ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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There's garbage on the street that's tellin' you you ain't shit
And you almost believe it

 

 

 

Books by Amiri Baraka

Tales of the Out & the Gone  / The Essence of Reparations / Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems  / Blues People

 Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka / Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones / Black Music

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Something Is in Baraka's "In Town" Poem

By Rudolph Lewis

 

May 15, 2007

I read a poem recently by Amiri Baraka, titled “In Town.” It’s a long ominous poem—a profound and wonderful poem—about that which is “seen” but can’t be named. It’s a poem appropriate for the strangeness of the times in which we now live. I sent the poem out to a score of friends hoping to get some response. But none came back, that is, that spoke about the poem itself and its oral performance by the poet.

My feeling is that it’s the greatest poem written in the last decade by one of America’s greatest poets, maybe “the” most extraordinary writer of the 20th century. I do not know how to account for the silence.

Maybe, Baraka touched a raw nerve, a talent which he possesses that has lasted him over decades. Maybe the poem’s prophetic insight invokes silence, that it says too much about the truth of the lives we are now forced to live.

“I seen something” but I “can’t call its name”—I don’t have a name for it.

There’s that ominous uncertainty. Is it that we fear to name that which we experience and know? Or is it that our situation is so profound, that is, it makes us act, but there’s no word, no expression that can truly grasp the profundity of that which we are forced to do, forced to behave.

And even if we did try to give expression to it, it would fall far short of the expression (the poem, the statement) that the poet-prophet has just uttered. It is indeed a strange predicament that we find ourselves in after experiencing such a phenomenon through this composition of our lives by this great poet. Or, on the other hand, is it something else altogether. The poet who brought “In Town” to my attention described the poem as “hip hop.” But there are no two-line rhymes here. It is indeed an “urban” poem, that addresses “urban” realities. There is indeed a “hipness” to the poem—an urban hipness, maybe of a bygone era, though still present.

The poem “bops” rather than “hops.” It has a surreal quality to it—death looking through the windshield; a black bird with its ass on fire. It bops like Bird, or Diz, or Monk. It’s far out there, farther than what squares can see. It sees what squares can never see, seeing into a reality they really don’t want to see. The music is a way into that reality that is seen but you can only feel it, sense its presence. It’d require libraries to put it into the rational discourse for squares to comprehend.

I seen something this morning that I can’t name. My cat jumped up in my window and clawed at the screen. Maybe he was out all night doing what cats do out all night. I don’t know. Maybe he just wanted some company. After forcing him to jump down, I went out on the porch and asked what he wanted. His dish was filled with food. So it wasn’t that he was hungry. It was dawn. There was thunder and lightning, in the distance. We had been promised rain since the day before. It was rather clear that it was coming, and soon. So I sat on the porch and waited.

Maybe there was some other reason that my cat forced me out my bed — maybe there was something that required me to see, that needed me awake and sitting on the porch—something so profound that it needed a human observer to take note. It came just like the rain . . .

A crow came walking up in the middle of the road taunted by a mockingbird. It walked passed the house, after stopping momentarily. It walked passed the house, moaning, if a crow can really moan. It was an unusual sound, deep down, not the usual squawk or caw that we usually associate with this black bird. With Mockingbird still making his swooping taunting flights, Crow turned, that is, walked into the yard, toward the truck on the other side of the house and Mockingbird flew into the graveyard hickory. It was raining, steady now. So I stayed in my chair. I concluded there was no more to see. That what I had seen was what I was supposed to see — that it was a “sign” that had no name, at least, no name I could think of at the moment.

So I got a piece of paper and a pen and decided to write about Baraka’s “In Town” poem and speak about that which I had SEEN this morning at dawn as it began to rain, thunder, and lightning, and how a force in Nature spoke to me, though I do not know its name.

My cat stretched out to me. He wanted my attention. I picked him up and gave him a hug. Maybe, I thought, the name we are looking for is spelled L-O-V-E. There is just not enough of it anymore. It has all been sucked up in the great vacuum of war and greed so much so that we do not know how to reach out to one another with a loving kindness that is not suspect of ulterior motives. . . . He stayed in my lap awhile and then jumped down and ate a bit of his food. I brought him in the house. He is now stretched out on my bed, asleep.

