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.

Day 1: Never the Same One Twice

Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash

Never the Same One Twice

I lie in bed
a dreaded lie
a lying beheaded liar

a fly caught dead
failing to conceive
the clear pane lying ahead
lying to him

dreading the lies I’ll conspire
constructing in my head

which is a lie
subconsciously formed
before the first lie
coalesced by will
my dream lies

like the rug
awaiting my shiftless feet
and restless legs
egging me on

that I missed the alarm
by two lying-assed minutes
dooming me to what lies
in shadow two minutes ago

which was only ego
yielding to id as I slid
from lying to sitting
grasping at evaporating nothing

warning me that nothing is
as it seems even within
the busted seams
of interrupted dreams

that scream fuck everything
when asked if I slept well
as if I could tell time
and reason from rhyme

and sure
everything’s fine I guess
but I digress
let’s pretend we’re not
because at least we’ll regress
to a partial truth.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 1: “a self-portrait poem in which you make a specific action a metaphor for your life – one that typically isn’t done all that often, or only in specific circumstances. For example, bowling, or shopping for socks, or shoveling snow, or teaching a child to tie its shoes.”

Day 0: Just Past Dawn

Image by falconp4 from Pixabay 

Just Past Dawn

I’m roused by a crimson red sun
streaking across reddish-brown skin
nude, save for pale thigh, tinted rose,
draped midriff, ignited by dawn.
What on earth was in that merlot?
Cherry-red lips mark morning kiss;
my red-eyed world turns to meet them.
Disturbed, pale-pink thigh shrinks from blush.
What on earth was in that merlot?
Scarlet kiss, ruddy thigh, opposed?
What on earth was in that merlot?
And I, red sun, caught between worlds?
Trapped between dawn-reddened kisses
my neck and spine tattooed in wine
bracketed by lavish pink pours
confusion yields to crimson want
the cock crows rise with day aflame;
I drown in cups of red again.
“You touch me nice,” said your pink grin.
“Me too,” said your cherry-blushed friend.
But was it really the merlot?
***

NaPoWriMo Day 0: Early-Bird Prompt

Orphaned Chick Requiem

Photo by Udayan Patil on Unsplash

Orphaned Chick Requiem

Who will sooth her nerves, earning fleeting trust,
as ruffled feathers make for flavor-spoil?

Who will preen her feathers through broken wings,
mending her tender meat before the broil?

Who will have steady, firm, gentle, calm hands
that know their way around a butcher’s block?

Who will feed her rich seeds sowed in kindness
hiding his axe as it strikes without shock?

Who will weep for the guileless young birdie,
who, through no fault of her own grew alone?

Who now wanders our woods, an unmoored ghost
haunted by a love she has never known?

Who will weep for this girl, led far astray
who strays from divine feminine to prey?
***

Consider this my NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo tune-up.

Four Ways of Commiserating with Indifference

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Four Ways of Commiserating with Indifference

1.
She confessed,
I’m just really lonely now,
you know?

I know, I replied,
having been lonely for
as long as I could recall.

I’m afraid, she said.

I know, I replied,
adding with certainty,
but you’ll survive this.

I know, she said,
it’s just scary with
all this uncertainty.

I didn’t reply, knowing
uncertainty is the
only certainty.

2.
How are you holding up?
is what he asked.

As well as can be expected,
was my reply, adding,
And you?

I feel the desire to go
do something, he said.

I’m not quite there yet,
I replied,
but I get it.

Just don’t like being told
what to do, he said.

I didn’t reply,
having spent much of my life
doing what I was told.

After a moment, he said,
I feel like you’ve been
preparing for this moment
your entire life.

Not this specific moment,
I said, but yeah,
I’m good, for now.

3.
How are you holding up?
I asked her.

I’m ready for all this
to be over, she replied.

Me too, I lied.

I know we have it
better than most, she added,
so I try not to complain.

I know what you mean,
I agreed with her
sincerely this time.

4.
She asked me,
how can anyone
observe the death, suffering,

the financial and emotional
hardships of our
brothers and sisters,
and feel nothing for them?

How can anyone
continue their selfish ways
in the face of this calamity?

I don’t know,
I replied with a shrug,
and I didn’t.
***

greeting card

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Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

greeting card

“thinking of you”
written neatly, carefully
in black ink followed by ellipsis…

enclosed in insert
on sensible stock
of reasonable price

the card cover
gilded, framed, centered

a woman in repose
lounging in secret garden
drunk from moon beams
arm draped dramatically
over forehead,

informing of intimacy
concealed within her fold
open to my eyes

arriving, postmarked for
a random Tuesday, observing
of no one’s birthday

nor season’s greetings
not even candied-red hearts
with “be mine” carved
in sugar and bone meal

only an internal reveal
on a random day
after a weekend filled
with intimate truths

homemade mac-n-cheese
unremarkable, but meticulously
made to impress her

and gentle breath
on porcelain skin

contrasting in moonlight
with the rise and fall
of my mahogany drawn taut

gripping the night with her
with vigorous release

our spiritual surface long pierced,
our raw matter, now entwined
arriving at urgent merge

followed by teardrops

falling, pouring, mingling with grins
our brim overflowing with
graceless embraces

knowing how long we waited
pleading with fated winds

to stir currents leading
to this moment no longer obscured
by shadow of what should be

for one fleeting cherry bloom
we breathed our flesh into dream

birthing a brief reality
every bit as pure as gold
our priceless loot

the gilded frame, folded paper
and measured ink of sensible fee,

a remnant of a time
when we unfolded ourselves
opening to new gilded treasures

remembered, commemorated by her
in a postage-stamped envelope
addressed to this lonely man, piercing
my blue veneer yet again, knowing,

intuitively, without a doubt
I was thinking of her too…
***

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.
***