Day 2: Mixed-Use

Photo by Janine Robinson on Unsplash

Mixed-Use

I’ve been told that way back in the 40’s
our Rosenwald complex was a black pearl
on Chicago’s South Side during the
blues, jazz, and soul renaissance.

It sheltered greats like
Gwendolyn Brooks, Nat “King” Cole, Quincy Jones
 – girl, I said Quincy Jones!

I think even Miles Davis
and Sammy Davis Jr,
but no relation, I believe.

I’ve been told that black folks in Chi
strutted down gaslit 47th street,
danced on smokey Michigan Boulevard,
sang on King Drive, and even Wabash
like they owned the night;

with a sense of pride
and musicality befitting us,
inseparable from the music

spilling from every throbbing tavern,
and even “hole-in-the-wall” was
just a teasing nickname thrown
at friendly endearing faces.

If I squint, I can see gilded hallways
of way back when,
which reek of pungent piss now.

I observe the sheen of polish
on some of the tiles not defiled
by dual-pitchforked, Star-of-David
Gangster-Disciple gang-sign graffiti.

Or is it Gangsta? I try to discern  
the artist’s penmanship from
the ones in our high school instead of

meeting your desperate gaze
as you kneel before me,
taking my hands in yours
in a shameful proposal.

Just yesterday, I’d given up on you.
I’d no tears left to cry over a girl
who don’t want me no more.

Now you return, on your knees,
perfumed in Bacardi rum and weed
you never thought to share with me.

What am I to make of this?

You didn’t even respect me enough
to break up with me;
you ignored my pleas
until I got the message.

Now you want to rewind the clock?

Any boy with a good upbringing
and a residue of self-respect

would’ve slammed that heavy
security door in your face for good,
chaining, deadbolting, and security-pole
in place for all eternity.

Sadly, this building
has seen better days,
better than I can imagine.  

He spurned you as you betrayed me,
you humbled yourself after falling,
and try as I might, I just couldn’t
kick you while down on that musty-ass floor.  

I lifted you from your knees,
welcoming you back into my
self-loathing and desperation,
knowing that I could expect no better.

I walked you home around the corner,
across the dusty courtyard
that once held fresh, manicured grass
when we first moved in.

I held your hand in mine,
thinking that to love you
went hand-in-hand with my
needing you somehow;

that without your water,
my life was empty, dead,
dusty-brown, a rusted, rotten
swing-set without swings;

only tetanus would remain,
waiting for antitoxin or
inevitable condemnation

and abandonment, twenty years from now,
long after our ill-advised marriage cracked,
eroded and ended; long after you

kneeled before me once again,
begging me to hold up my end
of our sham, a plea met with
silence and emptiness, like

the decayed ruins we once called home some
thirty years and two-thousand sixty-four
miles ago, before its renovation
into an elderly citizen’s home,

which is fitting, for all things age, slow,
decay, and are eventually consumed

by silence; even music
 – the most beautiful, the most vibrant;  
 – the most soulful, the most mournful
is fleeting, and always ends,

making way for the next,
as star becoming nebula
becomes proto stars.

I hope whoever walks
that hallway now
smells only lavender.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 2: “…write a poem about a specific place —  a particular house or store or school or office. Try to incorporate concrete details, like street names, distances (“three and a half blocks from the post office”), the types of trees or flowers, the color of the shirts on the people you remember there.”

I tried to be descriptive, but I was eventually sucked into the narrative. I may try this one again after this month’s challenge ends.

interlocked

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Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

interlocked

this is who we’ve always been

since the very first link
interlocked with the first shackle

since the first othering
stillbirthed dehumanization
clinical rationalizing
reducing lives to fractions

since the first dividing for dividends
simplifying sturdy ones kept
from weakened, diseased stock

since the first grim reapings
of distant kin, then called savages
fearful souls denied empathy
by economy of the soulless

since the first casual cruelties
live bodies tossed overboard
to certain death, preserving assets

since then, we’re now civilized
rulers of the photon, electron
and enlightened electoral process

since then, we’ve shackled technology
harnessed the atom, the fossil,
the solar, and the wind

since then, we’re repeatedly shocked
by recordings of otherings
state-sanctioned slayings of our kin
in our own neighborhoods
as if the chain can’t be seen
winding back through relics
of collective suffering

since then, we’re now stunned into
soul-searching and handwringing
after electing the toxin from our past
to lead us back into the dark dystopia
from which we had never escaped

having never acknowledged
the forging of the first link

none of this is surprising
this is who we’ve always been
***

Raising no Girl

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Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

