Kyle Dargan lives in Washington, D.C. where he edits POST NO ILLS magazine and directs creative writing at American University. He is, most recently, the author of the collection Honest Engine. His other books, also published by the University of Georgia Press, include The Listening (Cave Canem Prize), Bouquet of Hungers (Hurston/Wright Legacy Award) and Logorrhea Dementia. Dargan has partnered with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities to produce poetry programming at the White House and Library of Congress. He’s worked with and supports a number of youth writing organizations, such as 826DC, Writopia Lab and the Young Writers Workshop.
WHITE. BREAD. BLUES.*
The Islander on U Street will be shuttered
says the metro section of the Washington Post.
I had my first and last plate of their curry bird
after Heroes Are Gang Leaders hit at Howard.
Can I be sad? I think I’ve made my peace
with gentrification. I tell myself, market value
all it is, not race, and there is no bitter echo
within my skull. Georgia Avenue—Shaw
on up to Florida Avenue—these days
glimmers with eateries and wellness studios.
Donnie Simpson’s son owns a bakery
atop the metro. That’s music. That’s
America, I guess. I stopped somewhere
for a sandwich—which is why I am writing
this poem. Maybe gentrification
is dropping thirteen dollars for some catfish
on brioche that doesn’t taste as good
and lacks the structural integrity of whatever
hard fried fare you could carry from the dingy
storefronts that dared to make a dollar when
the afterbirth of riots was all that stuck
upon the streets. I tried walking and eating
but a tempura catfish sandwich shakes to bits
when you cross in front of Howard University
Hospital, where all the healed bamas bop out
the doors looking like Batman villains
if Gotham was Detroit instead of Manhattan—
their skin embroidered with question marks.
Everyone needs a place to be strange, a place
where you know what will and won’t leave you
(*Note) “Demographic inversion (also referred to as gentrification) is nothing new on this side of year 2000, which is also when I arrived in D.C.— 2005 to be exact. I’ve watched the affordability and demographics of its metropolitan corridors and sleepy neighborhoods change so much. It’s bewildering to me, so I can only imagine what it must feel like for people who grew up in the District in the fifties, sixties, and seventies or lived through the crack era. I used to think about gentrification as a “white” versus “brown” thing. (It often looks that way.) I’m beginning to think it’s more of a capitalism thing—those who have means coming back to the city and pricing out the have-nots who landed in these cities because they were all they could afford. (Of course, there is a racial element to which Americans do and do not have means historically.) This poem is really just a snapshot of my current, destabilized view of these changes—the bittersweet, the disorientation, the realities that don’t quite fit the dominant narrative. The loss of character—the particular and the strange–is one of those things people don’t realize they lament until it is too late to get that unexploited vibe back.”