Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ode to my headphones

You anoint me youth-culture, black,
blank gaze and swift to fist; my head
in the vice of your grip & under
this hoodie, I become 20 years
younger; a stick up kid, a flight risk.

Because I look like a runway signaler,
like a crazy tarmac matador, my hands
slashing the air as you bulge from my temples,
I stay in flight. Just short of a helmet,
unleashing a steady assault of bass
directly to my heart, you stay
defibrillator, dance instructor, hypnotist
and hip-twister.

You are the godfather of hip-hop
in every head-nod and stutter step –
I lose myself in my footfalls’
own beats – you are guardian
of the long-distance train ride,
the long-distance run,
the long distance dream
of black boys everywhere

cuz you deliver me Fela, Kanye,
Wayne, Marley, Sparrow,
Mos Def, Black Stalin, Wu Tang Clan
Prince, Michael, Amy, Beres, Cube,
Rudder, Biggie, Pun, Nina, Super Cat,
tomorrow, history, Brooklyn,
Trinidad, my mother, Chicago, home
my skin, my unborn children,
my permission to speak,
my love for everyone in this prison,
this train, this bar, this city - flight
Ode to the hunting knife

Your scabbard is the laughter
of any man who once lived
on the big end of surprise.
You sound like a violin
when drawn swift – blade
singing a soft death
against the leather as it births
toward the light and then

your sweet weight,
like a small cantaloupe
or a large avocado – the heft
it is how you catch light
like that twinkling like a shower
of glitter dust as you swipe down.

When I roll my fist around
your handle, four fingers nestle
the hilt’s grooves like piglets
against the sow’s underside.

Spine against my forearm
I become weapon;
my hands beams of light –
my whole body dances
musiced by your handle’s
intricate carvings

our love
is close – our history
Sometimes it is your song
I want again your kiss
against my skin
the blood-letting


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Bout to set off some first draft Odes. Big Ups to my homie Samantha Thornhill

Ode to my Brooklyn fitted.

Brown like me – straight brimmed, you signal all my people. You, aggressive white cursive against the crown – Brooklyn. You cock smooth to the side over left eye; shadow like the borough – Brooklyn; shadow like how we run through streets. We could call you, cap – but every b-boy knows, you more than that; and when I say Brooklyn, brown, fitted, 7 5/8, the whole store knows that what I’m saying is – I stay Brooklyn, I won’t take no shit – Brooklyn; Biggie Smalls, represent, beef patties, I fucks with Original Ray’s – Brooklyn; Coney Island, 9mm, A-Train – Brooklyn. You mean to say fist, Flatbush and gentrify – Brooklyn. You keep me fresh, clean, head-nod and Sun – Brooklyn. You fitted, are so Brooklyn, I rock you wherever I know you live – so you, Brooklyn, answer to where you stay at, with Oakland, Alaska, L.A. and Chicago’s South Side. With you, I know where I belong, that I am loved. You keep it real in Logan Square, speak low to women in D.C. and Seattle. You preach the gospel in North Carolina. You bold-faced, swag, bop-walked; so I can be brown, hip-hop, beautiful, Brooklyn, bullet-proof.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

2 first drafts - poems

Equal Opportunity steady pissin in my cereal

He’s 19 – already done things I know
I’ll never get to – has talked himself
out of point-blank, gun-slide, break-
yourself-Joe dialogues. His dialect
is smooth – homie can spit; can move
from UFC to death’s rifle truths
by rhyming Kimbo with limbo.
Makes sure I know he’s got a long life;
that for those who don’t respect that
he’s got a long pipe


The boy sitting across from me knows
at least seven things I don’t.

There are words for the things he knows
all street-coded and mash-mouthed

in a language unfamiliar to me.
He Westside, Missibamasee drawl – sometimes

I stop and ask him what he means –
bundle, pole, whip, trap-house

and errthing he fi’in to do
when he get out.


We’re in the Cook County Juvee
and youngblood will not write
and of this genius down; straight
says I’m blowing him, asking him
to fuck with this poetry ish. But he stays
spitting the illest Chi-town business;
reps West Side and could give a fuck
about a G-D he say. Young money
is free-styling entire planets into being
and already knows that for real
ain’t a damn place the police show up
that he need to be fuckin with
and that includes school. Young brother
cooler than a nigga in a Cadillac.