Mockingbirds are singing in the rain.

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Something in the Way of Things (In Town)

                                  By Amiri Baraka 

In town

Something in the way of things
Something that will quit and won't start
Something you know but can't stand
Can't know get along with
Like death
Riding on top of the car peering through the windshield for his cue
Something entirely fictitious and true
That creeps across your path hallowing your evil ways
Like they were yourself passing yourself not smiling
The dead guy you saw me talking to is your boss
I tried to put a spell on him but his spirit is illiterate

I know things you know and nothing you don't know
'cept I saw something in the way of things
Something grinning at me and I wanted to know, was it funny?
Was it so funny it followed me down the street
Greeting everybody like the good humor man
But an they got the taste of good humor but no ice cream
It was like dat
Me talking across people into the houses
And not seeing the beings crowding around me with ice picks
You could see them
But they looked like important Negroes on the way to your funeral
Looked like important jiggaboos on the way to your auction
And let them chant the number and use an ivory pointer to count your teeth
Remember Steppen Fetchit
Remember Steppen Fetchit how we laughed
An all your Sunday school images giving flesh and giggling
With the ice pick high off his head
Made ya laugh anyway

I can see something in the way of our selves
I can see something in the way of our selves
That's why I say the things I do, you know it
But its something else to you
Like that job
This morning when you got there and it was quiet
And the machines were yearning soft behind you
Yearning for that nigga to come and give up his life
Standin' there bein' dissed and broke and troubled

My mistake is I kept sayin' "that was proof that God didn't exist"
And you told me, "nah, it was proof that the devil do"
But still, its like I see something I hear things
I saw words in the white boy's lying rag
said he was gonna die poor and frustrated
That them dreams walk which you 'cross town
S'gonna die from over work
There's garbage on the street that's tellin' you you ain't shit
And you almost believe it
Broke and mistaken all the time
You know some of the words but they ain't the right ones
Your cable back on but ain't nothin' you can see
But I see something in the way of things
Something to make us stumble
Something get us drunk from noise and addicted to sadness
I see something and feel something stalking us
Like and ugly thing floating at our back calling us names
You see it and hear it too
But you say it got a right to exist just like you and if God made it
But then we got to argue
And the light gon' come down around us
Even though we remember where the (light or mic) is
Remember the Negro squinting at us through the cage
You seen what I see too?
The smile that ain't a smile but teeth flying against our necks
You see something too but can't call its name

Ain't it too bad y'all said
Ain't it too bad, such a nice boy always kind to his motha
Always say good morning to everybody on his way to work
But that last time before he got locked up and hurt, real bad
I seen him walkin' toward his house and he wasn't smiling
And he didn't even say hello
But I knew he'd seen something
Something in the way of things that it worked on him like it do in will
And he kept marching faster and faster away from us
And never even muttered a word
Then the next day he was gone
You wanna know what
You wanna know what I'm talkin' about
Sayin' "I seen something in the way of things"
And how the boys face looked that day just before they took him away
The is? in that face and remember now, remember all them other faces
And all the many places you've seen him or the sister with his child
Wandering up the street
Remember what you seen in your own mirror and didn't for a second recognize
The face, your own face
Straining to get out from behind the glass
Open your mouth like you was gon' say somethin'
Close your eyes and remember what you saw and what it made you feel like
Now, don't you see something else
Something cold and ugly
Not invisible but blended with the shadow criss-crossing the old man
Squatting by the drug store at the corner
With is head resting uneasily on his folded arms
And the boy that smiled and the girl he went with

And in my eyes too
A waving craziness splitting them into the jet stream of a black bird
Wit his ass on fire
Or the solomNOTness of where we go to know we gonna be happy

I seen something
I SEEN something
And you seen it too
You seen it too
You just can't call it's name

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http://www.amiribaraka.com/Something.mp3   (listen)

posted  17 May 2007

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Amiri Baraka's "Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)"

featuring the Roots

a visual adaptation of Baraka's scathing and foreboding social commentary (music by The Roots.) Shot on three different types of film and two different types of video over three months with at least fifty actors/extras in about twenty-five locations in the West Philly area by one guy. (Bryan Green, 22, senior film & video major at Drexel University)

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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