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Autumn Und Heil
Work all the time—manic depression but learn to use yourself: when up, drive in—when down assume the clerk–there’s plenty of room for both. —William Carlos Williams
In your transit journal, write about how Lin Manuel Miranda’s affirming, inventive, and soaring Hamilton—your young family’s de facto soundtrack since SL’s birth three years ago—registers flatly the morning after the 2016 U.S. Elections:
why does HAM feel too much
like a moment that’s
Twenty-four hours ago you had been mouthing the words to King George’s “You’ll Be Back” on the Q104 on the way to work, feeling (guardedly) optimistic about how this country would cast its vote. It’s 825 a.m. now, and the packed but hushed Q104 chugs past the Queens Library branch on Broadway Ave. and Steinway St. as you struggle to pick up your pen:
Eight years of Republicans tolerating nativism
& xenophobia in the tea party.
Wilder than that, wide-eyed.
AKA Tim Halliburton’s
Think about your aunt M, who helped raise you in Manila. Two decades later, during your lean single years in New York City, she houses you in her small apartment in western Queens.
Mader—nakakapikang isiping just how Ninang
T, your beloved older sister, & her ignorant Vietnam Vet of
a husbby, both of whom voted for Trump, would treat
you under this new (old) version of America.
In the early 80s, “Mader” M traveled with S, her longtime girlfriend, on a tourist visa to New York City. Ten years later, after they break up, Mader moves into her own studio apartment in Sunnyside. Despite her undocumented status, she endures in the country as only immigrants can and will and do: by securing her U.S. citizenship; earning a Master’s degree in nutrition; and managing a prominent physician’s office in the upper east side.
At the community high school where you teach, you’re interrupted by a student running up and down the third floor hallway, screaming at the top of his lungs: “Make America great again!”
For the juniors in your second period class, this interruption serves as a fitting refrain to your current discussion about Obama’s legacy, anchored partly by a Tavis Smiley interview with Cornell West, who both argue that “in every major category, Black Folks in America have lost ground the past eight years.”
In your 10th grade AP English seminar, you mediate a tense discussion about the election results. You teach at a high-needs renewal school whose population is primarily Latino and African American, yet half of the students in the classroom voice their support for the president-elect. The following question keeps getting asked: “What has Obama done for ME these past eight years?”
After class, your former student and founder of the school’s GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) club stops by your room with her classmate and fellow club member. After greeting you, a smile breaks across her face.
“I told you Trump would win,” she says, pumping fist in the air. “Yuuge.”
Heading home on the Q104, you look forward to spending spring break in Chicago, where you and S will take in the city’s production of HAM. S purchased tickets last week as your lavish holiday present to one another. Following last night’s election results, you wonder what new layers of meaning Miranda’s race-bending musical might accrue, especially given the Windy City’s import to Obama’s start in politics. HAM’s audacity would not have been possible under another presidency, so it’s only fitting to have its national tour open in the city where the president got his start.
Switch to Trane’s “Acknowledgments” in A Love Supreme. His opening solo moves you to write:
Every major election poll got their projections wrong.
I look forward to resuming my studies of magick.
I Hate the Internet by Jarrett Kobek gets you ready to have been frightened.
Poetic knowledge is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge. —Aimé Césaire
After putting SL to bed, you open a series of links to articles which S sends you throughout the day about anti-Asian violence. The SPLC reports:
Asian-Americans were also among those targeted with anti-immigrant rhetoric and racial slurs. While a Chinese-American high school student was getting gas, a white man approached her to say, “Can’t wait for Trump to deport you or I will deport you myself, dyke yellow bitch.” On a sidewalk in San Antonio, Texas, a young man asked a girl waiting for the bus, “You’re Asian, right? When they see your eyes, you are going to be deported.”
Asian Pacific Islander Americans are often left out of the national dialogue about race, perennial strangers to the U.S. resulting from nearly a century of anti-APIA exclusion laws, among other reasons. Why hasn’t this history been foregrounded in the liberal/progressive arguments against the nationalist agenda of the president-elect?
S joins you in the living room, too troubled to fall asleep.
“I’m scared,” she says, voice breaking. “I love this country, Pao.”
Q: What is being in despair?
