NaPoWriMo 2018

#NaPoWriMo Eve 2018

It’s Saturday, March 31. Tomorrow is April 1st and the beginning of national Poetry Writing Month. So far there are 6 people in our NaPoWriMo meet-up group. Our first scheduled meet-up is tomorrow, April 1st!

I am resuming my river walks, because walking always helps the writing. We (the study group) are halfway through the August Wilson Century Cycle (it would be real cool to do a series of poems based on the plays. Sonnets! A new crown? Anything is possible. Attending an August Wilson conference at the end of the month. In Pittsburgh!

We are in the last quarter of an archiving course at CUA, Electronic Records and Digital Archives. A field trip and a site visit paper and a web archiving project and a longish paper and it’ll all be done. Excited about that. As soon as the course completes, I go full bore into study preps for the certified archivist examination in August.

That’s about it. Looking forward to the practice and habit of writing each day. Been doing NaPoWriMo since 2013, which makes this my sixth year. Getting sleepy and the final four game is already a rout, so let’s call it and get ready for bed.

Peace out y’all.

NaPoWriMo #1 – Finding Sylvia Plath

In the end I combined three prompts:
A love letter, a riddle and a secret pleasure.

At a leisure walking pace it took an hour
to reach the gallery that was my destination.
You see far more around you when walking.
And you remember directions better in a song.

Enter the gallery. Turn right at the desk.
Continue until you pass bearded John Brown.
Those crazy eyes. Pass the bronze bust of Booker
T Washington. A gigantic portrait of an aged
Walt Whitman faces Ira Aldridge in his prime.

Her early self-portrait was a blend of Picasso
and Dostoevsky. Her fairy godmother – Marilyn Monroe.

A flame that burns too brightly consumes all
the oxygen in the space. What’s left is nitrogen
and CO2 to breathe. And near the end our wings
of molded wax – melt – as we soar into the Sun.

NaPoWriMo #2 – Voice

I hear a song in the early morning
before the roar and crash of the city’s
various idolatries silence it —
a calming, peaceful voice. She sings a song
of memories, near and far, reminding
us all of what we’d prefer to forget,
just let the day get on with its pursuits.

Somewhere we lost our song – that missing link
between the escaped oral thought and piles
of useless records, homeless, without rhyme
or order. Random catalogs of facts
and deeds won’t soothe our souls nor give us peace
of mind. We need to find that voice again,
I need to find my song to bridge the gap.

NaPoWriMo Day 3 – Blackjack Haiku #1

let’s meet in secret – pretend
we are strangers who never
met or kissed or fell in love.

Blackjack Haiku #2

I was born on a Wednesday.
That’s why I’m known as Kwaku
in my village in Ghana.

Blackjack Haiku #3

memories are ghosts that haunt,
dogs that hunt in ancient dreams –
return with a carcassed thing.

#NaPoWriMo – Day 4: List of fav hits 70-74 (yesterday’s prompt)

I know. A day late and a dollar short, or so the saying goes. A couple of years ago I built a playlist on Spotify of favorite music from my high school years, 1970-1974. So after submitting BlackJack Poetry for Day 3, I decided that I really wanted to do the list of bands thing. I know, it puts me a day behind on the prompts, but as Vonnegut says, so it goes!

Alphabetical order seemed so square. I had Spotify list the song titles in order of the length of the song, short to long. Here it goes in a middle Nikki Giovanni format…

Ain’t no sunshine….Mississippi queen….What’s happening brother?….
The revolution will not be televised….You are everything….
Never can say goodbye….Heart of gold….Only love can break your heart….