Sure bout how real he is
when there’s money in his pocket. Solves
20 problems a day on his cellblock
alone. Pretty sure
he’s gonna get out and pretty sure
he’s coming right back

Black can outsmart me
Black can probably outbox me – keeps
households alive and living
Momma comes to visit crying –
hoping; he’s her baby – her l’il man

even though none of us busters
have managed to teach him
how to read.

Still life with boy, bus.

Andiamos says the Father. He is
trying to wake the boy who sleeps
as soundly as if he’d been on hat bus
since 79th on the south side, but
we’re going past Lane Tech now
and well north, and it’s their stop. The boy
is maybe 5, and the Father might be
the most fatigued man in all of Chicago.

Again, Andiamos, as he scoops up
his gloves, the boy’s; to prepare them both
for the sub-zero night, and the boy
is a muppet of dead arms and legs
as the Father gathers up the bundle
of him and fixes him over his shoulder
and says thanks to the patient woman
at the wheel.

Over his shoulder the boy’s eyes slip
open and he smiles, half content, half
mischief suggesting his refusal to wake.

Oh to know again such love – to know
you will never be left behind – never
have to fear the night, the dark, the cold,
your father’s hands, a stranger’s. To go
into the chill asleep; blameless, weightless.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Alice Oleson, prof of eng, univ of dubuque; responds to real talk bible posting - advent Week 1, Day 3

I was thinking about what you said on your blog about Romans 13,
about hedonism, where you define hedonism as rendering oneself
answerable to sometimes no other god than the body. And I really liked
the way you came around to discuss temperance (almost Templeance?),
really, so that the body is open to, ready for, receptive to miracles,
and as you say, “for the coming of the god in us.” I see this “god
in us” as a recurring theme in your writing on the blog which I really
Your interpretation in the recent hedonism blog helped me begin to
resolve something that’s always bothered me in my experience of
nearing Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth. For many
years now, I go to midnight mass at a Catholic church (my ex-husband and
family were Catholic and my father reclaimed his Catholicism after all
of us kids grew up (Mom wanted to raise us Protestant—Presbyterian of
all austere things).
At every midnight mass, tired and emotional, I always cry so hard
at the song Ave Maria. I have carried babies in my belly and cried atop
the bump to Ave Maria at midnight mass. I have mourned my
mother-in-law’s death crying to Ave Maria at midnight mass (in the
church she so loved to decorate for the occasion with wreaths and
ribbons while she lived). Now, either Cece or Estella, one or the other,
lies with her head on my lap as I sit by my dad and cry to Ave Maria at
Christmas. Even outside of Christmas, I literally cling to the beautiful
imagery of Mary, docile, bent-head Mary, especially every time I enter a
Catholic church and am so happy to see a woman vaunted, vaulted,
worshipped—plus, the decadent, Florentine blue of Mary in her robes
was winning any day over the barren, false-grained wood cross which hung
sterilely at the front of my Presbyterian home church.
Yet, from a feminist perspective, my tears and my Mary-love always
perplex me. Though I love my girls to no end, I find the self-sacrifice
associated with motherhood in Christian-Euro culture to be repressive as
well as the insistence on the virgin birth of Christ—well, I find it
downright damaging—to take the sexuality out of motherhood (turning
the ideal woman into the virgin and creating that awful Madonna/whore
split)—to erase the man from sex all together (turning him into some
sort of animalistic sexuality—taking, too, his godliness from the sex
act)—basically taking the sanctity out of human sex. And singing Ave
Maria sometimes seems like I’m on the side of taking the sanctity out
of the sex that humans have as what I think is our greatest gift, our
greatest access really, to seeing the face of God, capital G.
Roger, have you ever read Alice Walker’s book By The Light of My
Father’s Smile? To me that book is a Bible. It is about sexuality as a
source of light and healing. It is not about hedonism. But it sure loves
sex. And maybe that’s the point. To sure love sex truly would make sex
sacred and hedonism doesn’t make sex sacred, it makes it
powerful—dominant maybe? But powerful and sacred are so different.
And of course, so is sex, when it is sacred or not sacred in relation to
one’s partner, in relation to one’s self? I am sure you can think of
the times when sex/lust felt sacred vs. when sex felt or was honest to
the directives of hedonism alone?
So, just to get back to where I started…cause I know this is
getting to be too long (but that's what happens when you mention sex,
people wake up I guess)… When I read your blog posting today, Roger, and
when you wrote, “The provision is for something beyond that
[fulfilling lusts]; it is for taking care of the body as temple
(Jerusalem), the temple as body, so that the way for the entrance of the
Holy Ghost comes clearer, and the universe needs our bodies for its
miracles the Book keeps telling us. It needs our bodies to replenish
consistently for the coming of the god in us.”
Well, for the first time, I thought then about the Virgin Mary not
as a symbol of a non-sexual, self-sacrificing woman, but as a HUMAN
symbol of someone who is open to, receptive of, the coming of light, by
way of the body, of the god that can be/is in all of us humans.
Christmas Mary, then, as a symbol of just how very sacred sex can be,
and of course, regenerative not just of bodies, but of the HOPE that
must be in all of us, women and men, if we are to truly treat one
another and ourselves as temples of gods, as gods in the here and now
with bodies that like to move and to sweat.
And I thank you, Roger, for inspiring me to think about all of
this. I thank you for even the very little I know about the work and the
thoughts you carry on each day. I will still cry, but I will love Ave
Maria even more so this Christmas.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Advent Week 2 Day 1

