Sunday, March 22, 2020

Part One: Black Virgin

      “Please man. Just this time... take care of me, Co?” 

“Come on,” I said, and lead the man whose voice had broken the dark and the woman he had with him to the back of the store. 

The woman was young and quiet, too fucking quiet. She was wearing a pair of men’s jean shorts and a sports bra. Not fat, but her middle was loose and fleshy. She had this wide-eyed look of perpetual surprise. I gave them what they needed and tried not to look her in the face. 

Back in front the store this girl was talking on a battered cell phone. Arguing with someone about shoe insoles and washing powder. She was a real pretty girl, with hair that looked like if she uncoiled it from the nape of her neck, would probably reach her butt. Once she walked inside the store, she hung up on whoever she was talking to. I watched the way the black and white stripes of her leggings moved across her legs, as she walked around the store all lazy-like, picking shit up, looking at it a long time, then putting it down. She’s stared at two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, like it made a difference. 

I went inside to holler at Fadi for a second. Maybe get a little closer to her too. “I’m done. You know her?” I asked and motioned in the girl’s direction.

“Who? Panda? Yeah. She works across the street at the club. You never seen her in there?” 

I glanced in her direction. Her eyes were red. I figured she had been smoking, but she could have been crying or both. 

“How much?” she asked Fadi, holding up a toilet scrubber. 
Fadi made a motion that suggested she look at the sticker. “It’s not marked, must be free.” 

She walked up to the counter with a basket full of things. Toothbrush, ten boxes of cornbread mix, toilet-scrubber, detergent, a pack of sponge rollers, Lysol, and hand sanitizer. 

“How’s it going over there?” Fadi nodded his head in the direction of the club across the street. 

“You work over at Bottoms?” I asked. “How come I never seen you in there?” 

“I’m only there a couple nights. But I know him,” she flung her hand in Fadi’s direction and laughed. “But I don’t know you. What’s your name?” 


“Well about this... even if he stays home, you come see me, tonight, ok?”

“Why?” I asked. “Look like I got money or something?”

 Panda giggled.
“No, but I think you’re cute,” Panda reached out and gave a few of my dreads a light tug.

I should have said something back. Anything. Squeezed the side of her waist. She would have liked that. Instead, I just stood there. 
Panda stared at me like she was reading my mind. My eyes followed her out the door. 

“I not going to lie, man,” I said, as I watched her stripes move through the glass. “I like lil’ one’s style.” 

“Slow your roll, Co. You know that girl Peanutt? That’s her sister. They’re trouble.” Fadi laughed, but I could tell he meant it. 

“That’s exactly what I’m looking for, dog” I answered. 

I meant that too. 

The power was out. My Paw was out of town and forgot to pay the light bill. I had the money to turn the lights back on but fuck it.  I was about to cop an apartment and some real work of my own. I could sleep without lights for a couple days. I lit all the candles I kept on my drawing table. I needed to clean myself. I smelled like outside. Like a puppy dog, my mama would have said if she could smell me. The hot water from the bathroom steamed up my entire room. The tiny bathroom connected to my bedroom reminded me of a cell. Once in the shower, the sweat started to pour. I had to sit down to keep from passing out. 

The water rushed over my head and Peanutt popped up in my mind when I closed my eyes. She worked at Bottoms from time to time and always needed two things when she saw me. That shit to get her up, before work, and that shit to get her back down, once she was home. I didn’t know she had a sister. But I was gonna pretend like I still didn’t. I had messed around with her a few times before I realized how bad off, she was. Then there was Kalo. My baby girl. All I could do was lie to her about it all. 

Damn near two in the morning, and still too hot to sleep. My Pa was trying to wait me out, make me pay the bill, probably, but whatever. He had been doing this shit since I was ten years old. Leaving and returning with little warning. I called Fadi to see if he was done at Habibti’s and felt like dipping through Bottoms. I was really trying to see that girl. When he pulled up, I was happier for the air conditioner than the blunt he passed to me. 

“Xavier back from Miami yet?” 

“Yep,” Fadi said. “I talked to him earlier. He said tomorrow and we’ll be all good.” 

