Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: A Consumer’s Confession


by lizard

I find Black Friday to be a cultural embarrassment. Partly that comes from my midwest suburban emersion in American consumerism. When compact discs became the dominant medium for owning and experiencing music, Best Buy became like a holy temple I visited every Tuesday to ritually comb through the new releases for the next thing in music. In middle school I was a mall rat, and in high school I got my first job at 15, so usually always had a little disposable income to burn. I really liked to buy things, and still do, habitually combing through the virtual pages of Abebooks for books of poetry to acquire.

That said, seeing news reports of a woman using pepper spray in the Black Friday crush of snatch&buy free-for-alls both confounds me and makes me cringe, because I know I’m not immune to what I see as a sickness that permeates our cultural landscapes.

It’s no wonder some people seek personal cures to this cultural malady. Ironically, that desire has created an entire industry of self-help-New-Age-guruism that peddles cures for the sickness. Recently, one of those gurus, James Arthur Ray, got sentenced with some actual prison time for negligent homicide, the result of a monetized sweat lodge ritual turned lethal oven for three customers.

Here’s what Ivan Lewis of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation had to say:

“He desecrated our ceremony, he abused it,” Lewis said Wednesday. “He used it in any way that he could just to get his money. He was told before not to do that, and he’s paying for it now.”

Below the fold, I’ve selected a very appropriate poem from Wendy Rose’s book, Bone Dance, that grapples with this commodification that translates cultural phenomena, or in the case of the poem, human remains, into monetary value.

*

THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR DEATH SONG

Nineteen American Indian skeletons from Nevada…
valued at $3,000

—invoice received at a museum
as normal business, 1975

Is it in cold hard cash? the kind
that dusts the insides of mens’ pockets
laying silver-polished surface along the cloth.
Or in bills? papering the wallets of they
who thread the night with dark words. Or
checks? paper promises weighing the same
as words spoken once on the other side
of the mown grass and dammed rivers
of history. However it goes, it goes.
Through my body it goes
assessing each nerve, running its edges
along my arteries, planning ahead
for whose hands will rip me
into pieces of dusty red paper,
whose hands will smooth or smatter me
into traces of rubble. Invoiced now
it’s official how our bones are valued
that stretch out pointing to sunrise
or are flexed into one last fetal bend,
that are removed and tossed about,
cataloged, numbered with black ink
on newly-white foreheads.
As we were formed to the white soldier’s voice,
so we explode under white students’ hands.
Death is a long trail of days
in our fleshless prison.
From this distant point
we watch our bones auctioned
with our careful quillwork,
beaded medicine bundles, even the brindles
of our shot-down horses. You who have priced us,
you who have removed us—at what cost?
What price the pits
where our bones share
a single bit of memory,
how one century has turned
our dead into specimens,
our history into dust,
our survivors into clowns.
Our memory might be catching, you know.
Picture the mortars, the arrowheads, the labrets
shaking off their labels like bears suddenly awake
to find the seasons ended while they slept.
Watch them touch each other, measure reality,
march out the museum door!
Watch as they lift their faces
and smell about for us. Watch our bones rise
to meet them and mount the horses once again!
The cost then will be paid
for our sweetgrass-smelling having-been
in clam-shell beads and steatite, dentalia
and woodpecker scalp, turquoise and copper,
blood and oil, coal and uranium,
children, a universe
of stolen things.

—Wendy Rose


  1. Ingemar Johansson

    Nice picture.

    Looks like Occupy Target.

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