Feeling Fucked Up (Etheridge Knight)

May 14, 2008

Lord she’s gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs–

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red pipe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing.

* * *
Knight is among those poets associated with the Black Arts Movement, but his poems tend less toward language experimentation than that of, say, Amiri Baraka, A.B. Spellman or Russell Atkins. Knight has become famous for writing “toast,” a form of improvised long narrative poem in the African American storytelling tradition. His poems tend to employ dialect, repetition, call and response, and evoke southern preaching tropes familiar to southern audiences, even those who were mostly uneducated. Central to the aesthetic behind the Black Arts Movement was a desire to “return the poem to the people,” to create communal spaces in which reader and audience could participate in a shared ritual. Performance and improvisation were key elements to this movement. The point was not to write poems for the page, for archival in some poetry anthology to be read and studied; the point was to move audiences to intense feeling and action. Poetry for Black Arts poets and musicians was political and by definition, according to Haki Mahdabuti, the poet and publisher of Third World Press in Chicago, ultimately perishable.

What is not perishable is the shared chains some of us men wear to those women in our lives who, for one reason or another, have left us against our will. So strong are these chains that something in our very body would curse all to get them back. A bad bet, in the end, but a feeling no less real, no less monstrous in our bones for all its false promises.

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