Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Year We Burst Into Flame - first draft

The year we burst into flame

How many rivers do we have to cross
Before we can talk to the boss?
All we have it seems we have lost
We must have really paid the cost

That’s why we gonna be Burnin’ and a Lootin’ tonight…
                                                            Bob Marley – Burnin’ and Lootin’

The boys are fire – voices hoarse. They are made
of flint and ink – shirtless.  Above their waists
the legend of Polo or Calvin Klein or plaid boxers
tell only one of the stories we are willing to hear
and network news willing to tell
above the jeans clenched just below their behinds.

Mang I came out here to come up
on a new TV or sumpn. Den dese
niggas start talkin’ bout Mike – laying
there in the street, and I start thinkin’
bout my cousin, and all my niggas
and I see how dese po-lease tryna do us
and I get mad G!

St. Louis is burning and the boys are catching
teargas canisters and lobbing them back.
Sometimes the acid heat tears the cover
off their palms.  Sometimes they catch
them in their jerseys – and their rough-inked
skins unfurl like canvasses for the ill thud
of rubber bullets

Mang we don’t care – dis Darren Wilson nigga
gotta come tell ME sumpn befo we get on up
off dese streets.  Dese cracker-ass po-lice
cant fuck wit dis.  Dis St Louis mang. We
ain’t goin home till he convicted!

On Canfield Road, the memorial is made
of lit candles, teddy bears, Mike Brown
in spray paint down the middle of the narrow
street.  Poems, posters, books, roses, roses, roses
run 20 feet down the yellow line and Mike’s
body ghosts itself right there in the middle
of the street, almost as large as the grand jury
says he is 2 months later, exact size Wilson
claims the monstrous black boy to be
so he had to shoot him, had to shoot him
would do it the same way all over again,
he says…

I’m tryna tell you, they killin us anyway.
We dyin anyway. I don’t give NO fuck!
I hope we burn whole fuckin
St. Louis down if they gon do us like that!
Fuck tryna talk to dese poe-leece.
We aint going home nigga!

If a boy is black and tattooed with tears,
and says he is all out of tears - if you
are a man out of ways to tell him
how to overcome – if his eyes
are large and pleading and his heart
is hurt and his brain already alight –
if you spent a week in bed when
you heard the news because you
were tired of Trayvon and Jordan
and Rekia and Renisha’s names
in a news that tells us every lie
about how they once misstepped
in third grade – if you have your own
missteps you are praying on every
day and a child you want to live
but aren’t sure how to protect – if
the ink on your own skin is a story
of how the flesh must burn and be
reborn – if you were once a phoenix –
if you have to be a phoenix again –
if  your body already knows
Acai Gurley’s name or Tamir Rice’s
even though they haven’t yet fallen
in Brooklyn stairwell or Cleveland
playground, but you are absolutely sure
their bodies are plummeting down down –
if the boys are bandannas and dreadlocks
and thin sinewy bodies made of the
black bark of nightsticks – if the boys
are bullet-wounded – if the girls
are a playground of rubber bullet
divots – if the girls wont get out
the streets with their babies – if they’re
crying for their babies’ daddies in the streets
too and all their children have your daughter’s
high shriek – if you feel like you can’t breathe –
if the police turn their backs on your city
and their guns toward it – if cops half
your age talk to you like you’re a child –
if your students think that a pleasant
interaction with police is if they don’t die
even if they’ve had a gun shoved in their mouths –
if they’ve been beat up in the back of a squad car –
if they’ve been dropped off in Bridgeport
in the middle of the night - if a woman
you once made love to says what about all the police
who die? What if she says you’re educated
you don’t have to worry about that.
What if you’re already teaching your daughter
several songs of invisibility for when
a squad car rolls up? What if
you can already taste the blood
pooling on the inside of your cheek?
What if your body is a bottle filled
with kerosene, your tongue a wick?

