Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive


James Baldwin 7: Mysterious Circumstances

by Claire Burch

Ever since I was eighteen, James Baldwin had been giving me orders.
While still alive he came as Skyboss.
Since he has died he is just himself.
Now he is ordering me to read some of my variations
on the Gettysburg Address.

Foursore and many tears ago
our forefathers brought forth on this incontinent
a new train station
dedicated to the Civil Wrongs condition
that all men are still rated unequal.

now we are enraged in a hate tyrants more
testing whether one patient or any patient so injured and so devastated
can swim to shore.
we are hit by the great paradigm of the poor
we have come to recreate
with caution that field as an angry testing place
for those who Malcolm Martin Medgar that that ration might endure.
It is altogether unwitting and improper that we do this
for in a danger sense we cannot procrastinate, we cannot complicate,

the Klu Klux Klan and far subtler genocides
have complicated it far beyond our poor power to advance or retreat.
The world will little note what we say here
but it can never forget what we whisper here
(the Gettysburg address can’t be found – no forwarding order.)

Hasn’t it always been this way?
turn on the set and the back of the bus vanishes
into the fairy tale of Rodney King meets the Spanish Civil War
meets Bury My Heart in Cell Block Three
and the trouble never happened
and the beatings never were.
How are we going to make a just state out of a sow’s ear, Jimmy.?

when you caught the falling star
that busted into the left side of the Steeplechase Ferris Wheel
you started some kind of illegal archetype immigration.
Tell it in church, they’d swoon and sway
to oats please beans and civil rights please
change scenes, strong rains , still waiting – trees
turn green with envy, winter freeze
then the races changing places
swinging finally into three faces
in order to be a philosopher’s stone
and you know how tender hearted philosopher’s stones are
when you finally get to touch them, right?

so wrong? Who? Right? How? You? Them?
doesn’t matter. Survival has got to be done.
Listening to the beat. Coltrane don’t care about keys.
white flag now in a habit of living, fling limbed while climbing
out of broken hulls, bent torpedoed
mast damaged and a sharp list to the left
then crawling onto beaches, America the last hurrah
blood fingered, geno-cider barrelled, not so much further now than then.
(they promised not to use your race any more just for labour and sports.)

so Skyboss, probably sharing your highball with God himself
checking out Civil Rights, altered states, sweaty fights,
dizzy heights, slow defeats.
(In the interpretation of dreams , yes frequently means no.)
I stepped in the river Jordan, Jimmy
better expect me soon.

I took the picture of you when you were eighteen, Jimmy.
Skyboss, when you going to let up?
“take me by the hand and lead me on, Jimmy
Pity me Jimmy
When you going to finally let up?
Jimmy king of heaven maybe now
eyes bulging and sweetly cynical smile.
God going to wait on you with a tray and two scotch whiskeys
“Take me by the hand and lead me on”

We were children in an ugly land
days of wine and seizures.
knocked senseless with life’s stun gun.

meantime birds swim, fish fly
Civil rights? Not much. A scar is born.

When happenstance, misfortune and man’s fate
I all alone beseech the welfare state
to grant me shelters, food stamps and hot soup
I sometimes think thee me ( oh out of sight.)
now Jimmy ‘s Skyboss to free the slaves and fly the coop.
I slave as thee and thine. See well, my forebears
they were like you, only their ghetto was Minsk
some Cossack cracked the whip, my grandma danced
like I dance now to make your goal a truth.

We are met on a great cattlecar with no door-
we have come to eradicate a portion of that sore as a final testing chase
for those who gave their deaths that this nation might repent
it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this
but in a danger sense we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate –
we cannot follow this sound.

Closed door and seven pay days ago
our patient gave birth on that continent
to a new baby, conceived in secrecy and ordered by genetics
to repeat a self fulfilling prophecy.

Now we are engaged in a great company store
testing whether that confrontation
can long manure.

Named now, seven faced, spider beyond flea, ill starred,
apart, busted heart, find, unmind, unharried, immortal,
unchanged, dressed in lace by some holy girder,
forgiven, forgiven,
“V’yis ga dash, v’yis ga dal”
Kaddish come, Kaddish go,
Kaddish for James Baldwin,
Jimmy you made it.

Help us Father, now and at the hour of our last breath
we have brought forth into this neverland
some dim train station.
Birth of the blues and dedicated to the craposition that all
adversities are one two three.

Folklore unleavened years ago
our brothers brought north some discontent
a skewed ration constrained in battery
and eradicated to the restoration that
well then we’re elated sequel.
Now we are collaged in a great festered sore
guessing whether any imitation so construed and so
eradicated, can Paul Revere.

