“One For Cory” By Damian Rucci

 

 

One For Cory

I heard your brother
is down in the boonies
living in chicken shacks

hooked on the same shit
that took the air from your lungs

and left another son
without a father

will it ever end?

will the damned
be forsaken?
will you call me
again at 3 am looking to score?

The other night at McDonough’s Pub
I saw the old crew
we talked about you
and we never talked about you
when you died
we just let it haunt us

the boys are looking for more
to green grasses in other places
that don’t stink of poverty and death

the garden state
has more poppies than orchids
all the roses I’ve known
have bled and broken
trying to make it out
of the concrete

sometimes I smile
hoping that somewhere in celestial solace
you are on a stage that isn’t in drug court
that you’re singing and free again

that you finally learned the guitar

Cory I pray that somewhere
you are eighteen forever
that, that beautiful smile
never leaves your face

and you never know pain again

 

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About the Author: Damian Rucci’s work has recently appeared in Cultural Weekly, Beatdom, Big Hammer, and coffee shops and basements across the country. He is an author of three chapbooks and a split Former Lives of Saints with Ezhno Martin. Damian hosted the Poetry in the Port reading series, currently hosts the Belle Ringer Open Mic and is a poet in residence at the Osage Arts Community in Belle, Missouri. He can be reached at damian.rucci@gmail.com

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More by Damian Rucci: 

Melancholy & The Afterglow

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Image Credit: Thomas J Flagg “VIEW NORTHEAST- DETAIL OF BRIDGE TRUSSES, NEW TRACK SHOWN ADJACENT TO BRIDGE”  (1995) The Library of Congress

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“The Passion of Creation” By Leonid Pasternak

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Since its inception, As It Ought To Be has published commentaries on a wide range of topics, including current events, politics, and cultural criticism. We’ve just finished archiving the past five years of articles. Check out our newly updated commentary page and relive the last five years of social and political changes through the eyes of our writers.

Against Provocation: a Roundabout Response to John Sanford Friedrich

Against Provocation: a Roundabout Response to John Sanford Friedrich

by Eric Kroczek

 

On Inauguration Day 2017, a meme was born. Actually many memes were born that day, but the ones I’m thinking of featured noted white supremacist Richard B. Spencer getting punched in the jaw as he was giving a typically oleaginous response to an interviewer’s question about his Pepe the Frog lapel pin. His attacker, a masked, black-clad individual, escaped on foot as quickly as he had entered the camera’s frame. The Internet went wild, or at least the left half of it did. Everyone suddenly had an opinion about the morality, ethics, aesthetics, and optics of punching a Nazi. Was it always wrong? Was it usually wrong, but sometimes tactically or strategically justified? Was it okay in most cases? Or was it always just totally fucking awesome?

I offer my mea culpa: My first reaction to the video was to laugh harder than I had laughed all week. Then I ran into the other room to show my wife, who attests that I said (or yelled) something along the lines of, “Oh my God! This is so fucking cathartic! I feel so much better!” So, in the case of this particular assault, I admit I was firmly and earnestly in the “fucking awesome” camp. Or maybe earnestly isn’t the right word: I am a natural-born iconoclast. My heroes include Paul Krassner and Noël Godin; nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see a pompous, hateful gasbag get a chuckle-worthy comeuppance. I was sure my enthusiasm for watching Spencer get clocked (and watching it again, and again, and again) wasn’t about the violence—I doubted I could have stomached watching him get shot, or stabbed, or stomped; in fact, I was sure I would have been horrified by it. It was the justice of it! I was taken up in the completely unexpected—that was what made it so funny!—humbling of an arrogant race-baiter who believes he is so superior, merely by virtue of his race, to so many people—entire classes and categories of people—that he gets to decide whether those people should be allowed to coexist with superior beings like himself. My laughter was the laughter of the just, watching justice get meted out to the unjust.

But within 24 hours I wasn’t so sure of myself anymore, and after another 24 I was deeply confused and conflicted, and in 24 more my mind had changed completely. I questioned my most basic motives and feelings. This had less to do with the attack on Spencer itself than on the dynamic that was occurring on the Internet, around the meme (or memes—there were dozens, hundreds of them now) of Richard B. Spencer getting punched. Richard B. Spencer was no longer Richard B. Spencer, tiresomely proselytizing neo-Nazi nobody, or Richard B. Spencer, hapless butt of a good prank, or even both of those things put together. Richard B. Spencer was now a celebrity. Richard B. Spencer was a symbol of our left-wing righteousness and victimhood (“We showed him!”), and of their right-wing righteousness and victimhood (“Leftist violence and censorship! The horror!”). Richard B. Spencer was, in other words, blood in the water, exciting everyone’s most antisocial instincts. All because three elements came together in one time and place: Provocateur A (Spencer), Provocateur B (his assailant), and, of course, a video camera. (The camera is, as always, important.)

