Cedar Sigos

Ambrosia

What did I miss
while in Paris?
(the big game)
Rod Roland wrote that
before I did
I wish
to be more like him
(crystal gazing lights
are in perfect darkness)
what can I make with
what I have?
happy anger,
a plywood press primer,
“I gotta
keep going soon”
capsized
off Crete
like tomorrow
I would knock
seeking sanctuary
in the city of
Poseidon, I grow older
type the faintest lights and
the sleepers awake
key doors shining forth
the guard so thin
and fleet
and wending its way
through what channel
damn fast
splintered glass
bottom boat, blood
brought to ghosts

 
Omnichord
…   for John Coletti

(Vampires dreaming elephants are good lottery luck)
Moroccan Things:
Casablanca
Boy hustlers
Hash
Brion Gysin
Argan Oil
Digging up the city of Poseidon
who are old money
and quick to correct me
if you don’t want
you lose the flow though
several words
WHOLE DREAM
Serious is the dog star (man)
The sun just had a tornado
(sable on blonde)
I think it was you
a parasite got control of the speech
intricate landscapes,
jewelery, all that…

 

An Emotional Memoir,

I walked along the mouth of a black river in Zurich. I nearly froze, remembered please and thank you. I
sometimes had to point and could not look down. It may have been a bed laid for a railway track. I had
traveled sleeplessly, still excited to get away in final observation of my emotions (would everything
just come to a head already?) A friend I hadn’t seen since childhood had asked me here. We had been
facing the same two way mirror for years without knowing it. He had written to me about my poetry so
I hammered back the emerald tablet in return. We were both helpless to showing the edge of two
opposites drawn together, romancing the edge of assyrian robes, reentering the embassy. We came on
with almost embarrassed affection, so easy to talk. His wife resembled Sharon Tate. They had three
children (you would never guess) How kind to be lost among lopsided spinning leaves. It was a passage
with the usual skull change, some morning glory seeds I had figured into a brick to block my windpipe.
I found its rightful fit and it dissolved. It only reinforced the deep Atlantic green that later fell from
gold in Sacre Coeur, fighting off the torrents of green blood in my poems, my eyes. It was no fair. In
grey square cut button up coat. I don’t have ideas. I get to work, no talent, no genius but divination,
painted dusk.

 

Paris

I can disappear before your eyes killing you
I slay you with my eyes you disappear
That’s how I would remember that line and How To Write
Actually, certainly, stupidly, only the ladies strumming language
They are not women, they are nights
Wrestling these lines off the back of a knife
They have a second life spent in stone and so attended
Bomb the bridge to heat my hands
Work their handlers in order
Go to the movies all day, only to collapse and focus
To finally hand off my faded flower
Caring and pointed, she brought me up and loosened my mind
Toward the checks and imbalances
And cameos in lucifers grotto.
I remember a full on scottish plaid suit
The gravitron, SEXODROME growing out of apollinaires grave
Empty balcony seats, operatic little fills
The poems of a Multi-billionaire, a vow of silence
Fine and Mellow, all the things you are

 

Plains Pictograph

I have been described as private, that’s other people
(you never really know) One year I sent everyone
A slice of the rose for Christmas. It was meant the way
It sounded, withdrawn. Two fires on the high road whistling
The phone only echoes back my voice
Entrenched mirror, high rise, intense pathways,
Pistol unit, sword, english glossing, streetlights
Sniping back. Mothers lock up your daughters
Cut the light, shut the shade, hollow thy mountain.
I think I still am stirred mind heard words,
Some of those nightmares, some of these days
Just a gigolo, solo, sears, free land, blow your gold leaf
Sweetheart deals and money to my love letters, rivulets, tons,
Minutes to go, blinding ices, jesus pieces, high praise

QURAYSH ALI LANSANA

association
at a funeral back home i saw an old
college roommate, suburban dude, psych
phd. we called him mister posh perrier
in our waning undergraduate days
as he moved away from communal
artist poverty back to his origins before
the rest of us had decent credit scores.
we have lived in the same city limits
for over a decade. dopplegangers in private
practice dotting the near counties. tried
to uncover him years ago. here he is,
in a mourner’s backyard, talking
millions selling houses and condos
blocks from my oldest sons’ school. we
are locked door, nightly news, ebonic sound
bite. drunk, i take his card, divulge plan
to drop him on west madison after dark.
tour chicago with no banks and scarce
fresh produce. rattle his republic, survey
millions who might benefit from pedigree.
city of bones
after August Wilson
in this town where no one wants to die
the crime rate is low everyone
clothed fed to belly full medicine
bountiful young people all
challenged to limit of potential a system
to support aptitude fresh air
& produce in our town women & girls
revered cherished protected men
gracious sensitive fitness prayer in multiple
tongue prison is those who do not
believe streets safe & clean a brotha
can get a cab free shuttle for the too high
in our town where no one wants
to die news always polite the world played
nice today…details at 10 no sickness starvation
lonely avoid walking on neighbors
lawn taxes paid on time haiti japan
spared all of us superheroes all of us
ordinary this town
not cairo madison tehran
no fly zone no gangs we assemble peace
gather in tiny or public space say excuse me
we are post race no history beyond right
now maybe yesterday we can’t remember

85 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
orphan
my dreams sleep in beds they have outgrown
nightmares leave room enough for any soul
i am the size of my own hollow promise
flush with life despite the darkening night
the preacher prays for me her vacant psalms
church fan perfect with a cutting smile
message unholy, steam rises from lips
why can’t we speak the grace we all avoid?
might we choose a path the prophet walked?
mama knew the way to seek pure light
now i find me in her waning breath
wandering toward them with baby steps
i am anew, born in the pain of death
god forbid i lose all i have learned

BRANDY McDOUGALL

Ho‘i Hou i ka Iwi Kuamo‘o
I bring you coral,
bleached empty of color,
a calcified kukui husk,
palm-sized red
and purple pōhaku
rounded by
the broken bones
of fish and reef,
the coarse sand still
resembling shells
to remind you
we have always been
part ocean, part land,
that the moon
will teach us again
the right words
just beneath the water,
to know each kind
by shape and color
from the pali’s vantage—
to call out for the others
to net, to return.

141 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
Star-Spangled Banner
A betrayal
to stand
with your hand
over your heart
and sing
the song
of the country
occupying
your country
to read every star
on the flag
above
your country’s flag
and see the last one
there: small, white
and pointed
stitched into the blue
with a thin thread
as if
it has always
been that way
as if
it can never
be undone.

