- At The Speed Of Darkness
for Frank X. Walker
At the no-nonsense Au Bon Painat the Cleveland Clinic, young blackworkers sing 1980s club songs:"I'm Coming Out" and "Freak Out."The gay man serving me myforgettable breakfast asks whyI'm smiling. It's true: all isbusiness here, but look at mein another century, hearingthe young release the soundtrackof my heartbreaks as I seekany version of any resurrectionand I regret not having a son,a daughter, someone to tellof how I'd dance at Carol'sSpeakeasy among men of allcolors. So much to forget andthat makes me a fortunate one,how men opened their arms toGod and all their ghosts saying,I'm. Coming. Out. We weren'tinvisible, but presumed to bedamned. Everyone in the kitchenis black and they're polite todoctors and the ill but speakto me as if family. So littleprogress since Hollywoodfilms in which the help (inthe mansion, on the steamshipor the private train) were castas non-Norwegians and neverupstaged the racism as theyprovided comic relief eatingfried chicken and watermelonin-between the "Yes, Sir" thatsummed up their scripted rolesas no one, nothing, and nadapersonified. Or so it was thought.How unthinkingly my serverdances in the functional microwavekitchen as he sings (soonjoined by his overweight amigas):Tina Turner's "You Better BeGood To Me" and yells out, joinus, the Amen Corner. Oh, myJames Baldwin, you trickster! [End Page 725]
Of course you'd be here for meas I'm probed, become a job forphysicians and not metaphysicians.I've also slept with men of allcolors, for the 1980s was a timefor us to live at the speed ofdarkness: AIDS as God's hatredfor us praised in pulpits; fireseating papers and photographsof wayward children so thatthey became bachelors andmaiden aunts; Reagan asthe human tuning fork aboutthe white race's right to wrongwhomever it wanted to. Music wasour path out of ourselves, ourbrooding (think Lord Byron ata jazz club). We hotwired weekendsand pretended to be sick toavoid going to work after anall-nighter not sleeping. I hadjust discovered Aime Cesaire'sA Tempest and thought of JamesWright's St. Judas: we, the outcasts,were claiming KingdomCome. "Were the Eighties ascool as their songs?" I nod andhave no time to say anything moreto that specific man, for others waitin line. Not that this stops himfrom dancing—among those withcanes, us with tubes in our arms.I thought of you, Frank, as I satamong the unhealed, the leperswithout spin doctors: how happyI am to know a poet will continuemy work. But let it be joyful work.You've nicknamed me "Motownito"and Motown was once a real placeto me, my version of Oz. Then,I moved to Funkytown, hormonesas my back-up singers. Now, Iwon't go into the Canon withoutdance music, strangers raisingthe dead inside themselves. Yes,I've the choice—to let go andtrust that you and others willoffer your own wars againstthe sons of light and their albinoshadows (those in power; forhere at Cleveland Clinic yousee that disease makes us allthe same color: blue). Frank,I don't buy it (not to soundlike another conspiracy loco) [End Page 726]
—hey, I write this listening toSticky & Count Da MonkeyRadio Mix of Fantasia's "HoodBoy"—that we can't go fasterthan the speed of light. Darknessis more ancient; black matter hasyet to be "solved." We are notBlake's little black boy throwinghis shadow over a white little boyso he won't burn. Forget the stars,but look at the darkness betweensky fires. There is so much beyondwhat's seen or heard. My doctorasked why I wasn't sad yet. Infront of...