***

This brings us back to that time and place: Inauguration Day, downtown Washington, D.C. This is where John Sandford Friedrich begins his essay “The New Age of Political Protest,” a defense of so-called “Black Bloc” protesters. It is incorrect, Friedrich informs us (and I take him at his word, as he has spent considerable time among some of them), to think of Black Bloc as an organized group, but rather as individuals sharing a common set of tactics and—perhaps—goals. The tactics he mentions include wearing bandanas or balaclavas to disguise identity and maintain anonymity, staying mobile and loose within the group to allow individuals to “leave the bloc and perform a direct action as they see fit” while evading capture, setting off fireworks, breaking windows and causing other types of property damage and destruction (video of the protest shows trash cans being set ablaze), and generally wreaking havoc and causing chaos. It’s probably reasonable to assume that the man who punched Richard B. Spencer identified as Black Bloc; he certainly used their tactics.

Friedrich is a bit hazy as to their goals, except insofar as those goals are coterminous with their tactics; he admits that “[p]erhaps the Black Bloc mentality has become detached from specific causes”. And a few lines earlier, he notes that “[t]o break the window of a corporate person as political theatre is to face multiple years of incarceration.” (I’ll come back to that last part.) I detect here the existential frustration of atomized, decontextualized individuals struggling to find meaning and agency, and isn’t that practically the definition of the human subject under neoliberal capitalism? (I could write another, much longer essay about that.) But I sense that insofar as there is a point to the mayhem—besides mere retaliatory spite against a machine that grinds societies into lonely naked particles—it is a cathartic and theatrical one. It is Art of the Spectacle, it is Theater of Cruelty.

Friedrich hints at this when he says that Black Bloc activists are less concerned with advancing a political agenda than committing acts of violence against property as “political theatre”; that they are “more akin to Civil War re-enactors” than political activists. He does cite a recent documented instance in which a Ku Klux Klan rally was cancelled due to the presence of several hundred Bloc counter-protesters—an interesting case of Left political theater preempting Right political theater before the curtain even rises. But that case seems to be the exception, not the rule.

Much more often, violence erupts, although as Friedrich points out, it is usually violence against property, not persons. And he gives a fair argument in favor of this approach: peaceful protesters (who Friedrich characterizes—with a hint of derision—as “overtly feminine”) who do things like chain themselves to pipelines, fences, and earth-moving equipment to make a point are often charged with serious crimes and go to prison; if you’re risking imprisonment no matter how you protest, why not make a spectacle and have some fun? It is a slightly more humane version what conservative thinker Allan Bloom characterized as “joy of the knife” logic: when the deracinated, disfranchised individual is faced with a conundrum whose only solutions are forbidden by social norms—like Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, like Nietzsche’s “Pale Criminal,” like Brecht’s Mackie Messer—his only way out is “to see what the volcano of the id will spew forth.” Act disruptively, and—if you want to be noticed at all—act bigly, and in front of a camera. Provocation becomes violence, becomes self-actualization, becomes a kind of meaning, becomes art.

This all sounds a lot to me like Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, which, if I remember correctly, was about a mild-mannered fellow whose self-alienation ran so deep that his psyche constructed another, more “masculine” persona around his id, a persona who built a fascistic army of atomized individuals who went around sowing very dramatic, very telegenic mayhem. And that didn’t end well. As Susan Sontag wrote, quoting Genet in her 1975 essay “Fascinating Fascism”: “Fascism is theater.” It is certainly theater of a particular species, and that species bears a remarkable resemblance to Black Bloc.

So it’s obvious that my initial response to the video of the assault on Richard B. Spencer was not rational or considered. What’s less obvious, but became clear to me with time, is that it wasn’t even fully emotional—by which I mean it contained no curiosity, no sympathy, no empathy. Oddly, I think it contained little real hate, at least at first—by which I mean that to feel hatred toward someone there needs to be an emotional context, a history. When I first saw the video, Richard B. Spencer was nothing to me other than “Oh, yeah, that idiot who elicited Nazi salutes by saying ‘Hail Trump!’ in a video I saw two months ago.” He was a provocateur, and what I felt was more simple than hatred. It was sensational, reactive, a reptilian-brain response to sudden, violent spectacle. I laughed because I was provoked; I partook of a vicarious joy of the knife.

