Dust

some days
i’m flat out of everything
except breath;
and there’s just enough of it
to whisper a prayer, and tell you i love you

i wish i had something else for you
but the very first thing God taught me
was that there is nothing else;
everything is just dust in the wind.
and if there’s a difference between me
and the chorus of voices
asking why i needed God to figure that out,
maybe it’s in the fact
that i listened to the wind
and i heard myself in it
or rather i heard it in myself,
in my very own lungs;
and if i have to choose between choking on dust and breathing free
i’ll settle for ineffable midnight sighs
and sweet dawn breezes
and sleeplessly listening
for the truth in my own voice,
my own breath given form

if that’s not enough
i’m sorry,
but i can’t give you
more than the dust-devil dance
of my flesh and bones
stirring in the breeze of my own meaning;
i won’t pretend that i’m any more or less
than what i am

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Giving

The only opportunity that matters is the opportunity to share the love and truth that we’ve been given. Everything else–wealth, learning, talent, the strength and breath in our bodies–is nothing but a means to that end. That’s the lesson we’re here to learn.

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Sanctuary

a wistful temple ruin
still defying the battering sea
that stole the hallowed ground from under its feet
generations ago;
standing as if to say
that the promise made here still holds
until the end of all things

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Gravity

there is such a mute eloquence
in everything that’s unspoken;
the half-sentences and hesitations;
history hangs in those unheard earthquakes
“I…love you…”
“What?”
“Huh? Oh, I was just talking to myself.”
and just then
existence unfolds
in the heartbeat between the “yes, lord, yes, finally!”
and the “god, i just can’t,”
as much as you want to.
i hear you burning to
give yourself away;
there are no quiet conflagrations.
but they’re saying nothing we don’t already know;
we all burn with the history of destiny denied
unspoken, unheard, undone
by our stillness;
so we stay
bound as the earth
and moon,
poised on the edge of embrace
floating on the fragile balance
between falling
and flight
love and fear;
and in a moment of distraction the balance shifts;
dreams wreck into unyielding fact,
the future collapses into the hungry widowed skin
of bodies we will never live in,
the people we could’ve been
if we had only listened to
the lessons of
that delicate silence,
that intimate distance,
that needful loneliness;
if only we had learned
to be warmed and fed
by our own fire
before we brought on the apocalypse
of all we used to be;
before earth and moon collided
in a shattering embrace

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No Friends of Mine

i could retrace the trails of broken glass
i left behind
and write poems like bloody footprints
but i don’t feel like telling the wolves
where to find me today;
i know better songs than all that damn
one-note howling.
i need new dance partners.

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Interrupting the Cycle of Racial Conflict

In the video above, J. Smooth, at about 1:42, asks an astute and searching question. Why are we more upset and galvanized by racist words than by racist policies and actions? I suspect I know at least part of the answer. The truth is, we’re comfortable with the polite fictions that allow us to sustain our racial caste system, just as we’ve been systematically conditioned to be. When someone candidly exposes the motivations and convictions that underlie that system, it threatens our carefully cultivated illusions. It calls into question our commitments, our values, our entire way of life, no matter who we are, black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. Few people are willing to undergo that kind of self-examination, not in any serious and sustained way. When the veil is pulled back, we rush to put it back into place as quickly as possible. The prevailing message is that what you saw was an aberration, an exception, just foolish and irrelevant words and actions from a foolish and irrelevant person. Let’s quickly hand out the ritual punishment and move on. Nothing to see here.

And that works for a time, until we reach a point where conditions are so unbearable and so glaringly unjust that we’re forced to address them. By then, we’re already deep in crisis, and our mode is necessarily reactive. Commissions are established. Policies to address the worst abuses are put into place. Speeches are delivered. Promises are made. And off we go, full of certainty and optimism that we’ve begun a new chapter in life. Of course, it’s not that easy. We’re talking about a dysfunctional relationship after all, one whose roots have never been adequately examined. The memory of lessons learned and warm feelings quickly fade, and ugly habits re-emerge, until we reach the breaking point again. Rinse, wash, repeat.

None of this is inevitable. It’s the result of a mere lack of will that we conveniently excuse as “human nature”, or “historical realities” (to use Donald Sterling’s words), or whatever sounds plausible. That’s not to say that addressing racial injustice is easy by any measure. But our persistent refusal to even acknowledge that the necessity urgently exists is as sad as it is absurd, and so far beneath what we’re capable of as a nation. At some point, we have to muster up the courage to break the cycle, and begin the process of remaking the foundations of our national life rather than defaulting to a quick patch-up and calling it good. We have to acknowledge the things that are broken between us, and challenge ourselves to understand why they are broken and apply a lasting remedy, and do it in a way that’s compassionate, truthful and just. Or, we can go on lurching from crisis to crisis, living in the shadows of what we could be, if we chose to be.

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Leaning Rest

my shoulders are broad and inviting
from years of rising and falling
up/down with the weight of all my burdens

i’m told that women’s hips often look the same

you’re welcome to lean on them if you need to;
honestly, there’s nothing else to do
except rise and fall
up/down, carrying the weight of shared care
but only if we push together
i’m not a dumping place for your troubles

i’m told that women’s hips often feel the same

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Unintegrated

The game is deep. Deeper than we’d like to admit. American culture instills a soul-consuming, mind-deranging compulsion to rank-order human beings, from the very beginning of our lives. Those standardized test scores, with all of their contested subjectivities and limitations, aren’t just convenient academic assessment mechanisms. They’re a lesson in how to measure self-worth, as well as the foundation of our system of sorting the world into people who are like us, and people who aren’t. Jobs, real-estate values, financial services, political representation, even prison-systems, all cluster around those numerical values that serve as proxies for character, capacity and human value. If you haven’t already peeped the hustle, then you’re a victim of it, black or white, high or low, rich or poor. And that’s not a condemnation. We’re bred to it.

Read: Segregation Now – The Resegregation of America’s Schools

Theme: The Roots – Tip the Scale

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Skin

Truth is a weight in my flesh
and a hunger in my blood;
nothing you say can convince my
skin that it’s wrong;
your touch tells me everything.
and the things your hands say
with a smiling face make
my skin creep.

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Why I Write

I’ve encountered the question of why I write poetry twice in the last week. It occurred to me that my latest poem in some ways illustrates my answer to that question. To me, it’s plainly apparent that there is no knowledge or being outside of relationship. It should be self-evident that the degree of our insight into the nature of our own existence depends on the quality and strength of our relationships to one another and to our intuitively perceived, albeit often perplexing, relationship to our Creator. Yet, our peculiarly Western reductionist compulsion drives us to persistently attempt to divorce knowledge of self and society from it’s human context, to objectify everything and everyone. The examples are legion: race, sexuality, ethnicity, and so on. We reduce the elements of our human qualities to externalities, cast them in distorted forms, and treat our factitious (aside: i love that word) social constructions as immutable fact. We smash the mirror of our own reality, rearrange the fractured pieces, and declare that the resulting reflection is merely how we were made. Often, when I write, I’m attempting to draw myself, along with whoever may be in the audience, into a closer examination of the mirror. I’m attempting to choose a fragment, such as race, and invite everyone to examine themselves within it at an intimate distance, to see the perfection and completeness of the image that is reflected when we look at the single fragment in itself. Then, I invite them to step back and look at the entire mirror, and ask themselves why they don’t see the same image in the whole, to consider not just what we’ve been told we are, but what we can be.

That’s the long version. The short version is, I write to stay human, in a dehumanizing world.

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