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"Mockingbirds at Jerusalem" is a work in progress. Previous revised copies were lost caused by a corrupted hard disk. A friend supplied an earlier copy of this manuscript. Though poetically rough, it is the most immediate response to my initial impressions of the place I grew up in southern Virginia.

 

 

 

Mockingbirds at Jerusalem

A Poetic Memoir

 

By Rudolph Lewis

 

 *   *   *   *   *

 

Contents

 

In My Father’s House     

 

My Father Still Comes to Me 

Faraway But Not Dead Yet              

Jerusalem Nights 

Bobo at Jerusalem 

Chasing a Crown for Chastity 

Dionysius Unveiled   

Tombstone for the Recent Dead   

 

Lure of Yellow Jackets 

Sphincter of a Snake Is Not a Star   

Steal a Penny Off a Dead Man’s Eyes   

Letting Jerusalem Do What It Does  

My Mother Don’t Like Country  

A Need for Two   

Whippoorwill Sings at Midnight   

A Rooster Crows before Sunrise   

Mockingbird Sings Whippoorwill  

 

Holy Days at Jerusalem   

Shedding from the Inside   

From the Outlands at Jerusalem  

Aunt Oprah Incorporated  

 

II

No Longer at Ease

 

Showdown at the Five Spot   

Malcolm Is Dead!  

No Soapboxes Here But Trees   

Jerusalem in the Loop of the River   

Dark Clouds Moving In   

Mockingbird Sings in the Rain   

Dark Clouds Hang Over Jerusalem   

Sister Sadie Be What She Be   

Wild Turkey Sacrificed at Jerusalem   

Green Beans Harvested at Jerusalem   

Mockingbird Chases a Crow   

No Longer at Ease   

Anthills at Jerusalem   

Deep Down in the Sticks   

New Orleans in My Soul   

Tear’s of the Devil’s Wife   

I Put a Spell on We   

How I Long To be With You   

Coming Through With the Spirit   

Gardener in a State of Grace   

 

III

Reaching  Beyond My Self

 

Dancing Naked in a Maze   

Which Doctor Knows Tomorrow?   

Independence Day Weekend   

Harlem Hot in My Mind   

Living Above the Dismal   

No Words for My Existence   

In Need of Revolution   

The Thrill Is Gone: A Blues Villanelle   

Home Is Where Relief Is   

Cousin Susie Moore Is Dead     

Meditation on Insects    

Get Up Dead Man: Blues Villanelle #2   

Trinidad Lady at Club Paradise   

Dreading Distrust & Reparations   

Reparations Along the Nottoway   

Reparations as Artful Enterprise   

Divine Reparations Are Eternal   

To Hell with Blackness & Nationalism   

 

IV

August Revival

 

Resurrection   

August Revival   

My Woman Is This Forest   

Romance Has No Natural Death   

Women Who Care for the Weak  

Chickens Coming Home

Loving That Other Man   

Don't Say Goodbye to Truth  

Good Night Sweet Irene   

Last Call Dreaming  

Dispelling the Darkness   

Defying Raging Night   

Up on Pisgah   

Sonnet for 22 August 1831   

Sonnet for Ancestors

Blind Woman with Guitar   

Sonnet for Reality Men  

War Is Not a Time of Joy   

Sonnet for Albert Murray   

Blues for an Empty Bed   

Women with Men in Prison   

Mining Black Males  

Under a Dark Cloud   

Sonnet for Carter   

Sonnet for Bailing Out

Ode for Walls   

I

 In My Father’s House

 

 

 

My Father Still Comes to Me

 

I was not with him in the house he built in the room

I used to sleep by the wood heater on cold nights.

 

I was far away from that country of mules, outhouses

and that well he dug for drinking water to satisfy thirst

 

to wash away the dust of fields and harvest—I was

far away in that city I traveled to by Trailways bus

 

when I was sixteen and swore never to return to

backbreaking crosscut saws and splitting logs for

 

firewood and walking miles and miles of clay roads

in the hostility of some other man's separation fantasy

 

on that January he passed over into dream land.

Mama his wife Ella & Annie his daughter cared for

 

him in that long illness after the doctor cut away his

enlarged testicles caused by some microbe learned

 

in medical schools transmitted by pigs. I never cared

much for death and dying and funerals. I knew him

 

more deeply the age I am now. He had only seven

more years to live—his skin warm brown, he intense

 

distant, always. On my visit home, he was in my bed

hiccupping, helpless but for his prayer to a faraway

 

God I abandoned at the schoolhouse door. Did he

hear Him in the thumping heart he wished silenced?

 

That was more than three decades and six years ago.

I forget in dream moments when he comes to me he

 

went away before I really got to know him—we

strangers living in the same house he kept building

 

up from the ground . . . Our dreams are mirrors when

we are filled up with the empty space of our lives. He

 

took me in his arms, the room began to spin. I was

afraid we would fall. I woke up when he went away.

 

8 March 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Faraway But Not Dead Yet

 

The night is crying. I hear the drip-drop of water

falling from the eaves of my father’s house. I’m

back home where a whippoorwill calls  darkly

deep in the piney woods. A train whistle blows

steadily at crossroads up near Jarratt Town.

 

Sounds carry clear in chilled night air, soothing

for some, eerily for noisy urban ears. Last night

I slept my best sleep in years. My chest & joint

pains fall into my mind's dark clay well as I look

gently on an abandoned past: a golden mirror of

 

a former lover left on the living room wall; three

dusty mirrors upstairs in the bathroom; a ragged

box spring on which I slept alone; a metal black

table in the bedroom on which I wrote missives,

& worked magic with bones a heavy cabinet I

 

pushed tight against the dining room window to

keep out homeless roaming men with shopping

carts looking for abandoned houses with scrap

metal to sell for pennies for a pint of Richards; in

the kitchen, seldom used dishes & glasses; & more.

 

These items & those trucked away as garbage (or

with me now) fall short of memories I leave behind.

 

24 April 2006

*   *   *   *   *

Jerusalem Nights

 

Birds don’t sing at midnight. We on the dark side

of the moon as I sit here on the screened porch

 

wrapped in a comforter in cool early spring air

Insects hidden in this green forest ring symphony

 

sounds. This silence is broken by the hoof fall on

pine straw of a roaming deer entering the garden

 

on the other side of the house. Four miles up this

winding tar road across 301 a horn at crossroads

 

blows—a heavy steel rumbling  freight train rushes

goods Down South. These are moments I fall into

 

depths of my Buddha belly kept aloft by a drumbeat.

This silence, this stillness is life to which I've returned.

 

25 April 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Bobo at Jerusalem

 

This first Monday home the sun is still below the horizon

of distant pines—blue sky matted with white golden tinged

 

clouds. It's me and Bobo at the mouth of the woodshed. It’s

cool enough for a jacket & cap—no air stirs treetops filled

 

with  bird songs and silencing country sounds. A cooing

dove dives in the sun's rising glow. A goose honks before

 

he continues his lone flight. Smelling a free, easy meal a dog

black roaming peeps around the corner sees me & retreats

 

quickly. I'm snared in a hostile mood with a stick in hand

& harsh words I chase him across a sprouting spring field—

 

another man's  garden. These frightful silences my loyal

buddy braved the long dark night, alone. My country

 

folks don't like cats in the house. With me sitting near he

naps. I empty noise like slop—making my journey back.

 

26 April 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Chasing a Chastity Crown

 

This last April night with purple carpet of stars,

the moon is a white sliver on its back holding up

 

the rains, sinking into the western pines.Ten days

have passed since I crossed the Nottoway & its

 

trembling muddy waters. With bullet to the head

behind the right ear one man is dead & buried

 

since I returned to Jerusalem. Videos & violence

are ubiquitous. We need a master key to unlock

 

the armored bitterness, greed, lust of our jeweled

boxes of that which doesn't real count. The lock

 

turns on a kiss.  The poverty rhythms betray our

bellies. Rough fingers tear the key from our throats.

 

30 April 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Dionysus Unveiled

 

In his younger days floating down stream

the drawbridge had to be raised. That was

 

when he puffed ganja weed, blew smoke

rings with Rastas and New Orleans artists.

 

Sisyphus and his burden was a myth like

Marie Laveau and her fountain of youth,

 

a bundle of mojo tales of graveyard dirt.

When he played at love, screaming panic

 

of divisions did not drift in his mind like

 morning fog of a sweet lover knocking

 

on his door, blowing his flute. Nymphs

of pleasure still frolicked on green lawns.

 

He was a god then with a mighty arm, never

a father but a ragged scapegoat for the unkind.

 

3 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Tombstone for the Recent Dead

 

In this waking season of freshly tilled land

disked and raked, a garden of greens in

 

moist soil hand-high, four men kissed this

world above ground  goodbye: lanky Lee,

 

the millionaire; stout Sticky, card player;

young Nelson, chemical worker; black

 

Georgia Grover, cement finisher. Dead

on a long vacation from which they will

 

never return. For them no weekends, no

Saturday nights of Rum & Coke—bid

 

whist and shit-talking after a Boston.

Policies can only be taken on the living.

 

So on River Styx there’ll be no cash in

on the dead—no wills pass on to those

 

who enjoy the cool of spring mornings,

nor downing the eight ball in corner left

 

from the green rail with a bridge. Such

magic moments like a toke from a glass

 

pipe—fire on a big rock. All's left behind

when the hearse pulls into the cemetery.

 

3 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Lure of Yellow Jackets

 

In illness they expected my tongue to go

on vacation, that my magic left crumbs

 

only for red ants to cart away. I’d never

be found in these green woods after well

 

lit Druid Hill Avenue, that my ties would

be broken like china on con men heads.

