from the archives: sonnet

I was a runner in my hapless youth:
two times, four times, eight times around the track;
running to things, running from things, always
in a haste, never taking time to smell
the fragrance of the roses, know the truth.
In time, life slowed me down. I changed my tack.
I learned to walk, to circumspect, unfazed
by every shiny thing my eyes beheld.
But then the boundless sea became my Muse:
Her hidden wonders and her ways seduced
my every thought. Yet she was just a phase,
a short poetic phrase and a malaise.
This sonnet owns no ending, just a star,
to capture our attention from afar.


last day of summer – a documentary

I remember watching
news reports on TV
about the war – after
supper each night –
and the day’s body count –

and soldiers’ funerals
on Sundays after church,
and mothers and girlfriends
on the front row crying,
and smelling salts.

Occasionally the president
would tell us we were winning.
And Walter Cronkite would say,
“And that’s the way it is.”

The Lisbon Quintet – Five Sonnets

1. Bedtime prayer, or, burial instructions

If I should die before I wake —
Oh, never mind. My soul will know
Exactly what to do when darkness
Envelops me and she is freed and free.

Stuff my mortal remains, whatever’s left
Of me, in a weighted wooden coffin
Like the ones we kept in stock overseas
In abandoned embassy warehouses.
Put me on a Navy warship – bury me

At sea just beyond the 12-mile limit –
In international waters – let me sink
Silently, peacefully to the bottom,
Where lost shipmates are still on patrol,
And my ancestors await my return.

2. Disengaging the mind from work

Each night I dream of projects I complete,
Mainly ideas I’ve been thinking about
For weeks. And I awaken each morning
Feeling accomplishment & exhaustion.

No way to spend a August vacation,
I know. But today my outlaws have planned
A special lunch – Guinea-Bissau cuisine –
My favorite – and I can hardly wait!

We’ll save the nautical museum (I love
The ancient navigation instruments),
My favorite Belem bakery, &
the modern art museum for tomorrow

Or another day, any other day –
We can’t ignore a long-lost appetite.

3. Coffee with Pessoa at Martinho on the Praca

I write no more of love, the tales of woe,
Of romance that quickens a calm spirit –
Such stories that are songs of young and sweet
Naïveté- of passions’ fires aglow.

Today’s news crowds out former pleasant thoughts:
An earthquake, a mudslide kills the many;
A terror attack, abroad, at home, slays
The few and darkens the skies around us
With clouds of hate and unscaled walls of fear.

Let’s love today, each other, without shame
Or fear of censure, once more returning,
Once more forgiving acts of carelessness,
Mistakes we’ve made. Let’s journey while the sun
Is high and skies are clear and steps still firm.

4. Acknowledging the Muse – Pre-Eclipse

I think of you as my defacto Muse,
And I yours, at least until you tell me
we are not, or cannot be, or simply
just reject that source of inspiration

Our inner poets crave. The obstacles
Between us are many. The boundaries
That separate us are natural ones,
Neither fraudulent nor fake nor contrived –

It will be far easier to let things
Rest as they are, in peace and sanity,
And in denial. I would dare not blame
You or me, and life would just continue

As if our paths had never crossed, as if
This possibility had never been.

5. Watching photos of the total eclipse on the internet

Somewhere in the comings and the goings
I lost a day, or gained one, by my count –
Then I missed the total eclipse (but that
Had less to do with the time warp I’m in
and more to do with decisions I’ve made)
Because I was on the wrong continent.

I figured out it’s Monday. Tomorrow
Will be museum day – it’s all a matter
Of degree of intermediation
In the end, of what must be done to cure
The writer’s block that gets generated
By one’s own inhibitions. It’s taken
A week of full immersion to discard
Mine and let language flood these winding streets.


p.s. Some photos here

#NaPoWriMo17 April 3 – Elegy for my maternal grandfather, Nelson Hairston, Sr.

I decided to go with the prompt today. Can’t be a renegade all the time!

Elegy for my grandfather, Nelson Hairston, Sr.

I never knew my Papa couldn’t read
or write – I grew up sending him poems
in letters I’d write. Daddy said I got
that from his father, who wrote songs for church.
Daddy wrote confessions and apologies,
over and over again, but he wrote.
Writing was next to godliness, he’d say.
But Papa couldn’t read or write. I found
out years later when Loretta told me
she wrote all his letters by dictation.
I don’t think less of him – I want that clear –
in fact, I think more. His name is on the door
of the house he built with his own hands.
For all my poems, I’ve never built a house.

From the archives – Still Life

my ideal still life painting would contain
a non-microwave-safe cup and saucer,
a piece of ripened fruit, a wind up watch
with a leather band, and a book, hardbound,

with several bookmarks and tabs. On a desk.
And maybe reading glasses, depending
on the reader’s (and the painter’s) needs.
I’d stare at that canvas, and wonder

if my subject drank tea or coffee, hot
or lukewarm like I like it. I’d wonder
does the book have poetry inside it,
the bookmarks and tabs for his (her) favorite

passages. I’d hang it beside my wife’s
painting of the river ferry crossing.

#BlaPoWriMo – Some thoughts about my country after seeing the James Baldwin movie “I am not your Negro.”

“The end we think
we seek is not near,
& it’s not the end,
& it’s not what we seek.”
— “Amtrak NE Regional”
        April 19, 2013

Your dystopian moment could be the dark ages
before the renaissance – your zombie apocalypse
a golden opportunity for the dispossessed,
a resurrection for the marginalized whose hopes
died on the cross.

The night of doom you recommend could be
a shining star heralding a dawn on a new horizon –
a long awaited dream finally being realized.
The end of all you think you know could be
a new beginning that does not include your past.

Before we nail the coffin shut, let’s listen closely
for a pulse – the quiet beating of a tale-tell heart.
It may not be too late for even you
to turn around.


Interview with James Baldwin from WGBH’s 1963 special program The Negro and the American Promise

#BlaPoWriMo – Survival of the Fit

We brought much with us inside those ships
when we emigrated to this new world
of golden promise and opportunity.
Okra & chillies & black-eyed pea seeds
we stowed away in little hiding places –
along with knowledge – how to grow rice,
how to make bread from dried corn, how to deep
fry meats to tenderize them, make them last –  
physical things, to nourish, sustain us.
But our name, our faith, our spirituality
also survived the Middle Passage,
along with our mathematics, our psychology,
& our cosmology. It all survived.
Underestimate us. Fine. We will be.