warmed by depth of earth
beating heart rested softly on steel
He held me in honor
caressed me against the grain of manhood
like we did as boys
while holding each other up
climbing towards the sun
warmed by depth of earth
beating heart rested softly on steel
He held me in honor
caressed me against the grain of manhood
like we did as boys
while holding each other up
climbing towards the sun
Last weekend I got the distinct privilege to go on a leadership retreat in the Bay Area put on by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship which focused, in part, of their Build/Block/Be framework for spiritually in-tune social justice work. Below is a brief overview [at least of my understating] of that frame work and poetic reflection of my amazing time at the retreat!
Build: An analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives
Examples: teaching, study, restorative justice, cooperative economics, solidarity economics, consciousness building groups, cop watch, intentional communities, time banks, inclusive leadership approaches, reparations.
Block: Actions to slow damage to beings, communities and the earth itself
Examples: blockades, whistle-blowing, survival programs, boycotts, lobbying/protesting, work-stoppages/strikes. Withholding tacit consent to our oppression in ways that make the wound visible.
Be: Shifts in consciousness and new paradigms that are embodied individually and collectively before, after and during blocking and building actions in order to increase sustainability, effectiveness and trans-formative pre-figurative capabilities. The underlying view point that encompasses why want to Block something and how you go about building.
Examples: Differential consciousness, methodology of the oppressed, Black love politics, humanist/evolutionary marxism, Liberation Theology
Sometimes beauty overwhelms me
Sometimes my power overwhelms me
Sometimes your beauty overwhelms me
Sometimes the brown eyes, and smiles, and revolutionary acts of kindness makes me undone.
Sometimes the shutdown/stand up/fight back/ March on/make breakfast/still love is too much to bare.
Sometimes your ability to hold the world & the legions inside of you in balance is kinesthetic poetry
Sometimes revolutionary/transformative power flows through the me/us/Inseparable/Ubuntu
Sometimes I can see/feel the line between where I am and where I want to go
A long golden arch of faith
Flowing freely like these words through our lips
Being bent towards justice
I can feel/sense this pull of energy
And ride it through time
Navigating through and around bodies in motion
Gathering power as I/we slide
Sometimes this command whispers to me
Stroking my hive mind gently
Lifting us up
Coaxing me to break the world
Sometimes I/We listen.
Sometimes I break all the rules:
Building, blocking, being,
Letting the runoff drown the invasive species
As I slide towards liberation.
In these moments I/We Am/Are Whole-
But still hungry-
We stand with all
Time travelers, sliders, growers of power, warriors for peace
Building, Blocking, Being:
The deconstructors of worlds.
Called forth to be the healers of our ancestors
And spirt guides to our descendants.
We are more beautiful than they ever imagined
We are more powerful than even we can see
We are more capable than they could have hoped for
We are everything they’d hope we’d be.
We are our ancestor’s wildest dreams.
My thoughts coalesce in long walks.
I take long, slow and steady strolls throughout the city examining the network of disparate thoughts that float through my mind. Each step makes a critical connection. Each street corner reminds me of another data point. My mind elongates in tandem with my strides, expanding to compute a thousand daily concerns and musing.
Over the past month I have walked through several valleys of understanding. I’ve taken a really long and hard look at how I’ve been operating over the past year. At first, it was difficult even to focus on it all. Every action, speech, rally and interaction with police was blurred together in one side splitting mental imprint of stress, anxiety, hope, rage and fear.
As I strolled through city blocks in DC and Brooklyn, I unpacked these dense imprints to examine the impact this year had on me. As I unpacked them, I could feel myself decompress and a weight slowly begin to lift off my shoulders. Unencumbered by these chains of constant anxiety I saw a bit of my former self start to return.
I began to remember how much I enjoy playing the dozens with friends and family. I remembered how calm I used to feel before the hurricane of constant organizing. I began to be able to appreciate, for the first time in a long time, how truly wonderful, amazing and beyond my wildest dreams this past year had been.
Despite the pain and agony of constantly reacting to another death, another sign that we are not meant to survive this system, I realized that I have been blessed with a wonderful, radical and radically supportive community. I have been blessed with an increased faith in my abilities and decreased need to prove my worth. I have been blessed with a spiritual awareness of the world and my place in it. I have become more acquainted with my internal power and more comfortable standing in it.
With each step, I was able to gain more and more of this perspective and more and more weight fell off my shoulders. Yet something has been missing. There has been an almost indiscernible feeling of internal lacking, of waiting from something to enter my life and complete my sabbatical.
I realize that I’ve been waiting, somewhat foolishly, for my old self to return. Yet the more I reflect, the more I realize that he no longer exists. Part of him grew up over the past two years and part of him was buried in Baltimore. In his place is n older, more patient, more jaded and more self-aware blend of echoes of my father and the person I was as a kid.
Walking is one of the few things that can slow the torrent of coupled thoughts that often race through my mind. It is one of the few forms of meditation that brings me to the particular sort of calm in which I feel the most myself. It is a reflective, active calm like the mind of an athlete ready to jump. Even though the blood begins to rush into my hands in anticipation, unlike an athlete, my movements are entirely metaphoric.
It is perhaps ironic then that after my walks I could not describe to you much of what I saw nor could I give you directions to where I went. I have no mind for mundane details. I remember only the slight details a painter might use to accent a work or the descending notes a composer uses to let you know the piece was ending. I tend to only remember the details useful for storytelling.
It might then be even more ironic that I have come to think of myself as a verbal cartographer. I cannot, for the life of me, tell you how to get from point A to B but I could describe, illustratively and in exquisite detail what the journey will feel like. I could point out to you, if you were interested, the history of significant ruins you might encounter along the way. I would end each map with a key explaining why the journey is so viscerally important. Yet I’m very bad at directing folks to where I feel they should go because it assumes a specific singular destination.
I think this is why I prefer poetry to prose.
A rarity of words,
Like a lover,
leaving the ring on the counter,
in lieu papers;
communicating more in questions begged,
than answers given.
But I digress.
I have, over the past year, developed more interest in complicating journeys than prescribing destinations. Perhaps it’s fatigue. Perhaps it’s uncertainty. Perhaps it’s a begrudging humility. Likely it’s all three. Either way, I’m more interested in poetry than prose.
“I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean–in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.”
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.
I can see myself devouring the latest missives from the “new world.” Immediately incorporating them in my maps. The outlines of coasts getting more and more accurate as times goes on. The descriptions of the people and culture getting more vivid and useful.
But the edges of the map, of the known world, would always be illustrated with the myths I felt to be true. The gryphons of the cold wintery north, dragons of the distance east, the giants that laid waste to the northern desserts. Over time we will discover the eagles, the alligators, the massive blue whales and giant squids that looked like krakens and myth will turn into science and we will pretend that we understand the world.
These are the many tensions in my soul. The observed and the felt. The diagram and the dreamscape. Different understandings fueled by a desire to know and explore, driven by the most ardent curiosity. A deep sense of the world in its totality but lack of understanding.
Of it’s beauty.
Dialectical, symmetrically assembled choreography of masses, forces and networks of consciousness that I feel a deep, ethereal connection to.
I will forever be in debt to writers like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler and Adrienne Maree Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs for giving me language to explore and illustrate the edges of the map. I will be in debt to thinkers and spiritualists like Erika Totten and Omolara Williams McCallister for reminding me that there are many levels and kinds of understanding and multiple dimensions on which to know a thing. It is debt shared by all the Black Queer Feminist in my life whose power and energy inspire me, especially my sisters who taught me how to dream.
A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:
The topography is vigorous,
A land of dynamic forces.
Energies that are both waves and particles:
neurons firing in our brains
and chemical reactions to historical, economic, existential and social stimulants.
There are forces of beauty and wonder,
forces of oppression and human limitation.
There is bondage and emancipation.
Growth and decay.
Blossoming and withering.
These forces etch themselves unto the landscape of human experience, craving systems of opposition, obstacles to forward paths and valleys of understanding.
The west side of the map is our past: clouded in the fog of war, myth and dogma.
In the middle lies our present: dense, humid and warming.
Towards the east is our unknowable future: shrouded in mystery and wrapped in anticipation.
To the north is the observable world of facts and figures and
in the south lies the equally true world of dreams, feelings, imaginations, the science of living and other knowings.
Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.