A: It is getting out of a masterful mess
—Aimé and Suzanne Césaire
Plop in front of one of the desktop computers in the union’s teacher center to catch up on the morning headlines before your first period. From the SPLC:
“I have experienced discrimination in my life, but never in such a public and unashamed manner,” an Asian-American woman reported after a man told her to “go home” as she left an Oakland train station. Likewise, a black resident whose apartment was vandalized with the phrase “911 nigger” reported that he had “never witnessed anything like this.” A Los Angeles woman, who encountered a man who told her he was “Gonna beat [her] pussy,” stated that she was in this neighborhood “all the time and never experienced this type of language before.” Not far away in Sunnyvale, California, a transgender person reported being targeted with homophobic slurs at a bar where “I’ve been a regular customer for 3 years — never had any issues.”
Make your way through the rest of the article, even as Ms. V, a social studies teacher with whom you’ve been friendly, sidles up next to you. Ms. V plans to retire in January, after thirty-plus years of service to the school. Ms. V is also one of the few openly conservative teachers. A dark-skinned Puerto Rican raised by an immigrant single mother, Ms. V nevertheless would bash undocumented workers (“They don’t deserve to be here!”), excoriate Obama (“He’s the reason why everything’s about race!”), condemn Planned Parenthood (“Serves these girls right for not keeping their legs closed!”), and celebrate the 45th (“He’s the real deal!”) in front of colleagues. Students would always report to you how much Ms. V “hates Black people,” as well as her belief that “Jews run the world.”
Last week, when pressed by a SPED (special education) teacher to defend her support for a candidate whose own father was arrested at a KKK rally, she counters: “What does it matter? It’s not like they have any power anymore.”
Bristle, then, when Ms. V pulls up a chair beside you to gloat: “Have you seen all the long faces at the school? I fucking LOVE it! Every single liberal in this school looks miserable. This country’s had enough of their nonsense!”
Open the door to your third period class only to overhear T, from period 7 , speak to N, from period 9, out in the hallway: “It doesn’t matter if you’re Mexican and born here. If you have Mexican blood, we will send you back to Mexico no matter what!”
T says this loud enough to get the attention of O, your ENL student in period 8 walking by with two other Mexican classmates.
“Ain’t that right, bro?” T says to O.
When asking students in the class whose candidacy they supported, three of your brightest signal their appreciation for the president-elect. E, a dark skinned Dominican male, cites Ms. V’s influence in his decision.
“She convinced me that Trump is the better candidate. He will change Washington’s culture and get things done because he is a successful businessman and not a politician.”
But what about his misogyny, his racism?
“Hilary said some nasty things about Black people before, then changed her view when she ran for president,” counters B, whose parents are from Ecuador.
His xenophobia—why vote for a candidate who is so divisive?
“Hilary lied about her emails,” says A, whose parents are from Afghanistan. “How can I trust her to be president?”
In your journal:
Every day that I’m on the job is a vote for public education. Every day that I’m on the job is an affirmation of my faith in this school community. Every day that I’m on the job is an opportunity to help the most vulnerable kids in NYC who show up to class to learn and succeed.
Every day that I’m on the job is an opportunity to support my young family.
The moment you stop believing any of this, leave the profession ASAP. Do it before you completely unravel from further anxiety attacks, facial tics, & PTSD.
A colleague from your former school in East New York sends you a text: “We had the perfect candidate to push back in Sanders, problem is the DNC shoved Hilary Clinton down our throats and made Trump inevitable.”
You value his opinion; currently a social studies teacher in Long Island, M worked on current governor of California Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign back in the 90s, witnessing, first-hand, the political might and reach of the Clintons.
I disagree, Paolo. HRC was wrong to say that. There are still hard-working honest people who voted for Trump. To say that every single person who voted for Trump is a racist bigoted sleaze bag is way off base. Many of these decent hard working people voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Clinton came across as an elitist, condescending, and arrogant individual. To make the statement she made alienated many voters on the fence outside of the inner-city. Democrats have to figure out how to appeal to suburban voters in order to be successful again. Democrats cannot depend on the urban vote as that will only lead to another popular victory vote and electoral college loss.
Pore over the election numbers.
Observe that only two senators lose their seats. In the House, only eight representatives running for re-election fail to win their appointments back.
Why, then, are so many pundits, experts, editors, analysts on both sides of the political spectrum touting this as a “change” election?