142
Postcards from Waikīkī
for the poet Wayne Kaumualii Westlake
*
Wish you were here in
Paradise, sipping mai tais
or something like that.
It’s only gotten
worse—even more pigs and less
slop to go around.
*
You probably knew
the old pipes couldn’t contain
the shit of empire.
Two died—a tourist
and a military man—
who else goes to Waiks?—
after falling in
the Ala Wai, pulsing of
staphylococcus.
(E Waikīkī ‘ē,
Spouting water spouts again—
The swamp thing’s revenge!)
Not one janitor
could be found in all the land
except the ocean.
They still pay extra
for Diamond Head Ocean Views,
waves now barely brown.
*
I imagine you
with your kahuna
on the beach watching
pig oil make rainbows
on the water, imported
sand crusting your hand.
A dollar blows by,
then another, and no one
sees, or even cares.

143 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
Too little to be
worth chasing where there is too much
to regret, forget.
*
Wayne—Can I call you
Wayne? No disrespect. You’re more
a friend than uncle—
Maybe it’s better
to wish you weren’t here to see
how it’s even worse
than you remember:
more shit than the State can hide
in its folds of fat.
Make yourself reborn
in the voice of leaves, raindrops,
sweep through these sidewalks.
Not even a light,
falling rain, warm to the spine,
can make us clean now.

144
By
BRANDY
McDOUGALL
He Mele Aloha no ka Niu
I’m so tired of pretending
each gesture is meaningless,
that the clattering of niu leaves
and the guttural call of birds
overhead say nothing.
There are reasons why
the lichen and moss kākau
the niu’s bark, why
this tree has worn
an ahu of ua and lā
since birth. Scars were carved
into its trunk to record
the mo‘olelo of its being
by the passage of insects
becoming one to move
the earth speck by speck.
Try and tell them to let go
of the niu rings marking
each passing year, to abandon
their only home and move on.
I can’t pretend there is
no memory held
in the dried coconut hat,
the star ornament, the midribs
bent and dangling away
from their roots, no thought
behind the kāwelewele
that continues to hold us
steady. There was a time
before they were bent
under their need to make
an honest living, when
each frond was bound
by its life to another
like a long, erect fin
skimming the surface
of a sea of grass and sand.
Eventually, it knew it would rise
higher, its flower would emerge
gold, then darken in the sun,
that its fruit would fall, only
to ripen before its brown fronds
bent naturally under the weight
of such memory, back toward
the trunk to drop to the soil,
back to its beginnings, again.
Let this be enough to feed us,
to remember: ka wailewa
i loko, that our own bodies
are buoyant when they bend
and fall, and that the ocean
shall carry us and weave us
back into the sand’s fabric,
that the mo‘opuna taste our sweet.

145 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
King Kamehameha on Google Maps (Map View)
The King Kamehameha statue
is smaller than you think.
To his left,
an unmarked street
named Mililani.
To his right,
Punchbowl
moves makai.
He faces King Street
heading Diamond Head,
extending his arm
toward an unmarked
gray box
in an open
beige field
named ‘Iolani Palace
just out of reach.

146
By
BRANDY
McDOUGALL
University on Google Maps (Satellite View)
University meets Dole
at Bachman Lawn
while Metcalf runs
from Wilder to Dole
and intersects
University by Sinclair
Up further
Vancouver
connects University
to McKinley,
which you can take
to Beckwith
Go up even farther,
and University
becomes
O‘ahu
and passes
Kūka‘ō‘ō,
which can only
be accessed via
the Cooke House
named Kūali‘i.
Tours run for $7
by appointment only.
Heading mauka
from O‘ahu, take
a left on Cooper
to get to Mānoa
to get to Kūali‘i
to get to Kūka‘ō‘ō
in the piko
of trees and multi-million
dollar homes.
Returning home
after classes, you pass it always
without knowing.

147 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
Lili‘uokalani and Ka‘iulani on Google Maps (Satellite View)
Lili‘uokalani is just
a few blocks
and runs mauka
from Kalākaua
to the Ala Wai
Kūhio intersects with her
amidst vacation condos,
hotels, fenced empty lots
with tarped shopping carts,
overpriced apartments
and ABC stores
as does Koa,
Prince Edward,
Cleghorn,
Tusitala,
and Mountain View.
Ka‘iulani parallels Lili‘uokalani,
running mauka
but is even shorter.
From Lili‘uokalani,
take Cleghorn,
Kūhio,
or Prince Edward
to Ka‘iulani.
When you get
to the King’s Village
you must run
mauka with them
(but only as far as the Ala Wai)
and search
for any part of us
that is still ours,
whatever remains
after our names.

George Barlow

WHEN PAPA WENT COURTING

For Dock Brooks Barlow


See, it was 1912 in Mobile
and he started seeing her everywhere:
pretty as ten speckled puppies!
Amelia Blossom—sweet Jesus!
one of the Nelson girls—
strolling past him everyday
in pink, yellow, and white
God-fearing dresses, strolling past,
eyeing him and the colors
he planted up and down Dauphin Street,
all over the neighborhood—
crape myrtles, orchids, rododendrons—
strolling and willing her way
into his dream of Sundays on her porch
and walks down the avenue
past flowering dogwoods and camellias.
Sundays and walks, a little house
and a nursery of his own,
and babies, babies.
Oh, and did he shine
when he went courting!
Dressed to the nines,
this Alabama man in his
pinstripes, high collar, and spats.
See, he was a clean man—dark, wirey—
a little piece of leather
but well put together.
He was a good man,
shining so much that God
came to him one day in May—told him,
shonuff, the sweet Amelia,
his Mobile dream, could be his
if he could outsit the other man
who was studying on her,
starching his collars, too,
slicking his hair down, too,
making with the glad eyes, too.
Papa spoke to the man,
good man to good man,
and told him to go away—
flashed the grim owl’s head pistol
he carried in them days
(for White folks and Black folks,
he used to say), and told the man
to get ready for the Judgment
or kindly go away.
The man, who believed in God
and lead, he went away.
See, it was 1912—springtime.
Papa was in love,
and love don’t play, and this woman
kept getting prettier, kept blooming
like the azaleas and roses
Papa saw everywhere.

 

 

NEPTUNE
My father had to love the sunlight & cool air
spreading the beige stain & carnations on those easy waves
that day just inside the Golden Gate, had to love the prayer,
the fat seals waiting for us back at the pier,
the toast for a sailor gone home, our clinking cocktails & puffy eyes,
had to love hanging with us in the bar, like always, full of it,
cracking us up—Barlow, his buddies called him, here here.

