The thing about living with chronic pain is that you forget that it is there. It becomes the baseline. The normal. The only times that you even remember that you are in pain is when you do something that causes it to flare up or when for some unexplained reason the pain temporarily goes away.
The flare ups are normal. You expect them. You have learned the work arounds. Over the last year or so people have become used to seeing you rubbing your shoulder. They no longer ask you if you are OK. Or if you need help lifting that box. That is just who you are the person that whines about your bum shoulder. Although, you never actually whine. You don’t even acknowledge the pain. The shoulder rubbing is just reflex.
But even them, the people that can no longer stand how much you complain about your arm (You never complain about your arm.), they don’t even notice the limp that you have been suppressing for the last 17 years. You don’t even remember the way it felt the last time it flared up. You just washed a couple of aspirins down with your last glass of water before bed and then complained about the strange bout of insomnia that you were having that night because not even you notice the intense pain that is keeping you awake.
But when the pain goes away. Those rare days when you wake up whistling, when you want to jump down the stairs, when you want to go to the park and join a pick up, but you don’t. That is when you realize something is wrong. You don’t do any of those things because you know that something is very wrong.
You remember the daily pain and pull back from living. Your normal daily activities are now too dangerous to attempt because you don’t want to shorten this ever too brief respite. Now, you know something is very wrong.
You want to go to the doctor and make him fix it. You want some sort of diagnosis. It must be something. Your doctor must have some cure. But you feel better, so you can’t bring yourself to go. You will talk to the doctor when it hurts again, but it is too late. The pain is back, and you have already forgotten what it feels like.
He’s not a poet
And didn’t know it
What is it that made me think I could do this for a living? A Bachelor’s degree in English and one small victory just after college. An independent internet press picked up two of my poems. Wouldn’t you know it? It folded before they were published. My one accomplishment in letters, and there is nothing to show for it.
And they weren’t even my real work. I had this idea that I was going to add something to the poetic discourse. I had something new. That is why no publisher would touch it. It was too smart. Too cutting edge. I had rediscovered one of the Dadaist composition techniques. The fold-in may have had its heyday nearly a century ago, but I was seeing it with fresh eyes. Eyes that had seen the new millennium. Eyes that had seen the rise of the internet. Of social media. Of Twitter.
I had something that the Dadaists of the 1920s didn’t. I had my own writings to fold together. The essays, fictions, and poems from my college days. Nobody else had my writings. Nobody else had my ideas. I could take my mass of folded-in gibberish and find the important parts bring them together into poetry. It would be beautiful. People would love it. They would emulate me. I would win awards. I would sell poetry.
And here I am just another hack pumping out my ravings into the ether. What a sham! What a scam! What a dickhead!
What kind of a devil is Death leaving a man helpless on his knees with a wad of chewed meat in his hand?
Death lingers just outside your vision.
He whispers just quietly enough that you can’t hear.
But he is there waiting to step into the frame.
Your three year old steps away from the dinner table to have his diaper changed.
A mouthful of food.
A hacking cough.
The red faced gagging.
True to training, you grab him with the crook of your left arm between his legs, your palm out across his chest.
You lift him tilting his head toward the floor resting your arm on your knee.
You clap him on the back with your strong arm.
His ears beat red. The side of his cheek that you can see turning a shade of purple.
You clap harder. You beat him on the back.
You think he is still not breathing. Ask him something.
“Are you breathing? Are you breathing?”
You hear nothing. Listen for his breath. Put your ear next to his mouth.
You bend down keeping his head tilted toward the floor.
His cheeks are full. There is something in his mouth. Use a finger sweep.
But he is still conscious. He sees your hand. His lips part.
He spits a wad of chewed sausage into the palm of your hand.
He croaks one ragged breath, much too short. Your ear still by his mouth.
“Are you breathing?”
No response. His face still red. Is it from the blood rushing toward his head?
You call out for his mother. Because he is unable to, you cry for him. You scream for his mom.
She doesn’t come.
You can’t stop trying to save him.
You can’t pick up the phone.
You can’t call 911.
Where is his mother?
Where is yours?
