Tuesday, March 17, 2015

again and again

My thoughts over the course of the afternoon and evening after reading this

Initially upon reading what you did, I thought that you read the whole autopsy report, with no editing, or "massaging" just the words on the clinical page.  Words that described the last moments of a young man's body, after a traumatic death.  That would have been enough.  I'd argue that would have been a strong performance poem.  Taking news facts and broadcasting those the news reporters usually don't report. To use the clinical report to show the loss of the man, Michael Brown.  A contrast between the man and his horrible death, an indictment perhaps, of the true loss.

Then I realized that is not what you did.

More facts came to light.  You started with a massage, and ended with commentary on a penis.  A dead black man's penis. 

Given the racist stereotypes about black men's genitalia, the fact that you end your poem on the autopsy comment that those genitalia were "unremarkable", makes them remarkable.   That you chose to end on that fact, not the actual ending of the report, brings the stereotype full circle, back into racist ground.  For me that was where your theoretical intentions, to maybe show the true loss of the man, falls to the ground.

Massaging words.  We shoehorn words, we smooth words, we revise and edit words, and maybe, though I wouldn't use that term myself in this context, massage words. 

Words have meanings.  I'd say we all agree on that. They bring to mind other words.  Metaphor, allusion, revision and choice, all methods the writer employs to get their meanings across.  Multiple meanings.  For which the writer is responsible.  Brown was unarmed then, and he is unarmed now.  But this time, we know his name.

The Body of Michael Brown.  Massaging as verb.  Unremarkable.  Then throw in a Latin quote to balance it all?   I don't know.  If there hadn't been editing, redacting, rearranging, maybe I could have trusted you. 

My overriding thoughts were for Michael Brown's family, and their thoughts on the use of Michael Brown's Body for this endeavor.   They've probably seen the report.  Its horror is not as bad as their dead son or the suffering he endured.  It's not as bad as the life they will have to live without their son.  It's filled with words on a page.  Words up for grab, apparently.

But what I'd like to propose, is that you use your words to write to them to explain your intent.  How what you did in that poem would help them, or Michael Brown for that matter.  It's not just a conference playground.  Massage your words, that aren't from an autopsy report, to explain.  Because words have meaning.  The words you chose to read have meaning.  And if the life of the man, in your poem, Michael Brown the poetical device, has any meaning, it is one that their family should be able to hear.

By adding yourself to that report, feeling that your choices made for a better poem, made literature, or a better performance, then you should use yourself to explain.  Use yourself like you used him.  Behold the man, but which man?

I've read my son's autopsy report.  It's factual and clinical.  But every scalpel slice described was through my son's beloved skin.  Every organ removed, his heart especially, became fodder for that report.  My infant son did not die in the way Michael Brown did, so I will never understand how his family feels, but I understand how I would feel if the clinical documentation of my son's body, so personal to me, was made public after his death, and was used by others. 

It is personal.  Part of writing poetry is to elicit a response from the reader.  You achieved that.  Now you will have to hear those responses.  I hope your intentions for this poem equal the weight of the response to your selection of those words.  Full circle.