“The man who knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” Erykah Badu – On and On
As we travel towards liberation, we must ensure we are equipped for the journey. It is a rough road for the ill-prepared. We could not climb the mountains of true understanding without collecting the theory and analysis of the north and weaving them into the dreams and internal knowings of the south. Unfortunately, our species is not yet equipped to walk a straight path towards liberation. It will be meandering journey of starts and stutters.
On the frayed edges of the map are the metaphysical oceans where the forces of the land coalesce and pool. The rocky bays that connect these rivers of forces to the oceans of power filter out the impurities of domination, hierarchy, and inequity. Still, the depths of these oceans are dangerous to the unpracticed swimmer. The call of God is a siren to the unlearned ear, pulling you into these jagged rocks and in these oceans lay a terrifyingly transformative power.
From my travels in the south, I learned to bottle my dreams so that I can access this power. I see my sisters access it at protests. I drink from it nightly and feel it overwhelm me when I speak truth to the world. I sense is flow through me as my mind flows unto the page.
I intuit that this emotional energy, this transformative power, has the capacity to shatter this land.
I can access it at any time.
Sometimes, when I allow myself to access this power, shutting down highways, testifying in the Wilson building as knowledge coalesces effortlessly in my mind and flows freely from my lips; I think that the power is right when it suggests that I should break the world.
I am terrified, infatuated and addicted to this embodied power.
“I see protest as a genuine means of encouraging someone to feel the inconsistencies, the horror of the lives we are living. Social protest is saying that we do not have to live this way. If we feel deeply, and we encourage ourselves and others to feel deeply, we will find the germ of our answers to bring about change. Because once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy. And when they do not, we will ask, “Why don’t they?” And it is the asking that will lead us inevitably toward change.
So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either-or proposition. Art for art’s sake doesn’t really exist for me. What I saw was wrong, and I had to speak up. I loved poetry, and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”
“Audre Lorde.” Black Women Writers at Work. Ed. Claudia Tate. NY: Continuum, 1983. 100-16.
The Movement for Black Lives is not asking for special treatment for Black people. Nor are we only asking for our needs to finally be meet after centuries of erasure or myths of pathology.
Rather, activists are returning from the edges of the known world, pointing out the holes in the dominate logics and inviting the world to stand with us in the light that shines through. We are shouting to you that this light is proof that this world is under ground, buried beneath a capitalist system of dominance maintained by patriarchy and white supremacy.
The movement for Black Lives is reminding all of us that we need to head SE towards liberation.
Years of being underground, submerged in this system, has dimmed many of our faculties while studying our surroundings [even in dimness] has brightened others. Yet all told, we have lived only in the north for far too long. We have become stagnant in our civilizations, forgotten our migratory nature and carved out pieces of the earth.
As if we could own it.
As if it didn’t own us.
We have lost much of the accumulated wisdom of the south. We have forgotten about how to be, to live in harmony with our selves, to seek to learn from the world without destroying it.
The M4BL is asserting that the particular position of Black people [especially Working Class Black Queer Women] in the system and the history invasions that forced us to flee periodically to the south gives us the second sight to help guide humanity out of the darkness and into the light.
We are giving you fair warning before we drag this whole system, amid its suffocating totality, into the above ground world we have been forced out of and almost forgotten.
We do not believe that when we return to the light we will return to a previous way of life. We are futurist not primitivists. We have chosen to be Diasporic Cosmonauts not earthly refugees. What is past is prologue, it needn’t be destiny nor our chosen destination. We believe that once in the light we must still journey east towards liberation, onwards to a new world that is better than we have ever experienced or can currently imagine.
The Movement for Black Lives believes in the fundamental ability of our imaginations and dreams to store and share transformative power. The power that we need to overcome the totality of capitalism and logics of dominance. The same power we will need to climb the mountains of true understanding.
We, beautifully flawed humans that can neither tolerate a world order that, in thinking we are worthy of its oppression, is beneath us nor wait idly by as it consumes itself, are headed towards the lands filled with the glorious black light of the power contained in the ocean of human imagination. We will not merely content ourselves to observe the effects of its absence.
Ours is a long march of trials, falters, tribulations, celebrations and lessons.
We are unlearning that all struggle must be painful and that all pain is wasteful. We are relearning the elation of change, the euphoria of spiritual endorphins that comes from exercising new muscles of self-determination.
Our wanderings in the south have taught us to embody old stories in new ways. We have become updaters and remixers not needless iconoclasts. We are Christ like in our imperfect divinity and utilizing of love, Mohammedan in our submission to the divine and commitment to study and like Moses we lead the captive, sometimes too content to settle near the lands of the pharaoh, on the long march to emancipation.
We are workers building class consciousness and harnessing the science of revolution in a new economy. Mothers who are also teachers and nurses smashing the patriarchy and midwives birthing a gender fluid world. We are the Ebony skinned neo-abolitionists delivering the supersedants to zion. We are anarchist fighting against the alienation of our transformative power. All while being queer as fuck and refusing to let these histories, texts or identities define us.
If this way of being destroys your idols it is collateral damages of a fluid world in motion.
“Alienation is the gap between desire and what is socially valued, between our potential to transform the world and the theft and parasitic use of that power by capital and the state.” Anonymous
Capitalism became total, and blotted out the sun, when it began selling us deficits instead of just commodities. We now have a culture of deficits and inflated spiritual debts. We are too ugly. Too Black. Too poor. Too femme. Too foreign. Or too queer to fit in. We must work, buy, sell and scrape to get closer to an unattainable able-bodied, symmetric, fit, white, wealthy, male ideal citizen.
What we have is a global system of perverted forces that create false scarcities and deficits before providing draining resources we are told will solve them. It is as if we are desert people living in a glorious oasis but being sold salt water and taught that to live is to hydrate.
The long buried truth is that the vocation of all humans is to live fully and in communion with their needs and shared desires. We are the intellectually nomadic bards of our own histories and songs, living well in order to share our stories with each other. The fullness to which we aspire is a facet of our species’ current and progressing social and economic development which in turn shapes our desires.
Yet we are told that in order to live we must work and observe and buy.
We are told what we must do in order to be.
The options given to us in the cold calculating north, these shadow life vocations, constantly place us under the control of others but out of relationship with ourselves and each other. Most revolutionary ethos in the west merely seek to change the ruling class without changeling the idea of ruling. Others merely put forth hollow and solitary images of individual self-determination.
Our journeys southland, to our dreams, have taught us that instead we must reframe our whole realm of living. We must stop wasting our spiritual energy tweaking the details of our alienation from our true vocation–cultivating a land we were never meant to settle in–so that we no longer have any opinions on its totality.
“In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, spaghetti, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.” Basic Banalities — Raoul Vaneigem
Yet our goal cannot be as narrow as ending capitalism. This map leads to liberation, not merely away from our past. While this global society serves our bosses more than us and they exhibit more control over it, the system does not really serve them either. The same way that proximity to power is not power, having the system geared towards you does not mean it fulfills you. It does not allow the wealthy to fulfill their full vocation. Their true vocation is not power. Yet their options are limited by their determined gaze at their feet on our backs.
They are merely favored captives chained by their fathers and forced to stare at shadows of the forms on the walls of the cave; convinced that it’s not prison because they have box seats. The same gaslights they use to tell us that America is not a prison because we have cable in here.
The same can be said of emotionally stunted men and emotionally fragile whites too chained to their positions above those they oppress to run freely and gaily southeasterly towards their true vocations.
This does not absolve them [or us] of their [or our] complicity, it merely goes to show us that switching positions with them or raising everyone to their standard [as if this would even be possible without destroying the very system that enshrines and maintains that standard] is not a solution.
Reform is not revolution.
Equity is not liberation.
There is no one path to Liberation. The straight course from our current position to liberation is perilous and we are not equipped to take it.
We must use the analysis of the north to identify the systems of oppression that alienate us from our true vocation. We must use the dream materials of the south to dismantle them and create space for our evolving work that approaches authentic fulfilling human vocation. We must synthesis the techniques of the north and south to heal ourselves and our communities in order to clear our collective imaginations of the miasma of oppression and fog of trauma that clouds our vision. We must work together to build a new world aligned with our new vision in the shell of the old world we are dismantling. All of this must happen at once.
Yet this work does not happen in a vacuum. In order to work collectively we must address the systems of oppression; white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia, which has thwarted journeys in the past. This path is hard and healing will consistently be needed. The way forward is dark and we will need our theory to guide the way, our historical experience and the wisdom of our ancestries will guide us through forks in the road. We must develop spiritual practices and spiritual farms [beloved communities] that will feed us as we crawl through the darkness headed towards the light.
