birthday bittersweet(to Sagal)

on this day

i wish for you to wake up

with warmth in the clouds

and without dreams that leave you in tears

let it be a day

of green tea sipped coolly

and no pain that blinds you

and maybe

at some point

i will send my good wishes

on a soft breeze

that would nestle against

the brown velvet of your cheeks

where my hands once found their Eden

may this year

and all the rest

be as beautiful

as you once were to me.

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cotton gin.(for Emmitt Till)

one name

two words

and almost sixty years later

it still doesn’t add up

your face before and after

should remind us always

of the twisted logic of bigots

found in the sneer of supposed supremacy

rope and bullets

and the embrace of cold Southern soil

some days

i remember seeing your face in that coffin

watching ‘Eyes On The Prize’ when i was nine

being told, ‘don’t look away son’

knowing you didn’t have that chance

in a darkened barn in Tallahatchie County

with demons enslaved by antebellum logic

and mason jars of moonshine

not knowing your name

Emmitt Till

would live in their flesh

one name

and two words

and the weight of a cotton gin

and we wonder why the nation hates math

authors asked

what was Mississippi afraid of then

ask that question again

when election time for our president comes

ask that question

when Black men are still dragged behind trucks for fun

you haven’t haunted them nearly enough

because there are those who still believe

racism and hatred will always add up

the devil’s arithmetic

still burns like straight gin

the image of you mangled in a coffin

like your name

doesn’t relieve the burn at all

but the fire this time and the next

will cleanse everything

what MLK would say about his statue

i had a dream

bigger than monuments

larger than the minds of bigots

and yet you still sleep

i had a dream

that would see brothers and sisters

break the bread of promise and drink

from the wells of prosperity

but the fields suffer

and the wells are poisoned

and yet you still sleep

i dreamt

that the poor would get their fair share

and that the hungry would be fed

but they’ve been bled

to fill the cups of the rich

and yes you still sleep

i walked for justice

i fought for the freedom

of all men, women and children of this nation

if you are still asleep

do not think that a statue

means my dream is at rest

evil has traded white robes for black ones

made society sickened and numb

made people dumb and blind

to the hands of thieves

and the horrors of mankind

do not honor me only

with granite and parades

dream with your eyes open

and awaken the people

to create that revolution of the heart

and see

the promised land of my dreams.

whiskey and water.

“How long you plan to stay for?”, Therese asked.

“Until the odds tell me otherwise.”, Carver replied.

he got up from the bed, scratched his lower back and

walked the few feet to the beat up dresser drawer. on

the top rested a pack of Merits. he took one out, put

it in his mouth and lit it with all the casual motions

of someone waiting at a bus stop. Therese looked at him,

eyed the sinews in his back. she gazed at his skin that

shone even in the dim light of the room. she lay there,

naked with the covers at her feet. Carver turned around

and despite herself, she couldn’t say a word. he had

that control over her. she knew it. it was the same

thing every time. he had been by this same joyhouse

for a good two years runnin’. it was the only one

that serviced Black men in this part of Louisiana.

at least, the only one with mostly white women. ever

since he walked in the door that one Thursday evening,

he had his hooks into her. and he knew it.

“When are you gonna give up the sportin’ life, sugar?

It wears everyone down.” she said, slowly leaning into

the headboard behind her. Carver looked at Therese. her

hair was a chestnut brown beehive. it framed a face

that was full and soft. her eyes were eggshell blue

and still held a trace of innocence. her body was

plump im the right places, mainly her breasts and her

thighs. Carver came back to the bed and laid beside

her. “It won’t get me. I got a way out. You plan on

being a social worker?” he asked, his sharp grin in

effect. “I…I just worry. The last time, when you

told me about the game and how they tried to ambush

you after you won – well, I just don’t want you hurt.”

Therese said, turning her body towards him but not her

eyes.” Carver ran a hand over his low cut. “I got away.

That’s part of it all…I’m a hustler. Been that way

ever since I learned the best adding and multiplying

wasn’t in school. What else I got?”

“You’ve got a mind…you’re smart.” Therese replied,

finding herself back in that same taut spot again.

Carver wasn’t a usual customer. she entertained him

his first time to Madam Louselle’s. even fixed him a

drink. whiskey and water. that first night lit a fire

in her, one she hadn’t had since being a young girl

in St.Louis. she had been a hooker for ten years, ten

years of sex, martinis and muggy nights all running

together. and here she was, with a Black man in her

bed. and her feeling as if she’d die if she never

saw him again. “C’mon Therese…I’m a Black man. I’m

still looked at as a second class citizen. Yeah, you

got college kids brighter than me sitting at lunch

counters. Getting their heads beat in. Not me baby.

