Dead End

I visited my old college roommate, Bryce. Bryce McHatchen.
Whatta nice guy! It’s been forty years. Forty. “Count them,” he said,
as a reminder of why it had been so long. I couldn’t stand being told
what to do. “I won’t be attending the reunion at the Holiday Inn,”
I’d called to say. He had appointed himself Class President. I received
his invitation along with a request for a donation. ($500 minimum.)

I gave nothing because I had nothing. But I agreed to meet. We fell
into each other’s arms, although I felt tense. I didn’t feel comfortable
being touched by him. I remembered him as fastidious and sadistic,
like a lot of young men. At the time, I liked it but as I have grown
older, I have come to dislike masculinity: boxers, loafers, and ice
picks, whatever their uses might be.

He was into videos of skin tag removals and professional pimple
poppers. He’d get high and watch for hours. I figured that in another
time and place he might have made a prim torturer for the Gestapo,
a master of gouging out eyes. I could hear him scream when the blood
squirted out on to his custom shirt imported from Hong Kong.

“I’m nervous as all get out,” I confessed as we pulled away from each
other’s rather dramatic bear hug. As we embraced, I was silent but he
said “Jesus Christ” three times. I hadn’t said “as all get out” in over thirty
years, a real Southernism if there ever was one, and I hadn’t lived in the
South since being sent away to school. I had allowed these expressions
to creep back into my daily discourse.

Besides tending lately to sound like a Southern maid, I had begun to repeat
Britishisms such as “lovely,” which no American male ever says. Of late,
I found everything lovely. And common among women when I was a child
in Mississippi, I found myself replying to bad news by saying, “Oh, dear.”
Somehow, I just got tired of saying shit. It is all one can do to avoid being
crushed by empathy. My mother told me to guard against compassion.

I asked Bryce what he thought about the evening news. The TV was on over
the bar. There was no sound, but I couldn’t help catching the dread banners
at the bottom of the screen. “The UN urges end to attacks on schools, especially
in Africa.” I found myself entirely without concern. “Where,” he demanded
to know, “would you place yourself in the history of kindness?” The beer
in my mouth shot forcefully out, spraying his familiar but perplexed face.

I couldn’t help myself. Beer dripped from his nose. There was foam in his hair.
We had been friends. Had we been closer, I might have offered to lick it off.
As it was, I poured the rest over his head. I have gotten so I can’t stand smug
whites dripping with privilege. I stood, offered a few choice words, and left.
Had we been friends, he would have followed. As it was, he let me go. I got
into my little Subaru, which he described as a car for students, and sped off.

The Penguin Book of Human Verve

You can’t blame people for being unsympathetic.
They themselves are full of self-doubt.
It’s not that people dislike them. We’re not talking
about likeability; we are talking territoriality.

Land is the issue, real estate. Go ask the communists
in Berkeley what they think about land grabs. Every
hippie in town is a millionaire. Every landlord a commissar.
No wonder Stalin is so highly admired by the property owners.

Walter Benjamin is valued but not as highly as a stock tip.
It is the only town in the world where the shopkeepers are
intellectuals. They’re mean and they snarl like the kulaks
Khrushchev was ordered to slaughter. That was a land grab.

Every woman in town has been married to a homeowner.
The hills above campus are filled with Freudian psychoanalysts,
who charged $45 an hour forty-five years ago. They made that
when the local police were being paid five dollars an hour.

You’d swear they were members of ISIS, with their beards and Volvos.
They turn their garages into lounges. Inside, you’ll find Woody Allen,
not crying over spilled milk, but blubbering on about money.
It’s never been art for art’s sake but always money for Pete’s sake.

They build palaces to the arts and leave the land to their children.
The kids sport beards like carpet dealers in Riyadh. They too are
dying to make a killing. They bring green tea and fleece you.
The secular gods offer explanations on their way to make repairs.

The gods are content when they’re not pounding the walls. Let it be
the walls and not the sidewalks. They seek first to gain tenure, then
they get down to business. They are all for public schools as long as
their children attend privates. That’s when they bring up your inferiority.

Gus and Max, Hubert Menke and Sam: they all stopped talking before
they were 50. They are married to women who spill the baskets of straw
-berries at the grocery and pick out the luscious ones. They leave those
with white tops for the goyim. “They won’t notice. Are you kidding?”

The trash let their children play in the yard with grape juice stains
on their underwear. They don’t ask for discounts. The women even
do their own washing. What’s the point of closing on Sundays?
Half the people are dying for a cigarette. “Who are we to deny them?”


I admired JFK, I did.
Now they say he was white.
Shit. I am from the wrong
generation. Not the Wi-Fi,
but the Hi-Fi, you dig?
I even liked Marilyn Monroe.
Loved her for her tits, although
some said she was smart. Geez,
and let’s not forget about Jackie.

What do brains count for if you are
the wrong color, huh? Riddle me
that. Will that get you a free snow
cone? You might as well ask the girl
sitting across the aisle to pass you her
panties. Go on. Try that. I dare you.
So, now you are in a pickle, I would
say. The only thing I can come up with
is this: tell ‘em you’re black.

That’s right. That’s it. Brazen it out.
Look ‘em straight in the eye and tell
them you like watermelon. Your favorite
writer is Toni Morrison; that’s what
they say at Amherst. Forget about T. S.
fucking Eliot. Tell ‘em you love Rita
Dove. Sneer at the mention of Tarantino.
When it comes to movies, you gotta say
you love Alfred Hitchcock.

