Reflections on a Former Lover’s Suicide in the Context of #MeToo

Recently I learned that a former significant other of mine committed suicide. While fifteen years had passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by this news. Especially so as something that to a large extent defined and lead to the destruction of our relationship suddenly became something that wasn’t taboo to discuss.

Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.

Shade Going Through the Field of Time

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The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain was to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.

We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”

We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.

I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the  stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.

Silk, from personal notebook #3 2001

In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.

Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.

We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant late 20s)  – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.

At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.

Portrait 2012

Several weeks before her and I started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t get her body to move in the way her brain wanted. She willed it, yet couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected when we were out together – she’d just seen that man that literally stole her virginity.

I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features as her rapist is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.

Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took to cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. It was a burden. A flood of what she was struggling with continued out and she ended it all with, ” …and you’re the first person that I shared this all with”.

I felt pride that she trusted me so much. I knew that our relationship and the disclosures she’d made implied a clear duty on my part. But how exactly to help her? Well, that I didn’t know. And it bothered me. A lot. So much that I thought about ending the relationship. It wasn’t because she’d been raped. No, I didn’t think that she was somehow tainted to her core as a result of her assault. No, it was learning the extent which she had suppressed so much of her emotional life that made me question whether or not a healthy relationship was possible going forward.

Portrait of Ariel Sheen

If this sounds shitty, it is, but full disclosure I’d already started to lose the initial enthusiasm I had for our partnership. Even before she told me this I’d picked up that something wasn’t “right”. I told myself, however, that it was the height of inhumanity to leave her side after she’d opened up to me like that as it’d likely lead either to her further close off from others or take her own life, something I learned that night we talked that she’d already tried before. I decided that I’d stay in order to try and do the best that I could to help break her out of the consciousness that kept pulling her back to the trauma’s she’d experienced.

At first, it worked. The bad dreams lost their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to.  Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive you must make sacrifices. However the lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt being around people made my heart go out to her. But on the practical side it meant that each time I’d want us to go out, I had to mind a dangerous mine field that was our communication. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I wasn’t enjoying being wholly selfless either.

As our relationship continued I felt that our time was increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling her rape trauma. It affected nearly every area of her thinking  and I started to resent our relationship. I told myself at the time that I stayed as I was optimistic. She was, after all, making steps to move past it so that she was less reactive to the many things which triggered her. Enough time has passed, however, that I don’t now think that that’s true. For one how she helped herself seemed to me to be a form of slow self-annihilation. As for why I stayed, it was more  aversion to shame for leaving someone for being raped in a bad place. It was a good intention, but the execution of which meant for an unstable relationship foundation.

“I’d Love To Break Your Heart”

To help “heal herself” Krystal illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. While she was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. The drugs shut up some the darker angels of her nature, but didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues. She needed to come into her own, not numb herself.  Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and bitter, you got what you wanted and now you don’t want it anymore but something else. 

My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how. In fact, I should have ended it way sooner rather than let it drag on like a slowly removed band-aid as there was no way for her to have had a foundation for an romantic interpersonal relationship until she had a foundation for a healthy interpersonal relationship.

“Discarded Broken Dreams”

Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses.

Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.

Self-Portrait 2008

I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. For years after our split we socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently. After I got engaged, she even sent a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.

“Faithful Only She”

Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me.

Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been drugged and sexually assaulted at 15 then she would likely still be alive.

“Creatures”

And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident, that with social effort could become less prevalent, that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit on depression, trauma and their impact on romantic relationships – but as a base for action.

Those of you that read this that own her prints of Krystal/Cannibalized’s work, I’d ask that you please send me high-rendition scans of them along with typical archival info (name/date/etc/). I’d like to curate a collection of her photos and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. If I can help fund one of their programs for someone that needs help like Krystal did, then I’d feel the work that I’ll put into it would be worth it.

Self-Portrait 2011

 

Interview with Danielle Bregoli

I first met Boynton Beaches Danielle Bregoli outside of CJ’s Island Grill in Lake Worth during their annual Street Painting Festival. This was before she was involved in some fisticuffs at the adjacent location. A friend of mine that was bartending, Nicole Abelove, had just denied her request for service. I spoke to Danielle and her handler briefly about my project of interviewing. The former wasn’t interested, but the latter took down my contact info.

Fast forward seven months later and I get an unknown number calling me. I pick up and it’s someone (named John, or James, Jared, or something else that was short and began with a J) introduced themselves as part of Danielle’s team.

I was rather surprised to be contacted by Danielle’s handlers. After all, I’m no major media outlet. I said as such to them, secretly wondering if this was a joke. But then he explained that he felt the interviews that she’d done with Maxim and Vice were purposefully shortened and edited to make her look bad and after reading the interviews I’d done with other South Florida musicians and artists (such as Kimmy Drake, Adam Sheetz, Niina Pollari) they felt that I would be a good person to sit down with Danielle and help “bring out a more thoughtful side” and give some context to music she was soon going to be releasing. Hearing about this “thoughtful side” of Bregoli was intriguing, as I’d honestly not seen anything that would make me think she had that, so I agreed to meet her to talk about her deal with Atlantic records and the controversy surrounding her being made into a star.

We met at one of my favorite coffee shops, SubCulture Delray Beach, and spoke there. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Ariel Sheen

Hello there.

Danielle Bregoli

Sup?

Ariel Sheen

So should I call you Danielle or Bhad Bhabie?

Danielle Bregoli

You can call me Danielle. Bhad Bhabie’s who I be when I’m behind a microphone.

Ariel Sheen

Got it, Danielle. So would you say that Bhad Bhabie is more of a stage persona then?

Danielle Bregoli

It’s more like me being me but put to a beat. Ya know? It adds layers to me, like lasagna.

Ariel Sheen

Gotcha. So, you just dropped some music yesterday. This is your first time appearing as a rapper – you want to tell me a little bit about it?

Danielle Bregoli

Well, after my appearance on Dr. Phil I had so many people trying to get a piece of me just because of who I am and how I am it was crazy. I’m more than just a meme, and this is my chance to show that.

Ariel Sheen

I bet you had a lot of people trying to get a piece of your shine! I saw quite a lot of memes related to you online after that show. People I knew that are nowhere near your normal demographic were quoting you and talking about you.

Danielle Bregoli

Not surprised, I got a lot of haters.

Ariel Sheen

Why do you think that you have so many haters?

Danielle

Culture wars, man. Old people think I should be acting some way and are pissed that I’m not. Young people know that most of the old people telling them what to do and how to act are full of shit. They either relate or hate because I’m doing better than them without following the high school, college, career path that they think will get them what they want.

Ariel Sheen

I agree with you to an extent, but as someone who’s worked for several years a teacher I know how detrimental such an attitude can be to oneself and others when at your age when your primary responsibility is schooling. I think of the beginning of XXXtentacion’s song Look At Me as a prime example of such irresponsible thinking and behavior. I’ve seen enough kids that went through my classroom to know that those that idolize such anti-social behavior don’t make it to where they think they will in life.

Danielle Bregoli

You honestly going to sit here and tell me that learning about the technological developments around the Fertile Crescent are going to be useful to any part of my life?

Ariel Sheen

Like I said, I agree with you to an extent. That’s a good example you gave and a point I am sympathetic to. Can you give me a little more detail about what you mean? This sounds like something you’ve thought a lot about.

Danielle Bregoli

Yeah, sure. Well, I’m home-schooled. Since I’ve been doing that I’ve been able to learn a lot more. The way I see it the one-size fits all approach to education is bullshit. I know that’s not how things are supposed to be, and yet I’ve seen how this imperative to differentiate curriculum for students wears out teachers. Look at Florida’s retention rates, it’s ridiculous!

Ariel Sheen

I’m still with you.

Danielle Bregoli

Well you’re told that if you do good in school you’ll go to a good college, but that’s not always true either. Legacies have a much better chance of getting into the colleges that will give you the connections you need to really succeed. Plus those who come from wealthier families can help their kids out by supporting them through an unpaid internship and can help them buy houses – a foundational requirement for growing personal wealth.

Ariel Sheen

I think you’re making a fair point there – but I’m not sure that alone merits the kind of wholescale rejection of the system that you seem to now be proposing.

Danielle Bregoli

Well the same goes for a lot of other things. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth about things, but you can’t trust them because they’re either owned by big corporations or are dependent upon them for advertising or need to follow the government line lest they lose the ability to get information and quotes. Look at the contrasting coverage on what’s going on in Catalonia now compared to Venezuela?! Or compare how media covers black compared to white crime and how that affects sentencing.

Ariel Sheen

It sounds like you have a lot to say about things that upset you about America, why aren’t you using the following you’ve created on social media to bring awareness to these things?

Danielle Bregoli

Cause I don’t want to deal with the FBI or CIA watching over me like they have so many other rappers. We know cause of Edward Snowden that they already have operations designed to surveil kids going on and thanks to some good reporting we know that local police departments would like to do the same.

Ariel Sheen

I mean, I get that, but do you really think they’d target you specifically?

Danielle Bregoli

The FBI and the CIA? Yeah, of course! They’re like the sheep dogs of American culture. They work to ensure that no author, artist or musician develops values outside the narrative that they’ve established – a narrative that perpetuates elite cultural values that helps engender antipathy towards lower class people in general and African Americans in particular – and if they do that they’re not commercially successful. If some artist does step outside those lines, well, they either allow the wolves to get them, put them down themselves or get involved in their life to somehow harm them from continuing to produce such music.

 Ariel Sheen

That’s a perspective that has been voiced by other rappers in the past. Do you have any evidence to back that up, or have you been approached by people?

Danielle Bregoli

That’s a small question with a big answer. I think it best to approach it not necessarily by looking at history.

It’s well documented that the CIA was formed by anti-communists who held white supremacist views. Their bloody, sordid history in other countries is well known but people often forget they’ve operated domestically, contrary to legality, in a variety of ways.

During the Cold War, for instance, they sought to enlist American students in the crusade against communism. This, however, was just one of many intellectual and cultural fronts for the CIA. They actively engaged in the world of arts and letters, as well collaborating, funding and even help distributing television series and films that aligned with the world view that they wanted to be hegemonic.

Given their history of significant assistance to artists, intellectuals, and musicians in the past and the lack of government transparency in domestic affairs and its history I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. Now is it just them? No, I don’t think so.-There’s lots of political and economic affinities that draw people together to the message the government seeks to amplify about parts of the populace and profit off it.

I think this in part explains why myself, Kodak Black, XXXTentaction and Stitches and a number of others have been able to achieve a modicum of success despite having negligible talent and personal lives that leads people with positive social values to be repulsed by us. They ain’t the sole supporters, but they help behind the scenes.

Ariel Sheen

Wait, are you admitting that you, Kodak Black, XXXTentaction and Stitches are all supported, in part, by the FBI and CIA?!

Danielle Bregoli

I mean, I don’t have any definitive proof to provide, but I’d wager that in the future after certain documents are made public we’ll see that was the case. It is unusual, don’t you think, that my dad’s a police officer and so is Stitches step-father?

Ariel Sheen

It is, but I don’t know… It still seems a bit far-fetched.

Danielle Bregoli

Fair enough, let me give you an example. Have you seen Cardi B’s video for Bodak Yellow?

Ariel Sheen

Can’t say that I have.

Danielle Bregoli

Well first of all let me just say this. Cardi B looks like trash and raps like trash. Trust me, you know how people say real recognizes real? Well trash recognizes trash when they see it. I can’t imagine all the dicks she had to take in order to make it to where she at right now.

