Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 23, Poem 23 - Cumbia Night at the Hotel Congress - Tucson, AZ

Cumbia night at the Hotel Congress – Tucson, AZ

In any language the brass is a breathy narrative,

the horns are a village of callings-out

to the people gathered in the square;

and if the horns are announcement

and oratory; if the horns then pronounce

into being the landscape by which

we will enter this village, if the trombone’s

deep bluster is how you ask permission

of the elders to rest in this town,

then the guitars are this town’s

juiciest gossip; the fret

and the strum piecing together

a wonderful legend of all our

being gathered here, even the cantaro’s

counterpoint of flamencoed foot-chatter

offers clarification to the story

being told. And if we are here

for the story and by listening here

adding to the action; the fable

which the room shall become,

then the DJ comes to tell

news from a different land

and if you don’t think this all

and the cantaro’s upper-register

tremolo, is a bible, then why

is the dance (when done well)

a worship of sorts – the spirits

in sweat visitation coming to bring

us all the power. And if you know

cumbia at all, then of course you know

Shango is in the room and there

is no accident in this woman’s

hips, her black hair, the oily

sheen of sweat on her back

and in your hands – an ordination

of ritual you are forever obliged

to enjoin. And if the saxophone’s

continued wail, which you now know

is a prayer, and so you open

your palms to her palms and

your shoulders to the next downbeat,

and you believe yourself tithed

to the necessary orishas, then

you might have forgotten, the drum’s

decree – how to be fully sanctified

you must abandon hope in it,

and this woman – Frida is her name –

knows everything about the skeletons

you must risk in order to win

the orishas’ favor, and so

is only being patient with your

move towards baptism – and your sweat

is not by itself enough. You

own nothing of this town or this

story, no matter how many

premonitions the building gives you,

how many ghosts are said to roam

its rooms, and whom you swear

pushed you further into her chest

and the steep embankment

of her grind. You could call

yourself dancing then. You

could ask the elders for permission

to lay your head in the town.

You are deep enough in

to ask them permission to leave.

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

April 22, Poem 22 - still life with sheriff, governor, desert

because Arizona's attacks on ethnic studies must be stopped. if it is allowed to succeed, it will eventually be in every state. It is only the conservative vanguard of a nationwide movement to destroy the education of youth of color, if you think your state's policies are better, take a closer look.

still life with sheriff, governor, desert

The governor of Arizona lives

near a river she made

out of all rivers. This one day,

is the fable I will tell

my children, about what it is,

or means, to be an American.

It means you will have

to be a mountaintop, I will

tell them, whe you feel

like a valley.

I have always been a cupholder.

I’m learning how to be a gorge,

how to be holy and an iron gate.

I know now that sometimes

these are one and the same.

I am convinced the governor

of Arizona does not know this.

I can never remember the name

of that sheriff who all but suggests

the murder of Mexican immigrants –

but I am water. I was taught

this by Bruce Lee. I do not need

to remember his name. I need only

know that I am water, I am an American,

I am a cemetery, I am love,

when I do meet him. Again,

I am water. I am a place

for his bones to rest.

When I was a boy, we rode

our bikes up the mountain

until we found the deepest pool

in the Caura River. We swung

on vines and dropped into the cool

abyss – we cooked things

on its bank. We were unafraid

of dying – we were the whole

worlds ad nobody who did not love

me, mattered, the way –

this man – this enemy of mine,

this enemy of truth, matters,

even though I will not remember

his name. Iwill not remember

his name because sometimes

I will need to hold my woman

and rock her and say, baby,

its going to be alright, and I’ll have

to remember that I am water

and that my hands are rivers

and my chest is a dormant volcano

for her to sleep in, and I can’t

remember this and the name

of the sheriff as well, and the Arizona

governor cannot make me

remember it either

or take the rivers

of my arms to build her house around.

Today, I am a mountaintop.

I am a valley. I am a gorge.

I am a canyon of karma

around the bones

of the governor, her husband,

and their children, baking

in this hot, hot, desert

sun. I am a shell casing.

I am a cemetery – I am love.

My lover knows this. She lets me

forget the names of my enemies

so I can be love, so I can

one day preside over their

bones – over the dirt

they will become.

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

April 20, Poem 20 - Open Letter to Norma

Open Letter to Norma

For her daughter Yasmeen (may 1 1990 - apr 20 2009)

An elegy

If the locket of ash around your neck

Feels like a bullet; if you ask

Strangers to finger that bullet,

It's smooth weight, it's tip

True and sharp as a prayer

For your daughter's eternity...

If the word tomorrow seems even more

Heavy than the bullet's weight in ash,

And your surviving child, now yours

All yours to raise and love and scold

And let go; if you notice her laughter

To hold something of the peal

Of the sun, if the sun in fact could

Ring, like the living of something precious

And if everything is not in fact a dirge-

then thank some being

That your hands are wells of endless

Love; that your back is broader than any

You'll ever need to cry on. Thank

The strangers, all of them, who in fact

Cup the heft of bullet-ash, as if we could

Help carry the weight.

