YOUTH DETENTION///(NAIL MY FEET DOWN TO THE SOUTHSIDE OF TOWN)

 

6. WHITEWASH

There we sat,
In fluorescent halos,
The tiny flowering redemptions
Of sharecroppers and miners and slaves,
Offering up to our class,
Beneath the TV, the flag and the cross,
Our ridge-and-valley twangs and drawls,
Birthmarks to be scrubbed away.

    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    I don’t want to be an absence.
    I don’t want to be the great silence.
    I want to be—
    
    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    I don’t want to be nobody.
    I don’t want to be from noplace.
    I want to be—

In that little formica nook,
Ladies at the steamtable, men from the scrapyard,
Curling wisps from cornbread and collards,
The soul of home, of souls forced west.
The landlord will sell Ms. Glen’s lease
To continental cafes and unblinking empire,
Pulling this scrap of red clay from those who
Loved her through the worst, who loved her best.

    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    Don’t want to wipe out memory.
    Don’t want to fortify a colony.
    I want to be—

    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    Don’t want power over anybody.
    Don’t want dominion over anyplace.
    I want to be—

        Floating above
        Your scrapped-together smoker,
        In that hazy little yard
        On the sleepy Eastside,
        Smiling through blue strands of smoke
        At everybody passing—
        You’re singing,
        As if
        Heaven
        Is
        Other folks.

You might could sell them a book,
Set in the boutiques of some blanched borough,
In the sterile, phantom code of the mobile, modern,
Skinny, shiny, and guilt-free.
But you belong to the Free State of Winston.
Her pines creak in your words, high and lonesome:
“I’ve got a people, and a history,
And a place bearing down on me.”

    I don’t want to be a whitewash,
    Turning places into sets,
    Turning people into objects.
    I want to be—

    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    Don’t want power over anybody.
    Don’t want dominion over anyplace.
    I want to be—

        I don’t want to be a whitewash.
        I don’t want to be a whitewash.
        I don’t want to be a whitewash.
        I don’t want to be a whitewash.

7. UNDERNEATH THE SHEETS OF WHITE NOISE

The suburban skies
Crackled with the signal.
The national TV crews had descended
On the press conferences and vigils,
The food-court pundits at the mall.
She looked out
Through her frozen blue eyes,
From all the grocery-store checkout-line front-pages
At the tiny, grainy, black and brown faces
In yellowing flyers pinned to the wall.

Her objections are
Inspired, literate, brilliant,
In her cutting cadence, in her Northside drawl,
When Ms. England cuts her off,
Saying, “Girl, you’re just too loud!”
She has bowed her
Braided, beaded head back toward her notes, but
I can sense her shoulders slightly shake.
I can hear the tears tapping on the page.
I can see the ink begin to cloud.

The infield is thick with
Cries of “burnt biscuit” and “white chocolate.”
Then “bitch,” “bank account,” “peckerwood.”
I grow red in the stinging swarm of words
When somebody yells and points at the street.
There, like some old Western movie,
A few Mexican boys
Kick a ball into the park’s dusty fringe.
The posse turns from me to glare at the in-
Truders. I drink deep of the hateful relief.

    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        This city sings her multitudes,
    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        The verses long, the beats raw and loose.
    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        She sings awake her daughters and sons,
    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        And, at my very best, I’m only one.

You envision the
Raj’s stone halls, the dark, defiled Ganges.
She slaps the lectern. Snow hurries past the window.
She points to the silent roar of burning widows,
Blackened figures on a bleached field.
Your thoughts turn south,
The crowd outside the hunched foodmart,
And that sagging copy of an old plantation,
Windows clad in pressboard, columns kudzu-laced.
Can the cornerboys speak?
Can the collegeboy hear?

    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        This city sings her multitudes,
    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        The verses long, the beats raw and loose.
    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        She sings awake her daughters and sons,
    Underneath the sheets of white noise
                        And, at my very best, I’m only one.

12. NAIL MY FEET DOWN TO THE SOUTHSIDE OF TOWN

Drunk with the dew, dumb with the weight,
We watched the towers fall through film and dust.
The stores sold out of flags, brave children pushing in line
To prove the love of a father who would prove to give them up.
Now we’re down at the fountain, and there’s war in the skies,
And we’re calling down the Peace of The Lord,
I lean into the idling truck. It smells like burnt oil and cologne.
He drones: “I killed a bunch in the last one. Can’t wait to kill more.”

Bathed in the sweetness of cut grass, speckled with red clay and defeat,
We drain cans of purple nectar, cleats clicking on the sidewalk.
We, soft boys from the leafy mountain, shadow the cut-up sons
Of the concrete valley, who spit and cuss and revelate like men as they talk.
Will the cop-calling colonists hear the ghostmen talking about that All-Star game?
The sneers and slurs from the visitors’ dugout at the raggedy shoes Darius had on?
At Bo’s gentle air? At Sameer’s daddy’s accent? The way Ricky tore off after them?
Bat crossed behind scarlet neck: “Man, you got to show out for your own.”

    Nail my feet down, down to the Southside of town.
    Bend my back into it: the 24th Street viaduct.
    Watch my hair grow long and tangle up
        In the smoke still rising from the stacks.
    Encase my tongue in steel,
        In case I ever dare to say,
            “I’m stuck.”

Shrouded in black, suckling on cigarettes,
Crammed into our girlfriends’ hand-me-down jeans.
Our arms are crossed, heads nodding to every song,
Like we already know, or just don’t care, what it means.
And, at his post on the corner, John: thick matted beard and torn heavy coat,
His face contorted by voices. The wounded dudes are all cracking up.
I fall quiet and watch him silently read off the transmissions,
The last shouts of children falling through the fading Southtown summer dusk.

    Nail my feet down, down to the Southside of town.
    Bend my back into it: the 24th Street viaduct.
    Watch my hair grow long and tangle up
        In the smoke still rising from the stacks.
    Encase my tongue in steel,
        In case I ever dare to say,
            “I’m stuck.”

Track Listing

  1. Breaking It Down!
  2. Sweet Disorder
  3. Good Old Boy
  4. Black & White Boys
  5. Whitewash
  6. Underneath the Sheets of White Noise
  7. I Heard God!
  8. Crooked Letters
  9. I Can Change!
  10. The City Walls
  11. Had to Laugh
  12. Nail My Feet Down to the Southside of Town
  13. Tongues of Flame!
  14. Trying to Ride
  15. The Picture of a Man
  16. Commencement Address for the Deindustrialized Dispersion
  17. Save My Life!