Poem of the Week | February 18, 2019

This week’s Poem of the Week is “G.A.P: You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by Clemonce Heard. Heard was a finalist for Missouri Review’s 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize.

Clemonce Heard is a New Orleans native. He received a BFA in Graphic Communications from Northwestern State University and his MFA in Creative Writing from Oklahoma State University. He was awarded an honorable mention in the 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize, a runner-up for the 2018 Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Poetry Award, 2nd place in the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, 1st place in the 2018 Connecticut Poetry Award Contest. His work has appeared in Obsidian, Ruminate, Four Way Review and Opossum among others, and is forthcoming in Saranac Review.

Genius Annotations Provided: “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”

a PechaKucha

If this funk hit isn’t reminiscent of the massacre
with its whistling of descent & combustible
drum rolls, then the trio’s bedazzled camouflage
& 2-bit bombers gilding the video will surely make
witnesses feel like they’ve marched back in time.

~

Since I told the woman whose hair is a waft
of smoke I have a crush on her it’s something
I’ve been trying to define: What it means to see
an interest one has or still desires from a distance
& what it means to subdue, oppress, gentrify.

~

Sometimes I ask white folk working at gutted
warehouses turned bookstores, restaurants,
breweries where they stand. Most of them grin
assimilationist, others squint race doesn’t exist,
rarely do they realize I’m referencing the land.

~

The line “You lit the fuse, I stand accused”
may refer to Dick Rowland aka Diamond Dick
allegedly running from the elevator and its young
white operator like a swift burning wick, a manic
flame; like a man escaping a blame not his own.

~

On the way to get away my crush & I made out
two white women taking pics of a brick shell
that was once a business. When she told me
“I see this all the time on my side of the tracks”
I wondered why some find ruination so captivating.

~

It hasn’t been five months, but the structure
across from my apartment is nearly done. When I
told one of the locals it feels like I’m sleeping
outside, even on Saturdays, he replied “they must
be trying to get it up before the Lord descends.”

~

“You were the first explosion” may also refer
to a bomb, or a mob lighting a house on fire
& the “corrosion” that follows. Many black
homes had gas lines. Many Black homes caught
fire just by sitting beside or behind one another.

~

The one time the woman who drives a carriage
& I danced wasn’t a riot, but an unsynchronized
trampling & spinning. We could see the pastime
stadium from where we clung. Its lit, green field
vast enough to house over ten thousand tenants.

~

A constructive way to reimagine an afterthought
is to name it spontaneity—something unplanned
that to the privileged sounds like a good idea.
Similar to crush I’m digging this from the rubble,
along with, of course, the town favorite reconciliation.

~

To be turned on is to be aroused, to be turned on
is to be activated, to be turned on is to be attacked.
Likewise, to be turned out is to be whipped, to be
turned out is to be banished & a turn out signifies
who showed up for fanfare & who for warfare.

~

When the woman whose skin tags resemble
bits of ash or charcoal told me she had reservations
about our relationship I tromped to the tracks,
bindle sack in hand, ready to go. I waited for her
far off figure or a train to jump but neither showed.

~

Even if they don’t claim one another we all know
envy & invasion are cousins. To say the raids
had no relation to Black Tulsa’s affluent community
is like saying oil cannot be set ablaze. Like saying
there were no families that shared the same grave.

~

The Ah-Ah-Ah in “I-I-I won’t forget it” warbled
by a woman of mystery is meant to simulate
the pain of repeatedly burning oneself, the sight
of the leech-like blister when it swells & the scar
that neither time nor suppression can efface.

~

I’m now wise enough to know sentiments conveyed
prematurely can brood a type of pain. When I hear
post-racial country my instinct is to hiss or suck air
through my teeth. When I think about the warmth
I divulged I shake my skull in disbelief of its stake.

~

Yet another Juneteenth dampened by sprinklers
of fireworks: a raucous ruckus of rockets launched
from the baseball field built where Blacks were
driven out. I’m not sure what’s more traumatic:
the echoes of gunfire or the blood-tinted clouds.

~

The caesura between bomb on me & baby always
gets me: separator of action & actor, comma not a
come on, but an accent to the tender tension
of making your feelings known to the person
who’s done you wrong, but also loved you right.

~

Sarah Page, the white elevator operator, is said
to have screamed after Rowland stepped on her toe,
after Rowland tripped into her or after a quarrel.
The latter may point to the potential romantic affair
unanimously rejected by the shaft, carriage & rope.

~

Though bridges are historically used to bring
together, like train tracks, they are also dividers.
I knew once I started north from my inamorata
I’d become an outsider. I knew that once I hiked
under the overpass there was no coming back.

~

On warm nights, I can hear the tank cars shrieking
by like a woman whose lost everything, the tankards
of ale pedaled down Archer Street & the prayers
of passersby. When I can’t sleep I kneel at my
window. Wait for the plain-dressed mobs to arrive.

~

After the massacre, city ordinances prohibited
Blacks from rebuilding their homes. They spent
months in tents the color of bandages covering
too substantial of a wound. A wound still refusing
to heal. A wound nearly a century’s failed to air out.

Author’s Note:

I’d listened to The Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” since I was a child, but my relationship to the song changed when I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, home to band members Charlie, Ronnie, and Robert Wilson. I didn’t know G.A.P. stood for Greenwood, Archer and Pine; three prominent streets in Tulsa’s historically African American community. I was also never taught the history of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Thus, moving to Tulsa, reading books such as Scott Ellsworth’s Death in a Promised Land, talking with locals both confident and doubtful of details surrounding the incident, and experiencing another facet of the song and video, I arrived at the poem, and inextricably, the form. I wanted to marry the Gap Band’s genius with the type of annotations I’d searched for on genius.com as a way to house the various narratives. For those reasons, I found the Pechakucha, a presentation format devised by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham and adopted by Terrance Hayes, fitting in relation to Greenwood’s decimated real estate. More importantly, the 20-five line stanzas felt appropriate in considering the lives lost in one of the most horrific terrorist attacks to happen on U.S. soil nearly one hundred years to this date.

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