skinny-dippin’ in the gene pool

By Thulani Davis b. 1949 Thulani Davis
the streets of hell are also paved
with fear of contagion
I have been swimming
in enough barbed-wire waters to know
you’re not even safe on the beach
it’s not just your “body fluids”
it’s the grime of your skin
those dirty things you think

they are cleaning up the world again
I can see the inflammation
heartbreak & hunger scurry me down
on the road to Damascus
I want to be blinded like Saul
for the sake of vision
not just cause I can’t take it anymore

are we talking burnt out here?
burnt out is a reason for infection
I hope I get the whole disease
I am glad to be a speck / a piece of dirt
the dark side of the earth
they’re trying to clean
I want to get in their pores
want them to sweat my filth
the way a wound hurts before the dope
but then come the murderers on the road
are we talking burnt out?
they go in the camps looking for you
cause you are hiding the sores
you could be contagious
after all in the postapocalypse movies
you don’t even exist

your survival is not required
for history or hollywood
in the movie Road Warrior
everyone is antisocial on purpose
human ties are burnt out
& human intercourse is fatiguing & dangerous
gratefully no one is traumatized anymore
& unfortunately no one goes to school

in the movie Blade Runner
almost everyone lives 90 stories below
almost no one else
everyone is antisocial by accident
due to overcrowding in L.A. but no one minds
& there are still parties to go to

everyone white is “off-world” more or less
everyone 90 stories down is polymorphous colored
more or less
no one has attended school in decades
in both films everyone dresses with panache
which preserves their identities
to audiences who know
there is no grounds for indentity

personally I prefer the people in Titanic
even though they got their minds blown
when the unbelievable happened
they still believed in life
they were not burnt out
& had grounds for clinging
to lifeboats and a certain
stylish way of dressing

they could not imagine Jim Jensen
intoning without horror
that the body count goes on
that no one needs the news to know
what’s going on
Beirut is one of the low levels
Dante went on about
available in ordinary life

see the corpses if you will
believe at the risk
you may see it everywhere
every body spreads infection
unless you burn it out
eyewitness news invites you
to wait for the coverage
because Jim Jensen is there
& history is in the making or
you can come skinny-dip
in my gene pool

the massacres were arbitrary
when my people were hunted down
the deaths still go on
stretching over centuries
of shades of brown
baptist, moslem,
mothers, children, fathers
burnt out of homes but living

I am not that desperate
to be numb & dumb
I’m walking 90 stories down
I know I survive
in some wretched moments
of what men do
but I am not that desperate
I don’t give a shit if this is history
in the making
it should stop

I am still alive
I am still happy to be the dirt
that can’t be cleaned up
scorch my earth & I will grow
from history up
under the feet of the present
burnt out is for the movies
in which we don’t exist

Thulani Davis, “skinny-dippin’ in the gene pool” from Playing the Changes © 1985 by Thulani Davis and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Playing the Changes (Wesleyan University Press, 1985)

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Poet Thulani Davis b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Photography & Film, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Popular Culture

 Thulani  Davis


Thulani Davis is an interdisciplinary artist who has written poetry, novels, plays, and screenplays. As described on the poet’s website, Davis’s work in all genres “shares a passionate concern with history, justice, [and] African American life and is marked by the journalist’s eye for the uncovered truth.” Her poetry collections include Playing the Changes (1985) and All the Renegade Ghosts Rise (1978). Raised in Virginia . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Photography & Film, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Popular Culture

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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