America

Let’s start at the beginning – America
Has never been America
The land owners wrote some noble words on
Sheets of paper as the guide for the nation’s
Behavior, but neither they nor their descendants
Have been able to reproduce the nobility of those
Sentiments expressed on paper in their legislatures
In their towns, in their cities, on their streets
In their homes, schools, churches, indeed,
Not even in their hearts

It was a mirage from the very
Beginning – maybe even a deception, a hoax
A myth and an elegantly grand dishonesty – for
What happened to the indigenous people who
Lived here and the kidnapped African people
Brought here in chains was not congruent
With the noble words on those sheets of paper

A deliriously schizophrenia nation travelled
Through the centuries glorifying the words,
Exalting the words, believing in the words, bragging
Of a nation above all other nations, originated
By the agitation of its land owning Founding Fathers
Although the contradictions they lived produced
Carnage to all but the land owners and their tribe
And then one time even their tribe was led
Into carnage because the land owners divided into
A north/south dispute over the continuant of slavery

The Robber Barons gobbled up control of all
Wealth producing processes and proportioned
A society of vacillating economical levels and
Social privileges contingent on tribal membership
Over whom they became the all-powerful oligarchy

The oligarchy divided the riches of the nation
Amongst a tiny one percent of the population; the banks
The railroads, the oil fields, the shipping lanes, the stock market
Then later; the automobile, the airways, manufacturing
And they produced a ruling class to oversee their
Kingdom and a managing class to select
Who eats and to whom privilege is administered

All this was done under the guise of those
Noble words written in a document known as
The Constitution of the United States of America
Bringing honor and privileges to members, but
Why the noble words remained an aspiration to all else
Is explained with sleight of hand and hocus pocus
And promises of a better future

Even after the monumental failures of Reconstruction and the
Rise of the Klu Klux Klan the United States restored
Control of the South to white supremacist, the Negro was
Disfranchised and betrayed by his country, even after
Negroes enlisted or was drafted in two world wars
To preserve the sacredness of those noble words
In the hopes of making them true for themselves
The oligarchy ordered the ruling class to warn Negroes
Against moving too fast towards freedom – cautioning them of
Their aspirations for freedom; even after 1919’s Red Summer
Of Lynching they scolded Negroes for wanting too much freedom
Even after Emmitt Till was murdered they bellowed – too much
Too soon about the dissent and the ruling class pasted the edict
Down to the managing class to stifle all attempts to bridge the gaps

One woman’s refusal to give up her seat on a bus cracked
Open the lid on century’s long bottle-up angry black frustration
And erupted into a nationwide movement for black freedom
The non-violent Civil Rights era came to be after the
Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 that elevated names like
Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith
With the spilling of blood came other victories; the Civil Rights
Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, America seemed to be growing a conscience
Just at the time when African Americans were awakening to the lie
And beginning to disbelieve what had been said about them by
White people, they were awakening to a history of themselves
That gave them racial pride, racial confidence and a racial identity

A few black men came to the notion that the problem was not
A black construction or of their import, nor of their ownership
The problem, these handful discovered, was solely because they were black
The country they lived in was constructed entirely for the security of
White people – read the Constitution – which considered them three-fifths of
A person in a compromise that proportioned more seats for the slaveholding
Southern states – three-fifths of a person from 1787 until 1865 otherwise
They would have been ignored completely like the indigenous people
So the problem does not belong to the African American people
The problem arises because present-day white people don’t
Want to confront the wickedness of their ancestors; nor the
Auction block, or the compromise or the chains or the whip and the lash
Or the limbs pulled apart, or the raped girl or the child sold off, or the
Young man tied all day to a tree in the sun or the wife sold down
The river or the mass lynching, or the fury of a white lynch-mob
Or a hundred years of Jim Crow, or the depths of the evil they Spring
From – there, is the problem; one of the white world’s construction

For them to dredge up this evil would be to accept their association
To it and validate their kinship with those who perpetrated this evil
To remember this wickedness would require them to wear the cloak
Of inhumanity and offer an apology – and to surrender a restoration to
The survivors of the evil, a burden so foreboding no white person can
Endure it, so they deny the reality, they would much prefer to
Remain ignorant of it – What’s really needed here Baldwin once
Said, is: White History Week – the white man needs to understand
His history – needs to be pinned to it, gathered and penetrable
Otherwise here is what happens

