September 14, 2014
Secret Colors, 1830
As I walk towards the gray porch
of my father’s house, I want to cry.
After an afternoon with Esmee’s lips,
I see how ignorant is my happiness.
To learn it, my skin must turn black
and whip cuts on my back must bleed.
I love the words unalienable rights,
but life in a gray Latin school and
life in a gray Sunday school is a
curse without the living colors in
songs of my African girlfriend.
During my afternoon in a library
a history book tattles on America:
how a Revolutionary War teased
America free from King George.
It was an un-castled chess game
because the real war was against
the black folks who made us rich.
Tom Jefferson complained against
England importing African slaves,
but they gave him great wealth.
I spend afternoons with Esmee only
if I accept the hatred of every white
boy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If love is blind, seeing eyes are sad.
How can I open the door and live
again in my father’s gray world
while I hold her colors in secret?
September 9, 2014
Early in summer her higher calling fails:
her wings can no longer carry her south.
The god of geese requests she die alone—
her family shouldn’t stay behind to watch.
Today, the pond offers tasty water lilies and
coves to cruise, before the coyotes kill her.
Better that, than starve when the ice falls.
She watches her vee fly away and sleeps well,
but wakes to noisy quacks from four ducklings
clever enough to call her mother. They‘ve no choice.
Their mallard mother lost a battle to a shotgun blast,
so the goose guards the ducklings and they love her.
I have the biggest mom in the whole pond, says one.
All summer the ducklings grow as my love fails.
She’s tougher than a duck mother so they all live until
she must say a second goodbye to one last vee of fliers.
There’s no mother for what ails me, so I lay a painter
on the bed in the cabin at the pond. No shotgun blast
matches the ecstasy of revenge sex in afternoon sun,
but it heals nothing and no vee flies me homewards.
(Painting by Anne Abrams)
September 5, 2014
Our Negro Jesus
It takes twenty-five million whites
to keep four million blacks in chains
because links of iron cannot hold us.
Race onwards to freedom, fugitives.
Heaven helps the righteous runaway
for Jesus awaits us in the wilderness.
The pride of wicked men has made
poor slaves their prey—let them die
by the sins they lay on us.
New Americans, make Jesus a refuge:
love enemies like family, be neighbors.
Love without judging, love all who love.
May slavers recognize true liberty holds
for those who sing affinities for all people.
Our prayers for freedom may have chains,
but we sing gospel drum songs while
the freedom of the grave awaits us all.
New Americans, make Jesus a refuge:
uncontrollable this way, we won’t obey.
Rebellion rises like the morning sun—
heat of truth and light of brotherhood.
They kill abolitionist pamphlet writers
while our negro Jesus saves us all.
—A David Walker/William Wells Brown remix.
August 30, 2014
Cursed by Tom Jones
I own freedom as a captive of the lost
so to laugh I touch what is forbidden.
Slavers of tradition don’t own me—
I connect to spirits who rise untamed
from a Celtic soul born of backbones
made for dance. I don’t sit cane-rigid
in latin lessons or sit still for sermons
made from threats against my soul,
but I do hear threats to my soul.
If prisons of tradition tie my feet, yet
I never stop dancing with white girls.
Curses from pagan gods save my life.
Your rules for good writing hold me
back less than chains around angels.
I danced with spring nymphs before
I ever crossed a cross with Pastor Joe.
I sang before I learned to say prayers,
so I inherit the red shirt and dance
on his grave as a proud bastard child.
August 24, 2014
Sister of Jesus, Gospel of Mine
Pounding chords lift our handclaps overhead
as the melody rises from our feet into our fingers.
Deliverance from pharaoh flows from Gramma’s lips
as she belts out a first verse and throws me the chorus.
From deep in her memory I hear the story of hounds
ripping skin from her only sister in a Carolina swamp.
Stories like these cannot be buried by a mound of soil
and the back of a family shovel to pat it smooth—
they need a cry-in-the-voice song with rolling hips.
When soldiers came for him, Jesus looked in their eyes
and forgave them. Our song doesn’t do that. Those men
knew what they did: Esmee was a sister to Jesus so
justice demands greater penance than shame.
I carry the name of Gram’s sister and her will to sing.
She will overcome, as I overcome. We sail together.
Jordan is alive across this river in Boston. We come.
