Monday, April 23, 2012

Poem 13 of 30 - April 2012

From the movie: How many Black… a feature film based on the real life
Teaching experiences of Roger Bonair-Agard, directed by Spike Lee

Scene from jailhouse 1

Camera panning the entire room

40 year old heavily tattooed black man walks into the rec room. He comes to teach them creative writing.  They have not been told this…

Switch to 2 camera angles, both in profile

Young brother 1: Oh, who dis nigga?! Aye Joe! Who the fuck is you?
Teacher: Ask me again in a manner I can actually respond to.

Switch to 2 angles – facing class and facing teacher, guards should be almost out of picture; blurred somewhat

YB 2: Aye man, what dat is on your chest? Gestures with chin in general direction of the man
Teacher: a crown
everyone in the room turns to look at the 1 latino kid – the unspoken dialogue is about whether or not it’s a Latin King claim being made by the crown
Teacher: why y’all all lookin at him?
YB 2: Yo lemme see the whole thing
Security Guard: it would probably be inappropriate for him to take off his shirt here

2 beats of silence

YB 2: Aye lemme see that crown nigga
Teacher: Brother, for reals I’m not taking off my shirt

Teacher is now sitting round a table with residents of the jail – camera angles should switch from one perspective to the next rapidly.  We want to feel the tempo of the conversation here as different from the other conversations

YB 3: Aye Joe, you ever been locked up?
Teacher: No.
YB 3: you ain’t never done NO time?!
Teacher: never
YB 3: more incredulous; even suspicious NEVER?!
Teacher: No
YB 3: How the fuck you so swole den?!

Teacher laughs loudly; students join in

YB 4: yo, you be fuckin with dat UFC fighting
Teacher:  you mean like actually fighting?
YB 4: yeah, like MMA shit.
Teacher: nah dawg.  Why you ask?
YB 4: you look like you could fuck a nigga up!
Teacher: Once, maybe.  But I’m too old for people to be hitting me in the face
YB 5: No Homo, but I could picture you in them little ass shorts fuckin a nigga up!
Teacher: slowly so… did you just say No Homo AND you can picture me in little ass shorts?
YB 5: yeah. But for real, you know what I mean?
Teacher: I’m afraid I do

Fade out and up on next scene…

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Poem 12 of 30 - April 2012

not how Spring works

I keep expecting her
to walk
            around the next corner
of my heart’s next choice
    and make a crazy
for me

There is no good way
    (or safe)
   to ask the universe
   to make magic
just for

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

Poem 11 of 30 - April 2012


In the other room, my mother
is shouting Go for broke Go
for broke! I’m dressing to go

I am protected, always.
song of invisible and impervious
cloaking, me - laughing.

It doesn’t matter
that my mother is cheering
a Jeopardy Daily Double

I know this woman
     as blade – my heart
   safe, risk

Some history is rich
the body’s memory

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poem 10 of 30 - April 2012 - mini essay/rant

The New Math

A few days ago, Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Florida Marlins baseball team, and a Venezuelan National, said in a Time Magazine interview, that he respected Fidel castro (sic) for having survived for so long, even though so many people out there have tried to kill him. For his trouble, Cuban Americans in Florida demanded he be fired and the club, fearing for their large Cuban fan base in Miami, publicly upbraided the outspoken Guillen and suspended him for five games. It is easy for many Americans to see Castro as a monster. It falls in line with every Cold War edict we were instructed in. Still, the irony of denying a man his right to his livelihood – even short term – is rich here. That in disgust for a dictator whom we shun for imposing on the political freedoms of his nationals, we punish one of ours for the expression of his political views. The subsequent press conference found Mr. Guillen having to answer not just for this embarrassment (his word), but for every political view he might have. In particular, he was asked to answer about his views on the current leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who while democratically elected, America has cast in the role of villain. There are many reasons for this not least of all his nationalization of Venezuelan business (oil in particular) and we know how America gets when it can't get at your oil – but I digress. Guillen found himself having to respond to a very McCarthy-esque land mine of questions. At the time he must have been very unsure about how his answers might affect his future employment and we, the public, did not raise our eyebrows. We did not say we've seen this before and it must stop. We moved along, mostly okay with the idea that the message conveyed was that difference of political view is perfectly acceptable, if it falls within the purview of accepted political set up as it already exists. You may publicly state your support for Republican or Democrat, but anything else labels you not just un-American (as we have seen in the right wing's stupid accusations of Obama as socialist), but some sort of criminal – your ethics and social standing – not to mention your job – compromised.

