Sunday, May 29, 2011

Testament to Gil Scott-Heron

On Friday evening, May 27, We were attending an open mic poetry session at Modbo in Colorado Springs. It was getting near the end of the evening, and a brash slam poet recited some Langston Hughes, then announced that Gil Scott-Heron was dead. I was stunned. He had been a soundtrack to my life since I was 16. I wrote this overnight, then discovered many friends such as Dom Gabrielli, Marilyn Basel, and Aad de Gids had written pieces of their own about Gil. He had survived many years of prison, many years of being strung out, and had come back with an exceptional 2010 album, I'm New Here, as well as an exceptional remix album in 2011 produced by Jamie Xx. I guess dying in a time of renewal was preferable to dying when broke and forgotten, but it still hurts all the more. And I guess that learning of Gil Scott-Heron's death at a poetry slam was the optimal way to find out.

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,
gone derivative,
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,
Vichyssoise, vichyssoise,
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.

Loring Wirbel
May 28, 2011

Catching Up

You've scarcely heard from me all month, due not to a depressive writer's block but to crazy activity keeping me constantly hopping. I will use this post to update you on a few things, followed by a tribute to Gil Scott-Heron, a favorite poet who died May 27.

One of the bigger challenges of the past month was getting through May 14. I gave a workshop at a local evangelical church on global economics and the new slave trade during the day, and hosted a house concert of Bev Barnett and Greg Newlon at Kevin and Diane Lindholm's in the evening. A bit chaotic, but all was well. Living Hope Covenant Church provided a video link of my talk here, though at over an hour, you can be excused for not watching it all. Bev and Greg were having a wonderful mountain tour, and the weather obliged by snowing ever so slightly in Monument late in the evening. Here's a sample of their concert, with more songs on my YouTube channel:

Busy month to challenge powers that be with signs and slogans, but you've seen enough of those. I also had two friends die unexpectedly at very young ages during the course of the month, so I wrote them a poem that also goes out to someone who just left a bad marriage:

The Winch of Reciprocity

For Sean. For Clem. For Karen.

Five broken ropes translate the lies behind
the echoed hollabeck of reverberating promise.
I’ve got your back.

Most often met with the fumbling cockpit belt,
the rope burn of acidic tears
for both a gravity and an escape velocity betrayed.
You choose instead to move three teeth up
the ratchet and pawl,
the lips pulled back in sputter of red balloon,
gums at Mach 4,
a second-stage separation for unpowered flight.

I am that silver shadow on the high-res magnification
of a torn and wrinkled sepia aerial reconnaissance photo,
two-thirds across the minefield,
shuffling in north-by-northeasterly vector.

My two hiking companions
noted only by the shreds of clothing and random body parts
that might be dribbled pbj on the wide-angle minefield view,
but for the cirrus wisps,
manifested as cries inaudible through a sealed cockpit window.
Would you die for me?

I crane my neck to watch you
enter an atmospheric layer where promises are invalidated.
I put my best foot forward.

Loring Wirbel
May 15, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011

...And Unlawful Humans

It certainly was a productive weekend - first, precision-guided NATO bunker-buster bombs take out Saif Gaddhafi and three of Moammar's grandsons, then a SEAL team with sharpshooters scores Big Daddy, Osama Bin Laden, with a bullet in the left temple, and he is unceremoniously dumped at sea. And stock markets are up, jubilation is universal, and.... Ooops, here's CNN's correspondent in Pakistan, not only explicitly using the word "assassination," but saying that the civilian government of Pakistan wanted to make sure everyone knew that its agents were involved on the ground with the SEALs - and the Pakistan government was trumpeting the word "assassination" in public. In the 1970s, the CIA was raked over the coals for aiming at Patrice Lumumba and Fidel Castro by name. Now, the targeted assassination is a useful tool in the quiver, recognized as legitimate the world over.

Full disclosure - although I am a peace activist, I am not a pacifist, because I do indeed believe that there are many people on the planet who look better dead, and I'd place all members of al-Qaeda and most members of the Ghaddafi family in that category. But my concern with semantical trends began with the Bush administration's use of the term "unlawful combatants" following the Sept. 11 attacks, which I discussed in a blog item last week. I am convinced that, should Moammar Ghaddafi attempt to bring up the killing of his son before some UN body as a "war crime", the U.S. and many of its Western partners (not just NATO members), would defend the new methods of targeted assassination as addressing "unlawful humans." And just as an unlawful combatant does not deserve the protection of Geneva conventions on POW treatment, an unlawful human has forfeited his/her human rights. Be aware how willing many world leaders are to expand the scope of the targeted assassination. Vladimir Putin thinks that any believer in a Salafist/Wahhabist school of Islam has forfeited human rights, and has no defense to suggest remaining alive. And, as I suggested in this blog a year or two ago, what happens if the U.S. develops a weapon that can disrupt brain cells based on analysis of brain-wave patterns showing adherence to a catastrophist religious/political doctrine. Can we conduct assassination on the grounds of the unthinkable thought?

The poem below was a droll image of the head on a pike, the result of watching Game of Thrones at the same time as watching the presidential mesage of May 1. Yet it's not so far off. An artist from a Christian organization circulated a triumphalist image of a U.S. soldier carrying the bloodied head of Bin Laden. Onward Christian soldiers, we've got plenty of unlawful humans out there. But how often do some of us have to whisper, whine, scream, "Be careful what you wish for!"

Mixed Messages Amongst Crusaders

Two Bose speakers, sinusoidal cancellation of sound
The third episode of Game of Thrones
A president talking about SEALs gone wild
The only image through the bandpass filter
is that of a head on a pike,
marched around a cobblestone square.

Loring Wirbel
May 1, 2011