Raising no Girl

I saw it, plainly;

Just after his ill-advised drunken roughening
of his eldest child; a traditional, time-tested
tempering of adolescent ebony male steel
for a blackened, heartless, aggressive, manly world,
as was the loving intent lovingly lent to me
from him, a scruff-grabbing, face-slapping heirloom
passed down through generations of blunted mentorship.

I spied it briefly,

but it was there behind the noxious bravado,
deeper than dreaded defiance compelling him
to press his preteen into a flinty real man,
despite whimpering protests from soft, weak women;
yielding aunts, sisters, mothers wielding empathy
like mewling wussified consolation prizes
world-weary women who ironically knew well-
enough real pain to know better without having
to see it; who could blame them; they’re only women.

They don’t know what it’s like for a modern black man
to be crushed by callous strangers in a hard world;
only the intimacy of a bone-rattling
thump in the chest by a trusted father-figure
can prepare a young black boy for a crapsack world;
accept this gift in stoic silence, pay if forward,
and you best not shed a fuckin’ tear, young-blood, ya hear?

Yeah, I heard the words, and my chest burned, and
my face stung with blood flowing to the cheek-
capillaries of the light palm-strike, and the
lump in my throat sought exit in a sob
I denied, but in bracing to breathe, see,

there; I caught a glimpse.

“See? He ain’t hurt!” crowed dad, like a boss.
“That’s my boy! I know my fuckin’ son!
He ain’t no bitch! Ain’t that right, lil’ nigga?”

But when he asked for my co-sign, that’s when I saw it.
I saw it for the first time firsthand; buried within
the recesses of his whiskey-soaked eyes were hints
of its depths; similar scenes like this played, replayed
countless times over generations, his mentors
daring him not to cry after betraying him
with brutality-as-brotherly-love, calloused
hands hardening him for a world of hatred and
intolerance, his mentors’ elder brothers, uncles
delivering the same painful, loving lesson,
perhaps extending back to the days of shackles,
whips, toiling under another man’s burden
who saw us as less than three-fifths of a person.

Within that instant, that fraction of a second,
I saw in father’s eyes, a gaping, festering
generational wound not soothed by gulping whiskey;
my father’s pain leered at me across decades,
bloodshot and vile, that tough-love message twisted and
mangled, much like our very ancestry.

“Don’t cry.
Do not cry.
Not here, not now,
not ever.”

“If you cry,
I’ll give you something
to really cry about.”

“Don’t you dare fuckin’ cry, boy.”

“A real man don’t cry.”

“Bury your pain like a man.”

“You better not cry, boy.
The women are watching.”

Please don’t cry, boy.
If you do, shit,
I might cry too.”

“If you cry right now,
I’ll cry because you’re in pain,
because I caused it.”

“If I cry because I’m the cause of your pain,
then the cause of what I’ve done to you
will amount to absolutely nothing.”

“If you cry and then I cry,
then that can only mean
the way we’ve been told to live our lives
is just a bunch of bullshit.”

“If we cry right here, right now, together,
then that would mean compassion should’ve been
our strength, that yielding was the key the whole time,
that the words ‘behaving like a woman’
should never had been wielded as an insult,
and every man I know and respect
completely missed the fucking mark.”

“Please don’t cry now, son;
don’t give the world the satisfaction.
Let’s save face together.”

I blinked back tears, willing them not to fall,
and painted a defiant smirk on my face.

“Naw I ain’t hurt, dad!
You know you ain’t raising no girl!”

