from my latest chapbook, Chiaroscuro Vitae, from Radical Paper Press
Bus Fare For A Valkyrie
samples from my first collection, Caul & Response from Argus House Press (out of print)
How Saplings Learn To Face The Sun (for Paul D. and Sethe)
Jes’ Grew Makes A Housecall
A Magical-Negro™For Black People
Tangerine Tubman published by Left Handed JuJu (currently out of print)
Tangerine Tubman (a long-playing poem)
the twilight doesn’t stay soft for long; it rings out, sings out to the credulous and reroutes the curiosity of incredibly furious men.
on the hidden paths (for the runaways who travel them), morning’s falsetto is an unraveling ray; with their feet to the wind, they are often the most fleet at midnight.
branches have cracked; aching / bearing America’s brunt balance, distributing the weight of Africa’s face value / hearts heavy; their frothy-black hair swaying disconnected from this specious heaven: bodies flinched / straight as a shaft of light, identities breached by this contortion to truth, no matter which side of the limb your equilibrium gleans from / clinging to pride. for 300 years those broken boughs have been a balancing act: a one-sided-avarice vs. the seeds of Kujichagulia
“Harriet… did you hear me? I said I love you.”
“Shhhh”, she says; eyes smiling, parting the crepuscule; the topography of sky as blueprint for our relay run. for the leanest of moments coal eyes share discourse with the constellations, become as buckshot drawing a focused bead on the iridescence remaining… instincts straining, sieving sight from sound.
am I the fool for wanting with mouth waxing
and actions waning?
I move to her side, the caress of a callused hand against the cicatrices of hips. that’s my answer: I am the fool. 100 feet off the plantation and every slave claims himself her protector / thinks he’s the reason she’s invincible.
“Harriet? Minta… I… “
her hand to my mouth is hard and cold and without callus (how is such a thing even possible?) and again I am shushed,
the plum of her palm a perfect muzzle, but what is it she muffles?my noise? or my nonsense? from the underbrush, she rises slowly and assumes a position meant for soliloquy / the butt of her rifle serving as witness and pulpit; BlackMoses in full zenith, her esophagus striking flint, dark eyes with the depth of a Nile Delta / Harriet says to me, Minta says:
“Do you think this little bit of dirt is the proper bed
for us, new and raw, to be beautiful on?”
her eyes quiver / seeing everything at once – the sun and the shadowlands; all the pain and all the promise. always 7 moves ahead of pitfall, she is the Master Strategist for Stolen Property.
Harriet Tubman stands a five foot tower floating above our temporary berth; diminutive but undaunted. America’s Black Moses. if she were a White woman, then European bards with flute and lyre would admire her in song, would hauntingly laud her determination and her beauty. would frame her a lounging odalisque surrounded with suitor-kings and sable handmaidens. statuesque, the bards would sing, but she is not White with ‘plums or peaches?’ as her daily plight. here, colonial tongues will only wag the words best suited for cattle and American chattelhood;
at best, ‘stoic’ / maybe ‘somewhat heroic’, but
most likely: ‘of strong stock with good teeth and
a stern jaw. suited for thrashing seed from chaff,
but can bleed a calf and knows her way around
the kitchen. you can trust her around your children
and it is somewhat a fallacy, the slander
of her “not being worth a sixpence”; because
she is built, indeed, for many burdens.’
if they only knew she was about freedom and love then they would hang her on the spot. they will never label her the ‘fawn’ or cast her in gouache and oil with gold corona embracing her crown / with morning’s dew dampening the dark porcelain of her soft, midnight brow; she’ll just be a single line entry in the slaver’s long ledger – a wet nurse or loyal servant / a good cook – short words meant to unbrace any chance of Africa’s defiant stance, but damn them that, for my Harriet is statuesque,
but when did I become this salacious? does the prospect of freedom / this perchance at death make me so unafraid, wanting my desires unreserved? I’m ashamed not wanting this love to just be adrenaline, for Harriet’s touch to not just be transient. who knew wrought-iron could be this tender? where her hands (at least, to me) are soft – Harriet’s eyes could kick-start a mule. and when she speaks, she is looking directly into the gourd of my spirit and within the spiraling pupils of her eyes I am swallowed whole in soul’s entirety:
“us people, …us us-people, need an entire Earth beneath them and not just the grass-stain swatch patched in convenience for a wounded ass, not if we’re to be the kind of love Our God intends. and it’s not that I don’t trust you… I’m just tired. I manage time; never have I tamed it. understand – not just be aware of – my fear of alacrity (concerning ‘love’) – my kitchens are full of yeast and sweat and not, yet, enough cinnamon and hardly any cane… and I will not bake my lover’s bread in secret. the woman I am must always be hard, guarded, and strong enough to keep bloodshed from the bedroom. Lord knows, this way of life offers us no easy staples for new love, not when it barely feeds itself. and as long as we are slaves we are at war:
we are not ghosts.
