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.
***

First and Last Wake-Up Call

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Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

First and Last Wake-Up Call

Lip cracked,
erupted.

Stench of
menthol-infused fists
kisses mouth;

sentient ashtray punch-out.

Penny-flavored,
earthy-scented,
crimson disgust;

skin rising,
purpling dough,
enough to draw sympathy;

not enough for state-intervention.

Manly punishment for talking back.
Lead-knuckled wake-up-call
to first adult decision,

aged sixteen.

Time to go.
***

Shared at dVerse Quadrille #92: Take a crack at poeming, hosted by whimsygizmo. Other poets contributed here.

Also shared at Real Toads  November: Nothing is more memorable than scent, Imagined By Sanaa Rizvi.

These Murky Eddies (A Five-Part Origin Story)

These Murky Eddies (A Five-Part Origin Story)

I.
I love,
I do,
perhaps not like you,

not in that
traditional
happily-forever-after way,

but perhaps
in other imprecise,
functionally dysfunctional
broken ways.

But perhaps
in many ways,
my broken ways work
in my knowing what it isn’t.

I can survey its limitations,
where the barrier of its outstretched
feathered wings fail to reach.

My love cannot care for your birthday,
but it cares deeply that you care.

My love won’t reach out
and embrace you, drenched,
saturated with sentiment,

but it will lash-out
to protect you
from all manner of harm.

My love is imperfect,
incomplete, and has been
ever since the day I fell
as a small child.

I was six when I fell,
losing balance some two score ago,
as some collateral damage
of a disintegrated heart.

II.
I was born
in medias res
of a toxic heart,
as many are,

upon opposing maelstroms,
learning to flow with the current,
anticipating its quirky grooves
and perilous nuances,

gliding along the lazy trickles,
bracing for the furious crashes,
holding my own within
fortune’s fickle ride until…

the only heart I knew split in two,
each side seeking dominion over the other,
but settling for oblivion,

the void
created by two beloved factions
consumed me
and I fell,

and fell, and fell,
and kept falling,
the only sound, the
mournful wailing of my own voice,

it too growing more distant,
falling away from me

along with the other senses of
belonging to something greater,

losing everything and
finding myself lost
at the bottom of an abyss.

III.
I was six years old
when momma went
rattling the kitchen silverware

for an adequate blade
to plunge into dad’s back,

ending years of emotional and
physical abuse by his hand.

I was six years old
when that knife pierced him
inches from his heart,

inches from his own demise.

Dad’s cousin was hysterical,
explaining to the medics
what my awful “bitch of a mom” did
to free herself from dad’s drug-fueled rager.

Though mortally wounded,
dad survived and recovered

enough to redeem some of his repugnant actions,
while bafflingly doubling down on others.

As for me; I was six then.
I am forty-six now, but
I know now that parts of me
never left the bottom of that abyss.

IV.
I love, I do,
but always in a broken,
displaced sense where
I never have to remove my velvet gloves.

My hands
hold nothing of weighted value
unless my beloved breathes value into
that space.

Images
reflected into my eyes
rarely move me

unless the images
are of others being moved
towards joy or sorrow.

I hear voices of my family calling,
but I only reply out of obligation.

I’ve smelled and tasted
gourmet Sunday dinners made in my honor,
and when an aunt asks me
if I’m glad I came home to them,

I smile and say yes, knowing that
they know I’m lying to keep the peace.

V.
I love, I do, but perhaps not like you,
or the guys on television who
get down on one knee,
proclaiming their love for all to see.

That kind of love dazzles in the sunlight,
and it would be nice if I could love like that.

But my love is born from toxins,
constructed from shards of self-hate,
twisted, entangled by the vast void
in such an oddly dysfunctional way

that when darkness comes for you,
as it inevitably comes for us all
regardless of where you are,
as I still tread these murky eddies

you will never be alone.
***

Originally shared on Medium.

Fractions

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Photo by Amanda Flavell on Unsplash

Fractions

Even now, forces battle for fractions
of light and dark, air and earth, truths and lies
the spoils, ripened treasures and abstractions
like oil, our foods, as humankind’s soul cries
split to the bone in factions
honed for overreactions

My soul’s not known for overreactions
compressing, sealing night into fractions
of morbid amusement, viewing factions
through porous veneers of their willful lies
unmoved by their biased cries
on currents of abstractions

Our sun will yield to night and abstractions
leaving the void and overreactions
light evening showers won’t drown-out the cries
of justice-seekers sliced into fractions
divided by clever lies
blinded factions fight factions