***

A different kind of theater happened the day after Inauguration Day, a “peaceful, overtly feminine” theater, Friedrich would say: the spectacle of millions of women in solidarity all over the world, crowding city squares and parks in protest. Unlike Black Bloc, they came openly, making no attempt to conceal their identity. No property was damaged. No one was hurt. Not a single arrest was made. But a point was made—This will not stand—and the world took notice. Whereas the D.C. Black Bloc disruptions of the previous day seemed to consist mostly of handfuls of protesters knocking over newspaper vending machines, shattering the windows of a few businesses, and standing around trying to ignite trash cans, while far larger groups of police, National Guardsmen, legal observers, and reporters stood around waiting for something truly newsworthy to happen—Sad!—the Women’s March protests were remarkable for their dignity and self-possession. Maybe more to the point, they were noteworthy for their sheer numbers, the brute fact that such a large portion of our polity (and even large numbers of people in other countries!) participated in or supported an act of explicitly political protest. They said: This is what democracy looks like. This is what the citizenry in solidarity looks like. We are watching our government. Take notice. Whoa.

The United States is a profoundly conservative polity. By “conservative” I don’t mean in the sense of Red State conservative or Fox News conservative, but in the sense that our most venerated and salient traditions can be found in the text of two documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and we fiercely believe in and defend those texts, or think we do. We have no state religion. We have few legends or myths that transcend a particular region of the country or a certain ethnicity, aside from the idea that anyone is welcome here who comes in goodwill, that one can prosper here. These universal myths have worn thin, certainly, but they are still held as true by most Americans. It is difficult, probably impossible, to convince a majority of voting-age Americans that it is in their best interest to align themselves with the aims of anonymous and often violent provocateurs who break windows, even if those windows belong to corporations that do public harm. Another of our handful of universal myths is that everyone has the right to own property and hold it safe.

Black Bloc tactics may convince some of the young and the dispossessed, but ultimately, unfortunately, it is the older, propertied class that holds the majority, that votes in numbers, that needs convincing of whatever of the Left’s aims they might be willing to accept. This requires slow work, a gradual warming of the water, for they are deeply skeptical of the new. The vast Center of the country is not amused by political spectacle, by joy-of-the-knife-by-proxy, by the politics of provocation. They see it as an existential threat to their version of the American founding myths. Yet they might still be convinced by knowing that we are their neighbors, that we are legion, that we come in peace and empathy, but we stand firm by our principles.

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: “LET THEM NOT SAY” BY JANE HIRSHFIELD – A POEM OF SOLIDARITY & PROTEST

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from LET THEM NOT SAY
By Jane Hirschfield:

Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.



READ THE FULL POEM HERE and LISTEN HERE:


Today’s poem originally appeared via The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day series.


Poet’s Note: “This poem was written well before [the 2017] Presidential Inauguration and without this event in mind. But it seems a day worth remembering the fate of our shared planet and all its beings, human and beyond.” —Jane Hirshfield, via The Academy of American Poets

Editor’s Note: Today I defer to Jane Hirshfield and The Academy of American Poets. Listen to the poet read this important work of protest. Read the poem in its entirety.

Today’s poem is dedicated to those who are marching with the Million Woman March and those who stand with us in solidarity.

Think. Feel. Rise up. Resist.

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE HEART OF A WOMAN

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THE HEART OF A WOMAN
By Georgia Douglas Johnson

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


Editor’s Note: No matter who you voted for in the primaries nor who you plan to vote for come November, there is no denying that this was an historic week in American history.

In this vein, I dedicate today’s poem–written by a black woman in a white age–to Michelle Obama, a black woman running the White House who reminded us this week that: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” And I dedicate this poem to the fact that, for the first time in American history, a woman has been nominated by a major party to run for President of the United States of America.

Any (reasonable) reservations you (or I) may have about Hillary Clinton and our two-party system aside, this is a moment to pause and marvel, to appreciate what we have accomplished and to believe that this can–and should–be just the beginning of progressive progress. This is a moment to celebrate that the heart of a woman need not try “to forget it has dreamed of the stars,” for it need not break, break, break “on the sheltering bars.”

Georgia Douglas Johnson: A member of the Harlem Renaissance, Georgia Douglas Johnson wrote plays, a syndicated newspaper column, and four collections of poetry: The Heart of a Woman (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World (1962). (Annotated biography courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.)

