Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Tuesday, November 22, 2016


"Music can change the world because
it can change people.” –Bono

at the risk of sounding classic
let me spin the tale
of the time back in 1997 I lived on the road
for a year in a beat station wagon
with a bunch of mix tapes.
one of them was bootleg gold:
a pile of live-concert recordings
pinched from the gods of rock n roll,

to which I listened relentlessly
for a year criss-crossing this great land
in that beat-down automobile
fear-torn hate-drunk once-fearless heartland).
music turned up so loud my brain caught fire
the unforgettable fire
          or that is the explanation
          I gave myself for the times I looked up
and saw god flying overhead
his teeth bared in a grin my windshield
reflected, clouds caught staring.

I was young and rebelling and
I ran from the halls of cut glass and stains
out to the roofless church of the desert
out in god’s country
to the gateways of the reservations
and found
:the rot at the heart of her:
no country can thrive on the bones
of the murdered.
          oh children! dread took hold in my heart then
and I never believed in her again.

I saw she was a
recording of ancient Greece
laid over a timeworn track
of slave-ownership. if nothing else
our music tells us this:
early morning, April 4
a shot rings out in the Memphis sky
free at last, they took your life
they could not take your pride

which brings the story up to date--
just today in the usa I found myself
howling down the highway
a sane maniac doped to the gills
on the roots of rock like the old days
laying tracks across the desert like ninety
with the windows down leaving
strains of gospel in the slipstream
 I believe in the kingdom come
 all the colors will bleed into one
 bleed into one

what this means is
(I am getting around to it children
put down your smartphones and listen up):
don’t believe in the history books
don’t believe in presidents nor promises
nor pilgrims nor noble savages
nor democratic process nor any thing
said by any one who’s got a stake
in the thousand heads of the snake
that we politely call politics.

you'll never understand the singular freedom
of driving down a lost highway
no idea where you are or where you'll end up
because your way is always mapped out
a satellite overhead to keep you on track
and another one making sure you've got
the right playlist for the drive:
you're on the road
but you've got no destination
you're in the mud
in the maze of her imagination

I neglected my devices today
thought about turning simply south
and crossing a border
and then another border, and another
until I reached an ocean
and then crossing it
to a place I'd never be found.

instead I took that drive
rolling up 500 miles of asphalt wind & rain
and smoking it all,
a cigarette of blame:
with or without you america
I am lunging at the chains
in an aborted diaspora
running outta room on a road
that is (for
now) still
of checkpoints, walls, militia
(yes I’m still runnin’)
choking on the lies that’ll hurl us
         back/ass/ward a century.

(an aside:not that they haven't already
not that we haven’t already
in these past four centuries
fucked it up so righteously
they can see the fires burning all the way
from across the water:
you plant a demon seed
you raise a flower of fire
see them burning crosses
see the flames higher and higher)

it’s coming back (what? you ask
picking up your thread of texts
as if bored; and I see you are)but
it’s coming back, can you hear it?
only the rattle and hum

is so much quieter now
just the whirring and the clicking
the tap-tap-tapping of keyboards
         that decides it all
         who is pop and who is not
         who gets the vote and who
         loses it all.
         quick strokes of keys that aim the mob      
         in the right or the left direction
         that control the war games
         where real lives are lost
but they are on-screen lives
mere numbers anymore
in the brave new war:
line up those fighter planes
launch the bombers into the air
and the populace keeps mum
and the populace stays numb.

I’m glad I did that road trip
shoulda tracked down the bootlegger
and asked him for more
but back then I paid for every album I owned
except that sweetly-made lost-forever mix tape.

I told myself the rock gods could afford it
         like prometheus:one
         stolen gift.

they are going now, those gods
the architects of sound
as if making room for the silence
of a drop-jawed populace.
if we could see it from space
I imagine there would be this
burning comet-tail spinning out
from earth: the soul of music
coming undone
like the thread of a sweater
pulled at high speed.

but they left a message for me
when I got home tonight:
a bootlegged copy of an ancient script
passed so many times
around the fires of our ancestors
it has worn a track in my brain.
         it said:
         this land is now your land
         you had better take a stand
         stay here and fight
         stay here and write
         it said:
one heart
          one hope
          one love*

*all italics taken from U2 song lyrics

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Story Of a Racist

I was born white
grew up white in a white town
not a rich town
just a regular working-class white-ass town.
I had the one signature black friend
she was on the basketball team
and I was extra nice to her
but she never seemed grateful--

and I thought, weird.
There were a couple Mexicans too
I had a hard time with their names
never could pronounce them
never really tried.
I was proud of myself for being nice
you know, extra nice because
they weren't like the rest of us
but they didn't need my niceness
they didn't need my whiteness
they didn't really need me at all.