This is the unfinished map of the Movement for Black Lives. It is for this vision we are dragging our society kicking and screaming through the darkness and into the light. We may stumble, we may falter, we may get lost but we are committed to our task.
We fight even for those you would not fight for us. We fight even for those who would stand against us. While powerful, we are not large enough to hold this society on our backs without dropping or fragmenting parts. We cannot hold enough of it in our consciousness to ensure that precious parts of it are not forgotten. So those of you who share these visions, dreams and analyses must carry your load of the world with us.
So I invite you to drink from this cup of dreams, to stand in this power with me.
Together we shall create a revolutionary communal praxis able to wield our new analytical dreamscapes through story and song, organizing and building, through destruction and creation and ultimately: rebirth.
Now in the second week of my spiritual sabbatical I am doing a lot of work to think about who I am, who I’ve been and who I am trying to be. Specifically, re-thinking this notion that I have internalized that I am what I do and accomplish. As I take steps back from organizing and trying to publish my art and writings, two things that I [used to] use to measure my self worth, am starting to re-think how I should conceive of my self and my contributions to the world.
I want[ed?] to be published in a journal or magazine so that I can be validated as a writer by a system that I do not respect and do not esteem enough to trust its judgement but have internalized its authority over my work. I have internalized a dual desire to own my work and be validated as an individual of great worth and genius. That is at odds with a deeply embedded, powerful subconscious desire to share and remix and collaborate with a community of artist, loved ones, lovers and friends.
I know that worship of the written word is a part of white middle class dominate culture and as a written artist [separate but related to being a writer] of color I struggle with this. Thanks to my dear friend and comrade and spiritual teacher Erika Totten I came across this talk by an amazing artist, dreamer, feminist freedom fighter and academic Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. She ties together so many things that I have been thinking about. Teasing out strains of thoughts that have been unraveling in my mind and connecting them, beautifully, to deeply held and unprocessed feelings of belief [or things I feel to be true on a subconscious level.]
Please find the time to listen to Dr. Gumbs talk! It will change your life.
There is a part of me that hates when people publish things I have been thinking about before I do. It makes me feel less original and less unique. Which it should. Yet, being less unique makes me feel less valuable, which is a capitalist internalization if I’ve ever heard one!
So, I want to thank Alexis Pauline Gumbs for giving me the language to say, I have so many things to unlearn! There is no need to be a snow flake! Think of what we could accomplish as indispensable but interchangeable cogs of a glorious communal machine of change!
I have such powerful dreams and imaginings. I have things that exist in the beautiful intersections of my intellectual genius, my fantastical imaginings of other possible worlds and my deeply held feelings of belief. Over time I have realized how internalized lies of capitalism and cis hetero white supremacist patriarchy have kept me from pulling gems out of those intersections.
The dreams of a Black man are not often worth much on the open market. Men are not supposed to feel as deeply and uncontrollably as I naturally feel. In order for such things to be of any use, they must we fully written out in perfect grammar, vetted by editors and etched in the stone of publication. And above all, the thoughts must be complete. They must be full and brought out to a compelling conclusion.
Yet, my ideas are never complete. My essays and articles and podcasts are not either. I merely force myself to keep them to myself for as long as possible, fixing and writing with fresh eyes until I can no longer contain them and send them out into the universe edited but with grammar mistakes galore.
Instead of feeling bad about this or holding it in longer, I have decided to merely continue to add on, remix, mash together and rewrite my works. I am going to let my works be works in progress. I am going to be more comfortable with myself being a work in progress. If only because it will let me forgive myself more easily and unlearn more of what I need to unlearn.
So, below is a poem that I remixed this morning after hearing Dr. Gubman’s keynote. It reminds me of something a dear friend told me recently: “You are from the future. You are so far ahead of this world.” It is, probably, the best compliment I have ever heard and great testament the internal work I have committed myself to since my last birthday that I was able to [half] belief it.
There is an intellectual story of how we got here, a myth of how we got here and truth of where we are going. This poem is an on going reflection of that, of the three parts of me [intellect, dreams and spiritual feelings] and trips I take, have taken and dream of taking.
The Cyclical Triduum of the Undiscovered Prophetic Artists
Or If History from the Bottom Had a Greek Chorus
Know thou that God is a Black Woman.
She is a river goddess
Fluid and running and powerful
Old and dark and reflective of your truest beauty
She is terrifying when you are first immersed in her
Unlearned of ways in which our bodies can move in her majesty
We fear her because she wants subsume us
We fear she wants to drown us
To fill our lungs with her essence
We fear her because we cannot process her brilliance
We fear her because we never want to leave her
Yet but cannot breathe her in
We want to own her
We want to incorporate her into us
But have forgotten how to drink
Perennial Last Supper [47th Street,Yonkers]
Street acolytes paint the oxidized steel bridges a bright green,
neon spray painted codex
that guide the observant travelers
down rust gilded train tracks–
a Middle Path along the Hudson—
that ends in art galleries beneath underpasses,
temples to their mantra that another world is possible,
where they sing that art is short
but these tracks,
stretch for miles.
They jaunt through imaginal spaces
of post-industrial cities,
like 19th century frontiers,
whose souls were marched-
pushed by pharonic prospectors
and urban homestead acts.
Economically castrated by redlining
and forcibly sterilized by urban renewal.
Here in this forgotten levant
where Hughes and Ginsberg pondered their mothers’ infinity
on illuminated Black Mecca roof tops
Poets and Vagabond Philosophers
made homeless by forced false choices
feast on visions of a divine counter culture
and discuss the aesthetics of 21 century wanderlust
to the melodic beat of train engines.
A Last Supper set to an industrial rhyme
whose beats and breaks
bring the stockbrokers to work every day.
Tomorrow’s Heroes are marginalized immigrants of the status quo
who destroy the logic of hegemony with the visceral illogic of being.
They are the dread-locked and conscious prodigal children
cast out of Eden by Adam for refusing to eat the fruit
and questioning why g-d placed the tree there in the first place.
We will immortalize them in song only after they are martyred.
Their holy lands are the street corners of yesteryear,
Where the burning buses are headphones
Emanating the sacred beats of Blackened God.
Later they will lay themselves down on the crossroads
bedding down on iron tracks
for a nightly die-in
and sleep on deferred dreams of resurrection.
Praying, out of habit, to a god they no longer believe in
to be awoken in wake of the next train.
They have no designs of death
but feel that art works in mysterious ways
and are creatures of creative habit.
Like their fathers they’ll ritualize their identity crisis
and pass off their PTSD as sacred tradition.
In the morning,
these listless apostles will follow Her
re-claiming and renaming spaces.
under the guise of supersession
in order emerge from the Bum Fuck Egypt Upstate
and re-create modernity.
Her Maat is simple:
I am love.
Love and be loved by me.
My love will surround you and hold you.
My love will transform you into who you need to be.
My love is change.
All Wisdom is through me.
Sleep and be transformed.
Be awoken by the eternal truth:
through me you are divine.
Dream yourself fully into this world.
The Art Work On Calgary
Its Easter Sunday and every American’s an artist.
A forsaken poet scribbles Her name
On every surface
naming and claiming greedily
conquering the urban Oasis
like a barbarian On holiday
in half desperate, fully human creative attempts at agency.
She writes the name Her mother gave Her.
Overgrown Oval letters proclaim Her existence to the world
like birth certificates reissued whenever One doubts their Object permanence.
Doubts that creep into Her mind like the fog that licks the steel of the Hudson line at dawn.
only to dissipate as She reissues Her edicts of existence ever higher and brighter
like the sun.
Brushes become the broken bits
of national ideology weaponized that
underpaid janitors use to pierce her sides,
the paint that bleaches
this metropolitan palimpsest daily,
washes away enough of our sins
to call the gentry in.
Washes away our pasts
leaving just enough history-
like exposed brick-
to make condos out of artist plagued tenements.
Neighborhoods thoroughly white washed in blood,
until all that is left is an after image
burned on the inner eyelids
of the consumer hive-mind.
Every three days She resurrects herself
re-writes Her name on Her city-canvass.
Her revelations are progressive,
Like the art of Her aunts before Her.
