Daily Archives: May 18, 2010

A Mean Freedom (Second Draft)

Second draft.  Lots of work still left to do here.  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”
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 is always aimed at 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 aimed at Jericho.


It is always defined by volume.

It does not matter that the nature of the sound
will be heard by different people
in different worlds.

It matters that those worlds shake the same way,
and that someone always complains.

It matters that it is not heard as music
by musicians.

It matters that the instruments are dismissed,
the clothing is spat on,
the nature of the urge to create is beaten,

that the culture of the cultured becomes afraid.

It matters that the defacers of their culture
find their way to the light,
that spatter and cut and mix and shred
are chained to the juggernaut
and drag the weight of freedom behind them,

mean freedom inflicting itself with a roar and rumble
of jubilation
at the sound of breaking glass.

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
on the street tonight,
standing by the store window,
bathed in the sounds of war,

because I was reminded that every riot
starts with the sound of breaking glass
and ends in fire.


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.

Mean freedom
makes us grit in the cogs.

All of us
have missed this.


A signal
degrades, fades,
a channel
falls like a rusted bridge,
a supercar goes boom,
a college girl gets crunk  —

and an old punk
steeped in nostalgia
reimagines a slogan. 

An embrace tightens and distorts
both holder and what is held.
I fall into arms
that bend me tight.

The sneaker in the window
and its price tag are as costly
as the Ferrari when it comes
to the price of traveling the distance
from the source. 

I smash the window,
toss the sneaker at the Ferrari,
run like hell is after me.

Just another day
on the street.  I have
missed this. 

Somewhere back in 1975,

those boys
pulled the fingers they had just used
to write on a dirty window
back into their fists.

They punch out the glass
and in the trickling blood they feel
at last
the cool sting of the real. 

rocked from side to side,
shouting as it
prepared a counterpunch:

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

Bring it on,
responded the bleeding boys,

when we scream for freedom,
we mean freedom.
Is that really your name?
Is this really your song?

How much will it cost us to be sure?

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Dancer Fragment

The flickering silhouette of a dancer —
unfeatured, solid and flat against
the brick wall.

Long nights staring at this.

To fill a space with imagination
and make it perfect in your mind
is natural.

To know that there is something
alive and breathing
creating that blank space
that you do not care to investigate —

 a man must be doing this,
I must be a man.

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Everything I’ve Learned

That I am nothing.

That as nothing, I am exalted
to be nothing. Deliciously
inconsequential, a part of the Machine
of Stars/Necklace on
Neck of Creation.

That I
mean so little anything is free
to hold me.

That I am peer
of leopard and dysentery,
of coconut palm and stray wrapper.

That the pattern of rejection/containment
is the warp of my woof.  Woolly headed
and slubby as a pilled cardigan
on a grandfather’s back, only here
for the warmth.

That I am song
under shower breath.

That I will be
forgotten and this gladdens the non-ego
that fights my stick-wielding caveman heart.

That love and robbery holler equally
in the alley of my elbows as I grasp
the always coming always receding days
I bore through in anger and dread and joy.

That joy itself is movie written by another
but I imagine myself as grip and gaffer at once
upon its set.

That the skin I’ve stretched
and the blood I’ve pressurized
will look awful
when I go, bowels a roaring ghost
of past indiscretion, face a sagged charlie horse
in a leg of a loved one long after my burial,
putting a hitch in their walk.

That every barking tree limb in a forest
laden with ice knows its place better than I do
and I am happy to listen and learn.

That a man’s
no more human than a tin can on a heap of worms
and that the whine of a bomb is a natural song
of the city of God.

That I am happy
and nothing, all is nothing, since all is everything
and nothing at once

it must be so that nothing is important and
nothing stands out, importance itself
is the Ganges of my fierce greed
and I will burn myself to ash and crackle
in the consummation of The Wheel
as the last thing I say to another
is swallowed in the Great River
and I am lost to the sun and the voice
and the Necklace that hangs upon the neck of Creation
will be my shade against the long night
of what comes after this life,

the night of knowing how small I was
and how much I offered to Completion
by simply being what I was:
a petty, magnificent animal.

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