Sunday, October 13, 2013

ModPo 2013 #35 The Sun, The Son and The Truth: On Brooks' "truth" and Knight's "The Sun Came"

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And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.

Gwendolyn Brooks, "truth" from Blacks. Copyright © 1987 by Gwendolyn Brooks.  Reprinted by consent of Brooks Permissions.

Source: Blacks (Third World Press, 1987)


The Sun Came
                                                        And if sun comes
                                                        How shall we greet him?
                                                                    —Gwen Brooks

The sun came, Miss Brooks,—
After all the night years.
He came spitting fire from his lips.
And we flipped—We goofed the whole thing.
It looks like our ears were not equipped
For the fierce hammering.

And now the Sun has gone, has bled red,
Weeping behind the hills.
Again the night shadows form.
But beneath the placid face a storm rages.
The rays of Red have pierced the deep, have struck
The core. We cannot sleep.
The shadows sing: Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcolm.
The darkness ain't like before.

The Sun came, Miss Brooks.
And we goofed the whole thing.
I think.
(Though ain't no vision visited my cell.)

Etheridge Knight, "The Sun Came" from The Essential Etheridge Knight. Copyright © 1986 by Etheridge Knight. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.  Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Essential Etheridge Knight (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986)

I can't read Brooks without the response of Knight. Ignorance is bliss, ignorance is paradise (just ask Adam and Eve). The truth is cruel (how can it not be with "firm knuckles/ Hard on the door?"). This is essentially what Brooks states in her poem. Knight dispels this by claiming that the truth did come, the sun did come... in the form of Malcolm X but his poem ends on a sad note, a regretful note.

Brooks' poem is in iambic pentameter, using a traditional form which Knight answers without the regularity of a traditional form but with his own musicality, like in the repeating words of: Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcolm. I appreciated the audio discussion because it pointed out the meanings of "flipped" (a betrayal) and "goofed" (foolish mistake) as prison terms, situating Knight in his cell (which he mentions in parenthesis at the end of his poem). It's ironic that Knight talks of Malcolm in messianic/ Christian terms: Sun/ Son, the sacrifice of the Sun/ Son while Malcolm was actually Islamic. Nevertheless, it was pointed out during the discussion that Knight's poem was a reflection of the mood among those in prison at the time Malcolm was assassinated. I can imagine the guilt and the regret of Malcolm's message of black pride being cut short by his death.

I try to see this poem conversation as well in terms of my experience. The truth is relative. The truth sometimes depends on who is telling the story. The truth is I come from a mixed race where nothing is truly "pure." The truth is: freedom comes with its own price. And even in the Philippines, supposedly a free country, we are still reeling from centuries of patronage and time again we have "flipped" (we were also called "flips" once, as a derogatory term, by Americans) and "goofed" with our opportunities, earning our label of the "sick man of Asia."

In our islands we have more than our fair share of an unblinking sun. And not only that, we have had centuries of "the Son." And still, the dark continually hangs heavy on our eyes. I do not doubt, though, that we will have our day for answering the hammering at our doors. We've done enough flipping and goofing among ourselves, at some point we will meet the light completely.

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