toys fill the broken spaces of cities, flipping over
in streets where children are all hoodlums, big kids
painting themselves in neon colors, while the women
… laugh, following the men into a love of madness.
Still shots show emptiness tearing the eyes of the last
of us who grew to be old, the ones the hoodlums
prop up in shadows, throwing garbage at us,
taping open our eyes, forcing us to study the dead
in photos torn from books in burned down libraries.
Chicago used to be Sundays at Gladys’ Luncheonette
where church folk came and ate collard greens and chicken
after the sermons that rolled out in black churches, sparkling
tapestries of words from preachers’ mouths, prayer books,
tongues from Tell Me, Alabama, and Walk On, Mississippi.
Now light has left us, the sun blocked out by shreds
of what history becomes when apathy shreds it,
becoming a name the bad children give themselves
as they laugh and threaten each other while we starve
for the laughter we were used to before the end came.
DENNIS— What violent shifts from stanza to stanza. The "collard greens" and the churchyard of the third stanza that Sarah mentions dragged us, as it were, to that fourth stanza, that is, back to the state depicted in the "movies" of the first stanza. I'm still puzzling over the progression here, but there seems to be (at least) four media involved, movies in the first stanza, stills (in books) in the second, the prayer books (rolling out into "sparkling/ tapestries"), and lastly history (are they texts, shredded?) from which the names of the next generation are derived.
More than these texts, what I find fascinating's how the relationship of the "folk" differs from stanza to stanza. In the second, the twilight of the persona's generation, they are forced to view with eyes taped open. I assume this is the doing of the younger generation, the strong hoodlums. But if so, why? What's the point of propping up their parents or grandparents? Is this a punishment of sorts, an accusation: "Behold what you have wrought"?
In the third stanza, the persona's generation, younger then, congregate around texts, I imagine singing, and those idyllic lunches of how are the kids, did you catch what the preacher said, tell Martha her potato salad's as fine as it gets.
Then in the fourth, history (or its shreds) becomes a name, a bad name, perhaps those same type of names prohibited in those Sundays of yore. I feel there's much more to this stanza (why was history shredded and donned as a bad name instead of just plain thrown away or buried?). Will definitely return to this poem later.
I don't know if anybody will agree, but there seems to me a distance between what the poet knows and what the persona knows. The persona is shocked, terrified, mournful, but almost always baffled. What has become of this land? It's all going to the dogs.
Maybe this confusion is necessary for the poem, maybe this is why his generation's being forced to look at pictures of the dead, why their eyes are taped open. Perhaps his generation had been turning a blind eye, already fostering the apathy he would later call to account in the fourth stanza.
It also proves that history has been shredded, not only for the rest of land and its hoodlums, but also, though to a much lesser extent, for the persona. Otherwise, he'd have the answer to his own implicit whys.
But the arrangement of the stanzas, the flash-forward (of sorts) of the first and the flashback of the third, indicates a clear understanding of what went wrong. Perhaps there's more to that third stanza than the persona realizes, that something in that Sunday sparkle—or something denied by it—would bloom into the apathy that would someday shred history to blot out the sun.
DENNIS— Thanks. The 'word' makes so much sense. (And I wonder what people/generations think of using it: a strange word that's both erasure and emphasis.) Rap song after rap song erupted in my mind when I read your paragraph, and yes, I've never really paid attention to how these utterances affect the parent or grandparent generations.
Why do the kids embrace the word, by the way? Ownership? Take-the-power-back sort of statement? Giving everybody else the finger? Having fun?
DENNIS— That makes sense too. And it's problematic—even doubly so—that it terrifies their own elders.