Señor Smith to you.
Write what you know. But I don't know! The floor creaks when I walk up the steps, even when I'm not there. I am facing a national personality triage. The nation is not america but poesie, the personality is not body but name. A doppleganged fissure prancing out of my comfort hook has been going around town, claiming swoon and swag, as my name. After years of hiding behind my last name, actually disregarding nationality to expunge on process, I've just been outed as a spic poet. A what, you say? Exactly! Spic: a derogatory term from the fifties that no one uses now — the cultural elite having graduated to sliceier tidbits. (oozing sarcasm, he lays his sword down)
But West Side Story's got those catchy songs, "even if our liberation tells us the sixties are over?"...so says the gringo bus driver, running a blur of identities into one locale. Get your head straight, vato, this here's a name talking, not a mouthpiece. Like your run-of-the-mill border citizen, using fusion to get high. Yo, we got our own n word. Oh yeah? Yeah, Nuyorican. Please that's nothing like the original n word. Papi, you say that like you're proud. No pride just fact bro, don't even compare. Here's another n word, nock nock. Who dat? Nothing. Huh! Nada, aint no one here. And that's your n word? We all need one. Even if it's nothing? We all need nada.
I'm back at El Museo Del Barrio this weekend for a reading series called "Spic Up! Speak Out!" A healthy email exchange took place over the summer among the participants over institutionalizing a derogatory term to claim it as any sort of victory, a decision I still have problems with but am thankful for the issues brewing. A reminder to shake under the quiver of the living beast called po, to honor its depth, to remind me of mine. And to the museum's credit, that firey exchange will be used as a foreward for the lavishly-designed program over the run of the series. The witness infantata in me rears up, pssst look here, just make your comment and then get back to that nothing you know so well, son.
So I'm thrust into reflection over name-calling versus body-being. Saliva sweetens the heat, out in the fields, the migratory open field between the edge and where edge comes from. Spit regurgitates as Spic, when you're trying to clear your gang-throat in the 1950's and you're looking for base-denominator-insult. My question rhetoric; to instigate change, if asked to read a poem inside a burning building and handed asbestos gloves with rubberized microphone, is it better to flood from the inside, break down from within the structure, or hose from the outside and keep your dress clean for a new day? Say, I am better than one word. Claim word as name. Say yes, and face what name brings.
And when does name become strangle? More likely, when does word not become poet? Does writing become word before becoming I ? See, I was satisfied in the distance, the dismissal I'd been given disguised as range. I was hoping for all sorts of who in my head to pop out at this point. Dripping through the limbic insular called digit, and letting it flop on a micro-cosmic landing pad called lingo. This name thing, how skin it's become, how jailed to remain in something given.
I was adhereing to an ancient tome erratta, a sort of bean-pole existence that I could swirl around, or get behind, like the fact of thing becoming sound before word. This house is still settling, the physical one I live in and the meta one I write in. Reminding me of who came before, that I was only a holder before the bag showed up. Back to the burning building, screaming from the outside, if I am a flame, who holds the hose? Notice how I've neglected to divert history from its perch, how Nuyorican has not been explained or dissected. Because this isn't about that.
The beauty boy in long hair and molasses scopes the beach for suckers, carrying cookies on silver plates, selling every crumb as if it were the cookie. And sand claims itself as wish. And who is it that writes only their name when they sign something? And who hears color before accent? And that italic membrane over your second skin, who's gonna pick up that little bit of no and give it a whirl?
A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...