Make it with you….Spinning around (i must be falling in love)….
Ellie’s love theme….I’m stone in love with you….Betcha by golly, wow….
Wild world….Morning has broken….Everybody plays the fool….
In the rain….You haven’t done nothing….Lovin’ you….Country road….
Hey You! Get off my mountain….Just don’t want to be lonely….
Whatcha see is whatcha get….Big brother….Fall in love, lady love….
Go your own way….We live in Brooklyn, baby….Higher ground….
What’s going on….Sunshine of your love….A horse with no name….
The Creator has a master plan….Thank you for your love….
Looking for another pure love….Maybe tomorrow….Ramblin’man….
Devotion….You got it bad, girl….American woman….Freddie’s dead….
Southern man….Toast to the fool….We the people who are darker than blue….

Bird’s word….Suite: Sister blue eyes….Superwoman….
I’m your captain/closer to home….Heart of the sunrise….

If you Spotify, listen to it here:

NaPoWriMo Day 5

my favorite coffee cup
lost its handle

last night I found the handle
hiding behind the veggie cutting
board on the kitchen counter.

so, not lost, just detached,
and this morning, disposed
in last night’s trash

I hoped it could be repaired
with cement glue. But my wife
says the connection would be weak
and it would just break again.

She promises to buy me
another cup for my morning
coffee drinking ritual.

But it was a Polish cup
that will be hard to replace.

NaPoWriMo Day 6

On receiving an invitation
to be a docent
at the Society of Cincinnatus

Oh, I’d like to be a member
of the Society of Cincinnatus –

I love the stoic Roman virtues
and I served my country well
on land, abroad and at sea.

But I can never be a member
and you know why.

Oh, I can go to the House
and play music there,
and see the curiosities,
and admire the art work.

Why, I can even be
an artist-in-residence!

But my DNA will never be
quite enough for membership.

NaPoWriMo #7

Buried deep within my superpowers,
rests my secret vulnerability.
The silent fear I’ll be discovered haunts
me night and day. I never want my friends
to know I won life’s Lotto many years
ago. Sometimes I even forget it
myself – the wealth, the riches in my grasp,
the things that money cannot buy exist
within my reach. The threat that I’ll be called
to account for witholding my talent
paralizes my every waking thought.
At length my hope to be released at last
from this obsession emboldens me while
it shatters my every reverie.

NaPoWriMo #8 (1 of 15)

Ahlan wa Sahlan. Urbi et Orbi.
Magic words that unite and entice us
until the divisions and fables
corrupt our thoughts. We saw a play last night
that gave us pause. A slave revolt. Shockwaves
throughout the land. But was it a false flag?
A justification to pour terror
on top of existing shock and awe?
The truth of history will manifest
soon or late. ‘Til then we have magic words
and incantations showing us the path
to the inner sanctum, the holy ground
on which we stand. Consider this: were we
ordained for some great purpose in His Hand?

NaPoWriMo #9 (2 of 15)

Ordained for some great purpose in His hand –
the subject of our study claimed the source
of his truth was the Almighty himself –
by all accounts he was a man of faith –

The sign of blood in the corn, leaves forming
hieroglyphs, unusual birthmarks all
convinced his family a special child
was born among them – a future leader –

As a child he learned to read words and signs
in nature, in the skies above, the crops
that grew in season, his place as a man
enslaved in this land of the free, the brave.

Indeed he was called to some great purpose.
The Savior laid down the yoke he had borne.

NaPoWriMo #10 (3 of 15)

The Savior laid down the yoke he had borne
for the sins of men. Judgement day’s at hand.
Turner heard and testified under oath –
the same spirit who spoke to the prophets.

He prayed for two years. Continuously.
Then he saw white and black spirits engaged
in battle, the sun darkened, blood flowing.
Such was his luck. Such he was called to see.

The Serpent loosened, Christ laid down the yoke
for Nat to seize to fight with the Serpent.
The time was fast approaching, he heard, when
the first shall be last – the last shall be first.

Then after the February eclipse –
Slay thine enemies with their own weapons.

