About the Author
Read an Excerpt
o the times
I learn from the past of others' mistakes.
— erica hunt
weather or not
time was on its side, its upside down. it was a new error. generation why-not had voted its con-science and a climate of indifference was generating maelstromy weather. we acted as if the planet was a stone-cold player, but turns out the earth had a heart and it was melting, pacific islanders first into the hotter water. just a coincidence — the polar bears are white and their real estate was being liquidated too. meanwhile, in the temper-temper zone, the birds were back and i hadn't slept — had it been a night or a season? the birdsong sounded cheap, my thoughts cheaper, penny, inky, dark. language struck me as wooden, battered. the words became weeds, meaning i couldn't see any use for them. i had signed my name repeatedly without any sign of change. i was still bleeding from yesterday's sound bites, and the coming elections were breeding candid hates by the hand-over-fistful. there'd been an arab spring, but it was winter all summer in america.
the way we live now ::
when the cultivators of corpses are busy seeding plague across vast acres of the land, choking schools
and churches in the motley toxins of grief, breeding virile shoots of violence so soon verdant even fools
fear to tread in their wake :: when all known tools of resistance are clutched in the hands of the vile
like a wilting bouquet, cut from their roots, while
the disempowered slice smiles across their own faces
and hide the wet knives in writhing thickets of hair for future use :: when breathing in the ashen traces
of dreams deferred, the detonator's ticking a queer echo that amplifies instead of fading :: when there-
you-are is where-you-were and the sunset groans into the atlantic, setting blue fire to dark white bones.
what's not to liken?
the 14-year-old girl was treated like:
(a) a grown woman.
(b) a grown man.
the bikini-clad girl was handled by the cop like:
(a) a prostitute.
(b) a prostitute by her pimp.
the girl was slung to the ground like:
(a) a sack of garbage into a dumpster.
(b) somebody had something to prove.
the girl's braids flew around her head like:
(a) helicopter blades.
(b) she'd been slapped.
the black girl was pinned to the ground like:
(a) an amateur wrestler in a professional fight.
(b) swimming in a private pool is a threat to national security.
the girl's cries sounded like:
(a) the shrieks of children on a playground.
(b) the shrieks of children being torn from their mothers.
the protesting girl was shackled like:
(a) a criminal.
(b) a runaway slave.
liken it or not
— mckinney, texas, june 2015
playing with fire
something is always burning, passion,
pride, envy, desire, the internal organs going chokingly up in smoke, as something outside the body exerts a pull that drags us like a match across sandpaper.
something is always burning,
london, paris, detroit, l.a., the neighbor-
hoods no one outside seems to see until they're backlit by flames: then the outsiders,
peering through dense, acrid,
black-&-orange-rimmed fumes, mistake their dark reflections for savages altogether alien. how hot are the london riots for west end pearls? how hot in tot-
tenham? black blood's highly combustible,
under conditions of sufficient pressure —
measured roughly in years + lead ÷ £s.
but if one bead of cream rolls down one precious neck, heads will roll in brixton.
the science of sociology. the mark duggan principle of cause and effect.
mirror and canvas
self-portrait with cats, with purple, with stacks of half-read books adorning my desk, with coffee,
with mug, with yesterday's mug. self-portrait with guilt, with fear, with thick-banded silver ring,
painted toes, and no make-up on my face. self-
portrait with twins, with giggles, with sister at
last, with epistrophy, with crepuscule with nellie,
with my favorite things. self-portrait with hard
head, with soft light, with raised eyebrow. self-
portrait voodoo, self-portrait hijinks, self-portrait
surprise. self-portrait with patience, with political protest, with poetry, with papers to grade. self-
portrait as thaumaturgic lass, self-portrait as luna larva, self-portrait as your mama. self-portrait
with self at sixteen. self-portrait with shit-kickers,
with hip-huggers, with crimson silk, with wild
mushroom risotto and a glass of malbec. self-
portrait with partial disclosure, self-portrait with
half-truths, self-portrait with demi-monde. self-portrait with a night at the beach, with a view
overlooking the lake, with cancelled flight. self-
portrait with a real future, with a slight chance of
sours, with glasses, with cream, with fries, with a way with words, with a propositional phrase.