Bojan Louis

Arc Flash

All day under influence and startled awake
at midnight, I sought my car
to kill soft snores beside me.
Hauled ass out of urban desert decay
to sandstone cliffs, five hours away,
where centuries of wind
and more recent roadway gusts
have half-piped its base,
though not enough to topple
the edge of another land’s level.
The stars went off and on, as if wired
by to-hell-with-it electricians
tired of lighting scrap-patched houses
connected by threads of predawn smoke
to invisible weavings in the sky.
Dim questions and silent answers.
Cattle, gaunt and wanting, grazed
between weeds across the valley,
interrogated the dirt of wash and creek.
How long since you’ve been clay after rain?
Hours from Phoenix, oasis
greedy and artificial, I needed Crystal,
my dad’s home, and ceremony;
less familiar mountain tobacco.
Not to guide my spirit,
used to mornings being lit,
but to remind my tongue of blood;
cold coffee made by other men’s
women who dispel me with smokes
from cheap packs set, within reach,
on their knees. Maybe they wish,
aside from my soon departure,
that I shared their danger: bastards
who make home, confinement and needs, hush.
I left and arrived months before the rainy season,
though cuts along the cliff face
over Crystal shimmered with mica.
Like stars burnt out taking eons
to reveal their absence
in myth-heavy constellations.
The sun risen
isn’t for me,
cattle being herded,
or darkness in the room
I left to wake alone.
Here, a few cars idled
without drivers,
warmed up before the workday
while smoke from houses vanished
and released the night sky.

 

Middle of the Desert

For the weight of your bones,
my blood thinned. Yesterday,
the east-hefted sun dissipated
humid, empty air
in space comprised of space;
dehydrated cactus and dirt barren
to the idea that it’s cold here, ever.
Nostalgia charmed
out of a hollow:
the feeling, failed duty.
To you, who I’ve departed, walking
carefully as hooves on rained granite
or other stones, are there heights
after plunging, from
which you’ll never rise? Neither of us
is yet dead. When I do go before you,
refer to me simply—don’t ever name.
This voltage wanting
to hold you
when there is no ground.
Go to your home, the one you’ve made.
Ours that’s gone. Rest in yourself and job.
If ever an earthquake or small tornado
hits again, pound
loosened nail back, clean and tape cracks,
prep for texture. If left without power
or light, trust an electrician who knows
luminaries guide only
when there are trees
or buildings to shine on.
Absent from this desert: stacks of bricks
that need to be re-pointed,
leaden Victorian glass unable to hold heat,
and roofs that connect every house
trading mold, alternating leaks.
Yesterday gone the sun lifted off
your bones; barren weight
and humid dirt
caught me cut
short, saying

 

Breech
Sitka, Alaska

I.
It’s years I’ve been recovered.
Parents gone the way of worms
—mom alone, her own decision.
Dad, how he was always
asphyxiated until rolled over.
The frontier I’m abandoned to,
exposed root ribcages above ground,
rained on so much there’s no dust,
no blow away—traceless surfaces.
— — —
With a single bag and one-way ticket
I rented the first found available:
three bedroom, living, kitchen, dining
—filled it with myself, every room
empty, except where I slept.
Girls I had over, fucked to the floor,
left sobered, mostly. Offered other
times at their places later. I accepted,
then abandoned, fixed at the clinic.
— — —
This high north, though not freezing,
an island settlement cut off the coast:
pines, spruce, and chaotic undergrowth
rise up along the crescent of mountains
open toward the ocean.
Rain more sky than the sky is sky.
I’m not home. Less
interested in finding it;
hours from the mainland.
II.
On an outlying island red deer
wait out hunters tracking
shit steam for rifle crack.
Otters cut away
supine through water,
to humans, hypothermic.
The turned engine skiff
on sucking mud signals
the goddamned day’s done.
— — —
Across the still, cobalt inlet,
cairns line the bald rim
of a sundowner volcano.
Glaciers imagined against
the sea/heaven horizon
melt when fog lifts
and missed shots echo,
fade into the tree line:
the casings mimic pebbles.
— — —
Anger defines me, here,
in what’s seen in pictures
as pristine beauty, untouched
by man’s dirty finger:
Dad’s belched regrets,
Mom’s frustrated, unspoken hurt.
I want recompense—solitude
and forgiveness’ distance—nourishment
sought, sighted, and put down.

III.
Where welding fails
release hollers out the soon
to be empty space.
A continent,
a levee. What
rises, takes
—ice given heat,
like a child, spread
with hands telling, quiet.
— — —
Ocean hefted over stern
deflates
my ill posture
gone life drunk;
so drowned in drink
nobody wants to want me.
Rare are dads shouted
at by moms, Get—Don’t feed
us—Sink, be eaten.
— — —
Jonah’s a lucky fuck,
bowel-held
and undigested.
Dumb animal, him. Swallowed
entire, in warmer water.
I don’t believe he escaped.
He’s down in there still.
Hung from the beast’s spine,
feet eaten, body untouched.
This Side of the River

i.
Five years in
my wolf/husky
is poisoned
by an older boy
who’ll turn vegetable
after head trauma.
I’ll smell him, bodied by a horse
run loose on a no moon roadway
from Window Rock to Crystal,
fold my small body and
leave memories of being
fondled in the bathroom unlit;
choked until I complied
to perform naked
with the sitter
for the neighbor—
three tiered event:
voyeur, participant, watched.

ii.
Only in five years,
it’s hard to believe
that you were placed
in your mother’s body
—given and given
to this earth.
You may have broken,
had I known you then. Even
twenty-one years later,
knowing me, you break:
pounded heart, trust inked
out, splayed thoughts
and legs. But you garner
your own garden
—hard intelligence—
trap insects that sting
or bite and scatter them
away from you.
iii.
Hearing piss expelled,
too fucked up on a morning
easily said, beautiful;
too depressed
to fuck, horny
with withdrawal;
I desire the boatman,
am eager to pay
to not get wet
in a border that quenches
and frees me of quench.
Dribble breaking open
this day begs questions:
will I, how’ll I,
stave off, or deny?
Are failed attempts
enough, enough
to be a paid-up fare?
iv.
That łééchaa yázhí, little ground shitter
—protector, shi kis—
I gave his carcass my hope
for him to lap at the river,
wet his paws, and wait for me
to remind me of what I’d lost.

v.
After five years, abuse
lasted five, six, seven more.
Continual blackout
addiction and distance.
I think of that fucking mixed wolf,
hardly beyond a pup,
that taught me how to accept
you and myself; tightened
the connectors powering me
—anger focused joy—
my murder of night drained
down to battery or assault.
From this view on the river,
current arrives and leaves
us—reflects and envisions
the one, now, with the other.

 

Ko’ dóó łeeschch’iih [Fire & Ashes]

The red off the far ridge, an eating dragon, slow
coming down the valley
—my mom’s imagination over the phone,
a quarter-mile of cars ahead.
No one has stopped, on their way north or south,
to capture Hotshots turning the beast to smolder.
Somewhere out in the burn, under dusk, a rattler
den unfurls fast as brush fire
and clenches against the inferno draft
that blocks entrance and escape.
For an instant, or minutes maybe, their unnatural
warmth is a comfort beneath the ablaze final day.
It’s the shape I’m in. I don’t tell her that I will
leave, days from this moment,
the high, dry mountain we drive towards
for ashes of a different monster.