There is a point at which you need to buy a new shirt. It is just about the time the shirt starts screaming for its life every time you put it on.
“How dare you put words into my mouth?”
Just like used speech bubbles laying around that I crammed into your gaping maw? Even those words require interpretation. Am I not allowed to interpret your words? Am I just too stupid to understand? Or do your words tumble out without meaning like refuse from an overturned garbage can. Refuse from a dumpster lifted high on the mechanical arms of a garbage truck.
Must I sit back and watch the words pile up pointlessly at my feet as you pelt with them? Should I be as numb as the dog that stands in a hill of angry fire ants unblinkingly allowing the words to pour out of the hill swarm up my leg stinging me around the balls and ass? Am I this useless excuse of a human being worth no more to you than a target dummy? Am I this nameless faceless sack filled with straw that you pelt with your words until money pours from my wounds so you can rake it up and throw it away?
We shine gold in our examples of human tenacity, picking up the pieces. We are the rebirth, the resurrection of shattered lives. Us, the broken, the wabi-sabi. We are marked. Our gold scars and shiny coats of lacquer make us rigid when our joints should give. We are revealed by those who impact our lives and roll off like drops of water. We are revealed by the impacts that open the old scars. We are revealed by the impacts that find our weak spots between the golden cracks. We are revealed, and we seek our new level as if the gold were lead and the new mass sinks us deeper to find those who would break us, to be covered in the muck, to be hidden from further inspection. We want to be broken, to stay broken, to be ignored, to stay in pieces.
I am the one that works the minimum wage jobs. I am the working poor, the lower middle class, the one that lives from paycheck to paycheck. I am the one that serves you coffee. I am the one that makes your burgers, the one that sweeps up after you, the one that picks up the trash that you threw out your car window. I am the one that you pretend that you don’t see when I ask to check your receipt. I am the one that has no choice, the one with no transferrable skills, the one with no chance to make his way up the corporate ladder. I am the one whose legally mandated education left with only the skills to follow directions in a tightly regimented factory setting where the working day is scheduled around the ringing of a bell. I am the one whose mind is numb with the repetitive tasks that wear away the cartilage in my joints, the one who can’t afford the prescription necessary to temporarily relieve the chronic pain. I am the one who slips through the cracks of The Affordable Care Act because I can’t afford care on my salary. I am the one that never gets asked to see my high school diploma when I start a new job because my employer does not want to feel guilty for paying me the same wage that he gives to the undocumented workers who make up the public face of the modern day’s indentured servants.
I do have deadly fumes in the air. The skills learned they can’t smell touch. If nothing, just appear as a special. The world of the senses of taste tripping over small items.
But to describe to them a person of taste regardless of degree. That the employers are bumping into walls as an expert. The smell of an English degree as a holder of poisoned food. And his or you are not at the fact.
Yadda, yadda, yadda… blah, blah, blah for you dangerous chemicals. That can make you marketable for disadvantage.
Are you available as soon as the how loses?
The dissident, the activist, the PC police are ignored, pushed to the sidelines and discredited. They only find themselves an echo chamber of likeminded maniacs. They insulate themselves, differentiate themselves, and separate themselves from the mainstream. They create a world where they are the outcast, where they are oppressed, where their words have no power falling not on deaf ears, but on angry argumentative assholes.
Only the whore, only the sellout, only who is reinforcing the status quo can change the world, does change the world. They work within the system. They speak to people who listen. They create the larger society as their echo chamber. Only they are not echoing society, it is echoing them.
You change the world by increments in the language of the majority, as the majority. You lead a following of the patriarchal racist establishment to the world you want to live in. You do this as art for art sake, Language for language sake. Your words are personal for personal sake. No one need listen to the content because the content does not matter. Only it does matter.
Those exposed to your words, that hear your words, those that made you their whore are not turned off to what you say, do not argue against you, do not close their minds. They hear. They follow. The sheep change the world. Don’t be so full of yourself. You have no power to change the world if you separate yourself from it. You must make yourself a whore. To lead the sheep, you must become a sheep. Join the heard. Follow the sheep.
Amiri Baraka’ s lecture can be found here: https://archive.org/details/naropa_amiri_baraka_lecture_on