Your God sends us to you for just

That purpose, just as our God sends

You to us to say "look, look, look

How perfect the world I have made

That this woman laughs and holds

Your hand and walks in grace

And looks at the sky still with the wonder

Of a child."

Thank God that Yasmeen lived

At all to tear all our hearts so perfectly

In two. Believe we all leave you

In love more with ourselves, with you,

With Juliana, with Yasmeen,

With the world.

We leave you, and carry our own grief

Now, like the treasures they are,

The proof of living, the proof

Of being alive - how Spring reminds

Us over and over again, that we become

Substantial from ash, because we are still

Here, and look, look, look

How the sun laughs on all of us.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The BloodJet Writing Hour - Rachelle Cruz interviews Roger Bonair-Agard

40 minutes or so. get you some apple pie, some ice cream and some bourbon

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 19, Poem 19 - National Botanical gardens 1986 (fiction based on some shit that fo sho happened)

National Botanical Gardens 1986

In the middle of the hurricane belt, hurricanes never seem to touch Trinidad. The meteorological maps are perplexed. They show storm after storm approaching the island and beating a path around it. Trinidadians don’t even take precautions anymore. They prepare for things with the gather and the cook. In Trinidad, we call it liming. Anything becomes a good enough pretense for a lime. Hurricane coming? Lime. Election results? Lime. The Pope visiting? Lime. The Queen? Lime. Armed overthrow of the government? Lime for days. It is the ethos of the Trinidadian. It is his magic. It is an imperative towards life in the same way that Europeans know conquest. We are born in and reared by it. We believe it a God-ordained imperative; and this mish-mosh of people from all over the world, all of us gathered here in this gateway between the Caribbean and South America, still not sure if we’re here for good or if this is a way station, cannot be bothered by impending storm. We are a conglomeration of wandering tribes, after all. Our entire world is a marketplace; our inventions, of the show and beauty variety. We are supplicants to the make-and-give-away. We invented a beautiful thunder from the insides of discarded oil drums. We learned to bend wire into visions we could mistake for gods. And so, when we are told of hurricane, we think of the circular swirling winds. We think of masquerade costume and Renegades coming up Charlotte Street. Every moment provides us with opportunity and imperative for beauty.

And with the rainy season almost upon us in August, with the thick, hot, haze of the Atlantic always in the air, we’re preparing to be gorgeous. I’m preparing to be gorgeous on a Friday night, because I’m 18 and I’m Trinidadian, and even if my job as a clerk at the Chocolate Factory says I have to come in that Saturday morning for inventory, there is no reason for me to not go to this party, to not lime all the way from off of work on a Friday, with only a brief stop back home for a shower and some food before I meet the fellas and we joy-ride all over the North East before we go to this big DJ clash, where everybody will be and besides everybody, Gail, in particular, whose teeth are jewels in the calmer Caribbean sea to our west, whose smile is probably what calmed the winds that became gale force when they hit Grenada and St. Vincent and Jamaica, because no-one as beautiful as she smiled at storms, there. And there’s no way I’m not meeting Gail there and holding her and swaying to some slow tunes in the dark in a corner right next to the big speaker box, my head a little bad with the rum and coke I’m going to have there.

So I grab a drink with Peter and Omar after work, and I stop by Hereford’s on the way home, and fire a quick one with Uncle Mikey who is often there, but he’s not yet drunk so he doesn’t think he needs me to carry him home, even though he wants me to stay longer and have another. But I know it’s going to be a long night and I intend to not be drunk when I see Gail, so I thump Uncle Mikey on the back, and promise him I’ll see him right there on that stool on Sunday night. And I drive home, slowly and easily for once, thinking of Gail the whole time and what I’m going to wear. I call the fellas, because you don’t show up at no fete without your pardners, your boys. Dexter isn’t coming out. Larry isn’t coming out. Cyril isn’t coming out, but Rudy is coming out and will meet me at my house and Dave will come out if I come for him, so I say yes. Because there’s no way you don’t go get your boys if they need you to go get them. It is the Trinidadian way. It is the way with your pardners, your number one crew of limers.

At home, Mummy has made a pelau. She and my step-father are liming too. But they’re staying in tonight. They are already divorced but maintain something between civility and passion. They are hurricane children too. This way is their prerogative. I lie on the couch and doze off because I’m tired a bit, and don’t wake until Rudy’s voice says aye boy from over the half-door of the kitchen. This is before crime makes it so we have to put metal bars on every doorway, before we have to think about home-invasions. I startle awake to Rudy’s massive shock of curly hair, and infectious, always-giggling. This is before liver-disease that no-one can diagnose for him. He suggests we should start it up right now and I tell him that he knows where the rum is and he goes to the cabinet and pours the Vat 19 on some ice and offers a Good Night to my mother and step-father, while I go to shower.

