ED ASNER

- 1970-

“...style...”

Grind me Nautica, Vic Tayback.
Line chef para Alice arm hair,
fore-sausage & anchor tat,
snatch, a silvered chest, V-
neck, sleep hard Weezy—
Zebra-Jive-Turkey.

As in how do you do that?
Glimpse, a tad, pecking
the surface glaze, or Dove
Men+Care. iNot be puppy breath,
tan streak down the cheek, scar,
or Bowie’s bass: VANILLA ICE 

tricks a pompadour. Jim Carrey
a detour, when slips the tongue.
Airborne pellet in seltzer fizz. ED— 
father had a junk business...barrels 
of jimmied pistols...they wouldn’t fire 
...but they were good for kids.

More by Ronaldo V. Wilson

Post-Dissertation-Intervention (i.)


I always tell my dancers. You are not defined by your fingertips, or the top of your head, or the 
bottom of your feet. You are defined by you. You are the expanse. You are the infinity. 

—Judith Jameson
 

Elizabeth Alexander in The Black Interior writes about beauty, and how black artists 
resist monstrousness by their own self-definitions.  

I’m interested in this repair, too, but find comfort in the ugly.  I love monsters.
We both consider Brooks.  In the poem, “The Life of Lincoln West,” when Elizabeth 

hones in on two white men describing little, black Lincoln, specie, I zip to the poem’s 
end, to what I read as Lincoln’s release: “it comforts him to be the real thing.” 

I align after June Jordan, whom am I when pinched, patted, and bent?
Get behind her defense of Black English in On Call: How can I be who I am?

We do with what’s given.  I suppose, I may not share viewpoints, but still, 
I connect.  Of prose, Meena Alexander says she uses it to clear the underbrush 

to make space for the poem.  Vacate fields, ropes, a body.  Don’t hate on Elizabeth. 
Do you.  Frame how she pairs Brooks with Lawrence and Bearden.  

To argue, she opens walls, and living rooms.  So, you like death?  Is your project 
Fanon’s?  Is this all a setup?  Fan  – on – it was a jolt in perception, then.

Pieces of this, repeat.  Toni Morrison, where she writes: the remains of what were left
behind to reconstruct the world these remains imply.

Ties to Brooks’s litany of the black body that endures, a stream of violent verbs
to enter, under buzz and rows of halogen: burned, bricked, roped to trees, and bound.

Now, what contexts shift in the stacks that glare before you?  And how do you return,
after, to what seized Brooks at Fisk, standing to face all those Blacks?  

71. Realizing Lucy

At the top of the hill, before the light gives way to the pine
     that fractures across the sky,
and the farmhouse, opens its door to shadow, there is a
     signal.

It is not the dead bird, lying out flat and face down in the
     middle of the street, its brown
belly on the pavement, cooled by the wind.

It is not in my chest, which opens up into sections as I
     breathe in the air that almost
shocks me into falling face down as I climb the hill.

It is not the breath. It is not the sky, which I haven’t looked
     at, staring up at the
mountains, which spreads down through the range up the
     curve.

It is not my knee, which seems at any moment will collapse
     into if nothing else,
the breaking beneath my legs, the final moment I push up,
     towards the end of the light.

There are shadows which cover the sign: SUN, painted in
     blue at the peak of the hill.
So, where, today, will I direct my anger?

Where will I turn, running past the women, who hover up
     the road, no cars,
crawling into their beers in the middle of the day?

Fat and White. I refuse to grow any fatter, or to not tan.     
     This summer,
I burn off another self, sprinting up the high hill of my own
     making,

burning Kcals toward the peak of my own release. In this
     face, “What a view?”—
someone asking another. Was I supposed to seek
     something else into which to slip?

Related Poems

Anna May Wong Rates the Runway

Even the white models
all wear their hair in straight bangs.
The Asian models, too—like clones

they glide out, lush throats
throttled by nephrite. The editors
call the pieces “1920s chinoiserie.”

I call them glorified dog collars.
One by one they strut, chameleons,
fishnetted darlings with red lips

that imply: diablerie. These women
slip into the diabolical roles
I’ve played but don’t pay for it.

Now I am someone’s muse.
Good. It’s February, Fashion Week.
The coldest winter since weather

went live. Everywhere still—pale
legs exposed to infernal snow.
I want to trust the mohair

to keep me warm—I want to trust
the cloth that holds me close.
But in this room, the spotlight flatters

every flaw. When the show is over,
the applause is meant for stars
but my ovation is for the shadows.