TYEHIMBA JESS

Millie-Christine: On Display
We count the blessings of our doubled shell
with each breath. We prove we’ve endured faith’s storm every time we rise to face the crowd’s faceas
we pay our dues. We’ve proven ourselves
to those who doubt our form. We have performed on display. We’ve been richly, rudely paid
for science. We’ve been taken town to town
-been photographed half-nude, verified to prove veracity. They’ve scanned each side
like prize bovine: We’ve been pawed up and downfrom
my twin’s navel to between her thighs and then back up, staring into my eyeseach
sawbone has searched us from spine to loin-
We’ve been probed, prodded, and roughly examed- from backbone to backbone, from hip to hip,
our wondrous oneness exists. We’re conjoined.
and we’ve lists of doctors who understand our miracle is real. Hear and see this:
We’re not frauds, but born of providence:
God mended two souls into one dark skin.
Millie-Christine’s Love Story
Here – this is our story I want you to hearour
own duet. Listen to how we’re bound in unison. Listen to the grace we have
-one body crooning two notes. By God, we’re
like sympathetic strings. Each sung sound ringing within me and my other half;
airborne, shook and shimmering through my head,
with Christine’s voice at my side. I have sung with Millie’s embracing contrapuntal,
in a way very few could comprehendwith
souls ablaze. This is how I know love- so you can see my life is brimmed. It’s fullwith
every breath we’ve got. I’m filled completely,
the way any other human would love. I live each day like I won’t see its night,
I love my song and dance and familythe
way you love your own blood. Twice as much. I’ve double the cause to celebrate life.
I love this burden that we’ve been givento
ride the shared wake of one blood’s rhythm…

Millie and Christine McKoy
We’ve mended two songs into one dark skin We ride the wake of each other’s rhythm
bleeding soprano into contralto beating our hearts’ syncopated tempo
-we’re fused in blood and body – from one thrummed stem
budding twin blooms of song. We’re a doubled rose
descended from raw carnage of the South with a music all our own. With our mouths
bursting open our freedom. We sing past rage seeped in the glow of hand-me-down courage
grown from hard labor that made our mother shout,
spent with awe. We hymn to pay soft homage
to the worksong’s aria. It leaves us drenched in spiritual acapellas,
soaked in history like our father’s sweat flowing soul from bone through skin. We pay debts
borne of and beyond the flesh: we are just
two women singing truths we can’t forget
from plantation to grave. Lord, here we are, from broken chattel to circus stars,
freed twin sisters who’ve hauled our voices far… we sing straight from this nation’s barbwired heart…
Millie-Christine Buy Land
We’re freed twin sisters who’ve hauled our voices far…
We melodize worldwide. More than just freaks, we’re certified global phenomena:
Wir singen in drei Sprach und machen es schwarz!
Nous avons chanté le français á Paris! We’ve sung hymns before Queen Victoria!
We speak more than one tongue. Wherever we roam
we’ve made our wealth. For gratification, we earn respect. We give solid proof that
this gift’s pure gold! While we travel the road,
we pay mortgage on our old plantation – the Lord provides for us. We make greenbackswith
dimes hoarded by pinching francs and pounds
for our folks. Thus, we buy liberation from each gawking crowd. Meanwhile, dollars stackagainst
servitude. We sing freedombound
-and we know the cost. We’ve overcome from the root of our guts. We give back
with duets all mingled up to heaven
-we’ve bought land that once enslaved our parents…

Millie-Christine are Kidnapped
Straight from America’s barbwired heart
we’d been rented and sold, then snatched! Taken like doubled dark treasures; entertainment
at the age of three – we’d been kidnapped afarlike
contraband, we’d been shipped to Britain, imported by a scallywag agent –
we’d been stolen from mother and master. Absconded,
we’d been smuggled to freedom’s soil. And yes, from slavery we’d slipped into libertythe
thief ’s greed had set us free! Although bonded,
though we’d missed family, were we not blessed? because of our great popularity
we’d earned a London court’s sympathy, and thus,
we went back to bondage in mother’s arms. we sailed back to our Carolina home.
We returned to a master we could trustchoosing
between homeland and untold harms, torn ‘tween family or freedom’s unknowns
our mother left England and went back South –
Straight into Dixie’s rebellious mouth

KWAME DAWES

FLACK
For days it has been raining a brittle, cold deluge
slicking the streets. Even the horses have been
dragging their buggies with haste to find refuge
in warm stables quicker than ever. I have seen
in this twilight the rain stippling the eastern window
panes, your lithe body, a brown glow against
the pewter grey of the sky, your scarf aglow
as you collect the bucket, now full of rainwater.
And you have come in smelling of sweat
and the biting salt of sex, poured the cold water
into my soldier’s flask, your eyes wet
with the laughter of satisfaction. I grow hard
again with gratitude as you soak a blue rag
and cool my brow and say, “Ah, my love, my stag.”

107 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
IF YOU KNOW HER
If you know your woman, know her rhythms,
know her ways; if you pay attention
to her all these years, you will know
how she comes and goes, how she slips
away even though she is standing in
the same place, you will know that her
world is drifting softly from you, and she
may not mean it, because all it is
is she is scared to be everything, scared
to be finding herself in you every time,
scared that one day she will ask herself,
all forty-plenty years of her, where
she’s been; if you know your woman,
you will know that mostly she will
come back, but sometimes, when she
drifts like this, something can make her
slip; and then coming back is hard.
If you know your woman, you can
tell by the way she puts on heels,
and she does not sashay for you
because it is not about you—how
she will buy some leather boots
and not say a word about it,
and you only see it when she walks
in one night, and she says she’s had
them forever; you will see the way
she loses the weight and pretends
it’s nothing, but when she isn’t seeing you
looking, you can see how she faces the mirror,
lifts her chest to catch a profile,
and how she casually looks at her
ass for signs of life. If you know
your woman, when you are gone, she
will find things to do, like walk
alone, go see a movie, find a park,
collect her secrets and you won’t know,
because she is looking for herself.
And she won’t tell you that she wants
to hear what idle men say when she
walks by them because what you say
is not enough. If you know your
woman, you know when she’s going
away and you will feel the big
hole of your love, and you can’t
tell why she’s listening and humming
to tunes you did not know she heard
before, and she will laugh softly
at nothing at all. If you know your
woman, you will see how she comes
and goes, and all you can do is wait
and pray she will come back to you,
because you know that your sins
are enough for her to leave and not return.