we, too, deserve something good.
and for the free of us to chase ‘more’, some must embrace the phantasms; be as bridges for the chasms.”
a wrought spell her deepest whisper.
the salted black scar is forced into the shape of the south’s asphyxiating smile and I’m of little help. I offer no intimate sovereignty for our hopes and fears; the coon’s cooing demeanor as our only open-faced defiance and, at end, all I can do is run for the hills, for what manner of man embraces a lifetime of sadness without the sternest persuasion / the threat of white damnation and death hanging o’er his head in all physical surreality?
with shoes torn and overrun, I remove a pebble; hands that crave the carving of soapstone into memory are too busy mending sack-cloth into an incomplete culture. what incessantly boils in this nebulous brine, from every corner of these cold colonies, is the bone marrow of our seasoned elders. in its pickled prime, the fermented black skin is their perfect prize. its mineral ores battled for, bottled, and bartered over; sold to the highest bidder / fodder for the south’s spoiled, specious gods; their preciously mottled gods: their blotters throbbing with our flesh, robbing us, rubbing us away…
but what use is it to us now, rehashing this over-known history beneath heaven’s open court:
after all this uncivil descent, has not the proper din justifiably been heard? to the Gods of Fear I spit into the general vicinity of their eyes. oh, how brazen I’ve become: the absquatulating anarchist.
this is what makes Lady Harriet an underived hero; at the first request of emergent heartbeat, goals are met without hesitation / the choice concluded, she propagates freedom:
our double-agent / sainted-prototype-suffragist. our perennial secret weapon. our Black Knight in Midnight’s Armor. defense attorney against their cooing clucks; armed. straight-forward. steady and so very supple.
what fool would not follow such an unassuming beauty? I’ve saturated myself with her every keloid and sank kisses blistering into skin. my spirit inflated by her touch; my un-sated heart an over-demanding entity.
Mount Kenya is not this majestic / in that truth, Queen Mother Moses is unmatched and, truth be told, Araminta is my Lord and Master.
“Disaster brays and the hounds are near; so, hush now. or else I’ll have to kill you.”
the aura of desire is as dust for the shackled and the sly; but still, instead of being weary, I worry for her.
there is no time to waste measuring the merits debating ‘rest’ versus ‘waiting’. a penumbral heaven might pinch us from eyes, but not our stench from hounds. it’s a compromise of time / lounging in tenderness. we are as gazelles at the edge of water / crocodiles await / shackle-toothed dragons / snake-oil-salesmen with the piety of piranhas; their faith (pfft!)
a pompous circumstance.
they alone have the luxury / appeasing hunger with patience. but us just casting beautiful doe-eyes will not prevent them / their dining upon us, so we journey forward, meeting with escape-colored others
on the darkest side of John Brown’s barn. Harriet assures us that ‘freedom’ will be followed to the letter, leaving no easy trailfor the patewallers patrolling with unhallowed appetence:
“Die free. Or die a fatality now & here in the shallow end of God’s open grace; I’ll be quick, yes, and merciful, but be not soothed for there is only scorn, an eternity of shame, and a nameless headstone in waiting. That is the rule for traveling the Under Road: no everlasting relics acknowledging your failed commutation. No willing return to a life in chains, no hesitation, no consolation… Yours will be a disjointed death and for the living to survive it must (until free) disavow.”
you might outrun the hounds, but never Harriet. test her resolve? there is firearm at her fingertips. we may be in fear, but we adhere. and to prevent us being represented to Freedom as a corpse, our conductor is necessarily cruel.
no matter what the manuals of our former masters say, you never grow accustomed to holocaust. the cat-o-nine-tails is not the savior they say it is, wedding us to complacent conversion; force any man to graze on slavery and he will always hate the very nature of the gravity that keeps upon him.
what a broken pathos those White people have barring us from our own exemplifying beauty.