Meanwhile, in the same state, George Zimmerman guns a black boy down and it takes the police 45 days and international outrage before he is even arrested. In fact, he turned himself in, probably saving the Florida authorities the embarrassment of not being able to find him, when they did decide to arrest him – for any longer. A clear cut case of murder in which the police told the shooter to stay in his car, is now all of a sudden a mystery, and we're going to be asked – mark my words – shortly, to believe that Zimmerman 'had no choice' but to 'defend himself', when he decided to stalk the 16 yr old over several blocks in Sanford, FL.

Meanwhile, the Arizona legislature has decided, in pursuit of stricter pro-life measures that life begins before actual conception – with the egg. This attempts to outlaw hormonal contraception, plan B and of course abortion, ignoring Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court decision that more than 40 years ago gave women the rights to their own bodies. In response, one astute Arizonan legislator, a woman suggested that added to the bill should be the proviso that life begins before conception for the male zygote as well; providing that sperm should be deposited nowhere but inside a vagina. The Republican lawmaker's response was that a man's body was his own, and how could she possibly tell him what to do with his sperm. The Jedi mind trick here is stunning. To wit, (my sperm) are not the droids you're looking for.

Meanwhile, a teacher in the same lovely state of Arizona is arrested for teaching Mexican American history. Wait, let me say this again. This week in the United States of America, a teacher was arrested for teaching Mexican American studies, because it violated that state's recent statutes against the teaching of ethnic studies. This is days after the Guillen snafu in Florida.

When the conservative right, and those who would have us in everlasting war (Orwell's words), tell us that freedom is not free, who knew that the price of freedom was well... Freedom. What we must recognize, and hopefully before it is too late, is that these incidents are not unrelated. The attack on ethnic studies, women's bodies, Guillen's political freedom and the deaths of black and brown young men at the hands of white Americans (as highlighted in the Trayvon Martin case, but too real throughout the entire country), represent the emboldening of the American conservative (racist) right. This is not an ideological war. It is a war on the potential for personhood, if one is not a white male American. In word and in deed, these incidents come together to remind us that our bodies are not worth as much as other bodies. What Zimmerman knew, in his gut, was that he had every right to pursue and contain the body of this boy, because he was black, an assumption borne out as true when the police refused to arrest him. What Arizona has decided for a long while now is that the bodies of brown people are worth less, and that their right to pursue personhood as they see fit, must also be contained, and Alabama with its recent statutes to allow any citizen to demand proof of a stranger's immigration status is that too.

We in liberal white North have a tendency to shake our heads at the still-racist South. We lament jokingly, that places like Arizona and Alabama and Mississippi and Texas are still part of the union, without recognizing (or refusing to recognize) the ways in which the Northern states have managed this continuous decades old containment of the lives of the colored and poor. From red-lining to segregated school districts, America has enshrined in law its right to institutionally confine and contain the bodies and potential of millions of Americans. We must understand Arizona, Alabama, Florida – not as aberrations, but as a new American vanguard which has found foothold in the North several years ago, but is manifesting anew in the attacks on labor in Wisconsin and Michigan, for instance, and the attacks on public education that has spawned the charter school movement and the privatization of prison, such that several states add prison cells based on 3rd grade or 8th grade reading scores. It is not that our politicians do not know the correlation between a lack of education and incarceration, it is that they bank on it. And I mean, they bank on it.

As citizens, part of our job is to not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked. We cannot account by this New Math which says it is alright to fine a man for stating a political view in favor of a man we hate for not allowing folks their political views. We can't allow ourselves to tout our own freedom, while we are unable to stop the runaway train that is the prison industrial complex. Do some light reading and find out how many black and brown youth have been killed by whites – particularly the police – all ove the country and ask yourself why you are constantly told that you need to be afraid of our neighborhoods. White people do not get stalked and shot in black neighborhoods or dragged behind trucks or shot crossing our borders, or run onto highways. How did the black male become at once so fearsome and so repeatedly killed? Why are the schools in our neighborhoods achieving at lower rates? Why are white gunmen, lone crazy people and brown ones terrorists? Why has it been okay to speak about the first black president of the United States in the ways we've never thought it okay to speak to white presidents? What does the Tea Party mean when it says it's taking America back? From whom? Whats the panic? Black folk are taking over? America is browning? Nah... I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. These (niggas) are not the droids you're looking for.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

There is a way you enter a room when you learn that the entry is important; when you know that you can’t leave and come back in again; when you want to be respected at first glance; when you want to leave no doubt that to fuck with you is a terrible mistake; when it is clear you are a man with rank. Any old man with enough liquor in his history knows it, even if he doesn’t have it. Old men who’ve worked hard, with their hands, have it even when they don’t know it. If you have a scar or two; if you know the business and working ends of a blade, it is bequeathed to you. Old men also know it when they see it in a youth – when the youth has learned that he is all he has; that be it good joke, fist or heft, he’d better be quick to ante up if he wants in, in this brotherhood of men.

