photo by Alex Lear





a bunch of us were astral traveling, pulsating on the flow of a wicked elvinesque polyrhythmic 6/8 groove. although our physical eyes had disappeared from our faces, we still had wry eyebrows arched like quarter moons or miniature ram's horns. every molecule of our thirsty skin was a sensitive ear drinking in the vibes. at each stroke of sweat-slicked drumstick on skins, our wings moved in syncopated grace. shimmering cymbal vibrations illuminated the night so green bright we could feel the trembling emerald through the soles of our feet. deep red pulsing bass sounds throbbed from our left brain lobes, lifting us and shooting us quickly across the eons. we moved swiftly as comets, quiet as singing starlight.


as we neared the motherwomb, firefly angels came out to escort us to the inner sanctum. with eager anticipation i smelled a banquet of hip, growling, intense quarter notes when we entered the compound. a hand carved, coconut shell bowl brimming with hot melodies radiating a tantalizing aroma sat steaming at each place setting, heralding our arrival. whenever i rode this deeply into the music, i would never want to return back to places of broken notes and no natural drums.


on my way here i heard nidia who was in a prison in el salvador. she had been shot, captured. her tormentors were torturing her with continuous questions, sleep deprivation, psychological cruelty, and assassination attempts against her family. she sang songs to stay strong. singing in prison, i dug that. 


once we made touchdown, we kissed the sweetearth (which tasted like three parts blackstrap molasses and one part chalky starch with a dash of sharply tart orange rind) and smeared red clay in our hair. then lay in the sun for a few days listening to duke ellington every morning before bathing. i was glad to see otis redding flashing his huge carefree smiles and splashing around in the blue lagoon. finally after hugging the baobab tree (the oldest existing life force) for twenty-four hours we were ready to glide inside and hang with the children again. whenever one returned from planet earth, we had to take a lot of precautions. you never know what kinds of human logic you might be infected with. since i had spent most of my last assignment checking out far flung galaxies, on my first examination i was able to dance through the scanner with nary a miscue. my soul was cool.


i only had ten centuries to recuperate before returning to active rotation so i was eager to eat. the house was a buzz with vibrations. a hefty-thighed cook came in and tongue kissed each of us seated at the mahogony table, male and female, young and old, whatever. that took about six centuries. she was moving on cp time and when i tasted her kiss i understood why.


up close her skin was deeper than a sunken slave ship and glowed with the glitter of golddust pressed across her brow and on the sides of her face just above her cheekline. she wore a plum-sized chunk of orangish-yellow amber as a pendant held in place by a chain braided from the mane of a four hundred pound lion. her head was divided into sixteen sectors each with a ball of threaded hair tied in nubian knots, each knot exactly the same size as the spherical amber perfectly poised in the hollow of her throat. i was so stunned by the beauty force of her haunting entrance, i had to chant to calm myself.


"drink deeply the water from an ancient well." was all she said as she spun in slow circles. tiny bells dangled between the top of the curvaceous protrudence of her posterior and the bottom of the concavity of the arch in the small of her back where it met her waist and flared outward to the expanse of her sturdy hips. suspended from a cord she wore around her waist, the hand carved, solid gold bells gave off a tiny but distinctive jingle which rose and fell with each step.


emanating a bluegreen aura of contentment, she didn't look like she had ever, in any of her many lifetimes, done anything compromising such as vote for a capitalist (of whatever color) or succumb to the expediency of accepting any system of domination. she didn't say a word, instead she hummed without disrupting the smiling fullness of her lips. she wasn't ashame of her big feet as she stepped flatfootedly around the table, a slender gold ring on the big toe of each foot.


her almond shaped, kola nut colored eyes sauntered up to each of our individualities, sight read our diverse memories and swam in the sea of whatever sorrows we had experienced. she silently drank all our bitter tears and became pregnant with our hopes. she looked like she had never ever worn clothes and instead had spent her whole life moving about in the glorious garment of a nudity so natural she seemed like a miracle you had to prepare yourself to witness as she innocently and righteously strode through the sun, moon and star light.


when she neared me she effortlessly slinked into a crouched, garden tending posture and, with sharp thrusting arm movements, choreographed an improvised welcome dance (how else, except by improvisation, could her movements mirror everything i was thinking?). placing my ear to her distended stomach, i guessed six months. she arched her back. a ring shout undulated out of her womb. i got so excited i had to sit on my wings to keep still.


when she stood up to her full six foot height with her lithe arms akimbo, i coudn't help responding. i got an erection when she placed her hand on the top of my head. she laughed at my arousal.


"drink your soup, silly" she teased me and then laughed again, while gently tracing her fingers across my face, down the side of my neck and swiftly brushing my upper torso, briefly petting the hummingbird rapidity of my chest muscle twitches. and then the program began.


a few years after monk danced in, coltrane said the blessing in his characteristic slow solemn tone. you know how coltrane talks. as usual, he didn't eat much. but we were filled with wonder anyway. then bob chrisman from the black scholar gave a short speech on one becomes two when the raindrop splits. everybody danced in appreciation of his insights.


when we resumed our places, the child next to me reflected aloud, "always remember you are a starchild. you will become any reality that you get with unless you influence that reality to become you. we have no power but osmosis and vibrations. as long as you don't forget your essence, it's alright to live inside something else." the child hugged me while extrapolating chrisman's message.


a voice on the intercom was calling for volunteers to help move the mountain. even though i wasn't through with my soup and still had a couple of centuries left, i rose immediately. i had drunk enough to imagine going up against the people who couldn't clap on two and four. "earth is very dangerous" the voice intoned. "the humans have the power to induce both amnesia and psychic dislocation."


the child smiled at me and sang "i'll wait for you where human eyes have never seen." we only had time to sing 7,685 choruses because i had to hurry to earth. our spirits there were up against some mighty powerful forces and the ngoma badly needed reinforcements. but i took a couple of months to thank the chef for sitting me next to the child.


