Uncle Washes His Nieces Feet (After A Busted Wedding). Now is past god and his altar light Kente’ss, past surfaces of shells-of brooms and their frames, past bonds—legal and in tradition—decayed. Sister, let me soak your bunions. Now is past ministers (but not ministers of spices), past the roots and the fruits of exodus screwed then processed in generations of rituals Now is not for procession but peelers and tub salts. Little sister, come and sit with me. Now, past the moment of the boy man's rut and men who speak of youth and nothing but while oats seed a poison to their face, he sits with his bucket and new Epsom bag and clears if not clarifies myth. Continue reading
Author Archives: Robert Lashley.
(After W.B Yeats, Mahalia Jackson, Thomas Dorsey, T.S Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Stevie Wonder, Carl Sandberg, The Staples Singers, and whatever nigga that didn’t get credit for writing Revelations. ) “I think what happens now is we go up to Ash Street and clean them out," Police Sgt. Sam Thrall said. ". . . We have a real concentration of bad guys there and the neighborhood has finally clashed with them face to face. The fact that nobody got hurt--it is kind of amazing." Unidentified officer, September 23rd Los Angeles Times, 1989 BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG I believe in god, I don’t like the nigga that much. He makes me lie down in concrete pastures. He creates seasons that- in bunches of metaphors- makes all look like tombs and shadows. The last light of blue upon black in the sky dies suddenly by the street lamp. The earth is the Crips and everything in it in migrations and handkerchief tassles. The gunshot-tonight-is the final sign past cop cars and shadow led outlines. past boats with out water, seas without waves and rides without horses or skies Twenty four hoods and twenty four elders make the block simmer hot like a bomb Twenty four hoods and twenty four elders Blow the trumpets that blow off limbs. Under the stations of dozens of rock houses and crosses Twenty four hoods set twenty four tables And gunshots are the dividing bells . Twenty four hoods set twenty four tables Under the sign of magnums and shell As holy gates lock and closes The tree of life is bare, every room is sealed and now you are stranded from home. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG Continue reading
My Grandparents, aunts, and uncles were all from Mississippi and Alabama. They were dark, scrappy, and very tough, each having a dignity and decorum that served as a mechanism to get them through an almost unendurable pain. Their lives revolved around the pool hall my grandmother ran for 28 years, and in that pool hall they developed a working knowledge of every aspect of sports culture. Because of radio (and later televised) broadcasts of boxing, they were inundated in the fight game the most. Their tastes were subtler than most sports bros-they had a basic outsider’s appreciation for the courage and decorum of the great Hispanic fighters of different eras-and would go into intimate details about technique, character, and the history of the sport. Also, to a person, none of them cared for Muhammad Ali.
Oh, they didn’t hate him. They could tell you why he was important, and would grant him his place as the greatest heavyweight to ever walk the face of the earth. They could not grant him any more than that, however, because they believed he-and a generation he embodied-granted them absolutely nothing. A part of Black Tacoma cultural networks for almost a generation, they were ushered out of polite company because of their distaste for the Mother’s Day riots of 1969. The Black Arts Movements of the time did nothing for my Uncle Moe, who was unwilling to give up his favorite white and Jewish writers and considered Amiri Baraka “Ezra Pound’s shoe shine boy”. The feminist movements that were in the Black Panthers were not there for my Grandmother and aunts, who had too sharp a tongue and too low a bullshit barometer to deal with the patriarchal dynamics of local chapters.
And when Ali found a handsome, dark skinned country boy to abuse, my grandparent’s, aunts and uncles’ saw a symbol of an America that hated them, a symbol as complex as Muhammad was for the rest of the world. They understood the horror of the Vietnam War. They admired Ali’s integrity in taking a pacifist stance and losing 3 and a half years of his prime for it. However, when Ali-in his comeback- took his racial traumas out on “Smokin” Joe Frazier, a noble champion who looked like them, did his job liked they did theirs, and came up from similar near-impossible circumstances, they felt like they were seeing the embodiment of a black revolution that had no use for them. Continue reading
If-as John Updike once said-“Fame is the mask that eats the face,” then one can make the argument that Derek Walcott’s casing began at his boyhood house. In book 2 of Another Life, his autobiographical epic poem, he arrives at his old door an acclaimed yet struggling poet. At the sight of its remnants, the memories overwhelm him
” Old house, old woman, old room
old planes, old buckling membranes of the womb
breathe through your timbers, gasp
arthritic, curling beams
cough in old air
shining with moats, stair
polished and re-polished by the hands of strangers
die with defiance with your grey flecking eyes”
He proceeds to go up to her room and be consumed by what he sees: the creaking sunlight, the memory of her cigarette smoke, the individual landscape that only he could render on the page-a mélange of old worlds and new, the present and the past, folk and a modern language alchemized into gorgeous lyric stanzas that are broken by a single line
“Why should anyone should weep for such dumb things” Continue reading
This pain you feel? (upon the loss of the right of black people to peacefully assemble, the Ferguson police department following the COINTELPRO playbook to the letter, children getting shot at with rubber bullets at night and having Don Lemon calling them thugs in the morning, and the realization that black people are going to have to deal with these kind of police/stand your ground shootings turned lynching bees for the rest of our days?) Respect it. It’s real. It means that you are alive. Take care of yourselves. Be good to your loved ones and family. Heal. Then when you are ready, take it to the library.
