DE EMPIAH TOWN BE FALLIN' DOWN

(being a summary of the legal battle to establish district representation in an enormous Long Island municipality)

Ah gots de lowdown fu' you, bro,
What votin' rights about.
So jes' give me a hollah,
Ef ah leaves sumpin' out.

Where'd ah hyeah dis sto'ry?
Ah caught it f'om a ho'.
She done hyeahed it fru de grapevine
F'om folk who 'posed tu' know.

De buzz came outa Hempstead--
What we usta call de sticks.
Daih bin dis hyeah sichation
Dat no one couldn' fix.

Daih's been some bruvvahs in dat hood
Some tutty, fo'ty yeah'
But whitey, like dey fu'innu's,
Say, "You ain' we'come hyeah."

At de grill tu' get a bu'ga
Dey be callin' out de heat.
Dey gots de man harrassin' folk
Fu' goin' down de street.

One kid try to get some sunshine
Wif 'is buddies in a pahk.
Cops say, "Dis is Gah'den City.
Get out, cohs yo' too dahk."

Dey crammin' bruvvu's inna jail--
De population swell.
De co't hafta parole 'em
Down tu' nine o' ten pu' cell.

Daih dis u'ban renewal,
Dey p'omise dat iss good.
But iss jes' "nigga removal"--
Fu' tu' get us out de hood.

Mos' places blacks cain' rent a room.
De lan'lo'd slam de do'.
You cain' get tu' no decen' wo'k.
Dey wan's ta keep us po'.

You gots tu' live in ghetto hoods,
Wif roaches, rats, and crime.
De lead pain' comin' off de wall--
Lan'lo'd neva take de time.

In winna time, iss freezin' daih.
De col' be comin' in.
De winda loose an' drafty.
De insulation fin.

Be some pushu' on 'mos' every block--
He sellin' dope an' crack.
His han' be on his holstu',
So's you take caih u' yo' back.

A schoolchile cain't lea'n stuff like maff.
You see it ev'ry day.
An' ef you cain' read nuffin'
You cain' lif' yo'se'f no way.

Dat OTB an' lott'ry
Say "Get rich ef you play."
But you can nevu' profit
Ef you waju' all yo' pay.

De realtu' won' show houses
In Befpage o' Levittown.
An ef you buys one anyway,
Den whitey bu'ns it down.

'Tain' wise buyin' in de ghetto,
Whay' kids pull risky pranks.
You cain' buy no insurance,
An' dey redline at da banks.

Dose woun's be slow in healin'
While gittin' wo'se tu' beah.
De racial inequality
Be patently unfaih.

De black folk never get no break--
Daih tax'es high, no joke.
What dey gets back be niggu'dly--
Lessu' den honkey folk.

Don' grouse fru 'ficial channels
O' you be wastin' a call.
Cain' get no su'vice cross dat fishu'
'Tween de ghetto and town hall.

Dey all be busy ovah daih
Makin' sho ah money spen'
Makin' all dey frien's so rich
An' takin' one pu'cen'.

Dey be drivin' fancy cah,
Man, wearin' fancy clo'.
Wanna live de life u' Riley?
It depen' on who you know.

Daih's campaign pichas of apah'tmen's
Taken f'om ou'side.
We cain' have 'em--iss jes' fo'play
So's we nevu' satisfied.

Daih ain' nobody need ah vote
To run de guvvamen'.
'Cohs Hempstead town, it be so big
We's only twel' pu'cen'.

A black who run fu' office
Ain' got a Chinaman's chance--
Unless he in daih pocket--
An den dey make 'im dance.

Dis powu' sichation
Gits tensu' all de time,
'Til finally dey waxin' wrof
An sayin "Iss a crime!"

So someone say, "Le's sue dey ass!"
Dey get dis lawya, Fred.
He be readin' fru dose case book.
He know how to use his head.

Dis be a case u' racism.
He have nuffin tu' lose.
So's he put his sock' an' knickas on
An' spats upon his shoes.

Soon he brewin' tons u' trouble.
Seems dis at-large bo'd's a fix.
Dey 'posed ta let us have ah shaih--
Dat's one seat outa six."

He makes his case befo' de judge,
Wif maps and chah'ts and stuff.
De town say, "We hiah'd one black on.
Shu'ly dat be 'nuff."


But see, dey only foun' dat chump
'Cohs dis case was in co't.
So even wif him on de bo'd,
Dey cain' fro out ah to't.

De judge hyeah all de evide'ce
An read de res' at home.
An it take him mo' time dan
When dey build de Astrodome.

He kep' his mouf shut some long time
Fu' weeks an' mumfs, an' yeahs.
But when he talk, de GOP
Dey cain' hold back de teahs!

He say de system be unfaih:
Dey's got black votu's rooked.
He tell 'em what dey got ta do
An man, daih goose be cooked!

Dey lisnin' wif daih eyes all red
An' swollen f'om defeat.
Cohs dey gotta cut dat town six ways
An' give de blacks one seat.

An' wif doze smolu' distric',
Runnin' won' take such long green.
So mo' candidate'll su'face
Dat folk can choose between.

Won' be uphill fo' challenju's
Tu' run fu' council seat.
An ef dey gah'nu' lot' a vote,
Dey got de system beat.

Dat old machine'll lose its grip
De co'e bin cut right out.
Dis be no lie or fable:
Have faif, wifout a doubt.

Doze crooks all sprints an' dashes,
Cohs when doze new cats get daih,
Dey be fahrin' tons u' deadwood,
So's de budget be mo' spaih.

Dey be prayin' on de sabbaf,
An' all de way fru Lent,
"Please Lo'd he'p me cuvva up ma graf'--
Each law dat Ah done bent!"

De bosses sca'ed u' losin'
All the money dey e'sto't
When dat town machine go unn'a--
So dey buy some time in co't.

Dey leave a big white donut
An puts black folk in de hole.
Delayin' simple jus'ice
Mus' be dey only goal.

Dey nevva' get away wif it--
De ve'dic' be too clea'
So we e'spec' tu see some change
Wifin de comin' yea'.

So now dis tale is ovah.
Ah gots tu' res' ma jaw.
Iss good to know dat sometimes
Whitey be hel' tu' de law.

De motto u' dis sto'ry
Is dat black folk can have clout
Ef dey hah'r a shoh't, li'l, whaht nu'd
Who can wu'k de numbas out.


-- Poe M'Noke

You can read more about the Town of Hempstead (pop. 700,000) Republican machine. Having produced the likes of Alphonse D'Amato and Peter King, the Grand Old Party clutched onto the at-large voting system that keeps it in power, rather than more competitive district voting or proportional representation.

For authenticity and to the extent possible, this poem has incorporated the dialect of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, as employed in his anthology, When Malindy Sings. Dunbar was proficient at many styles and dialects.

If you can find the names of all the Long Island politicians appearing in the poem, submit a list to ridewaver@gmail.com. The names of winners will be posted. Sorry, no cash prizes available unless someone wants to put up the money.

If you're inclined to suggest inclusions in the poem, write them and send them to ridewaver@gmail.com. Don't worry about getting the dialect right--we'll handle that. (Tell us whether to list you as a contributing author.) Or write a whole poem!

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Last updated: 7 December 2020

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