TOWARDS A DECLENSION OF “UNPRECEDENTED”
The virus’s unnoticeable, studded, burr-like form
is not unprecedented
Terror, when one recalls medieval tortures,
also not unprecedented—
if we check Roman imperial customs—
like crucifixion. Nor is it unprecedented
that blanching corpses land in that ancient fridge,
the grave. Unprecedented,
but not really, is the disruption of plump rats’
frank gnawing and noshing on the poor. Unprecedented
neither were the stockaded indigent,
scrawny, swilling mud and swallowing dirt. “Unprecedented”
was the crevasse in the calendar, O-mouthed reporters observed,
where all car gears slapped into Park. “Unprecedented”?
No! Look up France, May 1968:
Leaf Mavis Gallant’s Paris Note-book. Unprecedented
is the amnesia of History, how needles can pierce
even deeper than bullets. Unprecedented
is the alcohol wash invisibly gloving hands
to kill an overly unctuous pathogen. Unprecedented
is a President, a TV-star tumour, pallid,
commanding, “Let the sick gulp bleach.” Unprecedented?
No, consider Marie Antoinette for starters.
But everyone’s fave, sicko politico is unprecedented
in prescribing no sugar to sweeten the toxin.
That Panic wrecks Panache ain’t unprecedented,
nor’s the cinematic stacking of cadavers, in mummy
postures, in freezer truck upon freezer truck. Unprecedented—
maybe—is the lust of governments to seize the streets
from the commons, to tell us, with unprecedented
Nonchalance, to exit jobs, to vacate schools,
to stay shut in, to live shut off. Unprecedented
is how fast white lab coats disguise grey pin-stripes
and face shields accessorize top-hats. Unprecedented is
the hasty labelling of bookstores as “non-essential,”
while liquor stores get staged as Utopia. Unprecedented,
not at all, was the shuttering of churches,
mosques, temples, synagogues. “Unprecedented”?
No! The honestly faithful are always dissenters,
visionaries damned as psychotic. Unprecedented,
therefore, was the clamour to permit useful prayers,
to allow angels to fly in. But unprecedented
is every apocalypse at first—
until calamities show as predictable, not unprecedented;
that plagues and famines and massacres
are absolutely same-old and age-old. What’s unprecedented
is the people’s money (renminbi) expended on the people,
to maintain breathing, to sustain struggle. Unprecedented
is the opportunity to say good riddance
to pig-jockeys (the rich) and outlaw the unprecedented
torching of forests, the planting of barbed-wire;
that we’ll bulldoze open the death-camps where unprecedented
million-fold refugees are trapped, bellowing their fenced-in Pain.
Deaths happen—detachable, cold as mirrors—unprecedented
in their clipped enumeration, counting shrouds as lumpy as snow,
in the Corpse Broadcasting Corporation’s Brit accents. Unprecedented
is the mortal rattle in each individual throat
registering the rebel’s fainting growl. Unprecedented
is the mass grumbling, the exercising of shouted turmoil
(as in the Caucasian-viral-video, “COPVID-20,” unprecedented
in revealing the Ku Klux Klan Kop plop his knee
atop a black man’s neck, so breath stops). Unprecedented
is how abuses thought long out-of-date are brought up-to-date.
So poets must be street-corner oracles, unprecedented!
We the people must purge ourselves of bloat—i.e., the bloated
Plutocracy—but this urge ain’t unprecedented.
(Posh, insidious bourgeois briefcases should be, bodily, their caskets.)
Snatches of speech, all contemptuous of Law, and unprecedented
in Yeatsian horsiness and James Brown hoarseness,
gotta bully on the mob—us—to unprecedented
Freedom, but not newfangled enslavement to pills, booze,
or chaotic crimes, catastrophic crimes, unprecedented
but slapstick bloodshed, happy-go-lucky pogroms—
nudes machine-gunned into pits—unprecedented
whooping, cheering, in the arenas, as scientists are butchered.
Bozo cutthroats do amateur-hour, boffo, unprecedented
Murders—as disrespectful as scissors
slashing through film stock or verses. Unprecedented
is the flashlight beam bleeding through dusk
to swath a face and then dissolve it—yours, unprecedented
in its uniqueness, but still vulnerable
to a confessional beheading: The unprecedented,
ossified shadow in the out-of-sight coffin,
while the pandemic infestation leads to unprecedented
bickering over dwindling antiseptics. Anyway,
there’s spontaneous wine-making to answer unprecedented
catastrophizing, eh, while merchants screech,
because they’re suddenly castrati. “Unprecedented”
are their losses! Ready Depression’s all about.
Amid the unprecedented,
alarming annihilations—even babies’ corpses—
those rotting parental reproductions, unprecedented
yawns the doleful Eternity that awaits us,
although politicos announce trustworthy bullshit. Unprecedented
are the cascading demises in plague-savaged, Old Age prisons,
the extravagant dilapidation of dependent, unprecedented
feces-smeared bodies. Disgusting governors, in league
with moneybags, pander to Big Biz. Unprecedented
is the ineffaceable Anguish, the infamous Despair,
the obstinate Obscenity of infections “unprecedented”—
to quote this weaponized word, always taken out-of-context
of History, which can never be unprecedented.
Unnecessary and negating is this jacked-up adverb,
which is obsolete, dead-on-arrival. Unprecedented
deserves deletion, cancellation, for its every facet
proclaims facetious, havocking invective. Unprecedented
applies a hideous Avoidance, okays felicitous Ferocity,
“appreciated” as “avant-garde.” Unprecedented
equals miserable applause for the festering Delirium
that nothing’s ever broken or thrown away. Unprecedented
is unmeaning(ful) rigmarole, a vain vomiting,
insinuating the canker of Error. Unprecedented
is not the novel (mass) killer, that spiky globe
that goads invisibly the lungs to clog. Unprecedented
is not the germ mobilized to maraud, so greedy to kill:
It is tongues stabbing the air with aerosolized Perjury! Unprecedented
is the paramount doctrine of septic Tyranny—
to excuse the swell and surge of sins unprecedented.
Yet, I—free thinker—doubt the dinning claim:
What—exactly—is ever truly “unprecedented”
save Christ’s Resurrection? (But even that was preceded
by good ol Lazarus.) Let dissolving sprinkles of rain—unprecedented—
pamper my face. Its herringbone pattern
accompanies my pouring out of Stoly and saki (not unprecedented),
while I crave the earthy, strong scent of violets
to displace the stench of decays (plural) unprecedented.
O! I want us all to blunder ashore—like starfish—
outta this tempest, not so unprecedented.
I want to recall the skeletal—skinny—bleeding, Ebola patient—
and how Grief—tear-slippery—wasn’t unprecedented.
Though we’ve been hectored to “stay home,” now’s the time
of no “safe house.” Chalk this up to facts “unprecedented”?
Now, let us pronounce impulsive Revulsion
at every ancien régime, and urge on Revolt unprecedented—
to argue for a grievous Equality:
So that, next time, poets’ plaints won’t seem “unprecedented”!
George Elliott Clarke is an Afro-Metis, hailing from Africadia (African-Nova Scotia). The founder of the field of African-Canadian literary study, he’s taught at Duke, McGill, UBC, and Harvard, and teaches at the University of Toronto. The ex-Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and of Canada (2016-17), his forthcoming book is “White.”