Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For Mom

She has the softest hands on Earth
Despite years of working, moving, lifting, building,
Clapping, and almost chopping off fingers while cooking,
Her green thumbs have not only planted flowers and vines,
the maple trees that shade our yard,
And too many tomato plants to count,
But also have grown and nurtured a
scholar, musician, and activist
out of a curly headed sapling
Over twenty three years of
planting seeds of knowledge and
Allowing me to decide how to sow them.

She lives in books and comes alive in between
Pages and paragraphs,
Between her imagination and her doodles in the margins,
Finding solace, humanity, and sometimes even herself in
The heroes, villains, flora, fauna,
and fairies she meets on her way.
She may very well be one of them,
Possibly a gnome.

Turning greys into Technicolor,
bringing depth into people’s two dimension lives,
My mother makes it clear that
you don’t need a PhD to be wise.
Nor do you need more than a desire
to know a lot to learn a lot,
and that there is so much that
you don’t know that you don’t know
in addition to what you know you don’t know
and what you actually do know,
so there are very few reasons
to stop trying to know more.

She’s earned every speck of silver in her once Arizona sunshine blonde hair,
Through working, through fighting,
Through learning, laughing, dancing,
And through standing strong
In bad times that felt like landslides,
And in stressful times when every option
was uphill both ways in the snow with no shoes on.
She knows that there is strength in
letting yourself be vulnerable,
And that weakness is less a failure or a flaw
Than it is a call for self-care,
Be it a nap, a movie, a margarita,
Or dancing in the living room to Led Zeppelin.
And she slings the weight of the world over her shoulders
As though it is as light as air,
Willing to hear out and help anyone
carry their baggage along the way,
And she hears you, and sees you,
because you are interesting,
and you have something to say
that she’d like to listen to,
Even if it is the saddest or
oddest thing she’s heard all year.

More than she knows, my mom has taught me.
She’s taught me that there are
so many ways to love people
Beyond being in love with someone,
That someone’s worth has nothing to do
With how many dollars are in their bank account,
That it is okay to fail, as long as I’ve tried,
That no matter how much money, effort, and poetry
No one can make someone love them if they don’t,
And instead of trying to document
every lie I’ve been told,
I should focus on keep short the list of lies that I’ve told,
Not because honesty is the best policy,
But because transparency feels better than guilt,
And “what ifs” sting longer than “oh wells.”
And that I can’t be afraid of change no matter
Who or what I’ve built I’ve world around.

So I’ll shout three cheers to moms,
Especially mine,
Who sang me Peter, Paul, and Mary
Instead of Mary Had a Little Lamb,
Now, I’ve got a hammer,
I’ve got a bell,
And I’ve got a song to sing
In appreciation and gratitude,
Because whether I am one,
I am two,
I am three,
I am four,
I am five hundred miles away,
I’ll always know where home is. 

Strange Fruit

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

The lives of black folks are hanging in the balance,
Between intrigue and fear,
Violence and tokenization,
Curiosity and suspicion,
Between being the face of crime and being completely ignored,
Between living and dying.
Contrary to popular belief,
racism in the United States has not ended,
We are not living in a post-racial society,
Things are not better, they are different.
Progress has been made,
But in an old dog system that is finding
New and improved ways to get away with old tricks,
Black lives will keep hanging in the balance.

Children may be growing up in an age in which
They don’t believe it is impossible
for a black man to be the president of the US,
But they will still grow up with
history books that tell them that
The Civil Rights Movement was the beginning
of the decline of racism in America,
And the election of Barack Obama
was the final checkpoint.
They’ll learn that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is less
a celebration of his life and radical work
Than it is a day off of school
Seasoned with blissful ignorance
about his politics and ideologies
Beyond “I Have a Dream,”
Because making a holiday and
renaming schools and streets in his honor
Is more important than knowing who he really was.

If racism is over and MLK’s dreams have come true,
How are black folks are still getting
Hired less, paid less,
and being trusted less than white folks?
What amount of ignorance and complacency does it take
To make comfort and fear
adequate justification for the continuation of
What the Civil Rights Movement
and Obama’s election supposedly fixed?

This post-racial society that we allegedly live in is the
Same society that tells little brown boys and girls that,
Even in pretend,
Disney fairytales aren’t made for kids like them,
Where they’re told that they
look so much nicer when their hair is straight,
Told how surprisingly articulate
or not like the others they are,
And are expected to be the voice of
all black folks everywhere in their classrooms,
Where any position or profession they assume will be preceded by their race,
“black doctor,” “black coworker,” “black friend,”
And every criminal and inmate
will be assumed to be black before being revealed,
Often by the same people that cry colorblindness,
Where they’ll be asked where they are from
more often than
They will be asked who they are,
what they do, and what they think,
Or, in many cases,
brilliant black youth are being written off and not
Really being taught by anyone,
Being told that knowledge is power and then
given no access to acquire it.
If getting a good education
requires having money,
And having a lot of money
requires having a job that pays well,
And having a job that pays well
generally requires getting a good education,
What surprises people about dropout, unemployment, crime, and prison rates
In poor communities of color?
How can you obtain access to
resources to opportunities that you’ve
Never been told existed for you?
Few people climb gearless up
mountains they’ve never heard of,
Especially if the tallest thing they’ve been shown
is the view out of their front doors.

