“The Sun Came
BY ETHERIDGE KNIGHT
And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
The sun came, Miss Brooks,--
After all the night years.
He came spitting fire from his lips.
And we flipped—We goofed the whole thing.
It looks like our ears were not equipped
For the fierce hammering.
And now the Sun has gone, has bled red,
Weeping behind the hills.
Again the night shadows form.
But beneath the placid face a storm rages.
The rays of Red have pierced the deep, have struck
The core. We cannot sleep.
The shadows sing: Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcolm.
The darkness ain't like before.
The Sun came, Miss Brooks.
And we goofed the whole thing.
(Though ain't no vision visited my cell.)”
Since the beginning of the 21st Century we’ve had warnings to get our act together, warnings that seem to be getting larger in amplitude, more frequent and with greater urgency.
The biggest terrorist attack on American soil briefly served as warning to stop being complacent with the suffering of those who couldn’t benefit us, to heal our divisions and realize we ‘are more alike . . than we are unalike’ (Maya Angelou)
Three pandemics sounded the alarm for the big pandemic for which we knew we were unprepared. The alarm said stop contributing to the development of superbugs, ensure healthcare is available to the most vulnerable, ensure we recognize the source of strength is our citizens and our workforce – not our stock prices and wealth.
A financial collapse sounded the alarm that exploitation is not a financial system and the signs of a strong economy is in the purchasing power and the stability of the working class.
The sun came and we chose, like Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, to ‘sleep in the coolness / of snug unawareness.’
Poets tend not to effect change directly. But what poets do is to point out the errors in our allusions, to sound the warning signs that we are heading toward the cliff. If we were represented by one figure in literature – perhaps it should be Cassandra, gifted with the gift of prophecy, cursed to watch the tragedy unfold regardless.
Gwendolyn Brooks, and Etheridge Knight, in conversation with Brooks – wrote from the perspective of this curse – having watched great leaders like Dr. King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X revered in history books gunned down in their prime and seemingly having their words not reflected in the communities they led – where injustice persisted.
Illusions and missed opportunities for change.
This is one reason poets find their lives in danger under authoritarian regimes – they are a danger to the illusion. In the US, where the illusion of exceptionalism infects citizens at all levels – no sort of oppression is needed. The work of ignoring truths that are not convenient, that are outside our ‘snug unawareness,’ is done for the authoritarians at the lowest level of society.
Today is Etheridge Knight’s birthday and we have another reminder that we are in the process of ‘goof(ing) the whole thing.’
The Sun, in the form of a life altering light on inequality and a realization that the most essential members of our society are those with the ability to nourish, to teach or to heal – has been here. It’s been an opportunity to make changes that set the balance which for decades has been geared toward extracting our resources upward and endangering our future for the short term wealth of a few. Technology has allowed us to see suffering in distant places before it reached us. But we’ve used that technology to send rumors and stir up protests in the name of abstract ideas like being free from the things that might save our lives. Instead of looking out for those doing vital work we are rallying around the few doing the damage and their ‘right’ to extract. And if we’re paying attention to how this plays out through history we should be alarmed enough to act knowing that warnings only happen so many times.