george floyd isn’t a “wake-up call” the same alarm has been ringing since 1619 y’all just keep hitting snooze.
—a young woman’s protest placard, June 2020
1 Adam 12
Who Adamed Eve?
76 Pickup sick. 20
76. Stick up sick.
(911, where’s your emergency?)
1619. Covid-1619. Covid-19
18. Covid 2020. Covid
minus: mine and us. + Covid-
twin this city
twin its sin)
and a neck
and its blood
and sit on
and not check on
Checked out (officer, please
George pleading from that blacktop
Deal or no deal?
Done deal. A knee sealed it.
Chauvin’s prison plea deal?
No deal ::
Who’s crying now?)
one two :: one to
or sit in.
or shut up
You got my body
now you want my soul.
In and out:
Out and in
Off and on
on and off: switch:
Breathe: I can’t
Hall and Notes’ No, No.
No can do.
Yes we can-can
(this ain’t no half-black stump stutter
no ruffled French, Pointer Sisters high kick)
But neck and knee
neck and neck (headed toward a bitter, finish line)
Knock no head lock
lock heads no knock
neck knot no less
knot neck less no
lace neck neckless
less neck necklace
(some throw back
au courant neck and necking)
(one’s) calling out
(who’s) digging in
calling in—sick (is what it is)
Cried out cried
Too late my time has come
I don’t want to die. Some
times I wish I’d never been
born at all… Scaramouche, Scaramouche. Check the Mercury.
Boiling point. The fever.
Check the Mercury. Check
the Freddie. You heard Curtis: Perry’s
dead. That’s what I said.
before the temperature dips
We got to make this land
a better land. Yes we can can…
Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The, Th-Th…That’s all
Adam 12—TV police drama
1918—known as Red Summer were where there were race riots across the country
1619—the first enslaved Africans captured by the English were brought to Virginia
There are italicized lyric snippets from Hall and Oates, Queen, The Pointer Sisters and Curtis Mayfield
Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The, Th-Th…That’s all—Porky Pig sign off from the Looney Tunes
As ink might have dribbled from that counterfeit
twinty had you unheard E.G. and M.B.?
(Cancer sticks sometimes harbor venomous
armed henchmen.) Had you passed on some Jojo’s
then dipped from Cup Foods would Chauvin’s pressed knee
not have cuffed your already arrested breath?
Fifteen years ago, a state away, his wife
passed a bad check worth twice your crisp twinty.
(Her ink just a petite misdemeanor.)
Given five days, she took five months to settle.
Yet nights pressed against her ice-green nightgown
Chauvin’s lethal knee would dock in the moist pier
‘tween her hamstring and calf, dock where it’d been trained
to gently take love into custody.
E.G. and M.B: Eric Garner and Michael Brown—as with George Floyd allegedly—both killed in situations involving cigarettes/tobacco.
Twinty—punning on $20 and “twin” cities (one of which is Minneapolis) where Mr. Floyd was killed.
Cup Foods—the store where George Floyd likely passed a counterfeit $20, an act which led to his arrest.
Which, Too/Split Flash: Break
(A pregnant, enslaved New Yorker—named either Abigail or Sarah—who, for partaking in the 1712 slave revolt, is imprisoned in New York’s City Hall basement and going into labor before being hanged.)
