Hurry Up, Please, It’s Closing Time ::

I. “Tippecanoe & Tyler Too!”

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelops me
—Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones, “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”


And something about what Jeanette Winterson called art anticipating life. About streets tinged with the ancient dangers we pose to each other. Everyone’s a stranger now in a world at war for years with no end in sight. East Asia. Eurasia. We all know the active shooter drill.

A full score, plus two, years into the 21st century and the 20th still haunts our every day, popping up around corner after corner with the jolt of a Roland Emmerich bwah. But let me hurry this up, please, because this is America. The haunting goes back far and deep and us floating through year two of a lifeguard shortage. To wit:

It’s been said that the very long century preceding the publication of “The Waste Land” was presaged by a powerful omen. There. I just said it. Look up the Battle of Tippecanoe, as direct a lead-up to the colony-clashing, indigenous slaughtering War of 1812 as Ferdinand’s assassination a century hence would be to World War I, and you’ll likely learn of William Henry Harrison’s seminal victory. Major general, legionnaire, then Governor of the so-called Indiana Territory, and the new nation’s soon-to-be 9th president, Harrison dined out on those war stories, from river to coast, one can imagine, for decades.

In truth, the battle was more of a draw.

Therein lies the power of a sticky line. Harrison is credited as the first US President to employ modern campaign tactics in the run for the role of his life. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was among the nation’s first electoral slogans. You can almost smell the merch paste slapping Harrison’s infamous moniker next to the alliterative surname of his running mate. Nearly 30 years after Tecumsah’s War, and the death of the infamous warrior, his brother, Tenskwatawa, “the Shawnee Prophet,” cursed the American Presidency. Harrison—the shortest serving president in US history—died.
Call it a myth. Call it the thing itself. Call it the 20-Year Curse. Or Tecumseh’s Curse. It’s been called the Curse of Tippecanoe, called Curse Zero too. Legend has it the curse promised every future president elected during a year which ends in zero would die in office. My mother, who survived the 1960s, referred to this with astonishing frequency. Only 31 days post-inauguration, Harrison was the first. He wouldn’t be the last

This rule of zero would come to pass every twenty years. Each score a settling. It lasted a score and a century more until suddenly—right before my own child eyes, glued to a milk-truck-sized color teevee—it didn’t. I sat mesmerized and confused as Reagan took six bullets, again and again on replay, and then kind of…walked away?

Teflon Ron they called him; and all the way up through Defcon Don the shattered curse blew right through a man who knew to duck a shoe—experience or instinct—which flew line-true right by his head. Undead? Nearly four score years have passed since the last potentially-cursed presidential passing. President Biden, next up on the Curse Zero schedule, hosted COVID chest-tight at least twice and well...Undead?

To a woman, everyone to whom I mentioned writing about “The Waste Land” broke into laughter. “Like,” their dancing eyes asked, “why?!”

Look around. Centuries ago, a Roman Army’s Century contained around four score legionnaires. “Things have come,” Baraka prefaced, “to that.”

II. “I am God, la de dah!”
(Anne Sexton, “Hurry Up Please, It’s Time”)

 It was December 31, 2005, and the New York Times opined through poetry, opening its pages to poets, including Brigid Pegeen Kelly’s consummate prose poem, “Closing Time; Iskandariya,” alongside work by Carl Phillips, Seamus Heaney, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Two years had passed since thousands of priceless cultural artifacts were looted from Baghdad and thousands upon thousands of even more priceless humans had been killed.

“It was not a scorpion,” began Kelly’s first epic sentence, its word count nearly nine-score long. “I asked for a fish,” she continued, “but maybe God misheard my request.” A fortnight prior to the poem’s publication which, unlike “The Waste Land,” has never been collected in book form, Dubya finally conceded that his pre-war Iraqi intelligence “turned out to be wrong.” Eighty-three Decembers had passed since “The Waste Land” crossed the ocean; Dubya continued to insist that his war was justified. It would continue for six more years.

So what of this desert creature? It’s exoskeleton? It’s poison barb? In what ways was it “a thing like me?” Or, perhaps, like us, innocently cruel in our own best eyes, tripping over stiff side steps, “as if on ice, freezing again and again in mid-air like a listening ear,” our shells, as Baraka wrote in Preface’s closing poem, “Notes on a Speech”: “as any other sad man here / american.”  Tippecanoe, Indiana. Tyler, Texas. Alexandria. Babylon. Mariupol. So many unreal cities. So many fishbones caught in our post-Lowellian throats. In 2001, a dedicated New Yorker, I was stuck across an ocean in September. Being a perhaps-problematically polite young American, I was cared for kid-glovingly before the airways profiled me all the way back to Brooklyn where  the down-winds of death finally drove me back uptown. Then to Texas. New skies. Then north past Tippecanoe’s old air. Then, after so long, back uptown to still older subways.

Older even than Eliot’s ordered pathos, New York’s IRT shares my birthday alongside as many quietly loud roadmaps. Its Seventh Avenue line takes me home again, after what seems a century on the highway. Its tracks, and perhaps some of its train cars, turned 18 years old—grown!—just as Eliot first published “The Waste Land” in the UK, a fistful of weeks before it came home.

In John Beer’s 2010 saga, “The Waste Land,” an antihero refers to Eliot as “such a shrinking violet,” and Beer quips, “thank God, we live in a day and age / where people aren’t afraid to talk about orgasms.” In truth, sex has become so antediluvian; an unreal city littered with outdated maps. The end of sex hadn’t been printed—I’ve been taught by global trauma to note—on my end-of-the-world-bingo-card. But here we are.

III. “Nobody sings anymore.” 
(Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones, “Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note”)

Chaos sings though.