You give yourself over to the children

You follow their lead

You throw your head back

You burst into flames

(for Lost Voices)

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email

Friday, January 02, 2015

New York 2014 – the police refuse their jobs and turn their backs on policing (a poem in first draft - cuz it couldn't wait)

New York 2014 – the police refuse their jobs and turn their backs on policing

Finally the police won’t patrol and we are left
alone to walk while black, or decide upon
school instead of jail or put down laws
in favor of good sense. Or question
the rocket’s red glare or the latest movie which
exalts an American shooter and negates
a foreign life.  Finally the police will turn
their backs on the whole Orwellian
experiment – the magic trick of being black
and dead and still possessing a relevant
toxicology report – being black and murdered
and having what happened in the third grade
brought to bear – being black and murdered
and criminalized for objecting to being black
and murdered.  Finally the police have got something
right.  I’ve waited a long time for this – for the streets
to be safe from tyranny – for front stoop laughter
to replace the nightstick’s rattle against the fence
for the broken fire hydrant to mean the memory
of a hot summer day and nothing else – for no
excited boy to descend into the night
and end up in the precinct, or face down
in the subway, or arrested from a school-
house.  Finally now the senate will turn
its back too – and several high school teachers
and several college professors and several human
resource departments – so that for maybe a week
being black can go unremarked enough to simply
mean human – to not mean big buck, to not
mean there was a robbery in the area and you fit
the description,  to not mean tragic accident
or I thought I was reaching for my taser.
We’ve been waiting for the patrolling
to stop – for the police backs to turn to us
being not necessary to watch us at every turn
and all. We’ve been waiting for Flatbush to
look like carnival again, for the police
to ignore the smell of pineapple kush
on Nostrand or anyone with white tees
spread out against cardboard over a milk crate.
What god gifted us this thing we’ve always
prayed for? To send our children into the streets
and hope they see not one unholstered gun
all day.  Finally they’ve stopped patrolling
and black people can live, and Eric Garner can
rest and Tamir Rice can rest and Michael Brown
can rest, and the city we’ve loved can maybe
revert to its rightful owners, now that the judges’
backs are also turned, and so the prisons
crumble and we come out to call up
at the neighbors’ windows again,
our imaginations grow more room and the city
begins to bloom and make art again
and poor people survive, and Orwell
is finally a liar, and all I can see is thousands
of blue backs unconcerned with where
we go and what we do and thank God

the NYPD finally got it right.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Ferguson and a Black American Future

Of Ferguson and a Black American Future

Roughly a year and a half ago, I sat in a South Side Chicago bar with two white friends as the travesty of the Zimmerman verdict was read.  I was floored, destroyed – as if I hadn’t seen this before, as if I didn’t know.  I cried that evening and the following day too when we convened a space at Young Chicago Authors for young people to come and vent, to tell us how they felt about what had just transpired.  Father of a two-month old when that verdict dropped, I wondered what I would tell her about that moment and how I responded.  What would I do to change the country’s culture, that succeed or fail, I could point to the fact that I worked and I threw my shoulder against the boulder constantly rolling back down onto our heads.

As the Grand Jury handed down its non-indictment last night, that baby girl is 18 months old.  She says about 20 words, including most recently fuck, bless you and keys.  She walks through the house pointing at pictures of me and yelling Papa!  It’s happening quickly.  She’s willful and opinionated.  When the Zimmerman verdict on Trayvon Martin’s murder came down I imagined having to answer her questions on the subject in 15 years.  Now I’m thinking I have 7 years tops.

