Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: All-American Poem
Last weekend, I watched the movie Cloud Atlas. I think it’s a beautiful film that explores how its characters confront and transcend boundaries, like race. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend spending the nearly 3 hours of viewing time to check it out.
Race is obviously still a contentious issue that didn’t just go away because Barack Obama was elected president, although some at the time put forth the notion that, because Obama was elected, we now live in a post-racial America.
Unfortunately, there are too many examples of why that is not the case, like the racist backlash to a cheerios ad featuring a biracial couple, or the lawsuit alleging racism is involved in the decision to close 54 Chicago public schools, or the violent assault of a 14 year old black kid by Miami police for reportedly giving them a dehumanizing stare.
And that was just this past week.
The fault lines of race become even more pronounced during economic downturns. What’s been happening in Greece, for example, is especially disturbing. The political potency of the Neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, continues to grow, and the weakened government doesn’t seem capable of addressing the increasing number of racially-fueled assaults.
So it’s within this context I started reading Matthew Dickman’s first book of poems, titled All-American Poem (APR/Honickman First Book Prize, 2008; distributed by Copper Canyon Press). What can a white male poet born in Portland, Oregon say about race in America? Click continue reading, and find out.
Whenever I return a fight breaks out
in the park, someone buys a lottery ticket,
steals a bottle of vodka, lights
a cigarette underneath the overpass.
205 rips the neighborhood in half
the way the Willamette rips the city in half.
It sounds like the ocean
if I am sitting alone in the backyard
looking up at the lilac.
This is where white kids lived
and listened to Black Sabbath
while they beat the shit out of each other
for bragging rights,
running in packs, carrying baseball bats
that were cut from the same trees
our parents had planted
before the Asian kids moved in
to run the mini-marts
and carry knives to school, before the Mexicans
moved in and mowed everyone’s front yard—
white kids wanting anything
anybody ever took from them in shaved heads
and combat boots.
On the weekend our furious mothers
applied their lipstick
that left red cuts on the ends of their Marlboro Reds
and our fathers quietly did whatever
when trying to keep the dogs of sorrow
from tearing them limb from limb.
Lents, I have been away so long
I imagine that you’re a musical
some rich kid from New York wrote about debt,
then threw in Kool-Aid
to make it funny. I can see the dance line,
the high kicks of the skinheads, twirling
metal pipes, stomping in unison
while the committed rage of the Gypsy Jokers
square off with he committed rage
of the single mothers.
In the end someone gets evicted, someone
gets jumped into his new family
and they call themselves Los Brazos,
King Cobras, South-Side White Pride.
Dear Lents, dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster,
I am your strange son.
You saved me when I needed saving,
your arms wrapped around
my bassinet like patrol cars wrapped around
the school yard
the night Jason went crazy—
waving his father’s gun above his head,
bathed in red and blue flashing lights,
all-American, broken in half and beautiful.