'The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money)' by Etheridge Knight

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1973Exchange in greed the ungraceful signs. Thrust
The thick notes between green apple breasts.
Then the shadow of the devil descends,
The violent space cries and angel eyes,
Large and dark, retreat in innocence and in ice.(Run sister run-the Bugga man comes!)The violent space cries silently,
Like you cried wide years ago
In another space, speckled by the sun
And the leaves of a green plum tree,
And you were stung
By a red wasp and we flew home.
(Run sister run-the Bugga man comes!)Well, hell, lil sis, wasps still sting.
You are all of seventeen and as alone now
In your pain as you were with the sting
On your brow.
Well, shit. lil sis, here we are:
You and I and this poem.And what should I do? should I squat
In the dust and make strange markings on the ground?
Shall I chant a spell to drive the demon away?
(Run sister run-the Bugga man comes!)In the beginning you were the Virgin Mary,
And you are the Virgin Mary now.
But somewhere between Nazareth and Bethlehem
You lost your name in the nameless void.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money): A Masterpiece of Survival and Resilience

As I delve into the depths of Etheridge Knight's poetry, I am struck by the sheer power and raw emotion that permeates every line. His work, especially "The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money)", is an unflinching portrayal of the harsh realities of life for African Americans in a world that often sees them as less than human.

At its core, "The Violent Space" is a story of survival and resilience. It tells the tale of a sister who turns to prostitution in order to support herself and her family in the face of poverty and oppression. The poem is divided into four parts, each of which is a snapshot of a different moment in the sister's life.

One of the most striking things about this poem is the way it uses language to convey the sister's struggle. Knight's use of metaphor and symbolism is masterful, as he paints a vivid picture of a world that is both beautiful and horrific.

The opening lines of the poem set the tone for what is to come:

When your sister sleeps around
For money
And you make the scene
In the morning-after light,
You wonder why she does it
And you don't.

These lines are both simple and complex, conveying a sense of confusion and sorrow that is at the heart of the poem. The use of the second person "you" places the reader directly in the shoes of the speaker, forcing them to confront the harsh realities of the sister's life.

From there, Knight takes us on a journey through the sister's experiences, using vivid language and powerful imagery to bring her world to life. In the second part of the poem, for example, we see the sister "working the streets like a slave", her body "a raggedy doll / That nobody wants anymore."

These lines are heartbreaking, conveying a sense of desperation and hopelessness that is all too common for those who are forced to sell their bodies in order to survive. And yet, even in the midst of this darkness, Knight manages to find moments of beauty and grace. In the third part of the poem, for example, we see the sister "laughing like a wild thing" with her johns, finding a moment of joy and release in an otherwise bleak existence.

The final part of the poem brings everything full circle, as the speaker reflects on the sister's life and the reasons behind her choices. In the end, we are left with a sense of both sadness and hope, as we see the sister as a survivor who has done what she needed to do in order to make it through a difficult world.

Overall, "The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money)" is a masterpiece of poetry that speaks to the human experience in a powerful and profound way. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always a glimmer of hope.

As I finish reading this poem, I am struck by the sheer beauty and power of Knight's words. He has crafted a work of art that will stay with me long after I put it down, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have experienced it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium for artists to express their deepest emotions and thoughts. Etheridge Knight's "The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money)" is a classic example of how poetry can be used to convey a powerful message. This poem is a raw and emotional exploration of the pain and suffering that comes with poverty and the desperate measures people take to survive.

The poem begins with a powerful opening line, "I have hated you all my life." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a scathing indictment of the speaker's sister and her choices. The speaker is angry and bitter, and he doesn't hold back in his criticism of his sister's actions. He describes her as a "whore" and a "slut," and he is clearly disgusted by her behavior.

However, as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that the speaker's anger is not just directed at his sister. He is also angry at the society that has forced her into this situation. He describes the "violent space" that his sister inhabits, a world where poverty and desperation are the norm. He talks about the "cold, hard streets" and the "empty bellies" that drive people to do things they would never otherwise consider.

The poem is full of vivid imagery that brings the world of poverty and desperation to life. The speaker describes his sister's clients as "fat, white men" who "smell of whiskey and cigars." He talks about the "filthy mattresses" and the "stained sheets" that his sister must endure. These images are powerful and disturbing, and they serve to underscore the desperation of the situation.

Despite the anger and bitterness that permeates the poem, there is also a sense of sadness and compassion. The speaker clearly loves his sister, and he is devastated by what she has become. He talks about the "tears in her eyes" and the "pain in her heart," and it is clear that he understands the toll that her choices have taken on her.

In the end, the poem is a powerful commentary on the human cost of poverty and desperation. It is a reminder that people are not just statistics or numbers, but living, breathing human beings with hopes and dreams and fears. The speaker's anger and bitterness are understandable, but they are also a reflection of the pain and suffering that he and his sister have endured.

Overall, "The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money)" is a powerful and emotional poem that explores the dark side of human nature. It is a reminder that poverty and desperation can drive people to do things they would never otherwise consider, and that the human cost of these choices is often devastating. Etheridge Knight's poem is a testament to the power of poetry to convey complex emotions and ideas, and it is a classic example of how art can be used to shed light on the darkest corners of the human experience.

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