from the archives – a note to the file and a Claude McKay poem at the end of Ramadan

October 1, 2007

All: it is Ramadhan, and here in Cairo, the spirit of the month is all-enveloping, omnipresent, and pervasive. Walking through Zamalek after sunset last night, I could see it, I could feel it, I could smell it, I could hear it, I could taste the fast, the month, and the palpable, purgative, restorative effect it has on the community and the society.

So, enough for the travelogue. But I do want to share a poem, written by one of the Harlem Renaissance greats, Claude McKay, about his reminiscences of Ramadhan in Morocco (he is clearly talking about somebody he was in love with, not just the place, but I’ll leave it to you, dear readers of My Wall, to interpret). Hope it all fits . . .

from the archives – poems for the family reunion

Granddaddy raised tobacco in red clay
his whole life long – row by row –
until he got too old to continue –

life must have been tough –
year end, year out, hoping
for good weather and fair prices.

Grandma cleaned the white folks house,
did their laundry, raised their children.
That couldn’t have been much fun either –
she had her own children at home

to care for. Pop had long red hair
as a child, he told me, and thought
it was a celebration when the house
burned down one cold winter morning.

From the archives: D1G

Thoughts about judgment day (D1G)

(This poem is from 1980. I was working at a nuclear power plant in New York state. I was not too happy with my professional life, and my love life was tottering. No place for a 24 year old to be, but that’s another story. I wrote the first draft on the back of one of those industrial strength brown paper towels, folded in half. I escaped from that place by the skin of my teeth, finding greener pastures in nearby Connecticut. My love life improved, but the poetry I wrote there by the sea was not half as good. DIG stood for D, destroyers (navy ships that would hold the reactor plant), 1, the first of its type (and hence the oldest and most contaminated), and G stood for General Electric, aka god and master.)

the hour actively approaches
while we, its victims, sit and wait,
with folded arms, trying to appear
comfortable and carefree,
and mutually exclusive.

days pass quickly, and nights,
like the blink of an eye . . .
nay, the pupil’s dilation . . .
time races to its destination
while we, in our lethargy,
approximate suspended animation.

there is no conclusion,
only the vain pleadings
for a fresh new start,
another sequel,
a couple more opportunities.

The rope by which we hang
is long, connecting us, tethering
us to our past and our future,
but its knot is sure.

June 1980

Audio from the archives

memento mori

One day we’ll all lie down
In a narrow box. For a time
Our neglected hair and nails
Will continue to grow.
But our eyes won’t move
And our ears will no longer
Hear the ennobling sounds of music.

Our fingertips will forget
The caring touch of our beloved.
When that time comes for me
Don’t put no shoes or socks
On my feet – there’ll be no reason
to walk any more – but my toes need
freedom to wiggle if they want.


confined to quarters – a sonnet and a farewell to Wilson’s ten-play cycle

What must we conclude when the cycle ends?
Is there cause for hope, for optimism,
A balm we can surely find in Gilead?
Or isn’t all just a wink and a nod,
Yet another slave narrative that shows
the futility of our pleas for peace?

As a teen I thought Robert Redford might
Someday be President. I mean, Bobby Seale
Didn’t really stand a chance and Redford
Was at least a man of action. But there
was no great art in his films, well, except
in that spy flick he did with Dunaway –
Who had been my secret crush forever –
Where, under duress, she said, “This is . . . unfair!”

wild game

The issue is never
the number of sounds
per line. It’s always been
the silences between
the sounds that either
establish a pattern
or throw you off the trail.
You track the scent.
Everything goes back
to hunting and fishing.

From the archives – Rape Culture

Rape Culture

The newest birth defect to emerge from the depths
of our collective DNA has long and intricate roots –

passed down from father to son – from mother
to daughter – like some unique, sacred inheritance,

the beast whose marks we bear. The conquistadors
had their way with the natives they “discovered” –

no slave was safe from the raging hormones
of the master and his sons – the ladies of the house

turned their heads and hoped it would be contained –
now it’s an epidemic​.​ ​A​ syphilis​. Killing us ​slowly.

October 16, 2017

to my reluctant Muse

I want to write a poem
If I were to run away from all this
Or maybe a play about a bakery
All this stuff, all these obligations
Where I once worked, once discovered
All my books and papers
Resources stored and stacked deeply
And never look back
In my essence, my spiritual DNA
Will there be space for me still
Inherited over the miles and years
In your heart, room for me
Where you are? Beauty, like truth,
is in the eye of the beholder, not the beheld.


