Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
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
The back of his hand was peeling
off. He grabbed a plastic bottle of lotion to slather
“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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
* * * *
Last Redd Light!
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
Moans slobbered sideways out your mouth?
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
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
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
To appreciate that I was there, now, his
Was lying there, unmoving, untwisted,
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
At the last Redd light.
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music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
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Treme: Beyond Bourbon Street (HBO)
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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
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.
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
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
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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.—
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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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
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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posted 8 October 2010