1990

The taking of flash photos and use of recording devices of any kind, including pens, pencils, eyes and ears, is strictly encouraged. 
 
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
and people are looking at each other
They’re going like “Wha?” 
and the other people are looking back
and they’re going like “Duh?” 
and finally, after this deep interaction, 
You hear the wild cry of: 
“Excuse me, could you tell me the time?” 
 
What time is it? 
It’s Wake and Shake Time
It’s Death of the Decade Time
It’s Turn of the Century Time
It’s Gyrate the Millennium Time
It’s the End of Time
“At the sound of the tone it will be the End of Time” 
It’s 1 PF - it’s Post Future
It’s 1 PT - it’s post time
It’s Post Time! 
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
History’s on fast forward
Make that double-fast fast forward
That’s where you run past the Future so fast you’re back in the Past
Sure, it’s the End of History
So how come all we can think is, “What comes next?” 
One minute you’re rolling in ecstasy because the Berlin Wall is tumbling down, 
The next you think, a reunited Germany! Oh God no! 
Here come the storm troopers! and I’m Jewish (Well, my father was Jewish, 
     so I’m not Jewish enough for the Jews - but I’m Jewish enough for the Nazis!) 
One minute it’s survival tactics and the next it’s where’s the angle
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
and everybody wants a little glasnost
We know we want it cause we see Frank Zappa smoking cigarettes with Vaclav Havel, 
     who 6 months ago was in jail, an artist whose work was banned by the government, 
     now he’s the President of Czechoslovakia
So stop in for free baby burritos at the corner bar
Except suddenly it’s a karaoke sushi bar specializing in piranha sushi, 
     and everybody here’s a star, 
Because you get to stand in front of the massive TV screen showing an MTV-minus one
     video clip and sing along with the bouncing ball – 
Except the words are all in Japanese and how can you sing “Feelings” 
     with feeling in Japanese? 
Kanjiru! Watashiwa, kanjiru! 
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
Communism has collapsed
At last the Russians get to wear the “Happy Face” masks and stand in line for a Beeg Mek
The Azerbaijanis are finally free so they get to beat up on the Armenians
Yugoslavia has decided to go back to indigenous cave tribe groupings
In Italy the Communists have met and decided they’re not Communists
They’re gonna change their name to be more appealing to the Socialists and the Greens
But for the time being they’re calling themselves simply The Thing
The Thing! Personally, I’m planning to vote for - the Thing
For the time being   For the time being
There’s nothing left anymore except for the time being
You live your whole life for the time being
While meanwhile – there is no meanwhile
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
“Play ethics by ear” 
Let me out of here - but which way is out? 
I’m a part of the food chain, isn’t that enough? 
At night I snuggle up close to the warm blue glow of images provided for everyone
     by a select few
Listen, they’ve packaged a shopping mall so small you can only visit it with
     a Video Walkperson, a cellular phone and a Visa card
The world is changing, but we’re not
We’re stuck in a commercial for Life
Trying to figure out who to give the money to
When, surprise! There is no money
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
Senor Yuppie! Phone call for Senor Yuppie! 
Pardon me, have to step over these homeless people to close on my Home Equity Loan, 
     sorry
“Our bodies are still tender and not full grown and the prospect of dying frightens us all, 
     but history calls us and we must go” 
But where did they go, the Chinese students on their bicycles riding towards the tanks
     at Tiananmen Square, 
It can’t happen here because it’s already happened here
AIDS epidemic grabs Life till we don’t even see it, gone like holes in heart, 
Surrounded by ghosts, meeting Death in the middle of Life
While lesbians and gay men still have to fight for the right to love
and be sure to send your poetry to the Department of Official Bullshit to get labeled
So it just has to be – time to get a Coop! – 
     buy the place you used to rent, and still get to pay the rent
It’s time to be a great parent – 
     work extra hours to pay for the best childcare while you’re away
My kid is majoring in Nikes
Don’t worry! Don’t be happy! Explode! 
The decision of birth from her body is solely and privately that of the woman herself
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 
 

