Sunday, June 21, 2015

So, This Is Not A Poem

I don't want to write poetry about a white racist man killing nine black people in a historically black church during bible study in South Carolina, United States 2015. So, this is not a poem.

A poem would find something beautiful about people working to get closer to God at the moment that a killer, like Saul, exacted his crime against them when God was most pleased with them, when God smiled and welcomed them home. So, this is not a poem. 

There would be verses in a poem that made the reader ponder a while, smile sometimes, cry sometimes, introduced the reader to herself. Is she a church member getting closer to God, finally to glory? Is she a murderer, a hater, like Saul? Is she pretending to be dead so that she doesn't die?  Is she reading the news about a white man killing nine people at church during bible study while she cries? Is she white? Is she black? Is she white sometimes, but today she is definitely not black? I digress. This isn't writing that causes one to ponder. So, this is not a poem.

A poem would do what it could to be the subject for a moment. The writer of the words would wish to be in the room when a man sat down next to a pastor and then stood up, proud like Saul, and killed nine people before driving home. I can't do that--- imagine what it would be like to see my family shot down in church. So, this is not a poem.

Metaphor is often found in poetry to help the reader see what otherwise could not be easily seen. I could write something that refers to the scene, compare the bloody thing to human soup spilled over the sanctuary floor or perhaps refer to the steeple splitting screams, but I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be there and I care about you enough not to. So, this is not a poem.

A poem sometimes rhymes. A poet would take the time to find a rhyme if the poem was that kind, but there is nothing that even a poet could do to spin this woe of hatred and murder when one man could have prayed, but, instead, he left nine people
murdered. So, this is not a poem.

There is a chance that the Unites States could get together, like we do sometimes, to solve a big problem—this time racism, but this is an election campaigning year and everyone cares about the election of the people despite the people who vote or no longer can vote because one man, a representative of the confederate, premeditated mass murder of nine black people at church reducing their lives to lines and candidate quotes—There is no poetry in that. So, this is not a poem.

If a poet could manage to stop crying and mourning, she’d write about the poetic justice of one God taking an act of hatred and bloody racism and turning it into the only instance in the history of mankind when the whole world, regardless of the entire list of what separates us from each other in our humanity, prayed together. Even those who doubt the existence of God, just prayed, just in case. A poem would discuss the impossible thing that somehow became possible. This doesn’t do that—discuss the impossible becoming possible. So, this is not a poem.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tis the Season/ How Do I Tell Them

Tis the season for How Do I Tell Them. In the last month, this poem has gotten much attention. Thank you. The link above will take you to VONA: An Arts Forum
The text is here as well:

Image Credit: Casey Melvin

For every tear drop there are ten thousand stories, Historical, Important, Sad stories.Some my children have not heard.
I haven’t told them.I didn’t want to break them.
How do I tell them about Zimmerman?About acquittal and a young black boy shot to death when all he wanted to do was taste the rainbow?How do I tell them Sterling Brown? About the gray days and dark nights when they came by tens?. How would my children view their friends?
Nikki G, how do I tell them, my children, of not having when they’ve always had… what they needed? All of their food comes from grocery stories. They have no memories of rows of corn. No idea of removing ticks with fire after running in the fields.
How do I tell them?
What are the new blues Angela Jackson? These children have miles of shoes. These children know love and the pantry is full.
J.J (James Weldon Johnson) they know not of the stony road we trod. They have not weary feet. They are the bright stars we have casts. How do I tell them of our past?
Do I tell them Randall, in bedtime stories: “Once upon a time there was a there was a bombing in Alabama…”
What about charred bodies and the party goer’s remains or the postcards that celebrated the black blood stains in the grass, Richard Wright, How do I tell them that?
How does one utter words when there is no sweetness in them?How do I blemish my children’s hearts?
How do I tell them Langston about colors outside of the rainbow? Will they still re-bop boogie the way you learned to do when a dream was deferred for you?
These children are from instant gratification; from an “i” paradise world.They don’t know of hunting dogs picking up on their scent.
They are not blue Terrance Hayes.
They are not blue.
This question is for Gwendolyn Brooks: If my children never loiter while the bacon burns nor hear the stories of standing up on hard ground, will they still learn to sing?
How do I tell them?
Should I tell them, Countee, of the incident in Baltimore? Is it fair to their gentle loving hearts to speak of such atrocities? Should they know which walls racism built up?
What will they gain from true stories of men being drug behind pickup trucks?

