Pengatory

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I remember looking into the eyes of the woman I was prepared to give my heart to as she explained to me how I might not be the one for her. I was searching for something there to give me hope that this wasn’t going to be the end. All I found was a perception of me that wasn’t going to change any time soon. It broke my heart. But what hurt even worse was what she said next. She told me that it was going to make for great poems.

I have heard this often since then. I might have heard it many times before but after that fateful goodbye I hear it differently. It is well know that poets are inspired by life. That means that both the ups and downs call to the poet to put pen to paper. Those who get to read or hear the poems crafted love them. We see ourselves in them, we hear our stories, and we celebrate the perspective presented. We can’t wait for more.

The thing is, that beautiful eloquence is sometimes tied to hurt. Hurt that we have to revisit to write the next powerful recollection. You love that Mary album and cant wait for the next one? That requires Mary to trudge through the landfill one mo gin to have you in your feelings singing at the top of your lungs on your next drive to work. It touches your spirit. It tears hers apart.

“That’s going to make a great poem!”

So…errr…um…Who said I wanted a great poem instead? I might’ve wanted the situation to work out.

“That’s going to make a great poem!”

I’m bleeding. I think I might want surgery, stitches, and some pain medicine. Oh, and some ice cream.

“That’s going to….” *grabs they’re face with each palm* DON’T DO IT…DON’T YOU DARE DO IT!!!

For many poetry is catharsis. It is a release. It is intended to bring relief. It is a way to process, grow, and move on. It is not a consolation prize at the carnival of jacked all to hell situations. Walk out of the state fair with a big plastic bag of stuffed animals and you look like a god. Walk out of the last 6 months of soul crushing heartache with a journal full of poems and you look like the Joker. And I mean Heath Ledger’s joker. Some of you look like Jared Leto’s joker.

Purgatory is the intermediate state after death where souls await purification so that they can enter heaven. Pengatory is where you are stuck in the great poem state of Real Hurt hoping the roaring applause for your pain helps you purify yourself for happiness after. But if the affirmation of the applause becomes the prize, then when do you feel comfortable letting go? When do you move on?

But hey, what do I know. See that woman who sent me packing with low self esteem and the well wishes of future poems inspired a few dope poems, and a couple songs, and a book project. So I know that good can come from pain. But I would rather it didn’t. Ultimately, I just don’t want to be Mary’s dancing at the Bad Boy reunion concert.

 

 

Glass Cases

usher box

We are the children of glass blowers.
Hands clasped together.
Knees touching the earth
That taught them how
To birth things that grow,
beat fruit, and give to others,
until they die.
Glass blowers whose wishes
to the Carpenter
that sits on high
become part and parcel promises,
pieces to glass cases
covering us in grace.

We pieces of wonder,
memories of times past
longing for tomorrow to come.
We be knick knack,
trophy,
admirable qualities draped
on mannequins.
We be fine china,
snapshots of happy and unsure,
things none has had
or that others have had but
no longer want.

We sit on thrones,
in tombs,
on cross wood,
in prisons.
The plate at the bottom
holds the names we are given
bur may or may not have earned.
It sits there until replaced
by numbers, a dash, and
remembrances rewritten
by guilt and could have beens.

When you see me
those are not bruises.
They are smudges
I pray the next caretaker
will Windex clean.
What’s here is priceless
but closed off.
They key is in my eyes.
Too many have fiddled
with my lock of a tongue
to never get close enough
to know the inner me.
Some have tried the smash
and grab,
but my mother has
unwavering faith.
She has prayed and cried
until the vision of me is
shatterproof,
bulletproof,
but doesn’t protect
from the trauma of seeing
the attempts come and go.

When your purpose and destiny,
worth and wisdom,
aptitude and ability,
Is on display.
You learn what gaze
Feels like.
You learn that gawkin
is a seductive
dance.
That sometimes presence
isn’t possibility,
it’s momentary possession.
Without the key
it’s just an exhibition.