My friends and I had been perfecting this particular brand of swagger from the time we were 13. We didn’t know it was a thing, but we were doing it anyway. We, in QRC, knew who had rank; and rank could be attained in any number of ways – sport, fight, books, jokes, women – all these things could accord a fellow, rank. But only if he knows to play it effortlessly; to move like the facility with ball on foot, or sweet talk faced with a distrustful woman, is native; a non-learned thing. The Lion had that movement. The Lion knew that entrance and as a youth coming into Hereford’s for the last few years; as a youth who knew my place in the company of grown men, I knew how to play it consequential to my years, and I knew how that rank made itself manifest, when I brought the Lion into the bar.

The Lion strode in. When I say strode, I mean not only is there no tentative of step, I mean there is regal in the walk. I mean the man knows his place in the world; knows he must proclaim it but will not flaunt it. I mean it is the walk of a man who knows his suit is impeccable; whose knowledge and rank are affirmed. As a young man in the apprenticeship of entrances, I know not to walk directly behind him; not to kowtow, but to defer. I know to walk askance, and obliquely behind; as if presenting the magistrate. I am, as a frequent patron here, in fact presenting The Roaring Lion at Hereford’s; presenting he who needs no presentation.

The Lion climbed onto the barstool at the corner of the bar; a perch from which one becomes the moderator of all bar discussion. I respectfully take a stool to his right, say a deferential good evening to the gentlemen and the barkeep and The Lion orders a half bottle of Vat 19. We are accorded one can of coke as chaser. The Lion pours us our first drinks; equal parts coke and rum in a water glass. In short order, the half bottle of rum is done.

Here in the United States, I do not drink mixed drinks. I understood early on that the ratio of liquor to chaser deviated seriously from that to which I had become accustomed. I have grown into what we call in the Caribbean a veteran, a man of hard liquor tastes and enough experiences to no longer be young, but not enough to yet be grizzled. That night on the bar stool at Hereford’s, I was in training. I was drinking with a grizzled legend – and I had to keep up, hold my liquor and then drive him home safely and not say anything stupid in the bar or on the way to Mt. Lambert.

The Lion orders a second half bottle of rum. In Trinidad, so much metaphor comes from the rich language associated with cricket. At the highest levels – Test cricket, the game is five days long and it’s a wonderful theatre. We expect our best batsmen to stay in the wicket through adversity, to bat with flair and disdain when the moment calls for it; to leave to applause. And with The Lion’s introduction of this new ball, I am aware this is no one-day innings, I have to settle down and bat. Again, we are accorded a can of coke to go with the half bottle of rum. The drinks are progressively less brown in color and more cocoa, now moving to gold. The Lion is telling stories. We learn that he has a newborn baby girl and there are tales of growing up; folks in the country, and fights he has been in and deaths he has avoided. As an 18 year old, youngest fellow in the bar, my job is to lean in and laugh at the right time, speak only when spoken to and drink in time with my sponsor. Anything less is disrespect, and disrespectfulness is not just the absence of rank. It is negative rank. And then Lion says, Roger boy, three is the luckiest of numbers, and orders a third half bottle.

In an innings of cricket, a batsman finds out a few things about himself. He knows, if he is patient, whether or not the pitch is playing true; whether he can expect surprises in the bounce. If he is an astute student, he knows before he is even called upon t bat, whether or not the wicket is more solicitous of spin or pace. He knows how he must play himself into the rhythm of the pitch, how flight looks against the pavilion’s backdrop, how quick the seamer is moving one way or the next. A batsman also suspects early on if he is out of his depth. If so, he stays patient. He tries to stonewall the bowlers until he can go for his strokes. With the third half bottle, I suspected I was playing out of my class. The Lion was drinking at least three times the number of years I had been alive at that point. One does not ask out of the wicket though. You bat and you concentrate and you make sure you don’t get out. If a field sees you are in trouble, they will crowd the bat, look for you to make a mistake. You have to play the role of confident swashbuckler, even when you have no idea which way the ball will turn. And with that, The Lion says:

- You good?

- I good,

-You sure?

- Pour again, I say

And the bar erupts in laughter. Roaring Lion feigns surprise and the barkeep ensures them;

- that young fella in here all the time you know. He does come and carry his uncle home.

