Reginald Dwayne Betts

The Invention of Crack



Dark alliance. Crack smoked over this backdrop:

CIA seal, Contras. So much heavy weight.

How birds fly? How millions turn into guerrilla props:

AK-47s, & all else. White smoke. Rocks. The dead & dying.

Gary Webb’s tale of two horrors: Contra & crack.


Mr. Speaker, what is most

frightening about crack

is that it has made cocaine

widely available… Mr. Speaker,

I am afraid that the crack epidemic

will only get worse.


I wish to bring to the attention

of our colleagues an article,

“Extra-potent cocaine: use

rising sharply among teenagers.”

Confirms what many of us in the Congress

who have the responsibility of reviewing

federal drug abuse policy

have known for some time;

that the availability of “crack” –

cocaine in its purest state –

at low street prices will only

expand the abuse of cocaine nationwide.



Black man say crack will ruin. Senator Black Elect say scourge

& scourges & look behind the words & you know he knew

“there is always a prison for them.” This post Rockefeller,

after Carmona got laced with a life sentence for a hundred

dollars worth of heroin. Ain’t many black folks in Congress.

Keep saying Reagan did it. Black man say Reagan did it.

Reagan say look at the paper, the bodies in the street. Rangel

says scourge & you vote for him again & again & again

& the pen is still filled with the bodies. Ain’t no conspiracy here.

Hand to hands scared him. Black man watching the projects

turning into a war zone. Probably thought if no one notices

the zombies in the street he should. Don’t tell me he trafficked

in the New Jim Crow too. Rangel says scourge. All these years,

all these years & the bodies in prison & we done

stop counting but I know what he told the papers:

We’d stop counting. Stopped counting how many babies

lost their mothers to the pull of smoke running from aluminum.

We had. Stopped. Counting. Mr. Senator was out to duck ruin.

Ours. It seems. You think we counted our lost? Lost

Pounds, lost brothers? All the women who bartered

With the dirt their knees gathered in the dusk?”


            The newest scourge on the streets

            is a frightening low-cost substance

            called crack. This form of cocaine

            which users freebase, has been proved

            lethal time and again, and it’s responsible

            for an alarming number of episodes of death

            and injury in recent weeks.




Nickel bag, Dime bag, Eight ball:


            We invented a way for niggas to be

            Good at math. Call me crackhead, call me

            fiend, but I know my Daddy’s name

            is what I tell them young boys,

            Even as they wave me on to the spot

            Where a kid my son’s age passes out rocks.


Jesus, some of us still be praying with aluminum between

Our lips. All our music reduced to something clever to say

about dope. Call it white lady. Call me snowman. Say

I move avalanches. I drought the city. From the first to the fifth

I got it all back. Crown me rap star. If I ain’t a hustler

what you call that. I was just trying to feed my babies.

Move weight. Fly birds. Call me Ricky Ross. Call me

Dopeman. Pusherman. He who gots bricks. Move that dope.

This, all of it, the abyss where men come to die. & the rest

of America goes to watch. Where Rangel at? Ha ha. & they

still say whitey did it. I been had my money on the man

that stay in office, that gets in office, that suits up to go

prosecute, that suits up to go defend. I say they did it. What?

Watch when the city went to ruins. Inheritance ain’t nothing

but memory. When the mayor & the reporters smoking too,

why we the only ones in jail? Where all those men who dreamed?

They keep saying in the 80s a Smokey, Teddy, Luther would have

Crooned to a crack pipe. We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,

Whatever will that will bury what brought smoke, crystalline

white rocks to our streets.


            “Rayful. Freeway Ricky. Supreme. Everyone wanting

            To be Escobar. A poliferation of bodies enlarged

            By cameras. Philargyist: lover of money, antecedent

            To Andre 3 stacks, to all those pockets full of stones.

            They say where the earth has no water there is a man

            Craving the shiny glimmer of a nickel, or of the ragged

            End of pipe in their mouths. 1980 something.

            Corposant & corpse. Or fuck your hearse.





It take a nation of millions to hold

us back? Well they got that. We got that too.

Hands around our throat. Before you suffocate

your own fool self. Father forgive…


So the penitentiaries are barrels full of

Children running away from Jake, Bodine,

5-0, all these names for the same dance. On the Run.

& watch when the researchers come, notebooks in hands

writing about the dispossessed. About the clean & dirty.

Their idioms of death & whatnot. King me muthafucka,

they say when the research drops. Expert on the Negro

Problem. They become oracle & insight. & we get all

the dead bodies around us. Say so many people died one year

the District was worse than Vietnam. Per capita they say. Per

capital. Meaning all the capitals in the world was better to be in than

here where Sam did go to college no matter what the news say.

& he came back & paid rent like all these good folks

with dogs & shit do now. Talk about the victor writes history.


The Reagan Era, the cocaine era, them boys from Dunbar

could hoop is what I mean to say. All the dope gets in

the way though. Me remembering their story

a bag at a time & ain’t none of them get high.

My uncle caught touchdowns for Bladensburg,

where his story. My aunts ain’t get high, my mom,

where their story? All their history buried in the

narrative of the shooter, of the one pitching them kilos.

We buried a nation inside the lungs

That fill with smoke, & the smoke smothers the nation,

& the nation is the small child crying in the corner,

& the barrels are filled with crabs….


            Joseph E. Lowery, president

            the Southern Christian Leadership

            Conference, urges blacks to turn in                       

            drug pushers regardless of race.

            “We are devastated spiritually

            and emotionally by what crack

            and other drugs are doing to our people,”

            he said, ”Drugs represent the new

            lynch mob that is more effectively killing

            our people than the old lynch mobs.”


Always that same hurt,

              You think a man don’t

Know what a high can do?

              Flattened an entire city

Block a few guns did –

              I tell my shadow we made

 It all possible. You know

              Getting high ain’t the move,

  But ask someone who’s been

              There, shit feels like coming

   For days, that’s what they

              Said about heroin – crack,

    It feels like God has dropped

              A piece of heaven behind

    Your eyelids. After that, all

              You want is to be that close

    To an angel again.



“The Invention of Crack” is performed with Tsitsi Jaji, and is from Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015).