Inside Bottoms, we saw each other at the same time. Panda was leaning up against the bar talking into the side of this man’s neck. She stood in place, but moved all the loose flesh on her body, which was just enough for a good show. The man slid money in the little bag she wore around her waist. She looked past him, straight at me. Her hair was all hanging down looking like falling water. Her snow-white top and bottom were slashed all over the place, nipples poked out the holes in her top. I was impressed by how much like a bride she looked. I wished I had flowers for her. I wasn’t really hung up on the good girl shit. 

When the song ended, Panda patted the guy’s shoulders, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and headed in my direction. 

Fadi was already looking uncomfortable. I knew he was going to leave once he was done taking care of business. I could find my own way home, and if not, Fadi would come back for me. That’s why we were friends. When Panda made it over, I reached out to put my hand around her waist and pull her toward me a little. Not too hard, but just affectionately, to show her I wanted her. 

“I think I’m good for the night,” Panda said.

“Oh yeah?” I answered. “Lucky you.”

“Yep, lucky me. I’m ready to leave. Want to go chill somewhere? We can have some real drinks instead of this watered-down shit.”

“Yeah, let’s go. But I don’t have a ride right now. You?”

“Guess we're flying United. It’s all good.”

Out of her money bag she pulled out this black spool of cloth. When she unrolled it, turned out it was a real thin black dress that reached almost to the floor. I watched as she pulled it over her head. It fell soft and wavy, where it should, on her body and we walked out the club together. 

“My place?” she asked. 

I nodded.

The cab came quick. Panda said she was a regular customer. 

“You talk real cute, you know that? Where you from?” I asked her, as we got into the backseat.

“Here, but I left when I was like fourteen. I just came back to New Orleans like 6 months ago.”  

“Barbados,” she answered.

“Panda’s your real name?”

“By real, if you mean the one I answer to, yes.”

“What about real by the one your mama gave you in the hospital?”

“My Mama is dead and I was born in a house, so there you have it.”

Usually, when I was with a girl, I didn’t ask many questions. This time I did and it brought something into the small space of the back of the cab that I hadn’t intended. I had blunt in my pocket, the driver seemed cool, so I asked him if it was okay to smoke. We were his last fare, he said, and as long as he could hit it, it was all good. I lit the blunt and the comforting odor made the air around the three of us lighter immediately. 

“Where you all going again?” the driver asked.

“The Hill. Schaffield Dr.” Panda responded.

Friday, March 4, 2016

You Already Know: A Meditation


I urge you to be careful, for there is a deadly prison, the prison that is erected when one spends one's life fighting phantoms, concentrating on myths and explaining, over and over again, to the conqueror: your language, your lifestyle, your history, your habits.
- Toni Morrison

The worst thing for Doc to write, in bleeding red ink, on your paper was the word: reactionary. It was the highest form of insult in his class. To it, he might even add a question: is that the best you can do? Stop thinking like a white man, he would say, as he handed back the crimson mess of your work. And if you tried to push back against the notion that you might ever be guilty of such a thing, he would say coolly to you: well that’s what you sound like when you spend twenty pages of research arguing with them. Don’t ever argue with white people about race. Make your point and move on. Arguing only feeds the pathology that they are the judge of the validity of what you have to say. That they are there to grant you permission. They are not. Once you know that, you will learn to win every argument by not allowing them in the first place. Doc also, absolutely, forbade the word: basically in its oral or written form. What exactly have you established a basis for at this point in your life?  He would shout and slam his hands down, if one dared to utter or type it, after the rules had been established. Doc also required the phrase: those politically defined as to precede the labels Black and white, in reference to human beings. Someone(s) created the brutal bureaucracy of these terms. Treat it as such.
Doc said we all had a syndrome. Don’t think your skin color made you immune. They force-fed you all the same crap as their children, only with more force. But there was a fix for this affliction, he said. A correction on this Christopher Columbus like tendency to name  and claim and dismiss and summarize and render sure verdicts on  things, you didn’t know the first thing about. This mode of relating to the world was dangerous to its stability, and the enemy of knowledge, said Doc. Yet, it was still, the default-setting of too many. Doc’s fix came thrice a semester. In addition to forming your argument, you had to create a theoretical model that correlated to the thesis of your paper. You found it a rather tedious assignment, but Doc said, creating an argument of your own was superior to responding to someone else’s. Your arguments will be silly until they get better, he said. They get better only with practice. Once, you come up with one Doc says is a good one:

As an educated, half Black and half- Danish child of immigrants, in 1920s America… the psycho-socio-economic options presented to Helga Crane in Nella Larsen’s, Quicksand, resemble a game of three- card- monte… there is no just outcome available.