I welcome rain as night deceives factions
truth is our souls are merely abstractions
these lines dividing us all are sad lies
gains of few, fueled by overreactions
many fight over fractions
immune to his brother’s cries

I remain in-tune with my brother’s cries
but turn a deaf-ear to brother’s factions
I see us whole, and not just the fractions
bellies are filled by more than abstractions
stilled by overreactions
humanity’s fate still lies

I wonder which side will win through the lies
will we have our peace or feast on war-cries?
I still observe the overreactions
blackening hearts into soulless factions
they have killed for abstractions
weighing lives by the fractions

I wonder which lies will fell the factions
silencing the cries; soulless abstractions
overreactions leaving fractions.
***

Written for dVerse  Poetry Form: Sestina, hosted by Victoria C. Slotto. Other poets have contributed to this prompt here. The Sestina is an oily form, super-tricky to pull off, like Jello-wrestling a sexy, nude, female vampire who’s riding a velociraptor. Naturally, I had to give it a go (the poem, not the Jello-wrestling, though I’d probably be game for that too.)

Also sharing at Real Toads

stories, labels, and approvals (Collaboration with trE)

ToniMorrison

National Memorial for Peace and Justice, 2018, Montgomery, Alabama (photo: Michael Delli Carpini, CC BY-NC 2.0)

stories, labels, and approvals (Collaboration with trE)

not everything needs a story
it’s possible to want justice
without being seen as angry
and you’re damned right I’m angry
when our justice is perverted
time and again, and again
you fixate on the anger
spinning a yarn about
the irrational response
of us ungrateful thugs

the ones you want to
linger beneath the soles of your feet
will be the very ones who
you’ll beg to add more days
onto your life.
and when the Maker calls your number,
I will play bailiff,
executing all plans for your demise.
and the difference between you and I
will be that I had nothing
to do with it.

make your presence known in other ways.
show this world that there is
so much more to living than
constantly trying to flaunt your
privileges in my face
OR
belittling me every chance you get.
“when they go low, we go high,”
and it must feel like shit
watching angels scale the skies
while you reach into your pockets
for God-status and pull up lint instead

not everything needs a label
it’s possible to seek solitude
without being tagged as arrogant
I look inward for serenity
I demand airspace to be me
authentically free from the box
you cram to shove me in
I guess I’m arrogant enough
to exist in stout defiance
of your weights and measures

not everything needs approval
it’s possible to just want to breathe
without society constricting airflow
or to share life, laughter with a lover
without enraging a stranger lording
bizarre, anachronistic, dogmatic views
I wish to seek the warmth of the sun
free from fear of fatalistic reprisal
because I fit some unsavory description
or I love in a way that you don’t

and, I’ve watched you, watching me–
you want me to be this robotic
thing intent on following your lead:
no disputes, no disagreements, and
no opinion of my own,
and losing the biggest part of me
is not something I am willing to do.
this frustrates you . . .
it digs into places of your soul
that you aren’t willing to share and
I have fun witnessing your strength
dwindle to mere nothingness
since it feeds off hate.
***

This is a collaboration with my good friend trE. trE is an insightful and gifted writer. I highly recommend that you visit her blog, A Cornered Gurl.

Holy Shit! Hey Guys! HEY GUYS!!

Capture

Currently displayed on Tygpress.com. You guys did it!

Well damn! You guys actually did it! I’m impressed. I was going to take my ball and go home, but you folks with your outrage went at this entity with your cease-and-desist and your pitchforks, and they didn’t want any of that smoke!

I know most of you were just as pissed-off as I was, and I’m grateful that you acted on your own senses of justice instead of turtleing like I planed. I am the undeserved benefactor of your righteous actions, and I thank you all. This little guy is grateful that you collection of little guys didn’t take this lying down.

I honestly hope that this the last time I find myself writing about blog harvesting, but I suspect it won’t be. We’ll cross that bridge when it comes, but for now, let’s get back to our scheduled programming.

Day 21: Dismantling a Mercedes

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Photo by Luca Santos on Unsplash

Dismantling a Mercedes

She was beautiful,
long before learning
a self-butcher’s trade.

Long before swinging
lifelessly
from a tree in a park

– her final act completed publicly
after countless private attempts – her end

was pre-assisted
by the animal kingdom.

Nature was a
giant killer hornet colony
nesting in her head.

Nurture was meat
for a Komodo dragon
ignored by farmhands.

She was banished from
purgatory paradise
by serpent-creator.

The meat became her own
expert butcher, carving
fortune from flesh.

A successful vendor,
despite the killer hornets
devouring their share.

