“Perhaps there is a monstrous origin to it, after all. Perhaps to lay hands on your child is to prepare him for war.”
– Ocean Vuong
I wrote poems of gratitude to my father. Poems of honor. Poems imagining survival in Mississippi in the days when the crakkas had free reign over Black bodies. My ex-wife wondered why? She heard my stories, my heart, and only saw my tears.
For years in our marriage, I cried. I processed pain and how his discipline came with fists and belts. I processed silent pain when I didn’t hear the words I needed from his mouth. I lived in the gap between the love I needed and what he offered his son, Black and sick.
When we divorced, she laughed and said she only took care of me— I never did anything for her. What is it like to be a burden?
I’m grateful for her shoulders and how they carried me. I’m grateful for her ears. However, she heard my stories and saw a monster that married my mother. That divorced my mother. I knew the man that at times I had feared. At other times I avoided that human. I can say with full certainty that he prepared me.
Which at forty years old, I can say that’s what a father born in times of war is supposed to do. I can say Modupé pupo.
I am a spiritual warrior. It has taken me 4 decades to earn that title, and that of manhood — and I will not relinquish it easy.
When I was twenty-something and even when living with a woman in Connecticut splitting rents arguing and pleasuring each other, I thought of myself as an adult but didn’t think the title of “man” applied to me.
When the Pandemic began I brought a group of Detroiters to an online webinar called Wilds Beyond Climate Justice. I tried to tell these seekers that they couldn’t go beyond climate justice if they have never been through climate justice. Their ears couldn’t hear me.
Climate justice is manufactured from war. Climate justice is the polluting of vulnerable communities so Americans can live comfortably. It’s the work amongst toxins, it’s the falling asleep in the bathtub, the mangling of bodies, the supervision and the deference. When your house is the “away” that others throw their trash towards.
Your house, your lungs, your kidneys, failing heart, this aching muscle. It’s the material reality for our family forced into the economic machine. We are a byproduct. Fuck, sometimes our trauma is the product itself.
Who pays a salary to jam this profit machine? Where can I get that job?
What’s a philanthropist when you need support for military efforts? It’s a thin disguise when we call ourselves the “frontline” in these proposals. Like the cartoon villains sitting in a lush green plant who paint on a mustache so the goofy hero passes them by.
That word has been stolen by people whose anxiety exceeds their suffering. When the rain falls, or when it doesn’t— these hungry humans yell “climate justice! Climate justice! We are all frontlines”
Front lines are when the war is in your blood. your lungs. your kidneys. your heart. When your immune system attacks you just so you remember you are always under attack. The same folks who want to go “Beyond Climate Justice” were the same ones who hesitate when I talk about warfare. The spiritual people who want “another paradigm.” Who want to find a space beyond their humanity to entangle themselves with chairs, iPhones, the green grass of their fields and lawn.
They laughed and cringed and became very rational. “Why do you have to call it warfare? I don’t identify with warfare. I’m looking for another way.”
Very hopeful. Me, I’m looking for a warrior queen and every time I leave her intimacies, I’m that much more of a man. That much more of myself.I don’t know if that essay is true, but it’s the truest shit I ever wrote.
I told my friend, a relentless warrior of the heart that it’s been years since a white person has hurt me. Mostly, I laugh at them. I don’t know if that essay is true, but it’s what I tell myself as an Afrikan in America.
Who were the peckerwoods to a father from Mississippi ? Dumb like Donald Trump? Cruel and Selfish. You told me politicians in Mississippi campaigned on TV promising to be the one who could keep niggers in line. You told me they were deadly because the women of Clarksdale had to beg for the lives of the father who crossed certain lines. The Black men returned bloody defeated — yet alive. You told me the white women thought they still owned your body, these thoughts of the 20th century— you called them Miz Anne.
Did they watch you and Granny in the fields of cotton or trust that their dollars by themselves would motivate you to pick pounds of their profits? You were a big boy- at nine allowed to work alongside those who were twelve and thirteen. You told me that you played together until their parents saw traces of manhood, echoes of womanhood- then told the white children “play time’s over.” We don’t read about those games in the “we shall overcome” histories.
Were they the ones who told you you’d never amount to shit or was that your own family, Dad?
The pain within your relentless body tells you this war is true. It prepares you to act when others are pressed into verbose philosophizing or incomprehensibility.
I write. I write. I cough. I spit.I press words into rhythms. I hammer them. I pound them. Yet my truth lives in silence. This sound you read is just the clanking.
Every day I petition my Ancestors may my trauma turn to wisdom. With Ocean Vuong I add “or beauty or connection.” May your reading be our projectile launcher. Lovingly pieced together from detritus, failure, and longing. May our understanding be blades for the warriors who will fight by my side. On earth, we’re briefly violent.
~Leanne Betamosake Simpson
“The cure for white ladies- Noopiming “
In this story, Loss of Memory is a character, a cloudy orb that hovers around my aura, the home team helmet I wear.
When I was twelve I vomited blood. My bones ached as I went to school and continued to get straight A’s. My mother took me to the emergency room the day after the class Cedar Point trip.
You took me to a hypnotherapist. I think they did two things. They introduced me to Loss of Memory and they taught me my first mantra:
I Love and Approve of Myself
Only Good Comes from Each Experience
It is Safe to Grow Up
I’m picturing the curly grey haired white man and his wife in a wheel chair. Which one mesmerized? I’m lying on a therapy table hypnotizing my self into safety with the man who bruised my mother, the father I hid from at night. Who taught me to affirm?