And the veterans and old men nod and the Lion slaps me on the back and just like that, I’m admitted into a fraternity. The old men ask where I live and where I go to school, and when I say I just graduated from QRC, they nod approvingly because to old black men, that still means one of we boys doing something good. And one of the men says okay young Skipper, which means I’m allowed back and every now and then one of the old fellas will call down a drink for me before I pile Uncle Mikey into the car. I am official now, with this nickname, even a throwaway non-specific one. And the Lion says, And the young fella have some throat on him, you know. He could sing. And just like that, I am knighted, right there in the bar on a stool just off the corner – given permission to make my own entrance, to make it sure, smooth, unhurried next time I come to fire a few with the fellas. I get to walk into the wicket with other batsmen who expect me to score, who consider me at least their equal; nothing being quite so respected as a man who can hold his waters.

When we leave and The Roaring Lion and his trophy climb back into my car, we head to Mt. Lambert. It is 4AM or thereabouts and the streets are empty. It is an easy 20minute drive and I feel fine. I drop the Lion off in front a two story off-white house, and he says, you’re a good young fella. You will do well. He strides off, suit still immaculate, hat never having left that spot on his head, tie knotted right at the throat. His walk is straight, belies nothing of the rum we have just killed. He opens his front door, with the same authority, a smooth, captain’s entrance. I watch the legend, the Roaring Lion, vanish into the night.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Poem 7 of 30 - April 2012 (pt 1 of a 2 pt story)

Two bottles of rum and the Roaring Lion

Coulda been a judge but I don’t like that at all

Doctor or a lawyer but the salary too small

Bishop, but again, that’s too big legal

So I became QRC principal

I became a doux-doux man, and so,

In my spare time I could sing my calypso…

The Roaring Lion – Papa Choonks

The first calypso I can remember hearing and, very shortly thereafter knowing by heart, was by a calypsonian who was already a legend in the calypso world. The Mighty Sparrow was at the time one of the few calypsonians whose appeal had moved beyond Trinidad and the rest of the English speaking West Indies. He had performed in England and the United States and countless times for many dignitaries. He was adept at both social commentary type calypsos, and party favorites; a pen that could cut both ways, Sparrow’s songs illuminated – even when singing about women of ill-repute – essential truths about colonial life. His wit and sarcasm were complicated by a ribald sense of humor and a daring sense of metaphor. The calypso, I chose to memorize in this case, could be argued to exhibit all these qualities. The chorus went:

Drunk and disorderly; always in custody

My friends and my family; all fed-up with me

Drunk and disorderly; every weekend I’m in the jail

Drunk and disorderly; nobody to stand my bail…

It was 1973. I was four years old.

My grandmother and mother were co-heads of household; my grandmother’s penchant for stern discipline, itself legend. In this Puritan household, there were many infractions one did not dream of committing, but somehow, I have no recollection of being censored in my loud repeated rendition of this popular song. Even my grandmother, must have understood the importance of the calypsonian as griot in our midst, even as she like many others of her generation and social station, pursued class mobility through formal education and rigorous religious indoctrination. Sparrow represented a particular generation, however, maybe the first one to benefit from the carnival arts’ having been raised to a level of national art and discourse. He and Lord Kitchener were the titans of the form, and following closely after them, poets like Chalkdust, Shorty, Merchant and a host of others were not only providing a new vanguard of the form, but pushing its envelope. In time we would come to know soca, as an entirely separate branch of the music, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

This group of musicians was standing on the shoulders of some old high priests of the form. These were the calypsonians who broke ground, who were champions; locally famous saga boys, whose sobriquets underscored their facility with both microphone and white-handled razor; The Growling Tiger, Attilah the Hun, The Mighty Terror, Lord Invader and of course, the Roaring Lion. These were among the earliest proponents of the form; men whose songs defined kaiso, and who, by the time I was born were no longer taking part in the competitions. They were respected and occasionally played on the radio, but their time was past. They were the subjects of great stories by our uncles and fathers of a time we could not conceive – champion stickfighters, panmen who would as soon put a cutlass on you as talk to you, masqueraders who perfected the dragon dance and the robber speech.

And so here I was 14 years after my first memorized number, picking up work at the Trinidad and Tobago annual singer-songwriter music festival. A week-long series of competitions for local songwriters in several genres, I was one of about 6 back-up singers, who had to learn several songs over the course of the week in support of these hopeful musicians. On the last night, the festival honored the Roaring Lion with a lifetime achievement award.