Anyway, putting aside that her lyrics are either banal or senseless, in the video Cardi B is, like, wearing this anarchist symbol along with all these punk rock symbols in one part of the video. Yet at the same time singing in the song: “I’m a boss, you a worker, bitch, I make bloody moves.” Like, think about that. Despite the fact that a lot of people were involved in her becoming famous she disregards their contribution and claims all fame for herself.

Then there’s Rihanna’s song Work, Brittney Spears song Work Bitch, Iggy Azelea’s song Work, Fifth Harmony’s song Work from Home… Compare all these songs that normalize work, praise the power of the lone individual over the collective and help perpetuate the American Dream myth with Nina Simone’s Work Song, and it’s world apart. Work there isn’t just some means to obtaining status symbols but a dreary enterprise force by economic necessity that has a social dimension, which if realized by the workers can be changed.

Ariel Sheen

Well I’ll be damned! So there’s a purposeful encouragement of an individualistic mindset whose hegemony benefits the ownership class because people see their struggles as personal rather than collective and their deprivation as a cause of insufficient energy exertion in the right manner rather than a symptom of American capitalism’s formation of economic and social institutions.

Danielle Bregoli

Precisely.

Ariel Sheen

I can understand now why your team wanted to have this interview with me – you have a much greater grasp of the relationships between music and society than I thought.

Danielle Bregoli

YUP! I might not be the best spokesperson for the undirected resentment for the establishment that most of the today’s youth feels – but that’s the point. Like Killer Mike says, you have to look at the man behind the man behind the man behind the throne… Once you’ve recognized that then you can see how everything else falls in to place. So long as what I say in one way or another helps prop up that order, I know I’m going to bank.

Ariel Sheen

Knowing all this, why do you still want to contribute through your behavior to the alienation of people that follow you?

Danielle Bregoli

Yo, the whole point is I’m getting fucking paid! I don’t give a fuck about anybody unless they giving me money – and even then I only care about them cause they giving me money. I don’t care how I gets it so long as how I gets it. My possibilities for upward mobility in this country outside of what I’m doing now are incredibly limited, so I want to sell out and make as much as possible.

Ariel Sheen

Is that why you are looking to get a reality T.V. show?

Danielle Bregoli

Yup! It’s something that people without talent, like me, can do to make money. It’s cultural schadenfreude.

***

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If you enjoyed this entirely fictional interview, check out my equally insightful 2015 interview with Stitches.

Review of “Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow”

Gerald Horne’s book Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow is an incredible account primarily on the relationships between the two countries mentioned in the title along with Cuba’s former colonial master, Spain. Horne’s account is not, however, a mere institutional history but one that illustrates that key role which enslaved and emancipated African Americans had in structuring attitudes and actions of the colonial Cuban government, the slaveholding Republic to its North and the center of Empire across the ocean to the East.

A large concern of the United States was that of a “black military republic” in Cuba that was sponsored by Britain. Secretary of State Daniel Webster was deeply concerned that London would “offer independence to the creoles, on condition that they unite with the colored government” in this Negro Republic “under British protection… and that “A Venezuelan general residing in Jamaica was to “take the command of an invading army,” which was to be “seconded” by an insurrection of the slaves and free men of color,” and thus with “600,000 black in Cuba and 800,000 in her West India Islands London will then strike a death blow at the existence of slavery in the United States (73).

The Long History of Interaction Amongst Cubans and American Negroes

Due to its prime ports and location, networks of trade and information were created between a large number of the States in Havana. Louisian, Mississipi and Texas were the primary buyers, however while slave markets closed in the United States due to abolition, they flourished in Cuba. Shipping now primarily to Texas, which was still a territory, Cuba experienced a boom in trade.

While all this was going on, in the halls of the Congress the Southern legislature hooted and hollered for annexation. Reading the speeches, yellow news article clippings, letters, diaries all depict a primal lust to aim, shoot and pull Cuba under the yoke of American capital and American style property management and enforcement. After all, American investment had dramatically increased as many of the Americans reinvested capital that was previously in the south to Cuba.

Cubans Considered by White Racists to be Lesser Humans

The Cubans, and for that matter also the Spaniards, were considered by the Americans to be less than white. In the racialist literature of the day, subscribed to by any politician of importance, the occupation of the Spanish by the Moors made them “not fully white”. Quoting Horne:

“U.S. nationals tended to think that Spaniard were “not quite white,” given the lengthy occupation of the Iberian peninsula by Arabs and Africans and, inter alia, this disqualified them from holding the prize that was Cuba.”(25).

The Spaniards subsequent intermarriage with the Negresses brought from the Ivory Coast increased the rationale for their being inferior.

A large number of expeditions – filibusters – went in in order to claim property and spoils. Former soldiers accustomed to the horrors of the Civil War re-enacted their old jobs. Like Hell on Wheels, but if when Bohannon first rolls up he just re-enslaves the black crew with the help of the white present – who he says now gets paid double. Richard Gott, perhaps no surprise, writes a wonderfully journalistic description of something akin to this in his history of Cuba. U.S. privateers were able to do this primarily as it occurred during a period of intensive rebellion in Cuba. Slaves, Freeman, and Mulattos united against the Spanish colonial administration. Over 160,000 people were killed in the ten years uprising. The atrocious and widespread slaughter literally split the country in two as domestic rebels acted as an insurgent and constituent force alongside the shores America. As can be imagined, what shape the constituent force to take was of prime significance to American politicians, which represented the interests that investors had made into Cuban railroads, sugar mills, land and labor.

Unlike what was said in the halls of power, the writings of Cuban newspapers were often written in part to target American Negroes and contained a message that didn’t sanctify property rights but one of community control. The content of these messages was often presented in a manner that would encourage readers towards a pan-African identity. By carrying tales of lynching and profiles of people such as Frederick Douglass as well as more daring stories such as that of “The Mutinous Sixth” – a deployment of African American Soldiers that were preparing to invade Cuba in Georgia that suffered casualties by American racists for refusing to submit to Jim Crow segregation. In 1886, the year slavery was effectively banned, the first cigar factory was built in Tampa, accompanied by the arrival of about a million workers from Cuba and other lands touched by Spain.” (159). Yet while slavery maybe have been made illegal in the United States, this did not prevent those that had profited from it from finding places where they were able to return to their high ROI practices. This put the US in the perilous position of, basically, fighting to impose a racial order on an island that was considered “colored”.

White Nationalists Afraid of a United Soviets of America

Horne’s book doesn’t go into the much detail as to the Soviet influence on either Castro’s or the Communists in Cuba – itself split along Trotskyist, longstanding anarchist, and nationalist lines. However he does point out how vastly inflated as a cause for fear this was by the members of the United States’ Havana Bureau. Whether this was because it gave informants cause to receive bribes from the U.S. government’s “liason and administration offices,” people that among others Cuban patriots would later call “vendepatriots,” is uncertain. What is clear from the record is that “Cubanidad” and distaste for Jim Crow style white supremacy was an organizing ideology against White Supremacy. Citizens of Cuba and the U.S. paid each other homage to the struggles going on there in a coordinated series of marches, demonstrations and exchanges between committed cadres of organizers.

Domestic sympathies towards the Cuban Communist party by America Negroes drove home the fear that Soviets would spread across the southern tip of the country and radical property struggles would again take place. This fear flamed by the KKK and others wasn’t entirely without cause, as the people involved in this cultural and intellectual exchange would soon have an outsized role within the civil rights movement in the United States.

Cubanidad as an Ideological Enemy to White Nationalism

Horne tells the story of Havana’s holding lucrative “black vs. white” boxing matches, a practice then forbidden in the United States. Havana allowed Paul Robeson to sing to “mixed race”, “mixed couple” crowds that were drunk on Bacardi family products. These, however, are shown to be showcase moments by the new economic and political leadership.

The reaction to the Jim Crowism that the US brought to the region was swift. It was so repugnant to the people that a domestic response force soon composed itself to eject such a social order. Most of the J26 movement – which I write about more on here – were also composed of Black Cuban nationalists. After black political organizations were banned, “the Communists came to play an increasingly conspicuous role on both sides of the strais, with those on the island going to far as broaching “the idea of an autonomous state in Oriente” (239). Domestic unrest lead to U.S. and Cuban elites embracing military rule via Batista, however his darkness made some in America suspect and uneasy. While first embraced by American blacks, subsequent secret police actions against poor, “colored”, Cubans that had mobilized against American investment and the enforcement of Jim Crow rules when Black American businessmen were visiting for conventions made him soon lose his lustre. Private party delegations between the countries increased to study each other’s answer to the “racial question” and increasingly the Cuban people – both the poor the suffered the most as well as the elite which more often dealt with resentment over American influence – came to view the US as prohibiting the social structures most appropriate to a post-colonial export economy. When Castro finally did come to power, one of the reasons he was so welcome by African-American was precisely because his policies were against such racialized oppression.

Interview with Niina Pollari

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Niina Pollari

Ariel: So, tell me about Dead Horse.

Niina: Well, the form or the function or some other aspect of it?

Ariel: Surprise me.

Niina: Well, do you know Dead Horse Bay, the place?

Ariel: No.

Niina: Okay, so there is this weird place in Brooklyn called Dead Horse Bay, which is down in South Brooklyn kind of near the Verrazano Bridge. The reason for its name was that it used to be surrounded by glue factories, where the carriage horses would go get processed.

Ariel: Oh, wow.

Niina: Yeah, it is kinda grim. Especially after the automobile took over New York City, the carriage horse thing was no longer lucrative, so they made it a dump. Even better, right? And, so, it went from a glue factory to a dump. But then they were like, oh crap, we shouldn’t have a dump this close to the city. So they capped it and sealed it, and then the cap at some point later burst. So, now when you go to Dead Horse Bay, you find horse bone shards and fifties-era garbage, like weird bottles and shoes and things. And so it’s a very weird experience to go there. Like, you can actually take the bus and disembark and go through some hedges and then you’re on the beach filled with garbage. It smells weird, like chemicals. At low tide you find horseshoe crab corpses and it feels very much like, not a part of New York City. While, definitely very much being a part of New York City.

Ariel: Still goth and somewhat obsessed with death after all these years! [laughter] I love it!

Niina: Yeah, I know. I almost like to talk about it, because once I find a place that talks to me, I kind of think of it as mine. You know?

Ariel: Yeah.

Niina: But of course, thousands of people go there all the time. It’s not a beautiful beach, but if you’re into the decay of cities, it’s a really cool place to visit. And so, and then there’s of course, like the idea of beating a dead horse and how much that kind of sounds like it’s about the body. As you know there’s a lot about the body in the collection, so that title seemed fitting. Plus my editor pointed out that I use a lot of single-syllable, elemental words, and the title is just like that. You know, the thing down to its essence, basically.

Ariel: So, Carl Phillips has said that poetry is more of a transformation of experience, rather than a transcription of it. What do you think about that?

Niina: I think all good literature is a transformation of experience. Poetry can perhaps be more obviously that because people expect poetry to take certain cognitive leaps. It’s not as specifically straightforward as an art form. As the sort of the weird cousin of prose, it doesn’t always make sense. So, in that way it allows you to be very transformative. You can hop from one thing to another, subject matter-wise, a lot faster and with greater ease that you could in prose. With prose you’re almost forced to explain your thought process and connections more. I think readers of poetry allow themselves to make connections more intuitively. In poetry, readers don’t necessarily expect you to do that, so that’s the great part.

At the same time, though, I’ve gotten a lot of comments about being very clear and straightforward in my own poetics, in terms of like what I write. People are always coming up to me and saying “Oh I’m not usually a poetry person, but…” and then they go on to say that they enjoyed it, or got something out of it, or bought my book. I think that is really cool too. But although I try to keep my language clear and essential, I still expect my readers to get weird with me.

