From “The Chicago Picasso” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Read the original and the story behind it here.
COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: We real cool.
COUNSELOR: Can you get warm? Are you at risk of hypothermia?
CALLER: We left school.
COUNSELOR: That’s not important right now. What matters is getting you warm.
CALLER: We lurk late.
COUNSELOR: Lurk where? Can I send someone to help you?
CALLER: We strike straight.
COUNSELOR: Strike out in which direction? Please tell me where I can send someone to help you.
CALLER: We sing sin.
COUNSELOR: Again, that’s not important.
CALLER: We thin gin.
COUNSELOR: I wouldn’t advise that. Alcohol can make you feel warm in the moment, but it can bring on hypothermia faster.
CALLER: We jazz June.
COUNSELOR: That’s good. Think warm, free-flowing thoughts.
CALLER: We die soon.
COUNSELOR: Please don’t give up hope now. Just tell me where I can send help…. Hello? …. Hello?
[View the original by Gwendolyn Brooks here]
COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your–
CALLER: John Cabot,
COUNSELOR: I was going to ask what your emergency is, not your–
CALLER: out of Wilma,
COUNSELOR: I don’t know where that is.
CALLER: once a Wycliffe,
COUNSELOR: I’m sorry where is that exactly?
CALLER: all whitebluerose
COUNSELOR: And that’s located…?
CALLER: below his golden hair,
COUNSELOR: Um… geographically?
CALLER: wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
COUNSELOR: Never mind. What are you calling about?
CALLER: almost forgot his Jaguar
COUNSELOR: Like the big cat? Or the sportscar?
CALLER: and Lake Bluff;
COUNSELOR: And we’re back to geography again. Dude, where’s your car?
CALLER: almost forgot
COUNSELOR: Yeah, I kind of noticed that.
COUNSELOR: Where’s that?
CALLER: (which is The / Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch);
COUNSELOR: Scotch Plains? In New Jersey?
CALLER: almost / forgot
COUNSELOR: Again? OK, is there some kind of landmark that can help you remember?
CALLER: the sculpture
COUNSELOR: Good. And where is this sculpture located?
CALLER: at the Richard Gray
COUNSELOR: And that’s where?
CALLER: and Distelheim;
COUNSELOR: Right. Is that a real place? It sounds like one of those countries from Lord of the Rings.
CALLER: the kidney pie at Maxim’s, / the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.
COUNSELOR: Yeah, Tolkien did go on and on about the food sometimes.
CALLER: Because the Negroes were coming down the street.
COUNSELOR: Excuse me?
CALLER: Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
COUNSELOR: Wait–so you’re calling because you saw some African Americans on the street? That’s really not cool.
CALLER: (not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
COUNSELOR: You’re not helping yourself here.
CALLER: and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
COUNSELOR: Rank? So they’re in uniform?
CALLER: In seas. In windsweep.
COUNSELOR: Is it Fleet Week already?
CALLER: They were black and loud.
COUNSELOR: I guess so.
CALLER: And not detainable. And not discreet.
COUNSELOR: Yep. That sounds like Fleet Week.
COUNSELOR: Please don’t judge people.
COUNSELOR: Why? What are they doing?
CALLER: “Que tu es grossier!”
COUNSELOR: You’re grossed out because they’re talking French?
CALLER: John Cabot / itched instantly
COUNSELOR: Instantly? Usually stuff that’ll make you itch isn’t spread through casual contact. You’d have to go–
CALLER: beneath the nourished white
COUNSELOR: If that’s what you’d like to call it.
CALLER: that told his story of glory to the World.
COUNSELOR: A bit full of yourself, aren’t you?
CALLER: “Don’t let It touch me!
CALLER: the blackness!
COUNSELOR: Oh my God…
COUNSELOR: Yeah, whatever.
CALLER: he whispered / to any handy angel in the sky.
COUNSELOR: Look, I’m sorry if I offended your sensibilities, but…
CALLER: But, in a thrilling announcement,
COUNSELOR: What? You have _more_ to say? You may want to quit while you’re . . . uh. . .
CALLER: on It drove
COUNSELOR: What? I thought you couldn’t find your car.
CALLER: and breathed on him: and touched him.
COUNSELOR: OK–so, back to my earlier question: What has you so grossed out? Because I think the problem might not be–
CALLER: In that breath / the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
COUNSELOR: Right. Do you realize how you sound right now?
CALLER: mocked John.
COUNSELOR: I’m not mocking you, it’s just that it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good life, with a lot of nice things, but you’re getting all worked up because you saw some noisy black people walking down the street. That isn’t cool, man.
CALLER: And, in terrific touch, old / averted doubt jerked forward decently,
COUNSELOR: About time.
CALLER: cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man, / and
COUNSELOR: You don’t sound desperate exactly–you just need to get your priorities in order before–
CALLER: the desperate die expensively today.”
CALLER: John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
COUNSELOR: Wait–you’re not him?
CALLER: and broken glass
COUNSELOR: Hang on. This is a woman’s voice.
COUNSELOR: And I’ve heard this voice before, at a reading, I think.
CALLER: blood, and he cried
COUNSELOR: OMG, am I talking to Gwendolyn Brooks?
CALLER: “Lord! / Forgive these n—–s that know not what they do.”
COUNSELOR: It’s OK Ms. Brooks. We cool. [puts on sunglasses] We real cool.