We Ain't Got Time...

by Orion Bradshaw 2 months ago in review

(A response to the play “Pipeline” and the poem “We Real Cool”)

We Ain't Got Time...
Statistics that reveal to us the racially inequitable and oppressive foundation of our "one nation"...

One of the last live theatre experiences I was fortunate to have, before the Pacific Northwest self-quarantine process was implemented, was Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline (2017), staged at Portland Playhouse. Not only was the play itself engaging, powerful, and a vital piece of storytelling for our time – but the poem that is interwoven throughout the script also affected me viscerally; that poem is We Real Cool (1959), by Gwendolyn Brooks.

Poster image for the Portland Playhouse production. Design by Brandon Morayo.

A mother’s hopes for her son clash with an educational system rigged against him… ~ http://dominiquemorisseau.com/pipeline/

As a nation that pridefully flouts its “Melting Pot” badge to the rest of the world with great regularity, we of the established dominant culture within these “United” States tend to conveniently and consistently forget that our forefathers brought the ancestors of our Black and African-American brethren across the vast ocean, in heavy chains, over 400 years ago – for the sole purpose of forcing them to build the infrastructure of our economy with their bare hands, their blood, their sweat, their tears, and their very lives. And those human beings, dragged into the meekness of bondage, were never meant to inherit any of it. In far too many cases, what their descendants do inherit is a place in the prison pipeline…

Compared to:

These visuals are provided by the documentary film, 13th, on Netflix. I strongly urge you to widen your gaze on our broken and horribly inequitable penal system by watching this film, if you haven’t done so already.

Meanwhile, Brooks’ We Real Cool, the poem I mentioned permeates the very fabric of Morisseau’s Pipeline, was written back in 1957; I was startled to discover this several days after seeing the play… and yet not surprised, sad to say. The system of racial inequity and white-bodied supremacy infects the very ground we stand on. Blood is hard to wash out of soil, come to find out. There is a reverberation of timelessness that echoes between the sentiments of this 60+ year-old poem and the main characters of this very contemporary play. They all share an everyday fear that, at any moment (wrong step or no), the U.S. criminal justice system will swallow them up. Or worse. “We Die Soon”, utters the final line of the poem. We the audience hear this utterance many times throughout the play, as do the play’s protagonists. It haunts them. It haunts us too, if we choose to let it into our own echo chambers. And the majority of us should.

Much like N95 masks, our country seems to be [chronically] in short supply of empathy, when it comes to perpetuated systems of racial inequity. As a descendant of slave owners, Confederate war heroes, and the first Pilgrims myself, I have been actively investigating my own (oft involuntary) role in this age-old system. Attempting to empathize with the state of fear and discomfort experienced perpetually by my BIPOC friends and brethren. This will be a lifelong process for me. Playing the long game.

I found myself co-teaching an Art class at an alternative-learning high school a couple of weeks ago, taking part in an activity assigned to the students: “create a piece of art that is in response to a work of literature.” This artistic response could be visual, written, and/or spoken aloud. I decided an empathetic exercise in prose would be my medium. Adopting one of the narrator’s voices from We Real Cool, or the voice of Omari, the adolescent male protagonist of Pipeline. What was manifested about half a month later is below. I hope you take something from it. Thank you for giving it (and me) your time…

We Ain’t Got Time

Cool is my mask.

Hiding self doubt.

Doubt inside, triggered by the out.

Side-eye’d side world.

The parts of the world

the oppressors don’t feel.

Don’t need to see.

Because they wrote the book

And didn’t teach us to read.

And this book is all ‘bout

why they win and we lose.

Our lives. Die soon.

Death. It’s in our blood.

Because you put it there.

Long ago.

In the name of God.

But not our god.

So we left. We left home.

Because you stole us from it.

Then we left school.

Because fuck you.

This proclamation is filled with

Our mis-education,

and missed opportunities

Snuffed out by textbooks washed white.

Lurking late is rebel music

Singing I won’t sleep

In the bed you made for me

Built on stolen land(s)

With the hands

Of the enslaved ones.

No, that’s not the boogeyman

Under our beds…

It’s Joe Turner come and gone

with the ghosts of our people

Screaming for justice

That will not be heard

In our lifetime…

Blind. Like the babies

Born inside the pipes

Destined for the prison house.

Straighten up and fly right

Said that King Cole?…

Say it to my face

Or get out the way

I’d rather strike first

Straight up

Before you lay your hands on me,

On me one more time

Which will be the last time.

I do not sing sin,

I sing my Truth

And even if your sin

Takes my body from me

My soul will keep my truth eternal

Pure as my first thought,

Beautiful baby emerging

From the pipeline of life

Mother knowing it’s all downhill from here

Because sin sits contagious in the eye

Of the oppressor,

A sty symbolizing a system built

By the names they’ll stumble upon

On Ancestry.com

23 and me don’t mix

Because I may not make it that far,

Which is why I started drinking early.

Thinning the bottles of gin

In Pops’ liquor cabinet

With the stale tap water

Our city thinks will keep us from dying

From drying up like raisins in the sun

Left lifeless on the lawn for four, five, six

Hours,

All dried and eaten up

by a convocation of politic worms

A colonist system

That soaked the soil in the blood

Of my forefathers, mothers, daughters, and sons.

This sun-soaked son

Has a slim chance of seeing me

Myself at 23…

So he drinks his Dad’s gin.

Thanks, Pops — ya did the best ya could.

We jazz June,

The crew and me –

But I’m the only one who loves her

Known her since we was three.

We may as well-a

Been crib-mate babies

The way we communicate

Sharing words unspoken,

A secret language

Verbal invisible ink

Only decodable by Us.

We…

We are destiny.

Destined to cut thru the bullshit

With the knife we been building

Since we was three.

Learning to speak sentences

Side by side

To trade verses of poetry

With nothing but our brains

And our locked eyes

Yeah, man…

She got me with them eyes.

Ain’t no ‘I’ in June

But when there is one day,

My God! Ima make it last.

Better make it soon

Cause the cops is watchin.

Soon. See you soon, June.

Unless I Die (too) soon.

Pool hall with Bua works

On the walls

‘Jazz Trio’, ‘The Poet’, and ‘Piano Man II’

To name a few

The pigs in blue

With side-eyes and sidearms

Just fiendin’ to bust thru

The front door

It’s unlocked, come on in!

I left my gin

And my piece

At home.

The first part is true,

Second part’s a lie…

I don’t own a gun.

I come in peace.

One piece,

So please don’t splatter my pieces

All over the walls

Because I bet

These paintings were expensive,

And because I ain’t asked June

To Prom yet… Yet.

Hey, Bro –

My phone died.

Can I borrow yours?

Cause we ain’t got much time.

***

If this article and/or my poem resonated with you, I highly encourage you to follow up with some or all of the following resources, for further learning and awareness expansion:

13th documentary: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5895028/

So You Want To Talk About Race book: http://www.ijeomaoluo.com/writing

My Grandmother’s Hands book: https://www.resmaa.com/books

1619 podcast: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/podcasts/1619-podcast.html

... and please feel free to check out my WordPress posts as well! ~OB.

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Orion Bradshaw
Orion Bradshaw
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