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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Fractions

She was there inside me before i even
knew who i was looking for, and when i finally found her
all it took was fifteen years and four babies
for me to realize that she has always been
another side of me
and yeah i mean that literally
and yeah i mean that figuratively
and the only contradiction is in your false dichotomy

why is it so hard for people to see
that the many is in the one and the one is in the many
why is it so hard to understand
that when i say i’m a proud black man
that it’s one more way
of saying that i, am, as human as a body can possibly be
and that means more than just this body
do you seriously think that this one thing of beauty
is the beginning and the end of me?
that i, am only the things that you can see?
see baby when i say i’m all man
that just means i don’t do things by halves
or quarters or eighths
because the fractions
that can add up
to the whole of my soul
ain’t been invented yet

so even though there are officially 63
u.s. census racial possibilities
i know there’s only two that matter:
the ones that build and the ones that fill
the plantation penitentiaries
that have kept all of us
fractional and fractured
since three-fifths of a person ago
and today we’re still running the same old numbers game
dressed up in some new slave market lingo
and i wasn’t buying what you was selling
the first time around
but since we’re playing new old games
i’m gon’ keep it new old school and tell you in new old words
what i just told you three-fifths of a paragraph ago
that ain’t no mulatto, no quadroon no octoroon
in the way that i roll
just 100% family baby
in 1000 shades of lovely
from afro-blue to fair and rosy

and when it comes to me and my baby
nothing can’t divide us
and that ain’t no double negative
it’s just a basic math fact: division by zero is undefined

tell me how you separate
the push from the pull
the upstroke from the downstroke
the “ssss…” from the “mmmm…”
the tension from the release
without stopping a man’s heart?

tell me which part of my babies
is not a part of me
so i know which boxes not to check
when you come to count up my family

tell me about your paper plan to make a whole person
out of the paper parts you want to make out of me

then tell me which part of the paper proxies
sittin’ in your boardrooms and political offices
is supposed to match the measure of my reality
his color? her nationality? his class? her sexuality?

and when you’re done paperworking me
tell me who i submit myself to, to claim
my humanity

Theme: Lizz Wright- Salt

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Grow

the shadows are there;
they’re just the spaces
you haven’t grown into yet
they don’t need you
not like the soil does
not like your hands do
not like your heart does
not like we do
come out of the dead dark shadows
of could-have-been and never-was
and be with us, here
in this place of becoming;
walk into every gut-clench/shoulder-knot/fist-tight storm
be battered
be torn
fall, rise, and fall again
because the tears and screams are part of your music too
but not the end of it
what you feel is the splitting of everything
that’s held you together until now
until this moment when the rain and soil and sun
are insistently shaking you awake;
this moment that no seed ever imagines it was made for
it’s time to take back what’s yours
it’s time to push through the break-bone tear-flesh concrete;
to break all that’s cold and hard and false
with the patient and inevitable might
of God’s own hammer;
your own tender sapling soul
spreading its branches and roots over all that seemed unbreakable
and unconquerable
it’s time to grow;
to fill the empty spaces
with your hunger and thirst for another day of struggle and love;
for another storm, and another softly breaking dawn

Theme: “Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come”

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Hymns

one thousand times one thousand times
i’ve toiled up peaks that invaded the clouds’ personal space
watched 95 waves crash into a melancholy shore
felt a lover’s thrust and gasp
heard a baby’s wondrous cry
breathed a soldier’s last shuddering breath
savored a lion’s bite into the salty taste of death
forgotten the worst
cherished the best
i’ve written all these things in my spirit and flesh
and read them in the reflection of your eyes
you say all these things are apart from you
you say all these things are a part of you
and i say yes, you are wrong
all these things are . . .a metaphor of you
an image of an image of God
you are a song
sung simply for the love of singing
and there will be no music
until there are ears to hear

Theme: “Brief Eternity – Bobby McFerrin”

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Us

We can search out there forever
and never find it
because it’s all in here
between us
in that unbridgeably small space
between our hearts
and like all lovers
when we fight
we’ll see and hear what we want to;
i just hope that when it’s all over
we’ll find a way
to look each other in the eye again
and see something human

“Theme: Nneka – Heartbeat”

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Love and Knowledge

Love is the foundation of knowledge. It is the mother’s devoted and selfless nurturing that creates the capacity and desire to know in the first place. The entire process of child rearing could be summed up as the process of enabling a child to communicate, to safely explore the environment, to discover their own talents and abilities, and most importantly, to enter into healthy and loving relationship with other beings. Knowledge, and the process of acquiring it, does not exist apart from us. It does not belong to an abstract, remote realm that excludes the human heart. Indeed, knowledge without love is not knowledge at all. It is a blind, sterile assortment of facts. It is endless enumeration without inherent meaning.

While the collection and application of data may enable us to manipulate physical objects with increasing sophistication, it tells us nothing about who we are. We are not blind, mechanical objects. We have perception, self-awareness and intent. We are capable of love. As well as hate. There are no automatic outcomes in the realm of human existence. The defining characteristic of love is free choice. But the fact that there are no automatic outcomes doesn’t mean that there are no predictable outcomes. It’s imperative that we understand the reality that will result from our actions if we want to make informed choices. It is the truthful examination of the impact of our choices, and the motives that underlie those choices, that gives knowledge context and meaning.

And just as knowledge does not exist apart from ourselves, love does not exist apart from our relationships with others. It cannot be experienced without mutual devotion between the lover and the beloved. And it is that relationship, and all that it implies– willing service, sincere concern for the welfare and well-being of others, commitment to evaluating the impact of your own choices on others with integrity and fair-mindedness, and willingness to meet sincere repentance for inevitable shortcomings with loving forgiveness–that stands at the foundation of social order. Without love our existence is blind, chaotic, empty and isolated. No one who claims to have love in their heart could reconcile themselves to standing idly by and watching humanity fall into such a condition.

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