"no thanx needed. i simply gave back to you what you gave to me." then in a divine gesture she lovingly touched each of my four sacred drums: head, heart, gut and groin. cupping them warmly in both her hands, she slow kissed an eternal rhythm into each. before i could say anything she was gone, humming the child's song "...where human eyes have never seen, i'll wait for you. i'll wait for you."


i got to earth shortly after 1947 started. people were still making music then. back in 1999 machines manufactured music. real singing was against the law.


walking down the street one day i saw what i assumed was a soul sister. she was humming a simple song. i sensed she was possibly one of us. she looked like a chef except with chemically altered hair on her mind instead of black puffs of natural nubianity. i spoke anyway. she walked right through me.


i turned around to see where she had gone. but she was gone. i looked up and i was on the bandstand. i was billie holiday. every pain i ever felt  was sobbing out of my throat. i looked at my black and blue face. the fist splotches from where my man had hit me.


"I'd rather

for my man

to hit me,



            for him


to jump


and quit me." i sang through the pain of a broken jaw.


"have you ever loved somebody who didn't know how to love you?" i asked the audience. in what must have been some kind of american ritual, everyone held up small, round hand mirrors and intently peered into their looking glass. the music stopped momentarily as if i had stumbled into a bucket of moonlit blood. my left leg started trembling. every word felt like it was ripped from my throat with pieces of my flesh hanging off each note. i almost fainted from the pain, but i couldn't stop singing because whenever i paused, even if only for a moment, the thought of suicide pressed me to the canvas. and you know i couldn't lay there waiting for the eight count, knocked out like some chump. i was stronger than these earthlings. i had to get up and keep on singing, but to keep on making music took so much energy. i was almost exhausted. and when i stopped the pain was deafening. exhausting to sing. painful to stop. this was a far heavier experience than i had foreseen.


i kept singing but i also felt myself growing weaker. drained. "i say have you ever given your love to a rascal that didn't give a damn about you?" this was insane. when would i be able to stop? there was so much money being exchanged that i was having a hard time breathing. i could feel my soul growing dimmer, the pain beginning to creep through even while i was singing. so this is what the angels meant by "hell is being silenced by commerce." legal tender was choking me.


for a moment i felt human, but luckily the band started playing again. some lame colored cat had crawled up on the stage and was thawing out frozen conservatory school cliches. made my bunions groan. but i guess when you're human you got to go through a lot of trial and error. especially when you're young in earth years. the whole time i was on that scene i felt sorry for the children. most of them had never seen their parents make love.


humans spend a lot of their early years playing all kinds of games to prepare themselves to play all kinds of games when they grow up. the childrearing atmosphere was so dense the only thing little people could do was lie awake naked under the covers and play with themselves but only whenever the adults weren't watching cause if those poor kids got caught touching each other, they were beaten. can you imagine that?


damn, i thought smelly horn wasn't ever going to stop, prez had to pull his coat, "hey shorty, don't take so long to say so little."


as soon as the cat paused, i jumped in "have you ever loved somebody..." yes, i had volunteered, but i had no idea making music on earth would be this taxing.


when our set ended, i stumbled from the stand totally disoriented. by now i almost needed to constantly make music in order to twirl my gyroscope and keep it spinning. after the set, i found it very difficult to act like a human and sit still while talking to the customers. i kept wanting to hover and hum. but i went through the changes, even did an interview.


"the only way out is to go through it all" i found myself saying to an english reporter who was looking at me with insane eyes.


he did his best to sing. "you've been hurt by white people in america and i want to let you know that there are white people who love and respect you." i could hear his eyes as clear as sid catlett's drum. i appreciated his attempts but those were some stiff-assed paradiddles he was beating. the youngster was still in his teens and offered me a handkerchief to wipe the pain off my face. i waved it away, that little bandana wouldn't even dry up so much as one teardrop of my sadness. at that moment what i really needed was a lift cause the scene was a drag.


"the only way to go through it all is to go through it all. yaknow. survive it and sing about it." i said holding the side of my head in the cup of my hand and speaking with my eyes half closed and focused on nothing in particular.


"why sing about it?" he said eager as a pig snouting around for truffles (even though he wasn't french, i could see he had sex on his mind).


"cause if you keep the pain within you'll explode." he reached for his wallet about to offer me money. for sure he was a hopeless case. once i dug he didn't understand creativity, i switched to sociology. "millions of people been molested as children." he had been there, done that. he was starting to catch my drift. "men been beating on women. you know i was a slave. that means i was violated. that means i was broke down. that means i would lay there and take it. in and out. lay there. still. i have heard reports that i was a prostitute. but i never sold myself just for money, i lay down because there was no room to stand up. in and out. in and out. til finally, they ejaculated. and finished. for the moment, for the night... til... whenever." i looked up and his mind was on the other side of the room; i had lost him again.


poor child doesn't have a clue. that's why he's looking all pitiful at me. i couldn't find a way to unfold the whole to him. i wanted to say more but their language couldn't make the changes. he will probably write a treatise on the downtrodden negro in tomorrow's paper.


sho-nuff, next day--quote:


So-and-so is an incredibly gifted Black American animal. People were actually crying in the audience when she howled "No Body's Bizness" in the voice of a neutered dog. This reporter is a registered theorist on why White people are fascinated by listening to the sounds of their victims' pathetic crying. I had the rare opportunity to interview the jazzy chick.  Although she was not very familiar with the basic principles of grammar, I managed to get a few words from her illiterateness once she took some dope which I had been advised to offer her.

I asked her what harmonic system she employed? My publisher had authorized me to offer her music lessons. I quote her answer verbatim.

"I sing because, like the Funky Butt Brass Band used to holler, you got to open up the window and let the bad air out."

That was it. When I turned off my voice stealing machine, she said "I got a lot of s--t in me. If I don't get it out, I'll die."

If she doesn't die first, there will be a concert tonight. Cheeri-O. 




i couldn't wait to get back to the motherwomb...


But, just as I was about to fly, I woke up. I was cuddled next to Nia's nakedness, her back to me, my arm embracing her breasts, and my leg thrown up in touch with the arc of her thighs.


