Our lady of the hidden rivers
Bless us, our lady of the hidden rivers –
rivers that flood and ebb – like tides –
flowing out to the sea and back
into our hearts. Surrounded by a soft light,
our lady wears a cactus cloth, a clam shell
from the oceans that mothered
and blessed the secret rivers. Our lady likes
the latte we serve her – decaf expresso
and Columbia mild roast – creamy,
frothy, smooth to the taste. We’ll see her again
with Mohammed’s daughter. The three children –
Jacinto, Francisco, Lucia – witnessed the vision.
They are blessed. Later, it’s a long bus ride
and a longer uphill walk up the mountain
to Montserrat, to stand in line to see
the glass-encased statue of the black virgin.
We kiss the hand that holds the sphere.
It’s worth the pain to be with her again.
Bless us, our lady of the hidden rivers,
hear our prayers, soothe all our pains away.
April 1, 2017
remembering Gil Scott-Heron,
a poet who was born on this day
“Ain’t no such thing as a Superman
is not a part of my book library
or my CD collection.
Too bad, because it should have been.
Because we all need a reminder
that poets are vulnerable
to aches & pains & needs
deep down in the soul.
Poets are not from Krypton. They are
not faster than a speeding bullet,
stronger than a locomotive,
able to leap tall buildings
in a single bound.
But it’s not just about the existence
(or not) of an imaginary superhero.
Gil was here with us.
For real. Flesh and blood.
Susceptible to all the mistakes
human beings make. This poem is not
an apology or a shifting of blame.
He did what he did. He made choices,
artistic choices, destructive choices.
But his art inspired and instructed
a generation of musicians and rappers –
all who would listen. Now he’s gone
and he won’t return. Not sooner or later,
not never. The revolution, Gil reminded us,
won’t be re-runs. The revolution will be LIVE.
Day #3 of NaPoWriMo
Elegy for my Grandfather, Nelson Hairston, Sr.
I never knew Papa couldn’t read
or write – I grew up sending him my poems
in letters and Daddy said I inherited
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 said.
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.
April 3, 2017
April 4, 2017 – A beginning and an ending poem
What did I know,
in my freshman year,
about subliminal messages
from members of the opposite sex?
She was older and more worldly,
having just returned from a junior
year abroad. I was in awe.
I read her my poetry.
It was all I had.
She asked me to submit it
to the college newspaper,
but she didn’t tell me
she was the poetry page editor.
I should have known that,
but what did I know?
Her encouragement was enough.
What was I to do next?
I didn’t have a clue.
She invited me to her apartment
for homemade soup – I accepted.
It’s not what you think.
We had long conversations
about exotic places she had travelled to,
places I hoped one day to see for myself.
She was very kind to me
and I was appreciative of her kindness.
We dated, if you can call it that,
for the rest of the semester.
Then we went our separate ways –
she graduated and went to grad school.
And me, unmoored, I drifted out to sea.
April 5, 2017
It’s too early for the prompt.
Not that that has ever mattered
to us renegades.
I am a bit concerned
about my poems.
They seem to be
vertical short stories
whenever I abandon
Could that be? What makes
a poem a poem, and not some
other genre of literature?
Is it just the geometry?
Is it all Euclidian after all?
Maybe it’ll be different
if I take it to an open mic
and read it out loud.
Or read it to you on the telephone.
Or read it to you over coffee.
Or post it on soundcloud.
Could it just be the paper?
The factor limiting us to 2 dimensions?
You see! Vertical again!
What do you think the next
prompt will be?
April 6, 2017 – Ten ways of reading a murder mystery novel
Things have to be bizarre
to capture the imagination
of the average reader these days
Normality doesn’t sell movies
or popcorn, or peanuts –
like boring baseball
and watching paint dry
I knew the author
when she was a poet and
a precision swimmer –
playing chess with hobos
in Dupont Circle
There was a summer
compulsion, or sorts,
a need to exploit
a temporary freedom
Our paths crossed
like two ships in the night,
then diverged because
only opposites attract
our meeting never went
beyond the superficial
at its inception.