Being told that we have to be the
change we wish to see in the world
Seems impossible in a place
Where fear of what could be personally lost
Outweighs the empathy that wants others to gain,
And where people from the communities
That need change the most
Are being incarcerated, discarded, and silenced
because their brown skin
makes them look an awful lot like
the next accused criminal the police are searching for.
From prison, you can’t pay or vote your way into a better world.

While the police are fully engaged in a stop and frisk,
Shoot now, think later competition,
People are continuing to master the turn away,
Cry while watching or reading about it,
Post it to Facebook and forget it ever happened
Approach to responding to civil injustices,
And if they can’t be moved because
This stuff doesn’t happen to folks like them,
If they can’t imagine that black youth on their screens
Shot to death by the people that are
supposed to protect them
Being their friends, siblings, cousins, or children,
I unfruitfully wish that they’d be moved by the humanness,
By the fact that that dead young person
is a loving, loved human being
That is trying to make it through just like everyone else.
Please, tell the families and friends
of all of the strange fruit showing up
In prison, in the media,
At bus stations, on the dark walk home,
or those not being acknowledged at all,
That racism no longer exists.

There are so many young people of color
Who will never be given the opportunity or option
To tell their stories and recite their creations
In a place just like this in front of a crowd just like yall,
because they are trapped in poverty, prison, or graves,
All products of a perfectly functioning,
Perfectly destructive system,
Where murder and self-defense have different parameters
depending on the color of the skin of those involved,
and where, if I didn’t know better,
I’d be positive that the same people
commenting in online forums
That the young men dying like
Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant
Deserve what came to them,
And wishing their Facebook friends a
“Happy Dead Nigger Day” on Martin Luther King Day
are the same people who gathered in mass to watch
neighborhood lynchings and
Pay ten cents apiece for links of the ropes
That hung innocent men in the streets decades ago.
But they are different people
Living generations apart, in the same mindset of
“if you aren’t white, you aren’t human,
If you aren’t white, you don’t deserve to live”
That, the more things change,
the more they remain the same.

I can only be wary of those who only condemn the past
And believe it is independent of the present,
Who say that they can’t be penalized
Because of the actions of their ancestors,
Who refuse to be held accountable for
Perpetuating and growing comfortable
In an unjust system.
If we don’t think about the past,
we won’t talk about the past,
And then we’ll repeat it, remix it, and
Call it progress.
Things don’t change because of time,
Things change because of people,

As long as we live in a place where people will defend their favorite celebrity,
Before they will lend a speck of empathy to those who are
being oppressed and murdered around them,
the same people who will benefit most
if history repeats itself
will keep telling black folks to ‘get over it,’
and will help maintain the barriers that confine us,
calling what we fight for and what we are angry about
‘fighting hate with hate’ or ‘reverse racism.’
The questions that people don’t want the answers to
Are the ones that need to be asked.
Why aren’t  you angry?
Why was that joke so funny to you?
Do we really live in a post-racial society?

We can’t fear the past,
We can’t ignore it.
We must learn together,
Grow together,
Love together,
And change together.
We can have and reach our dreams,
Lift every voice and sing,
Knowing that
Our lives are worth far more than the places
We’ve been left hanging, and
We shall overcome long before we will forget.

“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the leaves to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


(written 6/2011, collaboration with Chase Wiggins)

She said she wanted me to take the lead,
But nobody told her that I have two left feet,
And the dance I taught myself doesn’t quite fit the choreography
Expected for such an intricate dance.

I don’t always move in rhythm, but
If she wants me to dance, I’ll dance a fierce left footed tango
All in attempt not to humiliate myself in finding a line between
Maintaining my composure and leading her.

Don’t get carried away, she said. It was just a joke,
But it was one of those truthie kinds of joke,
That’ll often tell a person more than enough.

Of course I know that, Don’t worry about it,
But my words blurred the truth as surely as they were slurred.

And so we danced around in diction,
Salsaed in slipper syntax,
And tangoed in tangled words,
Me being gentle as not to smother her,
Passionately as to prove my capability and skill,
But I cannot even begin the steps without getting carried away
Because every time I get myself into this predicament is
More enveloping than the last,
And never have I encountered a more addictive partner,
However, well, I can’t actually dance,
And frankly, she wouldn’t have had me even if I could.