I stared into the deep acorn brown of her braided hair. I couldn't see anything in the unlighted room except the contours of the coiled beautiful darkness of her braids. After a few seconds the sweet familar scent of the hair oil she used began lulling me back to sleep.


Unfortunately, I didn't have enough sleep time left to continue my flight dreams. And I spent the rest of the day trying to decide... no, not decide, but remember. I spent the rest of the day trying to remember whether I was a human who dreamed he was something else or was indeed something else doing a temporary duty assignment here on planet earth.


 —kalamu ya salaam


INTERVIEW + AUDIO: Kalamu ya Salaam Listens to New Orleans > The Progressive

The guest this week is Kalamu ya Salaam, a leading literary figure in New Orleans, whose latest book is entitled "What Is Life?" We talk about the meaning of Katrina, and he offers a poem about beauty at the end.

This interview was conducted late October 2005.


Kalamu ya Salaam

Listens to New Orleans

By Michael Tisserand

September 2006 Issue

Eleanor McMain High School is a massive turquoise-and-cream Uptown building that was freckled in mold long before last August’s flood. Inside its walls, Kalamu ya Salaam is engaging in what he says is a revolutionary act. He is teaching creative writing to public school students. This is where the fifty-nine-year-old poet, playwright, activist, publisher, and one-time executive director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation devotes most of his afternoons these days. He works through Students at the Center, an independently funded, public school-based initiative that he co-directs with longtime teacher Jim Randels.

When one student turns to Salaam for approval after sharing her latest writing, her hopeful gaze just seems to bounce off her teacher’s thick, round glasses. Instead, Salaam cajoles other students into the conversation. The answers aren’t with me, he says repeatedly, they’re with you.

The results are striking and varied. Some students this afternoon are harsh and polemical; others are lyrical and reflective. Salaam finally coaxes one reticent student to read aloud a poem he wrote about a father he never knew. The poem returns again and again to the phrase “This man is not who I am,” a line that builds in conviction even as the student buries his head in his paper as he softly reads.

“Kalamu doesn’t shy away from pushing people to go really deep,” says Randels, who frequently co-teaches with Salaam. “He’s good at making students comfortable, but at the same time he’s going to their sore spots, their sad spots, their angry spots.”

Post-Katrina New Orleans is a rash of sore spots. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, Salaam’s was one of the clearest voices denouncing the lethal, malignant neglect that residents faced. He’s still at it.

“In the long run, New Orleans is doomed, unless there’s a major turnaround in how the environment is dealt with,” he says. “I really don’t see that happening.”

This is not the language of a city reaching for optimism, where fleur-de-lis flags now fly from freshly gutted houses. Those kinds of symbols get you nowhere, Salaam says. “That’s the desperation of survivors. They want to hold on to whatever their image of New Orleans was. That’s gone. We can forget that. There’s a new New Orleans now.”

So what would he most like to see in the new New Orleans? He’s got a ready answer. “The President’s head on a stick in Congo Square,” he says, referring to the city’s historic gathering place for slaves. “And right next to that, the head of the mayor.”

Salaam explains: Only a revolution will truly change things. But he acknowledges that in New Orleans today, a city still emptied of so many of its citizens, the dream of revolution—or even an effective political movement—is more deferred than before. “You can’t have grassroots activity if you ain’t got no grass,” he notes dryly.

He also understands that a mental health crisis has now engulfed the city, a crisis he warned about early on. In recent months, he says, he’s had to drive friends to the hospital to be diagnosed with depression. “There’s a very heavy thing of having to deal with illnesses in ways that, prior to Katrina, we didn’t have to deal with so intently,” he says. “But people don’t directly link it to Katrina.”

Which brings him to his second major line of work since the storm. “Listen to the People” is an ongoing web-based oral history project that Salaam is organizing. He says it is partly inspired by the Works Progress Administration’s slave narratives. When completed, the dozens of lengthy “Listen to the People” interviews—many are two to three hours long—will provide counter-narratives of the storm, levee failures, and evacuation. They’ll be online to see and hear.

“When we started, I wasn’t thinking about now as much as I was fifty years from now,” he says. “I don’t want the federal government’s version, the state government’s, the city government’s, or even The Times-Picayune’s, to be the only versions that are easily accessible.”

None of this work is really a departure for Salaam. Born Vallery Ferdinand III, Salaam was greatly influenced by his mother, Inola Ferdinand, a public school teacher and union activist. (“I have her hands,” he states in one poem dedicated to her.) Following his work in the 1960s with the Free Southern Theatre, where he collaborated with fellow black artists Tom Dent and John O’Neal, Salaam kept active as a writer. His poetry anthology, From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets, was published in 1998 by Runagate Multimedia, which he co-founded. Its mission is to promulgate “New Orleans culture and African heritage cultures worldwide.” He’s now co-editing The End of Forever: New Orleans Poets Post-Katrina, due out later this year by Runagate.

In all of his work—but perhaps most of all in his teaching—Salaam is amplifying voices that might otherwise go unheard. “Part of the Students at the Center approach is to appreciate that students have experiences that are valuable and instructive,” Randels says. “They’re beginning to see that what they’ve been through and the way that they write about it can inform other people, and their peers. Then they begin to work as resources for other students.”

Students at the Center is a model for instruction within the New Orleans public school system—a success story that doesn’t get much play in a district that is now mostly either state-run or charter schools.

Salaam recognizes the challenges he and New Orleans face. But he is not deterred.

“How does it feel?” he asks about his changed city. “It doesn’t feel good. But we got a lot of people who are still here. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. But I’m here now. And while I’m here, I’m going to do what I can.”

Michael Tisserand’s new book, “Sugarcane Academy,” is due out next spring. He is the former editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans.