White Evangelicals abandoned God’s morality and all
The ethics they pretend to know from the bible to support
A decadent man whose wicked moral excess of
Twenty-five years are well documented in print,
On audio tapes, in videos, from his own admission
White Americans voters in the biggest departure of
Moral judgement since slavery risked the narrow
Sliver of decency that keeps the country from sinking
Altogether to support this man whose marketing promise
Is that he will make America great again negating the
Necessity to dredge up old history – it didn’t happened
He will erect a wall to create a reality so white the noble
Words of the Founding Father’s will ring true again

America, America,
My God He done shed his grace on thee,
He crowned thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining Sea.

The Boy Next Door

They whispered behind his back
Said things children shouldn’t hear
Because he was tall and lean and had the
Gracefulness of Alvin Ailey but
He never troubled anybody just
Danced his dance taking the world for a twirl

They were astonished by his theatrical range
And thought him as freakiest as the
Characters he portrayed – who does he
Think he is – Charles Laughton?
That boy never troubled anybody
His talent was real natural

Women loved to wallow harmlessly
In his splendidly dreamy Sal Mineo eyes
And mimic his sometimes sassy manner
He was generous with fashion hints and
Was bubbled over champagne among them
But he never trouble anyone just
Shared his joy for life

He could be impish like Truman Capote
Or gloomy as Montgomery Clift
Silky as Johnnie Mathis
Smart as Barney Frank
And popular as Harvey Milk and
That boy never troubled anybody merely
Wanted the world to accept his worth

He made a ghost appearance in James Baldwin’s
Giovanni’s Room but all they saw was sin and
Every religion called him shameful
He was as deeply rooted in the community
As Langston Hughes cared for people so
That boy never troubled anyone just
Knew that he was made in the first creation

Last week when I heard that he
Was robbed and beaten and left
For dead, oh I know what had caused it
One those graceless men acted out
One them unholy phobia’s even though
That boy never trouble anyone just
Came into the world
As God would have him.


The Water Fountain

I know that you wouldn’t want me to bring this up
And I wonder why that is, could it be your shame,
Your vanity, your regret or your guilt
When you are made to remember these circumstances
You lay the blame down to another generation
To assign culpability on your ancestors
You disown their evil exploits without disowning them
Or that you spring from them as inheritor of the privileges
Their enforced supremacy created for them and for you

Nor do you like me to mention that it took federal laws to
Crease the practice of your advantages through oppression

Because I know that there is nothing but law
Not your morality or your religion, nor your benevolence
Which could prevent you from resuming the practice and
Revive all the social, cultural, and economic amenities
That accompanies White Only water fountains
Once your needs arises, I stand watch over
Water fountains as the first sign of recidivism.


Harlem

You ever been to Harlem/river to river/old Harlem
Harlem cradle of a new migration of beleaguered seekers
Harlem of wide boulevards and crowded streets
Speakeasy Harlem embracing jazz sounds and
Blues people arriving north from southern
Cottage fields and Midwestern honky-tonks
Harlem of Marcus Garvey Universal Negro
Harlem of the New Negro Movement/135 Street
Center of the Black Capital of thought/Harlem
Renaissance in music/literature/letters and arts

You ever been to Harlem/World War II/Harlem
Of Army browns and melancholy waves goodbye
Of zoot suited happy feet stomping at the Savoy
Of jolly crowds at rent parties peddling pickled pig’s feet
Harlem of Father Divine and Sweet Daddy Grace
A charitable Harlem/an acquiring Harlem
Harlem of the Lafayette Theater and Joe Louis
Culture and power on the ascend/ numbers runners
Brandishing hopes and dreams on a ten cent play
Lewis Michaux’s African Memorial Bookstore
The house of common sense and proper propaganda
This prideful Harlem sent Adam Clayton Powell, Jr
To Congress in 1944 to keep the faith, baby