but not even the fear of a dehumanization or the assurance of being hobbled by Harriet are negative enough portents to prevent my mind from rambling: last night, Harriet was my obeah, the quintessence of tangerine, my Fruit of Life in this transitory garden with adumbral fluids cascading / the embrocation of her dulcet rinds basting skin; her lenitive touch teasing in every sense. but what runaway stops, posing prose for romance? (a dead one!) and what solid wealth is a slave’s token-tongue promising a lifetime of liberty to a woman obsessed with defying the gallows while garnishing freedom to all who gather before her? what super-powers can a simple fool possess enough of to pull her away from the plight of her people? I sigh, sagging raggedly into my own pitiful nature. who, if sane, expects a lilting love when running through a war zone?
running: run now, run long, hard, and fast, run quickly, run sickly, run in quiet. now run. this simple notion, this mad dash, this motion towards salvation is all there is of Africa on either side of their Mason-Dixon. we struggle fair and, if lucky, we die clean. stopping to care for the open wound or to cry for the soul can cost you the skin on your back; your split-open head a falling apple from the tree of you-shoulda-rested-once-you-was-free-nigger!
it is seldom sought for or seen, but Harriet’s smile is my psalm. even if I must die, I will not be alarmed:
“I love you, Harriet; Harriet, I know you hear me.”
her returning gaze could light gunpowder; all of my emotional wounds are immediately cauter’ed; my esophagus is soldered shut. my tongue in mortar, my mouth in rivets. it’s not the thirst that kills you during droughts. when the heavens break and the waters come, it’s the drinking too much, too soon that gets you. well, this thought, this threat of a wild Black Woman singlehandedly ruining southern commerce is of itself a cold precipitation / Harriet Tubman, all unto herself, is a hurricane walking.
“It’s easier to death-defy, believing there is portent to a woman’s becoming; seeing yourself as blueprint for an asphyxiated heritage; seeing us-black: you, I, and all, as the recombinant lyricism for God’s lost lineage. It’s not natural for man and woman to linger on this Earth, grounded as stolen property, dumbfounded – not by natural circumstance – but by this force-bred obstruction to a love our own and to Heaven’s own rose-hued romanticism. Freedom without the breath of love is a feckless endeavor and I have no desire to die bravely ‘the martyr’, not before I die in full ‘a woman’; the helpmate to a man hungry (not just for life) for living.”
at the river’s edge, we wade the shallows; we board barely-a-boat and sit low. Harriet stays on the bank, changing charades, assuming the serene, surrendered shape. the Whites call her ‘colored‘, but we know her as Queen Chameleon, Champeen Driver of Verdant Sleds (and I, her, as My Siren Sage.)
I done heard about the men who go down drowning, trying to run on water like a Mississippi miracle, these momentary-messiahs go down slow, drapetomaniacs to the core. better that before drowning in tears, their hands and feet sheared as an overseer’s preventive cure. anti-emancipation mendicants come to heal us of our “habitually unnatural relapses” / dreaming ourselves free. but obituaries will still say you died a slave. less obituary and more as a loss of property with massa’s insurance claim slip extending from your toe. in the Bible, Moses parted the waters, never does it say he swam a sea for freedom until choking, in the end, on desperation in mid-stroke, a midstream melody. it hasn’t yet come down to that for Harriet; this freedom-chase hasn’t failed her yet.
in fact, the Titanic itself will surrender
to disaster 329 days before Harriet succumbs.
(if only the White Star Line had hired her as captain!)
Harriet: the sovereign tip of freedom’s iceberg.
on the river’s bank, barely seconds are shared for softness, but passions are again optimal; for a moment, absolutisms dissolve and lips tremble in the want to say more. there is treble; for the first time there is falsetto in my faith… the ripples of water beckon laughter, but my ankles seize; there is an anvil in my chest and it’s then that I realize that this is not a freedom worth having…
not when excluding her.
my mind arches into fire / my heart, erratic! yet Queen Harriet remains a hummingbird. in rags and shorn cloth she is soothing and regal. and I want her. Oh!
“Lover you must never mourn; not when we are so close to valor, to victory. We, Black, embody myth and movement. One day, God made a plan for us; and on this day, we bade Him another. my mother named me Araminta; it’s a name shared with a character from a play called ‘The Confederacy’, an old-timey show written long ago. just… no… you must remember Minta just as she’ll remember you. I am sheepherding the dark and making for us a manger, a mansion; us, as daydreaming playwrights for a new, untethered era.”
and at the river’s edge, her lips nudge mine in the open:
“Remember now / this feel, this firmament hand-in-hand; for the time will come when us as two is less than us as one, the aches on my insides ascending to my face – my heart, happening. I’ll come racing, for you, towards you, needing embrace; the two of us stealing away beneath the sun, spiritually healed with no physical need to ever again conceal our fires / our Freedom, Infinite.”