 

108
By
KWAME
DAWES
THE OLD WOMAN ON THE ROAD
Hard not to want somebody standing by
the road with a bucket of water, somebody
ordinary but with eyes old as anything
around you to tell you that it is alright.
Who wouldn’t want to hear a woman
singing a baby song, a lullaby at the edge
of the night, something to calm you,
make you sleep because you know
that when you wake, she will be
there, her hands smelling of thyme
and garlic, onions; her rheumy
eyes still alive with questions
and knowing, her spotted skin basic as dirt,
and her gravel voice—such a calming thing
for you. Yes. You can’t blame me
for searching out the woman on
the hill, the woman with a bandana
and a long skirt stained with the dew
and grass from the thick bushes;
a woman with arms taut as
a tree’s limbs, a woman who will
hear all your sins and tell you
that you will still live until
tomorrow; a woman who will
embrace your body wracked
with disease and let you know
that crossing the water is not as harsh
as you might have thought,
to tell you that there is more light
in the grave than you may think.
We are all looking for the woman
with two hundred years under
her skin; the woman who can
touch you and remind you
that there are things bigger
than the sky, bigger than today.
And what we fear most is that
we will travel for years
always looking for her, but
never find her. We fear
this more than our nightmares.

109 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
OLD MAN UNDER A PECAN TREE
Two trucks and five dogs behind the chain-link;
you come up to this pecan tree-shaded
colonial ranch bungalow, squatting low
and brown in the deep green. A man sits
as always, under the crowd of shadow
and light, looking over the low fence
to the stretch of tobacco and soy, acres spread
out under the constant Southern sky, from
here the rumble of the freight and the
midnight howl of the clandestine Amtrack
takes him into the history, long before
stocks and shares, government subsidies,
401ks, the gleaming monstrous trucks panting
in the driveway. Ask him about life,
he will tell you about the great grands
living up in Pittsburgh or the favorite
girl running things in the legislature—
how far we have come, what a truck
load of watermelons and the ingenuity
of two felons can do. He has bad dreams
of France, the blasted bodies of soldiers,
the mud, the idle hours waiting for
bombs, the dead, the dry dead on green
fields, staring; those are his only nightmares.
The rest are battle trophies, the funerals
for those big-bellied white landowners,
all dead falling into wells—a breeze,
a circle of confusion from whiskey
on a suffocating August day, a wrong
step, a flood of guilt for a life of sin
sending them hurtling their useless selves
into the mossy wells—all trophies, the things
a man can look at and say, “God is watching.”
He is a man at peace with it all, when
you find him, when you come off the twolane
highway, right by Talbot’s
peach stand and liquor store, take the old
dust road for four miles in until you come
to a long stand of pecan trees, and this
homestead of cool air, dogs, and rusting
trucks—you will find him here—he never
left. They all went, headed North,
got a new language, but he came back,
ever after the war, after white women,
after good wine, he came back, old country
boy, to keep the gravestones washed clean,
to stand guard, to sometimes walk
to that place where the tracks used
to cross, to squat on the stony ground
and listen to the ghosts of those boys
thanking him for staying back to hear
them. He knows he has the power
to keep those spirits where they must
stay: and when he goes, he will
have a hand on them, and that
will be good, so good.

110
By
KWAME
DAWES
PENNIES
The city is crowded with head-bowed dreamers,
they are searching for pennies. A woman as old
as the pliant boards she stands on, as old
as the shallow-roofed shelter beneath the house
where in the wet season, the rats sought
warmth in the frowzy and sour scent
of fear sweat runaways; waiting for open
roads, for news of a creaking cart to take
them West and the North, to Winnipeg,
to Edmonton, to places too cold
for people finders; too barren for anyone
to care that black folks are raising
a city in the middle of a prairie—
a woman, old as those stones of the dead
whispering to the living, urging
them on. These dreamers have been
told to seek out the pennies, side
by side on the road, heads face-up,
waiting to be found, waiting to be collected,
waiting for the searcher’s head
to flame with the shock of prophecy
fulfilled; waiting for the name
of that old woman who has walked
these paths late at night, dropping
copper pennies like seeds of faith,
offering prayers like first rains
over the pennies, willing them to grow,
bloom, leap into wild giant
entanglements of mustard trees.
The name is spoken, again and again,
centuries of searchers, centuries
of believers, leaping the rocks
and rotting logs, heading back
along the river’s edge to the city
of bones; the white city of caught
light shining against the night.

111 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
EXILE: READING THE SKY
A dollop of white smeared liberally on the off
white embossed sheet, generous water so the spread
is untidy, the paper pulping, then a tab of blue,
its veins crawling across the uneven surface;
summer before sunlight, then the storm
of black deep in the belly of the white
paste; and the inky morning light over
the steep steel surfaces of the city is Pittsburgh
washed in a constant thin rainfall;
and a shattering crowd of starlings sprints
madly over the gloom like a wild spotted
silk scarf, its carefully embroidered filigree
of leaves swirling over the sorrow
of our mourning. This is how far
from home we are, far from the useless
combustible abundance of pine needles
in a forest, from the staining annoyance
of red dirt, from the steaming peach groves,
from the skies that stretch beyond us
towards the sea—a mountain of swollen
clouds filling us with a sense of God
in the heavens. In this city, men no longer
look to the sky for news; we are all
illiterate to this dialect. Rain and snow
always surprise us, and we know that
the crazy birds are drunk with berries
and will die for want of a landing. In this
city those who keep staring South, waiting
for news that the rivers have all fallen
into their walls and that the land is still
waiting for us to plant seed and trim
the hustas now entangled with dry leaves
over our people’s graves, will be disappointed.
More are coming walking across the bridge,
undone, with nothing but sorrow in their eyes
and a mouthful of questions for ways
to survive in this cold. There are days,
you promise, on a Friday night, with change
hot in your pocket and your stomach
warm with good juice, when you can
catch in the sky a hint of red and then flirtatious
lavender of wisteria. Then you feel
to sing like good old country folk do.

112
By
KWAME
DAWES
THE BURDEN
So sometimes you just want to shoot the poet
because he carries no piano, no guitar,
no horn you could smash or sink
in deep water; the poet is just a head
of conundrums; and you know that
this divining music man, this trickster
with two faces, one to ritualize
holiness, the other to sniff out
the perfume and money in a woman’s
skin; this filthy priest with clean
eyes and stained hands is the shadow
you carry for months while these
spirits swirl around you—young
man, you will die young once
you have exorcised this century
of souls, cast them out into light,
into the bodies of the penitents;
the broken hearts of actors who
give of themselves each night—
young man, you have always
had an old soul, an ancient
poet’s soul, and your back has
carried every instrument of praise
there is, a sack of noises
dragging you down, while you
walk through this world, and
sometimes your forget yourself
because this poet consumes you,
and you wonder who is talking,
who is carrying you down, and you
want to shoot the poet, but
this is all you have left,
quick-stepping dance man,
this is all that makes you breathe,
this journeyman of many voices,
who sometimes, after eating
his fill of the world, will stretch
out and sleep, leaving you
light for a spell, easy in your skin,
finding the calm of death.

