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Paul Allen: Music

Cliche

(Paul Allen)
October 21, 2010
Words by Paul Allen; Music by Michael Demsyn-Hanf

Thanks to Michael Demsyn-Hanf for composing and playing the vibrophone part.

(Originally published in Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, subsequently in Ground Forces (by Paul Allen, Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2008)

Cliché

 

The only thing duller than an African American

prattling on a panel about African American-ness

is an Irish American toasting his emerald kin,

or a Southern American reciting the wistful Ms of the South—

Mammies, Magnolias, Mint Juleps,  Mansions, Moss, Manners

and everyone P-ing:  Persecution

the Jew on persecution,

the born again Christian on persecution,

the poet on persecution (Poetry isn’t popular).

It makes for good copy. 

 

You gather with those who console you

for your need to gather. 

The welder, the teacher, the doctor,

the dentist (who “could have been a doctor”).

We have something special here.

The world doesn’t have a clue

what we really do.  The world

doesn’t understand what we go through.

 

Well, here’s the fact:

The world does have a clue.

The world fully understands—

it just doesn’t give a shit.

 

You and your fellows hold hands

around the autoclave, the violin, the Bible,

a copy of Mien Kampf or Moby Dick;

you gather around the laundry, check book, coffee pot,

55 gallon drum full of burning scrap-lumber,

or any given heart in group therapy.

The poor have it tough,

women have it tough,

men have it tough,

old, young, teen, gay, black, brown,

elephants, trout, non-smokers,

keynote speakers, and panelists have it tough.

Different nouns, same verbs.

 

Everybody meets at the Hilton,

and the staff of the Hilton have it tough—

your group checks in the week after Tribal Council

and Associated Writing Programs,

and the week before the Little People’s Convention,

the Treckies, the NRA.

And in the overlap, the blue name tags

on the elevator have nothing to say

to the white name tags on the elevator.

 

But after the panel,

the way you went silent as you crossed

the threshold between the carpet of the session —

blue, celestial theme—

to the red swirled carpet of the mezzanine,

the way, outside, you noticed—while the others

were discussing where to go for lunch—

noticed the font on the truck blocking traffic ,

the way when the group begins walking

you give a silent look at the cigarette butts

in the cedar chips beneath the juniper,

or the way you woke up this morning

and before the room was room,

you stared at the hair on your hand

as though seeing it for the first time

because the light was breaking through

the crack in the heavy curtains you couldn’t close

last night to shut out the strangers, or strangeness:

that’s you, and because there was no one already up

and stirring the suitcases to ask “What’s the matter?”

you kept the hand up a little longer,

turned it for different moments of hair and light: 

You are not a cliché.

You are not a cliché.

Well, you are,

but one that works, somehow.

One with an interesting twist.