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.
***

A Wondrous Harmony

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Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

A Wondrous Harmony

You are my favorite song
prolonged by our lifelong sing-along;

the seemingly ringing
random sequence of beaconing
notes bringing me in ungainly,
unacquainted, yet infectiously
groovy set melody
that soothes and threatens to
relentlessly bring me
blissful expressions;

you are this to me
as well as destiny
of warm contemplation;

the un-played keys
that say everything,

returning it;
the indeterminate rests
among joyful-singing notes,

reaffirming its depths,
gasping for breath between
belly-laughs by the lungful;

your barely half-measured
triumphal treasure
fills impassioned sensations
with blasphemous pleasures;

ears favor your treble,
bones savor your bass,
and touch yearns for your encore.
***

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
***

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.
***

2019 In Review

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

2019 In Review

struggle
relentless, bitter
disquieting, dispiriting, disarming
dutiful, beautiful, wistful, wishful
beguiling, edifying, rejuvenating
merited, spiritual
respite
***

OK… this is my final final poem of the year. I forgot I wrote it. It is in the Diamante style. I encountered this form a few years ago, tried it once, but then promptly forgot it. I became reacquainted with it when I read a fellow writer over at Tao Talk, so I tried it again.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping for more empathy and understanding in 2020.

Proper Care and Cleaning (of Voice)

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Photo by Timon Klauser on Unsplash

Proper Care and Cleaning (of Voice)

What if I unglossed our painting before it dried?

What if my tears smeared our indigo finish?

What if I painted midnight horizons into pastels?

What if each correction lightened and undefined?

What if each stroke unburdened texture of weight?

What if ink flowed from canvas to brush?

What if I dabbed brush into pigment to clean it?

What if our cleaner lines were gobbled-up by my pen?

What if I sketched our imperfect borders into nothing?

What if I created perfection; a blank slate?

What if I swallowed the wrong words instead?

What if I said the right thing and you stayed?
***

My final poem of the year, written for the final Real Toads prompt ever: PLAY IT AGAIN! with REAL TOADS, hosted by  Kerry O’Connor. I chose to write to Kerry’s LET’S FIND OUR POETIC VOICE prompt and then – as a tip of the hat – to erase, clean, or “un-write my voice”, as many of the wonderful prompts here directly contributed to my poetic voice growing and stretching in ways I never imagined possible.

Thank you to everyone at Real Toads – both the hosts and the contributors – for all of your efforts, encouragement, and support. I know this isn’t goodbye, so I’ll see you all out there next year.