Between the Why and How by Ada Wofford

Between the Why and How

Wild no one poet, evening TV recluse, can’t you hear the noise?—newscasts singing in the dark—‘Use your voice, your lovely voice. Yes you, you matter. 
‘One day every four years you matter—lend your weight to the thickening crowd and CHOOSE THE FUTURE.’
I look in the mirror—people and politics—the AND speaks volumes, signifying that endless chasm between us and the WHY and HOW.
Nineteen years old, two thousand eight, smelly VFW, wrinkled scrunched up face of an old lady searching for my name—sign here, take this, go there, give it to him, close the curtain and arrive in strange pseudo-solitude—like first confession—like pissing in a cup.
Push the button.
Twelve hours later the first African-American is president of the United States of America—I am shuffling boxes around at work like an insect—walled off from the news.
A friend’s text ‘We did it!’—and in my joy I almost drop a box of tragically produced sunglasses assembled by some fourteen year-old halfway across the world–
I have participated in Democracy.

O glorious Democracy!—philosophy founded on foundation of reason and unwave- ring Greek genius—destined to bear innumerable stone and faux-stone
These once fleshy globules, which these magical thoughts once occupied and were forced into words and pushed through teeth and tongue and into the Real.
I have wielded my ballot, my privilege, my voice and O Holy Republic, is it like Plato claims?—Is there no such real thing?—No real such voice of the commonwealth that rings loud enough and true enough to raise poor plebian, proletariat, Okie citizens out from the mired, wretched, muck of Laissez-fair Eden?
Must we teach kings philosophy or make philosophers kings?—to avoid this constant turmoil of arbitrary Apples and their terms and conditions?– The thin, blurry line separating benign Monarch and insane Tyrant is as horrifying as it is useless.
Ideal line—imaginary division—but real enough in the sense that all tyrants are monarchs who choose to be tyrants—real enough in the sense that all dictators were once Princes who threw Machiavelli’s pamphlet across their throne rooms in arrogant pageantry.
Horrid book that teaches those who remain Princes in the eyes and ears of the lowly Herd to remain Princes in sight and sound only; for the Herd merely asks for freedom from oppression—while the nobles who assist and sit and dine and kneel with the Prince want also to be Prince—want also to oppress– want also to satisfy their Caligulian impulses—whenever desired.
To exist more than any other man—to exist better than any other man—to exist bigger and fuller and wiser than any other man.
To exist atop rare rocks and metals mined from the hands and blood of these other men.
To be entombed alive in polished brick and stone Sistine-Buckingham-Whitehouse towers.
To change the writing on the barn wall and hope we forget—and watch us drink our stale gin in boredom and depression through screens of glass—while we attempt an act beautiful and free—only to be ceased by the screen shouting treason—and reciting the still-wet-words painted on the wall– “Some are more equal than others.”

Those deemed less-equal harvest our food and carry our food and sell our food yet go to bed hungry–
Lucky ones might get to visit some suburban paradise and rot in cool AC shopping centers for seven twenty-five an hour.
Where the well-weathered and educated force sympathetic nods as they pay for their tragically produced sunglasses—their berries picked by children– their lunches made of tortured animals—tended by tortured laborers– tortured by tortured torturers—reductio ad infintium?
All placed in plastic bags en route to the great big Patch in the sea while 
well-meaning pedants howl these truths into the audient void of Holy Internet—on their tragic computers—their criminal desks– their slave-labor clothing—their blood coffee in disposable cups shouting claims of humanity—
Save the farmers! Save the children! Save the refugees! Free Tibet! I meant Flint! I meant Detroit! I meant Camden! I meant Atlanta! I meant the schools in Philadelphia! The starving in Orlando! The dope-crushed hysterical, pregnant unemployed, welfare, single mother, loser, handout-asking, all-her-fault, just- another-mouth-to-feed in New York, New York it’s a helluva town!
Can’t you hear the Bernstein now, pounding through your brain?

We. We the people are deaf to the Manhattan fanfare of the lucky—our consent lovingly and carefully manufactured by the Masters of Mankind.
Only $8.99 for your very own special edition of Marx and Engels—If you order now you’ll receive a complimentary set of decorative chains—call now—what have you got to lose?
Enjoy the fruits. Have a party for the workers every September—never mind the Specters—have a day off for the martyr every February—never mind his interest in the Worker—have a feast every November—get wasted every July—never mind the genocide. 
Wave your tragic flags made in China—support your troops—your statistics—your GDP—your main export—and ignore the men behind the curtain (the curtain also made in China).
Celebrate all of the black and gay and Hispanic and Latino and Indian and Asian and trans and queer and fat and disabled pioneers who have successfully and fully assimilated themselves into a corrupt system—and call it progress.

O Republic—this is the image outside my bedroom window—this is the image of America. 
A faux-democratic miasma of conformity and oppression and classic-clichéd-can’t- even-take-it-seriously-anymore corruption.
This is the image of two hundred military bases around the world—the image of a zero remorse nuclear massacre—the image of systemic racism—systemic rape—systemic hate.
Where the Roger Ailes are paid millions to demean women.
Where the Brock Turners are free to rape and return home after one summer.
Where the George Zimmermans are free to commit murder and sell the weapon as memorabilia.
But where the Michael Browns are shot down.
But where the Tamir Rices are shot down.
But where the Trayvon Martins are shot down.
Every day.
Every night.
In the streets outside our bedroom windows as we look out on America. 
O merciless machine of empire and fate—when will politics be in the hands of the people?—when will democracy be real and alive?—when will the goblins of Wall St. be devoured by truth?—when will the Molochs of D.C. be consumed by justice?

I can still hear the noise—newscasts singing in the dark—I look in the mirror—I am a dreamer.
The people are dreamers—but dreaming is essential—dreaming is revolutionary– dreaming is how we have got this far.
People and politics—the AND speaks volumes—the AND is the distance between now and then—the AND is the total sum of our dreaming—the AND is the work we must finish.
O Eternal Demos—you are more than a republic—more than a country—you matter—yes you—everyday of every week—you matter.
You matter to the Eric Garners—
You matter to the children picking fruit—
To the inmates packing boxes—
To the single mothers coughing blue in denim factories—
To the starving in Detroit—
To the homeless in New York—
To the dead in Chicago—
To the nobody wasting and withering into all-their-fault dust around the corner– you matter.
Lend your dreams to the thickening crowd and fight.

About the contributor

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