Sunday, August 29, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

The reference to this sly, witty Tony Hoagland poem comes from Henry Louis Gates, Jr, the black Harvard professor who was arrested while trying to get into his own home by a white cop, and after the usual race-fueled kerfluffle, both of them ended up having a beer at the White House with President Obama.

Gates had a PBS series wherein he’d trace ancestry via DNA and other historical documents for “famous people.” He also had done his own. The program wonderfully illustrated the perils of this country’s constant fear of The Dreaded Other by reminding all of us to be careful who you hate and fear (and arrest) because they’re probably your second cousin.

From Hoagland’s book, “Unincorported Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty.”


Last night on TV the light-brown African-American professor
looked at the printout analysis of his own DNA
and learned that he was mostly Irish.

I can’t go back to Africa now, he thought,
controlling the expression on his face,
his big moment onscreen already turning out
different than he had imagined.

Nor would he ever be able to say the sentence,
“I be at the crib”
with the same brotherly ease as before.

I was tired from work, and I wanted to
turn off the television and go to bed,
but I couldn’t stop watching that transformation,

the bones in his face rearranging,
his freckles becoming explicable

thanks to the hinge on a 18th-century door
between the kitchen of a Massachusetts merchant
and the southernmost room where a slave-woman slept;

thanks to the macramé of chromosomes, and the electron microscope
and the longing for knowledge
which sometimes makes things more
confusing than they were before.

That’s how I feel while I watch, as if
eavesdropping on the family next door, --
pressing my ear to the wall

slowly starting to make out the words,
not certain why I am so interested.
My ear glued to the wall.

The merchant raising a tiny oil can, and tilting it
to squeeze three drops
into the hinge to keep it quiet.


Anne R. Allen said...

Brilliant. Thanks for introducing me to Tony Hoagland!

Alon Perlman said...

What came first? the poem or the arrest?
Did Dr. Gates refer to the poem? Or would that not be something three American guys would discuss over a beer?
The poem itself references the 4 part series on PBS. looking it up, the notes for the program allude to a “surprise” not revealing the degree of the Irish-Americanism ofthe Dr.
Thanks Ann, for the poem as the main course in the context of a meal.

The Primal fear of “Not Me”,”Not We”, is always lurking closer to hind brain of the the apes then it is interculated into the moral DNA of the most fallen of the angels, the “Dreaded other” is not just the archetype fear of the American farangi.
It is universal.
What we have in America that differentiates us from the concerns of a mountain pashtoon village, is cultural overlays over cultural overlays over beliefs that are too tangled for extraction of any level of moral clarity or practical social interaction.
So we are not just a melting pot. We are a collective fragmented consciousness responding to cues that we are not aware of, as to how we are supposed to think. And the mechanisms for deception are also ingrained in our external and internal verbal transactions. Differentiation is a marketing tool.
We are trained to respond. We are programmed to receive. We can check out anytime We want, but We can never leave.
Liberty is individual.
Limited by language, not lineage. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.

M said...

Alon, you may have just free'ed your mind, but you sure clogged mine up! What?
Sincerely, M

M said...

Actually, after re-reading the poem, you only added to the clogging.
Sincerely, M

franc4 said...

I second M in his remarks. Mr. Perlman is obviously a very learned scholar and philosopher who speaks to a level of mind far above souls who speak in two syllable words. Too bad he can't convey his thoughts so plain folks can comprehend what the heck he is trying to say. I'm sure he does..... possibly.
Word of the day: Ed Neuman

Alon Perlman said...

Thank you for your kind words.
I'm back to poetry Jam next week
M -Ridex; just a pinch between the lid and bowl

Ed Neuman- Huh
don't remember much of my Miami dolphin days

Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

SLOTowner said...

I don't think Mr. Perlman has made any sense ever.

My favorite lines of Gates' poem was:

thanks to the macramé of chromosomes, and the electron microscope
and the longing for knowledge
which sometimes makes things more
confusing than they were before.

You want to find out more about yourself, but the more you find out, the more confusing it becomes. Life is all about unraveling that confusion and coming up with answers about who you are. No matter how intimidating it may be, never stop asking questions.

M said...

I apologize Alon. I don't know why you elicit that response from me. I just never understand what you are actually saying.
Sincerely, M

Alon Perlman said...

I'll try to eschew obfuscation next time M. What a decent thing to say.

Never say never though.
Sometimes I just plain simple don't write so good.

"Other times I can bearly see,
lately it appears to me, what a long strange trip it's been"

But look, we have two new bairn poetry lovers in our midst.
Ain't that a cause for celebration?
perhaps it will dilute the flavors of Itchey and Scratchy Oowtch.

And don't ask me to translate that, since their "Real" names are verbuten, kapich?

TheOpenEye said...

Alon is obviously brilliant because what kind of dumkop would try to light a barbecue grill using kerosene?

Interesting that he spoke backwards at the recent Coastal Commission meeting and no one noticed.

Maybe that's because all his sentences start with "I" and end with "me" -- with nothing in between.