I have never seen the Roaring Lion anywhere not wearing a suit, a light colored one – usually off white, or beige; impeccably ironed and hat to match. I remember him as a tall, slander man who moved easily and even past 70 yrs old (which he already was then), improbably smooth with the ladies. When I say that calypso sang the consciousness of the nation; when I say that folks like The Lion were legend for what they taught us of ourselves, I mean to refer you back to the stories epigraph; to Lion’s assertion that judge, doctor, lawyer or bishop were all occupations beneath him – that instead he would be the principal of QRC, Queen’s Royal College, a boys’ high school in the capital city. This is significant for reasons other than we might imagine today in a world in which teachers are denigrated and education championed only for the eventual earning power it might give. Of the three major boys secondary schools in the city, QRC was the one traditionally seen as the black people’s school. A long tradition of academic rigor and respectful questioning prevailed, and the school produced many of the country’s most influential scholars, politicians, artists and athletes. The first Prime Minister, Eric Williams, Nobel Prize winner, Vidia Naipaul, historian and journalist, C.L.R. James – the list is endless. I had recently graduated from that school and am fortunate to not only have gone there but to have known even then the importance of the legacy of men like the Roaring Lion. And the Lion, knew the importance of a school like QRC.

Still, the Trinidadian ethos concerning its heroes is baffling. Maybe the country of 1.3 million is too spoiled with a relative over-abundance of world-class achievers. Academic champions, Olympic champions and 2 Miss Universes and 2 world boxing champs, have all come from the small nation and we get to rub shoulders on a daily basis with these heroes. We often ignore them. We take their achievements for granted. And it is with this as a backdrop, that on the last night of the festival, I’m leaving to go home; pulling out of a parking space and the Roaring Lion, regally suited, with a giant trophy in his hand, is trying to flag down folks to get a lift home. I cannot believe my eyes. Lion wants a lift and people are not stopping. I pull up next to the legend and ask him where he’d like to go. Before he gets into the car, he assures me that he only wants a drop downtown to the taxi stand, from where he’ll make his way home. My mother taught me well, so I’ll have none of it. I ask him where he lives, knowing full well that even if he said the other side of the island, that I’d be driving him home. He says, Mt Lambert.’It is completely out of my way, but I say Hop in. I’ll carry you home…

The Lion says “thank you young fella…” and as is my way, I speed off way too fast. Lion has other ideas though. Once we get off the street in front of the theatre and turn on to French street the conversation goes like this:

whas your name sonny?


you want a drink?

well I don’t have any money, Sir…

I didn’t ask you if you have money, boy. I ask you if you want a drink…

I say no more. I pull up next to Hereford’s, right opposite Trinidad and Tobago Television station. We drank here throughout my high school life and often I still go here, often to find my Uncle Mikey on a barstool there, whom I then have to drive home, often at the begging request of the bar owner.

(to be continued)

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

Monday, April 09, 2012

Poem 6 of 30 - April 2012


Have you ever seen a valley like this? I answer so many things. Can you hear the ocean? Smell the salt? I say nothing. Why did you pick me? I gulp down the last cool Red Stripe. The moon is impossible between us. It bathes us in milk. When she wriggles out of her skirt, we are already on the floor of the outdoor balcony. The moonlight tells me where on her belly to kiss. Her cunt is a vessel of rainwater. I only speak in original tones; clicks, moans, drummings from inside. Do you make love every city you go? Every island paradise, from high up, overlooking stars; cocks crowing in the morning? I’m letting the pistol grip of my thumb and forefinger cradle the bird in her throat. I pressure the fluttering and her legs open. An animal smell enters the narrow room. My body goes divining its source. We are naked now on the terrazzo floor. The blood in my knee is singing close to the skin. I ignore its falsetto. You bastard, do you love me? I lift her towards the bed – are you going to answer me? I nod my head. I bring my hand up her ribs’ soft ridging. I lean into the whistle from her nostril. I hear the water in a coconut’s belly from there. I hear the sea. I hear a hurricane coming. I hear the lament of a family’s funeral planning. I bite her lip hard, as the blood from my knee makes evidence on her bed. I love you, I say. Her hips tremble up to meet me. It is my whole truth. Perfect, she says, the night is perfect. Her hand is grace down my stomach. Come inside me, she says. There is a warm, humid wind coming through the balcony sliding doors. You hear that? We’ve begun to move, to add notes to the night’s sharp orchestra. That’s the rain on the rooftop. You hear that? She hisses through her teeth into my shoulder. That’s us talking. Come inside me, you bastard, you. Liar.

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

Sunday, April 08, 2012

poem 5 of 30 - April 2012

Lay him down – an elegy for the surviving

For Cameron Fuller-Holloway (4/5/86-1/15/12)

Once there was Charles, walking his bicycle

home; leaving us when his time seemed too green

for going. And then there was Curtis

whom we lost to the scandal of the time

who couldn’t tell me whom he loved

because it was 1986 and these were new

monsters. And before them Camille claimed

by a raging surf, and her brother forever

angry after that, but at least their father

stopped hitting their mother. And Ajodah

whose own lungs betrayed him every story

a gospel of tragedy, a god reaching in

to teach us how to lay our loves down.

