Saturday, December 26, 2009

For You

A lake is like a family member
Whose role is to remind everyone of their limitations

A drop of blood can spoil a river

Sometimes water is thicker than blood.

Friday, December 25, 2009

For Us

In this place
This sacred place
We held so dear to our hearts
And in our collective consciousness
This bothered ground we called our home;
Our reason to fight and fight again
All in the name of Pan African salvation
We stand in truth
Having resolved our struggle with the pale one
And with one another
To now simply be

Each of us
Doing what we were called to do
As dedication to the promise
Those before us had made
Before relinquishing their very last breaths
To aborted uprisings and public castrations

In this here place
With our hands clutched together
Bowing our heads
As we call upon those who await us
For the renewal of our plight
We so lovingly give homage to
This borrowed soil
On which we’ve chosen
As our point of reference
Without division of any kind
But with the conviction of one force
One people
One objective
In the name of spiritual egression

It is at this moment
That we make the decision
To return to our most basic of rituals
As in before captivity and social buffoonery
To look on and ahead
Without the meaning of ‘I’

That this day
We begin at the end
At the beginning again
Our heels fixed firmly
In our agreement to transition
Having learned from our past
Leaving behind the chains that once defined us
And lift our heads towards the All Knowing
To finally
Once and for all
After being forced to despise our own
As we sing the praise of justice and forever
Give the sign...

Then disappear.

From my first book of poems, The Dredlocks Tree

Thursday, December 24, 2009

25 Things Blacks Don't Wanna Hear

1. We think street culture is Black culture;

2. There's a war going on between Blacks and niggaz;

3. We got mad skillz with gadgets but can't relate with one another in a manner that's intimate and real;

4. We still prefer light-skinned sistas over dark-skinned ones, especially in our music videos;

5. We think wearing locks is a fashion sense when it's supposed to be a poltical statement;

6. We need to walk with a pit bull in order to feel important;

7. We stand on street corners because we have nothing productive to offer our neighbors and selves;

8. We don't attend parent/teacher conferences;

9. We're afraid of telling our young boys (and a few grown ass men) that wearing your pants low enough to show your behind is not only tired but sad;

10. We don't hold our local leaders accountable, and they only come around during re-election time;

11. We forget that Obama is still a politician, and therefore can't and won't address our issues as directly and immediately as we'd like him to;

12. We'd rather look good than feel good;

13. We don't see hyper-masculinity as a cry for help;

14. We think the empowerment of sistas means disempowering brothas;

15. We don't support our own photographers and other artists, but get upset when they get love from outsiders;

16. We don't question the contradictions of the Church;

17. We make fun of africentric Blacks to avoid PSP (post-slavery psychosis);

18. We think Reggae and Dancehall music are one in the same;

19. We suffer from internalized racism, religious indoctrination, depression, and denial;

20. We think critical thinking is reading ghetto drama books;

21. We think ethnic and fly is a contradiction;

22. We celebrate the myth of Langston Hughes, but not the man himself;

23. We'll buy an $80,000 truck rather than spend $10 on a self-help book;

24. We'll support a singer who likes urinating on girls to the point where we'll even buy the video, but we think same sex marriage is digusting;

25. We can't handle the truth.

Typical Times...

These aren’t typical times
September’s not coming around
And it’s gotten warmer now that August is gone
What I thought I knew when has changed directions
Like the choices of a teenager
The dance of the butterfly.

Where the Lights At?

I've been a Harlemite long enough to see 125th Street light up during Christmas season. But this year the stars didn't hang over the strip like they usually do. Instead people and cars make their way thru, bizness as usual, while store dolgiers pick out the crowd with their blow horns and sales. Faces looking hurried. Small children acting grown. Nigga this and nigga that, and he's only twelve but his bubblecoat 16. Sign of the times. Economic downturn, so some make do and some Aves don't get love. And the same old excuses for tolerating make their way thru as well. We don't notice these minor details. Not like we used to. Not like when The Mart was the place where you got your smile on. Now ghetto drama books instead of Black history jewels. Sign of the times. Economic upturn if we avoid the shea butter and keep to Marshall's. But then no matter how much we bend over, in the name of gentrification, stars never go missing Downtown. Folks who got it just won't have it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

La Pregunta Cafe

W.A.R. (Work As Renaissance) was the theme last week at Harlem's La Pregunta Cafe. Wordkicker, Jamica was the m/c. I had first seen her kick at my homebase, Sister's Bookstore where she practically turned the place inside out with her piece on African children with no limbs as a result of the blood bath over the underground gold trade from which blingers benefit. I had asked then and asked her again, When'we gonna see that poetry collection of yours? And once again the same modesty; that pleasant smile. I know, I know.

