Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Roger makes a prophesy

for Samuel Reynolds

I consider it my duty to allegorize the falling of birds; to tell the fable which explains the proliferation of finch and blackbird throughout southern fields. I was anointed a long time ago exactly for such stories as this. This is a black poem. This is an old black man poem; a blues and calypso poem. A poem for smoke & sage & rum poured out for the spirits. This is a history poem.

Once upon a time, black was not a color. It was a time. Black was not a place. It made itself entirely of the soil. Black was eternal and black knew this, so black paid its tithes in oil. Black paid its tithes in gold. Black paid its tithes in diamonds. Black paid its tithes in niggas.

Black traveled far to pay these last tithes. Black understood how rich it was and so invented the ideas of sacrifice & martyrdom. Black learned to fly to make its prophesies true. Black lost limbs and learned to wail. Black learned to swim.

Samuel believes we are living in an age of retribution. Samuel believes black has finally lost patience with scripture and with itself for martyring its own blood. Black has grown to become made of steel. Black attracts the smell of bullet and blade. It is only natural that a tithe paid in precious metal should come back to haunt the very skin whose dancing prayered it into being. Now the sky demands what black has been too polite to require – a blood debt. So the sky gives up its winged things. The sea gives up the mermaids’ messengers.

It is my duty to tell of these things. I have given up the poem for the necessity of the psalm. Scripture has been reading me for a long time now. It doesn’t matter what else we offer the black dirt as tithe. We have to become easy lovers with death, but once you do, God how beautiful everything is; how even the birds’ extravagant leap is something to behold. Even the land beyond us becoming steadily barren, is golden.

I love the heft of gun and knife in my hand because our hymnal is a hymnal of blood. This is my duty; to sing it out of even my own heart if it must. But there is something larger coming; covering itself in so much text, we will be locked so many arms with it in combat, we’ll be a monstrous Shiva before we know it is here. To prepare for it is to get good with death.

Samuel has been watching the skies for a while now looking for things that rhyme with rapture. Only one thing we’ve been able to ascertain for sure. Black has been getting ready for this. Black has been war-painting itself for 2 generations and making earth music to drive itself into battle, to get back what its owed. It means black must re-read the legends of its flight. It means black must suck salt, prepare for another big crossing, prepare to face its enemies at the sea.


it's raggedy. pls feel free to comment and critique at will

Roger discovers the blues

after Cornelius Eady & Joy Harjo

I am a black poet – plain and simple

black first. I do not know

if I am a poet before I am a man

or a man before I am a poet.

I come from a people who have

ways of telling such things.

I come from a people

whose history is inside history.

Some day, if we manage

to still have days then

there will be a great tale told

of how 500 blackbirds fell out of the sky

the day I discovered this

or maybe it’ll say 500 crabs

surrendered their bodies to shore.

I live in an age of martyrs;

of bodies declaring themselves to heaven.

Sometimes these bodies fall

from the air – sometimes wrap themselves

in shrapnel – other times they press

the backs of their heads into speeding bullets.

None of these ways will claim

me. I am confident

of this. I’ve been singing

to save my life since I was born.

My song has always been heard.

I have a drum in my throat.

I was black before

I was a boy.

There is record of this

in the air under a fire which consumed

a Brooklyn nursing home.

I come from a people

who remember such things

who tell stories inside

the stories we are told. We are told

we are not a people of history

but I am a black poet

so I know better.

I’ve been there for the beginnings

of things, so I know better.

I was coming over a mountain-top

in Trinidad when hip-hop was born

so I know better

My people tell several stories

about the supernatural. My grandmother

was once threatened by a ball

of fire in a coconut tree. I believe

her story. it might have been word

of my coming.

The lagahoo dragged its chains

around our yard. A woman whispered

an unholy magic on our steps

and my grandmother’s foot swelled

to the size of a tree-trunk

a woman whispered an unholy magic

into a bowl of cucumbers

and my grandfather fell

deathly ill.

My grandmother survived.

My grandfather survived.

My mother survived.

I survived. This is how

I know the birds flinging

themselves onto rooftops have

something to say. This is how

I know I will not die by bullet

or fire – how I know

I am a black poet.

My great great uncle Obidiah was hobbled

for running. He ran as a way

of spell-casting. He bit a man’s

ear clean off. This is also

a way of casting spells.

This is how he protects me

how I know I will outrun

every bullet. My mother threatened

my aunt with an 18inch ruler

to insist to her how black I was

My mother left me in a foreign country

She came back for me.

She came back for me.