We make book on the white metalmine of what for.
We have come to resuscitate a notion of that mine
as a tunneled fasting place
for those who here gave
that the underground railway saves.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But the electric fence shocks
and the cattle prods too.

Four score and fevered snows ago
our fair weather friends brought forth on this continuum
a new execration, conceived in cabalism
and detonated to the impersonation
that this country under Exxon Corporation shall not perish
(House of Mirth.)

Scarecrow and homestead fears ago
slave traders brought forth on this Tipacanoe and Tyler too
a new frito, conceived in jive talk and dedicated to the expiation
that all men are created colloquial.
Now we are enraged in a great semantic fair
testing whether this nation
under Bell telephone
can again be pure.

Rabbi Rectorpastor preached a fine sermon,
said a few words in memory of more and future
Holocausts ago.
Our nation gathered in reconnaissance
concealed in liberty and dreaducated to the supplication
that all people are regretted equal.

Brought forth upon regression subtler genocide
retrieved in libertine
and graduated to the recreation that all injustices have a sequel.
Crunchified that the elation or any elation so felt and so underwritten
shall not perish giving birth.

The sun set on the great bottle baby of this scar
fasting whether that station or any station so aggrieved and
do vasolidated
can long endure.

The world will soon regret what we fry here
but it can never forget what we broil here.
It is for us the swerving
rather to be here correlated at from these Consolidated Ed
we take increased persuasion –
the sunk in, living and dead who struggled here
have correlated it beyond the power of our sore soul to sad or contract.
The failed will bottle boat what we played here
it can never forgive what they hid here.

Before and seven days ago
our torn feathers brought forth on this concentrate
a small ration conceived in poverty and predicated on the excavation that dogs run free.
Now we are engaged in a great resale store
testing whether any nation so bereaved and so genocidal
can still be pure.

CIA and Contra crack score ago,
our government brought forth into those ghettos
a new weapon guaranteed to render helpless
the already hopeless.
While we here highly resolve that those dead shall not have
died in vain
that this citation under milkwood
shall have a new dream
that that covenant of the scruple, with the scruple, and in the scruple
shall not perish, has true worth.

Miss White is black
and I am white
James Baldwin said I had back dues
Jimmy whose back dues we choose?
Let’s be here at the Amen Corner
Nobody knew your Name.
Lost my notes of a Native Son
Milktrain’s gone too long
Remember when I took the picture of you at eighteen?
Too many years a million years ago
you said goodbye, then you said hello.
We hung out awhile
If Beale Street Could Talk
Lost the month’s rent for Giovanni’s Room
Nobody knew your Name
Another Country – The Fire Next time –
lost my child on a grey slave ship
Jimmy you the same.
The Price of the Ticket, No name in the Streets,
Just Above my Head, The Amen Corner Too
A Rap on Race with Margaret Mean
Jimmy what’s new?
Too many years.

Later you had fame
Malcolm and Medger and Martin died
Now Jimmy you the same.

And what is yes is no and will be
always until the dust of shelter past
drifts broken on the memory of some holiday
indoors, with the warm smell of something roasting
and clean blankets and a toilet only your own family
uses, and a dream of backyards?

To multiply on the planet is to divide now
too many of us sitting on the ground
all we own in backpack and shopping cart, waiting.
Land’s end outside Cody’s bookstore
spare changing for quarters for
Four thirty dinner at the food project.

It is for us the giving
rather to be fornicated her to the unwilted smirk
which they who traded in slaves here
have dust bowl so soberly romanced.

It is rather for pus to be her tabulated
to the great gasp remaining before us
that from these underfed
we take policed conversion
to those chores with which that gave the last full measure of

The take ten giving and bled who struggled here
have concentrated it above our poor power to pad or retract.
The failed will river boat nor chicken gumbo what we say here
but it can never forget what they did here.
Fever sore and underweight days ago
our fall flowers brought forth upon this concubine
a new notion suffused with cavities and suffocated in the proper position
that all moral majority theorems are apriori true.
Now we are engaged in a great Castle Keep
testing whether that imitation or any imitation so deceived
and so segregated
can long underwear.

We are met on the harvest cottonfield of the poor.

Foreclose and smothered days ago
our hindmothers brought forth on this canto
rent with torn factions, an equal,
revived in property and postulated on the decibel that all men
are created level.
Now we are unmade in a great Scarborough Fair
fasting whether that faction or any faction so believed and
so debilitated
can long encore.

A collection of photographs by Claire Burch