To my surpise, Chance--one of the judges at last year's BMCC open mic-- was also there kicking his own words and making the dust from his timbs taste like sweet n sour candy. Easy on the throat until the aftertaste sneaks up on you like the reflection in your mirror when you realize you've been had. And while the feature for the night was a guitar-stringer named Blackbird (just pretend it's John Legend without Kanye as collateral), others who stepped to the mic were Kira ("I want you in the place where one million men haven't marched!"), Shane (Post 9/11 and the treatment of sand niggaz), Purple Haze (Mother Sista, Sista Girl) and of course, Ngoma himself ("Make you bullet proof, make you bullet proof until all of Africa is free!").

Most open mics are set in a way where each messenger takes their turn at the mic. What I found most interesting about this one is that participants were also spitting right from their table, most of them reading off from their gadgets. There was a nice flow about that kind of improvisation. Because even if you didn't know their names, the focus was on the message; the human condition we all share, no matter the skin shade or gender, or sexual appeal. So by the time I made the decision to come from the back of the room and take the mic for myself, the audience had already concluded that I was a foreigner just by the way I introduced my first piece. Something young ones just don't do. They might tell you how they were feeling that day and this is what came of it. But they're not into preface and forwards like us ol' timers (45+ is old, to them. Just ask my daughter. She thinks 30 is retirement!) So I broke the ice with my standard, Had To Do It. It's a favorite that always gets a good laugh. Then after getting their attention, I swung into Shango mode; put racismo on the table and began boxing with avoidance and denial. Because skin color politics, which is what race-ism is all about, is the second thing we don't like talking about--We, meaning the grown-ups. The first being sexuality. But right across the street from the cafe is City College where I first learned to spit, so the avoidance was more like scrutiny. And if there was any denial in the room, it was my ego bouncing off the brick walls and bamboo mats hanging from the ceilings, shying from the possibility that my sht just wasn't on point enough, killer enough; not intense enough. Because younger audiences like it hot and in your face. The more profane, the better. None of this professorial, try to figure it out for yourself sht! You wanna talk about racismo? Then bring it like Nas droppin' knowledge on a newbie. Cos referring to Dessaline and sugar canes, as politically sound as that may be, comes off to much like a history class, especially during final exams week! Even Ngoma, the eldest in the house, who was pulling out musical instruments out of his pocket tried to warn me as I got on the stage-- You sure you got this? I can play three-four gods. You got any gods of your own? Still, they let me spit. All the while giving me that look. Those of us who are messengers and yet are no longer angry know what I'm talking about. It's a kind of look a young pit bull gives you. Like, Nigga I could bite a chunk off you if I wanted to, but I'ma be nice!

Comes down to respect. For having the stomach to even add something to the pot and for being part of a student body that demanded Africana studies play a significant role in the overall curriculum. But that was then. This is now where Black Power is less about reaching back to the Motherland and going nat'ral, and more about who can keep their dark shades on the longest without bumping into people! Guess you can say, I forgot what it's like to be in fighting mode, whether it means carrying picket signs or writing about a love deluxe. When you're 45+ you tend to become more settled in the everyday necessities of adult life. Your priorities change. You're not as loud and your sense of maleness or femaleness is no longer attached to trends. Where sensationalism was the right formula for getting heard, now it's a more toned down approach; tempered, like a screaming child who finally got his pacifier.

In other words, this Black man is not angry anymore. Might be more tragic; romantic, even, if I were. A cliche that always sells. But then there's also a danger in losing that anger, that edge. Your spit is not as effective or affective; doesn't hit people's eyes and faces, and then drip perfectly grossly. Like it's expected to. Like some of us prefer it when Alanis Morisset was still mad at the mothafkr!

