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Endless Evening Appomattox Blues
America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.
George Floyd, face on the street, the cop’s knee on his neck, he was dying.
But did he know?
Laying there in the middle of the day. Laying out there in the afternoon. Trying to live, I guess. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t try to live at a time like that. Trying to live, man, when everything has collapsed in on itself/ as the greasy dumpster alleys and the swift smart pigeons and the passing people with their lit cigarettes and their stop-n-stare/ iPhones out/ iPhones up/ and their hearts beating faster than they have ever beat before/ all of them watching you trying to live.
Or trying something.
When the whole world is softly melting down beneath your body all things must be hard to believe. Hard to recognize the truth. Hard to understand the unfolding moment. Wrapping your head around so much, we have to do that all the time, but it’s probably different when it’s like this. Or like that. It’s got to be different when it’s raw as fuck and you were up in the bodega or the convenience store or whatever you call it and you were doing your thing/ maybe trying some shit/ maybe not hurting anybody/ maybe messing around with the bad idea/ but now/ you know/ what is happening here?
Get the fuck on the ground, motherfucker!
Don’t fight back!
Do what I say!
DO WHAT THE FUCK I AM TELLING YOU TO DO!
I don’t know everything the cop says in the video. Or what he said in George’s ear. I don’t know what he was saying to himself either, but the inner dialogue- at that point- is where the a lot of the story lies. In the man with the badge and the gun’s mind/ his own familiar conscience/ his old familiar heart/ his brain/ his blood throttling through his veins like street dope. What was he telling himself? What was he wanting to happen?
In George Floyd’s space, in his head: an entirely different galaxy. The fear of being hurt. The frantic horror of realizing that you are in a very, very dangerous situation. And then, I guess, that you are not getting away. That you are in a real bad way. And then, maybe, that you are done for. That this is it. A regular ass day has turned into the unthinkable.
George Floyd: the echoey reverberations of his own grunts and screams pinging off the aluminum walls of his throat being crushed.
What the hell is that like?
What does it sound like when the lights begin to fade? When the people screaming at the cops to let up, to have some fucking mercy, when their voices back away down the tunnel/ Doppler Effecting/ and their words slip away/ and their meanings slip away/ and everything that ever was and ever will be, man, it just slips and slips away.
What do you hear then?
Do you hear the rattling of the street signs in the delicate summer breeze?
Do your own words sound desperate inside of you/ tinged with the urgency of trying to live/ of fighting to remain/ to stay/ to continue to be? Is it animalistic at some point, even if just for a moment?
Is there grace somewhere in there?
Do you talk to God? What if you don’t believe in God? I don’t. But I guess it could’t hurt at that point to ask for help from anyone or anything that might be tuned in to your signal somewhere out there.
Or does your mind try to help you? Does it, in the end, just start lying outright to you in that old familiar friend way?
That same old voice, telling you it’s gonna be alright/ to get on with things/ telling you to head up the block right about now/ telling you to wink at that sexy woman in the mini market because she is fine as fuck/ telling you to have a smoke/ to go see your little cousin/ to holler at your buddy across the street/ to grab some chips or a slice/ to climb those old hot stairs and to bust into your room in this long afternoon and just lay your tired ass down in front of the box fan and let the sweat slide down your skin/ down the crook of your back and down into the crack of your butt and down the side of your brow and you can feel the salty sting of drops rolling in your eyes and your mind is talking calmly to you that it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.
You can just ease up out of this madness for a little while.
What is that like to have your own voice on the outside trying to convince the world to stop being the world and to lift you up out of all this and set you back down somewhere else. Somewhere safe. Some place where a man can just stand on his own again, try to process what’s going down.
And then, what is it like to drive your knee down into another man’s windpipe?
What is that feeling? Not on the outside so much, but I want to know what it’s like on the inside. Behind that face. Behind those eyes. Back up in there where there is also a voice and it must be familiar but it might be excited too. Or more excited than usual. And it might be harsh but it might be calm/ I just can’t say for sure. You can’t either. No one can. But there must be something dropping, some kind of narration, some voiceover shit happening in real time saying something, if not profound, at least telling.
Don’t get up.
I feel alive.
I feel alive now, son, with your goddamn face pinned to the road.
What happens when you trap a man like that? And what happens when you die inside of all that? And what happens when the people all see it and they all react in different ways?
Black mothers crying in the living room. Young kids staring at the computer screen. White mothers crying in the living room. White mothers raging at the motherfucker for resisting the police. Old black men on the corner, talking mad, talking sad. Asian people watching on the evening TV. Indian people watching on the morning TV. School teachers wiping tears from their eyes. Other school teachers struggling with their own thoughts/ he deserved it/ he must have deserved it.