Ariel: Speaking of clarity, I wanted to ask you how important accessibility of meaning is to poetry? Put another way, should one have to work hard to solve a poem?

Niina: Of course it’s wonderful if a poem talks to a lot of people. And when I edit, I really want things to be clear. But a poem takes its own life once it’s out in the world. It gathers its own momentum and it doesn’t always do what you meant for it to do. I think if your poem’s meaning is accessible to people, that’s amazing. But if you’re trying to intentionally obscure or hide your meaning, or make yourself seem smarter by being needlessly complicated, I think that’s where poetry really gets a bad rep. I can’t stand overly academic writing, period. That goes for poetry and prose and everything in between. I just think that you should know what you’re saying. Have enough control over your language to guide the reader, but leave some room for them to be surprised.

Ariel: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t stand obtuse poetry. When I took poetry workshops with Susan Mitchell at FAU she had us read a lot of language poets, because that’s what she was into and I just couldn’t stand it. And then there’s what’s published in, say, the New Yorker, which for me is sometimes hit, mostly miss.

Niina: Yeah, language poetry is not necessarily for me either. I need to have something tangible in the world. I need to be grounded in reality, at least part of the way. Even when some of your content is impossible or implausible or surreal, there needs to be something that keeps you oriented or grounded within the framework of the poem. In that book, for me, the tangible thing was often a sense of place.

Ariel: Oh, yeah, I agree and I think Dead Horse does exactly that. I even said in my review there was only one part that I found myself, like unsure of, and the rest I was like, yeah I get this. This is, this is comprehensible and that was great.

Niina: When you’re reading something and you understand the location or the premise or you understand something fundamental about it, it allows you to get at the subtleties of it and that that allows the complicated stuff to sneak up on you. Then you’re not flailing to understand the mechanics of it.

Ariel: Yeah, once you get the, have the general focus, you can start looking at the little pieces and maybe like, play around with them.

Niina: Exactly.

Ariel: Okay, tell me a little bit about Kiss Me in the Boring Rain project as I too am somewhat obsessed with Lana Del Rey.

Niina: Oh yeah. So, I found myself listening to Born To Die and thinking a lot about it and not quite being able to grasp why I liked it so much. Some of the lyrics are kind of basic and it’s not that’s it’s musically that complicated. The album wasn’t even that well produced in some parts. But something about the persona that she adopted – the absolute certainty with which she talks about her devotion to the darkness of love, made it rattle around in my brain. And so, I slowly wrote the poems while listening to particular songs, like on repeat, until I got some lines down. There is something about her that I can’t get over, but that project helped me a lot with my obsession around that album. It helped me put the album away a little bit.

Ariel: I know how you feel. She’s easily one of my most listened to artists in the past five years. When I saw her play live a few months ago I didn’t even care about the lackluster stage show just because I was so caught up in the lyrics music. Anyway. Shift of topic. I know you attend a lot of poetry readings and even host your own, Popsickle. I’m curious how has the Internet informed and contributed to the well-being of poetry in your mind?

Niina: Quite a lot. It makes sense to poets. I think poetry benefits from the immediacy of Internet because it reduces the turnaround time on publishing in journals, or in any form of print really, and I feel that poetry works best when it’s reactive to the zeitgeist. When there’s a faster cycle between writing and publishing it, it’s good for the medium. It’s also easier to reach more people than a print subscription to a journal would. Not that print is not valuable, of course it is, but it’s just like more, it’s got a wider reach and more tentacles, you know.

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Niina at a poetry reading accompanied by violin.

Ariel: Cool. What books in print are you reading right now?

Niina: Right now I’m reading Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, and Green Girl by Kate Zambreno.

Ariel: I’m reading a history of Miami’s segregationist housing policy. It’s academic history, but written in an accessible way and I find the subject fascinating.

Niina: Actually that sounds extremely interesting. I’m working on a little bit of prose which takes place in Florida. So I was just reading about Everglades draining, which is another smart idea Florida had.

Ariel: Yeah, Florida’s land developers haven’t always been bright, but they’ve always known how to sell the idea of a potential that on closer observation is detrimental to everything that made it in the first place. I took a Florida History class at FAU and the professor had said about how it’s this underserved niche in the field.

Niina: I think Florida’s a really interesting state because of it’s heterogeneity in population and it’s proximity to different areas of the Americas and of the world. And because, it’s the place sketchy people go to disappear for many reasons.

Ariel: Yeah.

Niina: There’s also its various environmental issues. There’s just so much to say about it, and it should be taken seriously, but like, Florida’s sort of the crazy bitch of America, right? Everyone’s like, “Oh Florida, there it goes again!”

Ariel: “Florida man does something unusual and awful again.”

Niina: Exactly. I wanted to start a Twitter account for like heroic Florida Man stories that were like “Good job Florida man!”, or something. That stuff happens too it just doesn’t get as much circulation.

Ariel: Yeah. We’re not all dying from eating too many roaches.

Niina: Yeah, we’re not all like throwing an alligator into a Wendy’s.

Ariel: Haha! And of course that happens in my hometown of Jupiter, way to go Florida Man!

Niina: I know! That made me laugh so much when I read it.

Ariel: Yeah, all my friends were sharing that too. Almost as a counterweight to that kind of notion I’ve been reading a lot of works by Florida authors lately. I just finished a collection of short stories by Jennine Capó Crucet about like Cuban life in Hialeah. Then there’s Paul Kwiatkowski, who wrote Every Day Was Overcast. Weird coincidence, but after I interviewed him a couple of months ago, I’ve since found out that I have three mutual friends with him.

Niina: That’s awesome. Karen Russell and Kent Russell both write about Florida too.  And Sarah Gerard is publishing a collection of essays about Florida next year with Harper Perennial.

Ariel: Karen Russell wrote Swamplandia!, right? My eleventh grade students are reading that in their English class right now.

Niina: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love her. Her short story collection is really good.

Ariel: Yeah I want to read Swamplandia! too, but, like, I need to stop buying books for a little bit and finish reading all of what I have, so I don’t.

So now that we’re talking about all these books, I wonder how did your MFA influence your creative process?

Niina: If I could go back in time I would do a lot more research about MFA programs. The program I attended maybe wasn’t the one for me, because it was super narrative, and about as literal as poetry can be. But, the main way it influenced me was getting me to New York and, so you know, hooking me up with an initial community of people who were my first readers and all that stuff. And I still stay in touch with like a couple of the people and they’re critical in my process. So, that part, that part mostly, community I guess.

Ariel: I read this article in Jezebel that touches on some of the subject we’ve been talking about – the internet, reactivity and poetry communities – and was wondering if there was any overlaps with your experience.

Niina:  I attended one of the schools where this particular “inappropriate literary man” taught, and although my personal experiences were different than the ones this article touches upon, I felt that the program’s atmosphere was very male somehow. Maybe it has to do with some old-school notion of the MFA program, but in retrospect it’s especially confusing to me at that school because the program was mostly non-men. That was ten years ago; it does feel like there’s a change in the air now. Voices that might have stayed silent even as recently as then aren’t staying silent anymore, and that’s a good thing.

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Make sure to read my review of Dead Horse and then buy it of course! You can follow Niina’s website by going here. Also, as a special Halloween treat, dear reader, feast your eyes on this collaborative poem that Niina and I wrote when babies for duo-poetry performance: I present to you Degothalizer 2000!

 

Interview with Adam Sheetz

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I’ve been acquainted with South Florida based artist Adam Sheetz for almost a decade now. I met him first at FAU, watching him perform in an anti-war folk duo he lead. After being taken in by the combination of high talent and humility I was further impressed as we spoke on current political issues. Since then I’ve seen his talents contribute to other worthy musical endeavors in numerous local spaces and also seen his graphic art work at a number of venues. While a fan from the beginning, I’ve also noticed that at each new encounter with his work that his artistry has improved – something noticed not just by me but also by those that voted for him and got him the award of New Times Best Visual Artist of 2015.

I met with Adam Sheetz at his house in West Palm Beach. After he showed me around his house filled with unique, carnivalesque art and guitars I chatted with his wife Lindsey for a bit we made our way to his studio. After I looked over the canvases that were in the room and perused some of the books in his library, many of which I also had in mine, we had a shot of whiskey in homage to our shared appreciation of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson then cracked open beers and started talking about a number of things. As the interview was three hours and forty-five minutes, or 38 pages transcribed, it had been edited for readability and concision. Enjoy!

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Ariel: So what are you setting up on the easel right now?

Adam: I thought of a Trump piece last night. I’m going to do Trump now in a big diaper crashing through D.C.

Ariel: One of the things that I’ve noticed in the content of you work is a negation of the dominant tropes and narrative of American society – be they politicians, police or religious figures. A negation of that negation, as it were.

Adam: Well I try and leap for the most exaggerated, most grotesque forms of what is actually out there. I really want to be objective for this show. I don’t really want to be supporting any particular candidate. I just want to put the shit out there. I’m not in the business to make people look pretty, I’m in the business to expose people for what they are. If I can elevate the negative to a level that is so farfetched from what it actually is, but within that there are still tenants of a deeper truth, well than that is exactly the kind of attention that they deserve and need. I’m not saying exaggeration is the only way to arrive at a real truth, if you are just telling it like it is, few people are going to pay attention. If you throw in some tits or a politician jacking off or something, people are more likely to look. I mean, why shouldn’t artists use the same methods of big business advertising and culture. Sex sells.

Ariel: That’s precisely why my second book has so much sex in it.

Adam: There you go.

Ariel: So I really like your Animal Farm series. I’m curious to see what thoughts you have that words and qualities associated with being an animal, apart from being a tiger in bed and or hung like an elephant, are typically negative. Do you think that this type of objectification influences the way that people treat the environment?

Adam: I actually wasn’t even going for it in that sense, but I like the connection.

Ariel: You can use that if you like.

Adam: [Laughs] Yeah, I will. With that piece, you know one thing that I have been struggling with in my art, especially taking as a subject something so explicitly that is thematically socio-political, you know the easy way out would be to do each politician as they are. You know do their portrait in some way, but you know that’s only going to last for 2-4 years before it is irrelevant. But the problems are always the same.

Ariel: That’s a really good formulation.

Adam: So my struggle is you know, how do I attack these people by attacking the problems that they are creating? I’ve found very often that the best way to do that is through animals. There are so many parallels to different personality types in the animal world. Not just that, but the symbolism that animals hold in the Bible. I feel that I do a better service to the issues by not putting the people in there. I think if you put people and faces that are recognisable, it gives them more credit than they deserve. It then makes the piece about them, and I think if you make it about them you ultimately miss the bigger structural issues at hand. It makes my art more universal.

I don’t want to be thought of as a cartoonist. I want my low-brow shit to be infiltrating the high-brow world. I want to just flip it on its ass. I think animals are just the best way to represent people at the end of the day [laughs]. With that series, you know each animal represents a different aspect of society

Ariel: Walk me through it?

Adam: Sure. Rather than an eagle, my take on the national bird is the vultures – that’s why it’s displayed with the flag in the background. It’s the first piece in the series and it’s meant to orient people so they know the theme is America politics. Then there’s the saturated pink and green pig. The green background because money and the pig is the businessman. Then there’s the yellow cowardly sheep, which is basically the general population being shepherded around. Then there is the peacock, which is your glitz and glam reality TV culture. The peacock and the sheep go hand in hand because you get to the point of being a peacock and only concern yourself with exterior appearance and keeping up with the Joneses and the status quo. I think ultimately it evolves you to being rolled in with the sheep.