No, Kanye, it’s not LIKE we’re mentally in prison

            for my grandfather

We don’t have heirlooms. Haven’t owned things long enough. We’re hoarding us
in our stories.                         Like October 26—the Oklahoma Quick
Stop gas at 90¢ and, in 158 more days,

Passion of the Christ in a wildlife
refuge with Rabbits foot and Black
Capped birds—when Edgar Whetstone shoots

himself. Like August 4, 1919. Like Ada Willis births
the boy conceived with Boy gone somewhere. Like her prayers and circa 10
years past and Mr. Charlie saying, Edgar reads (you call that 
       clean?)

but please, girl, coloreds don’t become
doctors. Like Edgar trashed his books.
Like served, discharged. Like funeral

director close to doctor as it got.                  Formaldehyde wrecked him
like Time to get up out the South Detroit inspect dynamics burn
a house down torch the county jail.             Like now, October. Like I found,

searching the internet, one shot
of the asylum’s blurry hall
empty but for an organ’s pipes.

I saw Edgar deluding hymns rousing the two of us in Rock
of Ages followed by Philippians 1:21—to die
is gain. No way to prove the claim, you die in dream, you die for 
       real.

Our family still hanged from trees.
Like if they ever fall, no one
will hear it someday for a while.

Time Reviews The Ziegfeld Follies Featuring Josephine Baker, 1936

TIME REVIEW:

Before, we pictured her without diamonds,
Without sequined gowns and a face of paint.
We could see that this show was not the time
For a lithe St. Louis girl of her race
To flaunt her flanks in front of New York men.
How could she expect us to find applause,

When we had saved to throw coins of applause
To Fanny Brice1, our star, a diamond
On a stage of lights? Besides, what these men
Wanted was a dream well drawn beyond paint,
Not a life-size black doll flaunting her race
And wares as if this were her place and time.

Parisian and brown? This was not the time
For a poor Negro girl to find applause
When she had given up her one true race
America—for filthy France. Diamonds
Draped from her neck and ears, but even paint
Chips on the wrong surface. A street woman

Posing as a lady—please. Petty men
Could appreciate her dance, which was timed
To a beat of rags and old iron. Paint
The picture true, and let’s save the applause
For patriots—Eve Arden, a diamond,
And Bob Hope, a charm—not this girl with race

On her hips and tongue. The spice of race
Can be sweet or tart; the lips of the man
Who tastes will be surprised. To think diamonds
Will clear the palate is a waste of time.
Sure, we gave Princess Tam Tam2 an applause,
Even if she mumbled through songs and paint,

Even when she would cry and run her paint,
We listened. This is not about her race
But her choice of song, her need for applause
That would outshine Fanny Brice. Any man
Would give her a break, but the place and time
Was not this night. Yes, Brice was our diamond.

 

JOSEPHINE BAKER RESPONDS:

They want bananas on hips, not diamonds
On my décolletage. I’m under the paint,
Sinews dancing through segregated time;
It’s not all about jazz or even race.
Fanny Brice’s bland version of “My Man,”3
In smoke-filled bars couldn’t steal an applause,

So how do they think she deserves applause
On Broadway under lights and with diamonds
Dangling from her dewlap? I got a man,
He stays with me when I take off the paint,
And he doesn’t care about this whole race
Hoopla; he loves Josephine for me. Time

Magazine just started taking the time
To acknowledge Negroes, and now applause
From them is supposed to predict racial
Equality on stage? Talent? Diamonds
Determine my success. They can go paint
Broadway as white as they please, all the men

On the Champs will tell you I’m the woman
By which they measure others; only Time
Had a problem with my act, when the paint
Comes off, that’s all it comes down to: applause
From friends not foes. Just look at this diamond
On my hand from my Pepito4; does race

Refract in its eye, or light? You see race
is not real, only light and love; no man,
Negro or white, can change that. The diamond
Holds so much truth because it endures time;
It struggles through nothingness for applause;
It holds its breath, dark, naked without paint

Or the benefit of believing paint
Will change things because she is the same race
As coal underneath it all. And applause
Is just some dream. At times, even my man
Who, after all, is white, doesn’t see time
And again how I’m merely a diamond

Trying to catch some light under the paint. Man,
I’m telling you, race problems will change with time,
Long after applause and this diamond’s light fades.


Fanny Brice, the longtime star of the Ziegfeld Follies, was known for her talents as a comedienne as well as a singer.

Princess Tam Tam was a film starring Josephine Baker, produced in 1935.

“My Man” was a popular song written by Maurice Yvain as “Mon Homme.” Later, the English lyrics were written by Channing Pollock for the Ziegfeld Follies.

Pepito was Josephine Baker’s fiancé from 1935–1936. He died of cancer before she completed the run of the Ziegfeld Follies.