Police watching it on the TV in the cop bar.
Drunk people watching it in their own taproom. In their own gin mill.
Husky white dudes in their late 30s, early 40s: with the beards: with the college: with the start-up business: with the middle of he roadness: watching it on the TV and talking to the man on the ground, telling him:
Yo, buddy, stop resisting, or else you’re going to have a problem!
I don’t want you to die like you die (I already have heard that you die), but you are making trouble for yourself and so you need to quit that shit and just give up so you can live!
Give up so you can live you dumbass motherfucker!
Give up so you can live, son!
Somewhere down inside each of us, beyond the color scale and the gender thing and the bank accounts and all your stupid shit you collect and haul around and act like you own it, somewhere drilling down with the pure clean hard driving drill of truth, there are revelations lurking huddled in the musky dark.
Down inside you: what you’re made of/ what you’re really made of.
And only you can ever hear it.
Rage and blues and so much more. It ain’t fair. And it isn’t fucking right.
So I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were interviewing Ty Seidule, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and history professor emeritus at West Point. The reason he was being interviewed (and has been interviewed quite a bit over the past few years) is because he wrote a compelling memoir titled Robert E. Lee and Me. It’s a book I had read about a year ago. The whole premise had intrigued me: this Southern-born American white fellow grows up imbibing a hardcore Confederate air in Northern Virginia in the 1960s. By the time he is a young man, Seidule has designs on being a ‘Southern gentleman’ like his idol, the Confederate legend and fellow Virginian, Robert E. Lee.
What ultimately transpires across the roughly 250 pages is this one southern man’s arcing tale of moral transformation as he moves, over time, from a die-hard Confederate true believer to an absolute staunch supporter of the notion that R.E. Lee was a traitor, and that the whole secession thing was a crime against… well…. just about everyone and everything.
Especially black people.
The book is clear and spirited and I liked it a lot. It took balls to write it and it takes balls to stand by it. Especially in this day and age of violent political theater starring uneducated soulless dip shits. It becomes evident early on in the first chapters that the writer is feeling electric about this changing of the trails in his life. He beats himself up a bit for not understanding what he now adamantly deems the true cause of the American Civil War: slavery. But he also provides a very readable set of examples that back up what he is feeling, and what he is trying to say.
From the streets named after famous Confederates in his childhood neighborhood in Alexandria, to the so called ‘black’ school named (quite purposefully) Robert E. Lee Elementary during the very height of the Civil Rights movement, we are introduced, example by example, of how American southerners (and many, many American Northerners as well) have been exposed to a deep and solid glorification of the pro-slavery Confederacy since almost the very moments that the Civil War ended. On paper, at least.
It has always struck me- as I’ve listened to General Seidule speak on the various podcasts and YouTube vids I have checked him out on- that he is quite direct and confident of his points whenever he speaks. He talks, well, like a longtime military man. But he’s also pretty damn eloquent when he is making his points, too. And that comes across in the writing just as well as it does when he’s talking out loud.
Slavery is the root cause and the main cause of the Civil War, he says. Shocker, huh? Then he lists a lot of reasons why that is and, quite frankly, he hits moonshot home runs with each one. Of course, all of his facts and points are certainly debatable if you just so happen to be someone who truly NEEDS to feel proud of the Confederacy for some reason .
General Seidule, in my humble opinion, must be sincerely committed to these beliefs about the Civil War, the Confederacy, the South, and Lee - all of which only occurred to him much later in life than he even cares to admit- as he is taking a hell of a social beating from a lot of the exact kind of people who go out of their way in Walmart to thank a soldier in uniform for his service as they’re are wandering around looking for Frosted Flakes or something.
A lot of big time conservative right wing military lovers say HE is the traitor.
For calling Confederates traitors.
For labeling United States soldiers who had sworn oaths to serve their country and then broke that oath in order to join a new army so that they could kill the very United States that they had once promised to die for.
They accuse him of hopping on the recent bandwagon, of writing a memoir about dispelling the Lee/Confederate mythology in the name of advocating for a truth in which slavery and slaves are exposed for the mega tragic hunting knife scar across the very face of our entire American existence.
They call him ‘woke’.
They call him ‘woke’ the same way that they might call him cunt.
As if the words are interchangeable.
As if you can create the narrative/ any narrative/ any story/ no matter what the truth is/ according to your own arrogant needs. All you have to do is point the finger and deny everything.