And then Rudy’s liver and Peter’s heart

and Kirk’s heart and Gabrielle’s cancer

and Richard’s cancer and Brenda’s cancer

and Peter’s cancer – moved so swift

it sparkled like a flying fish and came

upon us in the dark. What I’m trying

to say is we lay our loves down in the fullness

of the rich dirt, in the loam of the night,

in the cocoa-rich valleys in which they were born,

pour out in their memories the very spirits

which deconstructed the angels

in their platelets – sitting round their

beds, remembering once how you made

love, and the only language between you

was sweat.

And now your own young

beauty – who leaves, even as he walks

among you like a promise – love him

in this laying down, love him

in the magic of his going. This is all

the sky has been trying to train in us.

Mark only the spot where he touched

you last and tell your hearts they are not made

of tombstones, but laughter, water, blood,

fire, salt, stars, mud, rain, hyacinths, all

the secrets of ongoing and forgiveness,

the willingness of drums, the want

of flesh, the eucharist of liquor

in the throat. This is what the heart

is made of, and what is bequeathed

us by this boy – beautiful and young

in his going.

What are the questions asked

of us by breath? By the sun?

by the miracle of moonlight

from the window of a plane,

all the earth a conspiracy

of light? Every day those we love

squeeze through doors toward

something so brilliantly beyond us,

all they can think to leave us are

these wonders - 44 black tulips

flowering on a lover’s lawn,

the discovery of laughter in chimpanzees,

the improbable honor of new babies,

and weddings and the taut peal of love

singing out between people made

of ridiculous hopes – lay him down

and know how amazing it was

to be him – made entirely of muscle

and by whom loved like he might

be pope, president or rock star.

Lay Cameron down and dress him

in the honorifics of anything good

you ever saw in him.

The day he first showed you

the dark lines of his palms

are still forever yours.

Lay him down in that

generous embrace – the one made

of fish and moonlight and the impossible

echo of drums, and sing him home,

sing him home, sing him

everywhere he needs

to roam.

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

Friday, April 06, 2012

Poem 4 of 30 - April 2012 - an essay

A few more words on Trayvon

for my young-blacks

I joke sometimes that I’ve become, officially, an old man. I no longer walk quite the same gauntlet of tough-guy that young men must walk. I don’t get very often the same sized-up glare that we men (especially men of color) wear as shield; that we wear to remind us that we are indeed men.

Most often I wear a beard now, and while my body is in decently good shape, there is enough grey flecking that beard now and dappling the edges of my hair, that young men will often now nod at me and refer to me as ‘Sir,’ or in my native Trinidad, as ‘Uncle.’ Those who read my own shielding tough-guy grill, or the young men whom I teach in jail or in rougher-neighborhood schools might call me O.G., itself an honorific of respect accorded to dudes who were once in the game, or their mothers. I am an old man, and many days grateful for the fact that it means I don’t have to think about getting into a fight when I enter the bar, a club, when I pass a group of young me on the street.

More importantly for me, I see young people now – again particularly young people of color, as my children. Like the president has now famously said, “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon Martin…” and I often think that this boy could be my son, this could be my daughter, and increasingly now I’m seeing them all wearing hoodies. When I say that I’m seeing them wearing hoodies, it is not that they’re wearing them more out of homage to the slain young man who is also my child, but that I am seeing them more. Suddenly the fraught nature of the lives of young black men, always a central idea in my head, always an occupying thought when I am gauntleted by white institutions of power, is stark in my head, realer to me than ever before.

The debate about the role of the hoodie in Trayvon Martin’s death is the silliest, saddest debate ever – thank you Geraldo. It ascribes blame to a young man and the loving parents who fund his existence for having the temerity to buy him an article of clothing, that might shield him from wind, rain and cold, and also have the added effect of making him anonymous. It attempts to lessen the responsibility of the man, who stalked the boy for several blocks, left his car, against the advice of the police, and shot the boy to death. The people who use this argument – some of them black, sadly – have found, in 2012, yet another way to suggest that young black men should not have the same rights as white ones. They suggest that we make targets of ourselves by certain clothing choices, as if our black skins weren’t target enough. The evidence is clear and the hoodie has nothing to do with it.

The discussion I’m trying to have here has little to do with hoodies, but let’s back up a little bit and you’ll remember – those of you who might also be O.G.s – how much the hoodie was part of white suburban skater culture in the 80s. In those days, apparently the hoodie didn’t make anyone seem like a thug. But then again, thug apparel in those days might have been Cross-Colors and Karl Kani apparel, overalls with one strap off the shoulder and a leg rolled up. Overalls are not today, nearly as thuggish. The irony of these Grand Wizard white men (or perhaps this is not irony but a coincidental recognition) telling me that I look thuggish if I wear a hood, is not lost on me. And as such I see my brothers who symbolize unity with other black men across the country by wearing hoodies, as an anti-Klan unit.

