instead I'd be rapt for longer.

The Once-Over
By Paul Blackburn

The tanned blonde
                                    in the green print sack

in the center of the subway car
                                                          standing

tho there are seats
                                    has had it from
I           teen-age hood
I           lesbian
I           envious housewife
4          men over fifty
(& myself),     in short
                                    the contents of this half of the car

                                     Our notations are :
long legs, long waists, high breasts (no bra), long
neck, the model slump
                                    the handbag drape & how the skirt
cuts in under a very handsome

                                                      set of cheeks
“stirring dull roots with spring rain”, sayeth the preacher

            Only a stolid young man
with a blue business suit and the New York Times

does not know he is being assaulted.

So.
She has us and we have her
all the way to downtown Brooklyn
Over the tunnel and through the bridge
                                    to DeKalb Avenue we go
all very chummy

She stares at the number over the door
                                    and gives no sign
Yet the sign is on her

Fog

April is National Poetry Month, here's a short one to fire up the writing pistons:

Fog
By Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

There's a recording of Carl Sandburg reading the poem. I came across it during a long drive while listening to an anthology of poets reading their own work - part of an effort to make myself smarter by choosing literature over listening to podcasts of comedians talking to other comedians about that one time they did that one thing.

Anyway, the recording is on several videos people have posted on YouTube, but here's an adorable reading that appealingly has images of cats throughout. Including a photo of a cat in the fog!

Christmas Krampus, friend/menace to children/parents

ATTENTION PARENTS: On Christmas Eve, the Krampus, evil companion of Santa, continues his rounds to stuff naughty children into his bag and take them down to Hell. Many of you saying goodnight to your kids may want to say goodbye instead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus

I know MY kids aren't going to Hell. I presume yours are not, either. Please don't ask me how to contact the Krampus to make requests. I don't want to know about it.

Occupy Portland remains a success

Three years ago, Portland police forced the over five-week Occupy Portland camp spread across two parks to finally disperse. Some people chortled, but the effects of Occupy Portland and the Occupy Movement continue to be felt today. Our nation is better for it.

Occupy Portland rally, October 6, 2011, Pioneer Square

On October 6, 2011 the first Occupy Portland rally marched from Waterfront Park down NW Portland, down Broadway, and ended up with several thousand rallying in Pioneer Square. It was a massive demonstration. It then shifted to a group of people occupying one city park, then spreading to the park on the next block, both near City Hall and the Justice Center.

Mayor Sam Adams ignored calls to remove the protestors, and he let them remain in the parks for five weeks. Over time, transients and others needing the food, medicine, and other services at the site began to overtake the Occupy Portland site, it retained the energy of protest and was a symbol of collective action.

The Occupy Movement did not have a single agenda. This confused the media and curmudgeons who wanted to do the typical cutting-of-a-deal to make the pain go away. In this case, the breadth of the Occupy Movement and its lack of hierarchy were virtues. "Main Street, not Wall Street!" "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" People frustrated with a time of record national wealth and profits leading to horribly high poverty rates. Worker productivity doubling over the last 30 years as their earnings stagnated. Corporations attaining the same rights as human beings, yet not being accountable for crimes done to others. There was no single agenda. Masses of people were pissed off, and they wanted to come together, not feel alone in their anger, and to scare the shit out of those in power.

And they did scare the shit out of the people in power. In early 2011, it would have been impossible to imagine the media covering the effort to raise the minimum wage with anything but contempt. Yet, here we now are with cities raising the minimum wage to $15/hour and a national conversation about doing just that. (There's a case that to keep up with 1968 dollars the minimum wage should be $22/hour, but progress is welcome.)

Occupy Portland camp, November 2011

The Occupy Movement dispersed, but did not lose energy. That fast food workers are now talking about earning a livable wage, and are not completely laughed at by corporate media, is directly attributable to the Occupy Movement. People are now challenging bad education policies, dictated by the wealthy, with increasing ease and power. A lot of the people challenging the status quo gained experience in collective action, living the power of the people, from watching or participating in the Occupy Movement.

And, in Portland, people learned that there are people in power who sympathize with their important causes. Mayor Adams could have ejected Occupy Portland immediately, but he did not. A small community formed and ran for more than a month. Other city leaders were not as tolerant. As distressing as the police purge of Occupy Portland was, that it existed so long was a testimony that lives in the memory of many. And in those memories was a lesson in the importance of being brave.

In October 2011, Bank of America on SW Morrison started stationing a full-time security guard to stand in front of the doors, rain or shine, after an Occupy Portland stunt rattled the banker's cages. Bank of America still has a security guard there, three years later. They remain scared about what people will do next. And that's good. And it made Wall Street create an actual job!

I keep hearing "black widdle baby" instead of "black widow, baby".

"Black Widow" seems about 14 minutes long. But only recently did I discover it goes "I'm a black widow, baby." not "I'm a black widdle baby."

It had mystified me slightly why such a slinky, repetitive song was sung from the first person perspective of a little baby, let alone a specific skin color. Most pop songs are about grown-ups, common themes: "You do/did this to me", "I feel this way", "Let's do this thing", on an on. It's about time that another song emerged from a baby's perspective. An odd choice, lazily delivered, but okay. Whatever.

For that matter, why would a baby singing on behalf of herself (assuming this from the female voice), clearly capable of speech, use the phrase "widdle" for "little"? Was it parroting the baby talk the adults engage in around the baby? Maybe (realize I had only spent a dozen or so seconds contemplating the song before changing the station), this baby was mocking the adults around her for being so patronizing?

Finally, I saw a song title on a Top 10 list somewhere, and put together there was a popular song named "Black Widow", and I heard it wrong. After finally listening to it all the way through, to my disappointment it's another boastful song from a grown-up first-person perspective about one's prowess in mating and exacting some degree of emotional satisfaction. *yawn*

The baby hip-hop/dance genre remains woefully unexplored. To my knowledge, the only legitimate entry remains "Dur Dur d'être bébé!" by Jordy, a French novelty song in 1992. Get on this, babies with a story, and stop horsing around!

Dreamed of 'Scarface'

This morning, I woke up after dreaming I was in the final scene of Brian DePalma's 'Scarface' as one of the rival druglord's henchmen in a violent gunfight with coked-up Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino). The garish interior of Montana's mansion was all around. Fountain in the atrium with a generic statue of women holding a globe with "The World Is Yours" in neon. While stressful, I was able to crawl on the floor and avoid Montana's gunfire even though he saw me.

"Say hello to my little friend! Sweet dreams."

I had been up late watching a documentary about Gore Vidal "The United States of Amnesia", which has tidbits of the fallout he had with Christopher Hitchens. I still mourn the passing of both men, and may write something about that later. Vidal's elegiac sighing over the American Empire likely influenced the dream.

Debris flying, curses in English and Spanish all around, I thought as the dream ended: "This is a tacky way to go."

That would be a pretty good exit line. Something to bear in mind 300-400 years from now when I finally pass.