All you have to do, dude, is lie, lie, lie.
I don’t really get what it means to be ‘woke’ it but it’s not because I don’t try. I do try. I like the idea. I love it actually. I hate the same old same old. To want things to stay the same is to reveal yourself as a coward and a fool, I say. Yet I’m not even sure I could qualify for woke. Or if I even would want to.
When I was a kid I always thought that people got calmer and wiser as they grew older. I thought I saw that happening around me. I thought I recognized regular people in their 40s starting to show signs of being smarter. More worldly. More open to people being themselves.
Less judgmental, I told myself. Older people are hipper to the world because they have been around and they understand that it is hard to be alive on this earth, no matter who you are or where you come from.
I actually thought those things. I generalized, painted shit with a broad brush. I was certain that true ignorance died in people by the time they hit 50. Surely by that time, all men and women must be feeling the same thing, more or less, about one another.
I see you. You are struggling but you are trying to get by. Keep going. And let me know if I can help you out somehow.
Boy, was I wrong. What a fool I turned out to be. Jesus. I mean, what an idiot.
Because, in case you haven’t noticed by now, a lot of people in this world, in your ‘merica/ my ‘merica/ they get meaner than a cornered snake the older they get. I don’t know why.
Maybe they feel ‘disenfranchised’.
Or maybe they are just horrible human beings.
I’m feeling old and lost now.
I’m feeling washed-up and- just between you and me- sometimes I feel kind of bitter inside because I tell myself that I wasted my life on rock-n-roll. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I don’t know.
It hasn’t been an easy road. Whose road is easy? Whose road is paved with handouts? Not mine. Hardly anybodies I’ve ever been around or known. Rich people’s kids maybe. But that’s all.
I’ve worked hard for everything I have. Most people have/ no matter what color they are. Why can’t we just get behind that communal truth?
And me? I’ve got no money. Paycheck to paycheck, all my life. No savings. No security blanket. The life I chose, I still have no health insurance. It is what it is, but help would be welcome. No one can tell me I’m lazy or irresponsible.
But people say that kind of thing about people like me all the time.
And most people have never done half of what I’ve done. Not even close.
I’m a laborer and I want to be a writer. I want make art out of wood and things I find in thrift stores. I eat dust and mow grass for money in this land of milk and honey, but I dream of just being able to be happy all day long. Because I’m alive. Because that’s what they always say to you when you’re growing up here.
Do what you love. Chase your dreams. You can accomplish anything with hard work.
Which is bullshit.
Why do you think all these people are so mad inside and need someone to blame? They were told they could have it all. And so they’re never satisfied with all that they have. They deserve more, they think. They deserve to keep every dollar they earn. To ignore the social good. To rule their own kingdom, like a wilderness settler homesteading in the Wyoming wind. Only, like 200 lbs heavier than those people were. And with a gas guzzling Hemi pickup truck that roars like a lion with a pitchfork in her ass and costs as much as a goddamn house almost.
I get down on myself when I think about all this. About George Floyd dying in the street.
The world knocks me down and takes my breath away. I can’t trust anyone anymore. Even sweet grandmas have the systemic racism oozing out of their fresh baked cinnamon roll smiles.
I can’t seem to swing too many friendships anymore/because I’m tired and busy, sure, but also because I’m so intensely scared of who you might turn out to be.
How do I live like that? Am I wrong to feel that way? Is it other people’s right to believe what they want to believe despite facts and truths and humanity and history and slavery and war and murder?
How do I prepare my kids for a world where a million little blue lines on a million little black and white flag stickers on a million cars in the Walmart parking lot are all dog-whistling in unison their little secret song? It’s the same melody they hummed in the 1930s in Germany. And it’s being winked and nodded at by the very grandsons and granddaughters of the actual American soldiers who fought and died to crush it in World War II.
How is it possible that George Floyd died like he died and the world just kept going on and it’s almost like it never happened? I get so unsure of myself/ afraid of being hurt/ being let down/ disappointed/ appalled by my fellow countrymen and women. I’ve been shocked into some kind of radical state of PTSD by the truth deniers and the ignorant proud who wear their own stupidity like a badge of honor and the Jesus Freaks and the American Flag hijackers and the Red-Line Re-districters and the ALL LIVES MATTER crew blowing across every goddamn path I go down anymore.
I hope the next generation continues to reveal the truth about Robert E. Lee.
I really do.
On this early November weekday, the sun is out but I’m inside at my desk. And I take George Floyd and his vulgar ending and I try to coerce and manipulate his haunted spirit into some kind of something else, something way older than him, something grander and tougher than us all.
