Monday, July 27, 2009

A Scattering

Where is that old man who gives the records from his mouth? Where has he disappeared to? Where is he when the channel blares, shining with those who might have been his offspring, grinning as it pulls back the curtains to show them dancing? Dancing…as if nothing has happened, as if it had all been some terrible foretelling that slipped from the cord of this current history and fell with a thud onto another plane. And no one is awakened by the noise.

In the apartments above, backs are turned upon the noise, glasses are raised despite it, ears are pressed up against plastic buttons hearing nothing; knowing nothing as the child walks through rows of traffic in the streets cussing with his arms outstretched, looking (some say) like the son of God at his crucifixion; swearing and tugging at his jeans right there in the middle of traffic. Still, the curtains fly in the window, uninterested, and spectators sit placidly in their air-conditioned automobiles.

But where is that man who sits on the tree stump with ragged bare feet, with eyes silvery and foreboding, and the waiting faces to gaze down into as he leans on his staff? What has become of him? Where is he when the shots ring out and the young girls squeal and hold their heads and run up the pavement in their summer sandals? Five or six others will sprint in the opposite direction, bellowing like half-crazed wildebeests as they join the cussing child on a rampage.

On the opposite side of the boulevard, a kind of war is occurring and the onlookers inch-inch their cars to the stoplight, unbothered; watching the crowd meet at the intersection, knowing nothing, feeling nothing as the pummeling begins and ground rumbles; doing nothing as the hand-held canon rings out. A resident steps back inside her door. The whipping red flames speed in the distance to swallow all within their reach. Somewhere, a woman cries for her child. Somewhere, a woman does not.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Full House

There on the corner it stood. A house; with four walls around it, and within, more besides. It was a deceptive place; crooked. The steps to the front door seemed as if they had been built in a hurry. Inside, there was the patter of toddler’s feet, microwaves, rounds of carefree laughter and music coming from the television.

Upstairs, the rooms were built opposite one another and close together. The occupants held more space between them. A husband, a wife, a visitor, and child lived together. The staircase seemed as if it had been built in a hurry with carpeting stretched so thin that it had grown pale. A map of Africa hung on the wall.

There in the back room lived another visitor, a witness to life in its many stages; someone who had seen more than her share of crisis happen and was fearful still. Satin curtains hung in her enclosure, blankets folded despite the season, books that were read and some unread and a back yard splattered behind the window.

Downstairs, the rooms stood behind each other, slanting to the front in unison. The walls were painted in a serene pearl to match the external view. In the kitchen, an occupant could move without notice, drinking a cup of water perhaps; overhearing by chance the shared hot words and the distinct sound of muffled sobs. Soon there would be music coming from the television.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Survival

Had it rained? It was not so easy to tell. Under the street lamps, the road held a soft moist glimmer, as if someone had just sprayed a cleaning formula on the solid tar and was about to wax it to a high sheen. I stood at the window watching. I felt like a tourist must feel; uncertain and unknown, inhabiting a city that had no compassion for me. But I had loved this place. I had always loved it. I loved it in a way that made me want to return when I went away. I loved the pandemonium, loved the centrality, loved the familiarity with things I had had knowledge of from birth and the intense solitude that one sometimes feels even in the heart of all the commotion: Yes. I loved even that.

I remembered days when the season had darkened the streets prematurely and I had stepped through the pillars that upheld the Brooklyn Public Library marquee, gripping a bag of books in the cold. I was hard-pressed to find any other objects that excited me then. I had already suffered and nurtured a catalogue of injuries that had affected me in ways that are too profound to write about. It was not so easy to tell. I fantasized often about how my adult life would certainly reward me for such trials. I satiated myself with the weekly doses of religious doctrine I had relied upon then. I was naïve. Life had not turned out the way I expected it to at all.

Had it rained? The woman had wanted to know. I walked into her bedroom the way I had done every week. We embraced. She smiled at me from behind her reading glasses. I held her hand a moment longer. She said that she felt insulated, not always knowing what the weather was doing outside the walls of the house. She could not roam the streets as well as she once had. She was paying the price of age, she said. It was not so easy to tell. She sat upright. Her head was wrapped in a material similar in color to that which she wore. She closed her journal and marked the page with her pen. Over her feet was a blanket designed in the pattern tigers wear on their skin. I leaned against the wall watching.