if a junco
~ a vocabulary takes us under its wing ~ a vestibule soft until ruffled ~ it muffles our voices with its muscles and down ~ do we pluck it bare ~ then what of flight ~ a lexicon connives against us when we are busy admiring its plumage ~ does the music of its mating call seduce ~ if we crack its hollow bones and blow ~ will such broken notes carry ~ us ~ how far ~ a language spreads its tail ~ draws our eyes to its outer feathers flashing white ~ when it snaps shut the fan ~ will we lose sight of what we are saying ~ can we fly blind ~ can we fly right ~ can we fly-by-night ~ see ~ already ~ what are we whistling ~
banking on amnesia
manhattan was preoccupied with the price of beads.
chicago, illinois, was preoccupied with du sable's black fur trade.
tennessee was preoccupied with following the market in lachrymal saline :: it had been trailing since jackson was in office.
massachusetts was preoccupied with the steep cost of religious pilgrimage.
tulsa, oklahoma, was preoccupied with one kind of black gold :: it didn't place much stock in the other kind.
alaska was preoccupied first with the rush on fur, then with the mining industry.
the dakotas were preoccupied with wheat as a cash crop :: they were railroaded into it.
minnesota was preoccupied with timber, which was grist for the mill.
texas was preoccupied with first one thing then another :: its economy flagged until oil surfaced.
missouri was preoccupied with the louisiana purchase.
arizona was preoccupied with a bankrupt christianizing mission :: it went from broke to broker.
alabama was preoccupied with agriculture from the start, other futures foreclosed until it acquired a coastline.
mississippi, was preoccupied with blankets and bullets, incorporating them into its culture in exchange for mounds and mounds of land.
a one-act play
lights up on 3 people, unmoving. not all of them are the same gender. none of them are touching. each of them is looking at another. the moon is full. the stock market is down. the ball is rolling. all bets are off. we hear a loud noise: a gunshot. a scream. a burst of thunderous applause. it comes from off-stage. on-stage, all 3 hear the noise as a signal to act. the moment each begins to act, the lights go down. when they come back up, just seconds later, everything has changed. it has something to do with race, but it's debatable how much. it's something that somebody said, but it's not clear who, if anyone, heard. it's about a million acts, but we'll all play like it was just one. each person has lines to give. anyone who knows it can write the script.
in a no-win zone
we remain ever in six x six rooms, on ice, unseen : we consume no sun or moon views : we sew our concise seam, same as ever : we receive no new air, never roam, never run across a wren, a sure omen : we once were warriors : now our sorrows rain on us : our rosier news is no nooses : we mourn ruinous memories, mine rue, see no surcease : woe is we : some insane sin or crass crime means we weave our remorse in an iron maze, women, men in an ominous zoo : we seem mean so we can survive, a zero sum, no score, or worse, we owe : nervous, we are unsure our voices can save us : we scream, more room now : we vow, no more war : our vices over, we are sore users : wave au revoir : soon we resume our ravenous music
corrective rape (or, i'm here to help)
— for millicent gaika and all the sisters getting "rescued" from our own beautiful selves
(the doctor's advice:)
you won't know it's you in the mirror : it'll make you normal : you won't stick out like a black eye : think of it as a kind of out-patient surgery : you'll be more like god intended : expect to require a brief recovery period : you deserve this : it gets rid of irregularities : you'll be right as reined : this procedure may hurt a little : you'll feel so much better about yourself : i'll fix it so you come correct
Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation's Plague in Plain Sight)
And now, reader, I come to a period in my unhappy life, which I would gladly forget if I could. Asia Graves looks straight ahead as she calmly recalls the night a man paid $200 on a Boston street to have sex with her.
The remembrance fills me with sorrow and shame. "If you want attention and you see that you're getting it, you just follow your feelings," senior Araceli Figueroa, 17, said. "It's sad."
It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the truth, and I will do it honestly, let it cost me what it may. A plague more commonly associated with other countries has been taking young victims in the United States, one by one.
I will not try to screen myself behind the plea of compulsion from a master; for it was not so. "They give you money, drugs and a fun time, but in the end they want your dignity and your self-respect," she said. "It's invisible chains that these kids are tied with."
Neither can I plead ignorance or thoughtlessness. By day, she was a school girl who saw her family occasionally.