I learned something, though. Even if you're considered a beloved minister of words, it's important to also hang with the younger ones. They keep you up to date and on your toes. They let you know what's cool and what's no longer happening, no matter how profound you think your sht is. And even as you're putting your words back in your satchel and a bullet in the form of a sexy, wide-eyed sista tells you, "By the way, I liked your piece on racismo."--Her chocolate skin telling me she's been there herself--you can't take anything for granted. You just know to make your next book of poems worthy of praise from the young ones as well, so that your sense of newfound peace isn't mistaken for

Para Ti

On the other hand
There's you
And your tendency
To position yourself
According to which side
The coconut falls
And yet I fought for you
Let your babies
Suck at my nipples
While I fed you my music
To help shape
Your identity of convenience
Where you honor my ancestry
But laugh at my skin color

Yet I still fight for you
Cut down sugar cane for you
When the one who stole your name
Builds walls to keep you
From crossing over
To the heavenly place
Where you learn to despise
My relevance
Denying me
Of even a respecful glance

It's that tendency
To rape your consciousness
But marry the one who offers you crumbs
That you glorify
So devotedly
While I watch you exploit my burdens

Wars over turf
Turf over wars
When it isn't your language I resent
But the way you relish it
Rely on it
Throw daggers at me with it

It's that same tendency
Of selective memory
While I remember

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This Christmas

This Christmas, let's try making it less about stuff and more about learning ways to improve our relations with our loved ones, neighbors, co-workers and imperfect strangers. If we need a model to follow, let's try learning from the Rasta by adopting the art of simple living so we're not held hostage by the illusion of success and power. If the Rasta way is too much of an offense to your conditioning, then try dipping your feet in Buddhism or the notion that once you let go of worldly desires you then become free of pain. And in case that, too, is a bit of a stretch then how about taking inventory of your vocab and like the Lakota eliminating such words like maybe and maybe not, so that folks know what you mean and where you stand? Whatever flies your kite, teaching our children that Christmas is about buying things and not making things; keeping up appearances and not honoring our ancestors, only perpetuates a self-serving mindset.

Yea, I know. How do you show true solidarity to Brother Jesus while sill putting a smile on someone's face? And what's so bad about buying someone a dress tie or a neck chain? Well, it's not so much the tie but how a man can wrap it around his neck so tightly that he's no longer recognizable or the Congo blood it takes for that gold band to get to Wal Mart.

Last Christmas I bought poetry books and indian incense sticks for my friends and they, in turn, gave me things that are close to my heart, if not my bed pillow-- journal books, black markers, sea shells that they themselves picked off from the beach, and an African cloth for my vending table.
This Christmas I'm supporting Black photographers, since only Paris and Berlin seem to be showing them love. I'm asking Paven Carter to make me a 2010 photo calendar, buying two of Ocean Morisset's latest prints; even helping R.P. Risbrook and Iris Huey promote their film projects (check'em out on facebook). I'm also pushing Deborah Willis' new visual, Posing Beauty, namely Lauren Kelley, with a kiss back to Regine Romain. And so that I don't take the artist for granted, I'm gonna learn not to judge (myself, included); send a few peeps a handwritten note (remember handwriting?!), thanking them for their continued kind presence in my life...

...My way of avoiding all the hustle n bustle, long lines and aggy sales clerks, and just feeling the holiday spirit.

Peace and gratitude, people!

Last Christmas

Around this time last year, I was fussin with NYPD and their usual treatment of Black males. Here's a blast from the past...

I don't like to using the term 'my White friend' when Jason is much more than a color or political tag. But in this case I'm merely trying to make a point--

We go way back to when our kids were old enough to walk on their own, so when Jason's son (who's now a college freshman away from home) decided to stay by me because of a plane layover before continuing up to Maine by bus I was thrilled, because it gave me a chance to play the good uncle.

