Any Psalm You Want. Khary Jackson. A Write Bloody Book. Write Bloody Publishing. Austin, Texas. 2013.
Khary Jackson has an exciting and articulate voice that sounds like you've heard it before. You haven't.
This particular lexicon is precisely Jackson's alone. This is muscular, jaunty poetry — and brave poetry too.
Jackson time travels in these poems, he jousts historic and his epic tales are peppered with icons both past and present.
Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. Dre and doing the same line dance in service to Jackson. It all works.
A hundred years from now, Civil War re-enactments will
be dead. In their place: every Juneteenth, solemn young
hands will wrap red (or blue) bandanas around their heads,
warm up the low rider, polish off the AKs and .45s,
and cruise around the 'hood with Snoop (Doggy) Dogg on blast.
The faces of old black women will, on cue, peer through their
windows at the bobbing car, and upon seeing the boys and their guns and
their gyrating arms, the old black women will dive to the floor
and mouth a prayer to the Lawd. An unfortunate black boy
standing in the front yard, unable to escape in time, will twist
his torso, yank his limbs to the choreographed puncture
of lungs, thump the grass without bracing his fall. His eyes
will flicker shut. He will imagine he can no longer breathe.
And from somewhere near, from everywhere, a forty-year-old
black woman will howl for her boy. Her hands will shred the air.
At the corner, in the liquor store, the cashier is calmly shaking
his head, preparing to tell the first listener that boy was
a good boy. In the store is a forty-ounce bottle, waiting to be opened.
Waiting for its moment to dance the blood.
This is hellaciously joyous stuff that will break your heart.
It occurs to me that my wife has the last name Jackson but as far as I can tell there is no relation to Mr Khary. More's the pity. Any Psalm You Want revisits territory we thought we knew, answers questions we just discovered were important to us.
How to Break a Bedpost in 1960
You are a thick-boned black man
with little awareness of history.
You do not know your place in it,
feel no trace of the reverence your grand-
children will bestow you. You are only
soul and flesh. You only breathe an air
that daily wants to choke you. This
is not about heroics in the face of rope. This
is about the growling black woman in your arms,
her hungry hips, everything your tongue has been dying
to do, I mean, hell, it ain't like you was marchin' all the time.
Jim Crow didn't always feel your foot in his ass.
Your favorite nights
are not the bedtime prayers for the last friend
that was burned. It was when you and your woman
dragged yourselves to that shack, where the razor voice
of that singer was lusty supreme, the band
thumpin' in time to your grip on her ass. Her nose
burrows into your throat as the singer wails,
you dance like one body undressing itself,
seeming to say, Hey baby, neither of us
is dancing from a tree; lord looks like we make it again!
When that band finally tucks the music away,
you hustle yourselves back home, ready to fuck,
not thinkin' that somewhere Malcolm X
is doin' the same thing, not thinkin' that Mahalia Jackson
is doin' the same thing, 'cause this ain't about history
but bodies, slick, colliding, and in the fourteen seconds
it takes to remove your tattered fabric, you've already
uttered our prayers: this tongue is for you, and for our
sake I held it all day; these arms are for you, 'cause they
chose to carry more peace than fist. And when her breasts
dove into your grateful face, every pair of Caucasian eyes
that stared her down today just caught fire, their owners
rose from their dinner tables and screamed out of
their houses, but you and your woman were too busy
to notice. 'Cause both of your know there's a purpose
to this, that you ain't nonviolent just 'cause of a Dr. King speech. It's
these bodies, this heart, this bonding that keeps you from killin' a muthafucka.
Somewhere, someone's having a dream. While you fuck.
Someone's singing they'll overcome. While you fuck. This is
my black history month. This is how I roll on my holiday.
This is why I smile at a black power fist; I know where those
knuckles have been. Before we are history, we are bodies,
collision. The right of every living mouth to lick.
Here, you are nothing of a social studies relic.
You're a starving pair of arms with a woman to grip.
Khary Jacksons' Any Psalm You Want is loud like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, you know — all that frantic beauty and exposed soul. Then you've got that Dick Gregory humour and truth stuff underneath. It's telling stuff, make you laugh and cry wisdom. All good things to have in your poems.
The Borrowed Mouth
In the 1780's, George Washington was nearly toothless,
and hired a dentist to transplant new teeth into his jaw.
These teeth were (willingly) extracted from the mouths of his slaves.
It is a wonder that his speeches were delivered without incident,
that some soul possession did not occur in the pawnshop of his mouth,
that an audience of men did not return home from an officers' meeting
with ashen face and hastened voice, did not whisper to their wives
how Washington spoke as if gripped by a puppet master,
how his words jumped jagged between my countrymen and lord,
we convene today and my baby, in the interest of Congress and
please God bring him back. It is a wonder that his eyes
did not cross themselves in horror, as his jaw snapped open beyond
the limits the Lord designed, that his lower lip did not drip a litany
of blood, that no negro colored hand reached out from his throat,
escaping grave soil after being buried, mid-thrash.
Write Bloody Publishing out of Austin, Texas put out lovely books — that bite like sharks. Any Psalm You Want pulsates with humanities anxious hope, reminds us that prayer is not enough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Khary Jackson is a performance poet, playwright, dancer and musician. A Detroit native, he currently resides in the Twin Cities where he serves as a teaching artist and writer. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, and as a result has further reason to adore black people. He has written 12 full length plays, one of which (Water) was produced in 2009 at Ink and Pulp Theatre in Chicago. He has been a recipient of several grants, including the 2010 Artist Initiative Grant for poetry from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the 2009 VERVE Spoken Word Grant fro Intermedia Arts, and the Many Voices Residency from the Playwrights' Center, in 2005-06 and 2007-08. As a performance poet, he has enjoyed great success in national competition, ranking nationally in 2007, 2008 and 2009, as well as winning the National Poetry Slam with the St. Paul team in 2009 and 2010.
"Khary Jackson's work is terrifyingly wonderful, like a scorpion hiding in the shoe of your worst enemy."
—Shane Hawley, Author
Khary Jackson, aka "6 is 9", performing "Her Name"
at the 2009 St. Paul Grand Slam