You and me,
we know these glass cases.
These cursed gifts
of safe distance and deniability.
We know too many living rooms
we never considered home,
too many bedrooms
we never felt completely comfortable in.
We have felt trapped in hallways
where people seem to eager
to pass our pain by.
Know too well that shrines
can be adored or despised
but still left to dust or decay.

We be held on to
for others to enjoy.
We be window shopping fantasy.
We be one day I’ll be able
to get that.
We be look what I captured.
We be look.
Look at that.
Come here look at this.
Look now.
Look later.
Walk past and never look at all.

We be here.
Help up by divinity,
shielded by hope
for all the world
to see

Speaking for a Cure

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A dawn without the sun
A night without the moon
Is a day without the light
A life gone too soon
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it
With hope in the wind
Tomorrow in the skies
Til the cure is in our grasp
we keep our eyes on the prize
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it

Leaves turn and fall in autumn
We rake the ground clear
and wait for Mother Nature
to begin the process again
To restore the forest in what was there
But what happens when the trees stay bare
When a winter’s cold
Springs into a summer’s heat
When deficiency in your immune system
keeps the cycle from being complete
Each infection or complication
Takes it’s toll
T cell count lowered
until trees weaken
Decaying at the root
When they touch ground
With no one but their loved ones around
How does the pain sound
Is it jarring enough to face the truth
We need a cure
Support for those dedicated to an answer
Awareness raised
Initiatives backed
Stories heard
Until lives can be saved

A dawn without the sun
A night without the moon
Is a day without the light
A life gone too soon
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it
With hope in the wind
Tomorrow in the skies
Til the cure is in our grasp
we keep our eyes on the prize
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it

More than 1 million in the US affected
So many more around the world
Developing nations struggling
for necessary medications
Minority communities here juggling
the rise of new cases
I just see the faces
Heaven made amazing
that will be lost too soon
They are the reason we seek
Optimism held
Berlin, France, Mississipi
It’s the reason to be in these streets
Passion ignited
Courage to persevere and endure
Inspires our search for a cure
Antiretrovirals maintain
Vaccines and topical treatments
being sought to prevent
But those faces
They shed tears for a cure
So we push
we learn
we test
we examine
until we win
restoring the fading light
that make the smiles
on those faces shine bright

A dawn without the sun
A night without the moon
Is a day without the light
A life gone too soon
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it
With hope in the wind
Tomorrow in the skies
Til the cure is in our grasp
we keep our eyes on the prize
So I’m gone speak about it
So I’m gone spit about it

Piece submitted for the 2BeatHIV’s Innovation Challenge http://www.2beathiv.org

Video submission

Gentrification of Identity

displacement

You don’t tear a person down and rebuild them with intent on something better. That’s what they do to black and brown neighborhoods. Why would you do it to a person?

Talk this way, walk this way, wear these clothes…

Why is there never recognition of the special in each person?

Why do we toss away self determination for impression?

Sanitization has been a thorn in our side for too long. Do we not recognize it’s effects?

Why not add to what is there. Teach value in authentic self and the importance of widening scope. Foster adaptability not assimilation.

Requiem for Change

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The words don’t always
seem adequate enough
of my tongue

I’m still choking back tears
after all this time
I guess it’s learning
you can never be good guy oblivious
for too long
You can’t be enough royalty
to not need to keep challenging
yourself
Ain’t no ribbons for books read
and chivalry
This here is a long road traveled

The first shared tears came in high school
She was trying to reconcile what happened
I was trying to use balled fists in revenge
She was telling me she didn’t want that
I never realized I was making her
manage him and me
It took too long to recognize her strength
Good guy said you should have stayed with me
Good guy said let me fix it
Good guy still made it about good guy
I guess I felt
I couldn’t make it about her because
I wasn’t good at tears falling

Daddy liked liquor and women
Liked to swing heavy hands
I never asked to know about
anything else
But I know the dangers of that recipe
Good guy wanted to redeem
him by being the first
good decision he ever made
Wasn’t I the one who had to go
pick up his pride
from houses he was no longer
wanted in?
Good guys learn to fix things early