113 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
THIEVING
When does the debt end? How long must pass
to make up for your hundred years of taking
from people everything they have and giving
nothing in return? When is the debt
full paid? How much thieving and
killing must a man do before it turns
into sin, when all he is doing is taking
back what was taken from him, from
his father, from his father’s father?
How many bales of cotton must a man
steal to make up for all the cotton
he picked that went into somebody
else’s pocket, somebody else’s belly?
How many stacks of wood can you
take before you have covered
all the losses, before you have
repaid what a man has done
to that pink private place
of your mother’s mother, that thing
that left her covered in shame
for the rest of her life; how many
pianos can you steal for the
bones in the backwoods, for
the anthem of those leading
us to the blackened bloated bodies
of those boys who they lynched
at midnight under flambeaux light,
how much thieving can a body do
before it balances things out? How
much can you take to feed the gap
in a people’s memory, the erasure
of the language of the ancestors,
the deafness they caused you
to the whisper of the gods, the house
of bones, the valley of bones,
the deep rift valley of bones,
covered by the weight of the Atlantic,
where the water stripped these bodies
of all their flesh, all they had
in the bowels of their undoing?
How much does a man have to steal
before he can say, “Now I have
all they took, now all I am getting
is what they got fair and square,
now we are even, now I have
what is mine, and every time
I take from them from now on,
you can call it thieving”?

114
By
KWAME
DAWES
THE TRANSACTION
Ms. Ophelia with the watery eyes
was well cared for by her lanky
big-bellied husband, Scutter, who would
look at her laid out in white
on their bed and think what a sin
it must be for him to mount her
and do with her what he would
night after night on the road
back from the grounds in the string
of huts smelling of stale collard
greens and the raw smell of slaves,
the smell of the woman who gave
him milk, the smell that makes
him hungry and small and horny
all at the same time, but for
Ophelia, with her watery eyes,
he sees only the parchment
of her skin and feels only the need
to cover her, keep her as pure
as she first was—his nightmare
is to see Willie Boy, the strapping
African, pushing into her, like
a dog would into a bitch—
he wakes up sweating hard,
and sleeps only after some rum.
So come each anniversary
he will find something grand
for her. The girl slave Berniece
or the pony she loved so much,
or the French perfume he bought
in Mobile or the Chinese fan
a traveling huckster sold to him
for some produce and his last coins;
but this time, he wants her to have
a gift of pure beauty, so he will
sell to Nolander from Georgia
a slave and a half for a piano,
which is how folks lived then;
how a slave could be here one day
in the bosom of family, right
beside the old live oak tree where
the afterbirth and umbilicus
was buried and the next day: gone
where the soil smells different,
where folks talk and eat different,
and where you can’t read the sky for rain.
But he got the plans, and old
Berniece, the matriarch, and that small
Boy, Papa Charles, were gone,
uprooted, taken away, just bring
some music to Ms. Ophelia; ah
the currency in this instruction—blood
in that piano, everything in that piano,
and she plays it day and night,
while he plants his seed in brown soil.

115 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
IRON
Before your journey across the steaming earth
towards the water’s edge, before you step in,
feel the tickling warmth slowly washing dirt
from your salt-dry skin, check for everything:
make sure you have a flask of rainwater,
the knotted torso of a ginger-root, a flower
that broke out of a brittle shell, a piece of paper
with simple verbs scrawled all over
its plain surface, and a piece of iron as old
as you can find. The man who makes this journey
without iron will soon falter, will grow cold
at the sight of the City of Bones. His body
will shiver with fever and the congregation
will sing softly, “Too late, too late for heaven.”

Close Love — A Bop For Fahja By BRENDA CONNOR-BEY

She felt my heart long after I left her womb
This was unspoken but felt by us both. When I
was eight, while she slept on the beach, the song of
salt air, ocean music and voices pulled me away from her.
Even with her eyes closed, she scanned supine tanning
bodies, found me before tears slid from my center of fear.
Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise
Bonds linked so closely create a tortured
route for teenaged lies. Hard to sidestep
a mother like this. Crooked words slid down glass.
Questions darkened greasy walls.
My lies traveled nowhere. I gave up.
Why bother? She looked and turned away.
Like me, she’d had enough.
I felt her heart struggling to breathe.
Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise
Distance smoothes rough edges, gives you space to grow.
Old connections begin to make sense. Phone calls happen,
her voice whispers on summer breezes. Her belief in
the rightness of life gives my heart wings to soar with God’s angels.
But sometimes I crave those moments when she spooned
her body around mine protecting me from the cold.
Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise

FLOWERS III – PANAMA FISHING MAN
I remember you made me hear laughter
instead of loud crying songs
Showed me Caribbean beats as you
placed my small feet on top of yours
dancing the meringue in a kitchen
warm with baking gingerbread
You told me
loose women feel apart
because they lost their senses
You said:
“Let me teach you how
to smell the rain, girl
know when it’s coming
gonna show you what a man really like
I’ll show you the ocean
make you hear the songs
in the waves
You got to know dis chile
‘cause every man want a woman
who know how to fish good!”

35

Midnight Moon
For Marc Bumathi Joseph
This story has been told many times; how the faceless,
nameless Haitian wooed a milk-white, blue-eyed black woman,
loved her till she swole up, bursting with sparkling chimes,
tumbled into life on a moonless autumn night. That child
was blessed with who she would become — Grace.
The story thread, knotted in three-finger
lengths, frayed beyond repair and glued where
its final breath whined before jumping
like water on a hot pan, gathered remnants from last words,
replaced with phrases or scenarios, tickling imaginations of
listeners, making the speaker look good.
My version of this tale landed in a poem.
Images burst through a darkened New England winter
while I dreamed this story. I could see his face;
imagined his tobacco and bay rum smell, knew the feel of
an always-present sun beneath his skin. But I try not to lean
into that dream too long. My inward search
for this nameless man produces a centuries’-old yearning,
something that goes deeper than the soul.
This pain hollows out interiors. It is too great to contain.
It is that yearning pushed aside where links are erased,
making wholeness possible. I seek something to quiet
the shatter shatter of an invisible mirror. It is only an ache,
one that can be healed. This is my reminder everytime
I feel the slipping downward pull of loss and wonder.
How do I say, yes, my grandfather was Haitian?
No, I do not know his name?
No, I do not know which part of the country his family came from?
No, I do not know his name…?
This story lives in the air I breathe.
It travels in bloodlines.
Blood always finds its way home.

