By Adrian Matejka
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
I remember hearing the compliment of compliments in terms of writing a couple of years ago. It was about Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. A writer (whose name I can’t remember) at the International Festival of the Authors in Toronto said of Pamuk, “I don’t need to go to Turkey, Orhan Pamuk has already taken me there.”
As a traveler I would dispute that statement.
As a writer I was impressed, and I quickly looked into who this writer of writers, Orhan Pamuk, was.
Good writing takes you places. Adrian Matejka, author of Mixology, winner of the National Poetry Series 2008 (USA), takes you into his life as a mixed-race man.
As a mixed-race person myself, I felt at home.
Do The Right Thing, a poem about Matejka meeting famed Black director Spike Lee, is a punch in the gut. If you know film the name attracts you. If you know of Spike Lee, you know he’s intense.
In Do The Right Thing (the poem) Lee does nothing but wrong!
After a dispute over merchandise at a Black Expo—Matejka challenging Lee over a “Free South Africa” t-shirt—the famed director barks:
Why you care? You ain’t even black.
An expo goer follows by saying, Damn Spike, that ain’t right.
Matejka ends by describing his ill feelings at that moment as “the missed free throw feeling in my chest.”
You’re never enough as a mixed-race person. One group says you look more like this, another group says you sound more like that, all groups bounce your identity around like a pinball in a never-ending game.
As a person who on many occasions has not been Arab enough, South American enough, Indigenous enough, Chinese enough, Matejka had me freeze like pressing pause on a Michael Jordan highlight. Book in hand, lungs in my throat, eyes glued to Lee’s words, Matejka took me to the Black Expo and back to memories of being surrounded by ‘my peoples’ in different settings—those “you ain’t even” settings.
Matejka’s clever word-play in the choice of his title couldn’t have been done better. The poet starts with Lee being surrounded by fans; he includes the title of the poem as the title of the film, “Fresh off seeing Do The Right Thing”; he shows his strength via challenging an icon; and he shows the weakness in Lee’s attempt to uphold status via tearing down Matejka’s identity.
Do The Right Thing is a brave poem, and bravery is often needed when doing what’s right. Two lines too long of being a sonnet, Matejka’s song of pain is felt every time I read it. The first time my eyes absorbed Matejka’s words I was KO’d by a punch I didn’t see. Now, as I read Matejka’s poem over and over (countless times in the two years I’ve owned Mixology), every couplet is a jab leading to the final blow that lays me flat.
Race, as is mentioned above, is central to Mixology. Powerful lines throughout the book leave you thinking about Matejka, race in America, and the life of a mixed race person:
1. marrying white, creating a child of stuttered pigmentation from disco and chalk
2. Being of color in Texas is to wake stressed from being.
3. Bad to be black, worse to be a mixed indetermination.
4. In Texas, cornrows are landscaping.
5. Mulatto Shakedown: your daddy was a black man and your momma was white
Each line can be the subject for an essay.
Each line represents past, present, and future.
Each line is a sad truth.
Matejka mixes music (Blues, Hip Hop, Rock and Roll), politics, race, and identity. Mixology is a cocktail that is bitter sweet; a song you replay even though it brings tears to your eyes; a book you want to tear up but can’t put down.
Mixed-race or not, Matejka, like Pamuk, takes you into his world and shows you what it’s like; the first line of the book describes what you’ll experience when reading Mixology:
Today, I’m assimilating like margarine into hotcakes.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday February 22, 2012 for an inclusive interview with Adrian Matejka.