To understand this day’s reading; Isaiah 11: 1-10, is to understand J.C.’s mandate, as expressed in the stories told in Matthew, John and elsewhere in the New Testament. What stands out most here is the long exposition of how many different animals will just be cold chilling with animals which normally are their predators. In addition to this, the reading suggests, that dude coming will make really great judgments, “…and he will not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.”

What’s happening here is that what we expect as law shall no longer be law. J.C. is not going to be judging the way the rest of the world judges things. All we think of as natural law shall be subverted, “…the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;” Jesus, as we’ll see in Matthew and John, does not care about what laws exist already when he makes judgments on stuff. When the Pharisees try to ride him about how his disciples aren’t washing their hands before they eat, he reminds them that the problem is not what’s going into his disciples’ mouths, but what is coming out of theirs (the Pharisees’). When they bring him the adulteress to comment on her stoning (testing him really), according to Moses’ law, he suggests that whomever amongst them is without sin, should commence with the pelting. When no one does, he simply tells her to ride out, and try not to fuck around anymore. All these laws are just dust to J.C.

This particular reading of the advent also concludes with the idea that the Gentiles will seek this sign. Again, it is a sign for all people and with everything that J.C. is concerned, there is that warning, both overt and subtle that rich people ain’t have shit to get. He’s going to “…reprove with equity the meek” and big it up for poor people.

Again, if we’re to understand that the Advent is for the preparation of this great opportunity, the coming of the Lord or for the possibility of God in your heart, then it is astonishing how often the message is about relinquishing what you already believe to be true, including what you think about those who are lesser than you. Understand, that this is not just about material wealth either. This is also about what we think of intellectual usefulness, how we value different kinds of intelligence; and ideas about class. Jesus’ we are being reminded does not give a fuck about any of that. He’s about his people, other people, any people willing to open their hearts to that God that is due them.

So what about this “rod out of the stem of Jesse?” I’m about to be on my research horse to figure out what Jesse’s deal is. Meanwhile, dig this; you want to be ready for God, then you have to start throwing away what you think you already know about this world’s hierarchies. Who is smarter? Better? More worthy based on class, color, intelligence, piety, lawfulness, education? Don’t matter brotherman. All of it – dust.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Advent – Week 1, Day 4

This past Sunday, my good friend and sometime mentor and erstwhile Chicago poet/elder, Kent Foreman passed away. He has been a fixture here for some time now in the underground poetry scene and had indeed, been writing and performing poems since long before most of us were born, including on the road with such jazz greats as Max Roach and Oscar Peterson. His life was a rich one, a full one. Once, in a visit to NYC he stayed with me in Brooklyn, and on one memorable, sweltering, summer, night, us both in our BVD tank tops seated in the kitchen with the windows open, we smoked and talked. This was the kind of talk we writers crave with old dudes – stories of crazy shit that happened with remarkable people, sparkle-eyed tales of caution, that are less caution than ‘go-out-and-make-your-own-stories’ kind of stories. Everything about that night stands out starkly to me. I remember hearing some gunshots from the projects, the noise from Los Primos Dominican restaurant below us, our own laughter.

Kent was diagnosed with lung cancer just this summer, and it moved quickly from there to chemo, to refusal of more chemo, to hospice. When I first moved to Chicago, I looked forward to what I thought would be several nights at jazz and blues clubs with Kent; further seminars in my continued education towards music, Chicago and grown-man shit. Instead, what happened was what happens. We were both too busy for our own good. I was traveling too much and before you knew it, he was house-bound. I got back into town and his daughter, Gabrielle, was telling me that it was day to day. I went out to see Kent and with him vaguely in and out, I sat for an hour or so telling Kent how appreciative I was of everything he had been and been to me, his sharing his family with me, and how regretful I was of the things we didn’t get to do. I sang him calypsos and spirituals. I got up and went home.