Published on Jan 13, 2013

The POWER Lunch: New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo Secrets and Recipes with The Divine Prince, House of the Divine Prince and Hoodoo Central on BTR.
347/215-8967 at

Hoodoo New Orleans Voodoo Secrets and Recipes on the POWER Lunch at Noon US CST LIVE from New Orleans, Louisiana

The Divine Prince Ty Emmecca
House of the Divine Prince, TyE Potions and
Hoodoo Central

My LIVE Listen-In and Call-In Number is area code 347/215-8967 and My LIVE chat room and show page direct link and location is:



photo by Alex Lear





who would you be, if you weren’t who you are?


“most people want younger,” he eyed me with bemusement, but i did not respond to his provocation. “but then you are not like most of our clients.”


i knew what he meant. one, i was african american. two, although on the cusp, i was not yet in my fifties. three, i wasn’t looking to be exotic, or trans-race, or exceptionally gifted physicially--well, actually, in a way, i did want to be a bit more exciting. average is ok, but, you know shorter or taller than normal might be better. but then, i don’t know, and i guess that’s what it is, i want to know something else. my new self doesn’t have to be a special something else…


“your tests results were excellent. you’ve fulfilled all the requirements and then some.” bob was chattering on. i took another sip from the room temperature goblet of wine. it was an excellent sherry. “may i call you arthur?” i started to say something that might vaguely sound smart like, “sure, bob, arthur or art, is fine,” but really it wasn’t fine, or i mean it would have been fine but i have never been an “art” or even “arthur” for that matter. so i said nothing.


my recollections reeled back to my ex-wife. even at our most intimate moments sandra called me by a contraction of my surname; i will always remember: “kenny my legs are wide open and my coochie’s dripping wet, just for you, baby.” but she never screamed nor got wild; i think she was making up that thing about being so wet just to con me, especially after that tryst with royce, which, as hurtful as the affair was, didn’t really lead to our break up because basically we were broke up before she started stepping out…


“frankly, i’m intrigued by your high verbal scores that indicate a philosophical bent. most of the people i see are so average it’s almost boring--please, disregard that last statement. i’m afraid this wine has clouded my judgment. it is entirely unprofessional for me to say anything about any of our other clients, even to generalize. nevertheless, i am intrigued. your undergraduate degree was in theological studies but you went on to earn an mba, top of your class and have spent seventeen years at the bureau of labor statistics. it’s unusual for a person to score higher on these verbal tests if they are not in a field that requires, well, you understand, i don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, i’m just admiring your test results. theology and philosophy are siblings, but add in business and statistics. frankly, arthur, you are an unusual man.”


bob’s steely blue-grey eyes focused on me with an unwavering gaze as though i were a picasso he was trying to decipher. i remember peeping at him while we were auditioning bodies. he didn’t flinched when i wondered aloud: “why would these people volunteer to… ummm, to trade-in their bodies.”


i wondered whether the models were aware they were on view. “self sacrifice is not unusual for the benefit of one’s family. were it not for our generosity to these donors, we could offer this service at much more affordable price point, but frankly, i think it is better to charge those with disposable income than to exploit those who are financially challenged.”


i could have chosen to be any one of them, or so i was told, “but,” and i had surprised myself by boldly offering an opinion in the form of a question, “why would any man want to become a female?” i choose not to be personally offended that there were women sprinkled among my candidates.


without even a hint of sarcasm, bob quietly retorted, “there are many of us who feel trapped in the body of the wrong gender. we at nu-life advancement  don’t judge the etiology of desire, we serve to help our clients achieve life lived to the fullest. over and above our commitment to our clients, philosophically,” at that moment bob had paused and softly rested a hand on my shoulder before intoning, “one could ask a fundamental question: what is wrong with becoming whomever we want to be?”


bob’s expertly manicured nails gleamed in the candle light as he waved away the waitress who was holding a water pitcher to top off his glass. “art, i sense you have a question.”


a non-refundable, hundred fifty thousand tab was not so expensive considering that one got a whole new life, except... “suppose, once i’ve made the switch, if i’m dissatisfied, can i obtain a second switch?”


bob smiled cryptically, well, not fully smiled, just sort of barely opened his mouth and clasped his hands with forefingers extended, brought them up to his lips, and then rested the tips of his fingers on the tip of his nose before clearing his throat. “nu-life advancement has a policy of non-serial transfers, meaning, second transfer are prohibited. this is why our selection process is so strenuous. we don’t accept everyone who wants a life transfer, nor do we always perform a client’s initial choice. we once had…” bob inexplicably paused and looked away.


“you once had…?”


bob cleared his throat a second time. “actually, i’m not supposed to engage this line of questioning. our policy pro…” bob abruptly halted. folding his arms as he leaned back in the booth. “i can’t…” he sat up straight.


i could tell he was stalling, waiting for me to interrupt him, but i had read the book on negotiating. i knew to say nothing. absolutely nothing. let him work it out. even if he said he couldn’t, i would say nothing and just wait. i didn’t look down or away, i stared him in the eyes, besides in this dimly lit lounge, neither of us could clearly see the other person across the table.


“you understand what i’m saying?”


i waited. didn’t move a muscle, no lick of the lips, no nod of the head. nothing. i just looked and waited.


bob reached into his coat jacket and took out his fountain pen—the pen he called his “contract” pen. i remember his ritual: “a signing should be done with an instrument befitting the seriousness of the occasion, hence i use a monteblanc. you know there are not that many of these in general circulation anymore.” bob tapped the pen lightly against his palm.


“mr. kennedy we once had an african american female who wanted to transfer into a white male. although she was otherwise fully qualified we declined. after we declined she threatened to sue. bottom line, he/she now works for us.”


was he saying what i thought he was saying, which was that bob had once been a black woman? i mean that’s not what he said but that was just the feeling i was getting, especially from the way he doodled on the pad with the ink pen. drawing a circle and then slowly filling it in. i wanted to ask a plethora of questions, but, holding to my plan, said nothing. didn’t even act like i heard him.


bob slowly screwed the cap back on his pen and gently lay the pen down next to the small notepad on which he had been noodling. “mr. kennedy do you have any other questions?”


i just looked at him. and then he folded his hands atop the table and stared back at me.