Torn between a desire to know and be known
educated between a crack rock
and the Iron Shod Chico’s of a modern Empire
Her followers mistake Her articulations of cognitive dissonance
as the second sight through the veil.
Behold your prophets laid bare!
Your Messiah is a creatively maladjusted
Steam-Punk who rocked Chucks and Sun-Ra
And cultural anachronisms before their time!
She is no missed place time traveler,
Born of a world which knew her power.
Her futurisms are lessons you have forgotten!
She leaves Her calling card on old abandoned buildings
deserted shipping containers
and atop water towers
like a young, viral Quixote
schooled in the art of war.
Challenging spring into being
with visual encryption
spray painting Her territory with a vision of a thousand exploding suns.
Her cypher melts away the last bits of snow
washing the feet of the sleeper cars
soothing the anxieties of the unknowing weary and constant travelers.
Her Passion flows like the river
And the devil himself couldn’t tempt Her to stop.
When she spoke she said:
You will know me by my daughters.
You will know my daughters by their magic.
You will know their magic by what it calls you to be.
Your nightmares are merely the dreams you are not ready for yet.
When my daughters break their silence, listen, learn, heal and be transformed.
All across the valley, Khaki’ed hipsters and Afro-ed Punks
ride ragged commuter rails
With trolleys labeled working class hero.
As the rolling hills and steep gray cliffs inspire their minds to wander,
She is the canary bird of democracy,
Her prosaic poems draw their psyche back to the moment
And seeing Her name they are reminded of their own needs to be seen
To be acknowledged
To be known
To be loved
To have truly been.
Resurrection Isn’t Always Rebirth
Its Easter Sunday and the dead are rising.
Its Easter Sunday and Lazarus is giving speeches to
workers in the Montana coal mines.
Its Easter Sunday and the Ticonderoga jets from Philipse Manor to Grand Central
as fry cooks fight for 15
and the fog creeps into our minds
forcing us to forget who we once wanted to be
by the time the sun burns away the sins of who we once were.
Its Easter and the creative spirit of every tourist
with a smart phone rises like Lazarus.
We all collectively create.
We all collectively consume.
We all creatively destroy one another
with likes and smiles.
and with the same gloved hands
we shake off the last bits of winter
-memories of a darker, colder time-
like dandruff off our shoulders.
Its Easter and the dead are rising and every American is an artist.
Suburban tourists video The B-Boys
no longer from Brooklyn
pulsating on the ground
like corpses being struck by lightening
gasping quietly as their bodies come alive
and the neighborhood watch grooves to the beat.
Rejoice as your former slaves delight you!
Sleep well as the Visigoths learn your language
And dance outside your door!
Laugh as your daughter falls for the boy you redlined out of your community!
Its Easter Sunday and the dead are rising.
Everything is reborn at its own pace.
The fog returns every morning,
covering our narrative landscape
with the bitter-sweet vapors of yesterday.
Even with this haze obscuring our history
everything is derivative
and every culture is appropriated.
We are the lambs of a deaf god,
following ancient blind mystics
who are merely futurist and malcontents,
while the philosopher kings spray paint tomorrow
on the brownstoned masonry of the cave.
Where is your G-d when the ocean rise?
Where is your God when the civilization that created him crumbles?
Rome is burning all around us
And Nero’s bankers plan mansions on the ashen remains of our culture!
Don’t wait for the apostles of a future more livable to be torn apart,
limb from limb, in a coliseum market place
before you let yourself believe.
You deserve more than bread and circuses in lieu of democracy.
We deserve more than our father’s share cropped
copping mechanism turned institutions.
Moments only seem pregnant in hindsight
and it doesn’t feel like a revolution until your friends have brought the drums.
It is time to join the egalitarian euphony articulating the future!
The era of prophecy has ended.
The time for tomorrow is now!
Her daughters are here to teach you what you have forgotten.
Do not fear who they are demanding you to become.
Know that they love you because you deserve to be loved.
Know that because they love you, they make you conscious of what you are not yet aware.
This consciousness is my gift to you.
It will allow you dream even as you walk through the waking world.
It will allow to dream and stay woke.
The Future Is Unwritten:
Do the Laundry
Vacuum my room
Loss Five Pounds
Update Work Plans
Finish Action Planning
Figure Out How To Convince the Workers to Accept the Settlement
Re-write Short Story Ending
Finish Reading the Mayor’s Budget
Finish Reading Sister Outsider
Figure Out How To Say Goodbyes…
So many started things need finishing.
Saul checks the watch his cousin gave him in Chicago two years ago. The one with the chipped glass that he had made plans to fix on Friday after work and before the panel on gentrification he still had to prepare for. It was 9:32. That means it had been almost an exactly 20 minute ride from the restaurant back to his house, assuming that they had only spent 5 minutes in forced pleasantries with his roommates downstairs.
Tomorrow he would have to check in with Karen and ask her about her day. He had been too anxious to ask when he walked in with Angela. He could tell that she wanted to talk with him. He feels bad. He also needs to remember to ask her if they picked a date for the townhall so he could start making turn out calls.
His gluttonous mind was acutely aware of every detail of his room. The union pin reminding him to finish up the grievance form, cross it off his infinite to-do list. The crumpled up draft legislation on the floor reminds him to push out some talking points tonight. He’ll just re-write the ones from last year.
Dirty underwear laying on the floor reminds him he needs to finish the essay he had started on Tuesday instead of doing laundry. He should have cleaned his room before he brought a second date home. She probably doesn’t have enough affinity for him to overlook the filth. Though in fairness, he thought, there is no way he could have predicted this date would end up in his room. Oh, right, he remembers, the date that is happening now.
Saul tries to be present as the remnants from the early spring shower are dripping slowly and soundlessly on the window. The street lamp’s dim light is refracting within the moving droplets. If you are watching closely, you can see a million tiny rainbows on the windowsill. It is what his mother had always called exquisite sacred beauties, the ordinary places where god showed up.
Saul finds himself wondering if other people sees these little things. The play of light on bedroom windows after a storm; the patterns of creases on the bed sheets; the semi irregular assemblage of nobs on the radio that looked like Morse code; the creases on the corners of her lips that came from excessive laughter.
He wonders how she can sit there in front of him like she is not the most beautiful woman in the world. It always amazes him how otherwise observant people could be oblivious to their own beauty. He knows most men would have pointed this out to her by now instead of sitting in silent admiration. Yet Saul feels a deep comfort in the silences, even if they were partly a response to an intimacy that had developed perhaps too quickly in the course of two dates.
Part of him knew that a lot was being assumed about each other in these silences. That their relationship thus far had been laying out their hearts to each other, without discussing all the connective tissues that really made them who they were. With her he experiences silence as an endless series of pregnant pauses giving birth to something magically mundane. He felt an almost meditative calm begin to wash over him. Saul notices that the rhythm of Angela’s breathing was starting to match his own. He was beginning to feel that each deep, almost luxurious breath he took was drawing them closer. It makes the silence seem almost metaphysically productive.
Saul checks his watch, out of habit, but quickly forgets the time. Each moment of silence seems to grow in importance to him. Like sitting here poised precariously between the towering clutter of laundry that still needed to be folded and papers that still needed to be sorted, was the most important thing he could be doing.
Angela communicates volumes in these silences. Straight backed with a naturally proud poise, she exudes a vibrant confidence, even in moments like this. The ease of this moment is part of what Saul likes about her. Her openness always seems so organic, like a warm invitation to an intimate space that she is waiting to walk with him. Her warm solid vulnerability was the first thing he looked for in her eyes but the last thing he wanted her to see in his.
“When I was a kid,” He says stepping into the silence for a moment, “I used to love it when it rained like it was raining earlier. Torrential rain.”
“Really?” She smiles, imagining a smaller, infinitely more endearing Saul running through puddles. “Why?”
“Me and my siblings used to build a dam around this little…um…little…you know those little tubes that they put under country roads? To make sure they don’t get rained out?”
“Like a drainage pipe?” Angela says quizzically as she unconsciously hooked a stray hair behind her ear. The ardent curiosity in her eyes when she listens to Saul makes him light headed at times. Sometimes Saul wishes he could see himself how she sees him. Interesting, engaging and full of a powerful wonder. He wants so badly to be man she sees when she looks into him.