#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #30


I straddle multiple dualities:
Settler and native, assimilated
And separate, conqueror and conquered.
Crossing lines is my favorite pastime,
Assuming opposing identities,
Walking a mile in my enemy’s shoes.

Still, there are certain things I will not do:
I’ll never hurt a child, or kick a man
Who’s already down, or ignore a plea
For help from anyone. A warrior
To my bones, if you cross me I will pause
And think before I act: it’s likely I
won’t turn the other cheek. I’ll telegraph
my ev’ry move, give you the choice to strike.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #29

To my shipmate, Wendy

Some might say this work/life has given us
A warped sense of humor. We cast a glance
At each other and smile. Yes, I was there
With you in Baghdad, dodging mortar rounds
On selected days, and on the tarmac
Overnight in Kuwait City where we
had to have a special sense of humor
To survive war’s absurd insanity.

Time passes. The wounds heal. The scars remain.
We write the future, it does not write us.
We arrange and describe our past to fit
truth’s narrative arc. It doesn’t matter
That we spent nights in the Palace
Fearful of those whose lands we invaded.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #28

Loss of innocence/Rite of passage

She said, “I’ll be your lover if you wish.”
That forwardness was new to me. I paused,
But dared not respond, fearing I’d foreclose
My hope for a happy ending. She spoke,
“I’m a hippie, it won’t mean much to me.”
That’s odd, I thought, it’d mean so much to me.

A sudden death for my virginity
Was averted. I still recall it, clear
as day, perhaps, well, clear as yesterday.
All good things must end, and my time would come
To cross the line, to break the sacred plane,
To taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge
Of good and evil. The time, soon enough,
Would arrive and my soul would be prepared.


#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #27

To Filomena

my wife is watching

My wife says she can tell
When I’m writing poetry.
She says she sees me moving
In and out of space and time
And she wonders where it is I go.

I tell her I cross a mighty river
Again and again. One that separates
The temples of life’s renewal,
On the west coast facing east,
catching the first rays of sunrise –
From the tombs that guard the past,
On the east coast facing west,
basking in sunset’s glow.

Both a library and an archive,
A moving feast inside my mind.
Crossing back and forth between
Those two worlds creates an energy
source and a drug for my addiction.

She does that thing where she
Points two fingers at her eyes
And then at me. She’s watching.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #26

poets are mechanics who know this truth

I run a quite unique distillery
And take it with me everywhere I go –
I feed it all the garbage and the trash
From life experience. It processes junk
And outputs poems to read and share with friends
and foes alike. Moonshine for the soul.

One thing about the distillation act:
it does not destroy matter – Newton’s law
Is in effect – what’s not refined from life
At length concentrates to a detritus
That must be channeled outward, overboard.
And if the output pipings cross-connect,
It mixes gunk with truth for ill effect.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #25

To all the folks I’ve wronged

I’ve made some crucial errors in this life.
But often times when I go back in time
And try to make it right, I learn
The sin, the crime was mainly in my head
And had no strong or weak effect at all
On those I may have wronged without relief.
Who wants or plans to harm their fellowman?
But what greater harm in life is there
Than doing wrong against your own self’s soul?
I say to my soul: I deeply apologize,
Please point to the path of your forgiveness.
My soul responds: O silly man, I am
Your soul, I know your every deed.
But please stop by and visit when you please.

From the archives – 4.24.2016

April 24, 2016

Let’s be clear.
The winners want this world
to be the only one.
They don’t need a heaven,
a nirvana, a promised land,
a garden with black-eyed virgins
after martyrdom.

The winners want this world
to last forever and a day,
no disruption, no inherent degradation
in the plan/to the plan that keeps them
in charge, the religion that justifies,
the philosophy that rationalizes,
the mathematics that computes
their equations.

Let’s be clear, again.
At length, soon or late,
things unravel. Entropy rules,
permanence becomes impermanent,
time folds back on itself –
like Prince says, his music
for the future written in the past
and stored in a vault – a chess game
that anybody can learn to play and win.

#NaPoWriMo2020 – Day #24 Cashew Fruit

Most people don’t know
About the cashew fruit.
Juicy, sweet, succulent,
Too perishable to ship
In crates to foreign lands.

We know the cashew nut.
It grows inside the seed
That grows outside the fruit.
Was it engineered to grow
That way? I don’t know.