With that, let me get back to what I mean by when I say I see young men more and more often in hoodies. It is that I see them and I love them more than ever. I see them and know they are mine. They are my children, my brothers, my protected and my protectors. Having been taught like everyone else to maintain a sharp eye and alert demeanor around black people, having fought to insulate myself against the self-hating insiduousness of such thinking, having fought to be and become a man and to see my brothers as men, being constantly enrolled in the fight for my own personhood, against those who would see me as thug, sexual beast, athlete or entertainment, the simple symbology of the hoodie as given us by the Trayvon Martin case has done for my vision a most unexpected thing. I now see and love my brothers more clearly.

A few days ago, I was riding home on my bicycle up a major Chicago street. It was late – past midnight. The streetlights were on but the trees make interesting shadows with the lamps late at night. There is a theatrical dappling effect of light and shadow. It wreaks havoc with vision if you’re as stupid as I am to not have headlights, and not be able to see the potholes. Maybe it also made me invisible, and so now when I think of the 40-ounce bottle of beer that was flung out of a car and crashed at my feet, I have to remind myself that they might not have seen me there at all. But that isn’t what I thought at first. I was filled with an incredible sadness, a loneliness. I realized that there is no way for me to process anything that happens to me, any injustice against my body, outside of the lens of the assault against blackness that seems to have been ratcheted up in America today. I was not filled with rage. I did not turn my bicycle around and pedal furiously after the car – an earlier version of myself would certainly have done that. I just rode the rest of the way home suddenly tired and saddened, that this is what it had come to, that my body, which I had long suspected wasn’t completely mine had suddenly lost all value in the world. Long dispensable and viewed as white America by property – the white American subconscious has not transcended this idea yet – like the housing market, the value of my body had now hit rock bottom.

White panic in the face of a black president is a real thing. What might have been veiled by the smug authority of believing that there were just some social places we couldn’t rise to, is now unveiled by the panic that we might get there and well… act the way they have, lo these last 500 years. The rhetoric used to attack Obama, the openness of the bigotry in the language of talk show hosts and presidential candidates reflects this. Whiteness in America feels besieged by niggas and they’re having no more of it.

It is why so many can come up with justification for the absolutely unjustifiability of Trayvon Martin’s shooting, and it is why the police still refuse to arrest George Zimmerman. It is why too that it is important that what I feel now when I see my young brothers in hoodies, is a massive instinct toward protection and love. We are only valuable to one another now and so we must make ourselves most valuable to one another. The hoodie is not cloak for nefarious activity. It is a swaddling garment. It must keep us warm and safe, all us messiahs unto ourselves. It is important to understand that they are coming for us. We must educate ourselves and realize that our greatest vigilance has to be against the language and behavior of those who have been really clear about the disposability of our bodies. We have to prepare to defend ourselves, as the prophet Malcolm said, ‘by any means necessary.’ Our bodies are under siege. It has come to this. Take it from an O.G. Take it from your Uncle.

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

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Poem 3 of 30 - April 2012


In the very still of night when folks are asleep

And the devil’s angels fight making spirits weep

I’ll be in the cemetery with horns on my head

I save a cross and two big pony invoking the dead…

Mighty Sparrow – Witch Doctor

This is the moment the boy has been waiting

for. This, the canopy of night black enough

for everything he’s ever wanted to say. This,

the corner, the crossroads where the magic

is right, where the voices are loudest. He calls

on the clairvoyance of women. He calls

to their skins and the wellish laughter

of their throats. He calls to the duppy

in him that unnames his own will

when it rises up to meet them. He begs

for a potion, a spell, extra time, whatever

it takes to unlock the genie in his bones.

All he wants to know is why all his roads

have turned into rivers. Why all his spirits

have begun speaking in different unrecognizable

tongues. It’s not that he’s complaining

but there was a time where everywhere

the ghosts spoke in pianos. They spoke

waist music. They spoke in a pore-stippling

staccato. And now this. All this river road

and him without a way to know if to cross

or be carried downstream.

So he consults the night. It’s worked

before. He can’t sleep anyway.

The night is where the answers

used to come. So many portents –

pigeons wheeling and turning –

an old calypsonian walking the streets

with a trophy in his hand – Frida

Kahlo laughing in his living room –

a douen of a woman stealing

his spirit in a foreign city –

all when the day is just black

enough to begin the song towards

blue. He knows enough now

to show up at this corner

in his shiniest black skin

and wait for some word.