She told me that she had just spoken to her daughter; my mother. She looked pleased. I thought to myself that there could never be enough written about this woman. She was magnificent. She adjusted a ring on one of her fingers and offered me a chocolate from her bowl. She asked about the week I had, my only living ancestor of her generation. The week was not too bad, I said. She smiled at me without looking. It was not so easy to tell. Perhaps she could tell, after ninety years of telling, that my mind was ripe with worry; that panic reached my open eyes in the dark; that I satisfied my debts with precision and despair and waited.

Had it rained? The woman asked once more. I answered again, as I always did. I wondered more about her. Someone was reading scripture on the television. She recited it from memory. She talked to me with eyes straight forward, saying things about struggle. There were truths we knew respectively that had sustained us in our own trials, bringing us yet again to each other’s company; she, with over nine decades of telling and me, with a meager one-third of the same. This life is not easy, she said. She was quietly an expert on the subject. It was not so easy to tell. But things eventually improve, she continued, after one time comes another. It is the way of The Divine. This was what we both knew; thinking our own thoughts, falling into silence, and feeling hope unfurl and flower as we sat on the bed watching.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Love & Trepidation

They found him dead. That is what the man had pulled me aside to inform me of. They had found him dead and I threw myself unto the concrete. I sobbed and sobbed. I grazed my fingers on the hard stone walls and cried bitterly. It was what I had always been afraid of. And now it had happened. I felt sweat forming on my brow. I gasped and sat upright with wide eyes.

I could hear the sound of the radiator. I could see the shadowy drapes in the dark. I felt the heat coming from the electric blanket. My breathing slowed down as the realization came. It had only been a dream. I was stunned at first and then relieved.

When we had been younger, he never questioned me. Everyone had always been required to work, even I had started a weekend gig. But I was responsible for him and the younger one. There would be no lingering for me after school. I would hop the bus down Bedford Avenue and hurry to my grandmother’s place to pick them up. That was the routine. We walked the five blocks to our apartment daily. We stopped at the corner store for quarter juices and the processed desserts in their plastic packaging. I threw together corned beef and rice or boxed macaroni and cheese for them to eat and we would watch television and wait for the adults to arrive. Every now and then I might have instructed him and the younger one to clean their room or take out the garbage while I cleaned things up in the kitchen. He never questioned me.

I imagine, though I never asked, that the transition must have been difficult for him. My private journal and wet pillow knew that I had my own issues to deal with. Brooklyn had not been easy in those days, especially since we had previously known a different life. Circumstances had called for me to stash a six inch box cutter in my puff coat and walk the streets with a hood pulled over my face – not wanting any trouble. If ever I saw him on the street corners with the other males, lounging like lions that had just eaten the kill, I would call him in. For the woman said that she did not want her son on the street corner and I was obliged to follow her instructions. She had known her reasons…trouble was his constant companion and many was the night that we were unwilling companions of those very corners, trekking across them and looking for him. I imagine that it must have been difficult for him; that he had his own issues to deal with - only he could truly say.

This world is a precarious place for our brothers, someone said to me. And I knew it firsthand. I knew it as literally as I knew the shades of my own palms. It was one more bitter fact of our existence. Because we are men, and since we had been so raised…I showed more than I could say that I loved him deeply and unconditionally. Love was not a word to be thrown around loosely among us. I had never uttered the words. I never once whispered, when no one was watching, that I loved him more than my life…that I worried about him…that I wanted to grip him close to me and keep him safe…that I would watch over him forever; for we were pulled from the same womb. His pain is mine. His joy is mine. He is me. Because we are men, and since we had been so raised, I hoped these things would be implicit. I knew these things would be evident in the smile I gave him across the dinner table, in the way I nudged him as we shared a drink, and in how tenderly I held and rocked his son to sleep.

My mind was with him and so was my heart. I thought about him as I moved through the day. I frowned over something that had occurred to me and remembered a look I had seen in his eyes. His spirit was on me and my mind was with him. My heart was his as it always will be. When the phone call came I was not surprised. The woman was distressed. I heard it in her first hello. They locked him up again last night, she said. I sighed.