You ever been to Harlem/Jackie Robinson/Harlem
Where in 1947 little boys inspired to hit that stick-ball
A little bit further to reach their personal Ebbits Field
Harlem where things were not quite equal but peaches
And cream in comparison to from where they came
Harlem home of Ralph Ellison’s novel/Invisible Man
Harlem where Queen Mother Moore is rediscovered
Harlem/Gillespie/Parker/Monk were the first Beboppers

You even been to Harlem/ sixties militant/ Harlem
Harlem where Malcolm X preached Black Liberation
Harlem/Amiri Baraka/ stirred the Black Arts Movement
The Last Poets in the East/Apollo Theater in the West
None too far in distance and ideology from Una Mulzac’s
Ark of knowledge /Liberation Bookstore
If you don’t know/learn/If you know/ teach/she advocated
Harlem/Mother Hale ordained compassion at Hale House
Harlem/illuminating a bond to Mother Africa from its core
A healing home coming for Middle Passage survivors

You ever been to Harlem/Down Boys/Harlem
Shady deals of Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas
Harlem gangsters doing the work of the tyrants preceding
The three horsemen of Harlem/ crack/graffiti/hip hop
Harlem of the crystal vial crack one pull you’re whacked
That also was Harlem for far too long a decade or two
Harlem/Graffiti insisted and won some respect once it
Went from the streets and the trains/moved to art galleries
Hip hop though Bronx born/symbolized the better known
Harlem/which propelled it to the tip top of American culture

You even been to Harlem/familiar/routine/Harlem
Pork chops and ribs/fish and chips/chicken and waffles
Liqueur stores and halleluiah temples and movie theaters
Co-exist serving the same patrons in separate locations
Harlem amongst infinitely inviting features /river to river
Lenox Avenue/Mount Morris Park/Sugar Hill/1-2-5- Street
When Harlem calls/come to Harlem/not to change its charm
But to join it/be of it/one day you’ll want to come to Harlem
And live there too and be a proud juncture in its history

You even been to Harlem?


Einstein and Me

When Einstein was born she brought
From the eternal cosmos that tiny
Piece of me that completed my connection
To the ageless energy of our
Sub-atomic memory
We recognized each other intuitively

Einstein is my six year-old granddaughter
Natalie of a thousand kisses and eyes
Dark and round, lovely and searching
She is the grand inquisitor for whom
Each answer presents another series of questions
Stubborn and perpetually in motion
She is a coiled atom about to burst
Into a new-age renaissance

Her mind as busy as Galileo’s
She forges ahead in play in a
Chaotic storm – busybody attraction
That encompasses all her surroundings
Harnessed – this anarchy will
Shape her future brilliance

She brings a kind of joy
I never knew existed with a hug
And a thousand kisses and
The gaze of an explorer

Grandpa you got some
Of the most amazing things
She says
As she survey the contents of
My office
Where later this poem glides into my heart

Thank you Einstein
I say,
For letting me see
The rest of me –


Coltrane Talks to God

Let me introduce the players:
Miles Davis on trumpet
John Coltrane on saxophone
Wynton Kelly on piano
Paul Chambers on bass and
Billy Cobb on drums

Teo

Da dum tum/da dum tum/da dum tum

After a few bars of a thumping bass introduction
The rhythm section joins in for a few bars more
Before Miles begins the sacrament with a calm call
Evoking flourishes from the ensemble that slowly evolves
Into a delightful bounce of notes that dance with
Themselves enchanted and charmed
Each by the other

Energy, the flow of energy and the spirit are summoned
Ultimate realities the All of All that is – the sameness
All distinctions are relative comparisons
We now will hear the shapes and the forms
Which cannot be expressed in words
The only contrast to what is unknown
Nonetheless instinctively adhered to

Miles blow a series of sharp notes
That jolts the atmosphere and repeats
Again and again in sight variations
Developing into the resolve of the hymn
Of preparation for the sermon – all the while
The rhythm section is keeping up a driving orderliness
While Miles elaborates an unobtrusive passion like
The energy that amassed before the big bang
And rolls out the expansion of the universe
For now this orderliness exist to contain
Within its perimeter what’s to come