I can’t find me
in the composite
of the principal characters.
No plot role for me, unless
it’s in the self deception
Happy to see our poetry
survived the flood, woven
intricately into the mystery plot
Understanding the author
and the world of her imagination
is important, maybe paramount
The location influences
on the periphery only. Human
is the strongest determinant.
April 7, 2017 – untitled and definitely off the prompts
It’s gonna be real hard
to make a poem today.
I had plans for something cool
using a recurring theme
from The Souls of Black Folks –
a total work of art. But now these
Neanderthals have screwed everything up.
Straight from Planet of the Apes.
Their humor escapes me.
And I’m so sick of them showing us
the same tired film,
Regime Change, over and over.
We know how this story ends,
we know how the plot unfolds –
poll numbers rise, fake paper money
floods the military industrial complex,
troops and contractors surge,
diplomats and development experts
pacify and rebuild. The next regime
is friendly for a short while.
Then, when all hell breaks loose,
we silently wonder why.
Don’t call me. I’m turning off the phone.
Don’t need to be a part of this history.
I’ll be home, writing poems,
trying to keep my sanity.
April 8, 2017 – Poetry is just a prelude
Poetry is just a prelude, I’ve learned,
unwrapping the gift of story and song –
a foretaste of contemplated action,
the calm before the storm.
Poetry is just a prelude.
But the rabbit hole of disinformation
has no welcome mat – it runs deep
and long, darkening our days.
Poetry is just a prelude –
a bit of verse can pierce the blackness
of a clouded night, illuminating
the false path and the true.
Poetry is just a prelude.
Always better to chose the outcome
of your actions, to look before
leaping to false conclusions.
April 9, 2017 – Nine lines
How can I write poetry about peace
when the idolatry of distant war
surrounds me and invades my every though?
It is no consolation that the bombs
explode a world away, that my neighbors
are not harmed. I know the sound of missiles
piercing the ground, the acrid smell of death
it brings – it’s not abstract for me. The gods
of war will never make me bow to them.
April 10, 2017 – A portrait, of sorts: Found poetry – Margin notes from last night’s performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (Unvollendete)
My favorite part of any concert is the chaotic beauty of all the musicians warming up their instruments before the start
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” – Campbell
Novalis – romanticism: making the strange familiar and the familiar strange
Copeland – What to look for in music
Nabokov – Lectures on Literature
becoming without being
repetitions of crescendos followed by diminuendos
unfinished but complete
the challenge of memory in music
“Whenever I attempted to sing of love, it turned to pain.
And again, when I tried to sing of pain, it turned to love
Thus were love and pain divided in me.” – Schubert letters
April 11, 2017 – Bop
It didn’t take me long to figure out
the origin of the word. I am a bit
of an etymologist, by training
and by trade. But still I had to go back
to see how the masters did it, wrote it,
developed it into its own art form.
Bop is hard to write but fun to Be.
Before avant-garde in music and art,
before beat poems and the New York School
before crack and smack drove everybody
insane, before the bottle took control –
we owned the verb and the noun and the sound
of the infinite infinitive, to Be.
Then we sold it, they stole it, it ran away –
Bop is hard to write but fun to Be.
And the music had a name and a chain
of authority, of identity,
and it called itself Be-Bop in the clubs
where it was played. Then when it died – the sound –
a trace of it remained to remind us
that it once was – always is – Be-Bop.
Bop is hard to write but fun to Be.
April 12, 2017 – Cleaning Day
Twenty-one years of accumulated paper –
Funny how the artifacts of a career
get reduced, then shredded or burned,
or nailed to a cross to save us from our sins,
or hung from a tree to pay for crimes
that never should have happened,
or perhaps never happened at all –
Either way, we disposed of it properly –
every pay stub, every performance evaluation,
every award nomination, every piece
of correspondence, every personnel action –
all paper for the dumpster or the furnace
or for recycling and resale at a premium
or maybe some future, new existence.