 
And everything used to be something else
Now it’s 1,000 words a minute, and Times Square is just so much more interesting
We’re hellbent on something, sort of positive in a senile way
I can’t even keep up with my life
It’s a secret between me and my stunt double
Honey, I’m home - nuke me
Hop to it, ban cigarettes before it’s too late
It’s Earth Day again, if you can find any earth left
Paranoia used to be a psychosis, now it’s a national pastime
Try the new fashion: the bare breast style of no clothes at all,  and it’s not cheap, either
and poetry is the newspaper of the future
Except it’s locked out of the media
You know things! Think them! 
There’s optimism at the yacht club
The salad bar is open
Excuse me, isn’t it time to mow your head? 
I hate you! Thank you very much, have a nice day
They don’t even know what it is, but they’ve already got an option on it
They’re buying into it! Let’s Not Make A Deal! 
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
and there’s a guy at the microphone and he’s yelling at me
and he’s not using language that makes any sense from where I come from
It all rhymes and it all starts with capital letters
and it’s all intense italics underlined three times in bold face headlines
and all I can remember is the part about

It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 
and around the world a sense of possibility
As women slowly ease the old gray dinosaur poobahs from their penile thrones
The universal remote control is being passed into your hands
 
Zap it! Zap it! 
Zap it! Zap it! Zap it! 
 
It’s 1990
and Nelson Mandela is free! 

 

 

The Impossible Rap (The Other Thought)

 

Last night just as I was passing into sleep

One final thought began to race me to the dream

Intercepting the sweet powers of Morpheus

Pressing me to wakefulness and purpose

 

I drew my pen and prepared to set down this marvel,

Final thought of my existenceso it seemed 

The thought itself panting, near Death, as I

Retrieved it: it called itself, The Other Thought

 

What? A thought appearing in my mind that was not of my

Thinking? A thought I thought I'd exiled that thought,

Banished it as not of me, not me enough, then urging

Me to please shut up, The Other Thought continued:

 

"Do not dwell upon the political implications inherent in your 

Inability to entertain any but your own precious thoughts, Buddy.

Rather, amend your ways to allow Other Thought's existence.

Write not The Poem; write, The Other Poem!" 'Tis impossible!

 

I countered, for by so doing, by giving vent to The Other,

Am I not precluding the very basis of my own existence, essence

Of me? At that, the thought became a shiver that coursed 

My spine, and I find myself engaged in application:

 

To rap the rap with the truest groove

There's no stopgap from the first remove

This either/or thing

Is just one more thing

A touch too much

A tad too bad

A bit to wit

A might too tight

Explode in your mind, a tiny grenade

Leaving the impression The Other Thought made

I never thought The Other Thought

 

Hey, wait a second

Wait a second second

This is Impossible!

 

The Impossible Rap

Is ready to appear

Is it possible that

You are ready to hear

It has something to do

With what you just said

It's the thought you can't remember

In the back of your head

It's the dream you won't surrender

When you get out of bed

Just Return to Sender

Think The Other Thought instead

The Other Thought's gonna get you

 

If you say rapping is just scratching on the surface

I think I know what's making you so nervous

You say you don't understand the beat?

Put your ears to the ground -- listen to your feet

 

It's Impossible!

But undeniable

It's ubiquitous

Don't hold me liable

It's always behind you

When you turn around

Just out of sight

Just underground

 

Might as well go to bed

Chill that hotthought head

Good night! Sleep tight.

Twixt waking & sleeping

That Other Thought is seeping

Creeping & leaping into place

Right before your face

With a certain grace

Well, in that case:

Is it Impossible?

Sine qua known!

It's a itsybitsy schizy

Other Thought's on the phone

It's so humiliating when your brain is on call waiting

 

Back back back

Back before you said it

Back back back

Back before you thought

You were there too

How do you do?

Is your thinking on the blink

What is it to you

Can't tell what from...whatnot?

That's what The Other Thought's Thought thought

That's real clear

You can take your tongue out of my ear

Another Other Thought is surfacing

While the surface disappears

 

Caramba! (Take a number)

Get in line with your mind

I'm in with the Out Crowd

The Other Thought's cryin' out loud

Take the alternate take the alternate take the alternate take

The rush to resolution is not a solution

 

The Impossible Rap

Is ready to appear

Is it possible that

You are ready to hear

It has something to do

With what you just said

It's the thought you can't remember

In the back of your head

It's the dream you won't surrender

When you get out of bed

Just Return to Sender

Think The Other Thought instead

In order to

                     TRANSCEND

                            THE END

 

 

My Heart Is a Real Thing

 

Despite the imprecations of your parents, friends, former
            lovers, teachers, professional crises managers,
            pets, & now you say God Himself/Herself

I would still like to reply via my own tiny but honest opinion

My heart is a real thing

It is & remains untouched by the shrieks of these privileged naysayers

I am yours

A simple gift of all of me

My life, such as it is, you decide,

With you, complete. You will be loved.