I have never been so acutely aware of my mortality as when I got a text from his daughter later that night saying that Dad, in her words, managed to avoid the coming indignities, has gone to where the chill winds don’t blow.

I sat there for several moments stunned, as though I wasn’t perfectly aware I had been sitting with a dying man just minutes earlier. Suddenly, I knew nothing of the value of my own living. In a ten minute span, I questioned everything – my poems, my friends, my choices, my loves. I wondered if anything was worth anything…

Here’s how God works. You get what you need, when you need it – plain and simple. The Advent, as I’ve said in previous posts is about preparing the self for the coming of something larger, for the possibility of something more. The Advent suggests the most wondrous and amazing of ideas – that at the lowest hour, we can reboot and restart from a place further along than we’d ever been before. Matthew 24, 36-44 repeats what is a familiar Christian dogma; that we will not know when the Father is come, and that if we’re not prepared, we’ll be left behind while others attain heaven. Most of Christianity likes to talk about this literally, and we are regaled with pictures of a descending Christ who lifts the godly up into the sky, while the sinful are left behind to something vaguely purgatorical or worse. But there is something way more practical and useful at play here. We have an opportunity to empty ourselves, and refill it with larger more meaningful possibilities “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only…” Jesus has been telling us how much the Father is in us, how much we are in Him/It. There is something inexorable in each of us that plots the timing of his own upliftment. There is something to be gained, a lesson for each despair that if one prepare oneself, one might be able to glean. A fellow blogger, in speaking of Simeon’s coming to the temple to see Christ and recognizing that Christ was the savior, says (and I’m half-quoting, half parsing) that Simeon recognized a most important truth, that it wasn’t necessarily that this guy, Jesus was the way we were going to be saved, but that hope lay in the fact of this re-birth as it were, was possible. He held a baby in his arms, a being utterly new and without flaw or sin.

Of course, this specific baby, turned out pretty fly. He did some amazing things with water when people wanted to get their buzz on, and when the object lesson needed to be greater, he told dead people “Yo dawg, you wint really dead is the thing” (even after being reminded that the dead man ought to be decomposing by now – there is no coincidence that the Book points that out). And then he kept telling those around him that they should come to the Father through him, while saying that the Father was in him AND in all of them. “wash folks’ feet like I do. Love people like I do” he said “and you can holler at these miracles yourself. This shit aint special!” And then he peaced out.
Verse 42 of Day 4’s reading says “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come”, and the ‘your’ before the ‘Lord’ here is important too, because the manner of recognition of that opportunity is going to be peculiar to each of us. “watch…” it says. Be aware. Turn inward and find that God that’s coming.

The birth of Christ as celebrated in Christmas is an interesting phenomenon. Like the coming of the messiah itself, it is a renewable wait. As soon as the holiday leave, we resume waiting for its return, just as Jesus, predicted for forever, came lived 33 years, left and then we immediately started waiting for his return again. The allegory is simple. It retains its parallels in just about every religion in the world. It is the principle behind all of life; the idea of renewal and none of us can take advantage of this life cycle, if we aren’t ready to renew, ready to plant when the time comes, ready to reap when the time comes. We gotta watch so we don’t get swept up in the flood like when Noah was here (Matthew 24: 37-39). If we do and pay attention, we might find we survive the flood in all our spirits and emerge on a mountaintop.

Kent’s daughter wrote to say that Kent was excited for the approaching death. He was practically giddy about it, she said, even joking that the waiting was so good, that the other side was going to be anti-climactic. I needed to hear that. Kent was so ready, he was going looking good! How self-absorbed I was to make Kent’s death be about my petty failings, without recognizing that this was another chance to build toward a life that made me ready for renewal at any moment; whatever form it might take. So many beautiful things and people take place daily in my life. So many moments are opportunities to make things right, and make them right again, and here I was, a simpering, ball of despair, ready to throw in the towel because I recognized all of a sudden that I was mortal.

Less about being mortal is the fact that here again was the chance to experience something and come out with more understanding, to be taken up, to have my ark perch itself a little higher. The Christ is coming and he stays coming, no matter how often we stone him and tie him to the crosses we make ourselves bear.