Last night, 9/20/08, I performed a poem that is not a poem. I wrote it down, typed it up, printed and read it. It is really the script for a piece on the business suit. The performance entailed me undressing and completing the performance in my underwear and painting my forehead and chest red, black and green. No one knew what I was up to. Afterwards, several people asked if I would be repeating the performance. My initial response is no. The piece was conceived as a one time performance that can’t be repeated. For one thing, the surprise value is gone. But beyond that, the piece is a kind of declaration of independence. how many times does one need to declare independence? How many times does one need to openly reject hegemonic culture?
That women on the floor to my left opening the water bottle is Jolia Allen. She was one of the featured poets. Below is DJ Watson , our final featured poet.
The event was an art opening curated by and featuring Mildred Rivera. Mildred, Madrid, is a Nuyorican artist who has been in Los Angeles for several years now. This was the first time she had poetry as part of the opening. The photographers were logocentric, forgetting to document the art, except perhaps incidentally. Then again, as the mc and opening poet, my stripping firmly focused the cameras on the poets. I continued to mc in my shorts until the reading was concluded.
Mildred reading her 9/11 poem in front of an image of the U.S. flag. The flag features a question mark and fingerprints superimposed over the stripes. I’ve got to get a better image of it.
Here is the poem I read. Beginning with the tie, each article of clothing mention I remove.
As you see, tonight I’m wearing the uniform.
The uniform, for all occasions
Weddings, funerals, graduations, induction ceremonies
The business suit, appropriately serious, somber, sober
A demilitarized officer’s dress blues
A remnant of 19th century rationalization of dress
The decorative buttons, a handkerchief
Where medals should hang
And no more epaulettes
Perfect soldiers without commissions
One night I was watching the Africa Channel
And this brother was being interviewed in his office
About the business climate in South Africa
It struck as ridiculous that this brother
Should have to dress in western suit
In order to be professional
That the premier of China wears a western suit
We wear our suits in the tropics and the deserts
And the air conditioned suites choking the planet
Honorary Europeans, bourgeois apes
And working class mimics
The tie, what is its use?
Merely a decorative noose
The shoes that do not breathe
These were a snake. Though they fascinate me
I don’t like snakes, but I wouldn’t
Wish this on them. Is this how Eve’s children
Were meant to crush the serpent’s head?
This suit, is this the sign I’m civilized,
I’m modernized, this jacket, double breasted
For what? These pants? The shirt? Piece work
Stitched by Thai fingers
Sometimes I can taste the sweat
I don’t want to be modern anymore
It’s tiring and ridiculous
And harbors its own barbarisms
I don’t want to be an honorary Westerner
Call me romantic if you want
Call me essentialist and dismiss me
Call me post modern pre modern
In boxer shorts and spectacles
Even the post modern pre modern
Has sense of modesty and the practical
I will paint me in this sign
Of my black modernity (red black green)
I will wear this emblem
Of African antiquity (ankh)
I shall call me:
Tableau: the being-ness of simultaneous blacknesses
Now, I will read a poem