Ariel: Interesting. I took it to represent bourgeois intellectuals.

PH44art800Adam: The peacock?

Ariel: Yeah.

Adam: That wasn’t my intention. The peacock is the animal representing one of the seven deadly sins, so that was my thought behind it. But I always enjoy hearing what people take away from it, especially if it is not what I intended because now I could have a whole new narrative. Tell me more what you mean.

Ariel: So for me it’s the smile that makes it what I said. Peacocks represent the regal, the rich, but they are not it. To mix bird metaphors here, they parrot the rhetorical positions of “jobs creators”, and get well kept for it, like birds in a menagerie. I don’t know, maybe it’s just something about that smile that makes me think of William Buckley.

Adam: The thing I love about art is when I do a piece, by the time I am done the narrative has changed and I find things that I draw that I wouldn’t call forced symbolism but triggers “that means that” even though at the time it wasn’t what I intended. See

Ariel: Counter to what we have been talking about, I have a question about The Death of Marat. This piece, is there at particular face that was supposed to be on there?a548ee_3773a08a57914005ad0d1ab8eba68102.jpg

Adam: No. There was no particular face. I was reinterpreting the well know piece by David. That is actually one of my favorite pieces of David’s. I wrote one of my finals in college on him, basically paralleling him to Fox News and other major news networks because at the end of the day they only report what they are paid to report. If whoever owns the company, like Murdoch, doesn’t like something they are not going to report on it. David was a patron of whoever was in power at the time. Whatever direction the revolution was going and whoever paid him the most, that was who he painted for. So I kind of equated him to a news network of that time. The French revolutionary epoch is so fascinating. It paved the way for so many things, politically, socially and artistically. I’m glad you asked about that piece.

Ariel: Well, I wanted to bring it up as even though your style has changed since then I see within it, almost all of your work really, the same radical, emancipatory spirit that inspired the art of that period.

Adam: Thank you! I’m getting goosebumps. That is a very kind compliment.

Ariel: Yeah, it’s why I like you work so much – it speaks to my head and to my gut.

Adam: Good! I want my work to cause a visceral reaction like that. I want people to walk out of my show feeling unsettled. I don’t claim to have all the solutions to addressing the social grotesqueries that have become banal and commonplace and thus accepted. I want my art to put a question mark in my audience’s head that encourages them to seek some sort of answer. I don’t expect that my work will change the world, but god damn it if it isn’t my hope.

Ariel: Well, if it’s any consolation I can’t stand most of the art that I consume at galleries or museums and yet yours speaks to me.

Adam: Thank you. I mean yeah, as it is conceived today, I am a shitty contemporary artist because I don’t pay attention to what is happening in the world. I mean it’s the commercialised world in this day and age. For the most part, that or you’re a “crafter”. You know? For as pompous as I sounded saying that, I don’t mean to. I’m probably one of the most humble guys. You know?

Ariel: Yeah, I mean, I’ve known you for a long time and you definitely are.

Ariel: Yeah, I get it. I’ve been trying to get into contemporary writers. I mean, it’s hard. They write about bullshit I don’t care about. I mean you can only read so many “troubled home” stories before it’s like… okay. I get it. You had a shitty home life. Now find something other to talk about that’s bigger than you.

Adam: Exactly! All art is really just regurgitation at this point. A lot of what I have seen in contemporary art basically just tries to match the formula of what sold last year. There are handfuls of artists that are doing something real, though fuck if I know who they are. I know they are out there, they have to be, I’m also not going to wade through a bunch of mire just to fin them. I mean, that’s part of the reason I try not to pay attention to “what’s hot”. I don’t want to be inadvertently influenced by anything like that, for better or worse. If I want to be influenced I go back to my heroes like Goya, Basquiat, Deschamps and of course Stedman and Picasso. And speaking of Picasso, actually, his work has a style I’ve been trying to figure out lately how to do. I’ve been trying to do a 2D painting of 3D, by mixing and matching the planes. I always thought that was such an interesting concept – but I want to take it a step further, like paint something illustrating the detritus of our current socio-political climate. You know, where there’s not just one problem but all these different angles. I think a cubist representation of that would be a very honest.

Ariel: But what would that look like? I mean, the way you describe it makes me think of Balzac’s the Unknown Masterpiece, which ends with a brief description of this painting that’s clearly aligned with the Zeitgeist and yet nearly indescribable as a language has yet to come together to structure it’s meaning.

Adam: Honestly, I have no idea yet. I couldn’t even say what the subject would be at the moment but I’ll get there. I use liberty a lot as my subject. So just thinking off the top of my head I imagine it might relate to her. But if I were to do a cubist piece I think it would be, maybe something along the lines of the three bathers painting. Something like I did with the “Now and Then” series with Liberty, Justice and Nature. I would probably do those three women in a cubist style and try and fit as many planes of conflict as I could in there. That may be my project for next year, though I’m not sure.

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Ariel: I like the concept and am glad you brought up your “Now and Then” series depicting Nature, Justice and Liberty. I thought was great visually, but I’m honestly a bit wary of the politics of nostalgia. Could you speak on your intentions with it, as the implies something that, say, “Ideal and Actual” does not.

Adam: It never existed fully, no, though at the same time you could say that the pre-Colombian people’s here had something closer. I mean, if you look at all of the social injustices from the start of our country, we’ve never been a fully equal society and a fully just society. With the exception of nature, I don’t think there was ever a truly ideal “Then” for any of the subjects that was fully representative of what we all would love them to be.

As far as liberty goes, I’d also say that was significantly more prevalent prior to the kind of techno-surveillance culture we have not. Not for everybody, slavery, obviously, but I feel that liberty has taken a turn for the worse and I guess that was really the turning point between the then and now.

Ariel: So I’m glad to hear that you feel the “Then” never existed, and is just a rhetorical trope as I was going to get on your case about that. After all, it’s a variant of Donald’s “Make America Great Again”.

Adam: [Laughs] Glad you were ready to call me out. I don’t make art for people to tell me it’s good. I expect to be challenged. I’m actually glad you brought that up because you’re absolutely right and I agree with you 100%. But for the sake of the piece it’s the starting point of a narrative. One that starts out as a fairy tale – this utopia that never existed – and we arrive at this gross truth of what it actually is. I think with this view the “then” is exists as hope as something that we can return to, rather something that we can arrive at for the first time.

Ariel: I like that. It evokes the idea of a return to paradise almost, even thought the then is something that we would be arriving at for the first time. Which all makes me think of a desire armed to return there. Considering that Lake Worth is the home of the Earth First  Journal and your works contains a number of radical political themes I was wondering if there has been any sort of exchange between you and them.

Adam: Actually, yes. Earth First has contacted me a few times. Unfortunately we have never really lined up on some of the stuff I have versus what they needed. That’s actually a good reminder for me to reach back out them because now I have a few pieces that might be interesting for them. I love Earth First. I love everything they are doing. Somebody needs to do it.

You know and early on at FAU, like ’07-08, right before I met Cecil and you, I played in an anti-war folk band. I had a percussionist and me on acoustic guitar. I used to play at protests against the Iraq war. I was a member of A.N.S.W.R. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. I went to Washington DC with them in September when Petraeus was coming out with his new budget report and asking for more money for Iraq. There was big protests going on – not on the news, of course – and we took a van to D.C. We marched to the capital, some friends got arrested. One of the organizers was one of the first men on the ground. His name was Mike and he had a video which went viral. Although there is not much time for it now. I still feel like I am doing my part with painting, because somebody has to.

[We break to have a cigarette outside]

Ariel: Now that I see it in your garage, in front of me, one of the questions I had for you was for you to walk me through The Persistence of Reality. The picture on your website is small, but it is such a huge piece.

Persistance of Reality

Adam: It is so far my best attempt at paying homage to Hieronymus Bosch.  This piece basically maps the terrain a barren kind of cultural landscape. The only thing that looks lush and fertile is the facade. This quest for visibility and 15 minutes of fame – reality TV culture – I think is dragging us through the mud as a culture.

So you have here these people lining up to go down to watch framed in a manner that alludes to Bosch’s work, “The Cure of Folly”. Back in the day people used to think that people who did bad things had something in their brain and called the Folly Stone. Because of this belief they, logicially, originated the practice of lobotomies originated. They would take out a piece of the brain thinking that would cure them of evil, which is why there are medieval tools in the picture. Up here you have the US Capital Building, the Whitehouse and the flames with this big monster. You have the Hollywood spotlights going. Nobody is paying attention. These are two of my favorite figures that I have come up with. You basically notice that the eyeball around it looks a lot like a vagina. The tear duct is like a clit. So I kind of flipped around, stuck an eyeball in there and created this kind of Uncle Sam foyer figures. You know, kind of representative of the NSA.

Adam: The lush fertile area is just a backdrop. The stiletto wearing vultures. It’s the transformation of what was once the sacred feminine, into this profane “women are bitches and whores”. It’s just a fuckfest down here.

Ariel: Considering that we’ve been talking about animal’s relationship to your work, I like the animal masks that you have them wearing.

Adam: You could chalk it up to the laziness of not wanting to paint a bunch of faces.

[laughter]

Ariel: Did you go to school for art? Or are you self-taught?

Adam: A little bit of both. I went to school for studio arts/graphic design but I still haven’t technically graduated FAU. I learned a lot, but basically I kept going to get access to materials. There’s a number of professors there who have helped shape the seriousness with which I do my work. Of all my art training, what I took the most from was my art history classes, more than the practical application and the studio classes. The studio classes were a chance for me to exercise what I had already been doing, but with new tools.

Ariel: So how do you think your art has changed over time?

Adam: One of the things that I struggled with earlier on in my career was arriving at my own style that was separate from my influences. That was the struggle. I think where I am now compared to where I was 10 years ago and it’s a whole different world. To go deeper, there was a point where I had to break down what I was doing and rebuild it. This is no small task, you know, a whole new world had to be built upon the old. I adhere to that concept in a lot of aspects in life. I think that it’s the most productive way to go about anything at the end of the day – something’s not working, you tear it down and build upon it. Now, for me to pick up the pen and the brush and have it be fulfilling, I really have to be saying something. If I’m not saying anything, it’s a waste of my time… unless I’m getting paid [laughs]. I’ve got a little one to feed. I’m not going to be the one to paint a still-life with a bowl of fruit in it.

Ariel: Or like just a nude.

Adam: Right. I mean it’s not saying anything.

Ariel: Right?! I mean love women. I will ogle and appreciate and blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to my taste in art, however, I need to have some kind of more redeeming, edifying element. I want my naked women to be leading the people.

Adam: Exactly, like Lady Liberty Leading the People. That’s one of my favorites. I actually got to see that one in person at the Louvre.

Ariel: Oh. So on the about you section on your website, you say that you frame your work as portraits of beauty by means of crude exaggeration. Do you think that the anti-septic nature of current socio-political discourse is detrimental.

Adam: Yeah, everything today has got to be so prim and proper and clean and the choice of what people emphasize as being important is just so askew. A lot of times nobody can tell it like it is because so many people have become over-sensitive cry-babies. I mean we live in a culture where you get a trophy just for fucking showing up. That’s what it’s become.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think my generation was when that shift happened. I’m 27 and I can remember my senior class was the first class ever at Cardinal Newman where no one that graduated received senior superlatives in the yearbooks. Too many mothers complained that their son or daughter wasn’t picked for something, so they stopped doing it. I don’t know why this generation has stopped knowing what it was to earn something. I also went to a private Catholic school so a lot of the children were privileged too.

