Of course I know the story of the scorpion
and the frog. I've known Biggers all my life.
I’ve cast down my buckets where I've
stood with them, shoulder to shoulder, our bodies
bent like double helices in the fields. And
when the mob came for Dick didn’t I sit anyways
outside his quarters all night like a jailhouse lawyer,
him ignorant of the nature of his custody?
It was me who kept the townsmen at bay after he
provoked them. My cousin among them
had watched him grin and wheedle,
consort with white people carelessly, our naïve
and guileless women, at the civil gathering where
he was my ward. And later, because of me,
his offense went unanswered, un-atoned.
I know the hearts of men are governed
by the endowments of nature. Some children
are faithful. Some are made to obey.
First I had to capture the boy
in a thicket of print.
He tried to make my happy darky
dangerous, make my darky
an idea that I couldn’t bear to swallow. So
I made him a hothouse flower, writing, His hunched
shoulders and long, sinewy arms that dangle
almost to his knees, but warned
readers that Nixon, the "Brick
Slayer," as I christened him,
had none of the charm of speech
or manner that is characteristic of so many
southern darkies. I am a gentle man.
He is very black—almost pure Negro. Withal,
I had to cleave that slate with first words, in order
to get at him, get the nature right, and I
could almost hear the stone sing
like the brick
he used to beat the white woman
who discovered him, that June day in '38,
bagging her Philco radio—as if it were
me doing the slaying.
One quarter argument two
quarters confession. I engender
my experience in the characters
and they thrive; for the balance
I tracked Robert Nixon, so-called
"Brick Slayer," through rows
and columns, finding him breathing
in the margins of the Chicago Tribune.
I loved that boy like redemption
loves a sinner and saw in him
the mute pronouncements of the proletariat,
mutiny on the Potemkin. No wonder I
was reluctant to ditch the script I wrote
with Paul Green, that playwright
accused of being a lover of the down-
trodden. Much as I wished to avoid
controversy, when Welles demanded
a Bigger without dream sequences, without
singing, for the Broadway production,
I sighed relief. I knew I had to protect
my creation from the caustic
ministrations of Southern sensibility.
By North Star or candlelight, by necessity,
I had to spirit him away.
More crucial than surveillance in the round
house of corrections called a panopticon is the being
watched the prisoner faces raising hairs on the ears.
Like the sun’s warmth on the back recognized as light,
recognized as presence. White noise.
The confinement of plain sight. The vertiginous spin
siphoning off the will to question, to doubt,
g-forces pinning back the cheeks, prisoners
reduced to images affixed by the weight of the guard's
transparent eyeball the unreasoning stump of muscle
itself imprisoned like the figures stenciled on an urn.