Next Door Elegy

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A man died in the apartment next door
Walls a screeching anguish
Floor a gasping choke
The bellow from his son’s larynx
A gutteral Blues bass lick
It shook the building so hard
I though I heard God apologize

Winter moved in next door
Unpacked a teary blizzard
And froze the last breaths
Of a family’s morning horizon
The frost made the walls
Look like tombstones
I lowered my head in prayer
As I listened to a son
Scream for more sunshine

He repeated his father’s name
Over and over again
As if he was searching the crevices
Of death’s cloak
For a glimmer of light
To rescue from purgatory
The amber alert in the sirens wail
Made the neighborhood
Search for the old man
In the recesses of their fonder memories
The collective gathering of
Hand to hand in pleading with heaven
Blew ripples across the East River
And back
I hoped their window was open
I hoped the old man shivered

The cavalcade of footsteps
Drummed ritualistic along the steps
Police and EMTs
Armed with ice picks and hope
Staccatoed into the apartment
I listened to the orchestra closely
One trying to conduct a son’s calm
Two more playing a concerto
Along the fathers chest
The sound wasn’t right
The notes too flat
A defibrillator to tune
Clear
Clear
They played again and again
I wish I could read sheet music
But I could only play along by ear

When they carried the man away
I wished the stretcher never be ice tray
Wished the daughter had gotten there earlier
10 min before the revival arrived
When her brother said the father had just returned
Instead
She arrived in a panic
To choir disbelief in family unison
Hymnal along her brothers
Tear soaked shoulder
I wished for a sermon of victory
To follow
Not a eulogy

A man died in the apartment next door
Candles outside the building
When I returned
Told the tale
Each step upstairs
Felt heavy
It felt awkward
Showing up at a manger
With an “I’m sorry”
Didn’t feel biblical enough
Not wise enough
But it was all I had to offer
The son of a God fearing man
I couldn’t save him from the mourning
He will carry like cross
From the judas of his senses
The next morning
When he first steps into the living room
Seeking a soul
That is no longer
When his heart feels Boulder
And he has to push that rigid aside
To resurrect a life after

I know no other thing to do
Other than to add them
To the list of things I lay at God’s feet
Each night I ask for grace and mercy
And to end this poem
With Amen

Theatre of the Mind

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“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from…” Prodigy of Mobb Deep

There is so much being done at various fronts in terms of Higher Ed and I think this quote summarizes why it’s such an intense playing field for multiple entities. It’s also why movements to “transform the academy” have been met with so much backlash. Folks in the Humanities and any minority studies scholars can tell you how hard they fight on their campuses. We have to really think about how we move and what we do going forward. There is this push to frame certain academic and intellectual offerings and flights of fancy. Mainly because they enhance critical inquiry, critical analysis, and critical thinking overall. They foster a greater sense of understanding, nurture social and political awareness, and reinforce and affirm a sense of self.

Take a look at this article in The New Yorker on politics and the UNC system in North Carolin by Jedediah Purdy,  “Ayn Rand comes to UNC”.

See, there is this rhetoric about focusing on skills and subjects that employers need. It falls in line with thoughts around having employable graduates. It increases attention to pre-professional majors. What it doesn’t do is fall in line with what is being discussed (see Daniel Pink and others) in the professional world about marketability. Marketability isn’t about what job related skills you learned or what subjects related to the work environment and industry you took. It’s about your ability to think in ways that grows profit margins and market share. It’s about your ability to navigate relationships. It’s about your ability to manage stress and to make necessary decisions. Much of that involves crafting a well rounded student in an interdisciplinary fashion. That involves the humanities beyond narrowing modes of traditional discourse. That is, if you want to graduate a student that isn’t intended to just be a cog in wheel that tends to underpay and overwork and doesn’t like organized labor.

We are not talking eternal truths and morality of capitalism here.

What’s funny is that the very people who are making these decisions will sit with a glass of wine and talk high culture. They will go on about the works of literature that have impacted them. They will credit music, the places they’ve visited, etc. They will speak the value of philosophy. They also endow programs at private institutions that offer classes that they don’t feel are right for public state supported campuses.

Do not believe that the trying to level the playing field of public and private is well intended. It is a filtration process that puts prospective into manageable pools of thought. Public is the control, private is the experimental. This is a white lab coat power struggle mixed with political gerrymandering and right wing ego.

Think about the C Bradley Thompson quote in the article, “If they really want to change the culture long-term in this country, it’s not going to happen through politics. If you think the political system is corrupt, what you’re really saying is the American people are corrupt. And if you’re saying the American people are corrupt, then what you have to do of course is change American culture. And the way you change culture is through ideas…. If we’re giving tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns and we’re giving one-tenth of one per cent to trying to change the intellectual culture of this nation, you are by definition going to lose.”

