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Do the Right Thing

    (Spike Lee, 1989)


The days were a skillet on a red-hot eye of a stove.
The men on the corner, the couple in their apartment,
the kids playing under a fire hydrant's relief
were all sitting, loving, or playing in a skillet.

Heat rose off the assonance of summer language.
Some called it music; others called it fire.
The days were a skillet but the nights were a match
lighting the gas. No moon appeared, only steam

rising off the sidewalks from the day. Feet
danced on the skillet, and smoke alarms sounded.
Moths burst from musty closets fierce
as kids at play on a summer day. People were evicted,

put out like butter sliding across a skillet's face.
Most of us were outside by then, swatting bees,
swatting flies; we outlived the life span
of giraffes and cheetahs, made for this weather,

or we sat on our stoops, indolent but defiant,
simply escaping the drama of our own lives.
Even those indoors without air conditioning—
we like to believe, at least—escaped the heat

somehow. Mookie, to cool her fire, melted
ice cubes on Tina's nipples.
Radio Raheem stole ink off
Robert Mitchum's knuckles; took the heat,

too, to cast LOVE and HATE into digital bling.
When did "soul brother" become an anachronism
too hot for air-conditioned conversation? In Sal's
Pizzeria, Buggin Out bugs:

"Sal, Why ain't no brothers up on your wall?"
Smiley, auguring smoke to come before nightfall,
carried matches. The day is a skillet on a
red-hot eye of a stove; later, a cop has Radio Raheem

in a choke hold. Later we will light candles
for Radio Raheem. If a man takes a baseball bat
to another man's property, that's a skillet, too.
If a man throws a barrel through a plate glass window,

others will follow. A pyrrhic victory is a pyre of life
possessions set ablaze to save lives. Catharsis is the moth's
flight toward the flame, fluttering in the spotlight, or
first fluttering then fighting the power

to flutter, but consumed by the heat until all we know
of its shimmer is how one smolders to survive.


A. Van Jordan

Michigan Quarterly Review

Spring 2012


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