When S and SL are asleep, put on your copy of Leonard Cohen’s Best Of CD—a Christmas gift from your dad and sister back in ’95, when you were in college and still living at home in the suburbs of Surrey, B.C. Right now, the quiet of your apartment in Queens returns you to that moment at your parents’ house, late Christmas Eve, after gifts have been exchanged and opened and everyone’s asleep. In the perfect quiet of the house, you listen to “Suzanne” for the first time. The song is a recording of a floating surface, you write in your journal, adding:
LEONARD COHEN IS DEAD–
into Englishes, draw a spot—
inflame lyric with silence despite Thebes—
two days before the nation loses mind—
Tairone’s, too, Lucille’s father—gone
Eternalist, for the trouble you took from our eyes—
who else in the mirror will sing my daughter to sleep—
to seize serpent eating its own tail—
Laundry, grocery shopping, clothes donation drop-off at the Salvation Army on the south side of Queens Boulevard.
Set aside poetry books on the dinner table you suddenly aren’t in the mood to read right now: Rimbaud by Wallace Fowlie, Barbara Guest’s collected poems.
Put on Cohen’s You Want It Darker.
Unable to think straight.
Text S about meeting up with E at Unity Plaza later in the afternoon to attend Danny Dromm’s rally.
Hesitate to follow E after rally to peep Baldwin’s Nigger at Decolonize This!.
Stay home, chant, read.
Go back to sleep.
Wake up from nap before S and SL do.
a novel purposely “anti-literary”, with no more pretensions to quality than your typical Wikipedia article or Facebook update. It is a novel of San Francisco, once a vibrant city, a cauldron for social change, but now a sugarcoated sepulcher that, though beautiful still, has been hallowed out from within by the interstices forces of technology, oligarchy, and a greed protected from failure by the Internet-induced vapidity of those who used to read, before we all started talking about Miley and Beyonce.
Kobek’s book is subtitled “a useful novel against men, money, and the filth of Instagram.” It opens with the deadpan observation:
The Internet was a wonderful invention. It was a computer network which people used to remind other people that they were awful pieces of shit.
Skip #unity rally; S and SL are just waking up.
Repeat to self: It’s okay to stay-in this weekend. Already flummoxed by the demands of teaching English Language Arts full-time at a renewal high school, the job of public educator already inherently an act of resistance against the alt-right agenda of the 45th.
Mindful, too, of the scarcity of opportunities to teach English Language Arts as a male person of color in NYC—especially in so-called “progressive” public schools, whose English departments are almost exclusively white.
Grateful, then, to be working where you do right now.
Remember Robert Creeley: “That is, my ability to live and make a living and secure the possibility of family for myself—this is political.”
Tomorrow, you will attend second Sunday Oko in Flushing. Re-read Gosho, p 1314: “An excellent master, an excellent believer, and the excellent Law—only when these three are united, can a practitioner have their prayers answered, and even disasters that may befall the land can be driven away.”
Hold S and SL close when they enter living room to greet you.
Step aside from the racial outrage on all fronts fueling this wretched election cycle.
Keep reading Kobek’s novel for perspective:
IN FACT, all of the people who exercised freedom of speech and freedom of expression on Twitter were doing nothing more and nothing less than creating content that they did not own for a corporation in which they had no stake.
In effect, they were working-for-hire like Jack Kirby. The only difference being that Marvel, like, you know, actually paid Jack Kirby before he was screwed. Twitter didn’t pay its creators.
The only purpose of tweeting was the creation of new opportunities for advertisements. The only function of exercising freedom of speech and freedom of expression on Twitter was to make money for the people who had founded and invested in Twitter.
The founders of Twitter were named Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Evan Williams. There was no eumelanin in the basale strata of their epidermises.
So that was radical activism in 2013. Hosted by a service owned by white dudes which displayed advertisements for Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Re-visit Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, an important documentary for you as an undergrad: “The principle that I think we ought to follow… is a very simple ethical point: you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions.”
Keep tasking self: How could Americans vote for such an unqualified and morally reprehensible individual?
You can turn true facts, manipulate those facts, to make your opponent look bad…history could be anything. It becomes how can you manipulate the American people. Reality is simply something that you handle. —Robert Parry
Not a single article or Op-Ed following the election results this week helps you make much sense of it.
…armed always with the irresistible argument that you can see a thing more clearly by sunlight than by moonlight… —Colin Wilson
Keep tasking self: How could every single poll, from Nate Silver to the New York Times to CNN—even Fox News—get it wrong?
He, and his audience, knew nothing what he said bore little to no relationship to reality. This meant that Trump defeated journalism, because the journalist’s central belief was that their job was to expose lies and assert the truth. For Trump, this became irrelevant… —Adam Curtis
Keep tasking self: Why did so many Americans choose not to vote this year?
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Back from Sunday Oko, listen to David Remnick’s podcast of his final interview with Cohen in your favorite folding chair.