I’m slower than usual in getting ready because I want to make sure to look smooth. I iron my best jeans, the Sergio Valentes; grey, skinny. Brand new white adidas sneakers with fat laces that my godmother sent for me from New York. I go with my flyest plaid shirt, ironing it slowly, listening to Run DMC and Kool Moe Dee on my boombox as I dress. And when I pick my hair out and smooth down the sides, I know Im ready for the biggest DJ clash of the year. I know I’m ready for Amitaph vs C.I.N. I’m ready to hold Gail while something slow by Debarge comes through the big boxes.

Rudy and I jump into my mother’s Datsun 120Y. I’ve had my boy next door, Sean tune it up a little. Sean builds cars or modifies them until they fly, so I like the little touches he can put on the car; how it leaps like a dolphin when I step on the gas. We take the back way, up through Maraval, through the Northern Range and the night, to go to Diego Martin to pick up Rudy’s other pardner. We hustle through the black, narrow roads, me gearing down and accelerating through bends, for the thrill as much as trying to make up time. We stop at a snackette along the way and pick up three Carib, and I cradle the cold beer in my lap in between gear changes. We head back over the mountain after we pick up Rudy’s boy. We head around the savannah and up over the Lady Young Road, for the curves, for the hills and steep drops. We’re going to get Dave and when we pull up in front Dave’s house on Pasea Main Road, he’s waiting already out in front his father’s rum shop. He has a bottle of Vat 19 in his hand, and he is easy in his slow leaned forward gait as he walks. Dave is still the captain of the West Indies youth squad. We still expect him to become an opener for West Indies within the next 5 years. Everything is golden in our expectations, because we are Trinidadians and the only time I’ve ever seen a hurricane was in 1974, and I came outside in it because no one thought it was too dangerous for a 6 year old to go out onto the gallery to see the storm; because we’re liming. Coconuts are bullets through the air as if thrown from some massive invisible hand rifling the ball in from extra cover. Trees are javelins down Trinity Street, but miraculously no-one’s house is destroyed in our village. No-one is killed. We liming, and now we’re going to the DJ clash.

By the time we park and we’re walking in it’s midnight. And we taking our time strolling in because we can’t look too anxious. We can’t look like we fighting it. We have to look like we belong, like is just so we move, cool, cool. I’m looking out for Gail, but trying not to look like I’m looking out for Gail. But then Gail steps out of the murky dark of the party and she’s smiling that smile. She’s wearing a matching brick red, or maybe burgundy, floor length skirt and halter top that sweeps up over her perfect collar bones and around her neck where it’s tied. And her perfect belly is exposed down to where her skirt hangs onto her perfect hip-bones, and she’s smiling that smile, and I’m still playing it cool, because my pardners are meeting her for the first time and I can feel Rudy freeze with awe and Dave’s laugh turn into a nervous giggle and as I remember it, Gail is even more cool and confident than I am. She walks up and slides her arms around my neck, and kisses me gently on my mouth and I’m hoping that by the end of this night Gail will be my girlfriend, but it’s early and the DJs haven’t even let loose yet.

For a people absolutely unafraid of hurricanes, it’s amazing how much we’re always looking for rain. We can smell it coming. We don’t want to be in it. We always want shelter from the rain, but it will not stop the lime. It will not stop the party. But it will stop us from going to work. It will make us late for any appointment. Like brown people all over the world, we see an appointment time as an hour before which we should not arrive. We see any appointment time as a sunrise. I’m thinking of this when I’m thinking how perfect this night is, even though I haven’t heard from Curtis for the longest while. And I wonder about what time I should leave since the air is thick and it doesn’t look like rain and I have a long day of counting barrels of peanuts, and chocolate syrup and sacks of flour and candy-bar wrappers, beginning in about 6 hours. But I’m chilling with my dudes and the lime is sweet and there’s a girl who is sweet and gorgeous and doesn’t hold back when she’s laughing so I decide that rather than leave early I’ll compromise by not drinking anymore. So I go looking for Gail to get my hold and slow grind on, in the dark next to the big speakerbox. Lionel Ritchie is singing Hello, is it me you’re looking for, and clearly it’s time, and when I find her, she’s craning her neck to see where I am and smiles that smile again and we don’t even have to talk, we just graft our bodies into each other’s and I haven’t yet bought my ticket to leave for New York, and New York is a place on television to besides. Gail’s neck smells clean like soap, like sunlight, like she washes in the river, which of course she does not, but that’s how close my face is in her neck and how close we’re grinding. Her fingertips are firm against my back and sometimes my neck, and I’m smelling something rich in her hair and neck and I’m not afraid of hurricanes and don’t know enough to be fraid of snowstorms or tornadoes yet, and we dance through that song and the one right after it, without stopping like the beat was all the same because the DJ is on his game and knows how to mix one song right into the next so the couples in the dark don’t have to stop, never have to stop being in love, because the DJs too know in their bellies something about a marketplace people who build temples of love out of wire and songs and rain and burgundy skirts they sewed themselves, and by the time Gail and I get through the next slow jam, we know something made of carnival and hot sun and storms is happening between us, and I lean my forehead against hers and promise to call her the next day, and I stroll through the crowd until I see Rudy and Dave and make a signal in the air like an umpire signaling a home run, which means we’re making a turn from there, and they should wrap up if they still want a lift home. And Rudy’s boy decides to stay on, and my pardners decide to leave. It’s a little past three, when I step out the door, giving a fist bounce to some other fellas I see there and we head home.

