If there is a movie that can make you feel optimistic about the possibilities of forming community in America, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is it. In September 2004 Chappelle, an African-American stand-up comic, celebrated his $50 million contract with Comedy Central by throwing a free hip-hop party in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
He rose again. His face was black and bruised. The underground famine had gnawed its gloss. Where I have been, you could not live to tell. First, his women returned, and then his friends. They reached to press their fingers to his scar. Do not touch me, he scolded crossly, cold as Christ. Instead, they stroked the air, feeling by degree for what had changed. But new moods bloomed from his skin and from his bristle. He spit upon the ground and then he cursed. He did not walk towards the light, he walked away. And the lock-jaw mouth of the grave stayed agape, misgiving. As if it did not know: Dead does not mean dead forever.
After a while, one starts thinking in that language, dreaming in that language, as well as speaking in that language, and the behavior becomes different. —J. J. Jameson
Wind cannot change the dark, late March, when the strip of soil along my fence goes soft, ready for seed. From morning sky, a promise of heaviness. Clouds curl like smoke, cigarettes you ask for the day they fly you, bound, to Dedham. So I plant orange flowers, and yellow, whose petals trap sunlight, beacons lining the walk from garage to house. In my dream, you tell me
you have one more thing to do before you can come back: prune trees before sap rises, you say, no pain, no ooze, the firs sleep
beyond memory. From my angle of repose, do I see a branch blown upright or a hawk at rest in his hunt, moon melting layers of gold on new grass? In an orange hard hat you swing the cherry picker. The bandit raccoon crosses a network of roofs yard to yard. In the alley, the grinder lops wood into sawdust. “As long as I go to heaven, that’s all what counts”—your answer to my fear of awakening
to my heart chained to a wall. Meanwhile, the storm comes slate-grey while monarchs weave among unbloomed sunflowers.
You might expect that a movie with the teasing title The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada would deal with issues of redemption and resurrection. The film does brush up against themes of spiritual rebirth at times, but it is primarily concerned with friendship and the decision to honor the sanctity of friendship even after death.
At the first cut the earth does not thank the blade. Is it rape then?—the bite of steel, its point incalculably harder than dirt, its mark the hiss of death, the metallic taste of sorrow. And what does the earth cry, its tangle of root a living shroud rent by force? Memory longs to preserve what has already grown. The furrow is wet with tears, brown heart exposed, underworld of worms and slugs prey to birds, dreamless of deep new roots, of shade: the palm tree of Deborah, towering crown of green.
The ravaging is not yet complete. Jeremiah’s voice rages against Yahweh’s violation, at first petulant and then violent in return. It has always been so. Sixty discs slice the remaining sod, merciless, efficient: vestiges of cover criss-crossed into oblivion. Blind stalks mourn the loss of the sun, overturned into darkness, food for the coming reign. There is a quiet loss, the peace of death— stillness in the wake of wrath.
The thunder god is always the god of heaven and of death. Rain and death both bring life, black earth signifying a bed, a womb for golden seeds dropped from the mouth of the god, for a cause not one’s own. Is there a more tender bliss than the sweet swelling, the burst seed? Tendril roots uncoil, the seedling unfurls— moon-pale shoots beneath green and gold. The seed takes possession, the violated earth sings, the rich strains reach heaven.
I was, no kidding, a visiting writer in a kindergarten recently, And the children asked me many wry and hilarious questions, Among them is that your real nose? and can you write a book About a ruffed grouse, please? But the one that pops back into My mind this morning was what do poems do? Answers: swirl Leaves along sidewalks suddenly when there is no wind. Open Recalcitrant jars of honey. Be huckleberries in earliest January, When berries are only a shivering idea on a bush. Be your dad For a moment again, tall and amused and smelling like Sunday. Be the awful wheeze of a kid with the flu. Remind you of what You didn’t ever forget but only mislaid or misfiled. Be badgers, Meteor showers, falcons, prayers, sneers, mayors, confessionals. They are built to slide into you sideways. You have poetry slots Where your gills used to be, when you lived inside your mother. If you hold a poem right you can go back there. Find the handle. Take a skitter of words and speak gently to them, and you’ll see.
Patients at the Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen, Indiana, have a new way to pay for medical services. They can join Martha’s Gift program, which knits blankets for babies in the community, and receive a credit against their bill. The knitting happens in a group setting in which people joke, laugh, and share their lives. The center serves low-income people and the uninsured. It has a sliding scale payment plan, but offers community service projects as another way to pay off bills. The knitting program not only makes health care more affordable but counters the isolation that often accompanies illness (Elkhart Truth, December 31).