Maybe that is what attracts me to her he thought. Besides the messy dark hair that always seems to need to be pushed past her ear in a habitual, youthful way. Maybe that is why he had asked her out on that first date two weeks ago, despite feeling assured that she had a million better things to do. She had an art show coming up next week. The Dirty Lemons were going to be playing at the 9.30 club on Friday. The diverse city grant was due tonight and he is pretty sure she had been meaning to apply.
Yet she makes Saul feel comfortable in needing a human connection, she makes him feel worthy of it. She scrunches her eyes together as if forcing her brain to think of another word for the pipes that ran under small side roads, just as a Kodaline song started to seep out the speakers on his night stand.
So you brought out the best of me,
A part of me I’ve never seen.
You took my soul and wiped it clean.
Our love was made for movie screens.
Saul feels an unusual overwhelming poignancy in the moment; so full of meaning as to seem fake. Yet encouraged by her openness, Saul forces himself to not over-intellectualize the moment and wade into the youthful buoyance of it. Both Saul and Angela smile as he leans back for a second and mouths the words:
But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody.
He isn’t singing the words to her, not really, but the effect is the same. Angela takes in a deep stuttering breathe to steady herself. Saul begins to sway gently as the song continues, his knees softly pressing against hers as he keeps the beat. Each causal touch feels almost like an embrace, and both Angela and Saul could feel their heartbeats building faster than the tempo. Saul smiles a slightly cocky smile that he has no faith in, which Angela correctly presumes is full of the same mixture of heady emotional longing and fear and uncertainty that she herself feels.
“Yeah, a drainage pipe” Saul begins again as the song lingers on in the background. “It was one of those old country roads. When spring came, we’d have these giant rain storms. I remember loving the feeling of the pressure changing in the air. It felt like the whole world has building to something it couldn’t contain. Then there would be a flash of lightning and thunder that seemed to shake the ground and the sky seemed to overflow with water. Inches of rain every hour would come pouring from the sky like a dam had burst in heaven. It was moment that I wanted to last forever, and sometimes I feel like…”
“Weren’t you scared,” Angela interjected, breaking herself momentarily from his story “how old were you?”
“I was terrified, maybe like 10 or 11, but also excited, anxious and…”
“Where were your parents?” Angela is visibly concerned and partly incredulous.
“…That’s a good question…around, I imagine. Anyway, we used to build a dam around this drainage pipe. We would stack shovels full dirt until it was taller than I was. We would race to see if we could build a little temporary pond. I remember once, during a particularly bad storm, asking my brother if we could build the dam all the way to the sky and if we did what he thought we’d find there. He would smile and say, ‘the only thing that can stop you is your fear of heights kid, the land above the clouds is where your dreams lay waiting for you jump up and claim them…’”
“Your brother said that?” Angela asks.
“It was something my father used to say to him when was my age, I mean, when he was the age I was then.” Saul replies nearly absent mindedly, watching droplets fall from the tress, the last remnants of the summer squall that was now heading out over Virginia.
Saul sat with that memory for a moment, staring off into the window, half mesmerized by the droplets racing down while the other half of his mind wonders why that memory feels so pressing. Angela is too wrapped up in the story to let Saul ruminate on it for long.
“And your parents just let you guys do this?” Angela says, clearly enthralled with the story. Saul smiles at her concern for the safety of his younger self.
“In my head, I spent most of my childhood roaming the country side with my siblings but, yeah, I think my parents must have been around. They were pretty attentive parents, just not as interesting to me as my siblings.”
“Were you the Black Huck Finn?”
“Running through the rustic country side, exploring the world with your best friend, bucking civilization for some nascent sense of the great beyond?”
“I’m not sure the story works if Huck Finn is Black…”
Angela laughs a hearty, full bodied laugh, and slides a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear again. Still smiling, they lock eyes.
“You know what I mean…”
“Yeah, when I was younger, I always felt pulled by a subtle but lingering sense of wanting more out of life; a desire to journey halfcocked at a whim. I always wanted to carry things over the edge and see a…something different…something new…a world beyond my own.”
“Over the edge?”
“Yeah. You know. See what was over the next hill. Take the next left instead of right and just ride off into the sunset. When I was a kid I would extend my ride home from school by hours, taking each route. By the time I went to college I knew every inch of the countryside by my house…But… I’m far too practical or practiced and methodic for that now. I have list of things to do, things to finish, things that keep me firmly here, with my feet on the ground…”
Saul’s words trail off as he suddenly realizes how much he misses that part of himself. He misses being the daring young child, fascinated by dreams of what lay beyond horizons. The world, his world, had seemed much larger then. He finds himself wondering what had pushed him from a budding cartographer to professional list maker.
There is another pregnant pause full of half knowing glances. Angela let’s Saul words sink into both her mind and into the room. She reaches out and places her hand on his arm gently, intuiting that he had inadvertently gotten himself lost in the past. They lock eyes as her warm knowing smile opens up a little space for him to process and just be.
Saul takes a shallow, quick breath and stares into Angela’s eyes for a few long and solid moments while slowly beginning to feel a their shared warmth and a new confidence. There is still a tension in the air, and shared anxiety and nervousness, all of which Saul decides, at last, to ignore.
He feels the pressure in the room build as he holds her gaze. Her clear dark amber eyes reminds him of the late afternoon sun breaking through storm clouds. He wants to say something. He wants to harness the courage of his younger self. He wants to push the moment over the edge. Saul wants to make the sky break open and rain. He wants so much but it’s been so long since he’s felt this way that he is unsure what to do next.
“Can I kiss you?” She asks him.
Saul begins to lean in even before he has fully registered the question. As their lips touch, out of practice, he is in a daze, in unfamiliar territory. The pressure that had been building becomes uncomfortable, like the room can’t hold it all. They break and Saul resists the urge to touch his lips and is left with a lingering sense of disbelief. Like an anxious man wondering if he locked the door to his house, Saul replays the moment to himself several times while staring into Angela’s eyes.
She laughs nervously and anxiously to break a bit of tension. She leans into it and him, resting her head on his shoulder and breathing audibly as if she has opened a pressure value. Saul comes-to slowly. He breathes deeply as he struggles to get on top of all the unexpected emotions he feels abruptly surging inside of him; joy and elation and desire mixed with a fear of the unknown and embarrassment at his detachment.
More expectant moments come that wash away bits of stress with each breath. Soon, the pressure of the room begins to equalize and Saul wraps his weightless arm around her. Angela slowly wraps her arm around his waist, and settles for a moment, peering out the second story window watching droplets of rain race down.
The moment nears a certain perfection, a symmetry that Saul is finally too fully immersed in to make a mental note of. Angela loses the world in the moment and finds herself with alone in the microverse they have created.
A rare sense of shared energy fills the room and suddenly everything was possible.
After a minute, Angela sits up and straightens her back. She looks at Saul and smiles warmly. They sit in the calm as their hearts beat steady synergetic thumps in tandem. Their breathing calms slowly. The weight of the moment is still there, but the room stable. As Saul’s mind clears he is left with that unfamiliar feeling of wanting more; of wanting to lean in and feel what happens when the pressure breaks. He imagines himself leaning in for another kiss, sense its possible completion of the moment so vividly but habit forces hesitation and he says “that was…yeah.”
Angela beams a soft smile of both disappointment and also a relief that surprises her. She turns to watching the droplets race down the window sill for a moment, breathing in step with Saul, letting the pressure build again.
“As a young girl,” She begins in an anxious tone, as if she is starting the story in an attempt to relieve the immensity in the air, “I used to wander the woods behind my aunt and uncle’s house. There was a trail that went from their back door to this pond. It seemed massive to me as a kid but it was probably only 40 feet across. After a rain storm, the pond would over flow and there would be a million little streams that would begin to flow from it. I used to run along the streams to see where the water ended up. I’d get to where one stream ended in a little puddle and then run back to the pond to find another stream I could follow. I used to think that I could follow them all to end. I’d be running all afternoon in the damp woods, until it was too dark to see the streams anymore. Then I’d vow to come back the next day…”
Angela stops in mid-sentence and her demeanor changes as if she suddenly recognizes why she is telling this particular story. Instead of finishing, she stares off through the window. Saul sees the sorrow and disappointment in her eyes and waits for her to continue while slowly rubbing her back. She expects Saul to make a joke, to laugh away the awkwardness of her tangent. Yet he stares intently into her eyes, waiting for her speak. It displays intensity and focus that makes the moment more intimate than she is prepared for. She feels herself exposed and vulnerable but safe and confident as the tension blossoms haphazardly in the silences.
