"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