Other times, you will get your argument slashed through and written over in all caps. Doc conceded to your hurt feelings, once, that yes, it was a term, oft misapplied to anyone with an opinion in opposition to white-supremacist ideology. However, that was not the reason he wrote it on your paper. As an undergraduate, you have a tortured relationship to that that slur; reactionary.  At nineteen, it is difficult to get a grip on what the word meant. Hard to understand the terms on which you could be called “reactionary” when you had spent your entire life being taught about the “triangle trade” and the genius of Eli Whitney and the true humanitarian nature of his invention, the cotton gin.
According to your middle school social studies textbook, besides increasing the amount of cotton separated and the demand for the forced labor to do it, the cotton gin also prevented slaves from pricking their fingers. At least, not quite as much, as they had before, while they sowed the capital for an empire for free.  You hadn’t been able to say a word back to that or to the fourth- grade field trip to Madame Delphine LaLaurie’s house in the French Quarter. You hadn’t known what to make of the three smiling white women, who were your teachers, as they told you how Delphine had mutilated and tortured multiple of her slaves and gotten away with the whole thing. This was what was called an education for you. And now that you were studying the facts of it all, facts Doc was teaching you, all you wanted to do was a write a paper and expose all of this false language. How was that reactionary?
To this Doc would say: the ideas that freed the world once, and will again, were conceived by the people in the cane fields of Louisiana and Haiti. Who would we be if not for Toussaint L’Ouverture? Dessalines?  Harriet, Vessey, Nat Turner, the maroons at Point Coupee? What of the ones that rose up and drowned themselves outright rather than be sold? Honey, Doc said, they were not interested in sassing their masters. Nor… did they spend all night rehashing the reasons why they were going to burn the shit to the ground. They were too busy discussing the strategy they would use to do it. Who cares what those white women were thinking that day outside a racist serial murderer’s house? What were you thinking? What do you think now? You have to carry the cane fields in your mind wherever you go, on paper or otherwise. To be truly radicalized, doc says, is to understand rebellion, not as a reaction to someone else, but as the total expression of self.      