 

They think I fear struggles at OK corrals,

well-funded politics. Dream shadows have

 

little to do with gestation and my plots on

the nesting of bumble bees, sighing pines,

 

reflections on tombstones from my front

porch. I haven’t been lashed to my bed

 

with stout ropes. There’s fire burning at

the bottom of my desires. I hate neither

 

blue birds nor white women. My brain is

 neither shrunken nor shriveled. The dying

 

of love communes hasn’t caved me under.

Jimi didn’t break his guitar on my skull like

 

a common  bouncer at a high end club for

the big spenders with glass jaws & weak

 

knees. Birds sing by my window. I’ve only

cut silence by halves—my  pen dangles free.

 

4 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Snakes Talking Tough

                           

Cold. Damp. No stars shine beyond dark

cloud deception like my sweet lover’s eyes.

 

Angelic arms seize, wing me into a rainbow

stratosphere of bee-bop curves. Her yum-

 

yum-yum like a raisin might raise the dead

if silence were hoisting as Satchmo’s horn.

 

I’m at a blue crossroad, midnight fires burn

in my wooly skull. It’s been two weeks since

 

I escaped the urban matrix of politicos, self-

adorned holy men, cacklers for fast bucks, 

 

warring over turf of flashing lights and sirens.

One devotee, a new age sage called long

 

distance to tell me he’s ready to hang me

by my thumbs, raazor me like Zorroin a

 

alley off Pennsylvania Avenue, drink liquid

lava from the devil’s hands . . . His boast

 

ruffled no feathers for I never get down

that low. When the sun burns away rain

 

these spring days I sip tea in shimmering

shade of a great red oak tree at midday

 

while mockingbird naps. I lounge in my

sweet lover’s breath, her perfume stirs

 

my nostrils, my lips teased for bouncing

purple black nipples. There are no snakes

 

in my brain when her hips grind me. I’m

coolly hard like a rock with a steady roll.

 

8 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Steal a Penny Off a Dead Man’s Eye

                                             —for Grover Reid

 

Don’t let them speak longer than half hour over my body

if it remains whole at my death. Make it brief like a poem

 

of a great poet: no lying snapshots of my life. If what I am

fell short of money and success, let my pauper life be, turn

 

your back, walk away. I need stretched out for eternity in

this darkness neither tears nor pity from family and friends.

 

All not done, before my cushioned coffin, let my blackness

reign. No eulogypeople singing, walking golden shoes in

 

a cloudy beyond; no false testimony about no complaints

I had a wagon filled drawn by a team of mules. If song you

 

need,  I’m a soldier on the battlefield. Tip a bottle of aged

white lightening to the goodness of our mother; in memory,

 

drink hardy and eat heavy. Close the lid, toss the dirt, pray

for freedoms yet to come,  and let writing/fighting be forever.

 

11 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Letting Jerusalem Do What It Does

 

This Sunday morning a light breeze rushes green leaves

of the red oak by the blue rocked driveway. Its girth has

 

grown like that of an aging man. When I was a boy I

hung a sand bag from one of its limbs, only a memory

 

like the fiery fists of my youth. Clouds roll in dark on

green western horizons. The sun rises beyond other

 

trees grown great—a pine & a cedar. An aging black

gum—which shaded a barn once filled with corn and

 

pea vines, flanked by two mule stalls—all gone. My

feathered friends embellish the silence: tiny sparrow

 

tweets; proud red-breasted robin whistles; a dove

blows his somber tune like bass notes, in this song

 

of my past, mockingbird chatters cheerful selections

of sounds. Faraway women who ply their corner arts

 

and men who drink stupid stupor will hear no blaring

sirens here. Sit with me and my beaked buddies. I’m

 

at the mouth of the woodshed with a book, scribbling

a yellow pad as another auto passes by occasionally.

 

14 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

My Mother Don’t Like Country

                            

She’s up there with concrete feet and steel minds where one can spy

from any window into that of a neighboring sameness.No dark space

 

or paved alley where street lights never darken a passage from interior

to interior, that's a domestic world to which she escapedbusy world

 

of survival steadily day after day becomes the real thing. Who cares

about global warming, the full moon rising in the eastern sky at night,

 

thunder & lightning booming with dark clouds & wind-driven rain as

I mark in my evening notes sitting content on the front porch across

 

from the church cemetery or how pickling pear tree leaves shimmer

above sharp edges of afternoon shadows? Oblivious to variations of

 

mockingbird's songs and his wondrous ugly gray coat he wears year

after year, it's an intrusion she traded decades ago for Baltimore city

 

A natural noisy cheerfulness is like the poverty of dirt farmers worrying

from one debt to next year's credit of seeds. She has concealed those

 

hurts like fear of birds in the green tops of pines and oaks mid-spring.

By the woodshed, bumble bees & wasps at sixteen lost their charms.

 

14 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

A Need for Two

 

Toomer’s Cane fades to black, yet still lingers

for a poetic glimpse. In a raised bed

he drops seeds in a row for tomatoes

& cabbages; sets them out to grow green

heads or plump red fruit. A harvest will come.

It’s her inside world that gives it meaning.

In the house a washer turns; the oven

heats his meat and biscuits; pans & dishes

washed in the sink. In her realm, a phone in

hand, life passes from mouth to ear, she sets

the pace & commands where he will eat, sleep

bathe. In her kitchen she plans & figures

the bills; outside his hands sink deep in mud.

This rural work world needs two to be whole.

 

16 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Whippoorwill Sings at Midnight

 

He’s in the eastern wood this damp chilly night. Yellow

moon peeps over pines beyond the church cemetery.

 

Lonesome train blows warning whistle at the crossroads.

It's dark thinking of a city less than a washed-up penny.

 

In the bible Noah is looking for a dove. My tears flow—

homes standing like big-eyed children starving when no

 

help will be coming: I can't lose the blues yet a camera

lens for tourists shines fierce into this blueness. Some

 

will eat oysters with relish, have coffee & beignets with

a remnant of poets & musicians. Dixieland may remain

 

in ancient bricks, 2nd line struts are just spoonfuls crying

for those absent—bone shaking  pilgrimage to the dead.

 

17 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

A Rooster Crows Before Sunrise

 

This morning’s air is filled with ice as if Canada

traveled south with its baggage. At noon limbs

 

wave and pines rock back and forth like Big

Mama to gusts of sadness—on a sunny day.

 

Blue smoke stretches out from under a black 

pot of greens. A lone sparrow tweets, a tiller

 

airing soil for cabbage plants roars, a tractor

cuts  grass in road ditches near my childhood

 

church. Last night a man never a father entered

 my dream, he lies by two brothers, a sister in

 

the cemetery. His mother entered his dreams in

the 80s, lies down near Joe Dick of the 1950s

 

deacon board. In my three weeks my mind only

stepped into that land of the dead, they who sang

 

old man blues and macked the knife. It was 1011

Darley where he and his brothers & sisters used to

 

live—a bathroom worlds where love goes nowhere.

Deep down dreams mean nothing; we all die alone.

 

 

19 May 2006

*   *   *   *   *

Mockingbird Sings Whippoorwill

                                     —for Amiri Baraka

 

Shadows of truths that memory tells of

growing up shift like trees on the pages

of my book. Today, my mind is knotty

 

as a sheep’s ass. Daily here at Jerusalem

there is a gathering of animals that slither

crawl, walk on earth, or fly above. With

 

clouds, stars & moon I define my world—

vivid with mystery specific as a church of

reality, like small streams they flow into

 

consciousness as the meandering muddy

Nottoway. A bee flits silently from flower

to flower. Two sparrows love make on a

 

red oak limb. On a cool breeze dances a

black butterfly. None knows the hero game

like a squawking crow as he passes over on

 

his way to the fields. To a brilliant cardinal

red (& black) on the lawn I toss a kiss. He

lights in the corn bin. My soul shivers. I’m

 

connected;  I’m feeling. From the woods I

hear the crash on dry leaves & pine straw. A

prophet says my muse, can walk among trees

 

without being heard. Reading Baraka & his

childhood stories of growing up in New Ark

a horse-whipper snake slithered shiny black

 

under my chair raising its head as if I were

his friend. I run him down with a hoe flatten

his head & toss his body back in the woods.

 

20 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Holy Days at Jerusalem

                        

Sunday morning is quiet, a slight breeze, cool solitude.

The sun is hot, an easy day. Cabbage plants in gray

 

soil tilled and aired to grow like boys to men. White

exhaust—an east bound jet streaks the blue sky like

 

Caesarean scar on a woman's belly. Black pot, mouth

to the ground, to drown escape plans, if only in nappy

 

skulls. I'm filled with Ole Nat's ancient Holy Ghost that

church folk abandoned in a draught of forgetfulness on

 

their way to and from their shiny cars. Canaan Land is

any place the blues is not, peace we made so long ago

 

with bees & wasps. I water tomato plants and dream

of washing  my lovers' feet like prophets in their dusty

 

goings. There's no red traces in a dish of garden peas. 

All days are holy when work is for more than money.

 

Dark clouds roll in by and by from the west as the sun

goes down. Birds quiet their chatter, tuck their heads

 

under wings. The pole light shines down on Jerusalem

like preachers from pulpits sell whiskey on Sundays.

 

21 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Shedding from the Inside

 

Perched atop a branch of a dead pine, the

white-breasted mockingbird his back to a

blue evening sky sings a singular concert

of tunes. I wonder is it staged especially

for me—music for forgetting & forgiving.