And the thing is, if you are not a Civil War buff or a Civil War nerd or a Gettysburg-obsessed middle-aged working class Yankee Ass white dude like myself, you might not even give a rat’s ass about this little tidbit I’m able to drop on you right now. And I get that.
But this is my lane and we are both still driving in it and so here it is anyway.
There are a hell of a lot of American citizens who refuse to recognize that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.
There are a lot of grown-up adults living in the USA who absolutely refute the history that depicts slavery as the big bad root of this gangly antique Civil War tree that grew and grew and grew between 1861-1865 in the United States. A tree that still stares down at us from her perch on the hill on the edge of every city, town, backwater, and hole-in-the-ground across this strange great land.
Despite what so many renown historians have written/ and despite what scores of accomplished historical researchers, professors, scholars, authors, newspapers, books, magazines, movies, TV shows, teachers, dogs that can speak, birds in the bushes, reasonably intelligent Pop-Pops and MeMaws, WHITE/BLACK/RED/YELLOW/BROWN/PINK/PEOPLE OF ALL OF THE COLORS, despite all of that, there are STILL a huge number of living human beings who want to hem and haw around the American Civil War’s slavery origins in order to… I don’t know… in order to what?
Is it possible that they want be able to feel good about something that held no good then and holds no good now either? To romanticize what was always a mythical way of life ? To act as guardians of the fairy tale? To perpetuate, in the name of glorified racism, that legend of a slow-moving comfortable-for-whites genteel south where the magnolia breeze is a-blowin’ and the fish are a-bitin’ and the white man is forcing a-sex with one of his horrified slave ladies out there in the hay barn while his own wife, Scarlett, is up in the house a-makin’ a prayer to sweet baby Jesus for rain to make the cotton rise high?
Oh, just fuck off.
I think there are a lot of people out there who get off on imagining the dust rising over that Rebel army as they come marching across a sunburnt landscape.
It makes them feel oddly warm and cozy.
Like it’s all just some good whiskey swishing around down in the classy tumbler at the end of another hard-earned day.
As if fighting to perpetuate slavery is just a warm hunk of homemade cornbread with some black eyed peas, out on the porch, in that fine and glorious setting sun .
The issue at hand is that these goddamn Yankees need to stop resisting!
Give up so I can say whatever I want to say, you blue-bellied bastards!
Give up, you son-of-a-bitch!
There are no middle of the roaders on this stuff.
There cannot be now and there won’t be in the end.
I don’t understand how you can say that you believe that George Floyd dying on that street that day was wrong, TRUE, but so is burning down your own neighborhoods in riotous protest after the fact.
How can you say that? How can you quantify things in that hellish realm? How can a people not erupt and explode when they have been mistreated and held down for so long?
Explain how you can want them to just move back into the shadows, to stop blocking traffic and breaking glass.
How could any American not watch the people protesting all the neck-kneeing and all the shoot-em-in-the-back-as-they’re-running-away and all the radically cruel treatment of human beings over and over and over again/ and continue to convince themselves that things need to more or less stay this way.
That there are “other ways”/ “lawful ways” for those people to deal with their grievances.
Tell me what you tell yourself.
Just tell me.
Rioting in the streets is the most American thing that there ever was.
It’s even more American than the Civil War.
Speaking of which, the Civil War was a lot things piled up on top of a lot more things, but it isn’t that ultra complex to understand the basics. Truth is, in most ways, it was just an old fashion battle between Good and Evil.
And in my opinion, because slavery was totally abolished, I think that good ultimately prevailed out on the battlefield. But not so much on the farms and in the villages, or down in the city streets, or out on the hillsides or in the hollows or back the creeks or under the bridges or at the factories or in the schools. Or anywhere, really.
I lay my head down on this coffee-stained desk.
It all seems so deeply sad.
Why can’t we all just admit that the Confederacy was wrong? That Robert E. Lee wasn’t and still isn’t a gentleman? And that slavery was the most hateful and terrible thing that has ever gone down on this Earth?
Then they killed Lincoln.
They shot him in the back of his head while he was sitting with his wife watching a play.
Was that you?
Did you shoot him?
You know, I wonder about you sometimes.
Sometimes I think I want to rip my own teeth out of my head and throw them in your face.
Don’t pigeonhole me. Don’t you dare even try. You can’t. You’ll fail.
Liberal? Conservative? Please.
A person is so much more than that.
And I am so much more than that.
