Supplementary Long Poem – Kristen Roberts

again, i apologize for my unfashionable lateness. i’ve completely lost control of my narcolepsy and it is slowly swallowing my life. i also have absolutely no time management skills. shocking news, i’m sure.

i’m sorry if this seems to lack my usual absurdness. i’ve misplaced my joy of learning somewhere underneath this never-ending pile of homework that has me stuck in my apartment doing homework at 3am on a friday night. for the first time ever, i actually miss having the free time to clean up my apartment. this place is a complete tip.

i honestly wish i understood this poem more, because there is clearly so much to talk about. but i unfortunately don’t speak poet with any sort of fluency, and i’m gravely disappointed in this essay. it could have been so awesome. :/

i bet you’re stoked to read it now.

In the long poem “In the Mecca” by Gwendolyn Brooks, Brooks uses the protagonist’s search for her missing child as a source of emphasis for the fragmented racial communities by highlighting the debris caused by a failed socioeconomic system and a failed religion in order to portray the black community through the Mecca. Brooks uses her protagonists search for her missing child to draw attention to the both internally and externally fragmented racial societies of the 1960’s. Brooks does so by showing the failures of the current social system inside the black community, and in the interactions between the black and white community. These primary points of interest become a means of portraying the black community and it’s struggles through the microcosm of the Mecca.

“In the Mecca” follows a protagonist, Mrs. Sallie Smith, as she introduces each of the residents of the Mecca apartment complex, including her many children, until she realizes that one of her children, Pepita, has gone missing. A poem written primarily for a black audience, Brooks uses the poem to shed light on her notable dissatisfaction with the white community, and her feelings of disappointment from within her own black community. She searches the apartment complex from top to bottom, introducing and detailing each of the characters as she searches, until she finds her daughter, who we learn has been murdered. the poem changes in structure, with each stanza varying in line length, stanza length, with some rhyming and some not. Throughout the poem, Brooks gives an interesting set of details about many of the characters as Mrs. Sallie searches for Pepita.

These insights to the other characters in the poem help illustrate the reality of the damage that has been done within the black community in the 1960’s in Chicago. After Mrs. Sallie learns her child is missing, she frantically searches, with very little help or interest from her neighbors. Of the descriptions of the residents, none are particularly pleasant, and Mrs. Sallie finds herself surrounded by neighbors who are less than concerned with her missing child. Brooks introduces the reader to many characters, including Alfred, a teacher and a drunk, Prophet Williams,  a skirt-chasing young man who is grossly self involved and in denial of it, Briggs, who is in a gang but Brooks urges the reader to take pity on him, the rest of Mrs. Sallie’s children, and several others until we meet Jamaican Edward, Pepita’s killer.

During Mrs. Sallie’s search, several individuals are introduced, and despite all of them being residents in the Mecca, they do not have any awareness or interest in finding Pepita. Instead, the reader sees conversations about past experiences, militant ideologies, and how the black community should defend itself from the white oppressors. This disinterest helps to explain the fractured reality of the black community during the Civil Rights era, and the “every man for himself” mentality of the community Mrs. Sallie lives in.

There is an enormous amount of religious allusions and references, as the poems title may indicate. These various religious names, places, books, and preachers all stand to explain the failure of white Christianity in the black community. A religion never presented in a way that included the black community in the United States to begin with, Brooks emphasizes the ways in which white Christianity and white religious ideologies do not work in the black community. Mrs. Sallie finds herself at a loss with her neighbors, whose disinterest is so overwhelming that Mrs. Sallie’s best accomplices in searching for her daughter are the white police officers who arrive and do very little to assist Mrs. Sallie. In one particularly clarifying moment, Brooks writes from the point of view of the narrator,

“‘Kind Neighbor.’ They consider.

Suddenly

every one in the world is Mean” (18).

these few lines explain with enormous clarity Mrs. Sallie’s, and in turn, Brooks’s desire for caritas, something the Mecca community severely lacks.

At the end of the poem, the reader is overwhelmed with melancholy after Mrs. Sallie finds her daughter murdered (and quite possibly raped but i’m not actually sure because poetry has the adorable vagueness to it) in Jamaican Edward’s room. the weight of the discover alone is enough to cause the reader to think about the racial atmosphere of the Civil Rights era, but i found something else to seem much more profound.

After finding the next section, titled “After Mecca”, which discusses Malcolm X and Civil Rights era leaders int he black community, i reread the first page of “In the Mecca.” It had caught my eye originally, but i saw it’s importance only after i had finished the poem. the opening stanza of the poem says,

“Sit where the light corrupts your face.

Mies Van der Rohe retires from grace.

And the fair fables fall” (5).

Assuming the the “fair fables” are in reference to the alleged “American Dream,” because honestly what else could it mean, then this poem has served as more than an examination of the tattered remains of racial communities in the 1960’s. The poem shows that in the black community, there was no such thing as the “American Dream.” As Malcolm X so eloquently put it, “I don’t see any American dream – I see an American nightmare.”

 

Brooks, Gwendolyn. In the Mecca. 1st ed. New York. Harper & Row, 1968. Print.

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