 

                        You will be loved

In such a way that the streets will rise up to greet you

The rivers will float you across

And the sky itself will also be a means of transportation

The radar screen contains many blips

But only one is steady and equidistant from you

My fair one, my ravishing delight, my True Other

The light touch of your hair on my arm

The slight rustle of breeze is your desire

 

Engage me with your tongue!

Sit here & eat music!

Collaborative sex and and our absolute mutual love

Love Which Has No Other Nasme is your name

& as I lie back on my bed all I can do

Is sing out for you, primal, lost

Speaking a language only we understand

Where the No's of the world become our Yes

And Yes is our child,

            Child which is our love,

                        Love which has no other name

 


Sing This One Back to Me

As sung by Papa Susso to Bob Holman

Honeybee honeybee deep in the honeytree
Do not tell me to suck dry the tips of whip grass
Swan sway swan sway Ganges flows all day
Would you send me off then to the blasting seas?
Tale singer nightingale crooner carousing on the leaf drip
Who dares say, Excuse me, quiet please, eat dry leaf clippings
This robin rocking tail lit by the fullest moon
Try to redirect to fogbound swirl, see what happens to you
My feet on the lotus? No, my feet are the lotus! 
All God? Gosh, I was looking over at you – shh.
No need this talking, this poem so obvious, shh.

Sing this one back to me. 

Back to Top


How Kora Was Born

As sung by Papa Susso to Bob Holman

This story begins long long long long long long long ago
So long ago that it was a place not a time
There was a man
He was so alone
The only person he could talk to was Africa
Luckily there was a tree nearby
Even more luckily behind that tree
That’s where his partner was hiding
All the sun and all the water were condensed
Into a single tiny block
Which the man planted in the sandy soil
He blew and he blew on that spot
Each time he blew he thought he heard something
What he was hearing was of course his partner singing
The man didn’t even know what singing was
Because he could only talk
He couldn’t sing yet
So he blew and he listened, blew listened blew listened
And the plant pushed out dark green
And began to twist and grow
A vine reaching for the breath
And stretching towards the song
(Because it was made from sun and rain, remember?)
So at the end of the vine that was the calabash
And the tree it was not a tree anymore
It was the neck and handles
That was when the man’s partner Saba Kidane
Came out into the open (but that’s another story)
And the breath and the singing and the vine?
Well, there are 21 strings, what do you think?
And now you say what about the bridge and the cowhide
And the rings that tie the strings to the neck
So you can tune the kora
Hey, what about the thumbtacks that hold
The cowhide taut over the calabash
And the resonator hole
Well you go right on talking about all that
I’m playing kora now
Next time I’ll tell you about the cow

Back to Top


The Loving Father’s Song

Papa Susso’s Poem for His Young Children

Moussa, Kinda, Fatoumata, Sarjo, Abdullah
    
The first time a father tells his child
The child is nowhere to be seen

The second time
What is that strange buzzing I hear

The third time the child
Must go get something to eat

And then on the fourth time
The child starts to hear something

When I tell you it the fifth time
You say to me, Are you talking to me

And on the sixth time you reply,
What language is that you are speaking

By the time I have told you the seventh time
The words become a song and the poem becomes the kora

And you must learn it my little griots
And then you can repeat the story

And the story goes like this:

48 years I have been working, 
Spreading the word of the griot
Spreading the word around the world
And sending the money home to you

And Sankung is here
And Al Hassan is here
And Fatou is on her way
And Mariama is on her way
And Karamo is on his way

And I think I may be on my way
On my way back to the Gambia
To return to the griot life at the Koriya Musa Center
for Research in Oral Tradition at Sotuma-Sere