A piano interlude builds to reaffirm
The primacy of orderliness before
Coltrane burst into consciousness

And then it happens:
Coltrane enters like cleansing rain
Thunder and lightning Illuminating
Abandon streets on a dark Harlem night
A gathering for all concerned coalitions
Echoes of the turmoil of the times coalesce
The emotion builds and become intricate, convoluted
And twist over and over again and changes into
Repeated screams – dark and chaotic
Turbulent images bubble within framed orderliness
Coltrane makes repeated calls gathering all complexities
Then he beseechs in a new language of shapes and forms
Chaotic precision an oxymoron regarding quantum mechanics
The Theory of Everything –
Particles of sub-atomic sounds beseeching
Beseeching earnestly beseeching

This has been a voyage to awareness
Coltrane is disengaging from the unpredictable
Turbulence of sub-atomic particles
And glides up to relativity earthly realities
Where Miles can handle the transfer though
He is exhausted from the energy spent
Translating the logic of Coltrane’s sermon
In a few tones he regains the confidence of his
Own instincts which are born anew from
The Coltrane performance – we are all one now
Miles sounds his last note –
Understanding in at the core of every quest
The rhythm section alone closed the curtains.


The Lashing of Patsey of Bayou Boeuf Plantation

Patsey was a demure charming young woman
Of twenty three with a regal aura and a majestic
Statue and she was a slave on the plantation of
Of Edwin Epps of Bayou Boeuf on the Red River
She was enchanting, far more than mistress Epps
Or any white woman in Louisiana to her master

Edwin Epps, brutal and mean, with lust and power laid
Patsey to his pleasure in a most foul way not once
Many a times she cut off all feelings; all emotions
And lay there a mere receptacle for his lewd desire
He danced the dance of a broken man making
Mistress Epps the third leg to this unbalanced stool

To this, mistress Epps did not take lightly but
Directed her bile at Patsey, not her devil husband
By now so bewitched by his lust for Patsey he
Was willing to rid his presence of his infuriated wife
Who so hated and envied Patsey she tormented her
Often each chance that came with words and violence
Rationed her no soap with which to bathe Epps scent away

One day, to a near-by plantation Patsey did stray
For a piece of soap from a kindly soul and found
Missing from her place in the field Epps flew into a
Jealous rage, on her return accused her absence on
A vile craving and not the want for soap which she
Produced in hand saying how mistress does not give
Her a ration as she does with all the others

Now Epps blinded by fury and a thirst for blood
Hoax on my his mistress presence; she watched
From the big-house veranda her children at her side
And the slaves threw aside their chores for the moment
A spectacle of epic proportions drew them to disregard
Whatever the consequences should be to witness what’s
Possible in this vacuum where there is no God – no God

Platt stood near Patsey; between her and Epps could he
Protect her just this once more and his eyes soften to plea
Her case, but Epps, devil of a man as he is took his foot
And marked in the sand the four spots he wanted stakes
To be driven into the ground and ordered that Patsey be
Stripped of every article of clothes then had this poor
Naked girl tied face-down to the earth he handed Platt
A sturdy lash then ordered Platt in this vacuum where
There is no God to whip the skin from off her hide.

Platt sent to her back some moderate licks which
Incensed Epps and his mistress all the more
Give it to her with all you’ve got or you will feel it next
Epps’ threat to grieving Platt beseeching God to appear
Platt held his lash still hoping this fulfilled his master’s will
But the devil pined for more; Platt laid out ten more licks
And threw the whip to the ground and his life on the line

Then the monster could not get his fill picked up the lash
And whipped her still she moaned and pleaded and prayed
That God would seal the vacuum where hate cowered, her
Back a bloodied mess and the whip torn out her flesh
Epps wanted the result he could not get from her the
Times he trust his pelvis to her groins in his mind now
How she groin as he stuck again and again his mistress saw
In his eyes the pleasure he imagined between Patsey’s thighs

Finally it was over and Patsey unconscious removed
To the slave quarters to be nursed and prayed over
That she might die and be relieved of the curse of
Edwin Epps and Mistress Epps of the Bayou Boeuf
Plantation – but she lived it be God’s well