“hearing no further questions, once you sign…” bob reached into his brief and pulled out a paper. “this is a release form. remember, the contract you signed previously gave you a two week wavier period during which, for any reason whatsoever, you could change your mind and be fully released from your contract with nu-life advancement with no penalty whatsoever.”


bob placed the single sheet of paper before me. there was only one short paragraph printed on the nu-life advancement stationary.


“this is your acknowledgement that you have not changed your mind and that you hold nu-life advancement harmless should the procedure turn out other than you expect.”


bob proffered me his pen.


“i didn’t know i would have to… i mean i thought this was basically a follow-up session and…”


“take this home with you and read it at your leisure. if, for any reason whatsoever, you do not wish to sign, simply return this release to us unsigned and we will refund your payments. we at nu-life advancement understand that this is the single most important decision you will make in a lifetime. we want you to make this decision without any compulsion or pressure. if you have any questions, please ask them. if you feel any hesitancy, we understand. do not. i repeat, do not feel you must sign this release. if you do not want to proceed, if you feel uneasy, or just have a premonition that this is not what you should do. please do not sign this release.”


bob’s steely eyes were boring into me the whole time he mechanically unreeled his spiel. it was almost like he was challenging me to stand down. i looked at the paper. who was i kidding. i’d come too far to turn around now. i took the pen from bob and signed.


“thank you, mr. kennedy.”


bob gently retrieved the signed release, spun it around, extended his hand asking for the pen. after i gave it to him, bob signed the release in my presence.


“we will mail you a copy of this release.” and then bob put the paper back in his case, screwed the top back on his pen and smoothly replaced the pen into his inside breastpocket.


“we’ll see you on the 25th. good luck mr. kennedy.”


bob rose, extended his hand to shake. i firmly clasped his hand. “thank you, bob.”


* * *


“how did it go?”


“how does it always go? here’s the release.”


“robert, this is unbelievable. that’s what, the third one this week? one hundred fifty thousand a pop. what people won’t pay for physical enhancement.”


“it’s advancement, not enhancement. we are not some hollywood surgeon firming up tits and lipo-sucking stomachs. we are personal development specialists who help our clients achieve a higher state of life through physical and mental advancement. we are selling dreams, fulfilling desires, everybody wants to be more than they are. we’re just offering a process for our clients to achieve…”


“everybody has a right to be the person they desire to be. robert, that was great ad copy you wrote.”


“i didn’t write it, i stole it. mind you wants because someone wants your mind.”




“george clinton.”




“i grew up in d.c. used to be one of the few whites at clinton’s p-funk concerts. one day my father pulled me aside: robert, son, you are attracted to all those eccentric people—how many of those whom you follow live a good life after they reach fifty? i couldn’t think of one of my musical heroes who was over fifty—even clinton has lost most of his music publishing, so in that sense i no longer admire him. i can hear my father now: ‘son, it’s ok to enjoy yourself, but please think about your future. don’t end up penniless in your senior years. there’s nothing hip, as you call it, about being old, poor and uncared for’.”


“for sure you’re not poor.”


“poverty is boring—i have no intentions of ever being poor. simon, send mr. kennedy to barbados for his procedure. he’ll die happy.”


“robert, you are a genius.”


“no. i’m not a genius. it’s just that so many people are dissatisfied with who they are. for a fee, we help them out of their misery. they think they’re getting a new life, and in a way they are. it’s just not in this life. after all, who knows, there may indeed be life after death.”


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear




"I Don't Want To Go There"


A man was lost. Everywhere he went, no matter whom he met, he remained lost. He grew tired of not finding his way but everyone he asked where was the way would tell him something different. One said, it is far away, over the mountains, across the seas. Another said, no way exists, we are all lost. A third, smiled and said I am searching too, do you want to come with me. And so on. The search was frustrating.


Finally, he asked a child where was the way? The child asked where do you want to go? The man said to a better place, a place where there is no hunger, no war, no greed; everybody shares and lives together in peace and harmony. The child replied that sounds like heaven but I don’t want to go there. The man was stunned. And why not, he asked the child. Because you have to die to get there and I’ve just started to live.

—kalamu ya salaam




photo by Alex Lear




What Took You So Long?



We've Got To Have A Video For This. Meaningless As They Be, Here Are The Images--All We Did Was Round Up All The Usual Suspects: For these young-stars, while the weather never was cold, the "forties" always were. Plus seems there was always this one cutie who could blow smoke rings out her thing. Toke a big blunt with her labia major, and puff a thick blue cloud of chronic. No shit. The first time she did it in front of Eazy all he said was "whoa, now dat some bomb ass pussy!" (I'm telling yall all this shit so you will know the context. This is the expository part of this story where I do the detailing. Wax and shine the ride and grease down the cow hide. Gas it up to full and bump the tapes up past ten on the 14-inch speakers in the Alpine system.)


OK? Got it? Are You Suitably Distracted? Confused? What Did That Naked Woman Have To Do With The Story? Oh, I See You're Getting The Picture. You Were Looking At The Picture With The Sound Sense Off. OK, Now Cut The Tee-Vee. Ignore The Video. Listen.


So Eazy and Tupac sayz to each other:


EAZY: Yo bitch, how I know I'm alive?


TUPAC: You don't, unless you die.


EAZY: You mean I got to die to live?


TUPAC: No, I mean you can't prove you lived unless you die.


EAZY: And so what happens when I die? 

TUPAC: One of three things. One. You meet God and the Devil and they decide which one of them two mothafuckaz is your old man and who is going to own up to you for eternity.


EAZY: You mean my mama don't get no say so about this shit?


TUPAC: Eazy, man, you always was slow. Your mama deal with you when you alive. Your daddy deal with you when you dead.


EAZY: Oh, I see, what you sayin'.


TUPAC: No, that's the whole point. You don't see. You don't see shit while you alive. You don't get to see nothing til you dead. While you alive, you just live. Do whatever the fuck you want and then when you dead...

EAZY: You get to see what you did?