It always comes – a talking drum,

a child, a dream in which

an animal sings

the most mournful

ballads – and nearby


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

Monday, April 02, 2012

Poem 2 of 30 - April 2012

a full 40oz beer is tossed from a passing car and lands at my feet

and its roar is deafening – glass

and beer everywhere – night

and an incredible sadness

and Trayvon Martin is still

on everyone’s lips tonight

and I’m wearing a dark blue hoodie

and the people in the car can’t know

what color I am or even

that I’m there – pushing

as I am on my bicycle

and I don’t know many days

what the logarithms of rage

and so many people given

so much permission

to hate

a man says call me

a racist but I couldn’t care

as much about the character

because they made her black

which means


has given him a history – too

and an unyielding right to count

my body expendable When

did I become less

mournable? Who

mounted me such a mule –

human whose death is unremarkable

and for whom no one waits

at home as I pedal on through

the cloakish night which everyone knows

now after Sanford, Florida

adjudicates nothing in favor

of black bodies – enter lynch

cliché here – which is to say

it is possible for my death

by mob to be so unremarkable

as to not be shocking

or newsworthy – my mother

my woman should learn

expect even to veil themselves

in black lace shame

on them for even wanting me

to star in my own life – to return

home triumphant and drunk

with my God-given right

to the darkness and the streets

and this is what I pray

to sometimes – what is God-

given what I know

is my burden tonight – this

Palm Sunday as I come

celebrated into the Calvary

of my own personal black history

expecting what the Father has laid

out for me – sure death by mob

who hurls invective and missile

who say black can’t possible

be rooted for – who will deny

who will say their hands

were tied – who gets paid

for my death everyday

who knowing me already

convicted touches the hem

of my garment says nothing

and is made


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

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Nat'l Poetry Month 30/30 challenge. Poem 1 of 30

How I learned to talk or why I will not be killed; a warning - ars poetica

It is a living vibration

rooted deep within my Caribbean belly

Lyrics to make a politician cringe,

or turn a woman’s body into jelly…

David Rudder

I’m trying to tell you what I know of poetry;

how I learned to talk, and how there was

always a stage involved. I’m trying

to tell you that even now there is a throbbing

behind this keyboard, my body davening

to something it thinks it hears. The root

of this is so far planted, it knows nourishment

in the spine’s call, wants what rushes up

the back to call me to move, as its

messiah on Earth – its high priest

of making meaning out of the body’s

insistence that it live. If I tell

you this is a language only translatable

as drum, you will say you have heard

this before, which is to say you know

nothing of how the center bass thump

squats the body, and then pushes it up

and then maybe what comes brawling

its way into my throat wants

to fill stadiums because it remembers

how many things have tried to kill it.

It remembers the sea, and it is in thrall

to the smell of blood. It makes my mouth

full of mornin loves and kiskidees – words

that only begin to say what seethes

inside what I’m dying to have you know;

which is of course nothing to do with

you, but everything about the desperate,

uncuttable umbilical to old old old

black women who still say Son

who get up and hold me when they hear

Rudder or Lion or Sparrow or Chalkie

and they don’t care that I’m crying;

that loss is unnameable except we have

a music snatched from gods and roots

and the insides of oil drums and its concerned

only to make communion with the shackle

and the bottom of the sea and iron

in a dirt that most of us will never see

again. I’m telling you that these psalms

are called Calypso; and they are

spells to Shango and they supplicate

Osun, but they hold in the hollow

of bamboo, cut and dragged from

off the St. Ann’s Hill, the ring of Ogun’s

forgings towards war, the confusion

of I want to go home and I will not

work this land and hibiscus and

woman I don’t know how to tell

you, you are my earth and anchor

and I will not give what is trying

to kill me the satisfaction of my death.

This is how I learned

to talk. This talk, this calypso

is the warp and weft of what it means

to be black and remember, in the way

that only blood in the spine remembers

the dirt in that continent we still

taste biling in our throats, who hold

us when we weep, the lyrics to the song

of the cutlass ringing against the steelpan

stansion, the morse code of a scar,

the secret of the dragon’s dance

in the masquerade and the stories

still impelled by the sea and manifest

as bodies killed and discarded in cane fields.

But also, how many columns

of old women and brothers and uncles

whose vocabularies are built of the same

passage of blood, who know us when we sing

and the d-doom of the drum signals

other words learned by my spine like

bury and God and soca and wine

down low and we’re not ready

to die today, we’re not ready

to die today

and they’re stacked behind us

singing songs by Tiger and Attilah,

their tire irons moving blood in rhythm

for miles around and chippin slow

up Charlotte street and priming

for this fight.

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