In “TO THOSE BORN LATER” Bertolt Brecht wrote: “Truly I live in dark times! / The guileless word is folly. A smooth forehead / Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs / Has simply not yet had / The terrible news.”
In “Somnambulant Jealousy” Merry Fortune writes how human beings who sleep have proven their total insensitivity to the massive variety of injustices perpetrated on humanity and earth every day and night of nowtime. And not just injustice, but also desire, where is your desire, you people who sleep peacefully? How weak is it that it can be so easily restrained. What has weakened it, are you complicit with its perpetual weakening? What will you do with the endangered species of desire, you human beings sleeping? Busyman businessman spentman, can you not miss the urinal once in a while to peek over at the beautiful pink human cock beside you?
These are not Whitman’s “The Sleepers,” these United Statesians who sleep in Fortune’s poem, no, they are closer to Hemingway’s “The Killers,” though they don’t know it, so asleep are they. What are they asleep to? The brilliant strategy Fortune uses here is to leave that up to you, THE ACTIVATED CITIZEN-READER, woken up by human rhythm breath body rocketing out into the fresh outerspace air of Sacred Insomnia. The insomnia cultivated by those on a vision quest. The insomnia sought and found by the poet hungry for an illumination whose light will burn away the veils between you and paradise, which might be this ordinary time right now, or inferno, which is also this ordinary time right now.
The strategy Fortune uses is to not specifically list the injustices and repressed desires rampant in the Universe now, but to criticize, to tease, to play with, to pull at the sleepyhead hair of all us citizens who have forgotten through our sleep that we are in fact citizens capable of changing and making change, and not just automatons who schedule appointments and say obnoxious sleep-inducing things like “how are you doing, what’s up what a beautiful day.” By omitting the specific instances of injustice and desire and instead chastizing the sleepy citizenry directly and relentlessly, in such a compressed one-page space where a moderato verse intro spills over into prose poetry speed from anguish and amusement, Fortune has created a poem which acts as a LENS OVER ALL TIMES, a lens through which to see what is missing, what is missing from the conversation, what crimes and turn-ons, what moody loves, what silenced hungers, what stomachs are growling and empty in whatever time you happen to be reading this poem.
This poem will be read by the aliens many years into the future and we are the aliens we have been waiting for who will be and are now reading it. I am saving this poem and Fortune’s entire book “GHOSTS BY ALBERT AYLER, GHOSTS BY ALBERT AYLER” on an external hard drive and storing it inside my nuclear bunker for the other fetus-like green aliens to find when they land from afar on the post-human-period earth so that those aliens too can scan their lives for what is missing and where they are being indifferent, callous, asleep, non-activist, dead, as well as to leave them a compressed rock of text where they can archaeologically analyze what went on between us all and led to human extinction.
But Fortune goes much farther than I have with my paraphrase, as any truly daring poetry does this poem too moves in two directions. It acts as a self-critique, as well as a critique of sleep-o-polis, and this is revealed by the title “Somnambulant Jealousy” which lends a melancholy note of mea culpa diagnosis to what follows. Perhaps the poet is critiquing herself for being asleep in her rage and attack, while acknowledging that even the sleepwalking rage and attack must be voiced, because to give voice to every part of the changing self and polis is to be in accord with that yet-to-be-tried form of government, Democracy, which must be both put on trial in its present form as disguised plutocracy, and attempted as actual Democracy, here in the United States. Perhaps Jealousy and all our darkest thoughts and feelings are really only the health of wakefulness in disguise waiting to be attended to with tenderness. Perhaps the poet sleepwalker feels jealous of those who can afford obliviousness (a.k.a. “healthcare”) while speaking this poem as she sleepwalks through the city of nowtime tonight. Perhaps she feels she has defiled the dharma of wakefulness by clinging to it so much she forgets that clinging to wakefulness defiles wakefulness, and that without sleep we die. But throughout “SOMNAMBULANT JEALOUSY” the gutsy rebuke to wisdom traditions of Brecht plays in the background, a ghostly presence along with Ayler’s duende cry: “All this I cannot do: / Truly, I live in dark times.”
Yes, it is sick for me to stay up night after night chastizing you who dare to sleep while what allows you to sleep is the destruction, starvation, and mass murder of human beings you don’t know who are your brothers and sisters, sleep through it or not. It is sick and yet I will do it, and I will deliver my somnambulant scream and whisper and song and letter to you, citizens, because the time for you to hear it is always now and is the most difficult time: the present. The “political” poetry (as if there is another kind!) sometimes dismissed by the aesthete inside us as “That which is already known” turns out to be not only unknown but unknowable because everchanging. Stay awake at least one night all night and see what happens at dawn, what opens up in you. You might even remember you are an everchanging breathing being with a responsibility to the Interbeing you are a part of and inseparable from. Or as Fortune writes it far more beautifully:
“They, those able to sleep, are screwed up beyond belief.”