There’s a framed photo on my desk at home of a motorcycle with its long rake angled as if aching further down the road. It was taken by my friend Isaac, an artist with a tender eye, some time ago. He’d happened upon the chopper–-not sure how or why–-carefully chalked by an unknown child on basketball blacktop in Pukalani.
There are a lot of things I like about this picture: its rider is positioned with his stick legs angled-back as if on a sport bike; a naked gear radiating like the sun; a panel of knobs like the dashboard of a cockpit; a plume of fire from its exhaust pipe. And I really like that it wasn’t drawn with the thick pastel sticks of kids’ chalk big as bananas, but with the thin white teachers’ sort (an antiquated tool in the modern smart board classroom)–-a nub once-abandoned, or perhaps nicked from a dusty ledge where the DOE didn’t do an update.
But mostly, I like that this piece of art wasn’t created to be kept. Likely, it washed away in the rain its very first night on Earth; and were it not for my friend Isaac and his camera, would have been lost to all but the boy who made it. I suppose a lot of art is like that, for better or worse; and either way it’s enough.
Being that it’s a prized centerpiece to my myriad desk decorations, I look at–-and think about–-this picture a lot. But, I thought about it most after last Sunday night. Mom and I went to the MACC’s Castle Theater to see Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “Words Become Flesh”-–a show that brilliantly examples a new form of theater (modern movement melded with poetry that beats with a hip hop heart-–if I may distill it far more succinctly than it deserves) created by NYC-based Joseph, a Rockefeller Fellow who was named one of America’s Top Young Innovators in the Arts by Smithsonian magazine, among other eminent honors.
But as I pulled into the damned-near empty parking lot, a quick pulse of fear drained from my brain and washed white down my face. Did I fuck up on the start time? Had we missed it entirely?
I hadn’t, but a small part of me wishes I had; and that I’d gotten there long after the crowd had dissipated to endeavor for dinner.
See, (for whatever reason) I get absurdly embarrassed when shows don’t sell out–-or at least, don’t sell well. It’s not so much a byproduct of previewing entertainment as my buttered bread, and ergo feeling some misplaced sense of responsibility, but rather because I was an events coordinator in one of my former vocations (and if I can be so bold, also because I’m now some sad semblance of a page-performer), and dismal turnouts make you wanna wamble down the over-the-counter isle and see what bulk toxin’s cheapest.
“What happened? Where is everyone?” That’s me, pleading with my pal Paul Janes Brown (who was one of the few milling around the pretty Pavilion prior to showtime) to point out whatever obvious thing I must be missing.
“Oh, didn’t you hear?” I expected him to say, “The Rapture happened,” or “The frozen yogurt shop’s giving away a free iPad with purchase, tonight only,” or “Zombie Jimi is in Olinda playing Rainbow Bridge Part Deux as we speak!”
Instead, Paul Janes Brown said, “It’s hip hop. People here don’t get it.”
Really? People here don’t “get” hip hop? Sure, yours truly readily admits that I don’t (and a la Stan Marsh in South Park’s “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson” episode, perhaps can’t ever) really “get” hip hop, on some levels. But I was under the impression-–by bumping speakers’ prevalence alone-–that hip hop is one of those things that loads of people ‘get.’ Never mind that the ebonics-laced Hawaiian Pidgin that me n’ my peers speak is a Pidgin virtually unrecognizable from the Pidgin spoken by my parents-and prior generations, thanks to American black culture’s poignant global resonance.
I guess I’ll need Paul Janes Brown to explain it sometime.
Call me racist (I am! We all are, really!), but I really wanted to see “Words Become Flesh,” in part, because I assumed it’d be infused with some insightful exploration of racial themes. It was. The show’s a compilation of poetic letters composed by Joseph for his then-unborn son; and beyond a brutally beautiful recordation of POV and circumstance, his contemplations on fatherhood proffered ideas about being a black man bringing a brown boy into the world. Fascinating.
I’m into that shit because I believe that the conversation about race and religion is the most important one we can have in our day and age (don’t huff and puff, hippies: I’m actually so on board with you, too, that I think ecological sustainability should be simply doing vs. dialogue). And in as much as I want to understand my own poi dog heritage, I crave to experience the expression of others’ attempts to understand their own. The more I can’t inherently “get” it, the better.
See, I can’t quite reconcile the inexplicable, inextricable feelings I have about my (specifically, kanaka maoli) blood with my equally ardent atheistic prayer for a Star Trek future wherein which race and religion are emotionally–-and likely physically–-obsolete, embraced only as a colorful study of our human history as we explore space as a single race, endeavoring back to the stars from whence we came. (I’m starting to think I need to trade letterpress’s p’s and q’s for chromosomal ones, tabling prose long enough to become a geneticist who knows enough to get some goddamned sleep at night.)
So the only way I’ve been able to resolve the difference between my feelings and my thoughts is by having fabricated a sense of duty to humans eons away; that my experience now is in some way for those who one day won’t be able to empirically explore dogmatic differences, but will (not unlike Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man), academically ache to understand our depraved divides, and the equal and opposite luster of the crepuscular light that beams from between.
But I digress.
“Words Become Flesh.” Mmm, mmm, mmm. ‘Til the day I die I’ll gush without abandon that it was one of the most stunning shows I have–-and will-–ever see. The only thing I didn’t like about it is that when a performance takes my breath away, I cannot cheer with the voracity it deserves.
With no filter for the faint, five black men coalesce as prismatic choral to a single psyche, voice and body concurrently expressing contemporary ideas even more honest than the ones usually kept between the ears. A creation for the stage made for the creation of flesh, it’s gift from a father to a son steeped in such unbridled passion that it’s a gift from every father to every son; from every mother to every daughter.
And in every time the gasping prose moved me to tears, I cried too because so few of my Mauians were witnessing it with Mom and me. Sure, theater is only its live moment–and those who were there were lucky and knew it; but it pained me that the power of such a piece landed in so many empty seats. I couldn’t help but think of the photo on my desk, taken but by happenstance, of chalk dust in the wind–-a piece of art never meant for permanence, but found it.
Then I realized how unfair a comparison that was. The chalk chopper was witnessed by as few as its maker, my friend and me–-and that’s two more than enough. So while so many missed out on insights that will never again alight on our isle’s humble stage–-whether they had been ‘got’ or not–-for those who were there and then some, it was more than enough.
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