As usual, I’m sitting in the kitchen of my filthy apartment where I write all of the poems that I write while at home. Home is a funny distinction we make against all of the other space one may inhabit. When I was an adolescent (am I still one?) I really loved Zack Braff’s film Garden State. In it, a character recounts that as you get older you don’t feel a sense of home anymore. I get that. Eventually though, you try to recreate that feeling of home. I’m trying very hard to do that now in a home filled to the brim with incredibly talented artists. My address, or home if you will, is often thought of as a place of love by those who don’t live in it. We make a lot of art here. We all show our love for one another on a daily basis. This is the space that my friends and I have made to recreate a feeling of home that was missing. Nonetheless, I refer to Massachusetts as my home while in Brooklyn. While in the confines of the commonwealth, I refer to Brooklyn as the same.
Everyone who lives here, this place I write from, loves punk music. And how can we not? As politically aware people, punk and hip hop gave us a home outside of contemporary mainstream culture. We try to have our house, our existence, emulate this lifestyle. But I can only occupy this space because of my parents who help me afford living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, New York CIty, while I finish my degree. Everyone in the house also shares an affinity for the song “Straight to Hell” by the Clash, and by extension, the Clash in general.
“Straight to Hell” is the first song I can remember that made me openly weep upon first hearing it. Cold winter’s day. One of my feet was wet, which is a personal scourge of my existence. My nice warm foot was calling out and waving its comfort to my soaked and squishy sock. I hate this. Mostly because it is a metaphor. I don’t hate metaphor. I hate this metaphor because it is a metaphor to how I could feel at any time. While I struggle with depression, with a high amount of debt, I still feel as though my existence is one that waves at the less privileged around me and the world. I spend a lot of my time advocating for the under-privileged with multiple organizations. I feel a lot of guilt that I come from so much privilege. I’m white. I’m straight. I’m middle-class. I hate capitalism much like Joe Strummer did. But both of us exist within it. I never want to exist in an ivory tower. I prefer direct action.
But first, let me get to the first time I heard this song. Before my father had gone to fight in the “War on Terror,” he gave me a copy of the Clash’s greatest hits. This was because as an adolescent he was a punk. He argued that any kid about to go into adolescence was going to need the Clash. He would be gone for a year. He was right. By the time he returned I knew all the words to the entire LP.
I listened to “Straight to Hell” while hiking in the snow covered woods. I deal with a lot of memory suppression from that time in my life. A lot of the snap- shots that exist are like flash fiction. Also like rubber cement. I have a realization, dip into it, and get stuck on one shred of a memory. It’s like watching a really dark sitcom’s clip show in fast forward. This particularly snowy memory I have all the way through– though it is only a scene, really.
So I’m walking in the woods, one wet foot. And that guitar comes on. If you’ve heard it you know. And if it doesn’t feel like a feather scratching your spine, I don’t know what music feels like when it’s in your body. I like headphones. It feels like your ears are corked. Like the music is inside you, stuck there. Each of my vertebrae is lighting up. When I get really flustered, a frosted breath runs through my arteries and I give a little shiver. So that’s happening. I sit down, on a bench which is by a neighbor of mine’s grave.
“Straight to Hell” is about the disenfranchisement of children that were born as product of American soldiers impregnating Vietnamese woman. It depicts the feeling of not being able to fall back on a culture. I’m not one of those children specifically. But this was the first piece of art I came into contact with that allowed me to point to it and say, “that’s me.” Even if it explicitly wasn’t. As a child on the verge of being a teenager, I was stunned by how eloquently another was able to speak for me, nearly about me. I was disenfranchised by a country. I did not agree with a war. I had no power. I was a child. My voice didn’t count. I screamed for months and no one would listen. When I started showing physical signs of mental distress, people were concerned but it did not legitimize anything I was feeling. It merely legitimized the pain I was feeling. That warbling guitar, even more so then the lyrics, told me everything I already knew about myself. I had a father, but I realized that my father was a disposable thing to a country that wasn’t interested in what I had to say. I was a punk and I didn’t know it until then. I started reading ex-pat lit. I felt like an ex-pat in America. I didn’t qualify, but as a kid, that was fine.
As I was writing this, a song by one of my favorite current punk bands was released. It’s called “I’m Not a Part of Me,” by Cloud Nothings. In the song, if I’m hearing the lyrics correctly, a line is “You’re not me and you’re a part of me.” Whether this is the lyric or not is irrelevant. We hear what we need to hear in a lot of art, whether it is present or not. Last night, I was talking with my frequent collaborator and close friend, David Yanofsky. I mentioned to him that this is essentially how I felt about my father. My father and I couldn’t be more different in the traditional senses of politics and that idea of morality. Yet, we are essentially the same in a lot of respects. We are both jovial, quick to an exchange of words, very set in ideals. We share a rapid passion for sports and each other. We’re not so different him and I.
Recently though, my ideas on America changed. I don’t hate America. In fact, I love it. I hate the political system, or rather the corporate sector(they are of course entirely the same). But America is not that. America are those that exist within it. For a long time I wanted to leave. I felt guilt for merely benefitting off of the disgusting and disquieting moves of my fellow citizens. Because in my view, by existing within the country, I was in one way benefitting from the corporate and colonial greed of those that were funneling their successes into a shared economy. Therefore, I was endorsing it. But nonetheless this place is my home. I realized that to be truly punk was not to leave. That would be to quit. That would be allowing something evil to make me pack my bags and surrender my home. My idols in poetry and music(I don’t think there is a distinction between the two personally, but many others for whatever reason draw a seemingly arbitrary line) are political dissidents. Oppen, Lorca, Strummer, etc. I want to change. There is graffiti in Palestine that shouts, “to exist is to resist.” I’ve never felt more at home than in Zuccotti Park; in Oakland; in Boston. My existence will bring with it change. The artists I live with and collaborate with are political dissidents working to make a better world possible. Because it is. Home is made of people, not a geographical location.
Isn’t it true that we are at our most political when we are not supposed to be? Recently, while home for the holidays, my mother confessed that she was afraid that I was going to get myself hurt in political action. I raised my eyebrows at her. I reminded her of both of our sleepless nights while my father was away fighting for what he believed in. I responded “I am my father’s son.” My father fought for me, even if I wish he hadn’t. My father gave me a home, he believed that he defended it. Now I’m fighting for him. And I won’t stop.