Thursday Lit: Two Movies by Danez Smith & Eykelboom by Brad Watson

Right, so first off, let’s all take a moment to celebrate the fact I’m actually on time this week. Shit, I’m positively early. Right on the heels of that (tiny) success, however, comes this failure: I couldn’t pick a poem or a short story to feature today, at least not a single one. It was a bumper week for reading and it seemed like every day I found something new to talk about, something wonderful or deep or dark or strange or all of those things.

So I’m going to mention a few of them. First up, I was stunned by Danez Smith’s poem ‘Two Movies’. It’s straight up fucking excellent, and while toward the end of it, I thought there were weaker sections — weak only in comparison to the brilliance and power of what came before — it recovers beautifully and the overall effect of it is still a resounding success. It begins like this:

PITCH FOR A MOVIE: LION KING IN THE HOOD

1. cast list

Mufasa & his absence played by every father ever

Simba played by the first boy you know who died too young

Sarabi played by the woman in church who has forgot the taste of praise
in favor of the earth that hold her boy captive

Nala played by the girl crying on the swing for her valentine who now date the dirt

Timon & Pumbaa played by Ray-Ray & Man-Man, the joy of not-dead friends

Zazu played by the ghost of James Baldwin

Rafiki played by a good uncle with a bad habit, his lust for rocks on his lips

Scar played by the world, the police, the law & its makers, the rope-colored hands

The extended riff on Disney, on the Lion King, is incredibly well handled. If you were looking to pick a film that occupies centre place in our generation’s childhood, you’d be hard pressed to find a better choice — the bright, joyously-coloured imagery of it plays out in your mind when you read the poem, only paired now with a totally different narrative, one which is too horribly real for too many people. He mines it for all its worth, and it turns out it’s worth a hell of a lot, a veritable treasure trove of cultural iconography that was merely waiting to be reclaimed; remember, this was a movie about African animals written by white people.

(Disclaimer: I love that damn movie, I’m just pointing out why it was such an effective choice for this poem.) I won’t say any more on that, though, because there’s a whole lot more to be said for the poem, which it goes on to say better than I ever could. Also, it bears mentioning that a few weeks ago I wrote a poem referencing the Lion King heavily, and after reading this one, I realised how pathetically I had done so. I may go and burn that poem now.

You should definitely go and read this much better one though, go get a taste of suffering and beauty and pain, the lived experience of too damn many. Bravo, Danez, for laying out this essential roadmap, brick by hurtful brick.

#

Of the many great stories I read this week, I think Eykelboom by Brad Watson has to take the top spot. It shares the same landscape as last week’s choice, Rope by Joshua Harmon, actually; it makes a home in the darkness of children. But whereas Rope relied on mystery and, to a degree, whimsy–in so much as the girls’ lyrical wonderings always seemed to occupy a place sideways to reality, rather than directly embedded in it–Eykelboom is a more direct and brutal examination of the cruelty of boys and men.

It begins like this:

Where had they come from, the Eykelbooms? The boys suspected Indiana, Illinois. Some crude and faceless Yankee state. The Eykelbooms had emerged and emigrated from it. It was a tiny, deeply threatening invasion.

I do not mean to say this story lacked subtlety, by the by. It had that in spades, and mystery too, coming later in the musing of adults wondering about events in their childhood, if it had happened the way they recalled, or ended the way they assumed. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more accurate portrayal of boyhood–of this particular kind of boyhood, this particular kind of run-down life–and I say that as someone who lived an approximation of it. The violence, overt and not; the cruelty, consciously chosen and not; the brotherhood of trespassing, the intangible otherness of it stretching between boys, somehow more real than anything else… It’s all here in this fantastic portrayal of the amoral darkness central to adolescence.

This was a superb story. You’ll read it and realise you need to read everything else this man has written; I know I did. Go forth and enjoy!

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