 

Finished, he bows, flies down to the lawn

& feeds on insects, as birds do. His flight

is embellished by the tweets of a sparrow

hidden in the green leaves of the red oak.

I’ve never lusted after a singing bird's life

 

or fortune. In dreams & in shadows, a

blues composes, soars above suffering

as a prophet man strolls above a storm

tossed sea: it’s here that a body begins

to ooze life as it sinks into a deeper us.

 

25 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

From the Outlands of Jerusalem

 

Woodshed etched out in evening shadows, clouds

move darkly in with rumbling thunder from over in

Emporia, where Walter Cotton was lynched  where

the courthouse lawn now holds a Confederate statue.

The thunder retreats like Lee's armies before blue

coats. The ubiquity of unconsciousness is black like

 

a long time man in clanking chains searching for self

for something heavy, meaningful, lasting in the magic

streets of the imagination. His mama was still a slave

after Jubilee, gave him to a white man to break spirits

behind his eyes where art is created, to arrest him 

 

with brutality. But life is more than a con job, more

than a whip as a test of freedom. I was a boy of 9

growing strong and tan in these woods of field hands 

when Little Rock was hammered into a new world.

And Mingus sang derisively his "Fables of Faubus.”

 

Martin/Moses was still sowing resistance seeds; JB

got up slowly off his knees, then cracked a few heads.

Jimmy had scribbled his notes to Richard's blues.

Trujillo crushed blackness in the name of whiteness.

Steve served ale & liberalism in his king snake room.

 

Tim Posten cried, “LeRoi . . . What you eating now?”

 

26 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Aunt Oprah Incorporated

 

Whose beloved children are these we castigate

on afternoon talk programs? Whose daughters

Mr. Fare U. Well’s? Whose sons driving

monsters of disaster wrestled bodies filled

with groans to the ground, torn, ripped

clothes, dreams of what comfort might

be to Woman? Sun is above the trees.

No white jury satisfies. Shadows recede.

I'm running again in my wooded nightmare.

Bloodhounds are on the scent of property.

A slave master is on his last go round, losing

a hunch. High John the Conqueror finds no jet

black enigmas in official case studies? America’s 

backyard is clear: Brer Rabbit has been castrated.

Who takes Bugs serious as a heart attack? Michael 

avoids Memphis Minnie like the plague sitting on his lap,

her dress blowing up from underneath like Marilyn Monroe.

 

Mockingbird bows his head, preaches atop a tall

pine as a flock of buzzards circle over SueGal’s house.

 

28 May 2006

*   *   *   *   *

 

II

No Longer at Ease

 

 

Showdown at The Five Spot

 

Gunslinging. Duels.  Beyond time place

space in bamboo Boat of  Ra. It's LeRoi

& Ishmael pen master brothers in timeless

bull dog fights like Osiris and Set in mad

love on knees with craps tossed against

 

brick walls. Stagolee & Billy are eternal.

A wife prays for good to speak in her ear. 

She suffer thrills of morning brushfire in her

bed. I turn to smoke hanging in cemetery.

Words speak no more sense than silence.

 

One does not need Freudians to know

a cigar is not envy of your neighbor's ass.

A bird unknowable in dissonance shrieks 

dawn at my window. My hip aches from

damp rocks, from hounds howling over

 

hunting camp at Sansi Swamp. Fires die 

burn down to embers and white ash. Last

night blues linger. Sun rising shines warmly

through green leaves of a black gum tree. I

save myself in scribbles on a yellow pad.

 

28 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Malcolm Is Dead!

 

Early this Memorial Day morning white fog hangs

over the cornfield heavy from the sky to the gray

 

swamp loam below. Tomato and cabbage plants

rise to almost a foot above their bed. Death is not

 

on my mind, not even honoring the dead. Birds are

alive with a murmuring chatter. It’s cool.—around

 

my shoulders an Indian blanket is draped woolly

warm as I sit by the woodshed. I’ve searched all

 

night periods and commas of LeRoi’s friends—

Olsen, Dorn & Creely. How Roi ex-slave slipped

 

out of Black Mountain into Harlem and the Black

Revolution with his pen & a .45 under his belt. He

 

strikes like a blacksmith when the iron is hot. Each

man has his own ethic (Mockingbird sings, follows

 

me to the field.) even too those who lurk at my back

door. Before a harvest, earth requires patience—

 

all things to be cultivated are nourished with diligent

labor. Dew falling as I bend my back to a rising sun.

 

29 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

No Soapboxes Here But Trees

 

Seeds have been dropped in plowed earth to sprout

& show leaf. Summer has arrived this last day of May

 

in all its heat and stickiness without rain in the forecast.

The last quarter moon an old man reclines in his rocking

 

chair. In the stillness of the evening we wait for changes

like dirt dauber caught in web of black spider. Sparrow

 

and robin are alive with songs while the woodpecker rat-

a-tat-tats over by a decaying church. In forest beyond

 

the cemetery like a rushing  train above the pine treetops

comes our relief in cool breezes awakening mockingbird.

 

What we pray for we receive. Back home again, I wear

memories of a poor boy. Only beauty & mischief change.

 

31 May 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Jerusalem in the Loop of the River

 

Mockingbird is tireless in his musical teasing on his perch

in a nearby pine tree. He loves an audience as much as any

 

poet of the Spoken Word. He never stays on a tune too long.

Yellow jacket is not so kind. I take none of his jiving—he’s

 

dispatch in one slap. Cool breezes rustle green leaves of a oak

and sweet gum. Cardinals love play in the cemetery hickory tree.

 

My cat whines in his approach like my sweet yellow used to

do. Yard shadows fade like one night love affairs as clouds

 

shield us from the heat of the sun. White strangers move into

Jerusalem as they slough off troubles like a man whiffing a line

 

of cocaine, taking his time to soothe his brain. The light turns 

on a world of laughter. I sip coffee at the woodshed’s mouth.

 

1 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Dark Clouds Moving In

 

Rumbling deep in the west. Dark clouds up high slide

over house, fields, and me like sweating lovers. Cold

 

is chilling the hot humid air. Limbs of oaks and pines

thrash in gusts of wind. Tracy had my number. Could

 

she change my mind on a dime? Lightening threatening

crack skies and hearts. Squeeze me, baby. Can't we go

 

to sweet Kokomo? Earth is thirsty. Seeds are burning, 

plants don't grow when you quit me. Another picking

 

of peas can be had if the rains come soon. Signs came

yesterday water would fall like tears to nourish dusty

 

fields but it passed by. I got a letter: No good comes

without change. Birds rise and fly fearing a downpour.

 

2 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Mockingbird Sings in the Rain

 

At early dawn in the hickory tree his is a solitary voice

like nothing I ever heard. Water-laden clouds drift down

 

dark from faraway western mountains. Free swinging

souls wake the morn—a cricket then a crow over by

 

the church screams caw for caw. I wonder where they

bound. Mockingbird’s woman is on back side of house.

 

My amen night bed was numbered with stalking dreams

& thoughts. By my window drip drops from eaves land

 

into puddles. Now my praying friends are in full chorus.

That moaning traveler Bob White blows his fists. Four

 

miles down winding road a train whistles, rumbling cars

head north with heavy loads. A dog barks faraway in

 

the southern woods. On the screened front porch I fall 

down into my alert self draped in a warm wool Mexican

 

blanket. It hurts to send a brother away dissatisfied & in

need. Yonder a rooster awakens—crows rally beyond

 

trees, now honking in the yard. We begin one more day

on a buzzard's wing of hope & despair. I've fooled myself

 

too long. I'll make my way to the burying ground, remember

good times, give away my clothes,  lose all in a draft of sorrow.

 

3 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Dark Clouds Hang Over Jerusalem

 

Country nights are long. They are a welcome relief

from gunfire, noisy car-filled streets, and faster girls.

 

A fine penetrating rain began long after half moon

had set in the western woods. I've no ticking clock

 

in my room. Some may thing I'm crazy to be hiding

out in these woods across the road from a cemetery.

 

It's been awhile since I've had a 9 to 5.On the front

porch with its black screen, a shield from mosquitoes,

 

I listen for sounds of creatures in the dark hours with

a comforter wrapped around myself as water drops

 

steadily on the tin roof and wet leaves of a red oak. I

sink down in the body of earth as water below the lawn

 

begins to rise up. I'm loving the heaviness of morning air.

Sleep comes in the falling sky without wine & women. I

 

return to my empty room. There's no bridge to cross. In

this dripping silence Mockingbird is first to greet the dawn.

 

5 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Sadie Be What She Be

 

A half-moon night in the western purple night sky

chilled by last night’s storm. In turns bones ache

 

in this moist air. Mockingbird is silent. Over in the

darkness Whippoorwill speaks his name as if we

 

can forget long ago when beyond these rain soaked

fields in the dark green forest ghosts of walnut skin

 

ancestors walked with their strong backs and whip

discipline and thirst for freedom and faith in make-

 

shift underclothes made of meal bags whose letters

were boiled away in pig grease lye. In their gingham

 

and in their wool, their cotton stockings and laced

brogans they were not so far removed as we from

 

all that crawled, walked or flew above this swamp.

Silence was not the Lawd Have Mercy it is today.

 

5 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Wild Turkey Sacrificed at Jerusalem

 

We might have been friends or lovers in a reincarnated world

but there I was pulling feathers by the handful from his bruised

 

skin. It felt good this junction of death and appetite. I'd driven

roads with turkeys crossing the road and never came close to

 

hitting even a coon. I cried no tears in my haste of stripping him

down to his white skin, splitting him open, and pulling out maw

 

and grass. I thought no more of it then than cleaning or gutting

a recently caught fish from a nearby pond. Finally, it was done

 

and Aunty Ann placed him gently in water and brought a big pot

to boil. His graying flesh release the smell of stale swamp water.