Ariel: I knew a few girls there from when I was in high school, so I know what you mean.

Adam: Haha, yeah… So I was the bottom bracket of the kids at that school. Which I enjoyed because you know, I could be my own person. But I think that the societal discourse of giving trophies just for showing up-

Ariel: We are going to talk about some adult things, “trigger warning”.

Adam: Yeah, and I don’t see how sugar-coating everything and being so politically correct that there is not an ounce of truth in what you are saying, none of that s anything that can help bring us forward. Nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody wants to hear the bad stuff. I’m not saying that foul language etc should be a part… that’s not what we are talking about. Being PC all the time doesn’t get us anywhere though. You can’t have a positive and a positive and expect a reaction at the end of the day. If you break it down to physics.

Ariel: Well I mean, I think at least from the developmental sense. Everybody fails at some point.

Adam: You have to fail and you need to learn how to deal with it. It’s a given that I want the best for my son, that I want him to succeed. But I don’t want him to succeed without failing first on his own. I don’t want him to be destitute, living in a gutter. Failure is a part of life, it is how you grow. Sometimes you run into those walls in your life where you just have to make a decision and hope it pans out. Hopefully you come out smelling like a rose. It’s a practice of to keeping your wits about you, you know?

Relating this to my art, I think about when I stopped drawing with a pencil and started drawing with a pen. I was forced not to throw the piece away, and make something out of the mistake. That’s been something that I live my life by. I think everybody is expecting to go through life with their own personal filter when what they really need is to grow a thicker skin. Nothing is the end of the world.

Ariel: Except global climactic change.

Adam: This is true [laughs]. But even that, I think the anti-septic nature with which that political message is delivered may be doing a social disservice. Treat the public like they can handle how many billions invested in housing and infrastructure will be lost due to catastrophe and maybe something more substantive can be done about it. Instead of the honesty we have fucking Rick Scott preventing state workers from even using the phrase “climate change”. What a sad joke! It’s reasons like that which is why you can’t have an honest debate. It’s just arguing feelings.

Ariel: Yeah, totally! Like I was saying outside, I’m increasingly tired of trying to have real discussions with people online. I don’t talk about things I don’t know about but nobody else seems to think that this matters. They want what that guy [I point to the illustrations of Donald Trump] gives them, they want feelings rather than a complex, nuanced historically based perspective.

Adam: Or they want a sound board where they can bounce their shit off and hear themselves talk, or hear it regurgitated back to them in an agreeable manner. It’s all bullshit and just adds to the veil that is clouding our perception of what reality is. Not everybody is going to get along. That’s just a fucking fact. Find out your differences. Agree to disagree and if it don’t really matter then move the fuck on. Don’t get so butt-hurt if shit doesn’t go your way. If shit doesn’t go your way, maybe you should figure out a way to make it so that shit does go your way. Not in a negative sense though.

Ariel: You frame it in a way that I am wholly in accord with. One some of these important issues lets relate to each other on the actions that need be taken together as a community and through that we’ll heal some of our own issues.

Adam: Exactly.

Ariel: I love how you are all about doing something creatively, that I do as well in my writing, which is openly assimilating forms and styles from other places. A couple of other artists I know are so caught up in trying to be completely original that I think it hinders their ability to compose something great.

Adam: You can’t be original now. We’re just reshaping the past in a way so that the present can understand it. If I was so focused on creating something new, I would be wasting so much energy that I would end up with nothing. What I am creating is original enough, but it’s also an amalgamation of many things past – as all art is. History isn’t some thing, it’s what is happening now. And there are always smart, talented people who have said and done better than we can currently dream of creating.

Ariel: Heroes.

Adam: Exactly, and my heroes have always been those people who said it better. So I think by thinking that you can do it better in your own way is awfully arrogant.

Ariel: And neurotic.

Adam: Yeah. That’s the thing as well, seeking that kind of false comforting thought means that there is no drive to better oneself. Why try any harder in a format that other people have already mastered? Because there is the easy way and the hard way and it’s only in the latter time you really learn who you are.

If I can be vulnerable right now, that is one of the reasons I try to be so serious about the outside things that I tap into for my work. Whether that is historical subjects or different artists. I research because I enjoy and love learning and research. I write different notes and ideas down. I have a little pad that I sketch the ideas and inspirations for my bigger pieces. It’s a juvenile approach.

Kind of like throwing a bunch of shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. It often starts when I am trying to fall asleep. In order to do that I try to use ideating sleep rituals, it helps create a pattern of creative thought. Hopefully I remember it when I wake up. Some I do, some I don’t. I feel like the ones I don’t remember weren’t meant to be created. And anyway I don’t have the time to do every idea. The ones I do remember end up being fairly successful and what I want them to be. So I basically start with a general idea that begins with me trying to fall asleep and then when Thursday-Friday comes around I get the opportunity to put pen to paper. For pieces there is a lot of research involved whether it is researching history or artists or different composition styles, or researching different design clips that I can use. More often than not it is body parts or mechanical things. I’ll print them out and see what kinds of shapes I can make and how it can work. Sometimes I scrap it, but a lot of times I’ll just lay the stuff out, stick it on the paper and force it to dictate the piece to me, based on what sticks out to me at the time. It’s a push and pull. A lot of times, what I find out during the process will tell me something different to what I started with and I’ll end up meeting in the middle. Then all of the vibrancy, perversity, saturation – everything in my work – has to speak to something. Nothing is arbitrary. If it’s a line somewhere, it’s for a reason.

The way I see it’s like, good art is a psychic weapon that attacks things. This is my spell casting book.

Ariel: Then you must be like Hermoine, I see that you’re constantly making new works and it’s all so great. You are much more disciplined than I am as well. It looks great though.

Adam: I try to maintain discipline. Gonzo style. With everything around the house, being a new dad, I put in at least 10-15 hours a week on my own work. It’s a habit. Heh. The things around the house I need to write down, keep a schedule for work. Not for my own stuff though, I don’t want it to feel like work but second nature. It took discipline to get to this point, but I knew if it didn’t I wouldn’t get to this point. If I have a goal, I will work non-stop. If I don’t have some big project at the end of the line, it’s harder. So thankfully, I’ve got this show coming up. It will definitely be something they have never seen before.

Did I tell you one of my marketing tactics I’m going to do is campaign signs and the name of the show is going to be called “Nobody is safe” and it’s going to be put all throughout Cleveland. Super bright posters. Red, white and blue. It’s where we are right now.

Ariel: After this series, do you have anything you were thinking about next.

Adam: I was thinking of doing a show out west in California next summer. The Dead Kennedy’s are a huge influence on me and what I say and do in my work. They are the first band that I feel has the same velocity and crassness but still poignant at the same time. I feel like it is what a want to achieve with my work. A juvenile yet sensitive rejection of authority.

So my idea of a follow up show would be doing a series on Dead Kennedy’s and hopefully getting Jello, if not the whole band involved somehow.

Ariel: Who knows, maybe he’ll end up reading this and be as taken in with your art as I have been so he’ll reach out to you.

*

If you’re in the area, make sure to check out Adam’s upcoming showing, information below.

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Also visit his website to purchase prints and follow him on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with what he’s working on!

Review of “A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida”

When it comes to understanding the physical formation of greater Miami A World More Concrete by N. D. B. Connolly was incredibly insightful. The Magic City, so called because of its transformation from frontier town to urban region was by far the fastest of its time. Marketers of the Magic City sought to advertise it, justifiably so, as a Caribbean city for elites to leisure upon. However at variance from the other islands within the temperate climate band – such as Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba – it didn’t have the preponderance of poor blacks that this class found unsettling. Not that they weren’t present, just that they were visible only as help. White terrorism, apartheid passes and Jim Crow police enforcement kept blacks from coming onto the beaches so favored by economic elites. Contestation of such treatment was limited by this as well as conflict between Caribbean and American-born blacks while cultural expressions of resistance to this – as well as the colonial and slave history, such as the Junkanoo parades in the area that would come to be known as Overtown – were geographically distanced far from major tourist areas.

Connolly examines the economics of segregation and the various forms of legal frameworks used to perpetuate racial segregation. Constitutional language – specifically property rights – was the primary means of perpetuating and expanding Jim Crow and New South government policies. While real estate was also a means of creating a Civil Rights political discourse, for taxpayers ought to have the same access to goods (like beaches) and services (like schools), it was not an inherently progressive framework.
Describing in fascinating detail the rhetorical tropes used to perpetuate Jim Crow, Connolly rejects the simplistic narrative that pits the black struggle for civil rights against a white defense of property rights. He limns why and the manner in which class caused propertied and property managing African Americans to embrace the logic and laws of real estate for their own ends. Connolly’s interpretation specifies the creation of class alliances between ruthless white exploitation and the black middle-class. To varying degrees, entrepreneurs, landlords, elected officials, and self-styled urban reformers all participated in eminent domain and land control schemes through mechanisms such as housing associations that helped to take advantage of the black poor. To what extent were poor blacks ruthlessly exploited? As an investment, from the 1930s to the early 1960s, black housing was the most profitable real estate investment that one could make. While rental housing for white Americans would fetch an average rate of return around 6%, for blacks it was an astonishing 27%! Blacks would often pay per week what whites paid per month for rent and it would be significantly lacking the amenities and quality of construction of the types of homes that whites lived in.

Landlords preyed on the fact that blacks had limited capital available to defend their cases in a court system that had not yet taken much account of renters rights, that tenant organizing could be meet with counter-resistance from better financed, organized and politically connected landlords, that a politics of respectability and conference decision making with community leaders determined policy rather than recourse to democratic procedures and that all class conflict would be framed as racial and thus would perpetuate racial sentiments. Landlords as a category was not limited to native-born whites. Blacks, Cubans, Seminoles, Haitians, and other Caribbean groups all invested in segregation to the point at which home ownership within communities vacillated from 10% to 20%. Whites were clearly the predominant holders of capital investment in real estate, while “credit’s to their race” that engaged in similar investments like M. Athalie Range and Luther Brooks gave a gloss of legitimacy to it.

Historiography on urban racial segregation must be embedded within the larger framework of the history of capitalism. Connolly’s close analysis of primary sources allows the reader to expand their understanding of the close and mutually constitutive relationships among liberalism, capitalism, and racism by placing real estate at the center of all. Conflicts over the value of land shaped Miami, indeed all American cities, in ways that social movements, local policy reforms, and legal arguments could not undo. There is almost a perverse creativity to the opportunistic alliances and deceptive actions that informed the geospatial and georacial composition of modern Miami. Eminent domain could be used to dispossess poor blacks of real estate at a lower than market price desired by whites, to force the government to purchase real estate for a higher than market price for housing no longer seen as a desirable investment and to condemn housing that was seen by white homeowners as existing too close to their neighborhoods.

Connolly’s focus on the enduring power of the racist social order and property rights at the heart of Jim Crow sheds new light on the limits a civil rights movement could have when predicated on property-rights. Unfulfilled economic promises and public-private chicanery was not the outliers but the norm. Capitalism and the profit motive thus not only underwrote urban governance and preserved Jim Crow, but also put real estate at the center of Miami’s race relations. The neighborhood case studies of Overtown, Liberty City, Good Bread Alley, Allapatah, Nazarene, Liberty Square, Railroad Shop, and Para Village show how local entrepreneurs were able to exploit the racism underlying the practices of the Federal Housing Authority, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal National Mortgage Association for self-enrichment.

