Days Gil Whispered in My Ear
I. “And what would Karen Silkwood say to you, if she was still alive?”
I know precisely what she’d say, Gil.
She’d say it’s high time to wake up.
Protestations of broken alarm clocks and dissipated late nights aside,
I picked up a placard in 1976.
I never let go. My arms grow weary.
II. “Tuskeegee 626, scientists getting their kicks.”
Dolores DeLuna beams a benevolent mannequin smile
On Iggy’s Lust-for-Life grin
And the somber Leninist busts of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.
“It’s so social realist,” you say as I slit shrink wrap.
I go grand-mal trembling in an excess of social realism.
Gil almost lost Detroit, I lost Detroit that day
Unwilling to play bedsitter to a Michigan gone Alzheimer’s.
III. “My name is what’s-your-name, you might reject my claim,
I expect that you won’t vary from the norm.”
The riot of desert color in Tempe, Ganado, Buckeye,
blossoms resembling the obscured face of an
Iranian exchange student in rectangular white mask
The shah is
“You mean to take it as a symbol”
a U.S. puppet,
“But look closely, who does it resemble?”
down with the shah!
Fedayeen collapse in multitudes as the first of dozens
of bearded stern faces are displayed in our shooting gallery
providing room for decades of bogeymen keeping us awake at night.
“Shah Mot. Shah Mot. Shah Mot.”
(Gil was the one to inform us that the chess warning of checkmate
is derived from the Farsi declaration that the shah is dead.)
IV. “It’s 1980. There ain’t no way we can reclaim ’75,
much less 1969.”
This is what democracy looks like!
This is what checkmate looks like.
as Gil Scott-Heron and Captain Beefheart go silent 30 years.
Silent all these years.
The needlework of desire keeps Gil from showing up
in New Mexico, Colorado, stations of the cross.
While this same needlework traces out the map
of a different desire, the material gone global,
where even the chronicling of the exponential cancer
makes for hunger, makes the fingers twitch.
Brecht is there, sitting in for a silent Gil,
“even anger against injustice makes the brow grow stern.”
Hands on the placard falter,
but this remains an act of love, not fear.
V. “Womenfolk raised me and I was full grown,
before I knew I came from a broken home.”
Gil’s voice returns unexpectedly,
not hoarse in bitterness and regret,
not angry at 30 years’ unchronicled injustice,
but happy and humble in declaring that the
African-American male is only defined
by the women who shape him and carry his burden.
Works in all colors, Gil, works for all men.
Women as the strongest heroes
pulling a lost cause from the fire,
the one with dicks taking comic sidekick roles,
as they remind us again and again not to slacken the placard grasp.
The chador, the burqa, the undrivability in Salafist climes
opened the floodgates to chase the bearded ones away.
And Gil was there, learning dub step with Jamie XX,
discovering the untapped power of being new here.
VI. “The sheriff of Monroe County had disasters on his mind.”
The brash poet with shaved shining ebony head
announced Gil Scott-Heron is dead,
bookending Gil and Langston Hughes in
a declaration that will never stop reverberating.
“And what would Karen Silkwood say to you, if she was still alive?”
In my dreams she’d say, “Job well done.”
The real words mouthed by these lips,
“Go then and do likewise.
Do not falter. There is still a world to win.”
Gil wholeheartedly agrees.
May 28, 2011