 

No one dared take even a morsel for taste. We set the carcass

aside for my cousin's dog. We understood then why wild turkeys

 

were not on a hunter's kill list. We shooed his ghost back into

the forest, like Chano, conga player, gunned down in a brawl.

 

8 June 2006

*   *   *   *   *

 

Green Beans Harvested at Jerusalem

 

Whippoorwill wails in the western woods on this full moon

night, like Wynton or some coronet blower. Black clouds

 

low hanging move toward the ocean. I am a fixed point in

an opening. Green forest rise to a sky of blue notes. Rare

 

moments I look for a way out. I return to my boyhood in

my perennial wars and retreats. I take notes of misery not

 

always my own on yellow pad daily.  The sun and moon

revolve around me. Today, the warm sun filled the tops of

 

green beans. Gentle breezes caress leaves by my window.

A heavy dew morning and a cup of coffee, I found myself

 

in the green garden with a bucket, my new sandals and bib

overalls. My busted leg is yet not fit for this immigrant work.

 

I am blessed this is no necessary feat to feed my family. I'm

in this play to pass time memorizing yesterdays. I pick a third

 

of a basket. That chore complete with jazz music in my head

I wash sandals and feet at the well. Beans mound on the table

 

In the kitchen table, Annie, Mama, and I snap off ends, break

beans in half, toss them in a pile that my aunt will blanche and

 

bag for the freezer. All the while  we talk about the wild turkey

cooked fit for dogs, then Miss Lula Bell at 94 courting, with her

 

one eye driving to church if she comes back from the hospital.

Souls ringing on  the dying and the dead we make community.

 

9 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Mockingbird Chases a Crow

 

In a blue sky above thin white clouds a half moon follows the sun,

falling below the treetops. Tiny dramas here are shadows as sharp

 

and crisp as photos of a skilled cameraman. I watch the unfolding

of nature’s play with the focus of a  theatergoer a comedy on stage.

 

After Sunday services, the workday pace gives way to to those of

birds. From tree to tree and across the lawn with their songs robins

 

and sparrows frolic and feast.  There is no salt or sting in any mood.

No breeze ruffles leaves on the trees. On a distant hill a neighbor is

 

tilling a garden.  His walk behind a motorized tiller brings a distant

memory of Jim Crow days when field hands held onto plow lines

 

behind a mule, tied as their fathers to the land working for balance

due. So much more leisure for mischief. Very few now go worship

 

with preachers and their followers. It’s in open fields of growth and

decay parables of seeds live as Mockingbird gives chase to a crow.

 

11 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

No Longer at Ease

 

Mockingbird still sings his songs as always since I was a boy

in the red oak by the front porch. His tunes nor any bird songs

 

of day reach my ears, except the moaning dove in the southern

woods, in evening there’s the whippoorwill. In purple cloudless

 

sky the stars spin around in the heavens, as the grasshoppers,

crickets, & frogs compose their evening’s ringing symphony.

 

Yet there’s no moon since two days of rain that soaked gray

soil. Corn stalks grow high in the fields. Watermelon & black-

 

eyed pea seeds take root. Green beans need another picking.

I’m in my room hours at a time. I’m restless. The silence that

 

once soothed me is filled with noisy discord that walks the floor.

Spring  is ending—nothing satisfies, neither plowing nor planting.

 

18 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Anthills at Jerusalem

 

On these dark evenings when there’s thunder I long for a friend

who would wash herself in and out  with silence I enjoy alone in

 

my rural retreat, that she’d wake with me birds songs at the bed-

room window. That we’d go to the woodshed to study golden

 

rays of the sun as they peep through the lush leaves of black gum

tree on a chilly morn. Mockingbird runs through his repertoire of

 

enlivening tunes, his rooster calls, then the whippoorwill. Then his

companions. Cardinal beautiful in red & black plumage lands on

 

the tar roof of the corn bin looks left then right like a priest and

enters for  his daily theft. He’s more deliberate and subtle than

 

the black strutting crow. Woodpecker drums out his day’s chore

while buzzard is on  the wing for his soaring rounds. The ants are

 

busy in their collections—hills aplenty on the lawn. A cold winter

is coming, says the old folks. A gardener is in the field: he revs his

 

engines to break crust from around tomato plants. He aerates soil

with a whirling blade, as we pare away the crabgrass of our souls.

 

20 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Deep Down in the Sticks

 

All day we have had the bluest of skies in warm summer

heat. With the drying of the soil after the rains, the fields

 

have been plowed, tomato plants tied to stabs to hold up

stalks as they bear their red fruit. By noon we’d picked a

 

wash tub of spring kale ready now to cook with smoked

pig jowls in a black cast iron pot over wood fire. A gentle

 

breeze is rustling the leaves of trees & my cat’s stretched

out by my chair to wait until sunset to prowl for sparrows

 

and mice. Black butterfly flutters into a bush & disappears

in the darkness. I  nod into the green landscape. Thunder

 

is deep in the eastern woods. I lounge in shade: me and

my dream friend click glasses and sip ice-cold lemonade.

 

21 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

New Orleans in My Soul

 

On these still days—hot, sticky enough to dull mind

& senses—the tiniest cool breezes are blessings. All

 

halt but bees on the lawn, an occasional sparrow, or

wasp, on the wing. Mockingbird is not as cheerful as

 

this morn. All wait for the sun to sink below the green

horizon and a strong wind from the west. By noon we

 

snapped a bushel of string beans on kitchen table. Fire

flames under the black pot. Thunder rumbles faintly in

 

the east. The storm moves around us at a distance. The

cultivated soil turns gray & dusty again. In my head, a

 

voice says, “Be steadfast. All promises will come to past.”

Trout filet are on ice. I eat well again, walk for air as stars

 

flicker in our purple night swamp. I cool down devotedly

as Satchmo heats up blowing lush crystal roses in my ear.

 

 

21 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Tears of the Devil’s Wife

 

On a hot steamy day showers as the sun shines

are a relief. Like a letter from a spurned lover or

 

ice fruit pops, they do not satisfy or gratify like a

cooling steady rain. Here in these southern woods

 

there is always a promise in dark hanging clouds 

moving on strong west winds. There’s thunder in

 

the forest beyond the cemetery. No meat will grill

on an evening lawn this twilight green. A tableau of

 

pines reach up to the sky. I wait for the downpour

that's sure to come and drench all this thirsty beauty

 

in a roaring wetness. Birds will lose their charms as

jagged lightening will stretch out and crack the vault

 

of heaven. We withdraw quietly to our roomslisten

to God in his booming jabs. His falling sweat soothes.

 

24 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

I Put a Spell on We

                                      —for Nina Simone

 

Morning. The lawn is soaking wet. Gray clouds move

in from the south. The sun casts shifting shadows. I am

 

doing  my front porch meditation. My cat reclines on a

green carpet as I breakfast on melon, brie, & crackers.

 

I down it all with black coffee. I am awake to Sunday.

Across the road church leaders enlarged the cemetery

 

where children of slaves and sharecroppers found their

final rest. Mockingbirds nest and play in a hickory tree.

 

Sparrows tweet-tweet on a line. Shiny new cars arrive

at church with worshippers. Sterner earth souls are in 

 

gardens hoeing, pulling wire grass from beans and peas.

I gather up these spiritual energies to keep that ancient

 

feeling going into this yellow now, re-skinning rhythms,

tossing them into the deep, where live-long people have

 

forgotten how communities build on troubling presence,

so shouting, praising will be a transport into a new now.

 

26 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

How I Long To Be With You

 

For days we’ve been monsooned with rains up from

the south. Sun shines for an hour, then a downpour is

 

on an east wind. I hurry from porch with my cat under

arm. Mockingbird sings his joyful songs. Mosquitoes

 

whine at ears the size of humming birds. We’re shut in

prisoners of this storm. There are prayers for sun dry

 

days and evening shadows. In teastern woods a dove

moans as the river rises. Frogs croak as the water fall.

 

I’ve kept my head in a book about the life of  an artist

whose grasp on life’s worries is thin as a spider’s web.

 

My tale sharpens my edge. I dream a sashaying lady in

silks, sophisticated and sexy, walking  in need of a lover.

 

27 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Coming Through with the Spirit

 

The loveliness of no sophisticated piano playing

woman in colored silks compares to today’s calm

 

twilight of orange-bluish clouds above this green.

A white sliver moon like a reclining rocking chair

 

brightens a corner of a darkening sky. Bob White

whistles again and again for Aunt Sarah. She too

 

reached up to heaven in her blue pains of scarcity.

Zion ladies feel deeply to reach up. A light breeze  

 

ruffles leaves of  trees. Rains have come and gone.

The bright sun spoke to earth moisture to fly back

 

to itself. Every soul sings a drum beat of consuming

joy. I fold clothes into a basket. Darkness stretches

 

its covers across day. Forest spirits of night awaken.

My A-Train heart beats out Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.

 

28 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Gardener in a State of Grace

 

Pollen of tassels falls upon the silk—there will be

kernels all lined up in a row, for sacrifice, ears to

 

pull & shuck. Tomato plants are waist high with

green tomatoes size of golf balls ready to ripen.

 

Running lima beans reach above wire to the sky.

Black-eyed peas are tall as the wrist. Lady bugs

 

have feasted on spinach leaves. They turn yellow

and die. Rain-soaked plowed fields will not hold

 

my weight. I've turned to Nina, my head in the lap

of her memories. She fell like JB in Please, Please

 

to her knees before a Dutch giant and bared her

breasts. His lack of generosity overruled his desire.