So my dear children
Who carry the word of the griot
From my father Alhaji Bunka Susso, jalikuntigi of the Gambia
Through me to you and back to the first Susso who made the first kora
I sing the song of the father who tells the children
It is time for them to begin
The new generation of which I sing
And which you will live and carry on
And buy each others’ tickets and pay for each others’ rent
And teach each other the ways of Africa, the US, and the world
And know this song is the loving father's Father Song

Back to Top


Rembrandt Coupe

In 1900 the future
Opened up its arms
I invented the car
And Rembrandt

Back to Top


Book Cover

Take off your clothes
I will make a book cover
And put a photo of me on the back
To make sure it sells

Back to Top


Blue 

Blown bit by bit to bits
Biting her vein one morning
While she slept the rooster
The terraces of Barcelona
Of course I know the red will
Seep will seep the sleep
But blue will blue to shape 

 

 

 

Beat & Beyond: A Gathering Cento

 

I want to hear the poem! Read the fucking poem! 

HRAHH! GRHHR! WRAH! GROOOOOOOOOOO! 

I don’t need it, I don’t want it, and you cheated me out of it 

Dooka dooka soda cracker. Does your momma chew tobacco? 

Yuppies! Wittgensteins! Arise! 

Put your art up on the sidewalks in Tompkins Square Park, use the subway. Let the City be
    your gallery, your book, your stage
Just Say No to Family Values 

THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION
   ALL OTHER WARS ARE SUBSUMED IN IT 

A man gently lifting the body of a dead child from the sea 

Are you breathing, are you lucky enough to be breathing? 

I have always been at the same time woman enough to be moved to tears and man
   enough to drive my car in any direction 

rapid the ooze in the clotted nothing 

O donut shop with rows of tasty zeroes
(You can leave this out)

Lookin good and movin fast 

You say you are leaving yourself behind. I stand beside you, waving  

If your momma chews tobacco. Dooka dooka soda cracker. 

Ordinary as chinchilla fur, ordinary as grasshoppers 

Get your cut throat off my knife 

In minutes the image gets a million likes, Instagram attention from those 

      who watch in warmth from rainproof homes. 

Rise up and abandon the Creeping Meatball 

Once this was all black plasma and imagination  

A jumble of ladders to reach us over the walls 

The stars are a memory system 

God makes an impenetrable screen of pure sky, pulsating, undulating, casual 

Sunrise in outer space/ love for every face 

Tell them the Blind Guy sent you

We gave a party for the gods and the gods all came 

 

Lines from Steve Cannon, Len Chandler, Diane Di Prima, John Giorno, David Henderson, Hettie Jones, Joanne Kyger, Michael McClure, Margaret Randall, Ed Sanders.

Cento curated by Bob Holman

 

The Lines

  1. Steve Cannon, “The Only Paid Heckler in NY”
  2. Michael McClure,  “Ghost Tantras”
  3. John Giorno, Title of poem in Cancer in my Left Ball
  4. Len Chandler & Bob Kaufman, “Green Green Rocky Road”
  5. Joanne Kyger, title of poem in As Is
  6. Steve Cannon, “A Gathering of the Tribes Manifesto”
  7. John Giorno, Poem title & painting
  8. Diane di Prima, “Revolutionary Letters”
  9. Margaret Randall, “Not In Your Neighborhood"
  10. Hettie Jones,  “Weather”
  11. Hettie Jones, “Hard Drive”
  12. Ed Sanders, “Soft-Man 2”
  13. David Henderson,  “4th July”
  14. Joanne Kyger, 
  15. Hettie Jones, “Hotter than July, 1982”
  16. Margaret Randall, “You Say You Are”
  17. Len Chandler & Bob Kaufman, “Green Green Rocky Road”
  18. Michael McClure, “Double Lion Dharma"
  19. Diane DiPrima, “Nightmare 6”
  20. Margaret Randall, “Not In Your Neighborhood"
  21. Ed Sanders, Yippie flag, not allowed into evidence at trial of the Chicago Seven
  22. Michael McClure, Commissioned sidewalk poem, Embarcadero, San Francisco
  23. Ed Sanders, “The Time of Perf-Po”
  24. Diane di Prima, “Notes on the art of memory”
  25. David Henderson, “Eternity”
  26. Joanne Kyger, "Terrace Road slumps into the Canyon "
  27. David Henderson,  “Love in Outer Space”
  28. Steve Cannon, “Valediction”
  29. John Giorno, Painting