Because you descend from an enslaved people, it is impossible to know where you come from in totality. This is both a trope of your existence and a painful reality. You learn how the 1910s government policy called, “Americanization, forced and gave European immigrants a replacement for this knowledge, called whiteness. The “X” on the end of people’s names in the mosque, you attend lectures at in the nineties, sticks with you. You experiment in elementary school with adding it in place of your own last name on tests and assignments. It does not go over well. But at least, your parents are amused and proud.  You are aware, despite what textbooks and teachers at your Catholic school say, that you are not born of a diagram; a triangle shape of rum, and spices, and people. Because you are from Louisiana, you are lucky. Your grandmother gives you a name to carry with you in the world; Zul-ma.
Zul-ma is your grandmother’s grandmother’s mother. She was straight from Africa. You learn from Doc that the French were a rather interesting bunch. While the English wheeled and dealed in slaves from all up and down and the West African coast, the French decided, why fix what wasn’t broken in Senegambia? They would, through the eighteenth century, steal more than half of their highly-skilled labor force from the area between the Senegal and the Gambia rivers. A region that was actively cultivating all of what would become major cash crops of the Americas; rice, indigo, cotton, tobacco etc. You learn the story behind a word, that you have heard a lot growing up, it becomes one of your favorite, Bambara.
Doc tells you that you are a unique invention of an ever influx creation. And as such, you are required to be interdisciplinary in your studies, lest you fall into the pit of reactionism. You are given a history book to read along with the literary selections over the course of the semester. This how Doc set up all his literature classes of which you will take many. This is not the place for “new” “criticism” and is it any wonder, that it came into fashion, to de-historicize things in the American south? Doc does not appreciate some of the framing in Gwendolyn Milo Hall’s, Africans in Colonial Louisiana either, but the information inside, he says, is nourishment for a decolonized mind.
The Bambara, a Mande people native to area of Mali (to which other groups like the Mandinke, Maninka, Malinke, Mandinga, Manya, Dyula, Duranko and Wangara also belong ) have seen the Malian empire rise and fall and travelled from their native-land and settled a few generations in the Senegambia region, by the time they become the  captifs  of the French. Tossed in holes cut from the ground, the Bambara find themselves without protection and vulnerable to theft, partially as a result of their outsider status, partially a result of their decision to remain, unlike their fellow Mandekan people, unassimilated in their new home. The Bambara refuse to bow five times a day to Allah. They will not turn themselves toward Mecca. They keep their ancestors’ cosmology intact all the way across the savannahs of Africa and eventually over distance of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Bambara believe the universe emerged from an infinite void in motion, which through a hyper-complex and very gradual process of taking on voice and vibration, eventually produces light and sound, creatures, actions and human sentiments. The power of androgyny is a core value and essential to understanding the dualities present in all things. Bambara cosmology is flexible and designed to be easily moved from place to place. For instance, when a Bambara musician sets up to play, he receives a command before beginning that roughly translates to: now go out and organize the world... The Bambara, it turns out, come to Louisiana with a worldview that understands the concept of sovereignty not through the acquisition of territory, but through people sharing a spiritual system and philosophy and familial alliances. A set of ideas that is yours still to access, Doc says, if only you give up the western preference for things being basic.
Now, Robert Farris Thompson is an old white man, Doc joked, who quite possibly knows more about being Black than any single one of you sitting in this classroom. Doc also assigns his book in addition to the other reading. RFT’S book, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy teaches you the Mandekan word, woron.  Translated literally, it means “to get the kernel” or more accurately to its use, to master speech, song, music, or any aesthetic endeavor. You are beginning to understand the word, as the opposite of being reactionary; as what it means to establish a basis for something eternal and unconquerable. The Mande understanding of reason, you learn, did not rely on linearity but the balance of opposites— with a place for both the conformist and the innovator. You learn two more new words, badenya and fadenya, respectively.

You have been considering these concepts of conformity and innovation a lot lately, as things are grim in both directions of descent, West Africa and America. State violence coming by way of the police and bullets in the tops of skulls and in the backs of young men and women. You have been obsessed over reading about an epidemic killing people, who your insides and history teaches you are very likely your own. You do not wonder how those, who have established the wealth of several nations by way of the gold and minerals and people extracted from their land, could die from lack of rubber gloves, incinerators, and replacement fluid. You know very well. You read about a place called Monkey Island located deep in Liberia. An island, where the diseased chimps of US medical experimentation run free and infected and where white people wanting adventure, take boat tours to see. You watch as Marburg Fever, burg, as in a German bug, and its cousins Lassa and Ebola become a black disease. One white people catch from being heroes and others as a consequence of their continued existence.  You have been considering the Mandekan proverb, the hero is but welcome on troubled days
You remember when you found yourself in Doc’s class, three years after what should have been the last time. Katrina ended your senior year abruptly and you will have just returned to finish it.  As much as you love him, you and Doc will nearly fall out that year, before he sets you straight. The situation in Jena, Louisiana is all over the national media. Nooses hang under trees on a high school campus and eventually a white boy gets his ass kicked for being a racist on the wrong day. Six black teenagers are charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being their tennis shoes, along with attempted murder. The white boy receives mostly cuts and bruises and does not require hospitalization or major medical treatment. Doc says we should all go to the protest, and take the buses the school is providing. Do not drive there in your cars. It is not safe.
 Doc will, however, be in class, taking roll. This confounds you, Doc’s unwavering adherence to rules and technicalities. You tell him as much. Even the white teachers aren’t doing this, you say. He agrees. They aren’t. There are some people at this university that might excuse you, or give you extra credit, even, for protesting. Those are the liars and the ones not to trust. You will have to take more than an absence to rebel, kiddo. Learn to recognize real from fake. I’m getting you ready for the real world. Do you think the white people, who teach here, are here to train you to be strong enough to compete with their own children? Don’t be na├»ve. They are here because they pity you, think they are being noble. Make a fool out of that arrogance, don’t perform to it.  Think about Ramadan, the power of one billion people to know they can perform at 100% with no food or water, in daylight hours, for thirty damn days. Learn what sacrifice is. Or better yet think of the Bambara, and what resistance meant in a hole, on a boat, across an ocean, on a savannah, where your people chose the ancestors over Allah. In a canefield, a schoolhouse— in America, it is all the same.


