STORY OF AN OPPRESSED PEOPLE IN FOUR WORDS OF A SONG

When I was a pre-teen, my favorite song was Dee Clark’s “Raindrops,” a sappy ballad of lost love sung straight to saccharine strings. The thunder sound effects in the background gave “Raindrops” just enough kitsch to make it a hit. But at the end of a very standard rendition in which he seems to be smiling through his tears, Clark suddenly lets out with a soul-stretching phrase, “It keeps on fallin’,” that echoes extreme emotional pain.

In college and as an adult, I read a lot of American history and learned that from the start the United States was cursed with a virulent racism that long outlived slavery. From my African-American friends and from watching the news, I learned that racism in its many forms still burns strongly in our country, and that it’s not just a matter of what racists think, but the terrible things they actively do to hurt African-Americans (and other minorities). 

Now when I listen to “Raindrops” as an adult, I hear the pain of centuries of oppression in the four words Clark screams out at the end. I wrote a poem about Dee Clark singing those four words, which Slant published a few years back. I also put a different version of the poem into prose, and used it in my new novel, The Brothers Silver, set for release by Owl Canyon Press in June.

Here’s the version of the poem in Slant:

IT MUST BE raindrops, SO MANY RAINDROPS

In the time it takes to sing four words,

Dee Clark wails the pain of centuries,

 

pain of smelling death and feces 

in the hull of a ship sailing westward,

 

pain of searing brand on thigh,

of hours of cranking up a cotton gin

half-dead from the bruises of everyday beatings,

 

of gawking dazed as trafficked children 

roll away in shot-gun guarded carts,

 

of knowing master takes his woman

whenever he wants to, 

 

pain of acting 

deferential to people who curse him,

pain of losing land for lack of twenty dollars, 

 

pain of fear of seeming proud or clever,

 

fear of scaring women with his looks,

fear of beatings, lynchings, firebombs,

 

pain of shame of sitting 

in shabby schools, at the back of buses, 

standing outside while they grill his burger,

 

the pain of sniper bullets, rubber hoses, 

ugly curses, spittle in face, 

 

pain of whispers that assume

thievery, laziness, incompetence,

 

pain of being forced by the record producer

to smile as he sings of pain,

until the fadeout of a sappy power ballad

after two minutes of grinning through 

a sweet conflation of raindrops,

it must be raindrops, it feel like raindrops,

against the rising obligati of the violins,

now burning a suddenly hoarse and harsh

ear-splitting, fog-cutting cry that forces 

centuries of pain to four short words,

 

it keeps on fallin’…

Marc Jampole

Published in Slant #30 (Spring 2016)

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