Good guys ask stranger if he
can walk her to her car
Never wonders why she might refuse
Might get mad at the answer
He be good guy
Good guy ask questions for understanding
Never bother to ask if it is ok
to ask questions first
Might take too much time trying to grasp
the reason for the answer
Good guy wears badges like boy scout
earned by completing deeds and tasks
Good guy don’t ask why the shirt
makes some run
Never realized that he didn’t get
the only badges made
That boy scouts also learned to hunt

The best goodbye
I’ve ever been a part of
was packing good guy’s baggage
and sending him on his way
The search for a new tenant
in this man’s understanding of self
was intensive
Thank God for the caretakers
who saw fit to share
with this fractured dreamer
The only lesson that never
settled home
is the freedom in letting
cheeks wet
I’ve never been good
at tears falling

What I did learn is priceless
I was inspired by the number of
times I was betrayed
by good guy instincts
Confided in by partners who
survived
Didn’t need to be saved
Found comfort in the midst of my eyes
I was challenged by fighters who
gave me books and lessons on
accountability
Pushed by men who were willing
to sit with each other in examination
of our own masculinity
Checked by soothsayers who had
seen where ignorance would lead me
Supported by a defiant band of clumsy
who were finding out how to stumble
but not fall
We had been learning to walk a certain
way for so long
The steps were unfamiliar but liberating

Each experience makes my heart full
Sobbing seems like thank you sometimes
I guess I know the reason I feel I’ve never
shown enough gratitude
I’ve just never been good at tears falling

Good guy sends me postcards
and texts saying he wants to come home
I tell him no
I’ve seen too much
I ain’t the same man no more

I remember leaving a workshop
after talking to a group of young men
feeling heavy
I remember telling the community
organizers that brought us
that there was so much work to do
What a crippling feeling it is
to do all that you know how to do
but still worrying
To fear that an angel’s fall at night
could lead to a devilish dawn
I remember stopping on the side
of the road on the way home
because what wasn’t being said
was deafening
I couldn’t get out the car
fast enough
I remember
the comrade
who held me up
The brother who loved me
band-aid enough to make it home
I remember the tears

The years doing workshops with men
The programs developed
The organizations worked with
The activists I have been trained by
The survivors I have stood by
The conversations
The broken
The determined
The death threats
The resilience
The everyday reflection
The camaraderie
The betrayals
The challenges
The dismissals
The reiterations
The struggle

The beauty of healing
The burden of sustainability
The necessity of the work

The realization that silence
means that nobody ever
considers that you can
hear them
see them

I promise
The tears are never too far away

I read a comment online today
I wanted to go numb
I couldn’t
I wanted to break things
but demolition is too familiar of a fancy
I wanted to cry
But I’ve never been good at falling tears

The water has welled in my chest
One day I will see monsoon
Or one day
I will vomit tidal waves

Next Door Elegy

modern-front-doors

A man died in the apartment next door
Walls a screeching anguish
Floor a gasping choke
The bellow from his son’s larynx
A gutteral Blues bass lick
It shook the building so hard
I though I heard God apologize

Winter moved in next door
Unpacked a teary blizzard
And froze the last breaths
Of a family’s morning horizon
The frost made the walls
Look like tombstones
I lowered my head in prayer
As I listened to a son
Scream for more sunshine

He repeated his father’s name
Over and over again
As if he was searching the crevices
Of death’s cloak
For a glimmer of light
To rescue from purgatory
The amber alert in the sirens wail
Made the neighborhood
Search for the old man
In the recesses of their fonder memories
The collective gathering of
Hand to hand in pleading with heaven
Blew ripples across the East River
And back
I hoped their window was open
I hoped the old man shivered

The cavalcade of footsteps
Drummed ritualistic along the steps
Police and EMTs
Armed with ice picks and hope
Staccatoed into the apartment
I listened to the orchestra closely
One trying to conduct a son’s calm
Two more playing a concerto
Along the fathers chest
The sound wasn’t right
The notes too flat
A defibrillator to tune
Clear
Clear
They played again and again
I wish I could read sheet music
But I could only play along by ear