We’re closest to Rudy, so over the mountains again; fast, the only way I know how to drive. the turns are sharp. The roads are narrow. The drops off the road precipitous, but I’m not yet afraid of roller coasters or heights or failing or being in particular neighborhoods at the wrong time, or giving myself entirely to a woman whom I love. I drop Rudy off and fist bounce and Dave comes around to the front seat and we head for El Socorro and when Dave steps out the car and says Laters at about a quarter to four, I know I’m a little more tired than I would like and I have what is usually a half hour drive home, but I know I can do it in twenty easy. The car is already ten years old. It has no radio and no seat belts, but the engine makes the car into a leopard and when I wind the windows down and begin singing outloud on my way home, I know I’ll be fine. I begin with my choir’s entire repertoire. I sing Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho, then I sing the African Sanctus, then I sing Handel’s Requiem. I’m making myself laugh by hitting Wake Up Johnny as I zoom past The Butler Highway, and the 120Y is doing 90 and I start in on the catalog of Air Supply and the songs of Bonnie Tyler. I’m singing Black Stalin as I hit the lighthouse and I know I’m almost home free and I’m singing Bodyguard from the Steel Pulse catalog as I gun up French Street, and nothing has ever happened to me. I’m invincible and my muscles still do everything I tell them to, so quickly I don’t even have to tell them yet. I hit the savannah and I’m a genius, so I’m singing the J Geils Band. I’m singing Michael Jackson. I take the corner by the College and I know I’m less than 5 minutes from home. I’ve done the dangerous thing and won again. I’ve beaten something and tomorrow I’m going to ask Gail if we can go out for real, to see a double feature at the cinema and maybe get some ice cream, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to say yes and soon she’ll be my girlfriend, and I’m damn near home, so I stop singing.


Later I’ll say that the last thing I saw was the Emperor Valley Zoo, which abuts the Botanical Gardens. Every day I walked to and from school through those gardens. It was a good long walk, about 30 minutes and I’d dilly dally going through there and get to school late and be in trouble often. And I’d take walks with girls I liked through there and steal kisses leaned up against the big cedar trees. Our cross-country race went through those Gardens and up the hill at Mount Belvedere. So many of us spent so much living in those gardens, walking and jogging past the old historical cemetery and learning the Latin names of the bougainvillea and the poui and the hibiscus.

Later, a mechanic will say that I was doing at least 80 when I hit the railings, but I know nothing of speed when I’m awakened by a hurricane of steel and glass. The car is in the air forever after it hits the curb and my ears are full of a gorgeous thunder. In the eye of that chaos, I can hear bullets of steel parts rifling past as I bury my head in my hands and abandon myself. I thank God I’m alone and for a moment I’m glad for the cocoon of the cockpit. The bottom of the car is grazing the ixora shrubs and everything is quiet, and I wonder where Curtis is again and glad he isn’t with me, because I don’t yet know that he’s been diagnosed with AIDS. I do not know he’ll be dead in six months. Dave will be wheelchair bound in 2 years, all our dreams of his professional career gone, and I’m in wonder at the quiet still, and realize only then, that I’m flying, and the 120Y lands in a thick patch of grass and in front of me, a massive beautiful cedar, but the car spins and spins and spins like a top, and eventually spends itself and stops. And I’m not even scared I discover. I sit for a few seconds, and a security guard from the nearby President’s house runs over to see if I’m okay, and I tell him I’m good and the door can’t open, so I climb out the open window and piss on the tire and walk back towards the street where a car has stopped, and they offer me a lift, which isn’t far at all by now. I’m three minutes from home, and they stop because we don’t yet know what carjacking means in Trinidad. And I get home and wake my mother up and of course she’s hysterical and I have to tell her a million times that I don’t have the slightest scratch on me. And my step-dad puts his clothes on and makes a phone call and they get the car moved out of the gardens before daybreak, because Trinidad still operates based on whom you know can do what when, and it still does. And anyone on my block who sees the car with its broken front axle, thinks I’m dead, because no-one answers our door, because I’ve got up early and gone to work to inventory chocolates.

When I come home, I call Rudy and Dave to tell them what happened, and Rudy comes to my house immediately and together, and in silence we walk down to where the car left the road and jumped the curb and became an airship, and we followed the flight and trajectory to where the car landed and made a crop circle of spins and stopped two feet in front of the tree that would surely have killed me, and Rudy whistled and scratched his head and we could barely talk except Rudy said You lucky as fuck, Rog, because we don’t yet know how unlucky he is; that he’ll be dead in less than ten years, his liver failed and failed and failed to keep up with the prerogative to lime that we held as confirmation of our manhood, our Trinidadianness. And Gail never became my girlfriend because I never called her that day or the next and by the time we spoke next, our moment was passed, the way these things pass, easily like that in the blazing speed of youth.

