Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Songs of St. Louis

I recorded an "open mic" reading of my poem, inspired by the killing of Michael Brown. (If you want to listen, scroll down to the second "play" button, and excuse my poor weblog programming skills.) The slightly re-written poem appears below that.

I was working on Cabanne Street in a Home for Girls
Girls with a Bad Rap or Bad Company or just Bad Luck
One of the girls was White and maybe I was White
Some would consider me so
And some didn’t quite know
But I could always look like a nun
When faced with police
Unlike my swain whose ebony face
Shone with blue lights in the sun

The first time he was stopped
He had a script of a play on his dash
You could read it through the glass
A priest accuses God
And the cop who was White, surely looking for a reason
Said, Lightning should strike you right now
LeRoi answered, Yeah, I guess so
They laughed and the cop let him go

Once, a drunk plowed through a red light
Into LeRoi’s car, skipped over the white line
And he’s still in his seat, dazed and bleeding
As the sirens came near
Cops drag him out
My friend ran over and screamed
Get an ambulance he’s bleeding!
And we end up at the hospital
Everybody was fine

Unlike Leon Spinks who got arrested when cops
Planted coke in his car
I mean, how could a poor Black from the projects
The Projects! No less than Pruitt Igoe
Get an Olympic Medal for boxing
And go so far
I mean, justice no object

And the first month I moved to my place in St. Louis
I heard about a nurse who got shot on the street
No reason, they said – just a random thing
Who did it? They searched but no shooter appeared
So I figured, okay, this is a violent place
I could end up dead any time
No point in wasting myself on fear

A block away, two whores were in their house
Minding their own business
When cops came in looking for drugs
Emptied all the drawers, cut up clothes
Waved their guns
Tossed a fur coat in the bathtub
Soaked it in water through and through
And when one girl objected, shot her too

Okay, I wasn’t there, but we heard stuff like this
Somebody got murdered every week or so
Our murder rate seemed to match the heat
And the welfare rate had only Mississippi beat
Math was never an issue
But the lack of money was

So you make your neighborhood your own
You don’t want some stranger messing it up
You build your bravado, your music, your color
Your walk, your talk, your energy, your fun
And pretty soon, you don’t care so much
For what you don’t own

You cook whatever meat you have on the bone
And burn some incense and have a party
You get in your car
And drive real slow with the music on loud
To cover the sound of the muffler dragging on the ground
You get a coat hanger to tie it up smartly

You go home to Kinloch where sanity reigns
And you can breathe in peace
Until they land the next plane
Like it’s coming to you
So, Ferguson, nothing much is new
Except that now the microscope is focused on true

I dated a St. Louis cop once – he lived in a dungeon
The place was a mess, the plumbing malfunctioned
He was a patch of desert in a delta bayou
With a fatal case of blues
He was proud of his brutality
And polished it like a cue

It’s been years since I went back
I remember the summers that stretched on forever
The patchwork sky, the dripping air, the squirrels, the bugs, the life
The slow moving city, fast-rushing River
You wouldn’t want to swim in it
My girls in the Home were all good girls
Even the Bad ones

Sometimes at night we used to share our thoughts
St. Louis is the training ground of the faithful, she said
Yeah, that’s no joke, we agreed
When you think about it, there’s always a need
And a very good reason
Why dancers, musicians, playwrights and poets
Are born in a place with a troubled season.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jesus was a Virgo

I need to go to Boston
I feel like I want to crack something open
A whole ice tray of feelings
The love, mostly
Keen and sharp like the winter wind
Whipping across from the Hancock Building
Eyes clenched to the sleet, inscrutable
And on the inside, a vast ocean of space
Driven by single purpose
Nothing I wouldn’t do for the Beloved

When Jesus was two years old
He already knew he belonged to the world
His life would be a gift to humankind
He had an unbroken umbilical
At two, my destiny was only a spark
Beginning its slow spiral
I was sixteen when I chose heart over head
If I had to choose
Not beauty or wit or surely sanity

I wonder if Jesus had a nickname as a child
Before he was called a prophet, a Lord, a Prince,
All those epithets that couldn’t contain him
Jesus must have made friends easily
Gathering his disciples around him like bees to clover
My only nicknames were cruel ones made by boys
Until college where the girls named me Slinky and Cat
But love always got in the way of friends
No bees, only outlaws who would be worshipped

Jesus was an outlaw, too
I probably would have loved him,
Would have pulled him down from the cross and taken his place
Like an idiot, or a saint
And my nickname would have been She Who …
I don’t know exactly, but not Slinky or Cat
Anyway, one thing to say –
Jesus wasn’t a Capricorn
I saw his birthday written in a tome
A book of secrets from an unlocked case 
September 9, was it?  September 6?
Anyway, it’s no surprise.
Jesus was a Virgo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Antidote to Summer Doldrums

New developments with the cats .. the new neighbor downstairs has been feeding them.  Slowly, little by little, the young mother cat and her adorable wee kitten come up to the stoop and eat.  Mowgli, my manly cat pal, leads the way, curling himself right next to the doorway like he owns the rug.

I'm glad to see that they are being adopted, even though I'm a bit sad to lose the opportunity to interact with them in the wild.  Yesterday, they showed me there was still that streak of wild cat in these jazz babies.

I went out to get into my car and go to work and right there on the sidewalk was a fresh (and dead) mouse.  It was a touching gift of gratitude for the folks that have been feeding the cats.

Wildlife aside, I will say that the urge to create has gone rather dormant in me, perhaps as a result of the summer doldrums.  Doldrums.  Such a nice word for the stillness of hot, sticky summertime.  You might stir yourself enough to get up and go into the kitchen and pour a glass of water ... 

The Walkway over the Hudson is one antidote.  No matter how hot it is, there's always a breeze over the river.  And there's a positive spin on the Walkway, no matter who is doing the walking.  It might be a man and wife with a stroller or a couple hand in hand or oldsters walking three abreast in threadbare cotton and canvas hats.  You can overhear heartbreaking conversations or banal ones.  Kids on skateboards and scooters.  Dogs.  Lots of dogs.

Here's one of the photos I took of the Walkway, one of the amazing skies.

We had a tinkering of a rainstorm for a half an hour tonight and it's already gone.  The breeze has run off to ruffle somebody else's hair, and the sticky night is back.  The dense call of insects, stacking their songs one on top of the other like cells under a microscope.

A skunk has crept under the window and asserted herself.  I can imagine the cats hidden back in their lair, sniffing the sweet night air, far away from human civilization.