Unpacking Happy's Chapter

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved gangsta movies. I’d set up fake Colombia House accounts in order to get free VHS tapes of films like Menace II Society, Boyz ‘n the Hood, New Jack City, Juice, Paid In Full, and Deep Cover and watch them over and over again.
Whereas Jesse’s chapter is stylized after Spanish picaresque and German Bildungsroman literature, Happy’s is based on these films as well as a number of original documents and documentaries. 1, 2, 3

Rather than merely replicate these narratives, however, I wanted to inverse a number of the tropes that are found in these gangster films/reality to depict a gang that is crypto-socialist, truly consensual work relations rather than that which is strictly primitive-capitalist and based on force.
Now presuming that you’re familiar with the above listed movies, so I don’t have to cite each, here are some of those narrative tropes that I mentioned/inverted.
1. The leader of a group got due to his ruthless violence or a chance encounter with a plug rather than his intellect.
2. The leader of the group stays in power based upon loyalty out of fear and not of love (unless relations are also familial).
3. The capture of power foreshadows similar machinations on the part of someone else within the organization that similarly wants to take over.
4. Wealth created from the criminal venture predominantly accumulates in the hands of those at the top.
5. This wealth created goes primarily towards the administrator’s consumption, which leads to organizational degeneration in some fashion.
6. Money spent is primarily upon luxury goods that are flaunted.
7. This leads to general envy/viewing the criminal enterprise as the best provider for income and entices those willing to do whatever to get it, but this makes community relations poor.
Making an analogy to larger institutions of political economy, as I would like my readers to so, I can say in short hand that the typically depicted criminal association is more akin to an absolute monarchy.
This passage shows Happy’s organization is significantly different and touches upon a number of the problems that will be delved into later in the chapter. Specifically what is the Project; the impact that the investigation into Officer Daniels illegal dealings; who the other person is that Happy is getting information from in the police department; their relationship to the Zoe Pounds; the possibility that some conflict might transpire should a power vacuum be created from several Zoe Pounds members finding themselves arraigned; who are these important people in Atlanta that requires Happy to have to meet them in person, etc.
I’ve still got a lot to write about for this chapter to near completion – but I hope this explanation of a portion of my project and the small section of the chapter convinces you that my serial novel project is worth getting into and you buy Book 1 of Unraveling!

Review of “How to Leave Hialeah”

I decided to pick up How to Leave Hialeah by Jennine Capó Crucet after reading her being interviewed in New Times. Since I’ve been on a run of reading contemporary authors from Florida and since she attended the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop it seemed a no-brainer. How to Leave Hialeah is a collection of thirteen short stories all set in the greater Miami Metro area that all focus on different aspects of the Cuban-American perspective.

My favorite of the collection was And in the Morning, Work. In this story a Cuban young woman, Marielena, who still lives in Cuba, has recently graduated college. She is trained to be a librarian but is unable to obtain employment in a Havana library after graduation, so she ends up taking a position as a reader for a group of cigar rollers in Pinar del Rio. When exactly this is taken place is not mentioned, however what is clear is that it during a period of economic stagnation. The plot then develops by illustrating the tension stemming from the age and class divide between this young would be city librarian and the cigar rollers. This is shown via her quest to find appropriately compelling reading material and in the attention she is given by one of the older men there. She not only has a limited selection from which to choose, but she must also find something that is not something that they’ve heard many times before. In this she foregoes Martí and other authors that she must read from a Spanish tabloid. This exasperates her itself, and when an old man starts to walk and talk with her on the way home about books, she seems to get even more upset.

This conflict over taste is, to me, indicative of something that’s really interesting. How so? Well, many of the books that Marielena possesses are from relatives who have had them shipped over from the States. As they are “the classics” they were allowed to be delivered. She prefers these works, however the cigar workers do not. The perceived divide by Marielena between her, the intellectual, and those that are assembling cigars is clear. This conflict over taste and the deeper implications that it could have on historical and class consciousness in changing times, however, is glosses over and instead Crucet focuses on relative deprivation and the young girl’s concern that the viejito is attempting to be romantic with her. Given the culture of machismo it’s not unlikely that a man older than her father would come on to her, however it’s also clear that he’s simply trying to be welcoming and help lower her high expectations of what work would be like after college.
The perception of flirtation by Marielena soon vanishes as she comes to realize that he is merely expressing solidarity with her. In the close of the story the old man visits Marielena. A chicken that she was hiding from the Committee in the Defense of the Revolution inadvertently escapes from her room. Noticing that there are neighbors who see this, the viejo states that she should just let it go and they should both walk away not looking at it so that someone doesn’t question them.

Now I find this story interesting for a few reasons. For one the lack of specific time markers as to when this is occurring. Before or after Marielitos? The collapse of the USSR? The only thing that we really know is that this is after “the first years of the revolution”. This seems to me to indicate that the author is not actually that familiar with Cuban history and, like many gusanos, simply views Cuba as some cite of unchanging, ahistorical “injustice against people’s dignity because of a despot” transpires.

The second thing that I find interesting is her choice of cigar assembly facility, arguably Cuba’s most widely known export product, as the site for this sort of ideological conflict. I say this because I believe it was in David Montgomery’s The Fall of the House of Labor that I first learned about the conditions of cigar workers. There I read a quote from Samuel Gomper’s about how his early life working as a cigar roller helped him come to a trade-unionist perspective. Starting at age ten he worked in such a shop and people took turns reading from books and engaging in debates on news of the day. In this regard, by making the workers only able to recite selections of poetry that’s state-sponsored and thus “must be known and liked” and liking tabloid news and Che’s Motorcycle Diaries it seems to me that Crucet is likely misrepresenting what it is like there for the purpose of showing that these people repress the knowledge of their own oppression. While I think that this is her most powerful piece in the collection – it does suffer from these rather glaring omissions. As propaganda I think it’s successful – however as an accurate reflection of Cuban reality I question it’s felicity.

For the rest of the stories I feel like I had to really push myself to get through reading them all. I just didn’t find them all that compelling and the writing style was, to me, often times over-wrought for little payoff. The second criticism is self-explanatory so let me cover the former. While I’m sure that these anecdotes provided mid-west writing teachers and aspiring authors at the workshop lots of fodder to talk about multiculturalism, inclusivity, liberal values and whatnot, I grew up in South Florida and so what others see as “exotic” are often things that I’ve grown up with and don’t find that engaging unto itself as most of the stories seem to present themselves. I’ve lived most of my life in the orbit of the types that populate Crucet’s stories. Most of my long-term female companions have been Latinas – Cuban, Honduran, Colombian, Ecuadorian y Boriqua – so the issues and idiosyncrasies of protagonists, their friends and families didn’t catch me as unusual. For instance the closing line of the first story in the collection, Resurrection, is as follows: “And you, you keep watching her, hardly believing that people like this exist.” You read that after reading about a wild and somewhat weird party girl. My reaction was not, however, disbelief but to nod my head and think to myself Yes I do believe she exists as I have known party girls significantly wilder and weirder than her. The concerns over tradition and class shown in Noche Buena were, to me, more of a reminder of frustrating family drama than insightful narrative and perspective Cuban values and customs. Perhaps someone unfamiliar with Miami might find these sorts of tales to be engaging – I however did not and in the end I can’t see myself suggesting that anyone read this collection.

*

You can find out more about Jennine Capó Crucet by visiting her website or her Twitter.

In Memory of Matt Mahady

Matt MahadyA good friend of mine, Matt Mahady (1972-2016), recently died of a heart attack in Hodinin, Czech Republic. Upon hearing the news I was immediately shocked. I found it hard to find succor talking to anyone that didn’t know him and over the next three days I intermittently broke down crying.

I first met Matt when I was 16. I’d driven from Jupiter with my then girlfriend Niina Pollari at a poetry slam in downtown West Palm Beach held at the Underground Coffeehouse. Though we were younger by some eight to ten years, Niina and I were welcomed warmly and all quickly became friends with a number of the talented performers as well as competitors on the poetry slam circuit. After Underground closed down, we’d meet in Delray where the estimable Marya now hosted the event.

The teenager years are a formative and heady time for everyone. It’s when we start to assert ourselves, to push our boundaries to find out what is acceptable, what causes aches, what brings us satisfaction. It’s when we start developing our taste for culture. Long an avid reader, my early development oriented towards les Belles-lettres. Before, after and in between performance poetry rounds, we’d discuss literature, artistic performance and politics. The youngest male in the group, Matt and Andrew seemed to take me under their wings. Andrew encouraged me to broaden my teenage radicalism, then under the influence of Crimethinc, and would even later be my professor in a Riots to Revolutions sociology class at FAU. Matt praised me for my taste for classic literature and introduced me to the Beats and their ilk. After a long yet thrilling discourse on the themes, motifs and values of them I asked him who was the person of this group that I should read. Bukowski, he said. Over a several month period after he’d suggested I read The Last Night of the Earth Poems I devoured all of the works that were available at the Books-A-Million I worked at as well as a few from the nearby Barnes and Nobles. My appreciation for Bukowski has since grown more complicated than the fawning amazement that I felt when reading his work at that age and it was made all the more so being able to talk to such a clearly talented singer, musician and poet while chain-smoking cigarettes on the couches outside DaDa.

Over the years we became closer friends. After I moved back from Orlando from an academically disappointing freshman year of college at UCF, we would hang out for drinks at places in Lake Worth that didn’t card, kick it at Boca Raton open mics, meet up for protests outside Burger Kings across the tri-county area to help the C.I.W. workers gain more attention for their protests in aims to achieving a living wage. Into my last year of college I started to find the allure of slam poetry less pulling. I became more cynical about the competitive nature of the event and found that the restrictions I’d once found no issue with more problematic. I’d once read and believed a certain quote by Shelley, the person after which I was named, which said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Attune to the turns of history and armed with greater perspective I simply didn’t feel that way anymore. It didn’t stop me from writing or taking long treks to see my idols such as Saul Williams and Taylor Mali, but I lost the passion for it that Matt exuded.

Once I moved to Fort Lauderdale for work Matt and I, let alone the rest of the Slamily, didn’t see each other as much. We would still made the effort to meet up for New Years or other occasional get togethers though. Be at Havana Hideout or some other local dive, I still loved to see him sing, play music and talk over intoxicants. As I still felt passionately committed about politics, I even invited the C.I.W. that Matt had introduced me to to speak there.

Matt always had his demons that would sometimes lead him to a poor state, but once he was talking about his passions – literature and politics – he would light up. That light, however, left him after his son Sage killed himself. I visited him a few times after this and found trying to bring him up from this wreckage impossible. Not only is consoling someone for such a loss a Herculean task, at that time I was going through what was at the time the most traumatic experience of my life – the separation of my fiancé and I. So low myself, I certainly didn’t have the fortitude to preach hope and promise a closure that may never come. One night though I remember that we emptied a twelver at the Lake Worth Gold Course than continued to walk and talk about women, art and everything else until the sun came up on Bryant Park. We stumbled to his home and crashed. Even though I’d heard some news from him that night that hurt me a little, I felt a little less alone and a little better. Matt never told me if he did as well, but I’d like to think that he did. I left for NYU shortly after this and he left for a brief period out West before then going to Czech Republic.

Matt and I exchanged emails from time to time, but I’m notoriously bad at keeping up friendships when someone isn’t within distance of a two hours drive. He’d ask me if I was still dealing poorly after my breakup. I’d lie and said I wasn’t. I’d ask him how Czech was, and he’d start paeans to it. Knowing my wanderlust and love of Prague, he encouraged me to come out and move to Czech. I’d tell him I’d think about it, which was true, but I never did anything. Shortly before I graduated he’d asked me to review a funding proposal for a NGO in the Czech Republic that helped Roma-people. Given his previous work with the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth, this was so Matt. I was ecstatic. Him asking for my thoughts on such a matter made me feel as if I’d achieved something, like I’d finally come of age. It so lifted me that I later sent him the first draft of my novel. Had he praised it it would have been enough, but that he was working on something similar made me feel even better.

