Black and White

In that strange Seattle of 1975 when
Mercer Island was green with only six boats
there, and poor people still lived in Leschi
on the shore near the old Highway 10 tunnel,
both their brothers shared a love of Rufus
and especially of Chaka Khan, Sly
and the Family Stone, Tower of Power,
War, and of course the Band of Gypsies,
since Jimi babysat them when they
were kids. And so their brothers’ love
of music and their mothers’ love of
easy listening and bridge away from
messy rooms made them perfect playmates.
Back and forth from house to house, his and his,
playing Pong, Stratego, chess and sometimes
brother’s Tyco HO slot car set, they
grew up sharing everything, which wasn’t much
since neither had quarters for pinball.
All through college confidantes, one at
Berkeley, the other Cal Arts, they’d twice
a quarter drive to Central Coast and
share their passions, his latest fiction,
and his latest animation, talk
of all things avant-garde, the universe.
Neither knew the future; neither cared.
And now, one wild and messy boy holds a
Ph. D and tenured chair; the other,
a MacArthur and National Medal.
Still best of friends, inseparable –
and yet.
“Hey man,” comes the call. “They want
to do a book on me.” His friend leans
back. “Well, it’s about fucking time. I
guess you’re topical now.”
“No shit.
Funny how it goes. Bill Plympton
prolly felt the same. And check this out:
I suggested that for my biopic,
there’s only one choice: you.”
“Now I know
you’re fuckin’ with me….Wait, you’re serious?”
“Yeah. And get this. The publisher did some
survey or something, and this is what they
got –”
“Oh shit, hold on. Let me get a drink.”
“We think the professor is the wrong choice
as he cannot possibly understand the subject
who’s this cracker anyway thinks he knows
it takes a black person to understand black experience
this is just more cultural appropriation”
“Wait,” he says, “they didn’t say my parents
were slaveholders and colonialist
bastards who gave the Natives measles?”
“Nigga, your parents are Bosniaks.
They read more Islam shit than Farrakhan.”
“Yeah, but we whiteboys now. Just ask Twitter.”
“I wish you weren’t 90 miles away
so I could pop you.”
“No way, homie. Blow
all your interrectural skawwawy cwed
and zen back to zee geddo for you wiss
Kayne West and 2 Chainzezez.”
“Okay, I am too through with you now.
Fuck those assholes.”
“For real.” And then
they pause. “It’s all right, man,” he says. “It’s
all about the optics. No one would
even know we grew up together.”
“They could ask, for Christ’s sake. Shit, I’m
in the credits of four movies.”
“You know
it doesn’t work like that.”
“I know, I know.
They’ll get some Howard or Spelman grad
instead, someone from the South who knows
jack shit about Seattle and will
patronize you for 300 pages,
saying how much more black you’d be
if only you were from Atlanta
or DC. We’ve both read that interview
“I wonder. Did all those po-mo
deconstructionist fuckers praising Derrida and
Barthes think this was what they fought for?
Everything in atomic dust, no more agreements
so let’s just talk about our precious selves.”
We’re so interesting!”
“But not even
that. If they ever thought about themselves
they’d know they’re changing everyday.
Identity isn’t static.”
“It’s not
even that. It’s not identity.
It’s tribal affiliation, which
cult you belong to. As if the members
of a cult are permanent. As if
allegiances don’t change.”
“So true.
Sound like the shitheads here on campus.”
A sigh of disgust. A pause as each asks
the same unnerving question: How did we
get here? as they shake their heads unseen.
God knows people love appearances.
“Well, man, I gotta go,” he says. “Yeah.
I suppose we’re busy boys these days.”
“Come see me in a couple weeks,
when you’re on spring break.”
“Okay. I’ll be there.
Jennifer is traveling so I’m free.”
“Dope. I’ll catch you then.”
“All right, man.”
“Oh – by the way. Check your email in
a couple days, maybe next week.”
“For what?” he asks.
“Your contract, fool.”
“Come on, homes, you think I care about
their bullshit essentialism or their
fucking surveys? Only one man knows
my life like I do. And writing is
your thing, after all, like your Pushcart says.
Who else would I approve?”
“Well, fuck,” he
says. “I guess I have another deadline.”
“I know. My bad,” he laughs and his friend
laughs with, as he signs off, “You know…
Someday this shit won’t even be
a damn surprise anymore and we’ll be
back to being humans.”
“Yeah. Someday.”
Yes. Someday.

Categories Poetry

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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