After Ken Workman
When someone asks me for my papers,
I think of land acknowledgements.
Ken says, You know him as Chief Seattle.
I know him as grandpa. It’s important that
when you’re here, on this land,
you know where you are. A man
named Lee invented the Southern
strategy; now it’s gone digital. Ready or not.
Don’t make people perform their pain.
My name tells you my father’s name,
his father’s, his, and so on. Yet
no heads nod. Aphorizing again, the keynote
says solidarity is a verb—a nation solidarities
its aim solid. The game: geographic realignment.
Miami-Dade. Dekalb. King. We could win
where we play the hardest. Center base. Power
forward. Running back. I’ve never lived
in the South, yet I know generous people.
We live in Puyallup, the woman in the video says,
Everyone got messed up bumpers but the cop
pulled me over. You know why. All of this is just
an excuse to do the right thing. You know
what kind of person needs an excuse
to do the right thing. The opposition says, We
is an Us. Because there’s a them,
We should hate the government. Too
many voices at lunch. Not enough bodies.
So much quarrelling with others, sorting through
my we, I can’t make myself out—much less
who I know myself to be, what role, whose
desire to fashion. Wipe, spit and swallow.
I’m sure, here, there’s a poem. In a break
out session, they’re turning this moment
into a movement. Whereas in our movement, well…
it’s more of a campaign. So much
movement in this here conference
program. Needs-based compensation
is a radical framework
if a nation is a green non-profit.
A nation blues and reds.
We blue. Immigrants aren’t victims.
The research says what I’ve been trying to
this whole time, for years. What holds us
back is a blue mayor. The nation is a blue
bruise. I’m a nation. I’m a blue bruise.
The architecture of our politics
is a statistical representation of our nation.
Ken’s riffing now—leaned back, arm raised—
really letting it fly. If we don’t attend
to how I recuse myself from my body
or my body from this room, I will burn out:
a struck match, a midnight flare.
Someone asks why we don’t care. Young people
are so alienated and dispossessed. I live
in a place of anger so this will be challenging.
I’m so depressed. The researcher says
racial justice is more than a job—
it's culture building. Everyone
says that but someone has to mean it.
So the funders applaud, a standing
ovation. A thundering stampede
of bison hasn’t been heard in decades,
I recently learned, so the grass roots wither.
Everyone knows young folks are better
systems thinkers; we have people and ideas
but we need funding. The rainy day is now.
The only condition of the first Duwamish
treaty was unencumbered access
to their burial land. The board members nod.
They love the story of the elephants
who talk to the earth through their feet.
They want to know how low the frequency
goes. Nick, fellow member and almost-billionaire,
once warned them pitchforks are coming.
Now his shop sells pitchforks
on t-shirts and mugs. A body blues and begs,
another image of a body and another, yet
no one points to the irony. Everyone’s afraid
as if it weren’t all ending soon.
Ken says, the ground blesses our feet
more than yours because we’ve been dying
here for millennia. Die, decay, get sucked up
into the trees, exhale, repeat.
There are more words for thank you
than one person can know. I know some.
You’ve got others. When it storms, I thank
all the grandmas—my jideh and lola—bless
my lineage. It is my great honor
to stand before you and hear I’m welcome here.