Willie Ten Spade
After Whitfield Lovell’s Rounds VIII & Rounds XXV, 2006-2007
We whispered “Willie 10 Spade”
after his scent of Old Spice, Lucky Strikes and
sweet brilliantine hair cream were
left hanging in the air
Could have been that strange cut of hair he wore
Shaved back hairline
shaped his face into a high yella spade
Kinfolk say he was tryin’ to show
off the plains of Indian blood running thru his veins
me and my friends
say he just wanted us
to see
all of him, that’s all!
We all know spades s’pposed to mean
no luck, but Willie was a hard playing
Boston bid whist man
never lost a game in his life
that’s how the story went
when liquor was flowing
and all lies matched the easy down of
sparkling amber liquid
Willie played his cards
played both women and men
but never messed with anyone
always left alone because he
waited for that 4b light to shine
before making his move
Every woman on our block wanted
to be that 9 diamonds dancing lady in 4b
that took his mustard yellow eyes
and purring cat’s voice away from
our imaginings
Us dancing, his wide pant legs
blowing in the wind
but you know the dreams of young girls
We’d wait Saturday afternoons
when Willie walked to 7th Avenue
to get her some chicken and waffles
We’d stand back
Take a deep breath
And dream a little more

 

Woman in the Woods
After Enock Placide’s painting
When I first saw her
I was young enough to believe
the artist erased her face on purpose
a cloth taken to still-wet canvas
brown acrylic smudged gently
erasing her smile
Laughter caught mid air
I imagined where he began
Her dark eyes, doorway to her soul
Was this knowing woman being swallowed whole
by muslin balled up tightly
floating above dappled, muted greens and
browns of the forest in this painting?
Or was her breath snatched away
with a quick wipe of sponge?
Did her nose leave her face the same way?
Or was she in the act of seeking the flowery
pink bursting spores exploding on canvas?
Placide, the Haitian visionary
whispered in moods shifting
between the faceless woman and I
As I grew older, even though still faceless, this
woman in white speaks to me of futures and pasts
Seeks my counsel as the soggy floor on which I stand
disappears, sending me into a downward spiral
until I land at the beginning of my thoughts
once again allowing myself to be led there
where the question of erasure comes and goes
Trusting that, even without a face
she knows what she saw

JAYNE CORTEZ

I AM NEW YORK CITY

i am new york city
here is my brain of hot sauce
my tobacco teeth my
mattress of bedbug tongue
legs apart hand on chin
war on the roof insults
pointed fingers pushcarts
my contraceptives all
look at my pelvis blushing
i am new york city of blood
police and fried pies
i rub my docks red with grenadine
and jelly madness in a flow of tokay
my huge skull of pigeons
my séance of peeping toms
my plaited ovaries excuse me
this is my grime my thigh of
steelspoons and toothpicks
i imitate no one
i am new york city
of the brown spit and soft tomatoes
give me my confetti of flesh
my marquee of false nipples
my sideshow of open beaks
in my nose of soot
in my ox bled eyes
in my ear of saturday night specials
i eat ha ha hee hee and ho ho
i am new york city
never-change-never-sleep-never-melt
my shoes are incognito
cadavers grow from my goatee
look i sparkle with shit with wishbones
my nickname is glue-me

Take my face of stink bombs
my star spangled banner of hot dogs
take my beer can junta
my reptilian ass of footprints
and approach me through life
approach me through death
approach me through my widow’s peak
through my split ends my
asthmatic laugh approach me
through my wash rag
half ankle half elbow
massage me with your camphor tears
salute the patina and concrete
of my rat tail wig
face up face down piss
into the bite of our handshake
i am new york city
my skillet-head friend
my fat-bellied comrade
citizens
break wind with me

 

SACRED TREES
Every time I think about us women
I think about the trees the trees
escaping from an epidemic of lightning
the sacred trees exploding from
compressed matter of cuckoo spit trees
the raped trees flashing signals through
toxic acid of sucking insects
trees used as decoy installations trees
I have the afternoon leaves throbbing
in my nostrils
I have the struggling limbs sprouting from
these ear lobes
I have a power stump shooting from
out of this forehead
I have clusters of twigs popping from
tattooed moles
& sometimes I feel
like the tree trunk
growing numb & dead
from ritual behavior
sometimes I feel like the tree ripping
from the core of ancient grievances
Trees
I feel like
the family tree
relocating under pressure
Trees
I feel like the frantic tree
trying to radiate through
scorched surfaces
sometimes I feel like
the obscure tree
babbling through silver-plated mouth
of a shrinking moon
& sometimes I feel like a tree
hiccupping through
heated flint of gunpowder crevices
I feel like a tree
& every time I think about us women
I think about the trees
I think about
the subversive trees laden in blood
but not bleeding
the rebellious trees encrusted
but not cracking
the abused trees wounded
but still standing
I think about the proud trees
the trees with beehive tits buzzing
the transparent trees
the trees with quinine breath hovering
the trees swaying & rubbing their
stretch-marked bellies
in the rain
the crossroad trees coming from
the tree womb
of tree seeds
Trees
I think about the trees
& sometimes I feel like
a superstitious tree
smelling negative & fragile
& full of dislocated sap
I feel like
the tree stampeding from
a cadre of earth tremors
I feel like the forgotten tree
that can’t live here no more
sometimes I feel
like the tree that’s growing wild
through the wildlife left
in the petroleum pipeline
I feel like a tree
A tree caught
in the catacomb of bones
enslaved in
red-light districts of oppression
I feel like a barricade of trees
& sometimes
I feel like the tree
that’s lucky to be a tree
in the time of
missing trees
I feel like a tree
that’s happy to be a tree
among disappearing trees
Trees
I feel beautiful
like an undestroyed
rainforest of trees
I feel like a tree
laughing in the rawness
of the wind
I feel like a tree
& every time I think about us women
I think about the trees
I think about the trees

HISTORY
Dear Friends
I am not talking about
the black writer and
his white literary father
i’m talking about
black music opposed to
enslavement & colonialism
yes jazz has a color
without that fact
there is no jazz

 