TUPAC: Yeah! That's one option.


EAZY: Oh, I get muthafuckin options?


TUPAC: I don't know, I'm just speculating on how a nigga be making it after he done passed on. 

EAZY: This some of that Panther shit?


TUPAC: Nigga talking to you is like talking to a brick except you ain't even solid enough to build nothing with.


EAZY: I know this bitch-ass momma's boy ain't tryin' to bag on a man. Yo shit so weak til the last bitch you fucked charged you with sexual harrasment AND YOU GOT CONVICTED, motherfucka! 

TUPAC: Alright, whatever. At least I know how to count my money, instead of slaving for a white man, "let's see, one for me, and one for you, and one for me, and one for him, and one for me, and one for Cube, now we all got an even cut." Eazy, you like the clown in class cracking jokes so nobody notice how dumb he is. 

EAZY: This ain't school. You ain't no teacher. You just mad cause I know how to read ya. 

TUPAC: Alright, alright. Option two is that after this shit play out, that's all she wrote. You had your little fifteen minutes of fame and now it's all over.


EAZY: That's wack. If this is all there is, I want my money back cause I been jipped. 

TUPAC: Option three is that this shit is a cycle and we come back over again.


EAZY: What you mean come back?


TUPAC: You get born again but instead of being a gangsta, you come back as a bitch.


EAZY: I know you trippin'. 

TUPAC: I'm just saying it's an option.


EAZY: But Pac, if you come back as somethin' else, then it ain't really comin' back. It be a whole new thing. Like if you fuckin' this cutie and the shit is bangin', but then when you go back the next night, she don't be there. Her sista be there. Then you ain't comin' back. It's a whole new thing. 

TUPAC: Nigga, why you got to reference everything with your dick.


EAZY: I ain't got to. It just feel better when I do.


TUPAC: Yeah, whatever. 

EAZY: So how you goin' out?


TUPAC: Like a man, mothafucka. However it come, I'm going out like a man. My boots on, looking the bullet dead in the mothafuckin eyez. You know what I mean?


EAZY: OK, like I got to bounce. I got some beats and shit to put down in the studio. 

TUPAC: Nigga, I heard some of that shit. That shit sound...


EAZY: It don't matter to me how my shit smell to you, what matter is that muthafuckaz buy the shit I do.


TUPAC: Represent and get paid.


EAZY: I'm gon do that. What you gon do?

TUPAC: I been thinking about getting out of the being real biz and getting into some real fake ass shit. That way I get to play hard on the screen and then live soft on the titty for a long ass time. Instead of making five records and then having niggaz saying "Tupac who?" I'm thinking of jumping off into film and shit. I can make movies til I'm sixty-two and people will still dig my shit. Kind of like that muthafucka John Wayne. 

EAZY: Fuck John Wayne.


TUPAC: Not even with your dick. I'm just saying homey, I been thinking...

EAZY: Yeah, you done got philosophical as a muthafucka since you took them bullets in yo ass and done a lil time in the clink. Tell me, you ain't got but one nut left.


TUPAC: My one weights a ton, and it's twice as heavy as both your pebbles put togetha. By the way, howz your boyfriend?

EAZY: Nah, there you go. You know you got that shit assbackwardz as usual. That's yo boyfriend and my ho...


TUPAC: Blahzy, blahzy. Whatever. Say Eazy?


EAZY: What?


TUPAC: After we gone, what do you think they'll say about us?

EAZY: Who?


TUPAC: You know, all them magazines that be writing about what color toilet paper we use and when was the last time yo mama sucked my dick on the beach.


EAZY: Nigga, I know you don't believe none of that shit. 

TUPAC: I ain't asking about what I believe, I'm asking about how people be pimping us.


EAZY: Pimpin' you! Ain't nobody pimpin' me. I ain't no ho.


TUPAC: Well bitch, I hate to be the one to tell you, you got the claps cause you done been fucked so much, but all you got to do is look around and it's plain enough to see how these muthafuckaz are profiting off of you and me. If we go straight they picture us in white. If we be real they picture us in black. No matter what we do, they sell our picture. 

EAZY: I still ain't no ho!


TUPAC: No, Eazy, what you mean is you still don't want to be no whore, but as long as you selling to make a living, you tricking and whoring. Why you think we making all this money?


EAZY: Nigga, you talkin' some bitch shit. I'm gettin' paid cause my shit is the rage and everybody like the way Eazzzzyyyy does it.

TUPAC: Eazy, you dumb as they come, but you still my nigga. After you gone, I ain't never going to forget you.


EAZY: Pour a sip on the curb, shout out a good word for the gangstaz like me and you that stayed all the way true to the real of gettin' fucked, gettin' ducs, and doin' whatever the fuck we wanna do. Peace out, muthafucka. And besides who gives a fuck what happens after I'm gone?

TUPAC: Word. And Eazy, if I get to the otherside before you do, I'ma keep a warm seat at the welcome table, a cold forty in the box, and a light on the front porch so your sorry ass can find your way back home. 

EAZY: Yeah, you do that. Meanwhile, I'm outta here. 


So Eazy slid into a coma, and even before he eased out of here, his peeps was fighting over his shit. Who would get what? They couldn't hardly bury him straight behind all the lawsuits.


For a minute the magazines talked about AIDS and the radio advised safe sex when getting laid. But only for a minute and then the 24-7-365 was on again. Because in the muzak biz, the death of a star only makes more room for the wanna beez. And the hungry ones just keep on coming, keep on scheming, keep on dreaming.

The seduction of glamour and gangsterism is real. The high of being invincible, of dodging death and indulging every desire. Living large enough to make a cartoon out of life is the bomb, until it explodes.


Tupac was no fool. Undisciplined--maybe, self-indulgent--surely, and even ocassionally willfully crazy, but nobody's fool. He could see the moving light headed his way from the far end of the tunnel, and though, every now and then, he couldn't help thinking aloud about turning around, he just kept on trucking. He had shook hands with death before and still had all five fingers to prove he knew what he was doing. He was a fighter and a survivor and real men don't cry. So he sucked up any regrets and kept on stepping. 