Prince Muhammad G

They had incarcerated him intending to make it a permanent arrangement.
This Prince who may have well ruled nations at a time of our own making; a time
in history past when we knew ourselves and our divinity; when we took the feel of water, sun and air for granted and stood on rich soils in ownership.

He was indeed great, sitting at the typewriter, majestically, and finally taking his destiny into his own sun-kissed hands. He sat on the worn swivel chair, posing in the same way Mansa Musa must have perched on stools carved out of gold. He slanted his head in thought like some other citizen of Mali; some statesman, some craftsman, some warrior, some priest, some uncle, some scholar, some lover, some thief, some official, some subject, some mentor, some fiend, some merchant, some father, some honored son…with a dignity and identity all their own – untouched by western winds and free from the injury that was to come.

Yet they had incarcerated him, housing him in the lower depths with dust and staleness and the state central air system blowing more through the overhead vents. It was there underneath the barred windows that he held court; as focused as a scientist on the verge of discovery. Only The Supreme God could be truly acquainted with his trials. Only God and those who genuinely loved him could fully realize his worth, his beauty…his nobility.

He was glorious indeed, one to be feared for his good qualities and not out of envy and self-consciousness. He moved as if onlookers should have bowed out of his path –standing upright only after he had withdrawn from their presence. He locked his vulnerabilities behind his gaze and hit the keys with the precision of an acupuncturist. This Prince who may well never see his talents bloom; they had incarcerated him.

Lady In The Looking Glass

They were talking politics on the television, Middle Eastern nations, the current administration and that man so spoken about; the mastermind behind the destruction of the trade centers…they said that he had permission to kill ten million more.

I wondered if I would be afraid should death arrive like a swift nuclear breeze upon my city. My heart was Brooklyn; my core another country on another continent, which contained things like cashew, guava and Suriname cherry trees. No, I was not afraid of death. Even though I felt that I had not known life enough. I was not afraid of death. If the breeze reached my nude body as it stood under a hot shower unsuspecting and defenseless…it would be divine will. I was not afraid of death.

Was she afraid, the woman that I visited the next day? This woman who held some of the secrets to my genetic code and had seen the inner sides of nine decades could not have been afraid. She may have had some anxiety though. I had heard somewhere that one becomes anxious as one’s destination comes into sight. She spoke things with finality. She stared often into the distance. She sang hymns that she knew from memory. She read romance novels and medical self-help books with equal relish. She moved with painful precision. She had raised a generation of adults, and raised another generation after. She had governed yet a third generation from a respectful distance and was satisfied. There could be nothing existing that could frighten her now.

I sat across from her, thinking that enough could not be written about this woman; wondering if it was not but a moment ago when she held my mother in her arms, and me. Now we laughed as she ate the bakes that I had made in my very own kitchen – following her instructions. I poured the flour into the bowl. I filled a wide pot with oil. I put a generous helping of sugar and baking power into the bowl. I added warm water and made the dough. Everyone had his own method of making them. In a few hours when the dough swelled a little, I would stand in front of the stove to fry the pieces of dough I had cut and rolled. It was not lost on me the fact that no one would be sitting on my couch smiling as I brought in the meal; no one to eat it as I sipped my Heineken and waited for a verdict on taste. Still, I never approved of pity parties and so I snapped out of it. Besides, there was nothing to feel sorry about. Things would occur as they were designed to. I practiced patience in front of the stove and smiled at the thought that I would watch her eat the results the next day.

“It’s good…it taste good,” she said. I smiled like a five-year old, knowing that she was probably refraining from commenting on the fact that she could taste slightly too much baking powder in the bake. We talked about my week. We talked about her week. We sipped green tea mango iced-tea. She asked questions about online banking and listened with mistrusting interest to my explanations and reassurances that it was safe. We talked about my nephew – a good baby she said. She knew about babies. We sipped green tea mango iced-tea. How much time you have left at that daytime location? She wanted to know. “Not too much longer,” I answered…thinking about it. I wondered about my own direction. I wondered if it were true that she was moving slower than she was the last time I saw her. But then again, I thought that thought every time I saw her. Who was the one that was really anxious? “The time will fly out,” she said confidently, stretching her piano-playing hands out to look at her painted nails. She knew about time and other things. I still had much to learn. We sipped green tea mango iced-tea.