My step-father sent me for cigarettes in his car that afternoon, otherwise, he said, you’ll never drive again, and I trembled all the way to the store, but came back safely, cruising slowly into our spot. I learned to drive fast again and I loved Marcia harder than I thought I loved Gail that night and we mourned Curtis together and made love again and again in the six months we had before I left home. But everything had changed. I knew something more was coming. I had to go out in the world and make something happen for myself. I had to live at full throttle, even as I was getting more and more aware of how many storms were headed my way.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 18, Poem 18 - morning / father

morning / father

If when my grandfather (whom I called Daddy

because my mother called him that) shone shoes

on Saturday (every Saturday, every shoe in the house)

I hadn’t sometimes sat on the floor in front of him

reaching into the hand made wooden box, inlaid

with shelves (one for polish of various colors,

one for polish rags and shine rags) to hand him

the various tools of this tasking when he needed

them (I was fascinated by the process of shoe-shining),

I would know nothing of the idea. the connection

between hard work and love (my grandfather

shone slow, his brow beaded up in sweat

laughing with me as we turned each

shoe up to the light to see it gleam).

And I wouldn’t then see how much

my step-father was learning how to love

(or maybe doing just what he thought was

the next thing a man should do, or

concerned with winning from my mother

what it had seemed impossible to men

from my village to win from her) when

he spoke and reasoned with me, as if

his own blood – so that I called him

eventually, Daddy too. I went

a long time before I was willing

to accept the prayer of hard work

(wanting to believe more

in love’s familiarity with magic).

But I must have known it,

must have felt the duen

of it move in my stomach early

when my own father came

from America and visited

and pleaded a kind of love

there in the yard to my mother

who stayed aloof over the balcony

(unwilling to accept his absentee

excuses), because I saw it

when my grandmother wouldn’t

let him (my father) see me; and something

knotted in my stomach, because

I was inside and could see him

in the gallery pleading with her,

too, and I’ve never stopped calling

him Daddy, even though he never

lived in the same house with me

(it always seemed natural to call

him so). And maybe it’s

really easy to see where this

is going now; the psychology

recognizable to any casual reader,

to anyone who took up the mantle

of loving me – that I’ve much greater

ease with Daddy than with Father.

Of course it’s taken me forever

to know how to connect love

with hard work, because the work

of loving has always been like

the easy duty of shining shoes.

You can do it slow, on a weekend

morning when only you and a boy

whom you love are awake and finding

ways to make the morning glow

in a pair of old black leather brogues.

You, or the I who is becoming

has always made light of hard work.

Picture how easily you let

the solitude of yard work consume

you, how easily taken in by the solitude

of the long distance drive,

how you can sequester yourself

and your shoes, or returning home

awake in the morning – uncomfortable

early, when the dew is on the grass

and the yard seems magical,

and sit quietly beside your father

the coffee steaming, some easy

thing at task between you

and no-one needs to explain

or ask anymore questions

or ever be forgiven.

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

April 17, Poem 17 - ars poetica: parable of carpentry

ars poetica: parable of carpentry

everything obeys the sun now

the body blooded to dark

in its command. every question

answers itself in the choices –

both those made and those

eschewed. the sun itself

is a question – or maybe

an indictment. I once lay

in the sun for the express

purpose of getting a tan.

I was upset that I had lost

so much gleam in my moving

North. I got darker. I stayed

just as black. sometimes

the sun answers by saying

nothing. sometimes you learn

only by dogged pursuit

of failure. every story

I can pull from the last

twenty years is allegorical.

in each of them, the sun,

my body, my black, my fists,

my tongue. in many of them

I am laughing. in all of them

I am a messiah of a set

of beliefs I am still

building. in fact

I am apprenticed

to a joiner. if I can

find all the ways

corners can be molded

into themselves, can become

parts of larger functions

I will have discovered

the world.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 16, Poem 16 - Horse Sense / fiction based on true events, or sumpn like that

Horse sense

I’d never ridden a horse before, but I didn’t think that an obstacle to doing so on this particular day. The weather, which was treacherously close to falling below sixty degrees, even though it was June, just a day earlier, had finally begun acting right, and it was a robust seventy-five by 10AM. I awoke early and came downstairs to my host’s huge kitchen. She was already up and drinking a Bloody Mary to go along with the cigarette, and she smiled broadly, “Ready to ride some horses?” “Born ready,” I answered with my usual bluster and she and Katherine laughed and we agreed that we should all have either some coffee or some hair of the dog that had attacked us viciously last night, as Margaret was doing with her Bloody Mary. Katherine and I had come up the previous day from the city for the conference which was being chaired by Margaret and were being put up at Margaret’s house, a massive converted and modernized farmhouse attached to a ranch where Margaret’s 4 horses were being kept. We were in Canton New York, where one had to fly into an airport on something like a station wagon with wings, which was so close to the Canadian border that it flew both flags. I opted for coffee.

After coffee I returned upstairs to put on jeans and shoes. I opted to remain shirtless. I was never one much for clothes and by the time we ambled on out to the barn it was approaching eighty degrees and I was basking in the heat. I craved the heat on my skin, still do. It is perhaps what I miss most about Trinidad, about home.

