Sitting on a Beach in Brazil I feel like the Congo Watching Conrad Finally Leave Forever
fiction by Alberto Cristoffanini Benavente
That year, Lou Morrison took the slam by storm. Nobody really knew where he’d come from; he just kinda showed up and won. Everyone referred to him by his first and last name. He had this thing where he didn’t look like he was taking it very seriously, but he took it, y’know? Next to his poems, effortless was just three syllables. He was like air fitting a container: his only form was style. Like Dao in jeans.
It feels weird to think about those days because they should be so close to today but somehow they are oceans away. I guess I was awed by him because he was so successful when I was not. But I respected him. Back then, the shape of an idea was enough to earn my respect.
Plus, the slam was a cathedral of sound. It still is of course. But I guess I’m choosing to go deaf and everything I’ve heard is slowly unravelling.
But then, Lou was our young star, brighter than song and sharper than sight. And offstage he was so appropriately blank. He had one of those displaced smiles that could have been cut out of a magazine and pasted on. Acclaim and cool, pasted on a regular person. There is temptation in me to make him a sort of Carlos Wieder. But that would not be truth. If fascism befell Canada, he would not murder every poetess and write verses in the sky with airplanes. He would not make Nazi wargames as he rotted into obscurity. He would ride the currents. Do nothing atrocious. Mock the authorities when they went to the bathroom. And he would succeed in any small way that he wanted to, because his aptitudes would meet the standards and excel.
But I don’t want you to think of him as an intimidating person in any way. His superiority is utmost quiet. And it was not until I’d known him for years that I started to hear it. One time, we were on the bus together and I must have been deprecating my own abilities and not because I meant it or because I was fishing for compliments but simply because that is what I’ve conditioned myself to do and he told me, Y’know for someone who learnt English as a second language, you are a good poet. I said, Yeah. Thanks. And tried to make sense of the compliment. It’s a strange feeling that one. Like getting a raise and being paid in toilet paper or store credit. Maybe if I was a girl I would have understood better. What do they call it? A compliment that is also a put down? His white face smiling noir at me vaguely.
Then I started noticing. The angle of his words. The performance. I’m not saying he was fake – I’m always skeptical of that kind of accusation. We’re all pretending to the best of our ability. But he wasn’t even trying. And slowly I began to understand him. He was so full of his own kind of existential that all he could do in the face of the world was quietly laugh. Laugh at the empty. At Rwanda. At the time Taylor Mali did a persona poem written by a black woman from the point of view of a white supremacist. And like, here’s the thing: I get that. I do. I understand how you can get to that place. So much of the time I feel like I’m a cockroach that woke up one day as Gregor Samsa. But somehow, Lou didn’t realize that he’d gone all the way around and become Taylor Mali. He was standing at the top of privilege and laughing, his tears drinking down elevation like a mad jester free and inevitable, and his slim weight was pushing the whole structure millimetre by millimetre down. But either he didn’t feel it or he didn’t care, and when he was mimicking words of racial disenfranchisement, whether it was in honest homage or not, he didn’t hear how he had become edges.
And for a while, I tried to defend him to the people who hate everyone. He’s young. And he’s inexperienced. And he doesn’t get it. And good intentions.
But a bottle of wine can do a lot for good intentions. Fill a person with blood-coloured liquid and you’ll start to see how far in they are what they are. If our bodies could take it we could get infinitely drunk and understand, and either kill each other or build utopia or never again interact. But just a little is enough to see how deep someone is darkness inside. And how laughter sounds in space. And how maybe someone could hurt brown boys or girls, and see that they are doing it, and keep going, and smile, because it works, because of the empty, because who gives a fuck and who cares about the jews and the holocaust so what and slavery whatever and true art and la poésie pure and the eternal wound going down so far that not even harold bloom’s cleverness can make you forget it and all the way back lineage with bloodied hands and the wristbone on a slaver’s hand or the skin or the smallest phalanx:
It’s ok. Is all you wanna scream.
But you can’t. Because it’s not true. So you laugh. Your long, thin, white laugh.