 

He begged forgiveness he could not succor cherry

nipples in his mouth. Soon in the next life like he'll

 

be safe as gardener of her roses. He sees 40 million

slaves riding on her back while his bank bulges with

 

apartheid profits. The sun will be scorching as hell

today. But I'll risk all to reach the gardens of Nina.

 

29 June 2006

 

 *   *   *   *   *

III 

Reaching Beyond the Self

 

 

 

 

Dancing Naked in a Maze

 

This morning I sat at the kitchen table across from Mama.

In a motorized wheel chair she, 94, asked me to turn over

 

her mattress. Last night, a man unknown was in her room

under the bed shining a light. For me nothing stirred, the air

 

was damp, heavy. Mockingbird retired, leaving the stage to

flying insects and bats. Sometimes a hashish smoker might

 

see an angel walking on water with a heavenly choir setting

the mood when there are only crickets, grasshoppers, and

 

night creatures who ring unlit darkness with fears. Pinetops

stand still and silent against a cloudy sky. My mind is limp as

 

spoiled lettuce. It was but a dream, I said, in a vain attempt

to dispel this man with light under her bed from her mind. I

 

hugged her as she sat in her wheel chair. Ghosts visit whom

they will, folks say. I too call on the unseen to dry my tears.

 

30 June 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Which Doctor Knows Tomorrow?

 

In the western wood an owl hoots deep down in the woods

below a waxing moon. His purple hour has come. Buzzards

 

try to roost in pines where the apple orchard used to be, too

close to the house. They want to have their meaty dreams of

 

Sue Gal and her garbage dump. I cannot settle for their cloud

nine aspirations. I go into a bang-on-a roll-of-tin mind frame

 

that stirs black wings to fly to trees at the far end of the field.

Mama is under covers with backache. An unwatched TV is

 

her only company. She rolls from one side of bed to the next.

Early evening she ate Boganles fried chicken heartily. All day 

 

I wandered from porch to woodshed, read off and then prose

of prison men in a mix of letters, poems, a recurring court list

 

of slaves and freed men—death, betrayal, war and love. How

the plot develops I possess no spinning ball like the fabled Jim

 

Jordon that spins out images of past realities. Nina’s doctor is

an Atlantic doctor who tosses rolling bones in unreadable signs.

 

1 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Independence Day Weekend

 

Dew is heavy on the grass as the sun

mounts the black gum tree by the garden's edge

with golden rays. Under a blue sky I'm

wrapped in a colorful wool blanket. Crows

rally. Mockingbird, Sparrow, and Robin

fly tree to tree in song as Rooster wakes.

Cardinal with his black mask whistles from

electric line, swoops into the corn bin.

Bobo had his cat food yet he still prowls

the lawn. Mama is ready for breakfast.

This is a good Sunday to testify

Jerusalem at the woodshed's mouth. Love

is the promised fruit of all these struggles.

The sun glows orange over evening trees.

 

2 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Harlem Hot in My Mind

 

There are breezes in the leaves but it’s still a hundred, hot

as a red potbelly stove stoked with coal in a Negro church

during August revival with saints running up & down the aisle

testifying about the goodness of the Lord. Sweat soaked. That’s

in the shade—hot as if the super in the summer, had turned up

the heat 20 degrees without prior notification to force his tenants

to vacate desirable white space . . . That’s been the underlying

dread of degradation for a day and ever—how to stand up in

the pressure cooker of our existence, how to be manly

beyond our fears & theirs—to be or not to be a slave in hell.. 

 

Mockingbird has no such worries & so crows mind their p’s

& q’s when they in his neighborhood. They got wings & beaks

to keep’em at bay and there ain’t no sheriff with a gun, no tanks

rolling down streets like in Baghdad, no gunships like in Gaza

that’s gonna even the odds. But that’s bitter fruit that ain’t never

been banished from the feasting table—the pig is chitterlings

to those who must eat a plenty—we ain’t got no neighborhood

like Jerusalem, we can call our refuge, forever & a day.

 

Whenever we got what they want, they just break down the door,

guns drawn, and take it, our hands raised to the sky; make some law

and run an overpass or bulldoze your house for the heck of it or for

blight or drop a bomb on all your love and care; or make making

a living jack boots hard so you can’t pay your taxes. There’s always

some pundit ready to justify or testify, some scheme like opium

or moonshine or smallpox blanket or Bigger Thomas—some story

 of fathers as termites in the eyes of their women & children.

 

2 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Living Above the Dismal

 

Mockingbird senses my morning pains, my mood indigo,

he flies from his hickory in the cemetery to the porch, to

the woodshed to cheer me to a life above the funk—like

a devoted lover come back home. Still scales of happiness

shift, slide out of balance in the life of a poet trapped in war

& famine, heartless murder & shameless starvation. So I’m

here ever in my self-exile scribbling to make sense of absurdities—

 

the roll of dice, of me behind these bars & you in a library turning

pages of academic progress of a people caught between granite &

cold steel. My hope fades as the sand runs gradually out the glass

of oppression. They got me for life. There’s no way I’ll ever fall

back into your arms, lay my head upon your lap, taste the sweet

melon wetness below. I mark the days with my toenails. In this

darkness, I don’t fear isolation. I’ve held his black hand since

my first childhood migraine. Thirty years is too long for any lover

 

to wait for a new world. In this breathless heat, I dream beyond

our fathers’ house—a meadow with a spring and blue sky, a cool

evening of buttercups & bluebells, of green tea & lemon, a wooded

path we stroll, hand in hand listening to mockingbird & his tribulations.

 

3 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

No Words for My Existence

 

Life's blackness ever changes here in the ponds, swamps, streams

of the Nottoway in these great expanse of forests above the Dismal

Swamp. All this moisture feeds the sky shades of blue, orange and

gray before and after storms. If English were rich enough we’d have

hundreds of names for rains just for the summer months that falls in

this village, we call  Jerusalem. Words multi-syllabic, long  as limbs

of tall knotty pines. Words possessed with slave peculiarities, like

the movement of the sun & moon; shape & color of clouds; out of

what forest it comes into a civilized clearing. Its duration—longer

than a shower shorter than a hurricane. Is mockingbird singing or

quiet? What’s growing in garden & field; what harvest now a fruit?

 

Who died & what was plowed under? Does it creep & crawl like

a snake, as it approaches or burst upon you like a mad dog; or rush

across tree tops like a train, or does it come down like a bucket

emptied on your head or in moving driving sheets, from all directions

simultaneously, with thunder & lightning (its volume & flashes—how

it shifts from woods to woods)? Which way the trees rock, limbs sway

& thrash about? How rain drops hit the roof  or side of the house? How

it runs off eaves into puddles below. Then when it goes, is the air cool

like cedar green or hot & steamy like purple roses or foggy like milk

film on a glass. It’d take a red native of these environs or an African

of these green forests to coin such words. Or a poet at a court of

leisure a life time to note the comings & goings of the hand of God.

 

5 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

In Need of Revolution

 

This evening the skies of Jerusalem are clear of threatening clouds .

that drift in from the north. The sun was a red globe when it set over

Georgia Pacific’s wood process plant. An orange halo was left over

the western pines. Full moon shines in a purple southern sky tonight.

So I am chilled in this cool summer air from doubts & fears I heard

the long-lived day. The storm days ago exposed a structure in need

of repair. Mockingbird did not sing for me. So I bought a ladder to

discover the source of the leaks in the woodshed, that place that

inspire prayers and poetic reflections. I ripped off the tar roofing—

worked up a backbreaking sweat and  found a hole in the boards

the size of a fist. Filled with rot from moisture, the boards buckled.

 

Neglect and shoddy work always bring such crises when all suffer

below. For a building to last and serve well, patching is no answer:

the whole roof needs to be ripped, every plank and rebuilt with new

wood: a carpentry erection that’ll be able to weather the years.

 

8 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

The Thrill Is Gone: A Blues Villanelle

 

I’m from under your spell; I wish you well.

I was good to you until we had to brake.

Yes, rock me; roll me like a wagon wheel.

 

I tried so hard to make you as my own.

But you're, my dear. the Lady in the Lake.

I’m from under your spell; I wish you well.

 

When I first saw you clearly at my home.

The mirror showed me how I had grown weak.

Yes, rock me; roll me like a wagon wheel.

 

In your absence  I sank lower, and moaned.

I was going out of mind; my roof leaked.

I’m from under your spell; I wish you well.

 

I thought first it was the seeds I had sown.

Hate breathless rises: now duly awake.

Yes, rock me; roll me like a wagon wheel.

 

I was careless, fabric of my soul torn.

I put on my shoes, a lover to seek.

I’m from under your spell; I wish you well.

Yes, rock me; roll me like a wagon wheel.

 

10 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Home Is Where Relief Is

 

The forest air was cool and thin, the sun bright in blue

with puffy white clouds drifting, creating a few moments

of shade. In between  prying up boards with a crowbar,

 

sweating, huffing, puffing, banging boards from the rafters

with a hammer I was Daddy's creation. Rot was hidden in

the wall supporting the shed. It’s now a ragged skeleton.

 

Four two by fours removed, I rested with feet hanging

on the ladder, looked over the fields: watermelon vines

are spreading. The country life is for hardy souls who

 

love rich soil and green  silence. My mother packed

and returned to her beloved, B’more City where there’s

gray concrete and fiery sirens blaring through the hours

 

night and day: hardness and anonymity a magic solace

that speaks with deception. I made my goodbyes. Her

better son drove her up north to where she feels home.

