“If You Can Serve Then You Can Poison.”

This semester in my MFA I have the profound good fortune of working with an amazing faculty member: poet, writer, and cultural historian Gale Jackson. Today in our twelve-person advising group, we worked together to respond to one of her poems — “1691. Tituba of Salem.” — which happened to be the first and only one I had already read.

* * * * * * * *

The whole poem is a deeply layered thing that I know I’ll continue to revisit. One line (now the title of this blog post) echoed as I was reading Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study In Urban Revolution. (Remember when I mentioned that? Yep, ha, still makin’ my way through it.) Describing an opening sequence in Finally Got The News (a renowned documentary self-made by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers), I Do Mind Dying authors quote League leader John Watson:

You get a lot of arguments that black people are not numerous enough in America to revolt, that they will be wiped out. This neglects our economic position. . . . There are groups that can make the whole system cease functioning. These are auto workers, bus drivers, postal workers, steel workers, and others who play a crucial role in the money flow, the flow of materials, the creation of production. By and large, black people are overwhelmingly in those kinds of jobs. [116]

Of course, times and circumstances change. This brings new questions. What does US de-industrialization mean for the potential of workers in the United States to “poison” the system we serve? How does utter disposability, from the point of view of capital, affect the position of undocumented immigrant workers as they clandestinely serve, haunted by a terrorizing, racist, sexist campaign of economic opportunism that threatens to incarcerate, violate, and deport?

The rich, ongoing resistance of immigrant workers in the US testifies that this shifting terrain does not completely close down our opportunities for struggle. Disruption and destabilization are still possible.

* * * * * * *

I also wonder about the converse. Perhaps if we can poison, then we can also serve.

I mean this more in terms of the ways that I might poison my own life. The ways that I might relate to, and feed, my own internal sufferings. Day to day, in subtle ways. Clinging to high expectations. Beating myself up over mistakes. Fearing and worrying about the future. Indulging in fantasies and daydreams, even when they make me feel kind of sticky and queasy afterward. In general, surrendering my happiness to the mercy of my own thoughts.

Goenkaji says: there is nothing more harmful than our own untamed mind. And there is nothing more helpful, more beneficial, than our own trained mind, tamed mind. This observation comes up again and again in dhamma teachings — the idea of “turning the (monkey-) mind into an ally.”

So much in one post! Hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. Happy Monday, friends.

PS: You, like me, might want to support Gale and her important ongoing work as an artist. She’s more of an “analog girl in a digital world,” to borrow a phrase from Erykah, so since the PayPal button is out, over the next couple days we’re gonna put our heads together to find a simple way for y’all to make offerings and contributions (and/or purchase some of her breathtaking books!) from afar.

2 thoughts on ““If You Can Serve Then You Can Poison.”

  1. Roger Nehring February 7, 2011 / 4:33 pm

    Thanks for the poem. Lots to think on in the post.

  2. Laurie Nies November 28, 2014 / 11:53 am

    I’m doing a project on Tituba, canyou please tell me where you got this poem? I would love to use it! Thanks so much~ Laurie, lnies@ucsd.edu

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