The last time that I met Matt was shortly after my divorce had been finalized. He’d come back to the States due to issues with his Czech Visa and we made plans to go to one of our old haunts, Havana Hideout, to catch up over some beers. The time before I’d seen him in person he’d been in one of his down states. Now, well, this was a different person. He’d put on some weight, but considering how he looked when last I saw him this was a good thing.  As he narrated the drama of being placed in custody and dealing with immigration agents he spoke with greater peace and equanimity about such a stressful and unnerving experience than I had ever seen him before. He even cracked jokes about he had formed a bond with one of the guards there by using the Czech word for comrade. He spoke at length of adoring love for his current partner and recanted his once rakish attitude towards women from when he’d worshipped at the altar of Bukowski. I felt almost as if i didn’t know who I was sitting next to but nevertheless I was happy as he looked so genuinely happy. I asked him the cause for this and he told me that recently had found Jesus. Not the Jesus of the conservatives, he was quick to say, but the Jesus of Liberation Theology. Matt always had a special place in his heart for Latin America, so that he’d made such a turn towards a perspective akin to Óscar Romero I wasn’t that surprised.

Knowing that I’d just come from two years of Marxian studies at NYU, he seemed to pause to see if I would pounce on him for such a position. When I didn’t he seemed relieved. I didn’t say so out of deference to a formative influence or just to be convivial, but as the issues I’d been dealing with around my divorce made me feel less militant, more fragile, more open to the perspective that people don’t always know what is best for them and that there are certain anxieties and humans needs that radical politics can’t always adequately address. We both found affinity on the idea that that which leads to love, real transformative love, is worth valuing and holding on to. I shared in detail my own pains, which I’d kept largely to myself out of fear of being ridiculed and he reflected back nothing but compassion and understanding. This openness led him to share with me how for years he had blamed himself for his son’s death and how this feeling of responsibility had weighted on him – and I’m quoting him as I remember it vividly – like an albatross that didn’t just weight him down but took him places he didn’t really want to go. He said his perspective was once such that if he wasn’t feeling the pain of Sage’s loss than he was somehow dishonoring his memory and not being true to how a father’s love show be. Now, however, he realized how ridiculous this was. Now, he said, he was able to forgive himself for those behaviors that he’d once hypnotized himself into believing had caused such an inscrutable act.

Over the six hours we spent that day chatting it up I feel that almost half of it was on love. Love for our partners. Love for people. And perhaps most importantly, as it is the foundations of all other, love for oneself. I left him back where he was staying feeling lifted not only for having such a great discourse, but also for seeing someone I care about that had long had demons raging inside him look as if they were all exorcised. His aura gave off blue tinge in my rearview window as I drove off.

There’s so much more I’d like to say, so much more that he deserves to be said in his memory, but right now I’m still reeling from his sudden death. In closing I’ll just state that I’m sharing below a small number of his poems as I feel it would be a shame to lose them to posterity only in the form of a few pieces of folded and stapled together chapbook parchment in his family and friend’s bookshelves. Plus, I believe, that giving them out would appeal to his pinko sympathies. I hope that even lacking his unique voice and delivery someone else can see a small spark of his tremendous energy and talent in them. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Love Poem to a Feminist

Not
An ode to privledged white women
Toting books by bell hooks
Alongside the mirrors and cellphones
In their pocketbooks
Not
An ode to Victorian-era prudes
Tired as Qualudes
Wearing their superior attitudes
Like nun’s habits and collars of starch
Demanding Vegan food on the farmworker march
Love poem to a feminist
Who did not concern herself
With chastising guys
Who use the word guy
Collectively
She never sat at a poetry slam
With a politically correct barometer
Ready stick her dogmatic thermometer
Up the ass of anyone who failed to pass
Her litmus test of acceptable art
Oh,
And she wasn’t no gringo
All bent out of shape
By mi vatos’ street lingo
No
She lived a life of quiet valor
In the bantustans of Palestine
Her hands were dirty
But her heart was clean
A flower in the wasteland
A butterfly in the latrine
Rising like the dawn
A smoulering Phoenix
Spreading wings of kerosene
From the corner of Florence and Normandy
To the refugee camps of Jenin
In the winter of our content
The trough of our desire
In the valley of our despair
In the line of fire
Wafa Ali Idris
Age 25
Had been active as an ambulance volunteer
In the first Intefada
No Feng Shui
No Birkenstocks
She nursed children who through rocks
At tanks and armoured ranks
She dressed wounds under bandages
Covering the empty sockets
Of young boys eyes
Cradled the raw, rank hamburger shanks
Of their shrapnel flayed thighs
Cries and whispers
Whimpers and cries
High pitched screams
Forever dancing in her dreams
Like a settler on the warpath
Bloodthirsty for a bloodbath
Until
One day
She decides
To put the keening to rest
Kneels before God
Straps a bomb to her chest
Jaffa Road marketplace
Jerusalem West
101 hornets stung in their own hornets nest
May she rest in peace
Eternally blessed
In the breast of Jah Almighty
Mighty as Aphrodyte
Wafa
I wrote this poem for you
And Wafa
Your mother is proud of you
Outside your door
It is written
In green paint
That drips fresh
As your martyred blood:
Any people whose women fight
Will be victorious.

No Man is a Villain in His Own Heart

No man is a villain in his own heart…
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Napoleon Bonaparte
No man is a villain in his own heart
Not the slave auctioneer tugging on his ear tearing families apart
Not the child molester in blue polyester stalking the toy aisles of your local K-Mart
No man is a villain in his own heart
Idi Amin wiping his plate clean with an ala carte order of severed genitalia
Washing it down with a shot of Gevalia lie-cure
He thought he was pure
As the virgin Madonna
Feeling his ginsana
As his teeth ripped human flesh like an Amazonian piranha
No man is a villain in his own mind
No blue-eyed devil
Who just got his shoes shined
Will recognize that his immortal soul kind
Of resembles the dried-up twist of lemon rind
He left behind
In a cocktail napkin lined with creases
An unsigned thesis of dread
Whose impossible Braille won’t even be read
By the living dead legions of overfed marionettes
Who rise from nether regions of nightmare and cold sweats
Shellshocked as ‘Nam vets
They lurch and wind
Trying to pass themselves off as humankind
Perpetually blind to the idolatry that has defined
The world that’s been designed
By and for them
Million dollar half-a-men
Making massacres like Tienanmen
No man is a villain in his own bones
The Israeli soldier who listens to the tones
Of techno music through his Sony headphones
As his semi-automatic sput-sput-sputters and groans
As he shoots upon children for throwing stones
At the Ariel Capone’s of occupation
No nation is a villain in its own black soul
Even if that nation’s C.I.A. payroll
Includes thugs that fuck nuns up their bleeding assholes
And hang pregnant women from telephone poles
And blast holes in the terrain
Of every Tarzan and Jane
Who refuse to clear the lane
For the Amtrak train
Of empire

No nation is a villain in its own eyes
Regardless of whether they trouble the skies
Of dirt farmers with B-52 bombers
And churn out Jeffrey Dammer ghouls
From torture schools
Like the S.O.A.
In Ft. Benning, G-A
Where grads learn to burn gonads
And strip fingernail pads
Out among the hush of lush, tall Georgia pine

No man is a villain in his own spine
A bitter grudge against my lover
That burns us both like strychnine
Benign neglect, cause and effect
She lies withering on the vine
She’s given her heart
But I won’t give her mine
She lies weeping on my bed; A.M., 2:09
As I fill up this page
Word by word, line by line
Then reach to refill my empty glass of red wine
No man is a villain in his own spine

There’s a Fascist at the Table

There’s a fascist at the table
Down at my local pub
Gunpowder grey irises
Nose like a .38 snub
No hair on his bullet head
Steel toes in his shoe
He’s a friendly enough fellow
If your skin is the proper hue
There’s a fascist at the table
That aint nothing new
Eating pickled hermelin
Slugging down his brew
Getting all nostalgic
For 1932
When they roamed the streets like wild beasts
The golden dawn of their ancient Greece
There’s a fascist at the table
When the skinheads come to town
Say what you want about the old days here
But THIS would have NEVER been tolerated
Government wringing their hands as to what the right approach is
There is only one way to deal with fucking cock-a-roaches
The police should have cracked open their heads in the streets of České Budějovice
And painted red the cobblestones of its every charming, quaint ulice
To let them know: Ne vice!
Send them to the nemocnice
with punctures in their plice
or back to they vesnice
In pine wood krabice nebo boxes
Because these vermin are led by wolves and foxes
Who will eat us alive
If we allow them to thrive
There’s a fascist at the table
When the brownshirts of Ostrava march
Some fat old oligarch
Planning programs of pogrom
Stirring hate up like napalm
Like Americans in Vietnam
On-line at genocide.com
Trafficking in fear
A fearsome puppeteer
Manipulating marionettes to murder
And you should have heard her
anguished wail
When none of those Nazi’s
went to jail
That put her teen boy into a coma
He was guilty of being Roma
Simple as that
You know,
Sometimes they even put you in an oven for that
There’s a fascist at the table
Of the Board of Directors meeting
There’s a fascist at the table
Reserved for Parliamentary seating
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are carving up the spoils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are stealing native soils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they kill to drill for ore
There’s a fascist at the table
Every time there is a war
There’s a fascist at the table
But he’s been here before
Last time he left on a stretcher
I’m surprised he came back for more
There’s a fascist at the table
Chesko,
Slovensko,
Lasko,
Pozor

Song with Andrew Procyk

(Fugitive/Militant) in a foreign land
Rusty old (kalashnikov/machete gleamin’) in my hand
it doesn’t really matter if you understand
your hourglass has run
out of sand
You strike the coal till you make it hard
hoeing rows of cane on the boulevard
honing hatred sharp as a diamond shard
make the government call out the national guard
(Chorus)

This one was born in zion
all my fountains are in you
this one was born in zion
ain’t no ape inside your zoo
Deliver us from the minions of debauched inequity
from the bloody rack and pinions of hit and run hypocrisy
beneath the cruel steamrollers of asphalt bureaucracy
that pave over the butcher shops where they commit democracy
(Chorus)

On the Nod

A six-foot tall beetle
With a darkly iridescent carapace
And chili pepper eyes
Scythe arms snipping at the air like half-scissors
Disconnected
As the scene that came before it
The scene that now returns
A sugar cane field burning on a moonless night
Flames reflected off the flat black face
Of a pond standing still
At the foot of a kudzu covered hill
Two hours ago I crushed up a little round pill
Whisper softly now whisper softly now
God lives underwater
Where the rocks are smooth
And anemones groove
To the oldest music of all
As my eyes open to abstractions
As I understand new
Words
Worlds
As my at-least-for-now lady ages gracefully
As we attempt to de-fang the venom between us
Before our watery love turns wooden
But love forsakes us all
We’re better off studying horseplayer odds
Than we are trying to figure the algebra’s of feminine deception
Let X = a red dress that hangs in some forgotten closet
While we drink green beer in bleak neighborhood bars
Claiming to have learned something from the experience
Claiming to have learned ourselves a lesson
As if there is meaning in the dandelion copulations we attempt
As the wind blows us onward
As if there is meaning in the ticking of the clock
Meaning is a senseless koan
We are born we live we die along
Meantime
Lovers lose lovers in the whirlpool swirl
They sleep they dream and the fog disperses
Into the vaginal void of dawn who spreads her legs
Until sunshine emanates from her starry womb
I’m on the nod
Like a narcoleptic
Trembling with epileptic seizures of holy spirit
The truth will make you sick
In sickness there is wisdom
On the nod
Like Chapiquidick bridge
Brainwaves droning like a didge
In an aboriginal forest
A bird of paradise beating like a heart in my chest
Pinballs bounce the bone white walls of my skullcap
My brain is a train following a treasure map
Mirrorball shattering
In the lair of neon tarantulas
Who scuttle in
Grinding teeth
That shine platinum
In the black light
I’m rubbing my eyes
My balls itch
When my eyelids close
Chinese kites
Sacred rites
Arctic dragons breathing ice instead of fire
Lions on the veldt
Escher print wallpaper
On the inside of a ginger bread house
With silver ovens fired up
Hotter than the McVeigh death chamber
Melting oil-on-canvas representations of
Streetcorners half-painted
With cytoplasmic splatters
Pollockesque
In their density
Immensity
Intensity
“Everybody’s looking for something”
Hunters killers prostitutes priests
Bent lonely men casting nets off the pier
Palsied and sere
Septuagenarians shaking bony fingers at phantoms
As the roominghouse walls close in
Enfeebled toothless pigeon feeders
Roaming the park after dark
Sipping malt liquor beers
Flophouse King Lear’s
Drowning in tragedy
Delivering Slurpee cup soliloquies
In the parking lot of the local 7-11
As the sun sets its flaming eye
In some pocket of the sky
Where hypodermic fingertips
Lash the mainline
To heaven.

