Begat on the dirty mattress
I have to ask, if you’ve done this before, carved out casket from body, brittle bone,
& bullet blistering-
nation’s conscious or lack thereof
festering on like pus from a sole
trodden in arsenic glass,
picked the bullets from loose
cartilage and translated into a leaf
coffin, placed clothe onto corpse
with bare hands & an inkpen
exhumed a lost soul from social media?
Which is to say,
have you ever been a black poet
in the millennial generation?
I mean I had a dream too
many steps taken onto the lawn
of an elderly, Caucasian man
as gentle looking as can be,
before a hello had space to be uttered
he contemplated aloud whether
to use the shotgun or the handgun
as casual as nice weather we’re having.
Thank God I awoke
To exhume a brown soul from the scorched bark that is the American family tree, is to place two palms into the rift in identity that is the dichotomy of the post-diasporic black citizen and rip back an emotion. It is to heap up mounds of soured blood seeping from the malady of white “supremacy” that has stretched into the millennial generation. From Nina to Langston, black art has always contained this croon to it; at least the critically acclaimed and historically relevant content. We’re talking negro spiritual to Muddy Waters’ blues; Coltrane emboldening the backbone of a culture with a brass elegy of a catalogue, to Lauryn Hill’s hacking at the lock and key of the American social experiment.
They say art can be cathartic; well black America has doled out traumatic testimonial after testimonial, all under the headstone of black grief. I would be negligent not to mention the paradoxically sullen nature of “A Change Is Gonna Come” and it’s ironic mixing in of a prophetic vision of a paradigm shift.
This fits into the millennial experience like pebbles in a riverbed. Each incident is formed out of the dust of the former; each poem sewn through the breath of another.
In fact, I would claim it proverbial duty of the black millennial artisan to strum straw into gold; or pain into resilience. Black grief has become, become its own art form, maybe its own offspring.
Balms for injustices seem to jut out of the veins of all our murals, etched in melanin and makeshift gauzes. In 2016, the year of the spoken word elegy, coffins were carved out of thin air as coffee spots and bookshops were turned into funeral homes. Twitter accounts all across black America became ambulance and morgue. Facebook morphed into public courthouse and all throughout the land, the inhabitants were made to feel our wail.
To be a black man in the millennial means to be painter of the Passover blood on the doorpost. This is to say, it means to bemoan one’s brother and in a tribal sense, take on the label of village warrior; be it through words or other means. To be a black man during these times means to have imprinted the blood stained banner of our ancestors’ ancestors on our jaws. Nowadays, to be a black man in America, is to inherit to some degree, the scholarship of maneuvering through the societal brands blistered onto our consciousness.
In all paths, this is an undeniable task in brown-skinned males. This means, to be a black male in America is to inevitably be a poet, a blacksmith of life, hammering away at the smoldering embers of our humanity. It is to chew conventions and spit loose the cud. It is to either be accepted or demonized, but in both instances, as deadly with a pen as with a pistol. It is to be Sir Joshua Bennett or, although more brash a poet, Kendrick Lamar. It is to teeter on the brink of elite society as the untamed threat bubbling in the public’s gut. I would liken this generation of black men as to caging a lion’s roar with the teeth still bared. By our very existence we are perpetually at the throat of the establishment.
This is not to nullify the racial tension, that has been parsed through. It is also not to muck up the visceral significance of the black male to the roots of our society. It is not to pluck up pillars and paint them as mere ploys to placate their counterparts. It is certainly not to overshadow the strides and struggles of black women in America. With every ballad belted out the brass lungs of the lion, the lioness tilts back her head and laments too. When Dr. Javon Johnson drains his arteries into journal, Aja Monet isn’t far behind with her life’s work eased out through tourniquet. It is with great strain that we display this much blood on the curb, shielding public surgery from becoming spectacle. With great delicacy and tremendous rage we soothe myrrh into brittle black cadavers too audacious to be Messiah. It is with cunning and craft that we forcibly attempt to resuscitate the corpses of Garner and Bland, hoping that through the tradition of oration their tales become tangible.
In 2016, it is the male (and female) tradition to narrate the fallen bodies of our kin into the afterlife. It is no mere chore, but a considerable obligation that we carry the veins of their stories into the brain stem of the bureaucracy that attempts to mummify our still alive voices. It is our task in the future to pry at the hands of appeasement until the warcry of our black grief is memorialized into the corneas of the public.
It is to awake hungry and lied to. To open eyes, ready to dine on what compassion can be manifested. It is to attempt to emulate Christ, make meals for a multitude with seven loaves and few fishes.
By Terrance Brown