When I got the news that Mike Brown was killed I was numb.  In the interim since Trayvon, we’d dealt with Rekia Boyd and Jordan ______.  I didn’t know what to do anymore with my unforgiveable blackness, its challenge apparently to all good sense by simply being.  Except for work and the child, I stayed in bed for a week.  I didn’t attend any vigils.  I didn’t share any opinions on the various social media platforms.  I was subsumed by my black inefficacy and disempowerment in the world.  I figured I’d leave the rage this time to the young people.  I was cried out.  I had my own problems.  I needed to conserve my energy I reasoned. I didn’t try to figure out how to lend my energy and voice to the discourse until this past Columbus Day when I resolved I’d go to Ferguson to see what was happening, to learn how this next generation of young folk was fighting for theirs, to see how I might help.  The response in St. Louis to the oppression there; the oppression that brought the murder of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson, has been tremendous and the state response to it has been an equivalent hammer.  The most egregious example of American police militarization in perhaps, ever, was visited on the youth, and that movement got its legs from the energy, voices and bodies of disenfranchised St. Louis youth who call themselves Lost Voices.  History will certainly tell us that Ferguson was when the torch got passed from the Civil rights movement to another completely different generation.  No linked arms and we shall overcome(s), no hymns, no discussions of non-violence.  This was a generation of teargas canisters caught and hurled back, hip-hop the percussive soundtrack that signaled we older activist types had to stand back and offer our support and nothing else.

The State has of course decided that it will further underscore the extent to which Black Lives do not matter to it, by not indicting Darren Wilson, much less convicting him.  The horizon appears to be limitless for the kind of hurt and pain that will be expressed as we rage against the hundreds year old machine/culture that is telling us once again that we must adjust when our young are killed – that there is no onus on white authority to re-think how they police, or more importantly, how they race – how American history has brought us inexorably to this point by refusing to deal with the legacy of the country’s building.  Indeed, it is more than a refusal, but a deliberate using of that history to exacerbate animosities amongst populations and keep real profits accruing to a white and powerful elite.

How then to fight such a thing.  A year and a half ago I proposed an idea called Occupy Whiteness.  This is some of what I was thinking then:

In the frustration, I’m asking myself time and again, how do we force whiteness in America to recognize the right of people of color to be wherever they want to be.  This exclusivity of space is a question at the center of the culture that has defined America racially and it has made its way from Reconstruction through Jim Crow, through residential redlining, through de facto segregated public schooling, up until today.  People of color have been made to feel, generationally, that some space is “white people space.”  Segregation’s dirty work continued institutionally in housing and education, make sure that black people here, like the folks in Cape Town that day, know that they don’t belong.  So we don’t try to, and in so doing we reinforce for whiteness in America, that there are indeed spaces we will not/should not show up in.  I have a fantasy in which Zimmerman goes out on patrol, and there are ten black boys going about their business in different parts of the neighborhood, and it confuses Zimmerman and he doesn’t know whom to profile, and fatigued, he says to himself ‘Well I guess niggas live here now’ and he goes back home and Trayvon Martin lives to become something extraordinary.  OccupyWhiteness aims to address this fantasy.  It aims to make it so.

OccupyWhiteness is an initiative which seeks to encourage young people of color to go into spaces they do not think of as ‘theirs’, spaces which they see as ‘white’, and create cultural shift in those spaces, simply by being there in numbers.  Public spaces of corporate buildings, public beaches in neighborhoods not their own, museums, the opera, parks, restaurants and the like. 

Young people of color in groups of 3 or more will visit an event, location of their choice.  They’ll simply enjoy themselves there.  They will also observe their surroundings and round table after their outings to talk about what they noticed, what they felt like etc. There are no accompanying adults. In this way, the young people are both companions on an outing and support system for one another in negotiating whiteness in public spaces.

This is for young people of color between the ages of 16 and 24.  They should be old enough that their parents already let them out socially on their own, and young enough that they’re still part of a rough peer group.  Ideally the youth going out on any given outing should be friends, or have at least met with one another once before.  There must be a level of comfort with one another.

I no longer know if this is a possibility for me to spearhead.  Indeed, more each day I wonder if an initiative like this puts our youth more and more in danger.  But there is work to be done in several quarters if we are to force America towards examining its History, and of course its contemporary situation.  A disdain has been forged between the working class white population and people of color.  This working class white population from among whom are culled the police, fire services, all of manufacturing America that has been sold out by big business so as to manufacture just about everything more cheaply overseas and create a fake prosperity here by making available all sorts of consumables which convince us we are free.