#NaPoWriMo #11 (4 of 15)

Slay thine enemies withtheir own weapons.
The confessor, the defense attorney
(so he claims) wrote down these words from Turner’s
prison cell the night before his hanging.
No doubt the doubting Thomas may have stretched
the truth of Nat’s confession just a taste
to suit his unfulfilled aspirations,
to meet political requirements
of the moment, or to please his father.
We don’t really know. But what we do know
is that a band of slaves killed their masters
with weapons from the house – axes and knives –
men, women and children – a bloody mess.
Neither age nor sex would escape from death.

#NaPoWriMo #12 (5 of 15)

Neither age nor sex would escape death.
In the end sixty slave owners and kin
were slaughtered under Turner’s leadership.
Hundreds of enslaved Negroes, innocent,
were killed in retribution. Laws were made
outlawing education of Negroes,
black codes restricting movement, slave or free.
Severed Negro heads were placed on fence posts
as a living reminder of the crimes.
After weeks in hiding Nat surrendered
to be tried by a jury of his peers.
News spread across the country like wildfire,
connecting Turner to other revolts.
Stories were embellished about his deeds.

#NaPoWriMo #13 (6 of 15)

Stories were embellished about his deeds.
We grow up hearing echoes of these tales
passed down, distilled, to each generation.
For a man enslaved Maslow doesn’t speak.
unless one has an eye to read between
the lines – the process is not linear
at all – when human beings are nor free.
And yet, there is always a freedom
for the soul. This our hero understood
in a convoluted way – surviving
in a convoluted world. Let’s not judge
too severely. But let’s not leap ahead
to false conclusions. He had a just cause
against injustice weighing on his soul.

#NaPoWriMo #14 (7 of 15)

Against injustice weighing on his soul
he had no normal recourse. A deeper
dive into Turner’s motivations calls
us to the task. Maslow provides the key.
Survival needs. Basic necessities
were controlled, regulated, weaponized.
No slave was safe against the master’s whims.
Connection to a group – tenuous at best.
Appreciation for the slave’s labor
and his pay accrued to the master.
Self-actualization as a goal
was not possible. The ultimate stage,
self-transcendence, was not outside his reach –
but it’d require landing a heavy blow.

#NaPoWriMo #15 #BlackjackHaiku for Greensboro, NC

Tornadoes blew off rooftops
in Greensboro tonight. I hope
everybody is safe and sound.

#NaPoWriMo #16 Emancipation Day Blues

It’s Emancipation Day
in D.C. They freed the slaves
by purchasing their freedom.

They paid cash to the owners
and transferred deed and title
to the state, which was, which ain’t.

Successful experiment
in DC. Replication
later never intended.

#NaPoWriMo #17 (8 of 15)

But it’d require landing a heavy blow,
so early before emancipation’s
glow had dawned in the American soul.
Decision and execution alone
would not suffice. The final blow required
velocity and direction. An aim.
An intent. Accuracy. Precision.

Furthermore, it would have to fill the space
of white imagination, emptying
every emotion, every thought and fear
of black retaliation were the roles
reversed, owner and his chattel, master
and slave. Not just a costume and a song,
it had to be a total work of art.

#NaPoWriMo #18 Found poetry from the vault of the West Corridor

“For a web begun, God sends thread.” — Old proverb

“This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope” — Henry VIII

“The web of life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” — All’s Well that End Well.

To-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him.” — Henry VIII

“Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears
And slits the thin-spun life.” –Milton

The third day comes a frost, . . .
And . . . nips his root,
And then he falls.” — Henry VIII

#NaPoWriMo #19 Stories for Jahari

I remember stories my father used to tell me on fishing trips and electrical jobs he would take me on before his drinking got out of control. Stories about Grandpap Rankin running moonshine, stories about Papa Caswell and his sister Minerva farming tobacco, stories from forgotten times.

As he carried me though the branches of the family tree (his favorite story type), I would wonder out loud why Great Grandmother Emily’s brothers and sisters all had differed last names, and why so many of the ancestors on my mother’s side all had the same last name (no, it wasn’t incest, that’s for white folks, he would say.).