For years, my master had done his utmost to pollute my mind with foul images, and to destroy the pure principles inculcated by my grandmother, and the good mistress of my childhood. The [outreach] efforts by high school and middle-school officials in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Connecticut, Oregon, Wisconsin, California and Florida come as experts say criminals have turned to classrooms and social media sites to recruit students into forced domestic sex and labor rings.
The influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that they had on other young girls; they had made me pre-maturely knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world. Sold from Boston to Miami and back, Graves was one of thousands of young girls sexually exploited across the United States, often in plain sight.
Though the scope of the problem remains uncertain — no national statistics for the number of U.S. victims exist — the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says at least 100,000 children across the country are trafficked each year. Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that about 20.9 million people are trafficked and that 22% of them are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
I knew what I did, and I did it with deliberate calculation. From ages 14 to 17, [Katariina Rosenblatt] says she was drugged, abused, raped and trafficked by several people including [a classmate's] father's friends, a neighbor who ran a trafficking house, and man who offered her a role in a movie.
But, O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely! "I want to raise the compassion bar so that any girl who becomes a victim is never seen as a girl who asked for it," said Andrea Powell, executive director of Fair Girls.
Among others, it chanced that a white unmarried gentleman had obtained some knowledge of the circumstances in which I was placed. He knew my grandmother, and often spoke to me in the street. The perpetrators — increasingly younger — can be other students or gang members who manipulate victims' weaknesses during recess or after school, law enforcement officials say.
He became interested for me, and asked questions about my master, which I answered in part. He expressed a great deal of sympathy, and a wish to aid me. At night, she became a slave to men who said they loved her and convinced her to trade her beauty for quick cash that they pocketed.
He constantly sought opportunities to see me, and wrote to me frequently. They often bait victims by telling them they will be beautiful strippers or escorts but later ply them with drugs — ecstasy pills, cocaine, marijuana and the like — and force them into sex schemes.
I was a poor slave girl, only fifteen years old. She was 16, homeless, and desperate for food, shelter and stability.
So much attention from a superior person was, of course, flattering; for human nature is the same in all. She was alone on a corner in Boston during a snowstorm when her first trafficker picked her up.
I also felt grateful for his sympathy, and encouraged by his kind words. Young people at the fringes of school, runaways looking for someone to care and previously abused victims fall into the traps of traffickers who often pretend to love them.
It seemed to me a great thing to have such a friend. "He said I was too pretty to stay outside, so I ended up going home with him because he offered me a place to sleep and clothes to put on," she said.
By degrees, a more tender feeling crept into my heart. "It's about love and thinking you're part of a family and a team."
He was an educated and eloquent gentleman; too eloquent, alas, for the poor slave girl who trusted in him. "When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family, or girls my daughters' ages run away from home and are lured — that's slavery," [President] Obama said. "It's barbaric, it's evil, and it has no place in a civilized world."
Of course I saw whither all this was tending. The man said he wanted to take care of her but that she would have to earn her keep. "He showed me the ropes," she said. "How much to charge for sex" and other sex acts.
I knew the impassable gulf between us; but to be an object of interest to a man who is not married, and who is not her master, is agreeable to the pride and feelings of a slave, if her miserable situation has left her any pride or sentiment.
It seems less degrading to give one's self, than to submit to compulsion. She stayed, however, and found comfort in other girls — called "wife in-laws"— who went to area schools, got their hair and nails done together and then worked the streets for the same man.
There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment. Then came the violence. Her attempts to leave were met with brute force. "He punched me. He stripped me down naked and beat me."
A master may treat you as rudely as he pleases, and you dare not speak; moreover, the wrong does not seem so great with an unmarried man, as with one who has a wife to be made unhappy. Other violent episodes left her with eight broken teeth, two broken ankles and a V-shaped stab wound just below her belly button.
There may be sophistry in all this; but the condition of a slave confuses all principles of morality, and, in fact, renders the practice of them impossible. "You think what you're doing is right when you're in that lifestyle," Graves said. "You drink alcohol to ease the stress. Red Bulls kept you awake, and cigarettes kept you from being hungry."
I was sure my friend, Mr. Sands, would buy me. For two years, she was sold from tormentor to tormentor, forced to sleep with men in cities like New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Miami.
He was a man of more generosity and feeling than my master, and I thought my freedom could be easily obtained from him. "They said they were escorts and that they made $2,000 a night. I figured if I go out one night, I'll never have to do it again."