 

9 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Cousin Susie Moore Is Dead

 

Before sunset, tree frog’s ringing chorus

forced mockingbird into silence. He calls

for rain, Mama used to say, when she had

all her folk memory. But she has her mind

elsewhere as all Malvina’s grandchildren

passes away. Monday two were left, now

she is the last. Oh, it’s tough to grow old

knowing death cannot be escaped. No one

to rescue you from a certainty. You lie on

your bed, alone, head in your hand, milky

blue eyes, waiting on him in dread with

faith, hope that sun’ll rise one more day

one more breakfast with a loved one, one

breath more, a dream before lights go out.

 

11 July 2006

 

 

*   *   *   *   *

Meditation on Insects

 

Full moon rose blood red over the graveyard

tonight. There’s no sign here. The night air’s

warm enough for an air conditioner. It was a

 

hard day driving on two hours sleep hauling

& lifting boards & roofing so we can have

dry space to store wood for the heat we will

 

need in the winter months. We’re like ants in

their single-minded tasks. I drank coffee cup

after cup. Blind I have no time to eye sunsets

 

or hear mockingbird & his sweet melodies.

But finally I come to rest, wipe sweat from

my brow at the mouth of the skeleton shed.

 

I take in the swooping zig-zag flights of

the long-tailed mosquito hawk seizing its

prey in mid-air as a child scoops up candy

 

in his mouth. A healthy appetite, a strong

back can carry one far in this world. After

all the work & feast we end in a cemetery.

 

Is there more for us than the life of insects?

 

 

11 July 2007

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Get Up Dead Man: Blues Villanelle #2

 

Get up dead man, help me carry my load.

I was twenty-one when you went away.

I can’t make my boss man feel satisfied.

 

A doctor cut you up & stretched you out.

I cried tears years before that awful day.

Get up dead man, help me carry my load.

 

Sixty-five, you were manly & devout.

At sixteen, your hair was already gray.

I can’t make my boss man feel satisfied

 

Early you knew what this life was about.

That fathers don’t always do what they may.

Get up dead man, help me carry my load.

 

With little help we have to do without.

You made liquor & you knew how to pray.

I can’t make my boss man feel satisfied.

 

Let sinners who must go to church & shout.

Spirit man rise beyond the soul’s decay.

Get up dead man, help me carry my load.

I can’t make my boss man feel satisfied.

 

12 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Trinidad Lady at Club Paradise

 

This morning in the forest of Jerusalem

sun shines down as hot as the smile of

an island girl in the shadows of a dance

floor at Club Paradise, whining in zebra

pants split to the thighs—air’s heavy as

a wet blouse on bare nipples. Last night

I had no complaint. Now, daydreaming

is safer, wiser than standing on the side

of a roof with hammer, nails, & boards.

 

At the bar with our drinks—my scotch

on rocks, her rum & coke—we talked

about hopes & failures: she as soldier

me as writer; she about her divorce of

a Virginia man & me of her startling

beauty as a mom of a grown son; she

of night work at post office; me how

her eyes sparkled; she of never again

binding herself to a man; & me about

an old man living on a mountain in a

timeless world. We danced & talked

at her table. Climbing through clouds

I kissed her a good night sweet Irene.

 

17 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Dreading Distrust & Reparations

 

Struck by lightning, probably, the dead pine

that’s been falling for the last three months

held up by limbs of live trees finally hit the

ground, today. I wasn’t there regrettably to

witness the event when it happened. I had

less important matters in mind, like fixing

the roof of a forty-year-old storehouse in

much disrepair for decades, though it has

been used to store furniture, records, tools

books—covered in mildew, mold, & dirt.

Rain & rodents & ants have had a day or

so gnawing away daddy’s carpentry that

he left for us in 1970. The floor & walls

are in as worst shape as the roof. Why I

took on this costly & extended project

is as mysterious & probably as idiotic as

murderous bombs falling from the sky in

distant Lebanon. Maybe we’re preparing

for an ominous future, when birds don’t

sing, a greater bloody war in which much

more will be lost than unhealthy inflated

egos. Our sentiments of a Warsaw ghetto

past won’t be undone, nor our eternally

repairing what cannot be really repaired.

 

24 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Reparations along the Nottoway

 

In this dark, damp forest, sounds of tree

frogs & insects still rule the night. In this

bend of the Nottoway—river of Nadowa

a people whose integrity was broken over

three centuries ago—arrowheads can still

be found at Stony Creek where ancestor

clan Cheroenhaka mothers used to camp.

 

Today, a fawn was bounding through a

field of soybeans hearing the roar of my

engine. Few hands are needed these days

to till the soil when machines are quicker

than black fingers & stronger than black

backs. The Snakes, hunters, resisted the

feminizing of both farming & Christians.

 

In these woods the tarred roads we travel

now didn’t exist when I was a boy. There

was not even dirt roads when Mama was

a girl here at Jerusalem. Then there were

wagon trails & horse paths on which she

rode Duke bareback miles for a doctor’s

office up in Jarratt. Her father owned 75

 

acres of this forest then. The children of

slaves left these woods for urban centers

long after the Snake people lost the skies

to their conquerors. Scattered over seven

states & Canada, they’ll returning today

gathering to reclaim bloodlines—what’s

been lost in ledgers & museums. Can we

 

be repaired seeking bones, ancient spirits

wandering among cypress, oaks & pines?

 

26 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Reparations as an Artful Enterprise

 

I’ve almost gotten all the boards nailed down

on the storehouse roof—an enterprise started

as one of collaboration & cooperation like all

beginnings on the shores of discovery. Now I

go it alone. There’s always an injury in body

soul or spirit—some excuse, treaty violation

when peoples have different ways of going

about reaching a goal. Some dream of being

drivers, of pushing those below through the

heat & cold until the harvest is done. Some

tasks like carpentry require more measuring

& thought than dropping seeds in the tilled

soil, holding the handles of a plow, walking

or riding a machine. Repairing or restoring

is a more delicate matter. It depends less on

the richness of the soil or temper of weather.

It requires a vision of something lasting far

beyond one’s self, the aching of one’s belly.

 

26 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Divine Reparations Are Eternal

 

Summer is at its fullest. Our garden gave

& continues in its bounty: snaps, tomatoes

corn, spinach, kale, cabbages, butter beans.

 

August revival approaches—bombs still

fall. There is a market in winding sheets

for Gaza babies; people are on the move.

 

Today’s sultry stillness with its shadows

dry & scorching created a night without

moon or stars. Insects are a feast for bats.

 

We have our moments when Nature is at

her gentlest: a sun golden peeps through

the pines; soft breezes caress my cheek.

 

Can a soul ask for more with this spring

like respite: white bell flowers with red

centers blooming on the lawn? The birds

 

perched on their limbs are silently in awe

as tree frogs cry for rain in the rustling of

green leaves—a bloody mosquito & gnats

 

cannot spoil this wondrous cool evening.

 

28 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

To Hell with Blackness & Nationalism

 

In this dark forest of winding country roads

there are seldom two beams of car lights to

break in on the silent peace of insect songs

 

& the darkness of moonless, humid nights.

If not too insufferable I sit on the screened

porch, across from the cemetery, & listen

 

for God’s voice to speak as my ancestor.

Always skeptical, I’m sure I’d ask, “What

did you say?” I suffer like many deafness.

 

In a world filled with horrors, kidnapping

& other crimes—the clanging sickness of

terror & death I find it difficult to measure

 

what is truth. Daily, I go about my simple

tasks. Today, I shelled butter beans for a

few hours. Tomorrow, I return to roofing

 

my father’s storehouse. Now & then I try

to read a few pages in a scholarly  book

on the efficacy of blackness. As always

 

I raise questions. Who is it that speaks

to me across time & space? Is this God

or Satan? I sink another nail in tar paper.

 

31 July 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

IV

August Revival

 

 

 

Resurrection

 

My retreat in these woods continues. I’m

in a blessed leisure in this forest of humid

heat on a half-moon night. On the kitchen

table today we shelled lima beans for the

winter & we talked about religious values

in Langston’s Aunt Hager & her ability to

love & forgive. I picked some tomatoes to

cook with the limas for dinner. The leaves

are weltering & turning brown under the

sun revealing a rich crop—huge fruit in

stages of ripeness: reds, yellows, & green.

All black life is not filled with solemnity.

With his charming vitality I read in email

that Jimboy got killed in a car accident in

Germany. Yet the best of him lives on in

his son Sandy. I never read Not Without

Laughter. But spontaneity has a pricetag.

 

2 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

August Revival

 

This forest of swamps & bogs is no mountain

retreat. On clear summer nights the moon is

yellow & a setting sun a bright orange globe

that brings little relief. Though not subject to

the brutality of labor & the rope, for most of

us, our range of options as low-paid servants

& prostitutes has expanded in the economy

of global exploitation. The week-long nightly

tradition of testifying & preaching will begin

Sunday. I doubt these text speakers for God

will expound seriously on their ineptitude to

grasp the complexities of our times. Surely

they will exploit the fabulous eloquence of

dead poets & prophetic images. Congregants

with walkers & in wheel chairs, other worlds

pressing upon them, will heartily testify to a

deliverance from cotton & cane fields. The

sophisticated retirees spiritually saved will

pray for a longer life enjoying the fruits of

their compromises. Absent at this gathering

of saints will be the fierce vitality of young

men & women who struggle with minimalist

wages & hardy prison guards. Their burning

fires will not be quenched in this holy place.

 

4 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

My Woman Is This Forest

 

Now, God sends Sunday! The moon waxes

full in a purple sky, shining down on me like

the smile of a frighteningly beautiful woman.