The next morning I took my buddy's son to Port Authorities and helped him purchase his bus ticket. As I stood by him, I noticed a White police officer giving me a menacing look. I paid him no mind because as a Black man in America that's just one of those everyday hassles we have to put up with, like not being able to get a cab or Scarlet O'Haras clutching their purses when they see you coming. So we just went on about our bizness, talking about his holiday course assignments, how he enjoys the dorm life, sports, J-Lo (he's in love with Jennifer Lopez), and the fun he plans on having once he reaches home, all the while looking for his gate. Just when we found it, that same police officer yelled a loud "Yo!!!" causing everyone and his mother to look our way! He made it so obvious that it was me he was talking to that I turned to him and calmly asked, "What's the problem?" to which he answered, "Well, you look like a hustler!"...(a person who employs fraudulent or unscrupulous methods to obtain money; a swindler-- Random House unabridged dictionary 2006)..."As a matter fact," he added, "you look like one of our regulars." I could tell the mixed crowd was prepared for a Rodney King scene just by the worried look on their faces, so after a few seconds of staring at po-po as he stared back at me--a dance full of unpleasant memories from either side--I simply turned around and went back to talking to my play nephew, noticing his own worried look, no doubt intimidated by the intrusion. I expected another Yo! and got ready for the get-down but then suddenly the officer disappeared, just as the Boston/Maine bus pulled up.

As embarassing as it was to have to be called out like that from a blue, I knew it was important that I kept my head high in front of an audience who already were used to seeing Black men murdered by NYPD over less uneventful situations, especially those bystanders of darker complexions who've succombed to powerlessness or business as usual. Plus, Jason's wife expected her son to come home safely and I felt I owed it to her, both as a parent myself and longtime friend, to not allow my ego to cause her to hear about blood and handcuffs, whether I deserved it or not. So rather than send her son off with hate and immobility, I chose instead to encourage him to take what he just witnessed as education outside of the classroom, the kind of lesson plans most teachers avoid out of an uneasiness to discuss the obvious. He felt bad, of course, having turned into an adult in a matter of minutes. Had his skin color been darker, I would've given him the same lecture James Baldwin gave his nephew in The Fire Next Time. But his pale skin makes him a beneficiary of a privileged race, so the lesson for him was not coping skills and how to not internalize racism, but the acknowledgement that the term post-racial means that racism and racial profiling is only dead in principal; that had Al Sharpton ran for President we would've been celebrating Hillary Clinton's inauguration instead, maybe even Mcain's.

Consequently, his parents had decided that their son needed to witness the unfair treatment of a Black man for the sake of his character as both an American and a citizen of the world, especially since wearing timbs, baggy jeans, a bomber jacket and ski hat is apparently a hustler's uniform, according to a biased cop who neglected to pay attention to body language. Had he been less ignorant, less-focused on finding reason to bully me with his badge, he would've noticed that the interaction between me and the youth was intimate and not tense. But he must've found it strange to see a White college kid being so familiar with a Black man, even in New York City.

Come to think of it, what if I were the one perceived as being swindled? What if this younger White male who also had on winter gear was trying to hustle me? Did that possibility ever occur to this policeman? Or did his disgust for something so unusually normal kidnap his brain cells the moment he saw us?

The sidebar is that I made a point of reporting the incident to the Port Authority heads, even though it took three hours for them to finally give me a form that I completed in three minutes! They tried all kinds of ploys to discourage me from making the report, from saying I could've been arrested for trespassing since I was standing right at the bus gate with no passenger ticket to making me use the top of a trash can as a counter since they wouldn't allow me to use theirs. Still, I stayed determined and centered since I knew that their only weapon would be my reacting. Because once you react, my friends, they get to switch the table on you, as in Get the Black Guy 101! Must be part ot their training or something. Like when European immigrants had to pass through Ellis Island for inoculation and indoctrination (...And stay away from this one!). Even Governor Patterson's portrait placed high on one of the walls wasn't enough to encourage me to keep in mind that the badge of honor is meant to protect me, since often times blue supercedes Black much like the king piece in chess-- Looks presidential, but very limited moves.

And then there was this terrorist hall of fame poster of Arab faces and names placed outside the unit's doors, and I wondered why Timothy McVeigh wasn't on it. The White guy who bombed Oaklahoma City six years prior to 9/11, along with the culprits who ignored the 1,900 pleas for help after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It showed us just how significant Black people are in this country, compared to the quick response folks all the way in Asia received after Tsunami. I mean, if you gotta wave an American flag to prove to your own government that you're worth rescuing too, it pretty much says it all.

