Saturday, May 3, 2008

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note

by Amiri Baraka

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelops me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

This was the second Amiri Baraka poem I ever heard (we all know the first, don’t we?), and it was enough to convince me that the man is more than just an angry anarchist who likes to cause a stir.

“Nobody sings anymore.” Wow. The emptiness and sorrow in that line alone is enough to make me pause when I read. And the visual of a depressed older man creeping into his daughters room, only to find her praying… wow. There are so many small, powerful images in this short, compact poem that it’s a wonder more people don’t read Baraka’s poems.

The title is extremely powerful, which is rare. Most of the time, a title on a poem seems like an arbitrary thing, something thrown in after the fact that summarizes what’s written, In this case, the title gives the poem a whole new depth. The speaker’s thoughts, as they are presented in the poem, seem to be the thoughts of a man on the footsteps of his own mortality. But would I have thought “suicide” when reading if the title wasn’t there? I don’t know. But why is the suicide note 20 volumes? Why so long? Is there a significance to the number?

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