Fall weather in August, it’s blanket cool as I

sit on the front porch. This great forest is as

a Negro mother, at once harsh in her terrific

moods & soothingly comforting embracing

you in her ancient arms; makes you long for

her like some distant lover when you are at

war with a world of dangers. The insects &

frogs sing me a lullaby that reminds me of

my childhood, of wood paths I walked to a

fishing pond in Sansi Swamp or ran like a

slave—the prey of hunting dogs barking at

my heels. Those were dreams. Those paths

through marshes are now overgrown. We

have no more hiding places which to run.

My soul requires me now to make a stand.

 

5 August 2006

 

 *   *   *   *   *

Romance Has No Natural Death

 

Old lovers are unlike garden plants that

are cut down & plowed under, the fruit

stored away in freezer bags & canning

jars to be consumed on cold tomorrows.

Their vitriol is delivered in prayer

letters secreting daggers & goober dust.

One deletes. Still they appear in wet dreams

demanding satisfaction; in one’s nightmares

smiling behind dark veils, loitering by

your grave site, recalling the hopes they had

for the promised black child that would usher

in a redeemed tomorrow—as they walk

away they toss dirt on the coffin lid.

The land is now tilled for hardier crops.

 

6 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Women Who Care for the Weak

 

In the purple southern sky a full moon

casts tree shadows in the graveyard as

I sit on my front porch. Early morning

before the sun got white hot I finished

tar papering the roof of the woodshed.

 

Read about Baldwin’s bold courage &

how he attempted to tell truth as much

as he could bear it & more. Listened to

my aunt—a mother & grandmother—

at the kitchen table laugh misery in the

 

face. She’s endured. Her daddy laid the

brick foundation of this screen porch on

which I read with my cat nearby. She’s

the fifth daughter he wanted near him

when he took sick in ‘69. She’s found

 

her calling & faith. She prepares meals

now for her 95 year old mother. I saw

too tonight a young woman in the dark

pushing a baby carriage with only the

beams of passing cars to light her way.

 

8 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Chickens Coming Home

 

That Republicans will remain in office

we canned ten jars of black-eyed peas

for when winter comes we might have

to hunt rabbits and eat wild turkeys to

escape hang-dog, black-white depression

photos. Wall Street hedge hunters and oil

company shysters are today’s bloodhounds. 

Prices rise daily on thumbs up and a middle

finger up to the elbow, Italian style.

My cousin’s selling pond fish from his truck.

Across the river, his woman screams for

more than neck braces and lint-filled pockets.  

Debt fogged in Crawfish Bottom streets he sees

Humvees—in the skies, gunships keep firing.

10 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Loving That Other Man

 

Former-slaves built Jerusalem with hard

labor. But for their children today it

is no sanctuary from misery.

Fog thickens after a day of showers

& revelations. A full moon rises high.

Nathaniel Turner knew such an evening

as his Day of Reckoning came nearer

during August Revival. Like Baldwin

he knew men turn away from true being

for fleshly ecstasy—incest, & pride

in the marketing of hearts & souls—all 

for small comforts & manliness. I am

no naturalist. I know evil when

discovered wears the mask that glumly grins.

 

11 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

 

*   *   *   *   *

Don't Say Goodbye to Truth

 

Mockingbird’s sang his farewell from a limb

then flew off. No dew glistens on this lawn.

Bird calls are goodbye flutes delightfully

sad like brain chocolate filled with lived life.

Southern winds stir the weeping willow near

the reddening apple tree. Under calm

gray skies, we restless for we know not what

traveling spirits. A hawk's fortune is bleak

in this shadowless morning. Driven by

ghostly fears we become truth diplomats

ignoring fire belly urgings of paths

to freedom divined by season changes

that embrace life’s deep drama: ominous

tree frogs cry for hurricanes yet to come.

 

16 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Good Night Sweet Irene

 

Mockingbird’s packed up for warmer climes.

He’s making the rounds saying his goodbyes.

His courtships and tauntings of walking crows

are a distant spring memory that comes

with the tilling of soil. Autumn coolness

displaces watermelon ripeness. White bell

flowers fall from the lawn bush. Mason jar

tops sealed tight for winter are yesteryear

tasks of  ancients of a golden sunset.

Revival prayers at Jerusalem

butt the roof like thunder claps with flashes,

lighting up the cemetery tree line.

A windless downpour drenches the tin roof

 

and me. I dream of Mockingbird’s return.

17 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Last Call Dreaming

 

The damp forest is domed in dark purple

as stars twinkle crisp and clear. The moon rises

after midnight. My head refuses a pillow.

On a New Orleans internet radio

station old blues records keep on spinning.

The river and lake keep rising, bursting

through levees; our people are still screaming,

still wading, waving from roof tops, to be

rescued. Water, water everywhere, none

to quench the thirst; food, food is everywhere

but there is none for black stomachs, babies

cry, no ears can hear, some hearts get harder.

Here in this forest on dry land, it’s just

a dream—bluesmen dying in New Orleans.

 

18 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Dispelling the Darkness

 

My liberation from this forest of swamps approaches like a dog

with its head swinging near the ground. My soul has already packed

 

up my garments I must wear for the end of my journey. I awake

nightly in prayer that the dawn wings its way quickly to my door.

 

Manic bombings in Iraq, or Israel in Lebanon make all of us cry

for peace crumbs. Revenge killings love sorrow as America loves

 

big guns and military tanks pulled out for media applause and flashing

bulbs that lack identity and manhood. I suck in patience and hold

 

my tongue. But I’m tuned to brothers sensitive, dear enough to beam

me moments of crisis to challenge the grounds of  our misery that wear

 

us down with angels in fatigues bulging with body armor and Nazi

like padded steel helmets shaped like halos. So I push on—even in

 

my nightmare of gunfights & drug raids at housing projects with every

black boy up against the wall with legs spread; my wallet lost—my bed

 

wrestles comforts from the darkness to get each of us through the night.

20 August 2006

 

 *   *   *   *   *

Defying Raging Night

 

In this new moon forest

darkness stretches out like pitch

on a highway. I’ve walked worn

wooded paths through tangling

bushes on such nights, hurried home

on snaking dirt roads in swamps

of ancient cypress and overarching

oaks that hid the twinkling stars

in a purple sky. When I was a boy

insect sounds and the unfamiliar

did not break my courage—my faith.

 

I’ve walked too the red hills

of Bukavu and knelt by the glassy

waters of Lake Kivu and spoke

with the god of rivers, making

promises as solemn as oaths on

holy books. At the Grand Marché,

I saw a man with his torso on a board

roll himself along with padded hands.

On the plains of Goma where I once

relieved myself, where later men, women

and children sought refuge from tribal rage

and bloodlust seeking machetes.

 

A survivor of that nightmare oceanic passage

with strange tongues, the spirit-killing sadness

of iron chains. I know the blackness of life

yet I’m still fool enough to envision tomorrow’s

thrill—the indigenous promises of a new world.

 

22 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Up on Pisgah

 

Breezes are brisk in the white bell flowers on the lawn. The pines

and oaks across from the cemetery possess  a crystal clarity. They

 

rock under gusts of wind in their  limbs this cool August day. This

obsidian scene obscures yesterday fears the river will never dry.

 

Words of  poets—inspired beauty of artists soar across the wooded

horizon: I am more than a commodity transport others think, the passion

 

of cat eyes that never come to light, a vine that never bears fruit, the hand

that's more than the fingers upon the broom, the hoe, the shovel; more than  

 

dreams of the lady killer and plowman, bound to fields unyielding.

Backdoor men with  bowed nappy heads (hat in hands), hiding behind  

 

skirts of agony set afire like piled up trash, now blue smoke. I loose me

from that prisoner closed and defined by barbed wire.. A child  plays in

 

the black sands of an African beach with an AK-47. I conjure a soldier's

resolve inspired by ancient gods. Let’s pour libations for worlds yet to

 

come in our own image. A living vision we hand down to the soul catchers

who follow our lead, we masters of a game of creating, of  men becoming.

 

14 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Sonnet for 22 August 1831

 

If we slipped away unknown into dark

forests often as black men did so long

ago in secret coves like Booze Island

in the Loco woods & converse in tongues

dine on dripping hot roast pig, smoking yams

with moonshine & brandy, we could win all.

Nobody will know what we put down or

the cross we pick up. A faith communion

will fuel acts heroic—sacrificial.

Beyond our master’s grasp & driver’s whip,

free of fears & reckonings, wingéd flights

across the dark purple skies will birth a

bold love & a daring defiance. For

seven determined men can rock the world.

 

23 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Sonnet for Ancestors

 

It’s not buck-and-wing of vigorous hips

and panic screams we call for wickedly

in our lovers. . . .  It’s not CIA brains

and  MI5 computerized slicked out

think tanks inhaled by pedestrians in

dark raincoats. These whiplash arts won’t fill up

marble monuments—carved words of  regime

change, stones on grass green malls—Imperial.

The sustenance of hope’s flesh requires more

than a cocktail of shame, guilt, tears, and blood.  

Wake up to what granny wants us to hear—

bluesmen masked as birds tricking night insects  

that stiffen Satan and launches him

in space to free us from the hell we live.

24 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Blind Woman with Guitar

 

On a dark stage she’s in a blue spotlight.

Her walnut skin shell displays her beauty

and ripples of nerves fill the smoky room

like a finger plucking a black-water tune.

She’s Southern blind boys reborn but unknown

by critics who can’t shout—can’t kiss themselves.