But she dared to be
discerning in company of
lurking painted wolves.

Scavengers and hunters
combined to consume her
to the marrow, leaving only
her final act of defiance,

her final words to
the animal kingdom,
a day before her final act;

“Fuck y’all”.

There is no solace
in burying the bruises,
as only the living bruise.

She ended her pain
alone in a park
by focusing its sum
upon her kissable neck,

compressing the noose;
a temporary evisceration
for a lasting peace

that eluded her infested skull in life.

Perhaps not the beautiful ending
a beautiful butcher like her deserves,
but an ending all the same.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 21 prompt: write a poem that “incorporates wild, surreal images. Try to play around with writing that doesn’t make formal sense, but which engages all the senses and involves dream-logic.”

I interpret that as “go nuts with abstractions and strange metaphors”, and so I did my best with this tragic tale.

Day 16: Poetry as Visible Steam

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Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Poetry as Visible Steam

That iconic church
catching fire
is not upsetting.

Firebombing
less-iconic black churches
is not upsetting.

Random hate crimes
against minorities
is not upsetting.

A murder of another
based on who they choose to love
is not upsetting.

Having a government leader
with no empathy, no tact,
no impulse control, no shame,
no fundamental grasp of science,
not even the service of
an official proofreader
or spellchecker
is not upsetting.

Passing the tipping-point
of human-aided
catastrophic climate change
with a collective shrug
and a doubling-down
of business-as-usual
is not upsetting.

What is upsetting
is the growing numbness
incinerating our
collective superstructure.

What is upsetting
is realizing that faith in humanity
was firebombed decades
before observation,
like a lobster having no idea
they’re slowly being
boiled alive
until there’s steam.

What is upsetting
is our growing detachment
from the humane.

What is upsetting
is catching yourself wondering
what the victim did to provoke
such violent hatred
before remembering
that all they did was
have the audacity
to exist.

What is upsetting
is that a hilariously-terrifying,
poisonous, treasonous,
wood-rot-brained,
dementia-demigod
is executing the will
of a percentage of people
I call neighbor.

What is upsetting is receiving
such an oppressive influx
of terrible things,
that the nervous system
reflexively shuts down
to protect itself.

What is upsetting is knowing that,
even after adjusting cosmic perspective,
knowing that no one is coming
to save you from yourselves,
compelling you to root for the
sweet, sweet probability of a
random extinction meteor.

What is upsetting
is slowly realizing that
nothing is upsetting anymore.

Not even when the steam is visible.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 16 prompt: “write a poem that uses the form of a list to defamiliarize the mundane.” Again, I took license and adjusted the scale, as I’m running dry on mundane topics and I’m a bit sleep-deprived and grumpy.

Also written for Real Toads’ day 16 prompt: “poetry as an insurgent art”.

Day 4: Fred (“He’s good and dead now”)

Fred (“He’s good and dead now”)

Fred wanted to be a New York Yankee
But a greater calling led him to lead
Honor student; voice for impoverished need
A credible threat to bureaucracy

Uniter of races spanning rainbows
He was drugged and slaughtered by his own state
Two rounds to his skull, not the final blows
His work became bloodied, sharing his fate

We wait for justice as brown bodies pile
Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and more
Respond as technology streams the gore
But know these slayings were here all the while

Slaughter of leaders, of boys, of teachers
In-justice? These are not bugs; they’re features.
***

Shared to NaPoWriMo’s day 4 prompt: write a sad poem that achieves sadness through simplicity.

Also shared to dVerse OLN. Other poets contributed here

Written for all of our innocent brothers and sisters gunned-down by the state, and especially Fred Hampton, human rights activist who was allegedly* assassinated by the Chicago Police Department in partnership with the FBI’s highly successful effort to destabilize the leadership and political power structure of impoverished African-American communities and many other minorities.

The quote “He’s good and dead now” was allegedly* said by the policeman who administered the two fatal shots to Fred Hampton’s head, execution-style.

I prefer escapism, love, loss, and the human condition over the sad realities of the world we all share, but for some reason I was moved to write about this tragedy… this massacre allegedly* sanctioned and administered by the state in 1969. It was my hope to bring perspective to all the recent alleged* murders of black men and minorities by the state captured on video, and all the hand-wringing and outrage at the judicial system’s collective shrugs.

Everyone who are wondering how we could possibly let this happen in the twenty-first century needs to know that it has always been happening for the past 400-plus years. You only get to witness the massacres second-hand through the miracle of modern technology.

(*I added allegedly for legal reasons… but come on now. Y’all know what’s up.)