The groom was a sixty year old man named Paul who was a shade over six feet and 150lbs. He was wiry and his arms seemed criss-crossed with cables of muscle. Several teeth were missing, but there was no mistaking his authority out there in the barn; his easy confidence with the animals. He was a congenial man, who spent much of his younger years in Kentucky in the horse-racing industry. An aspiring jockey in his youth, he grew too tall and a little too heavy to make it on the pro-circuit, but he loved the horse and stayed around them his whole life. He walked with a slight limp, which he had explained the night before was from an injury many years before, trying to break a horse, but he moved so easily with the faulty gait, you could imagine he’d been born with it.

In one of the stalls was a massive young stallion. Its withers were well over my head, and its entire bearing was haughty. Of all the horses, it was the one that seemed least respectful of Paul. It wasn’t disrespectful exactly, but clearly it felt itself on equal footing with Paul. My breath caught in my stomach when I saw it and I pointed “Do I get to ride that one?” Everyone fell out laughing. “That horse will kill you as easily as it’ll look at you,” said Paul “…he aint broken yet and it’ll be a minute before we kin even git a saddle on ‘im. Besides, if you aint never rode befo, I suggest we put you on this old mare right here. She’s easy and she knows how to handle an inexperienced rider.” I laughed at myself and discarded my cowboy fantasies for the day. “No doubt,” I said “…sounds like a good idea.” The old mare was much smaller than Black Beauty, but an impressive sized animal nonetheless. I made up my mind to develop good rapport with her. Margaret and Katherine were both riders, and comfortable on all sorts of horses. They were designated the two young, frisky white Arabians. They were beautiful animals. They looked fast.

Paul taught me how to saddle up the horse. I talked to her, fed her an apple and in the few minutes before I draped the blanket over her back, nothing felt quite so natural to me as talking to an animal. She whinnied softly when I touched her and pushed her face up against mine. I had tied my long ropy dreadlocks into a bun behind my head and she pushed her nose against the bun and tossed my hair loose. She seemed to prefer it like that and I left my hair out. She smelled my neck, my underarms, my chest and stared at my face for what felt like a full minute in silence, but was probably more like ten seconds. We put the saddle on and belted it securely under. Paul was teaching me all the different parts of the apparatus as we did. “This is the horn…” he’d say, or “…this is how you get the bit in her mouth,” or “these are the reins; it’s your steerin’ wheel.”

By the time we were done saddling up, I was confident I was ready for my first cameo in Gunsmoke. Paul directed that I mount the horse from the horse’s left and motioned to give me a hand up. I waved him away. I’d watched enough TV; had seen Clint Eastwood’s Outlaw Josey Wales enough times to know, not just how to put my foot in the stirrup and swing over, but how to make it look good. I stuck my left toe in and swung. grabbed hold of the saddle-horn and swung my right foot up and over the back of the mare. I landed smoothly in the saddle and Paul’s eyebrows raised a bit. “You sure you aint done this before?” I figured he was just trying to be encouraging. “Not once,” I said. Margaret and Katherine were ready with their horses and they ambled out of the barn ahead of me. I dug my heels into the horse’s ribs and made a clicking sound with my tongue against the rook of my mouth. She obediently followed the Arabians out into the street.

Once in the street, I realized that simply being aboard the horse was not as easy as it seemed. I’d never opened my legs that wide before for any sustained period of time, and with each step, the horses network of knotted back muscles jabbed themselves into a sensitive spot just behind my balls. I figured I’d have to find a way to alleviate this discomfort if I was to be able to ride for more than five minutes. I searched my memory bank for all the sports television or comboy movies I’d watched. What were riders doing that maybe seemed natural, that was more than just them sitting on the horse. I thought equestrian events. I thought the easy sway of John Wayne atop his steed. I remembered being ten at the track with my cousin and seeing local legend jockey Challenor Jones, bring home the mottled grey horse If So Why Not, for another victory. What made these people seem so at one with their animals? What made Challenor able to ride one of these massive animals at high speed without breaking his tailbone and smashing his scrotum up into his body? What made the horse jumpers able to leap these tall fences and come down without injury? It seemd to click all at once. I began moving with the horse. It was like dancing. You had to feel the other body move and move with it. You had to lead, and you had to give. You had to let your own body respond to the horse’s body, and most of all your body had to be firm without being tense. You had to be loose atop the horse. I adopted a modified version of a motion called posting I’d seen from riders at equestrian events. Soon I was moving along easily, enjoying the ride. From time to time, Margaret and Katherine would look back to see how I was doing. Soon enough they stopped worrying and went about enjoying their own rides. About half mile down the road, we turned off the street and into a large meadow. The frisky Arabians turned and took off into the sun.