But for us, for now, all garbage,
taking up precious space that could,
if emptied, yield greater utility.
April 13, 2017 – Ghazal
I hate to miss a day, but I have hit a bit of a wall.
Hope to get back to this prompt, bust through the wall.
To shelter all our hopes and dreams we build a wall,
but it becomes a barrier inside a thicker wall –
a veil that promotes misunderstanding, that distances
us from our ability to break through a wall –
through various measures they keep us apart,
they turn our feeling to blindness, an unscalable wall –
a veil that hides our faces from each other’s
and separates our lives with a rising wall –
time and distance and shielding separate us
and we attempt to overcome by writing on the wall –
But I write too fast and sit “send” too soon
increasing the height and thickness of the wall –
ultimately I wear a mask to hide my self
and you wear a veil, hijab, and hide behind a wall.
April 14, 2017 – Clerihew
our scoutmaster got mad and doused the fire out
said it was too low for all the cold wind blowing –
we wanted to warm our hands from the sleet and snow.
But a weak flame is a danger in a strong wind.
April 15, 2017 – The middle of things
The yin, the yang, a divine proportion.
Spira mirabilis – a logarithmic spiral.
It ain’t religion that defines our lives,
it’s geometry, a chambered nautilus
that expands yet keeps its original shape
despite our every effort to break free
from the pattern. The middle keeps spreading
as the end fades to a new beginning.
We learn geometry and make it fit
the contours of our feeble existence.
April 16, 2017 – a letter
I’ve seen this Sunday night before.
60 minutes on the television. Tick. Tick.
Still slightly stuffed from an early dinner.
Happy you were able to spend
the weekend. Just like old times.
Thanks again for making your salmon dish.
You said anything less that 20 years
together was just infatuation. Now we know
the whole of love. Like an old pair of shoes
molded to the shape of your feet.
April 17, 2017 – Nocturne
Night falls unevenly on the city.
Nothing is equal, it seems, even the moon
at night sheds its light across the bay
with a certain, blind discrimination.
Parts of the city get darker quicker –
we avoid those streets and neighborhoods where
danger lurks, and pain. Shadows of ghosts
arrive early to ply their trade in souls.
Other parts remain illuminated
well into the night’s descent – moon and stars
beam down tree-lined avenues and streets
refusing safe harbor to darkened dreams.
April 18, 2017 – Death (or life) poem
Superheroes eventually get old,
their powers slowly fade,
they die and get replaced
by newer versions of themselves.
But you never actually see that
in comic books or on Netflix, w
here the superheroes are young
and acrobatically strong forever.
A twenty-something librarian
told me about her obsession
with death themes in fiction.
I didn’t pay much attention
to her until she pulled back
her sweater and showed me
the depth of her cleavage.
You never actually see that
in comic books or on Netflix.
In season 2, Daredevil reunites
with a brunette, masked girlfriend,
and Matt, his alter-ego,
dates the blond secretary
who has her own secrets.
Is he a blind two-timer
or a very sick schizophrenic?
What will he tell the priest
at his next confession?
April 19, 2017 – Myth Creation
On the first sabbath of each month
I satisfy my civic obligation to the Novus Ordo
by serving as a tour guide & worship leader
at the national secular temple
I charm organized groups of tourists
and the occasional onlooker with tales
about Minerva, our goddess of learning &
defender of civilization, and I show them
the proper way to worship at her shrine.
(Of course, this Roman Minerva is really
a Greek Athena – her spirit animal gives
the secret away – but we, the initiates,
all wink & nod & go along with the deception.)
Inside the temple, the paintings
& the sculpture & the architecture
all fit together harmoniously, integrated
seamlessly with the worship performance
we lead, into a total work of art that inspires
and instructs, gently extracting energy
from sightseers who congregate outside
the entrance gate, the same energy that floods
the inner sanctum to feed the hidden beast.
April 20, 2017 – a sports poem
I tried the sports prompt bit couldn’t quite get it
to work. Thought I had a future in the NFL
but back in the 9th grade I came to my senses,
laid down the football dreams, and switched
to cross-country in the fall, track in the spring.