Everytime the light inched closer towards him, some other kind of good shit would happen to make Tupac disregard the upcoming collision. 

God, he loved Iron Mike. The way Mike never let nothing keep him down. And Suge, that nigga is so for real. He covered Tupac's back and had a limo waiting out front when he made the bail. 

Inside of Tupac's head the party was in full effect: Did you see how Mike smoked that dude in the first round? And look whose driving me around, the president and me. Two multimillionaires... the light blinded him this time as death took a firmer grip. When four bullets said hello, there was no place for Mr. Tupac to go except to step off into the void of the great beyond. 

So when Tupac got to the other side, the first person he saw was Eazy-E and Eazy said to Tupac: "What took you so long?"

And Tupac, still a little dazed from the suddeness of the trip, haltingly replied, "I was having second thoughts about living."


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear







(for Ken Saro Wiwa)





the thot


took our words




treated us like the real po-po:


cut us down

on suspicion

of being


dangerous, just in case

we actually


are serious




some of us forget

ken’s killers

were the folk

who threw fela’s mother

out the window




a little while ago

i took a hot shower


was ken able to wash

before the hanging?




everybody be talking abt

the morning after


what abt

the night before


any thots

on that?




when i look into the mirror

of my life



do i see anything

that would lead me to believe


that i would be willing

to die for my beliefs?





you had to take full


for every word

you uttered

no matter how little

you meant it


“really, i was just joking around

i didn’t mean to tell the truth”




can we



not to be



can we?


can we be


like ken

saro wiwa was



straight up



the end?



—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear





The End of the World, As We Know It


"Little Zutie asked me, what is god?"


"And you said?"


"I don't know."


"Zutie, please, I'm sure you know what you said."


"That's what I said: I don't know." Big Zutie's eyes twinkled as she raised a wrinkled digit to the crown of her hairless head. "Little Zutie piped back at me, you an elder Ank, you know the answer. Then I said, I told you the answer to your question."


Big Zutie dropped to the floor. I brought her a bowl of gumba. Zutie thumped her foot in an excited 6/8 rhythm. "Oohh weee, you killing me."


"Good.  Die happy," I laughed as she finished the bowl in two quick gulps. I grabbed the empty ceramic container and glided back to the stove, refilled it halfway, and then returned to where Big Zutie was lying on her side and humming to himself. I knelt before her. As I offered her the bowl she shook her head and pulled at my penduta. "Wait, tell me about Little Zutie," I asked. There must have been a reason Zutie even brought this up. She doesn't usually make small talk with me.


"What is there to tell? I told Little Zutie, whenever someone says 'god,' all they're saying is, 'I don't know'. God is the mystery of life. Whatever we don't know, that becomes god." While Big Zutie is talking she is rubbing me and my penduta firms up beneath her touch.


"Look how pretty and long it is."


She embarrasses me whenever she talks like that even though it is true that my penduta is longer than average. Zutie always said she picked me because of that, "You know, the thicker the penduta, the sweeter the nectar." I turned my head away. My penduta was sensitive now. I moaned.


"Come  here, I want a mouthful."


I tried ignoring Zutie. Most Ank's would slap you silly if you ignored them, but Zutie and I were different. I pushed her hand away with my left hand as I picked up the bowl in my right hand and slowly sipped from it.


I felt Zutie listening to me as I noisily smacked my lips. I started to move to place the bowl in the corner but Zutie pulled me by my left arm and tightly grasped my penduta in the pudgy softness of her left hand. Sometimes, when their cycle comes around, I think Anks would rather nurse than eat.


Zutie and I have been together almost a whole rotation, and despite my age I was beginning to feel a certain tenderness for Zutie, and I know that's crazy. Separating love from need is very difficult. When you don't need someone and then you love them, then it's easy to know that what you're feeling is genuine and not just survival masking itself as some self-deluding emotion…


"Deimos, you think I don't know that you are afraid to die."


"Death is nothing." My back stiffened as I stood up while backing away from where Zutie lay on the floor. Anks always think we penda are obsessed with dying. Even Zutie, who is so open in how she thinks, even she does not understand—but how can she? She is a womb. She lives to suck nectar and to give birth, and I survive by supplying nectar and by working hard.


As I turned to remove the bowl, I tried to sound nonchalant in contradicting Zutie. "No, Zutie, I do not fear death. I fear living without love." There I had said it, admitted it.


"Death is real. Love is nothing," Zutie spat the words out like fruit pits. When I returned Zutie was standing, reared up to her full height. Zutie fixed a withering stare on me. "Love… ask me… look at me!" Zutie sternly commanded, her voice dropping to a hiss. I kept my head slightly bowed as I looked up at her. "You are a penda, I am an Ank, and love has nothing to do with any of it. Nothing."


I was trembling, now. Both brave and afraid. "Some times, Zutie…"


"Some times what?"


"Some times love makes life livable and death bearable."


"Oh, what a load of crap." Zutie slapped me so quickly I did not see it coming. The blow staggered me. I would have fallen but she caught me and steadied me. My head was ringing. Her breath was rancid on my face as she embraced me.


Blood rushed to my fingers. I hid my pulsing hands behind my back. But Zutie heard. She hears everything. Zutie grabbed one of my hands.


"Your pulse is screaming. You are really upset. I understand that." There was a long silence. "Deimos what am I to do with you?" I said nothing.


Zutie dropped my hand. "I like the taste of you. We both know I could have as many other penda as I want. I have had many penda in my long life. So many, I have forgotten…" Zutie turned from me and spoke with her back turned. "Do you think the fact that I happen to really like the taste of you is love? That I keep you safe, is that love? That I talk with you?"


There was an awkward moment of stillness. Waving her hand just above her shoulder although not turning to face me, Zutie beckoned for me to come near her. I stood so close to her, the hairs on her back swayed in time to my exhales.