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DEVIN KELLY


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FEAR OF
By Devin Kelly

We are discussing the roots of things. How phobia
means fear of, and we make them up. Bookaphobia.
Classroomaphobia. Girlaphobia. I say there will be
a quiz. They laugh. It is evening in a small room
in Queens where the desks are miniatures
of the things they should be and the children
sitting in them too close to me and my coffee
so soon done. Then I ask them if they are afraid.
Then I ask them of what. The word penis. Spiders.
The people who hate me for my name. How a moment
turning stills to a moment stilled. How silence,
even in silence, breathes. Their pages of homework
loiter upon their desks. Fifteen words they had
never seen before, and fifteen meanings, written out
beside. Benevolent. Ailurophile. I spoke, upon the hearing,
of opposites, to think of words as people, rooted,
experimenting with different prefixes. To think of words
as lovers, hungry for what it might be they want.
What is her name? It lingers a moment before
it hassles its way out of my mouth. The shape it takes,
unfamiliar, awkward. A word I have never spoken before.
And her skin brown. How she taught me the way
to count to ten in Arabic. The people who hate me
for my name. The people who hate me. The people.
Across an ocean, a man kneeling does not see the hand
that holds the gun that fires the bullet that splits
his head in two. Across an ocean, someone laughs
at a fence of severed heads. I do not know
what to teach anymore. Graphophobia. Philophobia.
Fear of writing, fear of love. And all these children
who do not have a name for their sorrow. At night,
in bed, I turn her name for the hundredth time
and find its beauty. The soft grace of wanting
to be held. A child, scared, moving in dark
from room to room to find the mother who named her,
the father, too, and their reasons why.


Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. His collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume Press. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Armchair/Shotgun, Post Road, RATTLE, The Millions, Appalachian Heritage, Midwestern Gothic, The Adirondack Review, and more, and his essay “Love Innings” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Manhattan, teaches Creative Writing and English classes to high schoolers in Queens, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.

Editor’s Note: June 26, 2015 was a day of imperative progress in American history. A day of change. A day when love triumphed. I celebrated this historic event in the most wonderful way I could have imagined, at the wedding of two women whose love is beshert. But when one of the brides gave her speech, she reminded us that there is still more to be done. “Today we celebrate,” she said, “but tomorrow, we keep fighting.” Even amidst a joy so great she shared it with the entire country, the blushing bride reminded us that we can—and should—always be working to make the world a better place.

Today’s poem was written in response to Islamophobia. A Muslim girl in a classroom. What is she afraid of? “The people who hate me for my name.” The families of the victims of a racist hate crime—a terrorist act—in Charleston, SC have what to teach us about love and forgiveness. But what are they truly the victims of? “The people who hate me. The people.” We speak words today that carry with them the chalk outlines of the hatred that flows from fear: Black Lives Matter; I can’t breathe. “I do not know / what to teach anymore,” writes the poet, but he knows “all these children / who do not have a name for their sorrow.”

Let us shout our joy from the rooftops and dance in the streets because yesterday love won. And today, tomorrow, and in the days to come, let us fight until love triumphs over fear and hatred, until there is justice and equality for all.

Want more from Devin Kelly?
The Adirondack Review
District Lit
Little Fiction
Warscapes
Devin Kelly – Published Work

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JEN CAMPBELL

Jen Campbell


Vaginaland
By Jen Campbell


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“Vaginaland” was previously published in English Pen “Poems for Pussy Riot” and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Jen Campbell is an award-winning poet and short story writer. She’s also the author of the bestselling Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops Series. Her poetry collection, The Hungry Ghost Festival, is published by The Rialto and her latest book, The Bookshop Book, will be published in October by Little, Brown.


Editor’s Note: What is a girl? What is her mouth, her body, her words? Who is that girl when the world tries to hold her down and shut her up? When “She has been baked / as a blackberry pie and / now everyone wants a piece / of her”?

“Vaginaland” was originally published by English PEN as a political act. In an act of solidarity. In support of three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were then in prison for their outspoken feminism, LGBT advocacy, and opposition to the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Who — and what — does a girl become when she stands up, breaks free, and fires out the words that are deep inside of her? When those words are political? When her voice is political? When “She says: this is the capital of me”?


Want to read more by Jen Campbell?
Jen Campbell Official Website
The Hungry Ghost Festival
The Prose-Poem Project
Jane Martin Poetry Prize 2013
The Plough Prize