Spitting boys at Cambridge?Citizens hosed down and jailed, leaders assassinated?
Will they cry themselves to sleep?
What will they dream of Dr. King?
Ms. Sanchez, will you help me to teach them the ancient warrior songs to sing if their brothers or sisters should ever fall?
“A ye  A yo”
Maybe some people will say that the world has changed and that bloody racism was a long time ago.
But it wasn’t a long time ago.
It was just a moment ago.
It is just that…. NOW… …time moves faster.
Maybe Remica L. Bingham helped fry that chicken and pack those brown paper sacks for the marchers headed to Washington; Baltimore 1963 was arguably a long time ago
But Rodney King was just a moment ago and there are other reasons to cook,
other reasons to cry,
other reasons to write poetry,other moments have etched history since Remica packed those brown paper sacks, but… now… we forget faster.
My children, perhaps you know some too, skip along in their bliss unaware that colored children ever had a reason to fear
or that freedom was not accessible to everyoneor that voting wasn’t always “optional.”How do I tell them about citizens dying to vote?
Nikki G, I thank you for every single word you have ever written, tell me what method do you suggest a mother tell these stories?
Should I sing them a love song about brothers who struggle to be free under the foot of uncle Sam who maybe didn’t trust brothers or don’t trust brothers still to be somebody for somebody even though everything the brothers does is done because he’s trying to be what was promised he could be, truly free?How do I tell them?
Mr. Steptoe, my children don’t know about working from “can’t see to can’t see” and though you’ve picked up the pieces, can my children even begin to understand your ancestral song?
I want to tell them. But I don’t know how.
Perhaps the barbers will keep the stories alive.
Maybe the barbers will whisper the stories between hoopla and laughter,but what about my daughters?
How will my daughters know?

Do I tell them whilst they learn the recipes of grandmother?... “Honey get the big pot, did I ever tell you how mamas would liberate their children from slavery by way of death?” or “Just a pinch of that. Honey, did I ever tell you of Uncle Rodney near killt by those cops?”
If I tell these stories will the greens be bitter?
Perhaps a chronology of backs over Sunday dinner will be better: (clear throat)
“The backs were beaten with whips, the backs were beaten with Billie clubs, my mama lashed our backsides with switches, she didn’t know no better, pass the peas”

Lucille Clifton, How do we get the children to listen or die; get them to know how it feels to see a mother’s face turn to water under white words, but not cry themselves?How do I tell them and still see them smile brightly?
Still hold back their heads in laughter,
Still marvel in their creations?
Still love themselves, their people and ALL people?

Ms. Dr. Maya Angelou ma’am, what is the responsibility of poets? Are will all historians? Teachers?  Both? Other?
After we share with them our pain, so that they know, do we raise them up again?
If we paint their feathers will they still fly?
With my heart beating as if a warrior’s drum
Still young (relatively),
Still a dreamer,
Still a realist too,
 A lover kind of poet want the kind of knowing that allows all the babies to cry with the knowledge that soothing is coming.
I want my children to know the struggle but not live in it.
How do I accomplish this?
How do I tell them?

Monday, June 8, 2015


Image from Black Love Collectibles
I pray that you never fall in love
that your stomach never turns to butter;
that longing never visits your door;
that you never feel taken apart.

I pray that your legs never fail under a kiss;
that your arms never feel useless
without your lover’s embrace;
that your cheeks never scar with tears;
that your hands never tremble;
that your heart never flutters.

As for me, it is too late.
I have fallen deeply –
will never be the same.


this is Paterson

home of the brave,
the proud, the
beautiful, the fine

home of the silk mills,
hydropower, and
the constitution

cradle of the industrial revolution,
stopping place for the underground railroad
and the center of the universe

we are every culture
we are every religion
we are simply the best

of everything because
our good days outweigh
our bad days

we don’t complain in the heat of pain or summer
we are not defeated by hurricanes
or weight of snow

we are the resilient people of
one Paterson together
whether day or dark hour

we are both the
cherry blossom and the

we have mastered the harvesting
of power stored in our hearts
We are beloved

by one another
there’s no place like home
this is Paterson