I’m gonna overcome all right, but I’m gonna get a

whole lot of bread doin’ it.” Therese laid her hand

on his lower abdomen. “Honey…please. Don’t go to

that pool hall. I’ve got money…you can have some.

We’ll stay here, right here in this room-”

Carver jumped up. “I gotta split.” he grabbed his

navy blue shirt and yellow slacks and began to get

dressed. Therese felt her lips quiver. he snubbed

out his cigarette in the dull green ashtray on the

nightstand and sat to put on his shoes. she moved

and laid her bosom on his back. a tear left her eye

and seeped into his shirt. Carver stopped briefly;

he turned his head slightly to see Therese’s hair

on his shoulder. “I’ll…be by ‘fore I leave town.

Gotta head over to Natchez.” he rose and walked to

the door quickly. before opening it, he turned to

look at Therese. “Make sure my drink’s waiting for

me.” he said, flashing the same grin. “Of course.

See you later sugar.” she said, grinning as she

knelt on the bed. Carver glanced at her for another

few seconds, then swiftly opened the door and left.

the door swung back but didn’t close. Therese could

hear the blues being belted out on the piano down

in the great room. “I…love you.” she said gently.

raucous laughter danced up from below.

anguish on the ride home.

another curiously breezy August night in New York

City. i’m on my way home from a wine and cheese fete’

with some friends out near Corona. i had just gotten

off the E train and managed to catch the last Q83

before they stop going up the hill every 25 minutes.

as i get on with my ears full of a Ghostface Killah

mashup, i notice this one woman with her head down

on a huge black plastic storage container. her two

boys sat next to her, staring off into space. i move

to get a seat in the back since this bus usually gets

crowded.

the bus jerked slightly. the reason being that this

older woman in a red and white striped sundress that

would’ve gone over well in an MGM musical had darted

in front of the bus to try to get on. the driver hit

the gas and proceeded down Archer Avenue to the front

of the bus stop area. she ran as fast as she could

and managed to get on, gasping for air.

a few minutes later, i look up from my book and i see

that the other woman with the container and the kids

has her head up. and she’s sobbing uncontrollably.

the tears gathered like rainwater under her eyes. she

was dressed in a sweater and black nylon pants. she

stared ahead, her lips not moving but her the rest of

her face was a mask of anguish. that is real pain. the

kind of despair that you don’t give a rat’s ass if

anyone sees. the kind of anguish that makes your heart

hurt with each gust of air into your lungs. it dawned

on me…she must be without a place to live. it would

make sense with the two boys next to her and the large

container. she must be going to the women’s shelter

over by St.Pascal’s church.

at that moment, the woman in the striped dress tapped

her on the shoulder. from where i was, i saw something

that i’ve seen so many times before in these New York

streets that other folks don’t believe happens often

here. and sometimes, even i can forget it does. it was

compassion. as the mother cried, the lady in the striped

dress spoke with her. calmed her. hugged her and gave

her strength. these are the moments missed once you

plug into your iPod, or your phone or disappear into

the pages of a book or newspaper. i couldn’t help but

stare at them.

as the bus reached the stop on 202nd Street and Murdock

Avenue by the church, the mother got off, edging her

kids in front of her. i saw that she also has a giant

red piece of luggage. my heart sank again. she must’ve

had to make a mad dash. who knows what – or who – she

left behind. and the two boys had this look on their

faces. it was a numb look, one that gives off the idea

that nothing in the world really could move you anymore.

the lady in the striped dress helped her with the black

storage container. as the bus pulled off, i saw them all

make their way down the block towards St.Pascal’s and the

PAL shelter. and while it saddened me, i’m glad i was

able to see it. just so i can keep reminding myself not

to be oblivious to pain because i don’t feel it.

that image stuck with me all of last night. it’s only

now that i’m able to write about it without a heavy

sense of sadness. because today, this mother and her sons

have a new day to start over. they’ve got a shot. one

that other mothers and other kids in cities and towns

throughout this country…hell, the world…may not

have. someone said something in a lecture i heard years

ago at a video engineers’ conference: “you beat the odds

just by showing up.” and that’s what they’ve done.