Africa

Africa
My father and my mother
Africa
I miss you like a lover
Like a best friend who died
Africa
I carry your soil inside the treads of my old blue sneakers
Pantsula for life
Still blasts out the speakers
Of my old hi-fi
Making me wonder why
I ever left the Icarus height
Of that lush mountain crest
Where we took our rest
After scaling sheer rockfaces
Traversing musk soaked places
Where baboons nest
In the breast of Azania
Africa
The anarchy and mayhem of your chaotic frontier
Rushes my ear
Like a rampaging river in flood
(Roasted miele baskets floating atop a human sea)
Africa
The bean counters of the West
Are overcome with detest
Seems your wars of liberation from colonization
Caused a currency fluctuation
That ruined their vacation
Ox-driven carts slow the path to Pretoria
Elephants block traffic in the middle of the road
Your hyenas remind them of their wives back home
The corporate engine won’t start
The cogs too black, too strong, too proud, too smart
Your bushveld too wild for Wal-Mart
Africa
The night we spent north of Louis Tricart
Sitting in a makeshift shebeen
At the edge of a clapboard encampment
Under stars, beside fire
Trading tribal scars for Irish bullshit
Toasting Nelson Mandela with milk carton beers
Africa
Pondering the vastness of your sheltering sky
Watching crocodiles congress over buffalo pie
Africa
Mud huts where tan skins are left out to dry
Cloud the crowded peripheries of my mind’s eye
As sunflower fields whistle by
Like the ululating cry
Of the Coptic Christain guy
Who flagged us down
With the ecstatic panic
Of a rescued castaway
On a military road so remote
It still bore the tank tracks that created it
Except where the root marks of marula fruit trees
Had obliterated it
Africa
How far did he get down that cruel clay road
With the gas we let him siphon?
Does his sweat still bead grainy patinas of pomegrante sweat
Across the blue-black skin of his forehead?
Does the gleaming silver star of his faith still dangle
From its teardrop green lapel
Adorning his breast
Like a medallion of war?
Africa
I wonder
Is your moon swole full tonight?
Africa
You infected me
Like a malarial mosquito bite
When you cradled me in the mystic twilight
Of your ancestors
The freedom songs of your protestors
Steel me for the fight
As I write what I like like Biko
Aint gonna turn the other cheek no
When we march through these streets like Soweto…uh!
Africa
Things have not been right
Since I left Jo-burg airport
On the ill-fated flight
Back to American stagnation
With the taste of the Southern Cross
Mixed with peri-peri sauce
Still lingering
In the mouth
Of my soul.

There is no word

Once you told me this:
“There is no word
For romantic love
In my language.”
It’s been about six years since you left me
On a prayer rug in a fallout shelter
Somewhere East of East Orange, New Jersey
Where greasy-fingered Ginsburg grandmas
Tug their kerchiefs against the cold
Trudging down stairways of gun metal gray
In the shadow of burned out factories
I can still remember your atomic eyes
The air raid sirens and the flaking swelter
Of flesh singed to the bone
To the bone
To the bone
There is a part of you I have always known
And will carry with me wherever
“I am stretched on your grave
And will lie there forever
If your hands were in mine
I am sure we’d not sever”
Anyway, whatever
I get carried away
What can I say?
You know life goes on
Passion and turblulence,
Struggle and solitude,
Love and art
New poems,
New vices
And a new shiv in my heart
I aint trying to pull your fire alarm again
I know our time has passed
Rounded and up and gassed
Like a Warsaw ghetto
We cannot recreate
Those deer in the meadow
That approached us at the sluice
We cannot repaint the hues
Of terraced indigo
That surrounded everything
With a dreamtime glow
Through the whole Spring and Summer of 1995
In that West Paterson attic
Where our love lived and died
Where we once defied
All gravity
Our want like a cavity
That could not be filled
No matter how much we drilled
It was magic and tragic
Beginning to end
My Guajarati Ophelia
Madness did descend
And you drowned in a wreath of violets
While all the Pontius Pilates
Washed their hands as they sank you
I was still a child then
I could not yank you
From the bonds of Hindu tradition
Now that I’m a man
I just want to say thank you
For the cosmic transmission
Of the purest love I will ever know
For the home that you provided when I had nowhere to go
For the clean way you decided to disengage and let go
For the smell of sandalwood and jasmine
On your skin and in your clothes
For the mendhi ink in between your regal toes
For the ring that you wear in your sacred nose
I’ll get down on my knees and propose
If I ever find half the woman you are
All I found is Delilah’s so far
Lying to your face as they strum your guitar
Then they talk about devotion
I am drowning in an ocean of deceit
But once I kissed the sandled feet
Of a Goddess.

Letter to my son, five years gone

Hey champ

what’s the news in your dimension?
I got an invitation to write about you the other day
from an old Gainesville friend
he knew you when you were a little baby
when me you and your mom
were living in married housing
scraping by on Pell Grant money
and my part time job as a windowman
staying together because we loved you
even more than we hated each other
and that’s saying something
(some day I would’ve told you the stories
suffice to say
we were children, so we acted like children)

anyway
this invitation
it shook my foundations
upset my equilibrium
like stirring up an iron pot of steaming gumbo
and the liquid boils over and burns your fucking fingers
but in the process
you move what needs to be moved
from the depths to the surface
first I was disturbed
and then I just put it on the back burner
the way I put you on the back burner
to survive
not so much your memory
but rather the memory of your death
the horror
of you blowing your fucking brains out
on your mom and stepdads bed
while they were at the gym
and I was trying to call you
not that I blame you
you were in pain and
this world is bullshit
you were just a brave boy who knew too much too soon
so don’t think I’m not proud of you
I always was
and this didn’t change that
one iota

Whenever I wonder why
you did what you did
I remember how
sensitive you were
a child without skin
this world
this scheme of things as they call it
the set up of this reality
would have only gotten more and more and more
excruciating and unbearable
for you
as time went on

and there aint no pill for that, lad
believe me, I’ve tried them all
this is just to say:
I know how tiresome it all seemed to you
I know how much you suffered
scratch that, mini-me
Truth is
I knew but I did not know
If I had had any real idea
little man
I would’ve done…
what?
I would’ve done something
Shit
I knew you were a moody kid
but I didn’t think the fault lines ran so deep

your mother loved you
your father loved you
your stepfather loved you
she was responsible
I was bohemian
you got order and you got wonder

it was the best, I thought, of both worlds
you had grandparents, friends, cool clothes and a PS2
you had all the material things I never had
you were cool
which at your age
I never was
part of me can’t figure it out
but the part of me that knows you knows
it’s that same part of me that knows that
even though I was not guilty of your death
that’s not quite the same as being innocent
you know I was going through some shit back then
so I wasn’t there for you
in the way that I normally was
in the way that you needed me to be
I know I disappointed you more than once
over those last 6 months
and so really I blame myself
for what happened
the bottom line is:
it was my job to protect you
to keep you safe
and I failed

the only thing I ever cared about in life
more than my writing
was being a good father to you
was I a good father to you?
You’ll have to answer that question
you’re the only one who can
my opinion?
I suppose,
yes, I was
most of the time
but not when it counted

anyway
we’ve been over all this before
the point of doing it all again
is that now I’m going to put it in a public forum
and label it poetry

I’ve been wrestling with the ethics of this
ever since I realized I was going to do it
usually when I write about you
I only show it to a handful of people
and the idea behind this
is that you are sacred
and therefore exempt
from exploitation

every other experience in my life
from painful break-ups to career implosions to random daily catastrophe
I think to myself
“hey,
at least I can get a good poem out of this”
I never wanted you to fall into that category
you are too important
you meant too much
I didn’t want to pimp your memory
in this one thing
in this one lousy fucking thing
I wanted to not be a whore

on the other hand
I’m compelled to share with the world how fucking special you were
You were a unique and magical lifeform
Who touched everyone you touched
I was blessed by the gift of being your father
I’d hate to let anyone forget
you were the apex of my existence
(my raison d etre
if you’ll allow me to be a douchebag
about it)

“thought of you as my mounaintop
thought of you as my peak
thought of you as everything
I had but couldn’t keep”

And no one’s ever seen me weep for you
but I weep for you
for a year after you died
I’d squeeze the syringe and pray
“God please kill me….
God,
please kill me.”

The grief was water
It swamped my oars
Until I washed up on the shores
of strange and beautiful Moravia

Wish you were here, boy
We would have had a real good time

An Ode to Blindness

And crows refracted wingtips
Clutching field mice in their claws
As she walked through tangerine gardens
Parting arabesques of mist

And snakes wriggled into abstractions
Shutting their velvet eyelids
As she walked through tall grass and out again
Twisting her hair into minarets

And trees dreamed up new cubisms
Bearing brilliant deformities on citrus sleeves
As she walked through skies gone liquid
Swallowing watercolors that lay drying

And husks of dead scorpions trembled
Splitting forth a curious chrysalis
As she walked through my front door
The sun flaring up in her eyes.

Thinking of my dead

September 11th
Always makes me think about the firemen
Who rushed into the towers
Knowing they were pretty much going to die

Then I think about my brother
Who is a fireman
Hope he is safe
And wish we lived closer

After that
Inevitably
I am thinking
Of my dead

My sweet, overtender but bad-assed little child,
The love of my life
Who put a Glock to his temple and squeezed the trigger
The night before Christmas Eve at the age of 14 ½

My grandmother who worker hers

My grandmother who worked herself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked himself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked in the coalmines and left 2 tips of
his fingers behind at the World Trade Center construction site
My grandmother who came over from Ireland on a refugee boat

The refugee boy who washed up on the beach
Young Trayvon, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland
Victor Jara, Emmett Till, Bobby Hutton, Bobby Sands
All my campesino brothers and sisters who died in the torture
cells, were thrown out of helicopters, whose exposure and thirst-
bloated corpses line the frontera

I am thinking of my dead and I am weeping as I type these
words
I’m thinking of my dead and the best ways to do right by them
That is all