I think I can safely say I am an excellent driver. There is a thing about the instinct of driving at top speed that requires brilliant vision, sense of spatial relationships and daring. Once you decide to change a lane, to fit into a space, there can be no hesitation. At 80, 90, 100 miles an hour, the space that is there now, is not there less than a second later. You must know your vehicle and have a very keen sense of how it responds to speed, how it brakes, how quickly gas tumbles through the carburetor to buck into high gear, how much pressure on your steering means what degree of turn. I spent my late teen years back home drag racing almost every weekend. We raced around the savannah in a massive 3 mile oval three abreast in narrow lanes. I was never afraid, never considered the possibility of wrecking. I knew at all times what I could do and how my car would respond…

…A horse, is a vehicle with a will. To ride a horse one must have all these tools, but it does not account for the animal’s own will. The old mare, became excited when her young friends took off into the meadow, and well before I was ready to be galloping or even cantering, she picked up the pace; first with a brisk trot and soon into a canter. She sensed I wasn’t totally in control of my vehicle and she started making her own decisions, the way a car, cannot. I pressed my knees into her shoulders and choked up on the reins. I leaned closer into her neck and tried to exhort her to whoa. She wouldn’t whoa. Clearly my whoa did not come with enough conviction, but I wasn’t panicking yet. I was riding, busy looking good and busy making sure I didn’t fall off and hit my head on any of the rocks jutting up from the ground in different places. We rode like this on through the meadow for about a minute until we came to a creek and now my body had to learn to do different things as the horse went down the modest slope into the creek and came up the slope on the other side. the creek wasn’t wide, but me made enough steps through it that I had to learn real fast to lean back on the descent and to lean forward on the climb. I was feeling proud of my instincts by the time we got to the fencing at the far end of the meadow and had to turn around to go back.

With a car, you the driver, are in possession of the only memory in play. If there is a decision to be made about where to go, what turn to make, what route to take, your car will not second guess you. It will not decide that this is a bad idea, or that it has a better one. Your car will do – as long as it’s in good working order – whatever you tell it to.

The mare decided really early on our turnaround that she wasn’t feeling the creek. She didn’t want to go down into that rocky bad and slash up through that embankment. If there was a way around the creek, nether she nor I knew the route and so the mare began to pick up speed. I began with a whispered whoa into her ear that became firm when her nostrils flared and I realized she was getting ready to open up. My whoa became panicked shortly thereafter, but by now we were at a full stretch. we were galloping, and all I had now in my head was the picture of Challenor Jones, knees tucked, head low and right between the ears of If So Why Not. My elbows tucked and hips in the air behind me, I was desperate to not fall off and die, but what a picture we must have made to folks passing by on the street. Several cars had stopped to watch and at the far end where we’d turn back onto the road, Katherine and Margaret had stopped their horses and were looking back anxiously. All of Canton seemed to hold its breath at the sight of a shirtless black man flying along with his long ropes of hair in the wind behind him. By the time we got to the creek, it was clear to me that the horse was going to jump and for a brief second I considered bailing before she took flight. I don’t know if pride or fear was more responsible for my deciding to stay on, but stay on I did.

If you’ve ever been launched into the air; maybe a ride at a carnival, maybe a trampoline. maybe, like me, you were seven once and decided you could leap off the roof of your house and land unscathed – if you’ve ever had this experience then you know the simultaneous thrill of momentary flight mingled with the fear of possible death. You know the exhilaration you’re experiencing is, however slight, at the potential cost of death. And in those brief seconds when you are airborne, your synapses, firing at probably 1000 times their normal speeds, interrogate your entire life. And when the mare leapt, I could only think that here we were six months shy of the year 2000 and I wouldn’t live to bring in the new year to Prince’s 1999, as I always imagined I would, the first time I heard the song as a teen. I thought about who would tell my mom and what my brother would do. And all this time, I was also calculating what my body would have to do to not be jettisoned off the horse by the impact of her landing. My ass, I imagined, couldn’t actually be on her back when her hind legs came down, or I’d catapult from her, and I couldn’t just be standing in the stirrups either or the impact would jolt my feet loose. It would have to be a matter of timing; a smooth integration of my body back into one being with the horse. Somewhere at the crest of the arc, it became a matter of zen. I would have to separate myself from the horse in the air and become one again with the horse as she hit the ground.

I don’t know if my theory was sound, but in practice it worked like a charm. I slid back into the saddle as easily as I might adjust the seat behind a steering wheel. Onlookers clapped. I was more brave in my whoas now and the mare slowed down in response. Paul had said before we left that the one thing you don’t want is for your horse to lead you back into the barn. You must never look out of control of your horse as you’re bringing it in. For the rest of the short ride, I concentrated on looking smooth as I brought her in.

