"2010, East Oakland, CA," "It Can Happen Now...TO YOU," and "The Anthropocene Blues"

2010, East Oakland, CA

Everyone is hungry for something but there ain’t enough to go around.
We learn young to take what we want. First come, first serve.
& as they say/:  If you do bad,
you’ve got it coming
. & if you do good, you’ve still got it coming.
The Mack God is in the streets, in the way the dice falls.
& if you’re just living, the Law Dog still knows your number
& is coming to get you.
& if someone gets hurt in the process, too bad for them,
because, like the truth,
someone is always gonna’ get hurt, so you look out for your own.
Observation/:  It is safer to be deployed to a large & well-protected
American military base in Afghanistan or Iraq,
than to survive, unprotected, in a war-zone neighborhood,
in East Oakland streets.

The braided row of hungry mouths, moving towards a dream,
remake themselves in their own image
against the world around them. The Mack God
draws back a huge hand ponderous as planets, his hooded eyes,
the gangsta' fuh life glare of thug life, as He rolls the numerology
of violence. The headlines detail the screams of children
fetus-posed in ghetto bathtubs, only dreaming escape &
Jordan Nikes. The anxious silence, in fear of, the capricious assault
of semi-auto pistols, the echoed expletives, & ricochet metallic
of bullets riddling glass. The seductive euphoric
fist-tight-ful of glass pipe &
Made in Taiwan disposable lighter. The car-jacks & drive-bys,
brilliant with bedlam. The Mack God plays for keeps
& the people, like snake eyes in hindsight, resigned
they’ll never win, because of whom
they are made to believe themselves to be.  



Note: In 2010, Oakland had more than 500 separate shootings—more than one per day, every day. The perpetrators, sometimes no older than thirteen, are involved so deeply in street life that experts say they have slipped into a kind of alternate reality, in which the laws of regular society do not apply. For many of these kids, the amorphous set of street rules governing their behavior has a name/:  the Mack God.

As of 10/21/2010, more than 1,000 people have been killed in Oakland in the past nine years. That bleak statistic is important because it closely parallels the toll of American dead from hostile encounters—996—during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which began nine years ago this month, costing American taxpayers, by some estimates, roughly $1 billion per month.
—Oakland Tribune



It Can Happen Now . . . TO YOU

after the mural by Bill Maul & the poetry of Patricia Lockwood


After the atomic bomb.
After the sulfurous seep of toxins into the swamp. After
wild-eyed, mad scientists in lab coats, tweaking the beast
to create an Other, an Optional Eve/:  blown-back hairdo in black
& white—circa Elsa Lanchester.
This one begins with the gorilla-suit actor
& its long great line of inhabitants,
unconscious starlets in their arms or slung
over primordial shoulders. A primal yearning for the moon
luminescent through the scaffolding at Ground Zero.
The sea monster’s mutated gills, wheezing like a gun-
shot lung, its ancient hunger, a pornography of
captive women in refrigerators. The Creature
from the Black Lagoon
comes lumbering up through the waves,
P-Funk Aqua-Boogie, lurching
towards the balloon-breasted blond,
hungering for blood,
a virgin mate,
a surrogate womb;
its over-sized claws opening & closing,
as the woman cries wolf, fights back,
her screams the blue erotica of Little Red Riding Hood.
Will Robinson was the lucky one, unlike the teen-aged girl
in high heel shoes,
running through a graveyard to escape the living dead. His robot
had an early warning system/:  flashing lights, whirling antennas &
lightning bolts from caterwauling
his automaton voice of red alert
the digital fight or flight of Step ‘N Fetchit/:
Danger, Will Robinson,    Danger!!!



The Anthropocene Blues/: 
Somebody Tell That Nigga To Get Out The Street!!

as a species   we are both far too powerful & not nearly
powerful enough   a paradox
that came into shrill focus as we faced a global pandemic
that both separated us   &
bound us together   to feel quarantined 
too infinitesimal
but still a survival of the fittest
that manifested the inevitability of our wanting   the nine-
tenths possession multiplied by the creation of waste   the same
magic trick muscle memory of acquisition  
is a side effect of hype  
echoing the first trademark symbol for plastic/:  an infinity
of more   that is less   but much more expensive   
contaminating our fading bluest ball of sustainability     
                                                                 a meta-
phor plastic packaging the evidence of our lust
for something else   the coveted thing that lodges in the mind
like a one-hit wonder pop song   (My   My   My Sharona . . .)  
& the foreverness of a fashionable shamelessness   
whether we want it   or not   is a meta-
phor useless shards of hope
in a state of des(re)pair  our crawling forward blindly to nowhere  
at a tipping point too often chalk outlined   Vitruvian-
splayed post-
mortem on an urban city street   made to feel the press of hot asphalt
into our chest & cheek   (the post-
                                  racial virus moving amongst us
                                  like a quarantined inhale/:  I can’t breathe!)  
a supplicant lament in hindsight  
like the exponential young & old   who now die of cancer
under the fossil fuel irradiation of a setting Anthropocene sun  
& every day the nuclear bomb-proof plastic packaging 
obscured by the latest gadget   that arrives at the front door
or the gluttonous variety of techno-shiny 
on Big-box store shelves   the mundane & relentless molecular rain
of plastic microparticles   that we regularly eat &   breathe  
                                                                                   the micro-
plastic poisoned fish   & drought-combustible grass  the traffic noise
that cockblocks crickets   & wild flowers sprouting fragrance-less     
like Black folk everywhere  
but invisible as cigarette butts   bottle caps  
the discarded boot-
heeled bodies of toxic water bottles   (the petro-liters of plastic
twisted into kilo-tons of strangle) 
like the most dangerous word in the English language
is bad nigger   (the genetic generational rage   the reiteration 
of chronic dissent)   is a knee on our necks for four hundred +years  
like the plague of Christianity   (the oppressed who blindly cleave to
the worship of an alien holiness   an unproven Trinity of hope in absentia)  
like the white noise emergency scissors of sirens
suffused the pandemic death toll   is the suicidal scarecrow
on a Roman wooden cross   the myth of miracles
pulsing under his crucified skin  
                                                     like all the plastic debris
that litters the gravel shoulders of highways   the plasticized-
nylon work boot shoelaces
that won’t stay tied   the export car parts   food wrappers &
broken zip-ties   the flimsy wisps of plastic bags  
like a ghostly haunting of obsolescence   the shushed attitudes 
of consumer hands folded indifferent   but post-
pandemic    the people once again 
creatures of habit/:  the return of congested traffic   Big-
box checkout lines of stupefied shoppers round the block   multiplied
exponentially to active oblivion   rudely yap-yap-yapping into
cellphones   into an environmental collapse   & it seems
we have lost count   of the names of Black people
who ran afoul of the police   the media cash-
register tally of the murdered memorialized on T-shirts  
the hashtags become all too fashionable   what when left of us   
would soon be cockroaches   Dick Cheney &
                                                                Keith Richards



henry 7. reneau, jr. does not Twitter, Tik Tok, Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. It is not that he is scared of change, or stuck fast in the past; instead, he has learned from experience that the crack pipe kills. His work is published in Superstition Review, TriQuarterly, Poets Reading the News, Prairie Schooner, Zone 3 and Rigorous. His work has also been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He lives on the land that Amerikkkan mythology wants the world to believe was solely discovered, tamed, and ‘sivilized by white people.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, October 14, 2021 - 22:43