About the branch of the family that moved to Pittsburgh, the branch that moved to Ohio, the branch that moved to Chicago. About that time he moved to Washington, DC, but there were no jobs in the Depression, so he hopped on a truck to Florida to pick oranges. But he hated it so much he soon returned to North Carolina. You can always go back home, he would say.

I learned from my father the deep structure of slavery, how it was different on small family farms in Guilford County and on large plantations in southwestern Virginia. How some of my enslaved ancestors had very limited freedom, but how others had limited freedoms within bounds. How Papa Caswell would drive the horse-drawn carriage to Greensboro to deposit the master’s money in the bank. How great great grandmother Rhodie kept trying to escape from the plantation, until they shot a hole in her foot. Then she settled down. So the story goes. She jumped the broom with Nelson Keen, they had Sallie Ann (my mother’s grandmother and namesake), who married Tom Douglas Hairston, a full-blooded Indian, they say. That’s where my middle name came from.

How some could read and write, and how others were forced to remain illiterate, by law, but smuggled pages from the Bible to teach themselves and others how to make and use words. How generations kept the family intact despite the daily hardships of enslaved life. How his father Walter would write songs, hymns for the Methodist church in Jackson, words and music notes, all.

Daddy said they thought slavery would never end. But it did. Then they thought Jim Crow would last forever. But it didn’t. During redevelopment people lost their businesses and the electrical jobs started drying up. When he lost his driving license from too many times getting caught “driving under the influence,” the fishing trips ended. Soon there was only drinking, no more storytelling. His world came crashing down and I was too young to figure it out.

#NaPoWriMo #20 – Narcissus

We stare into our computer screens –
it’s retina display, of course – clearer
than one’s reflection on a still pond.
The image we see of ourselves is sharp
and well defined – in Facebook and Twitter
and Instagram, and all the rest.

Even in the poetry we write and post.
We fall in love with that image,
that reflection we see. We worship
the likeness we have created, validated
by likes and shares from our imaginary
friends. We think we are godly, all knowing.

We believe we now know all of beauty.
Entranced, we cannot move away
to eat or sleep or love. We waste away.
We die. A flower marks the time
and place, a date stamp of our delusion.

NaPoWriMo #21

I will fear no evil
No evil will I fear
I will no evil fear

(The unknown, the unknowable, the future)

He restoreth my soul
My soul, he restoreth
Restore my soul

(Not my knees or my hips, but my soul)

My cup runneth over
My cup is overflowing
My overflowing cup.

(Not a bucket, mind you, but a cup)

These are the lines I most remember,
the strongest, the clearest thoughts.

NaPoWriMo #22

Ran completely out of gas
on the promised Nat Turner
hero sonnet crown project.

Dude just stopped talking to me.
Went total silent after
so much partying chit chat.

Spirits be like that sometime.
On and off like a light switch.
Digital, not analog.

Then my pen ran out of ink.
Talking ‘bout catastrophe.
Hope he comes back soon or late.

Don’t care that much about theme
and unity anymore.
Just want to complete it.

NaPoWriMo #23 – Sonnet

I subscribe to the obituary
page of my hometown daily newspaper.
Obviously black people do not die
in the city of my birth – I never
see their faces. I know it’s just not true.

I left my hometown many years ago,
but I never stopped hoping to return,
wishing her well. Every poet wishes
he could play guitar – the grass is always
greener on the other side of the road –

or whatever it is that divides us
from our origin, the root of our being.
Life continues, the struggle continues,
as long as a ray of hope lights the path.

#NaPoWriMo #24 (9 of 15)

It had to be a total work of art.
A half, a third, a fourth of a movement
would not suffice. A huge splash was required
to capture Americans’ attention –
enslaved and free – to rock a boat steering
on a faulty course. He knew it would be
all or nothing, a tiny mustard seed
planted in a rocky soil – without hope
for immediate success. A symbol –
political, spiritual – for future
generations when freedom’s wind would blow
to every compass point across the land.
With no chance of victory he labored,
meticulously planning each detail.