When I was a kid and I was coming home with the car later than I should, I’d try to keep the time I came in a secret. In our narrow street, where one had to angle weirdly to back into the driveway in a two-point turn, it meant gunning the car halfway up the street, turning off the engine, and letting momentum carry me up to the driveway, where I’d wrench the wheel hard into the turn and then jam the car into reverse, so that it rolled back into the narrow driveway soundlessly, and without scraping the fenceposts. I was gifted with all the bravado of being 19, and male then and was calling on some of that now with the horse, who excited to be going back into the barn, was again picking up the pace, but I’d survived her test and I wasn’t going to let her embarrass me further. I pulled firmly and gently up on the reins and my voice was a long, deep whoaaaaa now, and she knew. And we walked silently and slowly for the last 50 meters or so back into the barn. I climbed off smoothly, my groin muscles straining in a way they’d never hurt before, but I landed easily, patted the mare on the face. Outside, Paul was leading the big stallion around a corral on a lead. It followed, but its entire bearing was one of insolence. “you say you sure you’ve never ridden before?” Paul asked “Not never,” I replied. I stood there, watching him walk the stallion around the corral. I leapt the fence and walked up to the big horse and patted it on the flanks. It looked me I the face hard for a few seconds, but didn’t bend its massive head down to smell me. “when I come back up here…’ I said, “can I ride him?” Paul chuckled a bit. “sure nuff…” he said “sure nuff. don’t see no reason why not…”

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

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 15, Poem 15 - inordinate



  1. not within proper or reasonable limits; immoderate; excessive: He drank an inordinate amount of rum.
  2. unrestrained in conduct, feelings, etc.: an inordinate admirer of women
  3. disorderly; uncontrolled
  4. not regulated; irregular: inordinate crew of friends with whom to carouse

fuck what you heard




my body asks me to test

its own limits

out of love

out of something to do

with being a man

results in an inordinate lust

for laughing, for rum

for touch

because my body in-

ordinate weeps

to be remembered by skin

if as is clear I am

unrestrained in conduct

if I am


in my admiration of the way

your calves curve into

your knee-backs

call me love call me


my hands are both rivers

for you



are my ribs




my heart uncontrolled

and total irregular


and whole

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 14, Poem 14 - learning to read (after Frank X Walker)

learning to read

(after Frank X Walker)

Because my mother never shooed me

from the room when she was talking

about politics, and never thought

I should leave even when the sweet

gossip about a friend was on tap.

Because my mother let me join

in when adults spoke and never

spoke to me in a babyish

condescending tone – Because

my mother drank good whiskey

and played cards and let me sit

there and laugh when she threw

the King down hard on the table

and talked shit to the men, I knew

that when she said, Roger,

this is for big people, that the grown

ups, were talking about fucking.

Because my mother’s perfect

diction (which allowed most things

audible, even in sotto voce) slid

then into a buttery whispered song;

because my mother’s voice got smoky,

low, and conspiratorial, I giggled

alone to myself, even when I couldn’t

make out what was being said.

And because I got then to spend

hours in the study alone

with books that were also for big people;

and read at length

about exactly what my mother

spoke in her smoke and whiskey

voice, I never tried to peek my head

out early, and back into the conversation.

I was learning the silky goodness

of the forbidden word; how a woman’s

barely visible slip spoke a rustled

language against a thigh, at what angle

the cocked cigarette meant a blade

was hidden, and at what angle, a wish.

My mother taught me through the genius

of banishment and access all at once,

that language was a joy to share

to withhold, a power to wield –

whether the language was her deep

resonant call for me to come in

from the streets at twilight, a measured

question about my studies, or alone

amongst books, the gradual knowing

that a woman’s legs, in the crossing

spoke gunshot, refusal, heat.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 13, Poem 13 - Afro (after Kelly Norman Ellis)


(after Kelly Norman Ellis)

My mother's afro was a magic orb

of goodness. Afro Sheen leaked

onto it's ends and became emerald

in the sun. It was 1975 and my mother

told me every day, that I was black; taught

me how to comb my own round globe

of halo - how to hold the pick

at its shoulder where the fist

became the bad-ass comb's


In 1975 my mother took me

to the tailor for my first suit.

And it was super bad - light

blue, with lapels like wings.

It was sure nuf made

from something like polyester,

but the trousers bloomed outward

from the knees, so at the hems

my shoes were barely visible-

The shoes? Chocolate brown

Clarks with a rounded toe.

I was aware for the first time

that I was spectacular,

though I wasn't yet sure

what it meant to be black

in the whole world. Where

I was, I knew the light-blue

suit meant I was ordained

In the boogie. I was allowed,

even obliged to funk.


about clothes meant this;

permission and responsibility -

something about being fresh

was suddenly in play.

When My aunt

dragged me from class


The Barber

my mother at work,

my head shaven

I knew

for the first time

that my body would never




I don't know how else

to say now what the seven

year old me came to know

in the bottom of my stomach.

If I'd had all the rage

I eventually built

into a citadel; had I

the words, I'd have



My mother came home

saw my head and became



My aunt, disgusted

said she had to - my head

was full of wooly stuff...

And this is when I knew I was black for real.

This is when I knew black was a city

whose walls were constantly under siege.

This is when I knew what hymns

were meant for - that they were

songs of anoint for the body

that was constantly at war

And then my mother rose up saying:

Of course it's wooly. I have lain only with black men, men whose skin was the darkest black, men whose hair was the roughest wire and they were beautiful, and my child's hair is this way because I have never, like you, lain with anyone light skin or even remotely Chinese. And my child is beautiful, wooly, black.

And I knew I'd always be fighting.

And I knew that I would win.

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