Black Lawrence Press
June 7, 2011

Remembering Gil Scott-Heron

The great poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, a father of hip-hop and influential spoken-word performer, died last week in New York. In memoriam, we’d like to share with you a poem by David Rigsbee:

Gil’s Sentence

                      “Gil Scott-Heron to Be Sentenced”
                        —NY Times, July 9, 2006

“I find that rhetoric does my thinking for me,”
she said, flipping the page, moving on,
having out-Plathed Plath, including
the bitchy conjurations of voice
that threatened to make all a trick
and fostered ill will.  Next up, me.
I read my serious, inadequate verse
and recalled the assassinating queries
of my undergraduate workshops:
“What is the function of the ego in this poem?”
“What does the third person mediate?  Or is it
really you?”  So often the poem came down
to you, and after my soft-voiced rendition,
silence followed suit, a reset button
before the class critic trained an interrogating
eye on one offending line.  Elliott Coleman,
too aged and amiable to rein in
the revolutionary spirits of the seminar
pretended a real point of craft was at issue
and let the sans-coulottes have their way.
“It’s sentimental,” said one.  “The subject
is unstable,” said another.  I had
no answer to these questions and sat
silently, a you, while the rest of the eyes
wobbled back and forth as if not quite
believing their luck in having stumbled
on a massacre.  Then a large black man rose,
I mean actually stood up and in doing so
tipped over his unlocked briefcase
spilling old cups, record albums, a copy
of his recent (published) novel and some spoons.
Scanning the table, he who had been silent
all semester debuted a serrated baritone
that wondered about the merit of intention,
something he thought neglected (“Intention is
the moon I follow,” I seem to remember
his saying, though the verbatim trips here).
He was risen to that defense when justice
was poetic and of course snubbed me
later when I tried to ingratiate myself
with a lame joke in our apartment elevator.
That other was about language:  that was all.
But this was the weekend.  He was in his
other world with his band, his other means.
Four or five menacing afros with shades
followed him silently up to a different view
of that white moon out in the alley,
beyond my place, beyond where I got off.

“Gil’s Sentence” will appear in Rigsbee’s forthcoming full-length collection titled School of the Americas.