Friday, April 28, 2017

April 28: Difficult Subjects, Tyehimba Jess, "100 Times"

One of the jobs of a poet is to write about difficult subjects sometimes.  Subjects that may shock, transgress.  Mental illness.  Rape jokes.  Menstruation.  Lynchings.  Abortion.  Abandonment.  Genocide.  Police violence.

As I said in my previous post, and as Emily Dickinson said more than a century ago, my job as a poet is to tell all the truth, but to tell it slant.  Tyehimba Jess knows a thing or two about this.

Saint Marty's truth tonight is that he still has a shitload of grading to do.

100 Times

by:  Tyehimba Jess

I say “nigger” a hundred times before breakfast every morning just to keep my teeth white.
–Paul Mooney, Comedian

Of course, I was skeptical, but because there’s often wisdom in the hardest humor, I stood before the mirror one sunrise and began my morning chant. All repeated calmly for the first week, but with flavors added on as the regimen continued into the second. 50 with er and 50 with a. 1/4 as question, 1/4 as surprise, 1/4 as anger, 1/4 implying the complaining “please.” All alternately whispered, shouted, laughed, snarled—all in search of the ideal whitening formula. After four weeks I remained skeptical. However, perseverance paid off by the sixth, when colleagues remarked on my brightened, hazeless smile, when friends alerted me to a steely glint in my grin.

I doubled the regimen to maximize results. Week eight saw a 2/3 increase in brightening, with a luminousness approaching diamond quality, particularly in the lower incisors. The uppers were sun white, never leaving room in their shine for shadow. Side effects became audible as well as visual: a small echo became perceptible after each repetition in my mantra, such that the cadence assumed a wondrous worksong rhythm. Upon closer examination, magnifying mirrors revealed one (1) small, brown man peering into the side of each tooth’s mirror-smooth enamel, each one appearing only briefly before each utterance. Alarmed but intrigued, I enhanced my treatment. Various gesticulations were added to the morning litany. Sneers, chuckles, sighs, and facial contortions were enhanced throughout. As a result, the echo’s intensity increased from slight windy whisper to low murmur, to small and steady chorus each morning, a daily affirmation of my will to shine. A halogen glare burned from my mouth throughout the day. I’ve become a walking lighthouse of shine—the ritual has grown above and beyond and through me. I wake each morning to stand before my mirror, and before I open my mouth I hear the chant begin above and around me, as if I were in the middle of the mantra’s core, as if I’m one in a circle of prayer. I’ve found others who hear the chant with me, or they’ve found me, those who rise up with me each morning to stand before our mirrors with the diamond-sharp sound of ourselves polishing each tooth until we gleam—our number grows daily. We shimmer and shine inside the bulging head of our chant, polishing our glowing mirrors, staring into the glare until we shield our eyes.

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