But what I do know is that
The juice of the sweet fruit
Turns to wine quickly, and if
You don’t drink the wine soon
It becomes vinegar.

To can and preserve the fruit
Is an art and a secret knowledge
Passed down from mother
To daughter. Lucky those
With access to it.


#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #23 – A Thursday sonnet

For Maria

It might be time for a shape shift moment.
This kernel of time, wedged between the walls
Of two more standardized realities
Only points us backwards on the path
Of forward growth. You can write your own poem –
This one holds out hope for a revival
And a different direction for our dreams.

Old ways benefited the chosen few.
Their poets and prophets sing of better
Days to come. They have playwrights and Netflix
Producers on the job around the clock,
Promising to protect the status quo.
I can’t say I wish them ill. Their vision
Is a museum object, best preserved, mute.


From the archives – More Like Parks and Recreation

April 26, 2016

Life is so much more like
Parks and Recreation than
Madame Secretary.
So don’t get it twisted
when you pull the curtain.

Poetry is just streaming words –
nothing high brow about it –
painting is lines and shapes
splashed on canvas with a brush –
and dancing is shifting weight
from one foot to the other
in motion across a wooden floor.

If I were a strong wind I’d wrap
all around you – if a river,
I’d rise up to your knees –
if a song, I’d bounce tenderly
against your eardrums, until I
found my way into your inner heart.

More like Parks and Recreation,
less like Madame Secretary,
nothing like The Good Wife.
Life. Don’t get it twisted.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #22 – Coracao de manteiga

“Coracao de manteiga,”
The African girls said of me
In my youth: a soft heart,
too soft a heart, goodhearted,
Maybe. Heart of butter.

They keep butter at room
temperature in that country –
A hot knife sizzles through it,
A cold knife is best for spreading.

Butter gives bread a good taste,
And it’s good sprinkled with salt
On popcorn. A heart of stone
Would not be a nice thing
To say to a person.

We keep butter refrigerated here.
Makes it last longer, but hard
And difficult to spread. And it
Absorbs other all the other smells
In the refrigerator.

Another piece from the 2016 archives

A funny little sonnet from the archives, NaPoWriMo2016.

I started this sonnet, impromptu poem –
what was its object, and what its subject?
Agency is slippery, talk is cheap,
and I am crossing, passing betwixt, between
these worlds of witty words and lines and thoughts.
This sonnet started writing me, reversed
the action. Could I soon avert the doom?
The richochet effect, the final blow
avoided me and landed somewhere else.
The poem became the essence I conceived
and I, at once, its object and its aim.
It acted on me as it wrote itself:
these worlds of words contained the richochet –
the harm absorbed, apart, within its walls.

From the archives – Sonnet

April 3, 2016 – Sonnet

it may all be lost in a masquerade –
that’s what Benson used to say
in the song that criss-crossed
between jazz and rhythm & blues –

maybe the universe is a giant hologram –
two dimensions projected over a 3d space,
and we all live in a simulated lab
of our own making – or our enemy’s –

which would explain the gaps
and limitations that often present themselves
in our silent hopes and daydreams –

and all the chit-chat we engage in
about race and sex and intersectionality.
Stop, the love you save may be your own.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #21 #GloPoWriMo2020

Reflections on listening to a podcast about Afropessimism
(because the author’s book tour was cancelled)

Can I tell you something? A deep secret?
I am exhausted by your shallowness
And as of this morning at 7AM
I will no longer give a good goddamn
What you think about my talent and skill
As a bureaucrat. What about yours?
Where is your tact? Your sense of fairness?
Your appreciation for the art form?
I have a fairly good, if wicked notion
What you are thinking when you see my face –
My black face that does not apologize
When undermining your hypocrisy.
Fuck all this. I’m going to work TODAY.
Keep six feet away from me. Wash your hands.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #20 #GloPoWriMo2020 – a homemade thing

To my favorite Turkish librarian, Gozde Torun

A lovely homemade thing
From a far off distant land,
Woven with yarn and lace:
A cushion steadies my coffee cup
A pad where the mouse can rest.
How’d you know it’d be so useful?
A treasured gift of grace –
A token that holds a place –
Folded carefully in the liquor bar drawer
between the shot glasses and candles,
the napkins and cork replacements.
Woven with yarn and lace –
A lovely homemade thing,
From a far off distant land.

From the archives – #NaPoWriMo2017

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.