OGUN’S FRIEND
(Metal Workshop)
I saw your eyes like bumps of flint
i saw your shoes like high-top boulders
i saw your hands like faces of fire
i saw your fingers like axes of Shango
i saw your body like a rocker of steel
Yo
i heard a hum down there
i heard a rumble down there
i heard a ghost down there
i heard a thunderbolt expel down there
i heard a anvil in the night go hummmmmmmm
down there
Hey whose metals are shouting so loud
they must be the tapper that Ogun knows
whose are those beads so hot and black
they must be brass for Ogun to fill
who’s that worker with corrugated gums
it must be the worker that Ogun chose
who’s that one with feet like flames
it must be the welder that’s Ogun’s friend
Yo
i smell a chicken in here
i smell some charcoal in here
i smell a goat in here
i smell some wax in here
i smell a dog in here
i smell some clay and some oil and some blood in here
Hey i see your chains like links of teeth
crowbars
i see your coils like female pouches
barbed wire
i see your grills like braided snakes
fish-net
i see your ladder like a totem of pliers
crocodiles
i see your pipes like razors on tusks
wine bottles
i see your scissors and your keys on the table in there
uh-huhn
Yo
you got pant legs made into hats
you got diamond plates made into walls
you got straightening combs made into steps
you got hammer-heads made into skulls
you got flat-rings made into ears
Pant legs diamond plates
straightening combs hammer-heads
flat-rings
yo
I feel your flux
i feel your sander
i feel your drill bit
i feel your grinder
i feel your drill press
i feel your hack saw
i feel your brick ax
Yo
i saw your windows like sheets of steel
i heard a gong down there
i saw some navels like bushes of wire
i heard a bird down there
Hey
you got lizard tongues made into tongs
i feel your bald spot
you got snakeskins covered in bronze
i feel your chin marks
lizard tongues bald spots
snakeskins chin marks
yo
i smell some fish in here
i see a rail down there
i smell some toes in here
i see a horn down there
i smell some funk in here
i see a knife down there
i smell some ratheads in here
i see a person down there
Who’s that one so brown and fine
Ogun’s friend
who’s that one in green on green
Ogun’s friend
who’s that one who eats so fast
Ogun’s friend
who’s that one with toothpaste lips
Ogun’s friend
who’s that one who spits on tools
Ogun’s friend
Yo Ogun’s friend

A Celebration of the Life of Brenda Connor-Bey

Close Love — A Bop
               For Fahja

She felt my heart long after I left her womb
This was unspoken but felt by us both. When I
was eight, while she slept on the beach, the song of
salt air, ocean music and voices pulled me away from her.
Even with her eyes closed, she scanned supine
tanning bodies, found me before tears slid from my center of fear.

Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise

Bonds linked so closely create a tortured
route for teenaged lies. Hard to sidestep
a mother like this. Crooked words slid down glass.
Questions darkened greasy walls.
My lies traveled nowhere. I gave up.
Why bother? She looked and turned away.
Like me, she’d had enough.
I felt her heart struggling to breathe.

Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise

Distance smoothes rough edges, gives you space to grow.
Old connections begin to make sense. Phone calls happen,
her voice whispers on summer breezes. Her belief in
the rightness of life gives my heart wings to soar with God’s angels.
But sometimes I crave those moments when she spooned
her body around mine protecting me from the cold.

Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise


 

FLOWERS III – PANAMA FISHING MAN

I remember you made me hear laughter
instead of loud crying songs
Showed me Caribbean beats as you
placed my small feet on top of yours
dancing the meringue in a kitchen
warm with baking gingerbread

You told me
loose women feel apart
because they lost their senses

You said:
“Let me teach you how
to smell the rain, girl
know when it’s coming
gonna show you what a man really like I’ll show you the ocean
make you hear the songs in the waves
You got to know dis chile
‘cause every man want a woman
who know how to fish good!”


 

Midnight Moon
                    For Marc Bumathi Joseph
This story has been told many times; how the faceless,
nameless Haitian wooed a milk-white, blue-eyed black woman,
loved her till she swole up, bursting with sparkling chimes,
tumbled into life on a moonless autumn night. That child
was blessed with who she would become — Grace.

The story thread, knotted in three-finger
lengths, frayed beyond repair and glued where
its final breath whined before jumping
like water on a hot pan, gathered remnants from last words,
replaced with phrases or scenarios, tickling imaginations of
listeners, making the speaker look good.

My version of this tale landed in a poem.
Images burst through a darkened New England winter
while I dreamed this story. I could see his face;
imagined his tobacco and bay rum smell, knew the feel of
an always-present sun beneath his skin. But I try not to lean
into that dream too long. My inward search
for this nameless man produces a centuries’-old yearning,
something that goes deeper than the soul.

This pain hollows out interiors. It is too great to contain.
It is that yearning pushed aside where links are erased, making wholeness possible. I seek something to quiet
the shatter shatter of an invisible mirror. It is only an ache,
one that can be healed. This is my reminder everytime
I feel the slipping downward pull of loss and wonder.

How do I say, yes, my grandfather was Haitian?
No, I do not know his name?
No, I do not know which part of the country his family came from?
No, I do not know his name…?

This story lives in the air I breathe.
It travels in bloodlines.
Blood always finds its way home.


 

Willie Ten Spade
After Whitfield Lovell’s Rounds VIII & Rounds XXV, 2006-2007

We whispered “Willie 10 Spade”
after his scent of Old Spice, Lucky Strikes and
sweet and brilliantine hair cream were
left hanging in the air

Could have been that strange cut of hair he wore
Shaved back hairline
shaped his face into a high yella spade
Kinfolk say he was tryin’ to show
off the plains of Indian blood running thru his veins

me and my friends
say he just wanted
us to see
all of him, that’s all!

We all know spades s’pposed to mean
no luck, but Willie was a hard playing
Boston bid whist man
never lost a game in his life
that’s how the story went
when liquor was flowing
and all lies matched the easy down
of sparkling amber liquid

Willie played his cards
played both women and men
but never messed with anyone
always left alone because he
waited for that 4b light to shine
before making his move

Every woman on our block wanted
to be that 9 diamonds dancing lady in 4b
that took his mustard yellow eyes
and purring cat’s voice away from
our imaginings
Us dancing, his wide pant legs
blowing in the wind
but you know the dreams of young girls
We’d wait Saturday afternoons
when Willie walked to 7th Avenue
to get her some chicken and waffles

We’d stand back
Take a deep breath
And dream a little more


Woman in the Woods
After Enock Placide’s painting

When I first saw her
I was young enough to believe
the artist erased her face on purpose
a cloth taken to still-wet canvas
brown acrylic smudged gently
erasing her smile
Laughter caught mid air

I imagined where he began
Her dark eyes, doorway to her soul
Was this knowing woman being swallowed whole
by muslin balled up tightly
floating above dappled, muted greens and
browns of the forest in this painting?
Or was her breath snatched away
with a quick wipe of sponge?
Did her nose leave her face the same way?
Or was she in the act of seeking the flowery
pink bursting spores exploding on canvas?
Placide, the Haitian visionary
whispered in moods shifting
between the faceless woman and I

As I grew older, even though still faceless, this
woman in white speaks to me of futures and pasts
Seeks my counsel as the soggy floor on which I stand
disappears, sending me into a downward spiral
until I land at the beginning of my thoughts
once again allowing myself to be led there
where the question of erasure comes and goes
Trusting that, even without a face
she knows what she saw