Father playfully tussled my hair,
knowing our secret shame was safe,
brittle spirits hidden in plain sight,
now hardened for an unyielding world.

But yeah, I saw it.
***

Storm of Cherry Blossoms

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Photo by Sora Sagano on Unsplash

Storm of Cherry Blossoms

You want to tell her
everything
all the stuff
bubbling within
the stuff that mattered
that pitter-pattered
at the root
that once nourished
the bloom

but you can’t
because you’re gone;
an empty room
filled with unsaid words
unspent ideas
unexplored thoughts.

Just like that,
you’re all magma,
ash, ozone, and
deenergized particles,
now decelerated to
null;

your essence
returned
to the cosmic slop.

Her whispering thoughts
will return to you
with each storm
of cherry blossoms.
***

Steal Away

Steal Away

Clutching
her words
to my vest;

dropping
her dreams
into cloth bundle,
cinched tightly,
secured;

stuffing
my pockets
with her selfless acts
of kindness;

smuggling
her tenderness
to safety
undetected, strapped
to inner thigh;

like a bandit,
I steal away
with memories
of her.
***

Ruin

Ruin

I don’t want to hear of rebirth
blooming buds make it hard to breathe
and I don’t want the snow to fall
and I won’t fall for you again

I don’t want to stir in the night
bleak echoes ring hollow and dull
I don’t want to dream about you
and I hate sleep that never comes

‘till birdsongs vibrate the morning
and I don’t want the sun to rise
it will shine again without you
that’s fine, for your laugh rankles me

I can’t stand the smile on your face
summer warmth burns more than it soothes
I don’t want to inhale autumn
the fall winds part us from our bough

and all the miracles
phenomenal matters
the air passing through you

perfumed within your pores
enrapturing me then
are now tedious things

I don’t miss you at all
nor our modern wonders
smartphones for guileless fools

I refresh texts daily
remaining unrefreshed
rueful plea unanswered

and I won’t fall for you again
I don’t want to dream about you
I can’t stand the smile on your face
and I’m not waiting for your call

the world keeps turning without you
I’m not fixated on your scent
our paths don’t need to cross again
and I pray that you keep us here

because one more vile smile from you
one more goosebump-inducing laugh
one more text, touch, slip of your tongue
your cruel tenderness undoes me

I’d rather be resentful alone
than bereft among your promises
grant me this mercy of bitterness
for the hope of you is my ruin
***

Cosmic Shrug

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Photo by Emre Öztürk on Unsplash

Cosmic Shrug

I really can’t say,
but I feel it.

You too, right?

I feel it deep
within my truth,

where the luminous soul
attaches itself to
unremarkable marrow.

Can you do it?
Can you speak power to truth?

Or would you rather
claw at the vision until
your eyes bleed the lies
in rivers and streams in which
you flee to for quick comfort?

There’s no poem for it.
Not till now, anyway.

No pill or salve either,
unless you count
the ones that nullify it,

or the weed and brown liquor
that helps you forget

or briefly removes
the weight of remembering.

I want it as I want all things
eternally unobtainable;

end of the rainbow;
golden horizon;
promise of tomorrow;

comfort of being seen
and embraced by more than this.

I’ve mastered hide-n-seek
in ways where few bother
searching anymore,

though I’d still lie
and tell them I’m fine
had they not already
given up on asking.

But never you mind;
this is just another
melodramatic poem,

not an overwrought
cryptic cry for help.

I really am fine.
***

Then, Again, When

Then, Again, When

Your smile seduced a second look
better reserved for the next crash scene.

The look in my eyes invited conversation
that connected our storms with the serene.

Our conversation skirted the margins of comfort
as hands touched forearms, drawing towards center.

Easy comfort leant us towards assumption;
discorded motives bade us to enter.

Obtuse assumption flies into misunderstanding;
you braced for pleasure, I thrusted for connection.

Ripened misunderstanding decouples you
and me from us; introspection from fixation.

As you are still not who I thought you were,
and I am no longer who you thought I was,

we were bound forever, merged at when
we were whatever we needed again.
***