It is February 7th, 1979. The sky is blue-gold:  
the freedom of possibility.
—Fatimah Asghar, “Pluto Shits on the Universe”

The angry these days say, page after page, that our songs aren’t music. But what of the fear that our music may be magic?

“I chaos,” promises Asghar’s Pluto, “like a motherfucker.”

According to my phone, ninety-nine years after Eliot published “The Waste Land,” a 72-year-old Indian news outlet asked, “Why does the U.S. lose all its wars?”

This morning, across a workshop table, a woman spoke of her impending evening Bible Study: “We’re doing prophecy.” She won’t write that poem though. I tried.

Gregg Bordowitz once described his “Debris Fields” poems to me as “literally…wreckage.”

—Greg Bordowitz, "Debris Fields V"

In 2018—the Late Before Times—I made this poem into a broadside. Its insistent dive into the wreck threatened to drown; its vanitas, inevitable even then.

IV. “Chaos isn’t a pit,” opined George R.R. Martin’s Petyr Baelish, but not in the book. “Chaos is a ladder.”

“The ladder is always there

We know what it is for,
we who have used it.” 
—Adrienne Rich, “Diving Into the Wreck”

By the time you read this, I assume we’ll have been great again for quite some time.

Today my watch says: August 4, 2022. One or another deadly heat dome hovers, my watch says.

The rats in Manhattan are bolder now – one tried to drag its slimy belly right across my shoe the other day. There was a witness.

We either are or are not at war right now. Could it all have become the same thing? Mostly though there is no water.

And today a student talked about going into poetry for the money and I laughed. I mean, I was hungry. But I was wearing Gucci. And I laughed.

All the fancy shoes in the world have yet to secure me the transactional skills of an Eliot publishing a poem across a pond. Offered a full month’s (pandemic dipped, to be fair) 21st-century Manhattan rent as honorarium to publish the poem, Eliot was offended. I imagine a pearl clutch. I imagine how Beer’s poem pegs its fifth and final section as “The Death of the Poet.” May we all have an ol’ buddy like Ezra Pound to slice the fat off of our meaty poems and swaddle up a hefty, poetry award prize purse to sweeten the deal. To inject that fat into the wallets and the poet and his publishers. In the end: money and money. And yeah, war. And horror. And money.

In the end, even Maurizio Gucci got shot down in the ‘90s, as if some ordinary American.

An ordinary-enough American, I’ve been on the highway, poeming, all summer, and even my sUbLeTteR fled the scaffold-dark and heat of my August flat. Apparently some man was pissing himself on my doorstep.

No one watered my plants the rest of the sun-hot summer.

V. “In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing”
—T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

The trouble with being a woman, Skeezix,
is being a little girl in the first place.
–Anne Sexton, “Hurry Up Please, It’s Time”

Twenty-five years to the day after Eliot’s death I called myself reborn at the Los Angeles Airport’s Thomas Bradley Terminal. Grown. Finally. Free.

I stayed through the riots and then struck north to apprentice myself to poetry like Kelly’s maudlin lover. “[A] house of books, my shy scorpion, carrying in his belly all the perishable manuscripts,” and it was me, “a little mirror of the library at Alexandria, which burned.”

“Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” ends with the speaker’s young daughter praying— ostensibly to no one—for our salvation. Black women will save us all! I hear the preternaturally American pleurer du Coeur nearly 40 years after Eliot, nearly 50 years before my own home machines minted the refrain into light-sound.

In 1980, the year the Reagan won his (undead?) office, June Jordan wrote “From Sea to Shining Sea.” Such vanitas! Such inevitability! Her epicacious, seven-part poem lays bare our wasted and ever wasting lands. Yet, amidst their fresh and rotten fruits she digs toward promise.

Jordan seeded the poem with single line stanzas which stated plainly all the things that “This was not a good time” to be: Black; gay; woman; young; old; Arkansan; a pomegranate ripening on a tree.

In the poem’s fifth section, Jordan prophesizes:

Natural order is being restored.
Designer jeans will be replaced by the designer
of the jeans.
Music will be replaced by reproduction
of the music.
Food will be replaced by information.
Above all the flag will be replaced by the flag.

And Reagan lived. And Trump got his very own flag; they pass me still down every highway, flapping ominous all a-glare, red font bursting mid-air. Somewhere in the middle distance, a president covered his cough all summer as I worked on an erasure of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.” To pull from beneath his poem long, cruel months of poetry felt found and true to me.

We may be tempted to imagine that Jordan’s poem might end as an embodiment of Baraka’s Black girl in prayer but, to echo Asghar’s Pluto, “Nah.” Jordan knew exactly who she spoke to. Her poem is direct address and insistent call to action.

Action? Here?

In these post-Lowellian lands where Eliot might look around and note the lack of floodless waters? The way our days may only be rock but still somehow they burn? Such vanitas. Such inevitability

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.
—Fatimah Asghar, “Pluto Shits on the Universe”

“Shanti,” Eliot purloined. “Shanti. Shanti.”


Shall we at least set our wasted lands in order? Can we hurry up, please? Can we track losing time in our surveilling rear view? 

Or do we continue to channel Asghar’s Pluto, and hold tight its stubborn answer, “Nah.”

Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.



Samiya Bashir, called a “dynamic, shape-shifting machine of perpetual motion,” by Diego Báez, writing for Booklist, is a poet, writer, librettist, performer, and multi-media poetry maker whose work, both solo and collaborative, has been widely published, performed, installed, printed, screened, experienced, and Oxford comma’d from Berlin to Düsseldorf, Amsterdam to Accra, Florence to Rome and across the United States.

Sometimes she makes poems of dirt. Sometimes zeros and ones. Sometimes variously rendered text. Sometimes light. Bashir is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Field Theories, winner of the 2018 Oregon Book Award’s Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry.