Page 2 of 25
What is there to make the heart swell
Against those ungovernable desires?
Wars; showdowns at
The half-learned lessons class
The thin stream of info-wire
Signifying new battlegrounds
Sneaky. Anonymously mean
Stabbing at our rucksacks
Full of unused Gods
What poetry can hold
What it can’t
By rhyme or meter
Baroque or scant
Edgy words on pages teeter
Sweet noises overrun morning thunder
Evening song diminished in
Skeins of days torn asunder
May November carry our souls
From a hell lined with poetry stole
From that Shredded Parchment,
Now lying in confetti baskets,
To be strewn in ignorant rapture,
Over brides, babies, and caskets
“Why does it always have to be about race?”
I was asked this question 25 years ago by one of my 10th grade English students. Classroom discussion had turned to the notorious O.J. Simpson case. Interest in this high-profile murder trial had found a willing population in this small-town, filled with the hero worship of football fanatics. To some students, Orenthal James Simpson was the hero they wished they could be. While for other students, regurgitating family dinner table comments from the night before, the trial became a low-road referendum on why beautiful white women should not marry black men.
For a split second, I felt trapped by the question. I knew, as the only African American teacher in the building, my usual faculty lounge equal opportunity to (my opinion) approach wasn’t going to work. I looked at my students, who were quiet and waiting for my response.
“Race relations, in this country,” I said, “are like a deep wound that scabs over too soon. Sometimes that scab is pulled off because the wound has not healed”.
My analogy held, at least – until the bell rang.
The longer I live the more I’ve come to realize just how close to the truth I’d gotten with my off-the-cuff analogy of racism. The United States of America is a beautiful and large 50-part body. But it is a body that, when undressed, is blemished with many big and small bandages that have been hastily applied over the decades to staunch the bloody flow of recollection.
I grew up in a time of hope in spite of the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X; flawed heroes to be sure but the flaws did not erase the passionate messages they left in their combined wakes. These messages offered a hope that sprung eternal in many African-American hearts. It certainly did in mine. In 1969 I marched across Compton High’s graduation stage to receive my diploma; a piece of paper weighted with hope for my future in college and beyond. I am the recipient of the economic infusion that came as reparation in the aftermath of black protests of the mid-60’s. I was twelve at the time of the Watts Rebellion. My speech at my 9th grade graduation was titled “Where do We Go From Here?” But by the time I had reached 12th grade I still had no idea what I wanted to do or be. I just knew I was moving forward. And with money made available through grants and low interest loans, I was going to college – with hope. Hope propelled me through a time when it appeared this country had come face-to-face with its past inhumanity. When we made tracks from the back of the bus to the outer limits of space. Hope filled my heart when I looked closer at the pictures and the black and white faces of those marching across bridges and standing at the Lincoln Memorial listening to a man’s wish for his progeny and their ultimate place at the table of humanity. But my heart was never so full of hope as it was when I witnessed Barack Obama sworn in as the first African-American president of these United States.
For most of us, there was a collective hope in 2009. There was hope that this country could heal and become more than a culturally loose affiliation of wounded states. But all the hopes and dreams of those working to keep the conversation alive, could not survive the biggest blow to the empire – the resurrection, the reemergence of the bare-knuckled fist of America’s Manifest Destiny now dressed in the regalia of white supremacy. Manifest Destiny was the belief that early America was fated, ordained to expand her influence and supremacy no matter the land and lives of her indigenous people. This first and largest wound to America’s still young and vibrant body came from the lie that white European men were superior in intellect and desire. It was a lie supported by political attitude and weaponry. The spread of the propaganda of Manifest Destiny sowed the seeds of white supremacy into stolen soil.
It is true, history is written by the winner. That whites should reap the benefits of a stolen land and take on the virtues of an annihilated people is an idea hard-baked into 20th Century white supremacy. Even today, the prevailing white power structure continues to gore the body of America in its failure to recognize the Native American as worthy, even human.
Growing a sturdy body, like building a durable nation, requires a strong and stable foundation. That this country began with land theft and the genocide of its native people should have been a dire warning to Jefferson and the other “founding fathers.” But it wasn’t. And when the need arose for a larger labor force, African people were imported. Bought and sold like chattel, the African’s rich dark skin and foreign tongue further failed to invoke any humanity in their overseers. That Hitler used the American institution of slavery as a blue print for his holocaust was not surprising. Slavery was profitable. It was the slave who enriched the new world beyond measure. And it was the white male who took credit for this young country’s elevated economic standing. Everyone profited from yet another gaping wound to America’s Body. Even those who refused to engage in the overt act of buying and selling human beings profited from the idea that some human beings are less worthy than others.
The lie of Manifest Destiny has grown and morphed into a hierarchy of lies ordained by God with the white man, unfettered by compassion, securely positioned at its peak. It is the lie that deems some humans of no value. The lie that continues to consume the U.S. body with a flesh-eating dishonesty. It is a lie made visible by the continuing protest for simple dignity.
The road is long. We are tired. And we have yet to reach our goal of a truly unified body of states. Reaching that goal means this country removes the knife that has been plunged into the Native American heart with its reverence for Indian Killers like Andrew Jackson – revered on the twenty-dollar bill for his Trail of Tears. We will be close to our goal when we understand that the installation of many Confederate memorial statues took place, not right after the Civil War, but during the 1920’s, an era suffused with Jim Crow violence against black people. We are told these statues are only to commemorate a more prosperous southern history. But these statues were being erected on the lawns of state buildings and county courthouses during a time of violent disenfranchisement of black people. And that tells a different, more murderous history.
Today, it grieves me to know there are young people who feel hopeless. It grieves me to know that we still have to remind people that we are human and that our lives matter. It grieves me to know that the closer we get to that Table of Humanity the further away it seems. The body-US still suffers from severe wounds. Still writhes in hateful, violent spasms of white supremacy. Today’s protests are necessary to highlight that vulgarity of corruption within the body. We protest to break the bandages and scrape the scab from the wound to further allow the pus of hatred to drain. Only then can we proceed to wash clean the bloodstained fiber that should bind this country’s entire body.
Yes, it is about race and until we heal from the inside out by addressing white supremacy in all its forms, it will always be about race.
There’s a reason why it’s still here
That “old” music, emblematic of all our firsts
Rhythmic scorching guitars
Saxophones – longing or lucky
Pianos running us up and down
ranges of emotion
Bass and drums defibrillating
All spooning with words
That led us in that timeless
Along the Watchtower
Among the purple flowers
In that Purple Haze
There’s a reason for “oldies stations”
Sanctuaries for melodic reminders, telling us
Passion, its usefulness, is deathless
As long as humans prevail
“Old–school” music will continue
Demanding answers to questions
That should have been asked
Of the past
What is that time called
Just before sleep fully takes over
When the night-mind, in acid-etched clarity
Lines up the day’s matters
Forcing them to kneel in pain’s shadow?
What is that time called
That sounds its claxon for battle
Swinging the Damoclesean sword
The nubile dreams of the innocent?
The time just before being delivered
To the mercy of that clamor
Accompanying the onset of dreams
That time when heart and brain come
Together each with its own music;
Sharps and flats dueling for supremacy
Offering a clarion call sometimes
So lovely as to be taken as anthem
Shepherding the heart
The basic drawing-and-quartering of life.
What is that time called?
Failed attempts at normal
But normal, escaped, is now
Arranged on social media
With intermittent WTFs
I’ve ironed clothes that wrinkle
Wishing life and virus could be
A Grocery run –
New hunting and gathering ritual
Homemade masks to protect
From the angry uncovered faces
Staring at my NY plates with disdain
As if my name were Wuhan
Rather than Hot Mess
With five-o’clock wine
I watch the sunset
Tossing its diamonds
Upon the waters of Newfound Channel
Quarantined in paradise
They’ve marched in on dreams,
Printed conversations with those
Who’ve mastered their form
They’ve fallen from my tongue in hailstorms –
WTFs after reading NYT’s homepage
Today, I am stuck at the intersection of
“If only” and “Where to now?”
30 minutes ago, over coffee and sunrise
I knew where I was going
Now, not so much
We walk the dog
I look for the cardinal who had
Been singing his bright red song
For weeks now
He’s gone – beating the lockdown
Finding a mate who loves his music
But I am still here
Quarantined in paradise
Wrestling with each letter
Words; unheard cries
Unraveling the earth
Before it dies
NOTES FROM A FREE-RANGE PUNDITIn an effort to be less judgmental of my Florida neighbors, I’m striving to remain open and friendly. Yes, different from my angry social-media persona. Hey, I’m trying.
I was walking Ellie when I spoke to my down-the-street neighbor – a man who normally turns his head when I walk by. That day, though, I was able to establish eye contact and be the first to say, “hello how are things?” He mumbled something like, “They’ve been better,” as he continued to close his gate. Good start, I thought as I continued on my walk. Then, on my return, I saw him still standing in his yard and after asking questions about Ellie and her “breed” he patted her on the head. I thought – he can’t be that bad he likes my dog.
We began to talk. He told me he is 78 as we discussed the coronavirus and how people will be more willing to communicate now in spite of the six-feel-of separation rule. We discussed our ability to speak and even agree on some things while not on others. I agreed that it was nice to communicate in spite of our differences. Then, as if he needed to know this before he got any older, he asked me my racial heritage. I told him bi-racial, black and Anglo but I identify as African American. He proceeded to tell me what he thought about blacks with Dred-locks (dumb assholes). I told him he should have seen me in my Angela Davis-huge afro. Silence – I could almost hear the whooshing sound of that visual flying right over his head. He moved on to his fears that the current isolation will cause people in the cities to go crazy with break-ins and such before marching on to the Florida Keys and his place (I looked around – – unlikely in my estimation). I listened, surprisingly unoffended – I really did like – something about the guy. Pity – maybe, for all his fearfulness? I asked him what he thought the color of the face of these break-in artists was? “Black,” he said. I told him he had another kind of sickness – and bad. I said he was far too fearful and that he should quit watching Fox News.
In an effort to redeem himself he pointed out to me that the thieves who were certain to come and break in his house were – Haitian, not African American. I guess he wanted me to share his fears.
Oh well, some days, six feet will not be enough. ;(
Like our electronic toys
The world has a reset button
When we ignore her overheating
She admonishes with flames
When we foul our nests
She sends the oceans in retort
And when we ignore the world’s health,
Its inhabitants’ well-being,
Choosing to chase vicious luxuries
Because – we can
She sends the enemy invisible
The virus incurable,
Scoffing dreams and schemes
Our world has reset
An algorithm for stimulus
Six-degrees of separation
Leaves room for empathy
We leave food for the hungry
We drive the immobile
We care for the sick
We handsomely tip the daring
Souls who venture into the
Empty streets of commerce
Bringing food to those of us with money – to eat
But, the natural world wants us
To open our eyes
She wants us apart enough
To see those lives
That will never change – even with
A conquered virus
She wants us to see the fallacy of
Putting profit before people
She wants us to see those
Who have always been
Quarantined by poverty
In spirit and in purse
Yes, the world has reset.
Sadly, the culling
Won’t be equitable