Making History Bearable: Lynda Hull and Reading Newark

Again, the eclipse marks the biracial naked bodies as a “dying fall of light” hides the races as they are ironically illuminated. The bodies alternate and reverse their statuses, “black, white, white, black” as if to suggest some equality in their despair. The word “incarnadine,” or crimson, is a racially unifying term and the occlusion of flesh and blood has a stanza break, leading to the surprise of voices. But they are not the voices of the figures behind the shuttered blinds, but are somewhat extradiegetic voices from a radio broadcasting both the news of war and the news of riots:

in voices rippling from the radio: Saigon besieged,
Hanoi, snipers and the riot news helicoptered
from blocks away. All long muscle, soft

hollow, crook of elbow bent sequined above the crowd,
nightclub dancers farandole their grind and slam
into streets among looters. Let’s forget the 58¢

lining his pockets, forget the sharks and junkyards

The colon between “radio” and “Saigon” does much work as a metaphorical leap to Southeast Asia, happening concurrently with the riots. The noun “helicopter” becomes a verb that relocates the action of the Vietnam War to the local war “from blocks away.” Similarly, the nightclub dancers and the looters are connected through the verb “farandole,” a Provençal community dance (a noun). The imperative “let’s” which echoes a technique from Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”[22] is a way to reduce the psychic distance between the reader and the subject matter, and the plural pronoun “us” creates intimacy between the reader and the speaker. The enjambment at the end of the stanza announces the abject poverty and the egalitarian society the looters were seeking, especially because the 58 cents is “lining his pockets” instead of being “in” his pockets.

within us. Traffic stalls to bricks shattering,
the windows, inside her, bitch I love you, city breaking
down and pawnshops disgorge their contraband of saxophones

That the “sharks and junkyards” are “within us,” assumes the “let’s” from above has taken hold, that the intimacy between the reader and the subject has been manifested. Here, some of the “many voices” of the title are introduced: the interjection of “bitch I love you” is not the speaker, but a piece of overheard conversation. It appears bookended by commas and interrupts the idea of “bricks shattering the windows” and a “city breaking down.” The verb “disgorge” is an interesting choice that displaces the overdetermined burden of theft from the looters, the black residents, and places the responsibility, oddly, on the pawnshops themselves.[23] The saxophones are contraband, a prison term, and are linked to wedding rings, the most basic symbol of marital stability, by another enjambment. Both are vestiges of a former life of artistic and romantic expression, now hocked at a pawnshop. The scene, and its psychic distance, is focused and decreased more sharply. From saxophones to rings, another interruption of “many voices” enters:

and wedding rings. Give me a wig, give me
a pistol. Hush baby, come to papa, let me hold you

The new voices: one female (“give me a wig”) and one male (“give me a pistol”) are further interrupted by another, more romantic voice: “Hush baby, come to papa, let me hold you.” The second person pronoun again opens the general situation to the reader, who also responds to “you” (in the spirit of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”[24]), and who is surprised by another enjambment as she is held “through” something, “night’s broken circuitry.”

through night’s broken circuitry, chromatic
and strafed blue with current. Let’s forget this bolt
of velvet fallen from a child’s arm brocading

pavement where rioters careen in fury and feathered hats
burdened with fans, the Polish butcher’s strings

The verb “strafed,” a military term, meaning to attack ground targets from low-flying aircraft is employed here to suggest acts of predation. Like the verbs “careen” and “burden” and the pimps’ feathered hats connect again with the imperative “let’s”; the reader and speaker see multiethnic Newark (a Polish butcher) as a victim even as these voices fade into the setting.

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References

  1. “Let us go then you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table;”
  1. There is a precedent for this. In Robert Frost’s 1916 poem “Out, Out—”, the title of which alludes to a soliloquy by Lady Macbeth, a buzz saw snarls and leaps at a farm boy’s hand, killing him. The poem places blame on neither the saw nor the boy, and this offers a statement on the nature of “accident.”
  1. This is from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855).

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