Daily Archives: May 16, 2010

A Mean Freedom (First Draft — the bones of a piece)

First draft of something I’ve been working on.  Lots of work left to do here; wanted it out there for a breath of air.  Comments welcome.


A white-soled black sneaker,
a Chuck Taylor knockoff,
on sale for 75 dollars
in a store window.

Along the border
of the sole, white thread
on black, the following words:


I have a violent urge
to stretch out a finger
and blot out
that “S”

to make it read


so I will be able to breathe again.

In front of me a blond girl, professionally slim
and decked in designer-wrecked rags,

excitedly tells her similar friends
that she wants to get crunk tonight,

while a Ferrari
as black as a hole
bangs out white streams of bass
for the length
of its slow audacious cruise
down Thayer Street.


and again I subtract the “S”
to get at some truth I can stand behind,

and the more these metaphors are strained,
the more they seem the same.


It was 1975

when in two apartments,
one in Queens,
one in the Bronx,

two boys thinking the same thing
stretched out their fingers
and touched grimy windows,

each one writing those same bleeding words
in the gray condensation
on the pane:

Mean Freedom.

The city was falling apart around them both,

and each had a soundtrack
behind him,

and the boys who wrote those words
did not know each other
but for each their soundtrack
was freedom
and for each the soundtrack
was as mean as it was free.


Let us proclaim
the mysteries of faith:

To deface a culture
is to create a culture.

of a signal
begins with a tight embrace
of its source.

of a signal
is a function of distance
from source.

A clean channel
doesn’t exist.

Genre is expectation.

Expectation can be packaged
for indefinite shelf life.

There is a shelf in the store for every expectation.


If you are hip hop,
if you are punk rock,
you understand that theft
is your birthright
and whenever you steal from a thief
you are washed free of stain.

A tag is reclamation.
A sample is recommendation.
A headspin is a compass in a maze.
A microphone always points toward Jericho.

A crunched chord is a fingerprint.
A sneer is an oath sworn in a kangaroo court.
A downbeat is a sustained objection.
A mohawk is a crown of broken handcuffs

and a microphone is always pointed at Jericho.


Mean freedom
understands that freedom will hurt.
That there will be blood flecked skin
when the hand travels through glass
to snatch back what was taken.

Mean freedom doesn’t wait for Independence Day.
Mean freedom lights its fuses any time a match is available.

Mean freedom haunts.  It spooks
convention.  It curses and spits
because it knows it will be imprisoned again
at some point.


I burned holes in my jeans at 18.
I burned my hand with a cigarette at 23
then quit smoking for 25 years
only to begin again. 

I embrace the return of the fire.


The sneaker in the window
and its price tag are as costly
as the Ferrari when it comes
to the price of traveling that distance
from the source.  A signal
degrades, fades, a channel
falls like a rusted bridge,
a college girl gets crunk  —

and an old punk
steeped in nostalgia
reimagines a slogan. 
Just another day
on the street.

An embrace tightens and distorts
both holder and what is held.

Somewhere a boy
pulls the finger he’s just used
to write on a dirty window
back into his fist.

He punches out the glass
and in the blood he feels
the return of the real. 

rocks from side to side,
prepares a counterpunch:

that’s a good start
but if you come through that window after me,
it shouts,
I will not let you pass any more walls
without a war.

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My God

The God you follow
has no guts.
Fucker full of peace,
not a mark on him
from fighting back.

Oh, I can’t go there…
I need a big-ass
warrior god, no Daddy
with a sensitive hand.
One that’s both male and female
and not afraid to hang
it all out for viewing.

Most of all One
who will put a hand on the scruff
of anyone sniveling down
on a frightful knee

and sneer into that wet face:

“Save yourself.”

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