I Love You?

(written 6/2011, collaboration with Chase Wiggins)

I never requested that you said you love me
but I liked the way it sounded,
the way those three small syllables
could become so monumental as they
slid past your tongue, between your lips,
nestling themselves behind my ears in a whisper
so faint that I could hardly hear them.

I screamed I love you from the rooftops.
Not because I really understood the words,
But simply because I wanted to be heard,
And still all you heard was a whisper.

I did not, however, realize that you had
strategically placed these 'I love you's
in crisp breezes around the city
to be heard by anyone that caught your eye.

Years of subtle love, expressed in quiet actions,
Had left me alone and ignored in this city.
So I began to shout, and like most urban artists,
Sent up toxins and beauty, in equal measure, to the winds.
And yet I never really liked the way it sounded,
So much as I was simply afraid of the silence.

I was too smitten and distracted by your beauty
that I didn't notice when
"don't" and "anymore" joined
"i love you" gently behind my ears,
deaf from the details that screamed for me to 
walk in the exact opposite direction 
the moment the world around us became too 
beautiful to be real.

I was too busy drowning in my loneliness
To notice that the sounds of my love
Had changed completely.
Too desperately attached to being alone,
To notice that you had been listening.
And as I limp towards the moment this world
Starts to feel real again, I stop to wonder:
If anyone had told us from the start
That we both deserve much better,
Would either of us have listened?


(written 6/2011, collaboration with Chase Wiggins)

Sometimes, you don't need to know what time it is
because as we lose track of the minutes,
we have more moments to let go and find ourselves
in places beyond the simplicity of where we are
and who we are when the clock strikes on the hour.

I wish I could tell you that it will all get easier
that if we lean against each other,
we'll stand strong enough to handle any wind
that could knock us down, but we will falter
and fall, and we'll cry and rebuild.

Let me be your rock, for I am heavy with
people's secrets and anchored down,
ankle deep in people's tears, and I 
may not know where we are going,
but I can try to get you anywhere but here.

Or maybe it’s you who will finally take me away,
Because I think you know me well enough
To realize that it’s really me who desires change,
And I hope you love me well enough,
To turn my desire into your will to hoist anchor,
Set sail. Go. Anywhere but here.

Here. Where, earthbound as I am,
The ticking of the clock beats out the monotony
That defines my life. As mundane as worms,
Making dirt and dirt making up the earth.
Yes. I am an anchor, but I hear you have a jetpack.
And while I doubt that it’s big enough to move me,
I’m still excited for you to hit the ignition.

And even if I cannot fly there with you,
In watching you, I find myself, as I dream of a place
Where the wind doesn’t seek to knock us down,
But instead catches us in its updrafts.
And I hope that you will think of me,
And know that even shooting stars,
Have somewhere to come home to.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Sinning" together.

I wrote this on August 1, 2011. I don't remember writing it, but I wrote it back when I was more full of rage and less complacent, and I like it quite a lot.

I don't mean to disappoint you
or your beloved god almighty,
and I know that you claim to
"Love the sinner, hate the sin,"
but quite frankly, I've never
believed love to be a sin,
and though fornication is frowned upon
in some random section of your holy book,
I can't help that my neighbor's wife covets me
and well...I like the way she tastes,
and how she moves,
and how she smiles,
even when she is doing something
as simple as doing the dishes,
walking, dancing, sleeping,
but I especially love the way she moves
when we move together,
and how she giggles,
whispers, yells,
because...we move well together.
Your book also tells me not to lay with a woman
as I may with a man, but damn
laying with her feels better than any man has,
and it feels even better to love her,
so if this is me sinning, then
I will gladly burn in hell with her
beside, over, under, on, with

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Perhaps it is the sound of my mother's laughter at late night talk shows after I've gone to bed,
or memories of whimsical ponytails and naps in oversized beanbags,
late night jam sessions, Top Ramen, Oreos, and Def Jam Poetry marathons,
but I miss whatever the feeling of 'being at home' was before
I began to wander emptily and aimlessly around hoping
that I could grasp onto something or someone for long enough
to bring back the warmth that accompanies feeling safe,
but instead I've landed in a place I've never been before
surrounded by my own cynicism and self-doubt,
And as I lay here during nights of insomnia,
feeling as though each of life's mishaps are both miracles and tragedies,
that propel me to work harder but ground me so firmly in reality
that I've forgotten what it feels like to dream.
I hope that my internal battles and my indecisiveness
will rock me to sleep each night until memories of
home become present feelings, and I can truly acknowledge
that my brain is a home to my thoughts,
my life is a home for my potential,
and home is not nearly as far away as it seems.