“You can only take so many paths…”
“I’m taking the job in New York,” she says curtly, ended the conversation with a sense of finality that surprises them both.
There is a flash of pain and regret in Saul’s eyes and his mouth stays open briefly as the unfinished sentence tumbles from his mouth unsaid. Closing it, he forces his mouth into a smile.
“Congrats. It seems like the perfect job.” Saul’s face takes longer than he wants to soften from regret to sincerity, “I’m really happy for you.”
Saul is uncertain if all this building tension would end in relief or if he would be carried away by the torrent. Yet he still finds himself wanting more. Saul wants to pierce the tension that is building with the rise and fall of their chests but isn’t sure if he can handle what comes after.
Angela recognizes the panic and uncertainty filling Saul’s face. She leans in and gently runs her fingers through his dreadlocks almost as if she is absent mindedly trying to calm herself along with him. Saul responds by wrapping his arms around her waist and lets his would-be lover hold him. With his ear pressed gently over her chest, Saul thinks he could hear another slab of mud being added to dam holding back their emotions. He listens to the bricks being laid in their shared silence, building themselves higher, haphazardly towards the sky and beyond.
Saul begins to wonder whether this night is the start or end of something new. He wants to check his watch, to find some measure of certainty and control in the squall. He begins to understand how vulnerable he is being held by the smaller woman. Part of him remembers that this level of intimacy on a second date is dangerous.
He can sense that he is teetering on top of a towering structure built in haste for an unsound reason. He feels partly foolish for letting this much pressure grow. Yet most of him, including the part of his soul that feels connected to Angela’s, even that the part of him that knows such connections are rare but not unique, wants to push back the feelings of vertigo and leap.
So he decides to embrace the uncertainty and the fear and jump into the moment. Saul looks up into Angela’s eyes for another endless second before leaning in to kiss her again. Saul remains slightly detached from the moment for a few seconds, lips still unpracticed, still not sure the moment is real. Remembering something of his former self, he decides to close his eyes and lean into the curve. The gently pecking punctuated by bits of nervous laughter quickly build into a torrent of passion. Angela senses Saul’s passion and reciprocates, kissing him more fervently.
Saul lets himself go as he forgets his laundry lists of concerns, tasks and anxieties. The tension slides from dangerous ambiguity to excitement and elation. With each kiss, each caress, an unchecked task fell from his back and lands on the dam that had been building. Saul can feel the structure cresting in the sky just as the gravity of the instant began to crack it.
Angela feels hope growing in the pit of her stomach. The promise of something new, something magical was stirring and racing its way to her brain. The sensations were using her spine, strong and proud and now tingling with sensations, like an elevator shaft. Just before the sensation reaches her brain, just before she recognizes its purpose and communicates it to Saul in their shared languages of kisses and silences she is reminded of the 8 am plane flight that needs booking, of the empty boxes in her apartment that need filling, the good-bye’s letters to finish, thank you notes to sign. She remembers all of the started things that need finishing, the tasks that this dam of emotions they were constructing would not let her complete; the future she was planning that would swept away when the levees failed.
Angela stops, stiffens, and gently pushes Saul off of her just as Saul feels the last bit of stress fall and land on the embankment, shattering it under its own weight. The emotional release should have felt climatic but the distance between them makes it overwhelming. Saul moves away slowly but decisively, now trying to stop himself from being swept away.
They sit in muddled silence now. Saul slowly rubs Angela’s back in a daze as they both catch their breath. Saul tries to read the silence through the torrent of emotions flowing through him. He tries to understand it and her while fighting back a bitter-sweet joy. Each breath is filled with the sweetened remnants of intense satisfaction and the smoky tinge of disappointment. But the language of silence they had shared is gone, and in its place the laundry list of tasks and little anxieties begin to return.
“I just…It always happens like this. We can only follow one path at a time and only so many paths before…before…” She tries to explain, though the words sound dull and incomplete to her.
Saul hears her, nods, and continues to rub her back without really comprehending. The emotional world that their caresses had contained came flooding back in, incomprehensible to him. Sounds and thoughts and plans rushed in and mixed with the joy and ineffable sense of loss too quickly for either of them to decipher. The feeling of standing on top of the unfinished rampart, so close to the sky; a feeling that had been so real just a moment ago that it could only be communicated in silence, was distant and hazy and half formed. As the time passed slowly, he began to wonder if any of it had been real. He only knows he feels the undeniable sense of wanting more.
“How tall did your dams get?” She asks.
“When I was I kid?” Saul responds, remembering the moment when he stood so high on the mound of wet dirt that he seemed to tower over his older siblings. He remembers thinking he could have seen across the entire prairie if the rain hadn’t obscured his line of sight. The feeling of power and certainty felt so visceral and alien and welcomed to him in this moment.
“Unbelievably high” he answers wistfully, happy to be focusing on anything but the present moment “higher than I ever thought I was capable of. Higher than I’ve ever been since….”
Saul laughs, upon hearing himself speak, yet never had a hyperbole rang so true.
“Maybe 5 feet once or twice, but it felt like miles” he admits, “when was the last time you followed the paths behind your aunt’s house?”
Angela smiles, watches the last rain drops trickle down the window and says, as if to herself, “Is that not what I’m doing now?”
The silence that follows is hollow and filled with the remnant emotions of opportunities aborted. Their hearts both beat quickly and in time with their own breathes but no longer in time with each other’s. Now each out of step breath seems cheap and appears to be pushing them apart.
Eventually, Saul and Angela wade through the water logged remnants of their earth worked dam as he walks her to the door. They mumble lies about seeing each other before she leaves and Angela tries to summon up the words to say they should get together again the next times it rains. Instead she leans in, kissing Saul one last time on the lips, and tries to press as much meaning into it as possible.
She tries to tell him how much she wishes she could follow his love till it ran out. She tries to tell him that New York is a short trip away. She tries to tell him that this night meant more to her than the list of to-do’s that forced it to end prematurely. She tries to tell him how badly she wants to jump beyond with him. She tries to impress her new found need for the previous emotional excellence. Yet, as she opens her eyes and they lock with his she sees no sign of comprehension.
As he closed the door behind her, Saul unconsciously felt his lips, feeling like she had left a message on them in braille. Yet his fingers and hands and arms were too heavy and clumsy to decipher it now. He watches her walk away slowly, breathlessly and aimlessly to her car. Then, staring at the broken levees at his feet, the piles of clutter around his house, and remembering the laundry on his bed, Saul began to plan.
The rain drops falling on the window remind him of his younger self. He remembers the feeling of wanting more. The feeling of her lips on his gives him the courage to ask for it, even if her message failed to deliver. He begins to pick up the clutter strewn around the room, making expansive plans for the future as he cleans.
Buy the laundry detergent that makes his cotton shirts feel like silk across his skin.
Clean his bedsheets of the remnants of the night’s mud so that he can awaken afresh in the morning.
Vacuum the dirt off the carpet so that he can feel the soft wispy fabric between his toes.
Buy peaches from the farmer’s markets, sweet like the late summer night, and share them with Karen.
Write a vision statement for my work that ensures I’m heading towards the light and not just fighting back the darkness
Re-write work plan to fit vision statement so that I can feel rejuvenated by my daily work
Write a short story about the tower of Babel
Write a novel about my vision for Black Liberation
Write more poems about melted kisses
Tell her I loved that moment in the sky when I felt closer to an unknown god than ever before
Learn to get better at saying goodbyes
Find Reasons to go the New York.
Fall in Love again.
There are so many started things that need finishing…
This poem is called:
the physics of nonsense and non-compliance:
radical action in the forefront
meager meandering of an eager and creative soul child
streams of neon-neurotic non-neo-liberal consciousness
things mother forgot to remind me
things I think of in between the oppressions
the science of living
If, as they say, E=MC2
then would ODB and Jay-Z squared off
freestyling in the market place of ideas
make matter reverberate off the window you forgot to put down in the rain storm?
Would your room be flooded with the 2 cents of disaffected black youth?
Could you handle all that realness?
Would the curvature of time-space triangulate slowly if Lauryn sung the hook?
If it got loud enough would it scare the birds in the bush worth the gander with the one Black swan?
Would your investment in bird watching books be squandered?
If, as the world turned faster the days our lives got longer
until a year became the infinity between the end of your first kiss and your eyes opening
would time still equal money?