You knew this wasn’t going to be easy. You knew that we were going to struggle to the day we die. You just didn’t know the scale and level. And that’s ok. But we have to work now. We have to-through our art-give our people the same tools to make it in the world that are eldest ancestors had; and to do that we have to work harder than we’ve ever done. All of us. Myself included.
Our masters were not perfect, but in their better angels, they understood that their work was in service to something greater than themselves, that their particular abilities to make people see helped people survive. It is why poetry columns and sections had such prevalent spaces in black newspapers, and why poetics were discussed as much as music, sports, and politics. Throughout our history, black audiences (and conscious ally readers) knew that their achievements stood out in the natural word, were changing the language, and were integral in making their today a little better than yesterday.
If you are going to do this, poet, you cannot act like your community doesn’t deserve what our ancestors had right now. You cannot act like our people aren’t in enough pain to deserve a similar effort. You cannot conduct yourself like a people who are going up against a series of laws and statutes to give them second class schools, housing, and facilities don’t deserve your full commitment to our art. You cannot pretend that a people who have had sicked on them stand your ground, stop and frisk, and these brutal lynching bees, don’t need your love this very moment. Continue reading
When god lets my body be from each ripped wound shall sprout a tree of fruit that exists only for you . My rosary beads will make you a laurel of crowns, medallions and alleyway garlands no one but us can see. My love, let me be your unknown color. Let my back beget an afro sun that turns inner deaths asunder. Continue reading
1: The Seven People God Couldn’t Kill In The Flood For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell... And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth, a preacher of righteousness, bringing the flood upon the world of the ungodly... The canvas is empty, and his temper stops. The trees that would never wait or give are erased from roots and questioners. In revival, all that cannot be revived are stories and symbols by the water. And as mercy, in this peculiar bent, disperses in angst to a million rivers, and people—from tents—give worship to what manner in that they were spared; a shepherd --lost in a transfer of worlds—lays his staff and burdens down to transform to labyrinths, sediments to mill from dirt to the word as storms end and his survivors shout. Mercy--by the river, juncture and water --is the mother and father of doubt. Continue reading
Bitter is the bread of your word on Antioch, Bitter the taste—bitter the kneading-- bitter the loaves yet far bitter the feeding. Go back home, lost son, go home. Continue reading
The Caravans ft. Inez Andrews – “Mary Don’t You Weep”
My Grandmother had over two thousand records, eight tracks and cassette tapes. Though a fan of the Allman brothers and the occasional Hall And Oates single, her record collection ran as a history of black music in America before hip hop; ranging from Louis Armstrong’s singles with the Hot Five to Prince’s Sign Of The Times. She collected them between 1942, when she started making decent money working for the army and running a pool hall, and 1990, when her health started to go bad and my father relapsed for the final time. Industrious enough with cash, she bought a house in 1961 that had a remarkably decked out basement: A bedroom, bathroom, and a living room space that accommodated two beds, a card table, a stocked bar, and more than enough room for her records.
If you asked her on the right day who her favorite artist was, her answer would have been a myriad of people. On a great deal of those days, her answer would have been Inez Andrews. I remember early Sunday afternoons, when my dad would leave my brother and I at her house to roam the streets, and she would sit in the basement, draw in the windows, turn on a little light beige lamp and listen to this record. She would sit with my uncle Moe, smoke a pack of Kool’s, have me pour her two shots of gin and stare out into the brown and black of the room. She would not say a word, just listen and look the light and dark of a space that had so much history to her.
This is my heart beyond blood and the body. This is my body more plentiful than bread. That is revival, the cities of our scars gentrified in potters gardens but here are the orchards of my flesh, your joy, in it's improvised defying light is my only definition of space. That was ritual—orthodoxy—order. That was the deacon who called to a river where water is a conceit of the prodigal. That was where the calf became a well defined lie where reality is a synonym of haunt. Yet this, in the space you classify as paradise will be whatever you want and need. The renewal of my mind is transformed by your navel. The gospel of your hips is as simple and complex as winter, summer, or spring. That was testimony: darkness made word. That was benediction as a metaphor for the graveyards. Boils and locusts more visible than real pass my blood by the Marriott door, yet Eros is a verb of life in touches and twists. How love? Here. This is my body. Remember it as you wish.