a poem for pop culture

[the song for this week]

Cardi B Tells Me about Myself

Dear Frustrated in Flatbush,
Gurl, just go on ahead then.
You waiting for your Daddy
to give you the thumbs up?
Do what you like.
Do what makes your ass happy.
They gon’ call you all makes
and sizes of hoe anyway.
That’s how this thing been set up.
But just cuz they name a thing a thing,
don’t mean it ain’t still named God
in some other language.

Your fortune cookie say you poppin’.
You a full spread of good shit.
Your rotten wisdom tooth.
Your pockmarked shoulders.
Those eyelashes ain’t come here
to talk about the weather.
You the hottest day in July
and every fire hydrant in this city
is written out to your name.

Whatchu dead fish for?
Whatchu call that stroke?
Drowning? Baptism?
Gurl, you betta lick that
collection plate clean
and stop pretending you just
got off the first canoe from Heaven.
You ain’t nothin but
a big bowl of sweat rice.
You wring your left thigh,
they call you Vintage JuJu.
They like, “This some kind of nightmare?”

And it’s just you, smoking a blunt in the dark,
cackling like rain. Like your grandmama
at her ain’t-shit husband’s funeral.
Bitch, you been a woman.
This ain’t new skin.
Slap some Lycra on it
and call yourself a predicament.
You ain’t just somebody’s meal plan.
Pull back your hair and eat.

And look at this muhfukka,
sittin across the table,
lookin like he wanna bite you.
Tonight is tonight and tomorrow
might be somewhere else,
serenading some lesser bitch.
Throw his ass a bone and
stop worrying about your credit score.

You stay banging your tambourine
to the wrong hymnal.
I’m sure they had names
and inescapable mouths but
what your ex gotta do with this?
Why you still got his body in your linen closet?
That’s nasty. Bitch, keep your house clean.
You crying over spilled dick. Gurl buh-bye.
Getchu a free refill.

You too black for indie film housewife.
You too naked for conversation like this.
Too much soft brutality,
too much bathtub depression.
Why you always got your neck swung open?
Free throat don’t pay for your boy’s sneakers.
You already know I don’t even sigh for free.
Shit, I stroke a shallow strobe light,
inchworm down 4 feet of greasy pole,
and I still don’t feel like any less than a miracle.

EBONI HOGAN

Source: Poetry magazine, April 2014. © Eboni Hogan.

◊◊◊

Cardi B is a 28-year-old singer/rapper from the Bronx. She became famous through her videos and posts on Vine and Instagram, and is known for her plain speech and overt sexuality (her Instagram bio reads, in typical Cardi B fashion: GOD IS GREAT🙏🏼 | #BARDIGANG | I HAVE GRAMMYWINNINGVAGINA). She has been called ‘an influence [on] just about everything in pop culture’, and her current net worth is estimated at $24 million.

If you’re someone who reads a lot of traditional poetry, it’s likely that this poem (and the above paragraph) has come as a shock. Notice that: it is meant to be one.

This poem wants to shake things up. It wants to shock the institutions of English language poetry, which, as many have noted, are exclusionary of certain voices: ‘That’s how this thing been set up’. This poem takes a look at established aesthetic traditions, and walks away.

It takes hold of a language which many dismiss as cultural trash – and it makes poetry of it. What are the results?

The poem begins in the style of an agony aunt letter (‘Dear Frustrated in Flatbush’). Cardi B’s voice, in which the poem speaks, is positioned as a response to a cry for help – an attempt to make some distant person’s life a little easier to live. The advice she gives us ranges from liberating:

Gurl, just go on ahead then.

To confronting:

What your ex gotta do with this?
Why you still got his body in your linen closet?
That’s nasty. Bitch, keep your house clean.

It elevates us:

You hottest day in July
and every fire hydrant in this city
is written out to your name.

And it brings us back down to earth, teeth crunching on the tarmac:

Your rotten wisdom tooth.
Your pockmarked shoulders.

The voice of this poem is brutal and afraid. It is desperate to survive (‘I don’t even sigh for free’) and it knows what it is to be lonely (it’s just you, smoking a blunt in the dark, / cackling like rain’). Perhaps it is not to your taste; perhaps it feels rough or shallow. But whatever we think of Cardi B and her language, we cannot deny the sheer power of it in today’s world. Millions of people worldwide listen to it; there is something in it which compels us. This is a poem that drops into a language considered worthless and finds its joy, its spark, its sorrows and its fears. It asks to consider what experiences we deem ‘worthy’ of poetry – which voices we are willing to listen to, and which voices we dismiss. ‘Just cuz they name a thing a thing, / don’t mean it ain’t still named God / in some other language.’

Love,

Tanvi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s