Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Douglas Kearney on "Thank You But Don't Buy My Babies Clothes with Monkeys on Them"

MONKEYS! Tried and tried but the monkey got in. On a bib slung over the booster seat where it beep-beeps toward me in a car with a city in the background. The monkey leans out the window, waving, his tail curled like a question mark. Asking me what? Curious George matching cards are scattered, loose tiles on our ceramic floor. Match the monkey to the monkey. No, the monkey doesn’t match the little girl. No, the monkey doesn’t match the little boy.

But the monkey goes with kids, say the clothes and bibs, the high chairs and toys. This marketplace monkey is an adorable almost-person, a hairy little mirror, often brown. As Sianne Ngai says of the aesthetic category “cute”, it performs a harmlessness yet infantilizes itself and the onlooker. Cuh-yoot.

Monkeys go guerrilla though! Martial monkeys. Cuh-yoot? The lady with the pet chimp? Ate her face off! And Caesar? Filthy handed, dirty ape’ded. King Kong? A century of snatching up white women and ruining the city. They wreck everything those irate primates.

The marketplace and martial monkeys intersect to generate the negro as monkey image, the racist representation that rides shotgun in a poem driven by a father worried about his children, their bodies and their selfhoods. Drives a poem called “Thank You But    Don’t Buy My Babies Clothes with Monkeys on Them” from its sonnet like start; through its anxious hear-no/see-no/speak-no; its historically-traumatized perseverations; its overwhelmed terror; to its shell-shocked calm.

Why does it drive to these places? Because in order to enact the fear I have I have to try to present the complex ambivalent cultural (political) components that aid and abet the fear. Beyond presenting them, my desire to work through (as in both via proxy and vain hope to resolve) the staged predicaments requires different coping strategies, disguised here as a poetics. Or is that the other way ‘round? Bananas.

And just to show I ain’t paranoid, that I’m not imagining things, Mary Gustoff, CEO of Brasskey Keepsakes shows up poem-side to hie off “Lil Monkey,” a black doll sold at Costco until those irate protestors wrecked everything. A reverse Elizabeth Eckford moment? Also bananas.

The child(ren) in danger. A particular terror for the parent(s). The black child(ren) in danger? The terror is enhanced by racism’s ability to turn children into adults and adults into children into monkeys into gorillas. There is a moment coming when my toddler twins, cuh-yoot now, will become, to a spectator, monsters. Kongs. Their monstrosity may be argued on TV by GROWN UPS with considerable resources marshaled to confirm it. It has nothing to do with who my children are. Nothing. And NOTHING. It has everything to do with what that nice lady remarking on my daughter’s eyelashes (how they curl!) might feel some Tuesday in twelve years. What some guy with a gun decides about my son. Ask Trayvon’s parents, Emmet’s, Elizabeth’s, Latasha’s. Who cries over a dead monkey? Who listens to a living one? How do you write about your children (personal) when their innocence can be easily rendered immaterial (political) by the culture they live in?

To see the personal in its continuity with the political is to see the infrastructure of our social interaction, the social interactions that lead to the “private” lyrical moment. In other words, it’s to “see.” The introspective is in the mind, in the individual who is in the society. Run! Try! But the poem you write and post on that site, in that journal, in that book is a part of the exchange. The political.

This poem makes no effort to separate the political from the personal. Because hearing no/seeing no/speaking no evil (I know, bananas!) is no charm, no way toward transcending them, just a deafness, blindness, muteness. Why be senseless as the racism? Well, it could make it easier for my wife and me to buy sock monkeys at Costco. “Yoo-hoo-oo. I wanna be like. . . ."