So, you have been praying, or hoping, or wishing, willing, or working –whatever you want to call it for the fadenya— the innovator, to reassert itself in your life. You have lost people. All of you. Too many for it to be fair. This is a fact that cannot be changed. You have become quite aware that you are alone and absent all your teachers. So, you have been reflecting, as much as you can, on what you have learned up until to this point. It will all be necessary. You will have to get the kernel to survive. To continue the path of action from which you descend.

You understand, better, now the lessons Doc tried to teach you. All those bleeding papers. Chile, he said, pursing his lips; they will never be able to deny your mind, but this grammar? Honey… white people love to discuss grammar when they don’t want to deal with your argument. Doc was joking to make you laugh, but he is also serious. Learn. Correct your mistakes, but fuck English, at the end of the day, he said. That’s not what I’ve meant to teach you all this time.  Learn to recognize all this denial, this violence around you, as the most powerful affirmation of your total self. Know what it means to be truly incendiary. This is the knowledge of all the real radicals. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

SIGHT: 2006

below is the sketch of a fictional piece set in  New Orleans,  just months after Hurricane Katrina. That first year after there was a veil that hung over our empty city. It was a strange and beautiful time to be alive in a ghosttown...

SIGHT :2006

It was almost three in the morning. Fadi said he was going to meet up with his cousin Ramy, but that was hours ago. These were the gray areas in our relationship. Mostly, I knew where he was all the time, just because, and vice versa. But when I didn’t, I didn’t. And I didn’t ask. Fadi didn’t ask either if I was out, but he disapproved. Or if he didn’t disapprove, he felt reminded. Reminded, that I wasn’t his girl. That I had been for Gabe. His best friend. And that this whole situation was supposed to be temporary. He slept in his own room on those nights.  I knew, eventually, I would need a place of my own.

Elysian Fields was quiet; I could only see a couple feet down the street. There was a thick fog covering everything. This was one part of the city that didn’t flood and had open stores. The other clusters were Uptown or across the River. I was downtown where I belonged, but I couldn’t sleep. I thought about putting my shoes on and walking around the corner to the bar. I could hear the music playing from my steps. I decided against it. The danger felt good though, familiar and warm. The last place I had been before coming home was so safe. I used to walk all hours of the night. Slept with the doors unlocked without a second thought.

They had already sent Gabe from OPP to Angola when the storm came.  I was gone for six months after. Georgia. Texas. I had family in California. I tried them all, but there wasn’t much reason to stay. In Georgia there were hills, leaves that changed color. Houston was flat like home but no water. And in California there was so much water, I was scared it might swallow me whole. I never feared the earth quaking, just that I might, at the sight of it, jump right into one of its’ opened cracks. This is how I knew I had to come home.  Most of the people I knew were still gone, their homes destroyed, but not Fadi’s building. Fadi already had people living in the three apartments above him, so he offered his master bedroom to me. It was only right. When Gabe went to jail, Fadi had promised him he would look out for me. Make sure I didn’t want for anything. Just so I could get things together, I told Fadi and myself when I got to New Orleans. Just to get myself together.

Then it all happened between us. I don’t know, I think it was Katrina. I think it was me and Fadi both just missing Gabe. It was everything being washed in one fell swoop. It was being erased. I didn’t know what to make of that feeling except that it made me and Fadi start a new story. Sometimes at night, it was hard to remember who I was lying next to. Both Gabe and Fadi smelled a lot the same, reminded me of the same things. We were an odd sort of trinity.

