Call it the onset of some kind of craziness, but I actually feel personally responsible for the Israeli military’s murder of Palestinian protesters in Gaza today. As of tonight the death toll is high, the injuries twenty times higher, and it’s all bound to go up. Women and kids, men and their grandmas—it’s all bound to get worse. And I’m sitting here in Berkeley, California, trying to run my business so my girls can eat and play, trying to get back to the poem I was itching to write last night about how I believe there’s another world jogging alongside this one, jogging in place like a mezzo-soprano on the sound strip to a long-silent film that, if we could only spool the reel, would make it all sing. I would hear the birds frying and know what Rimbaud meant by the systematic derangement of the senses, and when the crow squawked at dusk Robert Desnos with his steamed broccoli-green eyes would show up on the front porch with a foot-long Godfather sub and a six pack of stout. Although my French is rusty, we would talk about the sharpshooters on Israel’s apartheid wall and how they were picking out screaming targets in the dust just as Donald Trump’s daughter was unmasking a plaque on the new U.S. embassy right up the road in Jerusalem. Desnos would remind me that Breton proposed the purest surrealist act to be that of firing a gun at random into a crowd, and I would say,
“Yeah, but this is different!” (in French).
“Bien sûr,” Desnos would say. Then in heavily accented English: “You are
correct, of course.”
“Thanks, Roberto. I mean, what about Soweto in 1976? when the South African police started firing into the crowd of school kids after they killed that cop’s dog?”
“How you say . . .?” says Desnos. “Eestory does not repeat, but eet rhymes. No?”
Trump’s daughter? She was well-dressed. And Benjamin Netanyahu looked like he had fully recovered from that shaving accident we’ve been hearing so much about. Or did you not hear about that?
Well, I would go so far as to say that that’s part of the problem. Like that guy who shot all of those people in Las Vegas, hauling loads of guns up to his high window day after day in duffel bags while apparently basically charming the staff before blowing away, what was it, fifty, sixty people? then blowing out his own brains. Easy to miss. Like the new guy closing down an H&R Block for the night. Even his efforts to depersonalize: wearily banal. It’s disturbing. Take Netanyahu and his safety razor: where is the poetry in a Hitler mustache? It would have been much, much more musical if he’d ripped open his shirt and shaved off his nipples à la Bob Geldof in Pink Floyd The Wall.
Two-bit terrorists everywhere—they could be swinging in hammocks in my own Paris spleen, just waiting to be activated by a napalmed lexicon, just waiting for all of the rationalizations for endless war and 24/7 waterboarding by flip phone to break down—and all I can think of is how weird it is that a genius like Desnos would resort to that old cliché about how history rhymes.
But, at the end of the day, clichés are OK, they make you feel a little bitter (I meant better), even, because then you can finally admit that you don’t have all the originality of a Pol Pot on the pipe organ. You don’t necessarily always have the witty licks of a Kissinger on the Wurlitzer, or the hammer-ons of a Dick Cheney on the waterbed. You can’t always blow your licorice stick like Chiang Kai Shek or sluice out eyeballs like an Appalachian fairy in a whiskey jug. It’s true: Some days you can’t even play kazoo as good as Mobutu or clack the Irish bones on your thigh like one of Pinochet’s Pikachus. On those days, there’s always the cliché—always the:
“Well, what do you expect Israel to do, let a horde of Palestinian teenagers overrun its wall?”
One second—am I still on hold? No? So here’s my answer:
Yes! Thanks for asking! I expect you NOT to gun them down. Here are some paintbrushes tipped with sable from the long coat that Moses wore open during London’s Summer of Love, and a bucket of Mohammedan sponges excellent for making dusky gouache washes on gauche gray shock walls. Now get to work—ye Israeli teens in desert scrubs, ye Palestinian teens in checkered scarves—and paint this wall out of history!
But . . . the only response coming over the line is a tape loop of the kindly cop interrogating Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause:
“Why did you drown those puppies, Plato?”
“Why did you drown those puppies, Plato?”
And that’s what I mean: Why I feel personally responsible for the Israeli military’s murder of Palestinian protesters in Gaza today. It’s the same reason I feel responsible for Saudi drone attacks in Yemen, for Abu Ghraib, for the election of Donald Trump. I feel responsible because nothing I do as a poet (or: nothing I’ve ever done so far as a poet; that much is clear) has made a festering nick on this huge death weed of terror and inverted sexual violence too stupid to even contemplate without an unshakable belief in the power of poetry to deadhead the zombie language that makes it all drag closer and closer to the lens.
Why did Plato drown those puppies?
And how can I keep believing in poetry’s saving power if no one will proclaim me the true heir to the Dark Lord brooding on this box of Quaker Oats? But instead of the startled guy in the wig, I’m a Byronic transvestite with the chops of a Pan-hoofed Moroccan dervish.
Or to put it in a less clichéd way: Following today’s events in Jerusalem and Gaza, isn’t it time that every poet in North America returned his/her gently used laurels to whichever MFA program plucked and hooped them? At the count of 3, I’ll bar-b-cue my BA, too. Isn’t it time for state poetry to take an elevator up to the 50th floor of a hotel in Las Vegas and blow its brains out—with a little gun that says “BANG” (it could even be printed on a Palestinian flag) before gazing out at all of the beautiful semi-colon people who don’t even suspect that It (a newly liberated, stateless poetry) is about to smash the Windsor knot of state terror with the noetic cocktail onion in its teeth, like a bullet it caught from a ricocheting Mab?
All artists should do it: Ruin their careers and become sidewalk painters and staplers of sloppy poems to defunct poles. We should abandon the warbucks institutions that we hired to ratify our social climb. Then certain people I used to really admire, like my old teacher, the anthropologist and novelist Amitav Ghosh, wouldn’t be able to (with exquisite tact and delicacy) fling our own elite credentials back in our faces to mock our yearning for solidarity while chiding us for “weaponiz[ing] the term ‘apartheid’” in Israel, as he carries off his million-dollar prize from one of its settler-built universities.
How hard is it to see that that university is an extension of the state?
And in a settler culture like ours, how hard is it to see the same?
May 14, 2018