Memories of whips cannot stop us now. We stand
with a cry-in-the-voice song and rolling hips.
August 19, 2014
Bats of Blues
I’m birthed down a runway of blues
from the black end of a cave, but
solitude is the bat I ride at night.
I don’t sleep in black—I hunt ghosts
with wings open and eyeteeth bared.
There’s no serenity like ink serenity
to grant me the silent attack I need
to quell my evil parts: close my claws,
fold lips over teeth to blunt the point,
and shed all that monotone clothing.
I love black letters that hug fingers.
I sling trickster melodies onto the words a
presidents use to increase body counts:
We few, happy band of brothers—no. Not
like children who sing of bombs bursting
without the irony our anthem craves.
Failing a save for all that, I pray to
sew wind hatched from polyrhythms
onto light from a sun too weak to blind.
May she carry one wing of hope to heal
not-so-amber waves of grain with beans
and the vitamins of syncopated melodies.
August 4, 2014
Sonnet for Pigs
The more I see human hands grovel—
the more I know pigs stand for humility.
They don’t bank, trade losses, or gamble—
they don’t gossip or call us liabilities.
Pigs read messages in webs of wise spiders,
don’t type gossip on Twittle or FaceLook.
They dream stories of Charlotte, the writer,
and put tongues in the trees and the brooks.
Many pigs die each year for our bacon—
but not pigs—only humans kill humans.
How long will it be before we awaken—
shoot no missiles at schools full of children?
The history of man is in archeological digs—
but the more I dig humans, the more I like pigs.
(Painting by Anne Abrams)
July 25, 2014
Poem With Three Long Headlines
FBI Lose Three Detectives In Failed Rescue
Attempt Of Infamous Draft Dodger Boat.
Keystone Cops To Attempt Second Effort
Draft Dodger Boat Lost, FBI Men Found
On U.S./Canadian Border Island, 1969
The Three FBI Detectives From First Rescue
Found Alive And Extremely Happy On Island
“That hashish shipment no longer exists,” says one. “Ha-ha! Smuggling‘s a gift to all men—God’s song to each and every one of us and to our puppies, too. Would you like a peach? A fishing boat gave us a box and now we have salmon steaks with chives. Chives! All the boats give us stuff. We just show our badges and bingo! Cool stuff—and nobody‘s arrested, that’s so passé! Some boaters even speak French here—who knew?
“Hey, whatever happened to that poet guy with the hair? Wouldn’t mind seeing him again. He was so happy—had a catboat that could really fly. I mean fly, man!”
July 22, 2014
This poem is a character study for my new novel,
Borderdance. The main character has inadvertently
betrayed her boyfriend to the authorities.
Butts Heads with Borders
Eddie’s not dead—I’ll fetch him.
I’ll pay Emilio Zapata to abolish
the Mexican handcuff, free him.
I’ll throw myself at his feet, pull
his heel onto my throat, and beg.
I told his tale, sold his name, so
no god but he can forgive me.
I’m sorry enough to cut myself, so
I wait, but his words won’t scold.
He hates the me who’d lie for him.
He hates the me who dies too easy.
His post card shouts at me: painted
roses in shades of honey. I smear its
ink with tears distilled from my lie.
I steal his first-person point of view
because I need to live inside him.
In my bag I’ve got his poems, and
a photo: naked poet in a waterfall.
His heart lives in this journal and
unfinished chapters await his edit.
I wait for a rough kiss on the teeth,
his inner bandito awaits a prayer.
January 10, 2013
Painting by N. C. Wyeth
The fire lit in me when I first read the novel as a boy, was
extinguished when I finished my own novel, Tesora.
Reading it now, however, allows me to sail again,
back to my own boyhood days—to find the treasures
of adventure and good writing.
From Treasure Island, by Robert Lewis Stephenson:
“Livesey,” said the squire, “you will give up this wretched practice at once. Tomorrow I start for Bristol. In three weeks’ time—three weeks!—two weeks—ten days—we’ll have the best ship, sir, and the choicest crew in England. Hawkins shall come as cabin-boy. You’ll make a famous cabin-boy, Hawkins. You, Livesey, are ship’s doctor; I am admiral. We’ll take Redruth, Joyce, and Hunter. We’ll have favourable winds, a quick passage, and not the least difficulty in finding the spot, and money to eat, to roll in, to play duck and drake with ever after.”