Poem of the Week | April 16, 2008

This week’s poem is “White Power” by Preston Mark Stone, which originally appeared in TMR 30:4 (2007).  Stone’s work has appeared in the Red River Review, Lumina, and the Crab Creek Review.  He holds an MA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and was a winter fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

“I was born in Marietta, Georgia, and grew up in Maryland. My mother emigrated from the Philippines to work in the sciences, and my father is a Virginian of Irish and French Huguenot descent.  I inherited my mother’s quick mind and my father’s quick wit, and somehow this led to poetry.  I’ve traveled a lot in the United States and have lived in Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, California, New York, Massachusetts and now Philadelphia.  I tell people that I’ve drifted around so much because I needed to see my country in order to write about it; the truth is, I went out to see if other people were as strange as I am.  It turns out that everyone is wonderfully strange; it takes some courage to embrace it, and a special kind of reckless courage to put it into art.  My poems arise from meeting points between my country’s strangeness and my own.  Most days, this is a lot of work-there’s a lot of writing down and crossing out.  But some days, it’s easy-I just put Whitman in one pocket and Dickinson in the other and go for a walk.”

White Power

To explain, for instance, this gas station clerk
who speaks to me in emphasized English, as though
my native language were something he heard in a war
movie, I have to go back to my neighbors in Bakersfield,
who listened to metal and shaved their heads

because their neighborhood was filling up with spicks,
niggers, fags and me. “Go back to the jungle!” they’d shout
at fruit pickers and drag queens, and I wondered what
imagined world they fought, what tropic in which
people swing from banana trees like crazed gay
Mexican lemurs. “Go back inside,” their mother told them

when she saw me watching from my porch, my face
brown with California sun, my eyes like slants of rice grain.
They vanished into their cluttered besieged house, the deadbolt
dropping as the door shut. To understand the deadbolt,
I have to go back to high school, to a boy who called me gook

every afternoon as he walked past me. His father was a veteran,
his brother a marine, my face the enemy’s face.
Every day for a year, he strolled by me and looked straight ahead
as he said gook in emphasized English, or chink, rice nigger,
slant-eye, Chinaman. The afternoon I caught him alone

and saw the swastika drawn on the back of his hand,
I punched him in the face until he curled up on the floor, arms
shielding his temples, and then I kicked him until
the police came. To explain why I was crying when my boot
met his belly, I have to go back to my first neighborhood

where, when I was eight, white people moved in.
Their sons were a little older, and loved to play cowboys
and Indians. They were the blond and fair frontiersmen,
the rest of us hordes of small dark Cherokee struck down

to make America. You two are Indian scouts, they said,
and you over there, you’re braves. Everyone was a cowboy
or an Indian, except for a little girl and me. We don’t need
no more Indians, they said. Too many
damn Indians already. You two, you’re horses.

We giggled until they pushed us to our hands and knees
and ordered us to eat grass. A year later, I would fight
one of them until he made me cry, but there on all fours,
I ate the grass. The little girl bawled, her mouth green
as money. Get along, they said. They drew
their pistols, and they rode us.