What is happening in North Carolina is a sign of what is at stake during this political climate. It includes a fight to shape the nature of intellectualism and learning today. Those of us dedicated to widening the scope of thought have to prepare for one wild ride. They ain’t too privy to our kind unless we are teaching where they want us to teach to who they want us to teach.

Now about that increased funding to community colleges….

The problem with Spike: A Modern Greek Tragedy

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Spike Lee on set

I went to Chiraq with the other fellows from the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. We were invited to see the movie by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (also known as “Skip”). I had been following some of the responses to the idea of the project when it was first announced. I knew that there was backlash over him titling the film using a slang term unfavorably referencing the violence in Chicago. I also read some of the pieces that offered their reaction to the trailer once it was released. None of the responses or reactions were good.

Spike decided to address the criticisms over the trailer. He identified the movie as a satire. Then came the music video by Kevon Carter that didn’t make anything any better. It’s one thing to dig through the #wakeup comments across social media and the ongoing condemnation that results from people believing black people can’t focus on more than one highly discussed thing at one time. You know, #dontbedistracted. It’s another to have someone sing how misguided we are and how we should clean our own doorsteps is a bit much, no matter how beautiful the sound is. He actually sang about Meek Mill and Drake. Sorry dude, I learned way more from that beef about the societal perceptions, the influence of social media, and pop culture relevance than I did from your music video and the movie Chiraq. R&B is not respectability and bullshit.

After seeing some responses that seemed to be favorable from my friends on social media, I was excited to see the movie for myself. To watch it with a group of American and International scholars heightened my excitement. I knew the conversation would be exhilarating. I held hope that this was all just crafty media hype created for a movie that would be so much more than people thought. I wanted to trust Spike. After it was over, we all shared the same look of confusion and dumbfoundedness. I knew how I felt. Many of them didn’t even have some of the cultural contexts to use in evaluation of the film. My heart was heavy for them.

The movie is bad y’all. I mean it is bad. I don’t know if Jennifer Hudson can actually explain what range of emotion she was acting at any point in that movie. They all looked the same. Like she was excruciatingly constipated. Nick Cannon cannot play anybody’s gang leader. He barely passes as a rapper. Hearing him talk in rhyme was gut wrenching. He should have said his lines to J-Hud before she had to do her scenes. It might have inspired her. I didn’t understand the pop up video animations on screen. Sam Jackson probably had some of the best lines even though I have no idea why his Dolemite inspired narrator character was there. This was not an adequate replacement for the Greek chorus.

The writing was not good. The acting was not that good. Some scenes were so heavy handed it was as if the scene had those hand grips that on one ever really understood the purpose for. But every person who did push ups in their room to get cut in High School had them. The pastor who drops Justice Department and Talk Poverty stats during his sermon? Come on Spike. The folks from the church had the hottest gear though. It’ll be bootlegged at some point.

Angela Bassett has the steeliest glare I’ve ever seen outside of Liam Neesom. If Spike had of gotten Martin Lawrence and Bobby Brown to be part of the old men group, then maybe I would have a better feeling about the movie. I think don’t think Angela was acting. I think she throws that glare at breakfast. Whips it out at the mall. I won’t mention Wesley Snipes. Bills gotta get paid. The awkward way they looked at Snoop from The Wire (Felicia Pearson) when they said “lovers” was ridiculous. How she had to represent the whole of the LGTBQ community was just wrong.

I do have to give Spike credit though. He is still gifted, just a little self indulgent at times. I truly think that he believes he can pull anything off. Not this film though. He does draw out some interesting things in the film. There are issues of elder patriarchy, misguided masculinity, and black exoticism brought out. There is attention to the collateral damage of violence in terms of the lives affected. The space made in the movie for the mothers of the victim in Chicago was beautiful (this is Spike’s rebuttal to claims he has treated the violence in Chicago with lack of care or true concern). The whole interaction with the general is funny. Though the setup is ductaped together. Oh yeah, the Opedipus reference was cute. Unnecessary, but cute.

But his goal was to make a movie, not a series of bad improv night sketches. That he did a marginal job of. He won’t hear that though. He is too caught up in trying to defend his decision to make the movie and make it the way he did. But he did not do a good job of translating Lysistrata to modern times. He did not do a good job of replacing the old women and old men choruses that helped frame the original play. He did not do a consistently good job with the dialogue in the film. The acting was passable. The female lead exuded charisma and presence on screen. She was the shining light. Everyone else seemed as confused as I was about what they were doing.

It still carried a message that was internal. It made no real efforts other than pretentious speeches to address the outside influences and factors in the condition that community members in Chicago face. It highlighted how often change in communities falls into the hands of women in the community, but not in a way that reflects the modern history of social movements. The original play was not written with feminist intentions, but it has been used in that way since. Nah, not Spike though.

Sorry bro. That joint was bad.

The preacher was wearing them wristbands Wesley wore in Disappearing Acts. No, I’m serious.

It won’t good.