When they carried the man away
I wished the stretcher never be ice tray
Wished the daughter had gotten there earlier
10 min before the revival arrived
When her brother said the father had just returned
Instead
She arrived in a panic
To choir disbelief in family unison
Hymnal along her brothers
Tear soaked shoulder
I wished for a sermon of victory
To follow
Not a eulogy

A man died in the apartment next door
Candles outside the building
When I returned
Told the tale
Each step upstairs
Felt heavy
It felt awkward
Showing up at a manger
With an “I’m sorry”
Didn’t feel biblical enough
Not wise enough
But it was all I had to offer
The son of a God fearing man
I couldn’t save him from the mourning
He will carry like cross
From the judas of his senses
The next morning
When he first steps into the living room
Seeking a soul
That is no longer
When his heart feels Boulder
And he has to push that rigid aside
To resurrect a life after

I know no other thing to do
Other than to add them
To the list of things I lay at God’s feet
Each night I ask for grace and mercy
And to end this poem
With Amen

Theatre of the Mind

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“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from…” Prodigy of Mobb Deep

There is so much being done at various fronts in terms of Higher Ed and I think this quote summarizes why it’s such an intense playing field for multiple entities. It’s also why movements to “transform the academy” have been met with so much backlash. Folks in the Humanities and any minority studies scholars can tell you how hard they fight on their campuses. We have to really think about how we move and what we do going forward. There is this push to frame certain academic and intellectual offerings and flights of fancy. Mainly because they enhance critical inquiry, critical analysis, and critical thinking overall. They foster a greater sense of understanding, nurture social and political awareness, and reinforce and affirm a sense of self.

Take a look at this article in The New Yorker on politics and the UNC system in North Carolin by Jedediah Purdy,  “Ayn Rand comes to UNC”.

See, there is this rhetoric about focusing on skills and subjects that employers need. It falls in line with thoughts around having employable graduates. It increases attention to pre-professional majors. What it doesn’t do is fall in line with what is being discussed (see Daniel Pink and others) in the professional world about marketability. Marketability isn’t about what job related skills you learned or what subjects related to the work environment and industry you took. It’s about your ability to think in ways that grows profit margins and market share. It’s about your ability to navigate relationships. It’s about your ability to manage stress and to make necessary decisions. Much of that involves crafting a well rounded student in an interdisciplinary fashion. That involves the humanities beyond narrowing modes of traditional discourse. That is, if you want to graduate a student that isn’t intended to just be a cog in wheel that tends to underpay and overwork and doesn’t like organized labor.

We are not talking eternal truths and morality of capitalism here.

What’s funny is that the very people who are making these decisions will sit with a glass of wine and talk high culture. They will go on about the works of literature that have impacted them. They will credit music, the places they’ve visited, etc. They will speak the value of philosophy. They also endow programs at private institutions that offer classes that they don’t feel are right for public state supported campuses.

Do not believe that the trying to level the playing field of public and private is well intended. It is a filtration process that puts prospective into manageable pools of thought. Public is the control, private is the experimental. This is a white lab coat power struggle mixed with political gerrymandering and right wing ego.

Think about the C Bradley Thompson quote in the article, “If they really want to change the culture long-term in this country, it’s not going to happen through politics. If you think the political system is corrupt, what you’re really saying is the American people are corrupt. And if you’re saying the American people are corrupt, then what you have to do of course is change American culture. And the way you change culture is through ideas…. If we’re giving tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns and we’re giving one-tenth of one per cent to trying to change the intellectual culture of this nation, you are by definition going to lose.”

What is happening in North Carolina is a sign of what is at stake during this political climate. It includes a fight to shape the nature of intellectualism and learning today. Those of us dedicated to widening the scope of thought have to prepare for one wild ride. They ain’t too privy to our kind unless we are teaching where they want us to teach to who they want us to teach.

Now about that increased funding to community colleges….
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