Assotto Saint: Poetic Wisdom for the Age of Trump
Given recent political events, I wanted to share some of Assotto Saint’s wisdom by posting these excerpts from some of his poems. Their reverberation with recent events, issues, and political authoritarian actions (quite similar to Trump's right-wing presidency, which while far more an existential threat to the republic, does recall the blind authoritarian conservative actions of Ronald Reagan's administration (with Mitch McConnell today being the direct descendant of Jesse Helms):
“The March” from Stations poems by Assotto Saint, New York: Galiens Press, 1989
let us not fall like cattle
to redeem america’s
let us not fall
savagely charge a country
tempted by fascism
our martyrdom is no fake slaughter
but terror is a syndrome
which can act up
like bleeding black bulls*
let us not fall like cattle*
to redeem america’s
let us not fall
“Processional” from Stations poems by Assotto Saint, New York: Galiens Press, 1989.
in the name of America
beyond masks labels beacon
you with Viking tales
sired in the snows of Sundsvall
from the country of loas coconuts Toussaint
keys chains hankies hang out of your pockets
pearls from my ear
your voice of fugues
my pen which paints heaven in hell
on this land of unsettled promises
bearing eros christ oya as talismans
And from his “No More Metaphors (Part Three): Statement delivered at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on 4/28/93” in Wishing For Wings, New York: Galiens Press 1994.
. . . Your Honor, my life-partner & I had a combined income of $85,000. We
were hardworking, tax-paying, & law-abiding. We were both foreigners—Jan
was born in Sweden, & I was born in Haiti—who cherished the concept of the
American Dream. Jan & I had very good medical insurance, which covered us for
the rest of our lives. We both strongly believed that every individual in this
country, no matter what socioeconomic background he or she belonged to,
deserves access to the best health care.
. . . May the memory of their suffering, due to the inadequacy, greed, & stupidity
of bureaucrats, finally bring much-needed transformation to our health care
system. May it have helped to save my own life.
So I hope.
*[Note. I am struck in Assotto’s poem by the image of the “bleeding black bulls” and “cattle” falling. I realize the “black bull” for Assotto was an image he associated in a complex way with his blackness and masculinity. It represented the gay male person-of-color; men who were being led to their slaughter by society either through gun violence, economic injustice, the justice system with its institutionalized racism and the willing apathy toward AIDS in the black community. It also represented the strength and erotic force of black gay men, their so-called bestiality, their immoral sexual acts of a bestial nature. Embracing this image was to be defiant, to acknowledge their victimization as dispensable cattle for the slaughter; but, also to subvert and defy that passivity and assert their power, action, and conviction.
Further, this image of “falling” that Assotto uses reminded me of David Wojnarowicz and his famous photography that was used on his cover for his autobiography close to the knives. The image of buffalo driven off a cliff became immediately iconic for the AIDS activist struggle of the Reagan Years. I have taken the liberty of copying a brief excerpt from a fine article by John Sevigny in the journal Guernica from July 25, 2009:
John Sevigny: Twenty Years later: David Wojnarowicz’ buffalo photograph
David Wojnarowicz' buffalo photograph is a work of entirely American art, made for a culture that millions of people believed was being driven over a cliff by its president.
By 1988 or 1989, David Wojnarowicz was already rich and famous as an artist and writer. An unlikely art world star if there ever was one, Wojnarowicz stumbled across a diorama on the Old West in the National History Museum in Washington D.C. part of which showed buffalo driven off the side of a cliff. Seeing more in that small symbol than museum designers had ever intended, the artist selectively snapped a black and white photograph of part of the scene and defined, with the powerful poetry of America itself, not just the brutal decade in which he was living (and dying), but the evil that had led up to it.
Prediction is a dangerous business in the art criticism game but it seems safe to say that in a century when photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s flaunty self-portrait with a bullwhip in his ass has been forgotten, students of art history will look to this deceptively simple photograph to understand the sentiment of perhaps a quarter of our nation during a time of ferocious, cultural division and self destruction. In any case, it is a better, more complex photograph that does not rely on shock value to make its point.
The buffalo is an animal so sacred to Americana that it once graced the tails side of the nickel, and it was going off a Southwestern, Spaghetti Western cliff like a lemming, presumably driven on by hunters who nearly pushed the animal to extinction. The photograph goes far beyond representing the death of the American dream. In a simple image, it captures the forced, borderline-psycho disillusionment felt by anyone left of center during an age in which Right was right and homosexual men died because God himself had descended from the heavens to exact His revenge. This is not Death of a Salesman. This is the photographic equivalent of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, an indictment of a sick nation reeling in riches and hubris even as it feasted on the weakest, cast the mentally ill out into the streets, and blamed death on the dying.