Was a decent middle distance runner,
coach called me me gutsy, said I might break
the school record if I stuck with it. Quit track
my junior year. Left school. Wanted to be
grown too soon. Moved to the big city,
found a job, roomed in a boarding house.
Still did laps around the track, wind sprints
on my own, preparing for a comeback,
a pipe dream of getting my life back on track.
April 21, 2017 – an overheard poem
I heard it this morning on the radio:
a Frenchman shot a police in Paris,
right there on the Champs-Elysees.
They say he shouted Allah-U-Akbar,
God is the Greatest. Must have been
a terrorist. Must have been an immigrant.
Except he was a citizen of France –
Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Not that it matters. Election in Paris
this weekend. Overheard the former
US Prez was breaking all sorts
of tradition by supporting his favorite
French candidate. Heard it on the radio.
April 22, 2017 – Earth Day
I still recall a passage
I memorized in my youth
from Vergil’s Georgics –
“Happy the man who doth
the causes know of all that is –
serene he stands above all fears:
above the inexorable fate and
that insatiate gulf that roars below.”
It took mere moments
to memorize those lines,
but years to understand
their meaning for my life.
Arabic speakers greet you,
Ahlan wa Sahlan. Welcome.
Ahlan – the people (family) and
Sahlan – the land (food, abundance).
Heirs of an ancient civilization
know something about life’s priorities.
I won’t be gardening this spring
unless I can find a garden plot
closer to home. The commitment
to travel across the city several times
a week was too much for me.
April 23, 2017 – electioneering
Watching early election returns on France 24.
Turnout is high, but undecided voters are still
undecided. Le Pen is smiling on the television.
H. Clinton voters are experiencing voter remorse
at a rate that is statistically significant. 15%.
Trump voters are 1% remorseful.
Many French voters say they have waited until
the last minute, postponing their decision,
choosing the least evil. Prediction: upset.
Obama is back in Chicago. Wonder how many
gangbangers and innocent bystanders will die
from gunfire in Chicago tonight?
What’s happening in my hometown? Firewall
won’t let me access the News & Record
without subscribing, but the obituary is free.
April 23, 2017 – Elevenie
my deepest love.
That music thrills me –
always totally satisfying.
I enjoy each potful,
April 24, 2017 – Ekphrastic: Medieval Marginalia
Elephant farts and penis fruit on trees,
concentric stacks of human excrement,
all images drawn in margins of ancient tomes.
You might conclude a connection to the text
exists – those endless columns of illegible gothic
Latin font only translatable by the priests
and those who served them directly. The images
in the margins do not illustrate the text, like pictures
in children’s books. That’s not their function.
Rather, they illuminate. Nothing to do with the text,
actually. Coded images of an imagination run amok,
providing a welcome interlude from study,
a break from the monotony of the mundane –
a necessary excursion to a hidden, magic land.
April 25, 2017 – A space poem
This might sound disjointed –
I’m writing it while riding on the
Orange Line from Capital South
to Foggy Bottom – you’ve heard it before.
Poetry Magazine arrived today. Yay!
It’s my favorite space and the high point
of my month. This issue even has
several submissions by members
of my particular diaspora group.
I always look for them first. Call me
whatever name you want. Every
broken thing will be fixed, but not
on this go-round. So don’t wait idly for it
to happen, or for any other pipe dream
to come true. Today at the African Art
Museum I stumbled upon a new poet,
Jose Craveirinha, from the time
he spent in prison with Mozambique’s
most prolific artist, Malangatana,
whose biopic I am cataloging.
A prison cell is a tiny space, a type of
heterotopia that distorts and unsettles
other spaces. But brains link together
in all kinds of places to plot a revolution.
In the interim, poetry by my people
is my surest panacea.
April 26, 2017 – Poem from a future place
Assuming their survival, future archivists
and researchers thumbing through old papers
and computer files might wonder how and why
we managed to write poetry at all
in spring time, in April.