#NaPoWriMo #25 – Warning label (Blackjack Haiku)

If you arrive here with hate
you will leave with peace of mind
even though there are bullets

in your pistol still waiting
to be released. You’ll forget
why you even brought that gun.

The poems I read will disarm.
You’ll be slowly hypnotized
by an ancient melody

that you never saw coming
your way. So be warned. If hate
is in your heart, it won’t last.

#NaPoWriMo #26

Many millenia elapsed between
the random grunt and coherent language.
Many more still between oralizing
and writing symbols, words as surrogates
for feelings and thoughts. Now that we are here
and all the pieces have come together,
we can spend a moment in reflection.

The faculties of sight, smell, sound, taste, touch –
are channels for engagement with the world
that surrounds us. Not separate things, they merge
and blend in our deep imagination
and in dreams. If our impressions reflect
an impure senory response, our words –
oral and written – mirror their shadows.

#NaPoWriMo #27

No longer bound by the necessities
of daily toil to make loose ends meet,
I want to spend this new age
learning to love and appreciate
all the fruits of our joint inheritance.

We made a road trip North and West to see
the wonders sought and wrought by kindred souls
of a shared diaspora who fled and
escaped by night the sting of the Jim Crow
lash they knew a century ago.

All part of our inheritance. We stand.
We march in triumph or remain at rest –
It’s pretty much the same. Our spirits merge
with kith and kin, soar wildly ‘cross the air.

#NaPoWriMo #28

I missed WHCA again this year –
no poets or librarians were invited –
truth and information again
were in short supply.
And though you’d think reporters
would have made up the slack –
They dropped the ball again.

No invitation reached my mailbox –
no poets or librarians were invited –
just frowning light-dazed reporters
and foul-mouthed comedians.

No poets or librarians were invited
to WHCA this year. Again. Too bad.
Just glitziness (is that a word?),
fake body parts, and phony platitudes.


#NaPoWriMo #29 – tarot

Did you see his halo?
His choice to be there
cannot be denied. No frown
or grimace was on his face.

He is focused on a Great Work.
His gallows forms a cross –
his legs a different cross –
he is Odin – the 12th trump

in the Tarot Deck.
12 signs in the Zodiac –
12 stars for Europe –
12 members on a jury –

12 months in a year.
His halo is burning brightly.

#NaPoWriMo #30 – odd piece of history

First they tell you:
“Don’t take any of this
personally –
It isn’t about you at all.”

Then they say:
“There’s plenty of blame
to go around,”
as if that provides
some sense of community,
some consolation.

Then they go silent –
and in their silence
you begin to question,
to doubt yourself.
They hope you’ll self-destruct.

In the end, if you survive,
they call you in and say:
“Mistakes were made.”
But they never admit
they did a wrong thing
and they never say
the magic words: “I’m sorry.”

End of NaPoWriMo 2018 sonnet

I know this coffee gonna be the end
of me. I’ve weathered storms, outlived a few
of my best friends and my worst enemies.
Each day I write a poem. Most are garbage
that revisions cannot save. Still, the past
fades and the future beckons – poetry
to write for the living and the unborn,
for those yet to come, and their tomorrows.
Two pennies in my pocket, two gold coins
to pay for the passage, two wings to veil
my face. We are going to the City:
a new level of organization,
a higher plane. Y’all know what all it means.
Put on your life vests. The ride is bumpy.

30 (15 of 15)

Ahlan wa Sahlan. Urbi et Orbi.
Ordained for some great purpose in His hand –
The Savior laid down the yoke he had borne –
“slay thine enemies with their own weapons.”
Neither age nor sex would exempt from death.
Stories were embellished about his deeds
against injustice weighing on his soul.
but it’d require landing a heavy blow –
it had to be a total work of art.
Meticulously planning each detail.