"You can sell drugs once," says Alessandra Serano, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of California. "You can sell a girl thousands of times."
With all these thoughts revolving in my mind, and seeing no other way of escaping the doom I so much dreaded, I made a headlong plunge. He was the first of dozens of men who would buy her thin cashew-colored body from a human trafficker who exploited her vulnerabilities and made her a prisoner for years.
Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! "They are as horrific and brutal and vile as any criminal cases we see," said Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. "I couldn't leave because I thought he would kill me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Semiautomatic"
Copyright © 2017 Evie Shockley.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contentsthat's a rap (sheet music for alphabet street)
I. O THE TIMES
weather or not the way we live now ::
buried truths what's not to liken?
playing with fire mirror and canvas if a junco banking on amnesia a one-act play in a no-win zone corrective rape (or, i'm here to help)
Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation's Plague in Plain Sight)
II. THE TOPSY SUITE
studies in antebellum literature (or, topsy-turvy)
topsy's notes on taxonomy topsy talks about her role from topsy in wonderland
["NOW, READER . . ."]
a-lyrical ballad (or, how america reminds us of the value of family)
keep your eye on haibun for a parasitic pre-apocalyptic blues sore score in the california mountains, far from shelby / county, alabama and even farther from / the supreme court building, the black poet / seeks the low-down from a kindred entity i declare war acrobatic song in the back yard legend legit-i-mate improphised cogito ergo loquor philosophically immune
"the people want the regime to fall"
a dark scrawl a one-act play fukushima blues jim crow stole my father's wings supply and demand
["STOP : MEET WITH ME HERE . . ."]
IV. BLUES MODALITY
preface to a twenty-first-century survival guide senzo lotto motto a one-act play to be continued blues of speech the obsolete army truth in advertising upon this plot how long has this jayne been gone?
du bois in ghana cosmography circe / odysseus / black odysseys (a remix-collage)
What People are Saying About This
“There is no keener mind in American poetry than Shockley's, with her quick turns and inflections, slipping between subjectivity and documentary, between verse and refrain. Her poems engagepolitically, formally, historically, profoundlywith the redistribution of power through language. Read this book and get shook.”
“Evie Shockley suggests that poetry is necessary to seeing, surviving with equilibrium and wholeness in this period’s vital and precarious junctures. The poems in semiautomatic are on fire. This will make an excellent source book of poetic form and historically grounded black aesthetics for the classroom.”
“Evie Shockley'ssemiautomatic goes beyond mere weaponry. This book is revelatory. A tool in the chest of cultural workers, a vocabulary that resists decoration; this is self-portraiture and truth-telling at its best. From her epic ‘the topsy suite’ to her one-acts (a new form), through her fearless lens and appropriation of authorities, there's no level of denial or proof-vest that will protect you from Shockley's poetry. You can run, Reader, but you will not be able to look the other way.”
“This is an extraordinary, wonderful book. Evie Shockley is a great black poet. I know she might not put it that way, and sees all of what’s problematic in my putting it that way. Her greatness is in that, too. She makes revolution irresistible just like she heard we should.”
"Evie Shockley suggests that poetry is necessary to seeing, surviving with equilibrium and wholeness in this period's vital and precarious junctures. The poems in semiautomatic are on fire. This will make an excellent source book of poetic form and historically grounded black aesthetics for the classroom." Erica Hunt, Long Island University
"Evie Shockley's semiautomatic goes beyond mere weaponry. This book is revelatory. A tool in the chest of cultural workers, a vocabulary that resists decoration; this is self-portraiture and truth-telling at its best. From her epic 'the topsy suite' to her one-acts (a new form), through her fearless lens and appropriation of authorities, there's no level of denial or proof-vest that will protect you from Shockley's poetry. You can run, Reader, but you will not be able to look the other way." Willie Perdomo, author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon
"This is an extraordinary, wonderful book. Evie Shockley is a great black poet. I know she might not put it that way, and sees all of what's problematic in my putting it that way. Her greatness is in that, too. She makes revolution irresistible just like she heard we should." Fred Moten, author of The Little Edges
"There is no keener mind in American poetry than Shockley's, with her quick turns and inflections, slipping between subjectivity and documentary, between verse and refrain. Her poems engagepolitically, formally, historically, profoundlywith the redistribution of power through language. Read this book and get shook." D. A. Powell