They might think a cult required this practice,
or worse, punishment for a crime committed –
it might appear to be a mild obsession,
on top of other daily things we had to do.
It is an interesting habit we give ourselves
over to, a work, a focus, this daily output
of ruminations and verbal meanderings.
A future reader might wonder what was
its end, its conclusion for our lives.
It’s time to gather thoughts about today’s
submission and how it might look tomorrow,
and what type of trail we are leaving.
April 27, 2017 – some questions about taste poem
Is taste only a
on the tongue,
on the taste buds,
and in the brains
of animals like us?
Could taste be
a synesthetic pathway
to reveal higher
I know the tastes
of orange, and blue,
and pain, and joy –
the taste of spring
romance and end –
the nauseous tastes
of hatred and of fear.
We hold memories
of tastes in our minds,
but does the tastebud
itself keep memories?
Day #27 – Late addendum
a warm ocean breeze
the sweat on her forehead
green with brown stripes
unripe naval oranges
early morning daybreak
yellow with purple polka dots
dirt from the garden
seaspray over the bow
lemon and garlic and pepper
a pot of dandelion greens
ice cold beer on a hot day
brown and black herringbone
Umami (savory) –
bean soup & stewed tomatoes
coffee beans roasting in the oven
underarm sweat w/o deodorant
April 28, 2017 – Skeltonic verse
I read somewhere
and you should care:
the fastest growing online group
is making plans to stage a coup
they are a very lively troup
on Twitter, PInterest and Facebook
and you should take a look
and not just lightly overlook
less all the evidence be mistook –
women over fifty-five
are making Facebook come alive
so says the folks who analyze
and make the markets drive
and make the money thrive
and that’s no jive –
one shouldn’t misapprehend
the latest social media trend
just see who wants to be your friend
today, tomorrow, til the end
theses lines might have too many words
April 29, 2017
Favorite poem: We Wear the Mask, Paul Lawrence Dunbar Word (noun) chosen: “mask”
There are so many masks
available and so many
reasons to wear them.
I suppose if you wear
a mask long enough,
you forget what your
true face really looks like.
And beyond a certain point
it may not even matter.
The mask that conceals
your face can also protect it.
The mask that accentuates
feelings can also sublimate
the same feelings.
A painting or a portrait
of a mask might be an interesting thing –
a second-order derivative,
sort of, of the original.
Picasso, a Spaniard,
painted African masks.
Was he modeling or just
imagining what lied underneath?
April 30, 2017 – repetition
I wasn’t invited to the White House
Correspondents’ Dinner last night.
Too bad. They could have used
some of my home-spun poetry
to lift their gloom. I’ll watch the video
or read the transcript later because
the press will surely fuck it up.
Maybe next year poets will be invited.
Anyway, there are more important
things to ponder. Things that repeat
themselves. Like NaPoWriMo.
It’s my fifth year of observance,
of daily writing and daily blog posting,
of setting aside one month of daily
poetry production, of discipline & focus.
Over and over again for 30 days.
It’s like fasting during Ramadhan,
one month of daily concentration
to set the rest of your year on
a righteous poetic path. A trajectory,
sort of. And it doesn’t really matter
what you do with the poems later,
if you revise them for possible
publication, or if you just let them
sit in a computer file until next year.
“If the song were sweet and helped
a soul, what matter the singer’s name?
The work was in the song itself
and not in the world’s acclaim.”
So said my fifth grade teacher.
I think she was a poet in disguise.
May 1, 2017
Who gets to write the poetry,
that is, the first-hand account,
for what it’s worth, describing
the next nuclear holocaust?
I studied the ethical and strategic
dimensions of the last one at Army
War College. I confess it was neither
poetic nor convincing and perhaps
the world would be much better off
if soldiers and diplomats studied
peace more and war a whole lot less.
But back to the questions at hand.
How long does it take, post-delivery,
for the ashes, debris, and remains
to cool enough for the victor
to march in and measure it all,
to assess the damage accurately?
for the searing heat to dissipate,
for the bright flash of light
to soften to a gentle glow?