She came back to save me

to tell me how black

I am – I know I am black

because the sky rains finches

& jackdaws in tribute to me

because the sea sings up

its carp & catfish, its crabs

& salmon to proclaim me

man, poet, boy, black, magic,

god, god, god, god,

poet, black, black, black,




Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Roger fulfills some prophecies

…waterproof, like a felt swan

navigating a river of origin and ash.

Pablo Neruda

My hands are massive stone

columns I cannot raise to

defend me from my own calumny.

Horses are made of the same

hide, the same will, but everything

slows down what I once thought

I could become in the world:

astronaut, archeologist, fireman,

footballer, lawyer – all died

in the morass of indecision.

Perhaps there is a tumor growing

in my head. Perhaps I am

only a man on certain days – others

a simple animal with a wheel

and a block of cheese, hollering

at any song which reminds me

of the moon, or the searchlight

in my belly that my mouth parrots

away as love. And prayer?

is the answer to the tornado

my chest makes of my mistakes.

Right now I might be decaying

from the inside; my organs

turning, each one, to fists –

come, come to me I call

at the ships lighthousing themselves

towards my jagged rocks. Come

to me and be made of powder,

blood, aluminium, bone, dust,

ash. My body is its own

civil disobedience. My skin

is dried leaves – a moralist’s dirge

towards forgetting. There is a river

inside me which I only hope is coursing

away from the dams I’ve built –

but right now, I need money

to keep away the cold. What a calamity.

What a doorbell I have now

for a heart. Forget how I’m hardening.

Forget how each part of my brain

becomes a fossil and my body –

pure fuel – tinderwood, kindling,

a cross that once held my father.

My ambition is my own crown

of thorns. There is a morning,

a hill, the sun rising,

blood in my eye.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ode to the man who leaned out the truck to call me nigger

That night I hadn’t yet considered death.
Before I met you; before you leaned out
the truck window to call me nigger, I knew
nothing of my own flesh’s surrender
to blood, dust. But I did know speed; I knew
the weight of lumber and the forearm’s debt
to torque. I knew (and loved) the sound of shatter-
ing glass, the quick snap of a duressed jaw.
I knew the taste of my own blood. I’d had
a fist, test the tension of my kneecaps,
my heart’s tight buckle.

What you taught me, as I leaned out
the window; New York speeding by
at 50mph to catch you,
was about the song of the air
at night, how – as I braced my foot
against the dash, & limbo’d out
to swing at your windscreen – I craved
the tympani of glass & metal
the soprano of your screams.

So easily I could have fallen
under your truck’s wheels. I was
in search of love and somehow
knew you had it to give in blood,
which I needed to husband
my quiet, quiet rage. I had
not thought then about how I wanted
my body disposed, that I loved
a woman to call me names in bed.
I wanted a song that was mine,
something to belong to, a love
I’d recognize when I heard
my name sung
in the street.

Ode to the man who grabbed my arm in the bar
(for Patrick)

When you leaned in and made the decision
to grab my arm, you did not know
the cautionary tale you would become.
You’d left work earlier, for a few drinks
with friends, and soon you were bar-hopping,
and drunk, and happy, and a little in love.
When you finally looked up, and your boy said
yeah, Bar 13 has 2 for 1 specials
and your girl said awesome! You did not know
we misfits would be reading poems,
some of them terrible, but so necessary
to us that we couldn’t stop even when
we knew they were bad. You did not know
how necessary you were (are)
to everything I’ve come to believe
and to much that I’m trying to unlearn.
You were loud, yes sir, and you were rude
and you did not know how willing I was
to forgive all this, because you did not know
you required forgiveness. You did not know
you were not allowed every right
you chose to claim and so you leaned in
drunk, to grab a man 40lbs heavier
and 3 inches taller; and when my hand
pried itself away and made short journey
to your head, I was as surprised as you
to see you actually fall-
the slow-motion tumble of it.

You did not know when you left work
that you’d be struck down (ever).
You had not considered that
even remotely possible
& neither you nor your friend knew
how willing I became then to fight
your entire crew – even the women.
I wanted the ballet of all of you
come to me – I wanted you
to draw blood to my mouth,
to remind me how close to love-
making is the wrestle, have me
believe in gladiators, gargoyles
and the night again.

Small man, you could not know
that I cried after I hit you
that I’ve always wished myself
beyond the tribe of blood, dirt
and immediate consequence –
but you, you brought me back –
you thought you could put your hands
on anyone you felt like, and I
had to remind you otherwise,
as I slipped out the back door,
to avoid the cops, who surely
would see it your way;
and take my chance instead,
with my body, my fists,
my good two legs running;
knowing I could trust only
my hands’ self-made laws,
the shadows the buildings make
of the city – the night
for me to hide in.