In a pinched and dank corner cell at the corner
of Wall and Broad, without interrogation or constitution, beneath rulings and arches: four dials on a clock, beneath arguments and archives: petit juries and supreme court, beneath criers and bailiffs: peals and flutters, beneath bells and constables and birds and cupolas, beneath perches and deputies: whipping posts and small talk, beneath windows and guilt: wainscot and lawyers, beneath deep thought and bench wigs: warrants and decorum, beneath two floors and black robes: conviction and handwringing beneath plaintiffs and gavels: punishment and appeal, beneath charge and indictment a hung head’s arrest, beneath a trial and its rumors before acquittal and pardon there’s a case and its verdict before a judge and one’s peers, beneath sentences and pillory, evidence and stairwells, between wrongdoing and wrong done and who’s right and what’s wrong:: The City Hall dungeon, where in darkness lies a woman with child. So, no question of where the labor. But when labor/what labor—slave? slave—who labor even in labor. Sarah? Abigail? Which is dying to lie on her left side—shackled to staples with staples affixed to history: stone slaves once quarried to build a wall boiled down to a street. Which one’s water break? Which one gush or trickle: damp to the woolsey, sweet to the nose? How hard? When tender? Abdomen. When hard? How tender? Uterus. Ache—how dull? Shackled to the… stapled to the… bolted to the agony: stone slaves once used to build…pressure: pelvis: how long? When is during between? What is between (en) during? The stench of a Necessary tub? Contractions? Waves: water’s pushy guests. 45 seconds (or so). Which one’s still talking? Maybe one… shackled to the… stapled to the… bolted to the… memory: stone slaves once used… Maybe 15 minutes later. Maybe one. Maybe a minute (or) two later. or half a minute longer. stretch marks. silence. Which one’s stomach’s a punch? Clenched. A fist. Breathe. Into the lower back, into the ache. Knowing you got not even a sip of say-so over your captors’ shoe music composed on the floor above you shackled to the …stapled to the…bolted to these echoes.
A Clockwise Tizzy
(enslaved New York woman’s funeral)
Linen to swaddle her in maybe
shroud. Brass pins stiff, straight:
supportive rigor mortis. A coffin: hex-
agonal, cedar. Beads and schist pepper
her remains. Conjure bundle broken
stoneware, blue spiral in the bowl’s
heart. Crolius-Remmey kiln
furniture. Blue: land of the
ancestors. Say underwater
say Kongo cosmogram, say cross-
roads. On her coffin’s lid, this
cracked vessel: small talk between
the living and the dead. Their law insists: light.
Night—West Africa’s credo. Head headed
west, pate indifferent to the Atlantic.
Chin braced for the sun’s untidy rising. If
the living could build an almshouse of sorrow
they would circle this socked earth: this yawning
soil, this plot. A shriek, a wail, a drum bludgeoned
anchoring a clockwise tizzy. Yet those who
forced enslaved and free mourners beyond
the city’s sullen edges could not believe death
would be the sole reason for the Negro
clump. There had to be another plot—
an ebon about to be—fixed on an oppressor’s death
while honoring a loved one’s. Hence no more
than a dozen Africans are ever allowed to help
the dearly departed depart. Still, over weeping
cedar, they pass a suckling’s pudge:
its newborn shadow a pressing matter
between innocence and the dogma of bone.
To the Bones: About the Beads: Talking
(An enslaved woman with 111 waist beads around her hips in burial #340, by far the largest in any New York slave cemetery grave. The large amount indicates she might have held a prominent position in New York’s slave community or back in Africa.)
The 100-plus waist beads strung around your midriff?
They was always hidden under the cast-off
clothes the Mrs. had me wear: stained,
linsey aprons, tattered petticoats. There
something close to home worked my hips
Most were blue
Just clinched echoes of that ocean. small
reminders of the white man’s transatlantic tantrum.
150 beads in the entire cemetery. 110 were yours
My body somebody: an elder here.
A chief’s child: somewhere—else: where?
On that strand of waist beads, there were seven cowrie shells. Why?
I’ve heard seven seas bully
the earth. I met one. three
months: brief-like. wasn’t pleasant.
Tell me more
My every breath—its fleshy
belonging to—reeled here.
Naked. save these beads
that circled my left thigh
and bounced off my hips
feeling like you’re carrying a country around your waist?
Full Out: Richard
(Free New York Negro, 1750s)
Not Dicky Boy or Rich. Richard.
That’s what I go by now. Richard.
Smith. My names—not odd
enough to notice. Blend in. Sounding
like freedom as I straddle up
John Street and hear my name—full
out from someone’s mouth near
the clapboard Methodist. Decent
white folk Sunday there. Recognizin’
the name caller, I tip my hat and head
as if I’m spilling my thinking, the way
a tippler might spill a drink. Some my wool—
plaited, tied with dried eel—glancing off
my right ear like a tipsy whisper:
some precious secret that ain’t easy in its keepin’