Note how LC “put[s] house in order,” how “comforting” this proves to him; how “compassionate” enduring his withering body truly becomes; how his ascetic practice with his roshi is like “boot camp to teach you not to whine.”
Note how his ascetic practice enables him to get back on tour in his mid-60s to recover the millions of savings he lost to his cheating manager.
Note that a younger LC initially wanted to write and publish poetry full-time, but didn’t see this as economically feasible; and that “Suzanne” is the first song LC records after making the decision to pursue songwriting and recording as a way to make a living.
Play back podcast to moment when LC shares resolve to provide for his children; to roll up his sleeves and get back to work in 2016 on a new book of poems, three new critically-acclaimed albums, and a trove of uncollected writing.
Type up suggested edits to “Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours,” your 17-minute single with Listening Center (aka David Mason) involving poetry and tape loops. The piece emerges from a radiophonic improvisation at the High Line’s Culture Shock Festival last April, a program featuring collaborations between other poets and musicians including LaTasha N. Diggs, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Susie Ibarra. Since this event, you devote whatever time remains in your crazy week to producing the track in David’s studio in NOHO.
Working on it locks you into elegiac mode for much of the year. You describe it to L, your friend in Toronto, as an “homage to the great ones who left us in 2016, but also a poem about cultural dislocation, Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together, hitting the re-set button, and long train rides to Canada.”
“Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours” also channels your profound gratitude for your father’s second lease on life the past year. In June, Papa survived a massive heart attack followed by a quintuple bypass—two months after your High Line performance.
Even SL makes it onto Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours: the section “Akloki to the Future” is based on one of her own bedtime compositions.
Practice evening gongyo. Re-read the monthly gosho following the fifth prayer:
If you wish to know the causes you have accumulated in your past existences, look at the effects that are manifested in the present. And if you wish to know the effects that will be manifested in the future, look at the causes you are accumulating in the present.
During gongyo, recognize that forty-five’s victory is a shock to a “first-world” nation like the U.S. because we assume electing leaders like him is possible only in the “third-world.”
In the great crises of life, when existence itself is threatened, the soul attains transcendent powers. —August Strindberg
A welcome email from Roberto Harrison to open your week:
I’m writing today to invite you to submit poems for an emergency anthology being co-edited by Michael Rothenberg, John Bradley, Ruben Medina, Kass Fleischer, Michael Boughn, Andrew Levy, Margaret Randall, Anne Waldman, Roberto Harrison, Tyrone Williams, Ching-In Chen, Nathaniel Mackey, Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Julie Patton, Philip Metres, Kent Johnson, and Brenda Cardenas. Our aim is to create a deeply diverse book that will be representative of the broad opposition—across various genders, races, ethnicities, and sexualities—to a newly emboldened American neo-fascism. The collection will be published by Dispatches Editions, a new book imprint, launching in 2017.
You admire Roberto’s poetry, and appreciate his anthology’s inclusive mission: “Because the publishers (those whose brainchild this originally was) would like to release this anthology shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, they have decentralized the editing process, and each editor has autonomy to invite submissions from a limited number of poets of our own choosing.”
In your journal, jot down the following note:
Because your inner anomalist, whom you suppressed the past two months, must have foreseen the election results in all the reported sightings of phantom clowns since January, perhaps your contribution to Roberto ought to in(/re)volve (around) the phenomenon.
Email Roberto to confirm your submission, with gratitude.
Keep it in mind the next time you go to the theater: some gifted men and women have built a community in that room, and the immigrant is you. —Andy Blankhenbueller
S plays you the video on her phone of the cast of HAM reading a letter to Mike Pence at the end of Saturday night’s performance. Did this evangelical Christian conservative with an anti-LGBT and anti-women’s rights legislation record really sit through the entirety of Miranda’s racebending, pro-immigrant musical about our founding fathers? Whose current lead, the talented and sexy Javier (great name) Muñoz, is Latino, openly gay, and HIV+?
Try love; it’s vital & our strongest power. —Javier Muñoz
—Forty-five feels like an OPPPOWWWI. But one whom I need a whole new strategy to deal with. I can’t engage with even the idea of him right now. Probably a coping mechanism, but when the Patriot Act was under way, I would have dreams of Dubya inviting me over to the White House Christmas dinner. That’s how much I resented his presidency.
—You had no problem with Dubya’s personality. Maybe you should attend the Sanders book launch at Barnes & Noble tonight.
—I should hit the gym.
—I feel that seeing Bernie would help you. You and I are responding to this very differently.