In a society based on exploitation and murder, trauma can be a shield, a broken bodied Professor like the comic book character who instructed mutants.
Trauma teaches us not to trust, not to give away that which is valuable to those who don’t deserve it. For too many of us, trauma blinds us to our value, to our preciousness. The X sits in the place of that which has been lost but the act of burying- the grunting and digging builds new muscles. Or at least, new powers.
Loss of Memory standing beside you like a loving parent. My childhood muffled, even last month gone. What do I need a Memory for anyway? My sister says “you’re just so positive William” Her voice flat as unexpressed grief. Perhaps no one has hypnotized her yet.
When your kidneys don’t work, you can’t eliminate liquid waste. You can’t get rid of the things you no longer need. Your body bloats. It holds too much. At dialysis they drain our blood, run it through machines, and give it back minus the bull shit, minus the protein, minus the Memory.
There’s always a cost.
Are you really alive in 2020 if you haven’t been traumatized yet?
As I left dialysis, a fat white veteran said “today is my last day at this clinic. On Monday I’ll be starting at the V-A” We talked about other patients, getting weaker and smaller over time. Two years ago they strutted in to their appointments. Now they are wheeled out, head slumped over. We always greet each other. “Have a good run”
His wife drove up to pick him up. She saw me and greeted me “Black Lives Matters! Black Lives Matters”
I drive home from dialysis by myself. I drive my damn self to and from.
I’ve been on a run for a long time. They shake their head when they see how many years it’s been. Everybody’s looking for a warrior in 2020. Wanting to see what a good fight looks like.
Part 6 and then 9
My mother downstairs in the kitchen. She doesn’t show up too often in memory- I have to go looking for her.
Pork n beans on the stove. She gave me things. Gave us things.
Gave me things- my siblings are silence here.
Driving around we see signs “we support our police”. When I was younger they used to read “we support our troops “. Same intentions. Targets die, civilians cheer. Don’t you dare fix your thin lips to say anything about this war or your efforts in hoping it away.
Mom, what do you think of this war? This essay is my imitation of an author. I would pull my heart to the edge of this chest and smear the excess blood onto the page but I don’t want white peoples to see me bleed. They smell blood in the water, we learned from Hollywood pictures.
Besides I’m typing on a phone.
I rap so the younger me can hear reality and feel all masculinity isn’t toxic.
It is Safe to Grow Up
When I rap I fill ears with “the N word.” I’m a Detroit MC, a culture creator, a Black heterosexual man on a journey to elder hood. “To rap kids, I’m the mutant uncle you can run to”
I won’t translate my endearment into English paragraphs, not even murderous ones such as these. One line is enough. The warrior is always looking out for fists from family or signs of enemy encroachment upon territories. Held by blood and drum. We keep our head on swivel as my teacher Ajanaku instructs and my sister Pipe C reminds me.
Standard English is enemy territory for an Afrikan such as myself. I laugh at the Indian-American classmate who said I didn’t belong in the universities that accepted me. I don’t pull out report cards or resumes. But I do raise my voice in gratitude for how my mother gave me sufficient ammunition to kill all my classmates and stand at the top of their piled up polished bones on graduation day. Class of 1995.
Now old white women say to me “I like what you do but I don’t really understand rap. I try to listen to it, I really do.” They greet me raising mass produced banners such as Black Lives Matter.
These bullets ain’t for you, Miz.
I’m trying to hold the page steady and aim.
What’s my target in this essay? There are no men in my life I talk about books with. Except my father who is writing his memoir of time spent in Mississippi, polishing his bat to swing again.
The thud of a skull. The breaking of a son, our preparing for war.
I’m making noise, waving my hands hoping to catch your attention. To get a glimpse of you, Mom. To trick Loss of Memory into looking away.
Memory is the waste product. Filtered out by the kidneys. I’ve absorbed you deep in my body. Nothing is excreted.
Pork n beans. You took care of me and taught me how to care. You helped me carry my dialysis boxes and load my machine. Then you lay down in your hospital bed in the dining room and taught me how to be sick. Taught me how to die. Taught me how to fight.
In Vietnam, the country of Vuong’s grandmothers’ birth, radio operators played special funk messages for Brothers in combat. Reminding them of who their real enemy has been for four centuries.
Tonight I remember you, the GIs who fought Confederates in the jungle at Long Binh, Khe Sanh, the Uncles like James dipped in Agent Orange who brought cancers back from overseas. Uncles and fathers didn’t respond with an angular salute to the brow, they rammed the thick air with Black fists. I heard about the fragging of American officers,how we filled the prisons there as well . Americans being scared of rebellion and fearful of our magic.
“Salute this, peckerwood!”
I miss you more than I remember you.
The essay for me is Counterinsurgency. A radio broadcast to those soldiering in the jungle of twenty first century literacy. A non commercial live stream violating all rules of copyright and intellectual property. “Who scarred you, I ask? Who hurt you, little sis? Who stole your hopes for happiness and replaced them with styrofoam peanuts ?”
When I die, all drumbeats. Every obituary in rhyme. Say those motherfuckas in my native tongues.😝
Who will carry my body away?
Will it be parents and uncles, cousins, children, or grandchildren? Who will survive to raise their right fists in a warrior salute when this free form flow comes to its conclusion? Etc. Etc.