A TABLEAU OF ASPIRATION OR FRANKLIN SITTING ON THE SOLITARY GARDEN DECK CHAIR IN 1973’s A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING

Momtaza Mehri
May 28, 2021
Photo: melnikof

In the period immediately following spectacular violence, a poem will often go viral on social media. It makes sense that poetry might offer a way out from that space of unrepresentable trauma—a path back to a social form where the true work of redress can take place. Sometimes, though, the turn to poetry feels both embarrassing and dangerous, like a child with a plastic stethoscope trying to treat a woman with a real heart attack. “A poem is not burning down a police station,” the poet Wendy Xu says. “Burning down a police station is burning down a police station.” A poem can point toward other modes of action without the pretense of standing in for those other modes. But on social media—and in the late capitalist economies it metonymizes—where circulation is itself a form of capital, a rallying cry can be alchemized into a narcotic.

Momtaza Mehri’s “A TABLEAU OF ASPIRATION OR FRANKLIN SITTING ON THE SOLITARY GARDEN DECK CHAIR IN 1973’s
A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING” contests these necrophilic representational economies, indicting the Black poets who profit from Black death and the white poets who allocate those profits. Mehri’s poem—which includes lines taken from “Mosaic Harlem” by Henry Dumas, a writer active in the Black Power movement who was murdered by a New York City transit police officer in 1968—does not depict the dead; rather, the dead animate Mehri’s poem. “A TABLEAU OF ASPIRATION” practices inclusion not in the liberal sense of optical adornment in lieu of structural transformation, but as a haunting, an agitation. Mehri doesn’t cede poetry to the performance of “narcoticized rage” in the face of Black death. At the poem’s end, a jarring conflation casts poetry as an open question, a terrain of struggle—unlocatable according to the coordinates of liberal power.

—Claire Schwartz

Listen to Momtaza Mehri read "A TABLEAU OF ASPIRATION OR FRANKLIN SITTING ON THE SOLITARY GARDEN DECK CHAIR IN 1973’s A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING."


A TABLEAU OF ASPIRATION OR FRANKLIN SITTING ON THE SOLITARY GARDEN DECK CHAIR IN 1973’s A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING


black poets strain around table / not any table / the Table™

                                        the table in the head / the table in the courtyard

all flat expanse / natural oak blend / baby / the whole nine yards 

                                        finest linen / unfurls / a lolling tongue 

all nine lives needed / to survive this napkined jurisdiction / of personalized 

                                        cutlery / there aren’t enough chairs / this is expected

maybe even desired / black poets dip / long / stainless / spoons 

                                        into anadalusian gazpacho / grief is as elegant 

as soup stains / blotting the sanctity of cloth / & canon  

                                        palette cleanser for the dulled soul / narcotized rage

is all the rage / eat / enumerate / black poets are sick 

                                       of watching black people die on glitchy screens

are sick of being reminded / of all the ways / we are not 

                                        the black people dying on glitchy screens 

are sicker still / of pretending not to know the difference /  dumas begs

                                     to differ / what news from the black bastille?             

reporting from the trenches / to the warmongers /  yes sir / yes sir 

                                    what news from the bottom? / three bags full 

pretence keeps fridges well-stocked / the landlord’s incoming 

                                     messages / at a minimum /  black poets want 

bigger tables / this is the bare minimum / want more / seats 

                                      plusher cushions / we deserve snuff films 

with better resolution / we say / the dining room is a swamp 

                                      of monomania / leaving the room / is never an option 

when the room is in your head / you can never leave /  court moth-balled  

                                      microclimates of microaggressions / lament 

narrow hallways / laugh at bad jokes / mourn choices made 

                                      even as we repeat them / we are who

we break bread with / we are who we break ourselves for

                                      jaws unhinge at the feet of luminaries / collect 

whatever / left / whatever / falls from / tables / of renowned / award-winning 

                                      cowardice / look up to get the chance                                   

to look down / black poets cannot convince ourselves / cannot forgive 

                                     ourselves / for what we are about to do 

become sloppy / ancestral ventriloquists / trained provocateurs 

                                     please understand / black poets are big fans 

of rights given / of frothy righteousness / of rewriting faithless accounts

                                     of who we are / of what we can be 

gaseous / with impotent fury / we flail upwards / don’t ask us

                                  for better excuses / we are hungry too

for what / we are undecided / meanwhile / the white poets 

                                  have finally discovered / they are white

throw petaled confetti / jobs / second chances / at black poets 

                                  who remind them / that they are white 

that they / too / are gorgeous martyrs / outside / other black poets flee 

                                  bright lights / receive no invitations / corner

stop / stoop / black poets of dubious allegiances / spree 

                                converge / into shattered mist / welcome dissolution 

show out / show us up / what news from the bureau? 

                              for once / no one cares / about our place settings  

the virtues of irrelevance / are lost on us / our dreams too slight 

                              for those black poets who want / no part of this 

want every part / of everything / want more than heaving

                              tables / than well-paid contortion  / powdered

paranoia / hallowed hall / hallucinations / we envy  

                              this vox populi / of unlit alleyways / their captive audiences

of chattering millions / even their enemies are worthier / than ours 

                              chalk fades / dividing lines / redrawn

hot summers clarify / which black poets survive poetry 

                              & which write it / 


Momtaza Mehri is a poet and independent researcher. Her latest pamphlet is Doing the Most with the Least, published by Goldsmiths Press.