So me and Fadi weren’t a couple.  We were just together. We had seen the end of some things and weren’t ready to let go just yet. I loved Gabe for a long time, but those iron bars he was locked up behind had killed it and whatever we could have had. Behind bars was like the shit that was underwater. He was as gone from me as anything else. Sitting out on my porch, I looked at my city like a graveyard. The houses hollow with missing people.  It felt odd to be here. Another cigarette first, I decided, and then I would be ready to go inside.

I took one puff and a white man appeared from the alleyway on the side of the building.

“Hey, don’t be scared. It’s me Shorty,” he said, like we knew one another. “You don’t recognize me? We see each other every day, around this way.”

I stared at him for a second. His bald head, weathered face, baggy jeans and hoody started to make sense.

“That’s right, I see you on Decatur, hanh?” I asked him.

“Yeah! Where’s your mind tonight?” Shorty chuckled.

Shorty hung on various corners panhandling. Every day I walked through the Quarters. Out through the back on Royal across Esplanade, out to Elysian Fields Ave, where Fadi’s building sat just off the corner. Wherever I happened to see Shorty, he always asked me for money.

“You got a joe you could spare?” he asked me tonight instead.

I had two left.

 “I’m out, fam.” I answered, feeling a little ashamed. I had never been so selfish that I wouldn’t share a cigarette. I wondered what else about me had changed.

Shorty sighed.

            “Come on, sis,” he gestured with his hands. “You do coke? I got some rock I could share.” Shorty opened his hand to show me the yellowed pebbles.

I was taken aback by two things. One that a nicotine craving could be strong enough that you’d part with your crack for it and two, that Shorty thought I might make such a trade. Was this something else that had changed, I wondered. I tried to see myself the way Shorty saw me now, thin, red-faced and barefoot in my cut-off shorts at 3:30 in the morning. Anything was possible, I supposed.

“Damn, man,” I said. “You must really want a fucking joe. Here, Shorty. Now leave me alone. Can’t you see I’m upset?”

“That’s why I stopped,” Shorty joked.

“I bet.”

Shorty paused to light his cigarette, when we heard someone yell out his name from up the street. It was dark and the fog made it impossible to see.

“Oh, Shorty!” the voice yelled out again. 

This time I knew exactly who it was and he stepped out of the mist.

“Where’s my money, Shorty?” Fadi asked slapping him on the back when he walked up.

Shorty started stuttering, talking about let him go run by his woman house and pick it up. Fadi knew Shorty was bullshitting but he let him slide. Fadi laughed as he slinked away. He’d stay missing for a while now.


“You want to smoke?” Fadi asked.

“Fucking right,” I answered. I did. Where he had been would have to wait. I loved him. His teeth, his skin, his freckles, and his part wooly, part satiny black hair.  

Fadi rolled up the cigar with his back to the street. We sat in the dark smoking. I don’t know why we didn’t go inside. It was good weed. Fadi did tricks with the smoke. Little o’s and the French inhale. We were high as hell when we saw an army tank slink casually up Elysian Fields, as if it belonged there. As if there had always been tanks on Elysian Fields Ave. It paused at the corner, shined a light in our direction, and then a man popped his head out of the top.

Fadi licked his finger and put the blunt out without flinching at the heat.

“Hey,” the head peeking out of the tank shouted, “Do you all live there?”

We kept quiet.

“You heard me!” the man who was now a whole half a person yelled again.

Neither of us said a word. I could see that the man had red hair under his helmet.  Fadi stood just outside the beam of light. It went brighter on me, it seemed, because we didn’t answer. It tripped me out that all the newcomers were starting to seem like they belonged here and we were starting to look out of place.

 “I can take you all in for loitering. Is this your residence?” he asked over the speaker.

We stayed quiet.

            “I’m going to ask one more time. Is this your residence?”

Me and Fadi stared back at the red-head together. Another soldier appeared out the hole now.  Fadi stepped into the light beside me. They could see his face now.  Fadi was fair, with green eyes and freckles.

 “Yeah, fam,” he called out to the soldiers. “You need my I.D. or something?”

The two men stared us down for a second longer, then stuck their heads back in the tank, shut the light off, and kept rolling.

“It’s only because you’re not black, they let us off like that. If that had been me and Gabe, we would have went to jail.” I wondered if I had said the wrong thing. If I reminded Fadi of what used to be. I wondered if our love was purposeful or circumstantial or both. What the real difference between the two was.