She strums and sings of museums in her

head, of masterworks leaning sideways in

a space on your mama’s walls that escape

the con-man fictions of social scientists.

Her voice goes silent as she picks her way

through the cotton fields of her memory.

Her voice rises on swing low chariots

 

hooves drumming out terror night harmonies.

 

25 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Sonnet for Reality Men

 

Whether in New Orleans or Harlem, they

mask as good shepherds or Mr. Real Deal.

Uptown or downtown they are known by names

such as Momus, Comus, or Protesus—

ghettologists, guards of those sweet belly

brownstones and public housing we call home.

They hail us as foreigners prone to vice

though patrons to writers and poets who diet

on Marx, Freud, and Reich—experts of chaos.

With little plastique doors to our breast

they pry into our secret thoughts and dreams.

With warehouses of guns and drugs, they turn

men to animals to build more condos.

With edicts they sweep us away like dirt.

 

26 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

War Is Not a Time of Joy

 

On this waxing crescent moon night I am

skittish as my cat when he wants to stretch

& claw. No bombs fall here. No troops patrol

these forest roads. No gunships with spotlights

block the purple carpet of stars, disturb

the silence of insects, a dog’s barking.

My uneasiness comes from lack of sleep—

a deep-seated frustration we don’t love

enough. I’m trapped but not fooled. The captive

has no illusions about his captor.

My concerns have been written out the script

of the warmongers & their financiers.

Their values and norms are hoisted models

while the dance of death is on the world stage.

 

26 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Sonnet for Albert Murray 

 

In the cemetery pine mockingbird

is listening to my five notes. He calls out.

I press lips to my flute’s mouth, fingers on

the holes, and blow. He’s silent. My inner

energy stirs the leaves on his tree limb—

in a style hip/cool as Esquire elegance.

It demands ears rather than a challenge.

The tune marvels at itself  holding grief

arm’s length, shimmies under middle-class norms

and white expectations, wiggles its hips

whines like a Jamaican dance hall queen, taps

on knot-headed statisticians detached

from the world of a blues ballad, shuffles

snot-nosed theories into a white abyss.

 

27 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Blues for an Empty Bed

 

It’s four in the morning I'm rolling 

& tumbling. Good times is so far away.

She’s Ma Rainey singing blues on the radio.

She ain’t had no packing since a fool

left her stall. Down by the river she works

with a preacher to conjure in dream time.

My wild woman is an owl working overtime.

I tried to call her to unwind my clock but

my dime didn't stop whatever she was doing.

I still roll and tumble—cry all night long.

Before I left her town, she put delta magic

in my mind, a sink hole in a whiskey bottle.

My trombone moans to & fro like gospels.

Limbs so long, she's not going to let me go.

 

27 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Women with Men in Prison

 

He’s not in Abu Grahib a black bag

over his head his genitals exposed

on film by a mocking female GI.

He’s not at Guantanamo detained by

top-secret Pentagon memos, tortured

by water, bright lights around the clock. No,

he’s down on Southampton’s County Farm

on a work detail in Boykins paying

thirty dollars a week for room & board.

His woman can visit him for two hours

on Sundays & receive his telephone

calls if he gets the blues thinking she’s not

alone. He didn’t get 25 to life.

but six months to make his woman a wife.

 

28 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Mining Black Males

 

Tonight a four year old child

is dead. He was here

in the house this afternoon.

A stepfather, my cousin, sits

on a cot in Southampton jail,

his head buried in thoughtless hands

wondering how fragile life changes (ends)

suddenly, unexpectedly. A mother mindless.

A grandmother prays continually.

A child is dead tonight.

Heaven’s flashlight clicks on & off

across the purple night skies for hours.

It’s too tragic for tears.

30 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Under a Dark Cloud

 

Threatening gray clouds swing swiftly east

to west as a storm picks up momentum tracking

north up the coast. For two days Jerusalem

has been  rain-soaked as rivers and swamps rise

and spill into low ground. But floods are ignored

for the more sensational spice of the angry black

man, walking the last green mile. We believe

almost anything driveled on the evening news:

"Local Man Murders Wife's Four-Year-Old

Mixed Race Son." He beat child to death.

This shock of lies, his family complains, enlivens

going without food or water or love. The boring

hatred of mother, father, and child—on cool

electronic colored waves—before he arrives

in court convicts the poor fellow—no evidence

yet professional efficiency. We strip down dreams,

as if they were serpent’s venom to save lives. We're

junkies for life on misery's margins, volunteers to lay

on 39 as we drown neighbors in engulfing suspicions.

 

31 August 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Sonnet for Carter

 

A hawk soars, wheels over Jerusalem

and flies off in Christ crossed skies, familiar.

We’ve known showers fall from dark gray clouded

faces at R.I.P. tragic funerals.

Last night it was for a child four years old,

an absent black father and a wayward

white mother who had only now begun

to root and bloom in uncultivated

red soil. He lies on a loveless love seat,

pale, his pink lips swollen—one hand in jeans,

a cap, his toys, a poster of photos

of his brief childhood severed. We fall down

with loss we carry into tear-soaked pews

while crows and ants feast on flesh left behind.

 

5 September 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Sonnet for Bailing Out

 

Dark clouds drift toward the coast, unveil

a full moon that cast graveyard shadows. Thunder

booms in the distance no tales of love's embrace.

 

More flooding will come before week’s end.

Tree frogs keep crying damp and cool autumn air.

Omens whisper blood pacts on treetop

 

horizons. Yet sparrows flee mockingbird-

crow conflicts. Blind justice hears the balance

on spider web scales. A grieving mother

 

grows sad stories in jail cell minds snared

in papier-mâché designs. All night

long she cries goodbyes to son dust around

 

her neck. He rises on heartbeats between breasts

an innocent of the state’s big payback.

 

5 September 2006

 

*   *   *   *   *

Ode to Walls

 

1

You rose from the stony earth

with bloodstained groans to give

birth and growth to civilization.

 

You were created first to support roofs

and ceilings against the sun and storm

for mud huts and the wooden longhouse

 

—to divide space for privacy

—a barrier to moving earth, stone

and water. You’ve outgrown

 

your modest grace for mural  beauty

and art. You upright now for prisons and trophies.

O, Ancient One, monstrous stone Serpent

 

that will not fall. You snake your way

speaking volumes from the Great Wall of China

to Israel’s West Bank barrier

 

to southern Mexican boundaries to walled

residences out from America. Your strength

mortared dead men’s bones to ideology.

 

2

You metamorphosed Deceiver

descendent of Satan so long ago tossed

from Heaven. You Separator of togetherness

 

we breathe your essence deeply daily

as the skull’s wolf bane, in the heart's pump.

Our soul’s categories embrace nothingness

 

not flowing, not permeable to warmth

and care, no connecting doors to enter

the rooms of our ethical ruminations.

 

As mechanical as industrial centuries

we return to a hotel hallway

change our masks, our business suits

before entering another orange toga fantasy

of ourselves. Our precarious lives demand we

call such deceit—poise, freedom from terror.

posted 4 November 2010

*   *   *   *   *

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#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Africa Speaks, America Answers

Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times

By Robin D.G. Kelly

Robin D.G. Kelly in Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) (published February 2012), gives us a meditation on Africa, jazz and modernity: we see innovation not as an imposition from the West but rather as indigenous, multilingual, and messy, the result of innumerable exchanges across a breadth of cultures. From the prelude:  By exploring the work, conversations, collaborations, and tensions between both African and African American musicians during the era of decolonization, I examine how modern Africa figured in reshaping jazz during the 1950s and early 1960s, how modern jazz figured in the formation of a modern African identity, and how various musical convergences and crossings shaped and the political and cultural landscape on both continents. This book is not about the African roots of jazz, nor does it ask how American jazz musicians supported African liberation or "imagined" Africa. Rather, it is about the transnational encounters between musicians.

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Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''

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Speaking for the Generations

An Anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories

 Edited by Dike Okoro

This new collection of short stories by African writers was published in the United States by Africa World Press (Trenton, NJ). The collection contains works by writers from fifteen African countries: three writers from Zimbabwe, three from Cameroon, thirteen from Nigeria, four from South Africa, five from Morocco, and more. This anthology aims to represent the best of contemporary African short stories written in English.

In forty-eight stories that showcase the rich narratives, cultures, and customs of the continent, the reader will become acquainted with both established and emerging African male and female writers.

Themes include love, family, relationships, death, politics, exile, childhood, gender, struggle (personal and communal), rage and hope. This book will introduce readers to finely crafted stories or human conditions comparable to those captured in narratives from other parts of the world. . The range of issues covered by the stories is wide, but what's more impressive is how the anthology covers both North African and Sub-Saharan writing, and the inclusion of both emerging and established authors.

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Ratification

The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist

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Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

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How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

By Walter Rodney

The late Guyanese writer, Walter Rodney had left us his great insights regarding the reasons for the underdevelopment of the African continent. His work finds equal footing with those of Frantz Fanon and to an extent that of the late Brazilian author and social activist, Paulo Freire in attempting to provide a critical insight, and a gainful analysis to the situation and reasons for the poverty on the African continent. This analysis, whether one agrees with its conclusions or not provides a means towards looking at the stalk realities of African underdevelopment. Rodney thesis that the trans-atlantic slave trade diminished the African manpower to attain development cannot be easily pushed under the carpet. Development is how a people within the means available to them, within their eco-context utilize their knowledge for the good of the totality. When their people is afflicted with disease or mass uprooting there is bound to be both biological and social ripple effects that would affect both the pace and nature of development. It is here that we realize that Rodney's proposition underlines a crucial factor in explaining the reasons for the African state.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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