Poetry Spotlight #5: Instructions for black boys (from America’s perspective) by Rudy Francisco

I am part of the executive board for Lyrically Inclined (LI), an umbrella organization containing the poetry club and slam team on campus. Earlier this school year LI had the privilege of bringing Rudy Francisco to Cornell College, a poet born and raised in San Diego. “Rudy is the co-host of the largest poetry venue in San Diego and has featured at countless venues […] Ultimately, Rudy’s goal is to continue to assist others in harnessing their creativity while cultivating his own. Rudy Francisco is the 2009 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion, the 2010 San Diego Grand Slam Champion, the 2010 San Francisco Grand Slam Champion and the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion” (Via).

10976388Scratch is Rudy Francisco’s second chapbook. On Rudy Francisco’s website Scratch is described as “love, fearfulness, confidence, humility, awkwardness and determination compressed into 31 pages of unapologetic honesty” and I couldn’t agree more. After I finished reading Scratch I immediately reread Scratch. One thing I really appreciated was the amount of micropoetry in the chapbook; it was extremely effective at giving the reader a break from the more lengthly pieces but also providing us with powerful images we could chew on for while. Rudy electrifies the stage and he holds up just as well on paper. One thing that sets Rudy Francisco apart from other writers is the mundane novelty of his metaphors: he has this uncanny ability to draw from every day occurrences and craft brand new metaphors to convey cliches. This allows his work to feel fresh while staying grounded. Rudy Francisco is the king of making “straight forward” artistic.

The following is, quite possibly, my favorite poem of the chapbook:

Instructions for black boys
(From America’s perspective)
by Rudy Francisco


I dare you.
Say something.
Say nothing.
Be silent.
Be a stone. Be a polaroid.
Be anything that doesn’t make a sound.
Your tongue
is a firearm on a plane.

Watch your mouth.
Watch your temper.
Watch your attitude.
Watch “Rosewood.” Watch “Fruitvale Station.”
Watch us kill people who look like you
And get away with it.
Watch the news.
Watch your back.

Don’t wear hoodies.
Don’t wear t-shirts.
Don’t wear jeans or sneakers.
Pull up your pants.
Tie your shoes.

Don’t whistle.
Don’t sing.
Don’t smile, laugh, or frown.
Don’t stare.

Don’t look away.
Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.

Look at me.

Don’t drive.
Or walk. Or run.
Black boy, don’t run.
Stay still.
We like our targets better this way.

You thought I was just a country?

Boy, I’m a record player.

Watch me put on history
And spin it backwards.

There’s a haunting simplicity in this poem that comes from the repetition, the brevity of the clauses, and the mundane language. This draws our attention to the longer lines, making them more impactful such as: “Be anything that doesn’t make a sound.” and “Stay still. / We like our targets better this way.”

But what this poem really does is build. What brings this poem from good to unforgettable is the ending:

You thought I was just a country?

Boy, I’m a record player.

Watch me put on history
And spin it backwards.

This is an incredibly poetic way to get at a simple idea: the conditions for black people in this country (somewhat) mirror the challenges of earlier decades. It speaks to the regression we are undergoing as a country but also the cyclical nature of oppression. Another way to interpret this line is that America distorts history. When you, literally, spin something backwards it changes the meaning. Lastly, the image of spinning something backwards reminds me of the record spinning a DJ does: associated with control and palatable noise.

So much can be distilled from these 4 lines. After reading this poem I had to take a step back, read it again, and take another step back. Some poems are so powerful you can’t just read them and go to the next thing, you need time for the dust to settle; it’s been weeks since I finished reading Scratch but I’m still finding Rudy’s poems whirling around my head. And I love that. Scratch leaves you with a beautiful heaviness you keep coming back to and a feeling of connectedness that we all crave.

In closing, here’s another one of my favorite poems from Rudy Francisco:

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