 “When I was little boy, they used to call me ‘the Jew’ because of these eyes. Pussies.” Fadi laughed, lighting the blunt back up. “At home the rocks are as big as a baby’s head. Fuck can you do with these pebbles?” he asked kicking at the gravel.

 I sat down, waiting for him to pass the weed to me. He held it for a while longer than he should have. I sensed reluctance in him. Could he trust me, really? Or me him? I think he wondered if this was love too or just loyalty toward Gabe, as odd as it had manifested. Fadi understood a lot without asking. He sat down beside me, handed the cigar over and rubbed my back long and hard, and kept quiet. The porch was no place to put my head in my lap and cry, but I did, keeping the smoke trapped under my folded arms.

None of these motherfuckers knew what we had been through.

“Damn, you can’t see shit.  Look, Rey.” Fadi broke the quiet like an excited child.

I picked my head up and looked around me. Zero visibility beyond our steps. Fadi stood up with his back to the whiteness.

“Crazy, you look like you’re about to fall into the abyss.” I laughed.

“Let’s go to bed, Rey,” he answered, pulling me to my feet.

“Go ahead. I’m coming in a second. I’m going to kill the rest of this blunt. “

He held my hands for a moment or two.

“Don’t burn your tongue on that shit. And don’t worry, Rey. All that, it’s done. Whatever you out here crying about.  It’s over. We’re okay now.”

Fadi let go and went inside. One more Kool and I would follow.

In bed, Fadi nuzzled his face in my hair and my neck, like he always did, and soon he was asleep. I thought about Gabe and all the time I spent afraid he would die young. I thought about the lifetime he was supposed to spend behind bars. He would kill or be killed before he let himself be an old man in there. I thought about what a jailhouse funeral was like and I cried some more. I wondered how long this thing, this love with Fadi could last. Not possibly forever. And when it was over, where I would go next.  I didn’t say my prayers, but I did say this, not my words but Tecumseh’s, the ones from his greatest vision:  the master of life has appointed this place to light our fires. This place to light our fires. This place to light our fires. I said the words over and over again. I fell to sleep and dreamed of stones that could be food to eat, babies to rock, rocks nobody sold, nobody smoked, but large enough to live in or throw with accuracy. Stones like arrows. Like bullets.  One by one, we would gather them, rebuild this place, till we were all full. Till we all had a place to remain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

For Malcolm Shabazz...

yellow roses in my mother's room  mean
i'm sorry     sadness comes in     generations
an inheritance       split    flayed    displayed
better than all others
the crown                                       weight
the undue burden of the truly exceptional
most special of your kind
persisting unafraid    saffron bloom
to remind us of fragility   or beauty  or                         revolution
or to ponder darkly               brightly
the fate of young kings
the crimes for which             there are no apologies.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Among Others Unnamed & Unmarked

for Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones, Henry Glover, Justin Sipp, James Brisette, Ronald Madison, Kiymani Gray, Oscar Grant, Wharlest Jackson, Keith Atkinson, Rachel Corrie, Wendell Allen, Chavis Carter, Rekia Boyd, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, George Junnius Stinney Jr., Emmit Till, Ismail,Zakaria, Ahed, and Mohamed Bakr...
                      -Among Others  Unnamed  Unmarked

In a dark so deep
we cannot see it---
we are running
from memory.

                                                       a white
                                               girl’s flesh turning  
                                            a weight           a bulldozer

a bare-chest    
pajama'd bottom
one bullet in Gentilly
                                                                    a bridge  after a storm
a mother's arm
shot off
near her child's body
                                                                                on a beach under sky fire
too shocked to scream.


How much     
is thirty-one years
a stolen skull?
                                                    what of when you do scream?
                                                            I CAN'T BREATHE!
on an NYC street. 

how many of us are born double jointed?


With hands tied
one bullet in the brain
                                                                     who will call
                                                                   out our names?

Recollection is a fugue
we do(n’t)
at will.


supremacy flattens
who you back
to fight back



Who is left
to pick up
                                      the debris of bones?


Whose crush
makes you