“The Man Who Cried I Am!”: Celebrating Fifty Years of Life

It seems like only yesterday when I wrote this piece as I approached a milestone birthday, but it’s been nearly ten years. As I approach another milestone birthday, I am looking to complete my fourth collection of poetry, entitled, The Black Blood of Poetry.

This piece, which will be in The Black Blood of Poetry, was inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation
drop out of school
and get their education on the streets,
in the schools of hard knocks:
in group homes, reform schools, jails,
reformatories and prisons.
They dropped out of schools
that didn’t teach
The Pedagogy of the Oppressed;
schools that didn’t understand
the psyche of
The Wretched of the Earth;
schools that didn’t challenge;
schools that placed a premium
on memorization and rote
at the expense of
thoughtfulness and learning;
schools incapable
of tapping into
the creative energy of minds
that were once trained
in the greatest institutions of learning
on Mother Earth,
in Songhai, Ghana, Mali, and Timbuktu;
schools that taught
history that excluded them
and their contributions;
schools that alienated them;
schools that taught cruelty;
schools with low ceilings
and finite possibilities.

I saw the brightest boys of my generation
descend into insanity.
They were in the best high schools
the City had to offer,
but their minds
were light-years ahead of the curriculum.
We knew they were different,
their heads shaped like eggs,
but brilliant,
not of the world they were relegated.
They tutored others
in math and science,
and instead of graffiti
wrote formulas on the walls.
They were bored in lab
so conducted their own experiments,
on stray cats and dogs –
we saw their remains throughout the projects.
They flew homing pigeons
from coops on the projects’ rooftops,
sent esoteric messages
to other egg heads
throughout the City’s housing developments.
They experimented
with mind-altering drugs –
Acid, LSD, and angel dust.
They were our dark angels,
not of the world they were relegated.
They leapt off of tall buildings,
believing they could fly
like their pigeons,
and they did,
for a brief moment in time,
only to crash land on planet concrete,
their wings crushed
and their bodies broken.

I saw the best physical specimens of my generation,
the fastest, the strongest,
play three sports with effortless grace,
not become all American.
I saw them earn full scholarships
to play basketball
but drop out of school
in their freshmen year
because they refused to ride the bench
behind any of the starting five
whom they ran faster than
and jumped higher than
and shot hoops
with the accuracy of marksmen.
So, they returned to the streets,
their dreams of playing
pro basketball
dashed on the hardwood floors of colleges
eager to exploit their talent;
instead, they played in the summer leagues,
more dazzling than Earl “the Pearl” Monroe.
And when the sun set,
not only did the freaks come out –

The freaks come out at night,
The freaks come out at night

— but the gamblers
collecting their winnings
from the games,
the pimps, hustlers, con men and gang members,
the whole wide underworld.
Then their physical prowess
was put to other tests.
I saw them outrun cop cars
and motorcycles
and police dogs.
I saw them hurdle
five-foot fences
in a single bound,
leap from building to building,
with cops in hot pursuit,
and they seemed to always get away.
Before extreme sports were invented,
they were pushing their bodies
to the outer limits,
redefining the use of space.
I saw them subway surfing
and elevator surfing,
engaged in thrills that could kill.

I saw the boldest boys of my generation,
those that didn’t die young,
graduate from petty to major crimes.
It started innocently enough,
playing hooky from school,
stealing lunch from the bodega,
but gradually escalated
to shoplifting,
burglary, armed robbery,
and even murder.
From juvenile delinquents
to juvenile offenders
to youthful offenders
to adult criminals.
In the projects
they hunted the rats for sport,
with BB guns
and bow and arrows;
and it turned out
that some of the animals’ remains
I saw throughout the projects
was not the result
of the brilliant egg heads,
but evidence of their torture.
They were not only the boldest,
but also, the most alienated
of my generation.
They hated a world that hated them –
“The Hate that Hate Produced.”
They hated this world
of low ceilings
and finite possibilities.
They hated this world
that would deny them
their dreams.
Thus, they ended up
in group homes, reform schools, jails,
reformatories and prisons.
A lawyer would later tell me
that all of this was “inevitable,”
which made me think
of the Watchers,
the Watchers from behind Venetian blinds,
the projects’ old ones in the know,
septuagenarian seers,
who predicted
that many of my generation
wouldn’t amount to anything,
that we’d end up
in group homes, reform schools, jails,
reformatories and prisons,
that many of us
would not live long,
that many of us,
certainly,
would not live to see fifty years.

I saw the bravest boys of my generation
find their way out of the projects
and into Basic Training.
They knew
there was no way they could be
all they wanted to be
in projects
with low ceilings
and finite possibilities.
They went
from leaping from building to building,
from subway surfing
and elevator surfing,
to jumping out of airplanes
to fight in Granada and Panama.
They were honor guards in championship games,
those games
the best physical specimens of our generation
should’ve been playing in.
They were in the Marines,
in the Army, and Navy.
They swaggered down the streets of Spain,
ran with the bulls,
found cheap thrills in Manila
with “our little brown cousins,”
redefined what it meant
to be a Samurai in Japan,
fished in Korea
and drank beer in Germany
and convinced the frauleins
that Hitler got it wrong,
that these physical specimens
were the Master Race –
you could
take them out of the ghetto –
none of them came back to the projects.
Later, I saw them,
military erect,
at the funerals
of their parents
and their younger and older siblings,
and so many others
we grew up with
who died
in the summer of their lives
– casualties of
the wars on poverty and crime.
We looked at each other,
nodding,
acknowledging that
we are still here,
Black boys
transmuted into Black men
despite the strange alchemy
of white America,
the low ceilings
and finite possibilities
that would have been our lot
if we weren’t
the brightest,
the boldest,
the bravest
of our generation,
building on the Black philosophy,
of making a way out of no way.

In those moments we looked at each other
shared that nod of Black Brotherhood,
acknowledging that we were still here,
unbroken –
celebrating life.

October 1, 2010

About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on Amazon.com.
This entry was posted in being a teenager, Black patriotism, Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass, crime, ezwwaters, Growing Up, juveniles, Patriotism, race, raising black boys, Relationships, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, Streets of Rage, Urban Impact and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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