ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Doug had weathered the radiation, but the cost had been high. First they cut his locks. Soon the

short hair disappeared, and then the scalp wrinkled leaving mini-hills and valleys rutting his skull, with

only a small, horizontal tuff of hair remaining at the base where the back of the head hits the shoulders.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Tribute to Douglass Redd

Essay and Poem

By Kalamu ya Salaam


It’s Hard

The back of his hand was peeling off. He grabbed a plastic bottle of lotion to slather on.

“What’s that?” I ask.

He looks at his wrinkled fingers, huge flaps of top skin hanging loosely, and then looks up into my eyes.

I don’t look away.

I’ve seen his artist hands at work for over three decades: working wood, canvas, and paper; wielding knives, brushes, and pencils. I remember us laughing about the nicks, cuts, stains and bruises; that was just part of the cost of being the type of artist he was.

Walking through the arches in Congo Square at Jazzfest, Africa-inspired images sticking up thirty feet in the air; that was Doug’s art. The Tamborine & Fan flyers from the seventies. The design of Ashe Cultural Center in the new millennium. All of that, Doug’s artwork. From drawings to drums, flyers to architectural designs, all graceful examples of his artistic efforts.

A squeamish part of me wanted to avoid confronting Doug’s deformed hands but I didn’t turn away because, well, because this was one moment when he needed me to look without embarrassment. He was sick. I was well. If he could look, I should be able to also. But it wasn’t easy. Observing a man weakened and suffering is difficult.

Doug was always slim, but now he is almost skeletal. And those black gloves with white stripes that looked like bones that Doug wears to cover the raw patches disfiguring his hands don’t help.

“What?” he asks.

I answer immediately, “I was asking what that lotion was.”

I could not help but think back a couple of weeks to when I was holding Doug, his hands shaking uncontrollably, his head toppling over and going down to the table top. As I had embraced him, I felt the retching wracking his body, but there had been nothing left to throw up. My left arm all the way around him, I used my right hand, thumb to ear and little finger next to my mouth, to motion for Carol to call the ambulance.

“Talk to me, Doug,” I implored but he was near unconscious. “Talk to me.”

When he mumbled a few words I breathed a bit easier. Eventually, with both my arms around him, he was able to stand and we had inched over to the sofa and he lay down.

I ran downstairs to make sure when the medics arrived they would be able to get into the locked bottom floor door, onto the elevator and up to #314. As I sat outside hearing a siren draw closer, I was thinking and thinking and thinking. And hurting. A month or so ago, Doug had had a seizure. The subsequent diagnosis was brain tumors. And lung cancer. Radiation treatment for tumors and now chemotherapy for cancer.

Doug had weathered the radiation, but the cost had been high. First they cut his locks. Soon the short hair disappeared, and then the scalp wrinkled leaving mini-hills and valleys rutting his skull, with only a small, horizontal tuff of hair remaining at the base where the back of the head hits the shoulders. Morbidly I wondered were those ridges solid or soft, but I had been neither brave nor invasive enough to reach out and finger the bumps.

After checking his vital signs (which were strong), the EMS techs assured us the reactions Carol and I were struggling to deal with were normal for chemo patients.

That’s life in New Orleans post-Katrina: everybody is valiantly trying to keep it together; everybody is dealing with some kind of trauma. Every extended family has someone ill who needs care, or someone who needs shelter, or someone who needs . . . there are so many needs. We just have to keep pushing.

I exhale, look over and smile at Doug standing there cupping a hand full of light-colored goo. “Yeah, that cocoa butter is good for your hands,” I said quietly.

Doug sat on the sofa and vigorously rubbed in the lotion. I sat up in the straight back chair. We were spending another of beaucoup hours with each other.

I pull the night shift and make sure that Doug takes his medication at 9pm. It’s hard. Hard for Doug to take the handful of pills, some of them the size of lozenges. His tongue has lost its normal taste, no food has an agreeable flavor. Something in the treatment has made his throat raw, even a tiny pill hurts to swallow. Radiation and chemo are killing good cells while trying to wipe out bad cells. To get well, Doug has to get sick.

It’s hard.

As hard as it is for him, it’s also emotionally taxing for me. I gather myself everyday and take the elevator to the third floor to spend hours with my friend. I’ve been following this regime for over a month now. The routine will go on for who knows how long—I psyche myself up to share energy with Doug. Day in, day out. Over and over.

It’s hard but it’s beautiful.

As tired as I be when I drag home at night and force myself to work for another hour or so, getting to bed usually between midnight and 1am, no matter, I’m always ready for the next day, renewed by the goodness of sharing life and love with a man I love.

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The Last Redd Light!

(a eulogy of sorts for Douglas Redd, December 1947 – July 2007)




What would you do if you knew

You were going to die tomorrow, or maybe

Just had a vague feeling that the knocking

At the door was a death rattle, or maybe

You just ached real bad and instead of words,

Moans slobbered sideways out your mouth? What

Would you do if your hand wasn’t working and

You couldn’t control your bladder

And just had to lay in whatever…, you know

What I’m saying? . . .


Life sometimes asks us some tough unanswerable questions like

What would you do if you failed the ultimate survival test?




His flesh was still soft.

I looked down on the calm of his face,

The peaceful repose was the . . . I can’t make it pretty,

I mean I could describe it with pretty words but

It would still be fucked up.


A man with whom I have spent most midnights

Over the last three hundred and some days,

I was in his presence even when he was too sick

To appreciate that I was there, now, his corpse

Was lying there, unmoving, untwisted, unhacked

By coughs and phlegm. He looked better

Than I’ve seen him for weeks. You know

It’s bad when a cadaver looks better

Than a fitfully breathing body.




When you say someone you love is dead

What do you mean?


Outside the sun was shining, inside,

All inside of me the sky was crying. I was standing

At the last Redd light.

Source: WordUp

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

Treme: Beyond Bourbon Street (HBO)

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#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

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#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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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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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posted 8 October 2010




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