What if we all woke tomorrow and decided that it would be Sunday
would we ever get our mail?
Would the mail-man,
zers be forced to work on sunday?
Would the injustices of the world perpetuate themselves in our own lackadaisical heaven?
Does liberation come with Paid Sick Days?
Does the revolution take water breaks?
Will the water be our grandmother’s lead lined tap water?
What if “Alf” was just an anachronistic prophesy of Clintonian democracy?
How much wood would a wood chuck need to chuck for Chuck and Heavey D to stop the violence?
If our best educated, best prepared, best equipped refuse to fight then when does the battle start?
What if we all got into a room and talked it out?
What if only the respectable folks could hold the mic?
What if I told her I loved her?
What if we all got along, all the time, all the time and love was everywhere?
Would we have room for our beds?
Would we have to sleep,
huddled in our happiness,
peaceful in our orgies because
fucking is the opposite of war?
Maybe the world is just too much.
Maybe we just can’t handle it all?
Maybe the revolution will just turn off the lights
Maybe we will spend our lives on our backs,
staring at the stars at night,
holding hands and signing hyms
praising how simple,
how lovely it all is when take the time to look at it?
Maybe heaven is a world only perceived through our eyes and ears.
Maybe it just beauty without context.
Maybe this hell is being beaten with false histories.
Maybe death is the daily monotony of work and existing with our blinders force feeding us information and life is everything else…
*If you are looking for the speech I gave at Sixth and I please click here*
I was reminded today that there is no cosmic scale weighing the oppression of Blacks in America.
There is no ledger listing the wrongs that have been done to us.
There is no mystic reckoning that will bring wholeness.
There is no justice in this world beyond that which we make.
Power concedes nothing without demand and I fear it will be a long time before our demands are met with anything but violence.
So I will no longer allow my life to be defined merely by struggle or pain.
If we are to walk to Calvary like Sisyphus,
bearing our cross up this racial mountain only to have out feet taken from under us
Or if we must continue to build national idols to freedom that mock our bondage
I will love each and everyone who bears these thorns and stones with me.
I will love each and everyone who feels my pain.
I will love each and everyone who wishes this death march to end.
I will love, despite all my pain, because it is only while experiencing love that I feel truly human.
I will love, despite all my rage, because it is the most radical political act I can convenience of.
There is a feeling of empowerment one feels when you realize that you have made the conscious decision to live. Few people ever get to experience that feeling but I’d be hard pressured to call myself lucky to be one of them. I remember standing on top of tall building overlooking the courtyard of my college. I remember thinking how easy it would be to step off. I imagined feeling the wind flow over my body for a few seconds that would seem an eternity. I remember thinking it would be so quick, so easy. I had battled suicidal thoughts before, but never had the thought of ending it seem so easy. I chose then to live, or many reason I have talked about before. I made the conscious decision to continue living.
This moment, in retrospect, was a watershed moment in my battle with mental illness. It was a moment, a memory, that shepherded me through the darkness. It reminded me, when the would seemed cruel and pointless, chaotic and thoroughly beyond my control, that I at least had chosen to continue living it. I recognize now, as I did then, that it is in many ways a false choice. Living is all I know. Equally important, it was not in reality, that choice that made the pain bearable. It was the perspective that narrative gave me. I constructed a narrative that gave me power and I used that power heal myself. Time and hours of self care later, the teenager who stood on the roof top feels like another person.
Earlier this month, I was reminded of that boy again. I was walking away from a massive protest, one that I had been waiting for for weeks. I was filled with rage. The tinge of injustice pulsed through my vein with such force that I felt on fire. I wanted to scream, to shout, to break, to shatter the world in a vain attempt to ease the pain. My hands started to tingle as I balled them into fists. My body tensed with a desire to fight something concrete, something physical, something as visceral as my despair. I have learned over the years that little good comes from such rage left unchecked. It must be processed rather than merely released. So, I made the decision to leave and take care of my own emotional health. As I was walking away, I caught the eye of good friend who smiled and waved. I did not wave back. I did not, and do not, feel bad about not waving back.
In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open up before me. A path in which I could cast off my connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring. You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea. I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear of the response. I just wanted to rage. I’m not talking about just rioting. Rioting is a way to communicate something you can’t verbalize or refuse to process. Rioting is the language of the unheard. It is the way we communicate to a society that otherwise ignores us. I’m talking about giving in to the part of me with no concern for justice. The part of me with no need to heard by jury becuase it doesn’t have any stock in the idea of peers. It’s part of me that I like to pretend isn’t there. The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. Give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.
In that moment, I choose love.
I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.
Hate just isn’t not strong enough until it destroys you.
I knew that the only part of life I have ever found worth living were the connections I made with other people. I knew, that all I really wanted was to not be alone in my pain anymore. I knew that for all my rage, for all of my politics, I want America to want me. It’s a hellish false choice, but I knew that in choosing hate I would be the demon they think I am.
In choosing love, I stepped back from the ledge. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world. I choose to love this nation that hates me, not for my slice of the America dream or out of some Obamaesque vision of the American family. I choose to love this nation because as James Baldwin said “We are here and to be here means that we can’t be anywhere else.” I had to love America because America is where I find myself. Loving America (as a community of people not a patriarchal nation state) is a messy, inelegant solution but it is best I’ve got. I have no other home.
I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope. In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love when I articulate my humanity loved ones validate me by articulating theirs and suddenly it all feels worth it.
It is, I know, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity in tact. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. My love is not magical. But like that moment when I decided to live, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. It gives me to power to stand to those who seek to set themselves above me. It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before my. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own. Love gives me the perspective to hope that one day, when we reach the mountain top, we will not be sent tumbling down, with nothing but our cross to break the fall. Maybe this narrative with be replaced later. Maybe time will change my tune. But for now, in this moment. I will love. I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human. I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.
We did not create our Blackness. It was imposed upon us . But we accepted it, and made it beautiful and now we love it.
Why is it so hard for them to do the same?
There is a part of me,
underneath the indignation and the pride,
beneath the bluster and the argument,
under the fight and the grit and the rhetoric,
that worries that this is just
That I am standing in the darkness
A lonesome, solitary figure,
howling half baked conspiracies
to world of disinterested strangers
Like a hermit listing his litany indignation at the moon.
I stand in this depressed darkness,
Worrying that the illness I battled back for years,
The madness that used to bounce off the cavernous walls of my skull
The ineffable, nervous insanity,
is growing inside me,
constantly pushing back against the brick walls of apathy–
barriers built of traumatic tuned gut reactions —
constructed over the years to keep the recklessness at bay.
Any moment I feel that I might slip,
Into the succulent abyss of psychosis.
I dread the moment when dementia is inseparable from reality
while simultaneously yearning for its sweet ecstasy.
Yearning for the warm, nearly maternal comfort of diagnosis
because I have much other fears too.
defused fears that grow in the unexamined emptiness of my subconscious
terrors that haunt the primordial recess at the core of my being:
the depths where emotions are felt in the body.
Fears that I’m afraid might shatter me if I examined them in the light.
unarticulated, and unsated,
I am paralyzed by the fear that I’m not crazy.
That it’s the world that is psychotic.
That it’s the world that is nearly nonsensical,
fueled by a cruel and only occasionally perceptible illogic
composed of massive structural mysteries beyond my comprehension.
I fear that my traumatic recoil is the safest reaction.
I fear that truly engaging in or with the world would burn away my soul
Leaving me the hallow shell of another Black boy torn asunder,
Burned by the unbearable Whiteness of it all.
There is a part of me that hopes,
beyond my hopes for peace and revolution,
beyond my dreams for family and love,
beyond needs for water and food-
a primal screaming visceral, ineffable, unsatisfied part of me-
wishes that I’m overreacting.
That the Whiteness is non malignant.
That these stares, and statements and statues are isolated coincidences
brought together by the misanthropic meanderings of an overly defensive mind.
That I’m overly sensitive to it all.
That 36 million Black bodies do not riel in this torture chamber called America
where Micro aggressions drip daily,
without rhythm or consistently discernible logic
onto our blood soaked foreheads
drip by drip
driving all of us,
stark raving mad.
I pray to every god I’ve ever known, every night that everyone of us is not shucking and jiving on the razor thin edge of white racial sensibilities hoping that enough of our culture drips from their lips as they consume us to be able to feed our children.
What God could have created a scale capable of weighing this much injustice?