This okey doke is made possible by centralizing the prison industrial complex as one of working class white America’s number one employers and further upping the social ante on the need for warm black bodies to fill those prisons.  The narrative that requires this also requires that those bodies be seen as dangerous - that even when they are children’s bodies they be seen as capable of adult violence, and so they must be treated as such, charged as such, their schools occupied as such, the very vision of them approaching you (or running away) a clear need to ‘stand your ground’ by making sure they have none to stand on.

On Thursday the celebration of the occupation and dominance of North America commonly known as Thanksgiving Day could not be a better time to begin a visible action.  What if we post nothing on Thursday except the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’, as often as we feel like.  No commentary, no articles, no analysis of TV shows, no fine booties or handsome beards – just ‘Black Lives Matter’ all day Thursday – on twitter, instagram, facebook, pinterest, tumblr – whatever.  And then Friday make a concerted effort to not buy anything.  Nothing whatsoever. #NoBuyFriday not online not in a store not offshore – nothing.  #BlackLivesMatter Thursday #NoBuyFriday on Friday.  It’s how we begin to Occupy Whiteness – at the point of the weapon used to render us a threat from time immemorial.  You all have to begin and I have to begin.  Nina is talking more each day; catching up fast.  My time is running out.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why we watch(ed) Brazil or Why the score doesn't Always Matter

is in this literary sports journal Some Call it Ballin.  Read it here.  Read a host of other amazing sports pieces as well.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email

Monday, June 09, 2014

Ladies First 2014 - Sports and Music

Ladies First 2014 - Sports and Music
These days, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil I am gearing up, as I have every World Cup since 1974 to spend countless hours behind a television screen overdosing on football. 
I am a Trinidadian, and my friends and I grew up marveling at the beautiful game by watching the Brazilians.  We saw the tail end of Pele’s magical career and came of age as Brazil’s 1982 squad – the most breathtaking team to not win the Cup – made us all more intelligent and imaginative by playing a brand of football that taught us for the first time something about sport and our innermost social, political, cultural, individual selves.
As players, we were learning (consciously) for the first time about rhythm’s role in the game, located as both are, in the body.  We started studying Brazil’s practices and had our own aha moment when we saw them coordinate warm-ups to the sound of samba.
We recognized our similar African roots and the ways in which our game had to mimic and where it had to diverge.  There would forever be a connection for us between sports and music.
Today, as a writer and sport geek, it is hard not to see how the American – in particular the African-American experience vindicates that understanding.  Black athletes have played a blues informed baseball, a hip-hop informed basketball – all these endeavours informed by the spirit of innovating of the masters’ tools and syncretizing them with one’s own.  As a sport fan, it is a glorious moment to be witnessing and studying the confluences.
And as an artist and music fan then, I’m excited about this year’s edition of Ladies’ First.  Created about two years ago by Lynn Bechtold, Keve Willson and Milica Paranosic Ladies First is a concert series with an idea to connect women of different networks through music and performance.  Each year they present a different angle, feature a different profession, and honor some major ladies in the field.
The series is co-produced by Composers Concordance and the Czech Center NY.
This year, their focus is on the connection between Music and Sports.  It falls on the second day of FIFA World Cup Brazil, and it will present 11 compositions, each dedicated to and inspired by a different sport.
You have. Check. This. Out.  Go see the concerts and meet inspiring athlete women.
Ladies First 2014
Friday 7pm
13 June 2013
Bohemian National Hall
321 E 73rd Street NYC 10021

Music and performances by Lynn BechtoldKen Butler (Tzadik records), Vicky Chow(Bang on Can), Dan Cooper (Ute Lemper/Sound Liberation/Erbium), Valerie Coleman(Imani Winds), Lori Cotler (AKA Loire)Jennifer DeVore (Zentripetal), Patrick Grant (Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars),  Roxan Jurkevich (Barcelona Symphony Orchestra), Milica ParanosicGene Pritsker (Sound Liberation/Absolute Ensemble), Mioi Takeda (Miolina), Michiyo SuzukiKeve Wilson and Czech electroacoustic duo DVA.
Featured athletes include Emma Hayes of Chelsea LadiesSonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis and the 1987 world weightlifting champion Karyn Marshall.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email