The other sidebar is the recent murder of yet another innocent bruh, Oscar Grant from Oakland, CA. The good news is that his murderer, ex-transit officer Johannes Mehserle was arrested and convicted after an outstanding show of civil disobedience from not only us but Whites as well, with the help of a passenger's cell phone video. I considered Sean Bell's case over on this side and how very few Whites showed support. Was it because there was no video to confirm the killing, so they chose instead to simply lower their heads out of fear of 5.0? Guilt maybe? Yet in Oscar's case one bullet was enough to inspire crowds of White folks to protest, while fifty bullets for Sean apparently wasn't enough to get the right number of White people involved. Count that. Fifty shots! See it. Fifty bullet wounds!!! No Stop, Police! and the standard shot in the leg to cause the alleged offender to cut short his running. 50 bullet wounds!!! Now, that's not Stop or we'll shoot. That's Die nigger! Die!!!!

I coulnd't help thinking about Sean when that over-zealous cop rolled up on me the way he did. It's part of the American Black male experience. The same post traumatic slave syndrome Dr. Joy DeGruy talks about. You know, worrying about not having the right ID on you for fear of being beaten and locked up. Worrying about dogs chasing you for having the wrong skin color. Worrying about being lynched because you're in the wrong hood. Those annoying little disturbances that White folks never have to deal with. Imagine that. To get up in the morning and not even think about your skin color, and how it will affect your day...

But I remembered my father's teachings and showed the fool who I am, as opposed to what he was expecting me to act like.

So I put a dent in it. I rejected the temptation to generalize all police officers and also remembered my White allies. Those who've proven their friendships to me during our years of learning one another and having each other's backs. For as much as I wanted to tell po-po, in return, that he looked like an asshole, one of OUR regulars, as a matter of fact, I knew de-socialization was more powerful than blood and handcuffs. I knew there was a possibility that this New York City crowd may not have been as dedicated to justice as folks in Cali were. I knew I'd have my say later when the officer's files included my complaint, along with recommendations to both him and his trainers. I knew all I had to do was chill, bite the bullet, as it may, then check on-line for the civilian complaint revue board to make sure my complaint was taken seriously. I also sent a copy of it to Governor Paterson to give him a chance to have a chat with the blues about hustler profiling.

I put a dent in it, reminding myself what I had initially planned on doing right after making sure my friends' son was on the right bus home, which was to take pictures of the first snow. It doesn't prevent a next time to happen to me, and it doesn't mean there won't be another Sean or Oscar. But it does mean the ability to remember who you are, even when less dignified people think less of you. To rise up and keep going, and to let karma be the bitch she's supposed to be!

Riverside Park

Washington Heights intersection

Downtown Manhattan

Battery Park

Battery Park 2

Battery Park 3

Tribeca park

Guava birdhouse

Squirrel posing by tree

Plant in snow

Dancing tree lights

Dancing night lights

Dancing night lights2

Glass building


White flowers

Violent sky

Battery Park too

Snowman on my roof

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Is...

Poetry is spirit


Like staying up
way late
in the night
playing tag with sleeplessness

Poetry is passion rushing in and out of itself...

Like the hurried music of Baraka and Shange
Alive and soaring through space and back

Poetry is pain not having a resting place
You can't hold it
Put it down
Or leave it
Because it's indefinite
And yet, you create it

Poetry is anger raging through your veins
You can't hold it
Put it down
Or leave it
Because it's much bigger than you
And yet, you control it

Poetry is pleading for resurrection
For love to come in

And this time maybe
To stay

Poetry is spirit...

...trying to get at something.*

Recent readings at Sister's Uptown Bookstore on Amsterdam Ave and 156th Street where Harlem meets D.R. This time Yaco (It's not Obama time, but our time!), Walter Goolsby (I hate you! I hate you! I love you!!!), Reynard Harris' harmonica and American slaves storytelling, Corey Spencer (You kill me, you make me!), Gregory Joseph Foster, Jr.'s Black Love Notes, along with our host and griot, Brother Steven, and then me trying to get at something...

Sister's Bookstore will be celebrating their 10th anniversary on Saturday, January 30th from 1-9p and owner (and Mother), Jannifer Wilson is inviting all performers and those who support them to come join in on this important event; important, not only for the cultural aspect of it but also and especially because of the number of Black owned bookstores becoming virtually extinct in the Community. Sister's is one of the very few spots still around that offers a space for african-centered poets, writers and storytellers to give their voice. So keep January 30th in mind. Support the arts. Support Us!

*From my first book of poems, The Dredlocks Tree