I’m all made of pinecone sap and country onion and crosstown bus smoke and bat guano from Kentucky caves and the very rain from the sky the day I was born. I have James Brown in my face and Dolly Parton in my smile and a hundred post-battle gravediggers living in my teeth.
You don’t know me. I’m no patriot and I’m no radical and I’m no bystander holding his breath. I’m a man. American man. Alive now, dead someday. I work with my hands and also with my mind. I have children and I love them so much and I know they will hurt and I know they will try and I know they will mess up. And I know they will understand, eventually what it means to hate without admitting it to yourself.
Inside of me there are sacks of dirty baseballs and tiny mountain trout and sweet beautiful Motown music playing from the alleys that roll out between my ribs.
In my hot groin I warehouse my American power.
I’m hung like a Bigfoot and I sing gospel in the private woods and I don’t believe in your God or any God and I believe in peace but I know it won’t come.
Everyday I’m hot on the trail of true art and real beauty. I see it in the leaves on the curb. I spot it on my wife’s sleeping cheek. Down on the Hulk sheets, I see a little kid that looks like me. I smile because he’s mine. And I cry a little because I know I cannot change his world.
My Honda is a wagon train. Every fucking road I run is the goddamn Oregon Trail.
There is more 2nd Day of Gettysburg in the DNA dust I leave in my wake when I kick off my Vans as I’m rolling to the fridge to grab a Miller Lite pounder than most of you modern Mountain Dew patriots could ever dream of.
Don’t think you know what I am trying to tell people because you don’t. It isn’t just that one thing. Or something else either. It’s all the things about being good.
Black Lives Matter.
And someone’s refusal to even try to recognize that because it makes them feel good to hurt others/ that matters too. But it’s more than that. And I hate to admit it but I will. I have to admit that I just can’t figure out how to get it all out. The words, I mean. How to articulate it. The monumental hurt inside that I feel when I see George Floyd die over and over and over again. How did we let that happen?
Who would ever let that happen?
Robert E. Lee?
Fuck yeah, he would.
Now to carve certain undeniable phrases into your arm with some old high school compass. I drag that gummy metal up and down your goose-y forearm, scratching into your chicken skin. Into your tired body. The blood seeping to the surface. Our eyes locked.
My credentials are intact.
My Americanness is tried and true.
I am so menacingly U.S. that I eat eagle meat. I flip it around in the wok. I toss in green onions and basil and chillies. Soy sauce in the end. Lime juice from real limes. I eat it with a couple Civil War soldier’s arm bones for chopsticks. A glass of Rioja. My Bruce Catton books. My John Brown books. My Ta-Nehisi Coates books, I haven’t even read those yet, but I will. I will unless this life kills me before I can get to them.
You never know.
I know that much.
I want to change the world, but I’m a fool and I’m not wise and I’m banged up and probably going about it all wrong/ putting other people down/ wanting to hurt them for hurting others, for hurting me.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Oh, the good old USA.
Every day, this land, it feels so intensely good to me, and yet so strange and surreal, too.
Sometimes I see George Floyd dying in the street in the middle of a cornfield that I’m racing by. On my way to the next moment of my life. My continuing life. My uninterrupted white life.
There is so much I don’t understand.
There are Confederate flags in my Pennsylvania town this afternoon. Flying proudly. Flipping off decency. Flipping off any black child going down the road in the backseat of a car/ looking out the window on a nice spring afternoon/ smelling the country air.
The people who love that flag, they talk in jive-y circles about how it doesn’t mean what we think it means until your head spins from gas-lighting.
It’s all just too much sometimes.
This is for you if that is in fact you looking in at me like I think it is.
Here goes nothing.
Stepping outside into the cool autumn morning I’m guessing that you head down that road feeling free; feeling confident and sure; breathing in that sharp November air. The things coming out of your mouth, the voice in your head talking shit.
The Civil War was not about slavery.
George Floyd shouldn’t have resisted.
The election was stolen.
You shouldn’t tear down the monuments/ they’re history.
To the wrong side of history, that’s where you’re bound. Out there in the back fields on fire, with the slave drivers and the Gestapo and the wicked tyrants and the religious types who exploit and lie and who were born for Hell. Out there with General Lee running around without a horse, shitting himself behind his tent in the purgatory painting he lives in now. General Lee. Crying like a baby. Weeping like a child.
Out there with that fucking cop on his dirty knee, begging for salvation.
George Floyd standing back up, wiping himself off, looking down at that cop with tears in his eyes.
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Edited by Arle Bielanko.
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If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. If you were born yesterday then any leader can tell you anything.
- Howard Zinn