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
* * *
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
the brutality of labor & the rope, for most
us, our range of options as low-paid
& prostitutes has expanded in the economy
of global exploitation. The week-long
tradition of testifying & preaching will
Sunday. I doubt these text speakers for God
will expound seriously on their ineptitude
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
deliverance from cotton & cane fields. The
sophisticated retirees spiritually saved
pray for a longer life enjoying the fruits
their compromises. Absent at this gathering
of saints will be the fierce vitality of
men & women who struggle with minimalist
wages & hardy prison guards. Their burning
fires will not be quenched in this holy
* * *
My Woman Is This Forest
Now, God sends Sunday! The moon waxes
full in a purple sky, shining down on me
the smile of a frighteningly beautiful
Fall weather in August, it’s blanket cool as
sit on the front porch. This great forest is
a Negro mother, at once harsh in her
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.
* * * *
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
for the promised black child that would
in a redeemed tomorrow—as they walk
away they toss dirt on the coffin lid.
The land is now tilled for hardier crops.
* * *
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
Across the river, his woman screams for
more than neck braces and lint-filled
Debt fogged in Crawfish Bottom streets he
Humvees—in the skies,
gunships keep firing.
* * *
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.
* * * *
* * *
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
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.
* * * *
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
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
lighting up the cemetery tree line.
A windless downpour drenches the tin roof
and me. I dream of Mockingbird’s return.
* * *
Last Call Dreaming
The damp forest is domed in dark purple
as stars twinkle crisp and clear. The moon
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
still wading, waving from roof tops, to be
rescued. Water, water everywhere, none
to quench the thirst; food, food is
but there is none for black stomachs, babies
cry, no ears can hear, some hearts get
Here in this forest on dry land, it’s just
a dream—bluesmen dying
in New Orleans.
* * *
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
* * * *
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
of iron chains. I know the blackness of life
yet I’m still fool enough to envision
promises of a new world.
* * *
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
* * *
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.
* * *
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
marble monuments—carved words of regime
change, stones on grass green
The sustenance of hope’s flesh requires more
than a cocktail of shame, guilt, tears, and
Wake up to what granny wants us to hear—
bluesmen masked as birds tricking night
that stiffen Satan and launches him
in space to free us
from the hell we live.
* * * *
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
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.
* * *
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
With warehouses of guns and drugs, they turn
men to animals to build more condos.
With edicts they sweep
us away like dirt.
* * *
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
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
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
* * *
Sonnet for Albert Murray
In the cemetery pine mockingbird
is listening to my five notes. He calls
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—
a style hip/cool as Esquire elegance.
It demands ears rather than a challenge.
The tune marvels at itself holding
arm’s length, shimmies under middle-class
and white expectations, wiggles its hips
whines like a Jamaican dance hall queen,
on knot-headed statisticians detached
from the world of a blues ballad, shuffles
snot-nosed theories into a white abyss.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
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
alone. He didn’t get 25 to life.
but six months to make his woman a wife.
* * * *
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
* * * *
Under a Dark Cloud
Threatening gray clouds swing swiftly east
to west as a storm picks up momentum
north up the coast. For two days Jerusalem
has been rain-soaked as rivers and swamps
and spill into low ground. But floods are
for the more sensational spice of the angry
man, walking the last green mile.
almost anything driveled on the evening
"Local Man Murders Wife's Four-Year-Old
Mixed Race Son." He beat child to
This shock of lies, his family complains, enlivens
going without food or water or love. The
hatred of mother, father, and child—on cool
electronic colored waves—before he arrives
convicts the poor fellow—no
yet professional efficiency. We strip down
as if they were serpent’s venom to save
junkies for life on misery's margins,
volunteers to lay
on 39 as we drown neighbors in
* * * *
Sonnet for Carter
A hawk soars, wheels over Jerusalem
and flies off in Christ crossed skies,
We’ve known showers fall from dark gray
faces at R.I.P. tragic funerals.
Last night it was for a child four years
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
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.
* * * *
Sonnet for Bailing Out
Dark clouds drift toward the coast, unveil
moon that cast graveyard shadows. Thunder
the distance no tales of love's embrace.
flooding will come before week’s end.
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
an innocent of the
state’s big payback.
* * * *
Ode to Walls
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
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.
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
Our soul’s categories embrace nothingness
not flowing, not permeable to warmth
connecting doors to enter
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
such deceit—poise, freedom from terror.