I’ll keep explaining—because maybe you still don’t get it
Those children in California (substitute any state), dead from gunfire—
Let me begin again in a little roof garden with my friend
A perverse reader, he listens to my stories as if they were TV
I mean he mocks me lovingly on the roof and at the library book sale
My friend is not a banker but a prison activist
He used to be a philosopher, but like many philosophers, he’s taken a turn
that should be easy to understand
The trajectory from philosopher to activist is like the curve of a single brushstroke across a large canvas
Artists in the fifties paid attention to that
I hate flat language like this, but I’m pretty flat
sometimes. You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
As I tell my daughters often
Emotion is a site of unraveling (JB)
I admit, gripping my T-shirt
I wish I were writing in prose an unfolding intensity that shocks history professors and prison activists equally
Later, in the grass, we’ll practice gymnastics and that way contribute our sweat
to Our Ephemeral City
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.
O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?
O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.
I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.
When there was a clear moon,
I sat down
To write a poem
About maple trees.
But the dazzle of moonlight
In the ink
And I could only write
What I remembered.
Therefore, on the wrapping of my poem
I have inscribed your name.
We are even more modern
we are free
not to know
til the trees are in
their autumn beauty
who knows why
we are free
an LP of poetry
left on in the apartment
while I walk my love
to the subway
she turns to gold
in the light banking off
and to have to think
of that small
pale body asleep
I return I take the stairs
3 at a time
and now my heart is sore
I walk down the hallway at night
Creaks and wind and chimes filter in
I’m at my in-laws house
There’s sickness here
And a kind of hope for better
… feeling better and being better
They love me
I feel that
I write poems at night when I can’t sleep
I don’t remember them in the morning
After sleep finally comes and washes them away
I think that night work is my best work
But it gets me through the hours
Filled with creaks and wind and stray whining cats outside
There’s something special to this forgetting
As if mysteries were revealed to me
Then taken away again
I know they are there
Just out of reach
But there nonetheless
It’s because of this I forgive myself
Forgiveness for the forgetting
I walk down the hallway at night
Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.
I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.
I ready myself once again
for morning and mortify.
Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack;
I bundle up hope (it’s brutal out there).
For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me.
I call out, hoping she can hear me
over the day-breaking sirens—
hoping she’s not far away,
or right down the street,
praying over another dead black boy.
How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?
When she held a body,
she saw much worse than this.
I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression.
She saw how hateful hate could be.
She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers,
grew a natural and wrote around critics.
She won a Pulitzer in the dark.
She justified our kitchenette dreams,
and held on.
She held on to all of us.
Hold On, she whispers.
Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job;
be a team player, pay taxes on it;
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.
They want me to like it, or at least pretend,
so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are—
this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled
like some desert belly dancer
who must be seen but not heard.
We are a world of lesions.
Human has become hindrance.
We must be stamped and have papers,
and still, it’s not enough.
Ignorance has become powerful.
The dice that rolls our futures is platinum
but hollow inside.
Did you see that, Ms. Brooks?
Do you see what we’ve become?
They are skinning our histories,
deporting our roots,
detonating our very right to tell the truth.
We are one step closer to annihilation.
Hold On, she says, two million light years away.
Hold On everybody.
Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing.
Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees
and that Great Barrier Reef.
Hold On to the one sitting next to you,
not masked behind some keyboard.
The one right next to you.
The ones who live and love right next to you.
Hold On to them.
And when we bury another grandmother,
or another black boy;
when we stand in front of a pipeline,
pour another glass of dirty drinking water
and put it on the dining room table,
next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings
that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants,
brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere;
somewhere that mattered.
When we kneel on the rubbled mosques,
sit in massacred prayer circles,
Holding On is what gets us through.
We must remember who we are.
We are worth fighting for.
We’ve seen beauty.
We’ve birthed babies who’ve only known a black President.
We’ve tasted empathy and paid it forward.
We’ve Go-Funded from wrong to right.
We’ve marched and made love.
We haven’t forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch.
Hold On everybody.
Even if all you have left
is that middle finger around your God-given right
to be free, to be heard, to be loved,
and remembered…Hold On,
THE PAINT doesn’t move the way the light reflects,
so what’s there to be faithful to? I am faithful
to you, darling. I say it to the paint. The bird floats
in the unfinished sky with nothing to hold it.
The man stands, the day shines. His insides and
his outsides kept apart with an imaginary line—
thick and rude and imaginary because there is
no separation, fallacy of the local body, paint
on paint. I have my body and you have yours.
Believe it if you can. Negative space is silly.
When you bang on the wall you have to remember
you’re on both sides of it already but go ahead,
yell at yourself. Some people don’t understand
anything. They see the man but not the light,
they see the field but not the varnish. There is no
light in the paint, so how can you argue with them?
They are probably right anyway. I paint in his face
and I paint it out again. There is a question
I am afraid to ask: to supply the world with what?
I’m still reading the book of Sarah Kay’s poetry called, “No Matter The Wreckage”. I read this gem, then found her performance of it as part of her TED talk. It’s worth a listen, probably more than one listen. When I read it, then listened to it, I thought of my grand daughter. It will do that to you, make you think of your daughter, your mother, your grand daughter if you have one. It will make you think of the daughter you haven’t yet had. It will make you think, and feel.
I’m currently reading a book of poetry by Sarah Kay called “No Matter The Wreckage”. I can tell you, as a person who has read a lot of poetry, this girl is fantastic. I just read the following poem in the book, went to look for it online to post, and found this video. She is known for her spoken word poetry, which I didn’t know until I went looking for the poem online. This video was made a while ago. In it she is only 18. I can’t tell you how impressed with her I am. Her use of language, the visual impressions she leaves, not to mention the emotion in it. Wow. Just… wow.
In my head I read this more slowly than she speaks it here, but her performance of it adds so much to the meat of it.