“I could not identify with the political movements any longer,” she said. “All the manic activity in the streets. I’m trying to join them, I felt overwhelmed by yet another form of bureaucracy.” —Patti Smith
…and it became clear there was a terrible confusion at the heart of the movement. The radicals had believed that if you could create a new way of organizing people, that a new society would emerge. But what they did not have was a picture of what that society would be like, and a vision of the future. —Adam Curtis
During brunch at your local spot, you use S and SL’s bathroom break to jot down some notes in your journal about early organizers of
Occupy Wall Street who are former Citibank employees turned artists not too happy about the diminishing returns of their new career.
About white artist friends posting pictures and videos—taken on their brand new smart phones—of their arrests on Facebook, typing comments about their willingness to be in cuffs again “if it means fighting for the future,” oblivious to the privilege ensuring their immediate release.
About disengaging from white poets who keep encouraging you to join the OWS movement, oblivious (by choice) to your concerns about the cost of being surveilled/arrested while brown and not yet a citizen.
. . . The white left in particular has a tendency to take the words and concepts of revolutionary leaders from around the world instead of participating in the hammering-out of a true understanding of what is going on here, and how to use it. —Jimmie Durham
And so we come full circle, back to the mic hogging, holier-than-thou Leftists who believe they know “us” better than we know ourselves. I don’t doubt their sincerity or their commitment to the liberation of black people and all oppressed people. But they continue to view us as objects rather than subjects. What they need to do is to pay more attention to the people whose culture they are so quick to praise for its unwavering resistance to capitalism and imperialism. Perhaps then they might be more willing to give up the mic for a moment, listen to the victims of democracy sing their dreams of a new world, and take notes on how to fight for their own freedom. —Robin Kelley
What’s up with the Poet of Color cum Social Justice Warrior at these anti-45th rallies & across social media, descrying white supremacy & putting on blast white privilege, yet their own object-choice/significant other/partner is, themself, White? #havingyourhate&eatingit #bitingthehandyoulead
you scribble on the yellow post-it stuck to one of the pages of “Racing the Lyric” in Fred Wah’s Faking It.
…I’m always a little bothered by those race writers who go for the other, that seemingly solid lyric subject ground I can’t trust. I can’t trust it since, for many of my generation, racing the lyric entailed racing against it; erasing it in order to subvert the restrictions of a dominating and centralizing aesthetic. Yet I’m interested in how the coloring of the negotiations, with whatever thread of the inherited lyric, has consequences for a socially informed poetics (not a politics of identity but a praxis in language). —Fred Wah
Become the firemen. Let us not stand by and let the house burn. —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
Open your sister’s pics of your nephews and niece cosplaying as Hamilton, Lafayette, and Anjelica Schuyler on Halloween.
In your journal, compose yet another entry about the show:
What affects me about HAM is the creators’ profound compassion towards their protagonist, whom they portray as a deeply flawed person who nevertheless strives to do right by his adoptive country, wife, family, friends—at the cost of his own life.
& I’ll always sob to “Dear Theodosia” because it’s true: “we’ll pass it on to you,/ we’ll give the world to you/ and you’ll blow us all away,/someday,/someday.”
Only the hands in clay, cutting glass, marking in oil found a certainty of form. —Stephen Motika
Finish revising the poem/text of “Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours”.
Send this immediately to D, along with additional track edit recs.
Finally! Some progress, you tell yourself, feeling just a couple of weeks away from the mastering stage of a collaboration that’s taking close to nine months to complete.
And if we don’t fight
if we don’t resist
if we don’t organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is
Send Roberto the following email:
Thank you again for the extension this past weekend. I definitely needed the time to complete my collage, “Phantom Longing”, which I’ve scanned and send to you as an attachment here. I’ve sent a couple of versions, as the size of the work is unusual. But I think you can see most of the piece clear enough.
Hope it interests you, and proves a good fit for your book. Take care, and have a great week!
all my best,
—to Fred Wah
Tags: Adam Curtis, Aimé Césaire, Andy Blankhenbueller, August Strindberg, Colin Wilson, David Mason, Fred Wah, Hamilton, James Baldwin, Javier Muñoz, Jayne Cortez, Jimmie Durham, Kevin Killian, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Leonard Cohen, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Listening Center, Martin Luther King Jr., Noam Chomsky, Patti Smith, Robert Creeley, Robert Parry, Roberto Harrison, Robin Kelley, Stephen Motika, Susie Ibarra, William Carlos Williams, Yusef Komunyakaa
Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 by Paolo Javier.