Then I grew up and I started traveling
like really traveling
not in North America
not in Europe
I wanted to go to the places
white people don't go for vacation.
I traveled to backwater India
and the tables turned;
I was the minority there
and people pointed and laughed
or stared openly, shocked
like maybe I'd just hopped off an alien ship.
I moved to Africa, lived in a Muslim country
and did not receive a single bomb threat
or have judgment passed down on my head
for the clothing I wore or the beliefs I held.
The children would run up and touch me
and pinch my arms
or my buttocks and it wasn't like I was human at all
just a giant toy to be played with:
but to them I was the other
not a not-human, just a not-them
the first American some had ever seen
a stranger in a strange skin.

Back then I traversed the world
as if I owned it
boldly inexperienced and knowing nothing
of their culture, language, religion
while they spoke English and showed me
enormous kindness despite all barriers
despite my ignorance
for I didn't trouble to understand them
and worse, I didn't understand me
or my place in the world
I didn't know who or what I was
or how insane was our shared history.

And I began finally to realize that I couldn't act
like I was everything, like the madness was all in the past
and didn't matter.
Because I am not and it wasn't and it does.
And I tasted shame.

They knew what I didn't:
that to be brown or black or otherwise tinted
in a world that favors pink or pearl-colored skin
and blonde hair and blue eyes if you have them
is to live on a knife-edge that is sometimes sharp and
sometimes dull but is never not a knife.
And there are more times in history than not
where that edge begins to press
into your skin, begins to draw blood, begins
to draw the blood of history and bring it
to your doorstep, no, into your home
and into your life as if history
is not history at all but the present,
the shared present moment of not just your race
but the entire human race
from its ancient beginnings up until this very second.

And so yes, here I am and I have other friends now
some of them black and some brown and similarly tinted,
and many of them I love so deeply it hurts
and at times I think it hurts us both, me and the other
when I struggle to place myself in their skin and realize:
this is impossible.
I cannot.
To try is an insult not to be borne,
to say "I get it" is a lie
because I don't get it
I never have and if I ever do it will be because
I've been hunted down, beaten and jailed
and maybe killed for being the color that I am.

But I am older now and have seen more of the world
and also my heart has broken into more pieces
than I ever thought possible and I see now
that it will continue to break
and to break
and to break
until it is mashed into dust
but it will continue loving
and growing larger, though it is bound
by fate and not choice
with imperfect white skin
and eyes blinded from birth
that only now are beginning to see.

I was born white
raised up in a white town:
an angry-yet-fragile working-class
white-ass town
and more often than not I forget
what the word "lucky" means.
But not today
and when I do forget
I hope that you are listening.
If you are reading this and you could
be so kind, please help me.
Put your face next to mine
look into my eyes and talk to me:
let us tell each other once again
the shared story of who we are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The End of I'm Sorry

Remember how I used to get out of your way
and apologize for being there
like I was sorry for existing?
Just so that you could walk on through
without having to swerve right or left
--sorry, I'd say, or excuse me, or go ahead

Remember how I used to smile a lot
while you explained all the little details
you believed I didn't know?
You loved that, my smile
it made you want to slow down
it made you want to stop, say hello
like I was smiling just for you

And sometimes I thought I was
you know, it was sort of flattering
to have caught your attention
especially if you were a little older
if you had that sense of confidence and power
men get when others defer to them for years

Sometimes you reminded me of men I'd known
before, when I was far too young
who had reached out and stopped me mid-stride
grabbed my wrist maybe
a little too forcefully
touched me a little too intimately
when they thought nobody was watching

But do you know what
somebody was

Nothing those men ever did went unwitnessed
because little girls grow up
and become women
and it turns out we were always watching
and you never know
what secrets we women are holding
behind our smiles

You never know when we will stop
saying I'm sorry
and start using words that cut down
to the bone of who you are: big man
who touches little girls
weak man hiding in a strong man's suit

I am standing in your way
and I am not sorry
looks like you better learn to run