Only you gotta get them you believe Hitch-
cock was black. That won’t be difficult.
Remind them he made The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. Of course not, but you gotta
believe it. Tell ‘em he made 007. Tell ‘em he
wanted a black to play James Bond but they
wouldn’t let him. Be sincere. Sidney Poitier,
who else? Fuck, yeah. June Lockhart, only
she was supposed to be painted black, not gold.

Top to bottom. Blackfinger was the antagonist
in the original. Well, you know Hollywood. They
are all racists. After that, I don’t know. You like
Miles, don’t you? Say no more. Tell them you have
one of his paintings on your wall. Tell them
you hung out with Sammy Davis, Jr. Better
yet: tell them you slept with Little Richard.
That should give you street cred. When you
say his name, tilt your head back and squeal.

I’m Not a Robot

I’m voting for more. Before I voted for less.
I looked into the mirror for the first time, and didn’t like what I saw.
I’d been taught not to interrupt.
I learned to talk without moving my jaw.
I stopped scratching my ears.
I practiced sitting still and, for my efforts, I got a job in the distillery.

I come in every day at half past the hour.
I am forced to take a urine test.
I take my Dixie cup and leave a sample for my executioners.
I practice judo.
I park everyday by the coke machine so if I ever have to flee, I can buy me a soda.
Every morning for the past week, I have gotten a flat tire on the way in.

I submit a new invention every year to the patent office.
I mail it in, pay my fees, and wait to be rejected.
I stay in Jackson for the pig ear sandwiches.
I can’t say if the pig ear makes the hot sauce good or the hot sauce makes the ear right.
I make a point of thanking the waitress but I don’t talk to the manager.
Every day at six, I head back home. What with the flat, it takes about an hour.

I’m having me a four-leaf clover affair with a gal over by Normandy.
I can’t say why.
I knew we’d hit it off the day I met her.
I like that she won’t get dressed. As a result, we never go out.
I have no idea what my mother thinks of her.
Every night at ten, she goes out all alone and runs around the block.

Every night at ten past ten, she runs back.
She likes me to stand in the front waiting for her.
She’s younger than me but not by much.
She insists on shaving and shaving me, too.
She insists on wearing a beehive hairdo.
She and I call it a four-leaf clover affair on account of the fact we count ourselves lucky.

White Privilege Shuffle

You rat!
Doing alright I was until you had to rat.
Telling them I’m white. Job and all, shit.
Doing fine, I was, until you told them I was not black.
I sound black, after all, and what the fuck, I look alright.
Girls called me sister and boys called me a ho.

Why you gotta go and rat me out? They wouldn’t
of found out. They can’t tell the difference.
I always wondered who gonna blow my cover.
And I’ll be honest: I was angry for a long time.
but now I am grateful! Grateful to be unstained
by the soil of white privilege

…and qualified to file for reparations
from American white folks…for their many abuses
of my ancestors…for all the feces-smeared underwear
my Auntie Esther had to scrub in the back of her little laundry…
and for all the railroad ties my cousins had to lug and hammer
across the U.S. continent…

… and for all the insulting queries at the counter
of my grandmother’s take-out joint as to the whereabouts
of the neighbor’s numerous cats. I ate one for breakfast, some
years ago. Yes, I have suffered (by genetic extension) grievously
from white America…and I’m glad now…very glad…that I am
white. Thank you very much. You are one of the good ones.

Thing is, I know Cervantes by heart. No, I don’t mean that song,
“Man of La Mancha.” I am talking about the whole shit. I memorized
it for my city’s annual induction ceremonies. If this had been old
America, they’d have asked us to memorize 50 pages, tops.
Don Quixote would have been way too long.

Still, I did it. I changed my features so I’d pass and I learned
to walk and to talk funny. I learned to move like a slim man
in a nightclub. I started to carry a pistol. I spread the word.
So much for affirmative action. So much for assistance. Now
I’m white, I am forced to do everything for myself.

Presidential Papers

Most criminals are sentimental, robbing
Peter to pay Paul. I use a glass straw to drink
from my paper cup. Drop Albany; read Kennedy

If you want to kill a fox, you’ll have to sleep
with the chickens. Some are incapable of gratitude.
It reminds me of Graham Greene and the sadness
after coition.

We’re passed on from Ginsberg to Dr. Dre,
from a howl to the insult: Go fuck yourself.
One mustn’t privilege race, but we are free to
privilege money.

Take the President. He entered office, they say,
without a penny. When he left, his 12-year-old
was worth over 300 million dollars. He has enough
to start his own basketball team and intends to.

We despise the wealthy but admire greed. According
to his followers, he earned every red cent from his
memoirs. In a way, he did/does. Do you know the story?
Once upon a time…

What I love is his refusal to eat with a spoon. He licks gold-
leaf flecks off his gelato. He has a Thai girl wash his feet.
He shares David Geffen’s manservant, a eunuch from
rural Idaho.

It’s not Hiroshima, mon amour. It’s all about sayonara.
Drop Kennedy; read Albany instead. He’s the embodiment
of ho-hum. Once upon a time, there was a goat that could

Read Kennedy in bed. Anna Mae Bullock didn’t want to pick
cotton. Who could blame her? She changed her name
to Tina Turner instead. See what I am saying?