What Divine metals could withstand the sheer tonnage of my oppression?
It is impossible.
I must be crazy.
I must have overacted.
I must apologize.
I must make amends
dance on the tip of their fragility
pretending that I like the music;
that the room is not built of bones of former slaves
into the ocean for insurrection.
Pretend that what I’m hearing is really music
not a cacophony of beigeness
nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger
so melodically that I think its my name…
In between seconds, as the river rushed closer, illogically slow, the accountant counted. He counted his heartbeats, he counted the number of nights spent on the couch where he avoided the wife he no longer loved and, remembering his mother, he counted the hairs on her head after the chemo: one. He counted like he had always counted. Each item formed a brick that he then meticulously placed on the wall he had been building all his life. He did the usual roll call of events, from childhood till now, in the usual order.
Miraculously, about 10 feet from the water and having calculated every visceral detail of every memory, he ran out of things to count. It was then that, the first time in a long time, he realized he was no longer numb. The sensation that reminded him of a vacuum with cool air he couldn’t feel and of a sort of dull slowness had passed. He was faced with emotions like a warm ocean squall sending a wave of superficial self-awareness that threatened to overcome the wall of the man who refused to learn to swim.
Immediately his body felt heavy and his muscles seemed to detach themselves from his conscious control. As a slightly painful tingle which made him feel suddenly alienated from his walking corpse surged throughout his body every breath became an enormous undertaking. His labored breathing was soon coupled with thunderstorm of apprehension rumbling within the pit of his stomach. He was nearly crippled by the tonnage of guilt, anxiety, fear and anger of a life half lived. His breathing became a staccato cacophony as years of unprocessed emotion putting massive pressure on his underused tear ducts.
Yet he was too close to that sweet nothingness to cry. Instead he thought back coolly and perceptively on the string of endless possibilities that had led him to this seeming eternity of falling. He took comfort in the new endeavor, of categorizing already counted events. As the categories become clearer, and more numerous he channeled them towards the breach of his emotional damn. As a sense of familiar control returned so did his mnemonic acumen. With this his mind cleared, his heart vanished, the vacuum returned and he started counting again. He counted the events and calculated probabilities and explored several scenarios and hypotheticals until he had narrowed it down to one possibility. It was decision that would, in essence, stop him from falling. With only a few blissful milliseconds left, the accountant could now meticulously muse about that decision and the alternate universe it created.
Forty years ago to the day the accountant made what he thought was the most important decision in his life. That day the paint on the walls of the funeral parlor was pealing. The ebony walls had turned as gray as the mood and Death permeated through the walls like the 159 paint chips lying on the ground. His father, in a new $600 tux, new hairdo and brand new $120 glasses had never looked better. It seemed almost disrespectful to look so good at a funeral.
There were exactly 50 people surrounding him, enough that for a time the future accountant successfully forgot that it was his father’s funeral. The accountant continued to count, much like he does now, until everything was accounted for. The leaves on the fake plant, the pews, the cracks in the ceiling, the number of times the white haired women said “um”– every little detail noted. It was first time in his life since that counting began that he could remember it stopping so abruptly, having merely run out of road. It wasn’t until then that he cried.
“How did he die?” Everyone seemed to whisper at once.
“I think he had a heart attack” Replied one elderly man with a dubious connection to the deceased.
“At his age?”
“No, he was shot. I heard the gun blast myself.”
“You sure? I think I would have heard about that on the news.”
“They don’t report suicides on the news, Darline.” His mother said quietly and bitterly.
To the accountant, the voices were just tidbits of gossip coming from vague bickering shapes. The accountant remembered wanting to shut everyone up–by force if necessary–but that was not his mother’s way. She still played bridge with the woman she knew the accountant’s father had been sleeping with for years.
A slow moving worn down man with a face full of wrinkles (none of which were laugh lines) and thick horn-rimmed glasses walked down the main aisle of the death filled room. He had slow but powerful and fluid gait. He seemed like a man whose youthful vigor still clung around him unused. He stopped, periodically, to talk to some of his parishioners who were in attendance. It must have taken him fifteen minutes to walk to twenty yards from the entrance to the podium.
Once at the podium the Pastor the Unitarian Church of God John Ignatius, wise beyond his considerable years, preached.
“Good evening. We are gathered here today to bid farewell to a loving father, dutiful son but never-the-less deeply flawed man. It is with a heavy heart that we say good-bye to a fellow soldier against evil who lost the final battle with himself. We all know that this final battle, this inner struggle with ourselves, is difficult. Yet the lord did not intend this battle to be fatal. He saved us through his grace and it is by this grace that we persevere. We give ourselves to the lord and receive everlasting life so in metaphoric death comes rebirth. When we give into ourselves, when we create our own timeline, there is no rebirth. As we consider this self-forsaken soul whose death strikes a foreign cord in all of us, we can only ask ourselves ‘how do I wish to die?’’
The eulogy went on but the accountant stopped listening after the pastor asked that question. Thinking back on it now, there had been some more respectful eulogies in that church. Yet the accountant’s mother was angrier at her husband than sad at his premature death and she must have let Ignatius know. As a boy, all he could understand in those 132 words was the final question. Unfortunately the father idolizing accountant heard that question and decided on: falling.
Had the accountant thought of any other word at that precise moment it was possible, even likely, that he would not find himself standing on a bridge looking down yearning for nothingness—reaching for death’s embrace. But as it stands he was. He remembered, in a strained yet absent way, that usually he forgot about the moments he spent deliberating that question when he counted the worries to form the bricks for his wall. However, peering over the edge, his potentially falling children, souls struck by a receptive cord, flashed through his mind and he stepped back for the 40th time. Yet unlike the 39 times before he felt something about himself that he couldn’t grasp. He felt a strange almost ephemeral call to action. A call to start living. He felt a desire to reach out, to call his children whose phone numbers he had memorized. With that eerie yet profound feeling teetering on the rim in the recess of his mind he turned around, got into his car and drove home to the wife he might love again. As Paul got in that car without counting the steps he still found himself thinking: Maybe next year.
*Thanks to Quinn for helping with this revision of an old short story of mine
In honor of Throw Back Thursday, which is now I thing I guess, I present to you a poem that celebrates the beauty of language and revels in the ways words form in our mouths and in our minds.
Fermentation of Truth
Let me roll down like water
Cascading on barren minds
Deserts of post-modern apathy
Let my words wind
Hugging the rolling tapestry
Of the thirsty rustic hills filled with sterile farms
Bread basket villages devoid of life
Salt sowed lands lapping my eloquence
Being cleansed by my mind traveling in liquid form
Like a triumphed wine
celebrating a shadowed victory 93 million miles from the light
Let us toast,
The truth, its vines tumbling, turning, twisting
Has returned to us at last
Traveling through man’s uncertainty
From the Eden of man’s disillusioned past
There Satan allowed society to strip it of its fruit
and Society let it be pressed under the numb
Melancholy masses of milling feet
Shuffling to work–
But at last it is allowed to trickle down through consciousness to this
Meager meandering of creative misgivings
The spoken word
So drink up
Take your fill of this sweet knowledge
This eternal truth that gets better with age
Your contempt has not distilled its
Poetry or its Potency
It will still get you dunk
You’ll be hanging on my every word
Tripping over my mental obstacles
While your head spins
Trying in vain to chase this trail of contemplation
I’ll leave you in a drunk stupor
Too trashed to comb your thoughts
With your grandmother’s fine-toothed ivory
Preconceptions and imperfect paradigms
In the morning after you’ve vomited up your ignorance
And passed out, sprawled ungracefully
Over a rough, barely tangible
Concept of reality,
You’ll have a slight hangover–
And yes by slight I mean
You’ll head will feel like
Philosophy was beating inside of it
A caged metaphor for your inebriated reincarnation
But hopefully by then you’ll have forgotten last night
You’ll have forgotten your
False fears and fallacious philosophy
And only remember your empty stomach
And be hungry for knowledge
And maybe then you’ll stand up and walk to the night stand
Heads still spinning from last night
And you’ll pick up a pen and begin to write
Searching through the catacombs of your connotations
All the while planting a perfect seed
In the courtyard of your ever growing mind
A vine yard that will stretch
From your heart to your mind
And begin to slowly wrap itself around your soul
So open your eyes
Let lose your spirit
Unchain your shackled mind,
And drink up–
Take this little shot of truth
Wine of the fruit of knowledge