 "What I love…" Zutie turned, stared at me briefly, patted my penduta and chortled a short, cynical laugh, "…is the taste of your sweet nectar." Then she lay down on her side, leaning against the wall.


A tear formed in my eye. Was providing nectar all I meant to Zutie?


"Stop being so sentimental. Old as I am, you may even outlive me. Now that Little Zutie is matured, and…" Zutie quickly turned melancholy. Neither of us said anything for a minute as we both knew that the rise of Little Zutie, who was both Big Zutie's offspring and her successor, meant that death was near for Zutie whose body could produce no more Anks and that death was also near for me simply because time was catching up with me. Besides, I was sure that Little Zutie had her choice of penda in mind.


Though they both said my nectar was still the sweetest, I felt like the well was almost dry. My reverie was broken by Zutie’s hoarse but subdued revelation.


"Deimos, my transition date has been set." Zutie gathered up the bulk of herself and slowly sat up. "It will be soon. Sooner than you know…"


Zutie pulled me close to her. I didn't resist her touch, but inside I stiffened. I felt depressed, overcome by a sudden weight of guilt for not taking better care of her in her last days. I wondered how long she had known her time.


"Deimos, stop crying. We all die, eventually. The world will go on." I didn't know I was crying. Zutie pulled me close and licked the tears on my face. "Mmmm…"


Her hand was on my penduta again. Stroking. It hurt so much the last time. They say when the pain gets to be almost unbearable is when it happens.


I have known this conversation was coming and had tried to prepare myself, but obviously I had failed because I couldn't stop crying. And the more I cried, the more Zutie's tongue lapped at my tears. Then she pushed me flat on my back and moved her mouth onto my penduta. It felt good, but I knew the pain was coming. It felt really good. Really. And then her hands were on my nipples. Pinching. Hard. The pleasure was almost too much.


Suddenly she stopped sucking… I opened my eyes. Someone else was here. It was Little Zutie. Little? She was almost the equal of Big Zutie's massive weight. I didn't like Little Zutie. She never talked to me other than to give me instructions. I turned away from the sight of Little Zutie lumbering towards us and found myself looking at the cool stare of Big Zutie who drew back a bit and continued earnestly stroking my penduta with one hand while leaning on her side and staring blankly at me. Little Zutie started making that wheezing sound of anticipation that was normal for her when she was about to eat. I didn't want to, but Zutie's touch was arousing.


Emitting deep grunts of satisfaction, Big Zutie roused herself, rolled slowly beside me, bent over and resolutely started kissing my face and sucking my teardrops, which I was vainly trying to staunch now that I understood that Big Zutie was preparing me for Little Zutie to drink my nectar. There were so many other penda available. Zutie could have gotten one just for Little Zutie.


"Stop thinking so much, your thoughts will sour your nectar." Zutie pinched my nipples again and then moved aside as Little Zutie scooted over to us. Little Zutie took my penduta into her mouth. This was my first time nursing Little Zutie.


Even though I able to will myself to stop crying, Zutie's rough tongue kept lapping around the edges of my eyes. Meanwhile I tried to hold back, tried to stem my arousal by concentrating on the pungency of Big Zutie's breath, but I could not help myself. I moaned as I felt the nectar stirring in my penduta, ready to geyser forth. And at the same time there was a stinging pain building in my groin. I moaned louder.


"Suck harder," Zutie instructed and Little Zutie complied. My toes clinched as I screamed. The pain grew so quickly. I started thrashing. Zutie pressed down with her full weight to hold me still. The pain was so great my eyes hurt. Zutie clamped down on my face, my screams muffled by her body. I tried to buck, to turn my head to breath, but my nectar was about to erupt.




Little Zutie stuck a finger into my rectum. Spasms shot through my body and two long streams of nectar erupted. Little Zutie sucked harder after each spurt.


I must have blanked out for a few seconds. My penduta was soft. Little Zutie had rolled over onto her back, her tongue lolling out of her open mouth. Big Zutie was down between my legs. She gently squeezed my gonads and took a soft suck on my penduta. Pain shot through me, but I was too weak to do anything but utter a feeble yelp.


"There is always a little bit left in there after they erupt." Zutie smacked her lips. I guess she was talking to Little Zutie, instructing her on the art of sucking nectar. "And it's all good, so don't let any of it go to waste." When Zutie finished, I crawled into her waiting embrace and fell fast asleep.




"I knew of only two penda who lived to be older than thirty, and both of them never nursed," Phobos said to me as we walked back to the shelters. The atmosphere was wonderfully chilly for this time of rotation.


"How did they manage that?"


"They were the ones who discovered Eroz rocks."


"Eroz rocks?"


"Yeah, you know Eroz, the planet."


"I don't get it. Eroz rocks, so what?"


Before Phobos could answer, we heard the tinkling of bells. An Ank transition procession was coming. Phobos and I stepped aside and bowed to the Ank who was being carried by four penda, each of whom was much younger than us. They were headed down the mountain to Dry Lake. You didn't usually see Anks on the surface unless they were like that group, headed for the last go round. It must be hard knowing for a long time before it happens exactly when you are going to be carried away. Much harder than just dying in an orgasm like we do.


"They say it's painless," Phobos whispered when the palanquin rounded a bend in the road and was gone from sight.


"Yes, I’ve heard that too."


Almost as though he read my thoughts, Phobos added, "I heard that when a penda participates in an Ank transition, they give you this medication that dulls all the pain. You erupt and then you die but you don't feel anything."


I tried not to dwell on those morbid thoughts, but before I knew it, I was adding my own concerns to the mental image I had of dying, adrift on the floating pyre of a burning raft. I had never seen the ceremony, but we all knew about the disposal of Ank's too old to breed… like Zutie. "Zutie's time is almost here. She has not told me when, but from the way she is acting, I think it is soon."


Phobos looked at me with the longing of one moon for another. I tried to smile to reassure Phobos, "But it's ok. Zutie says she is going to get four new penda for her transition."


I didn't tell Phobos how much I disliked Little Zutie, nor did I mention anything about how much pain I had felt when I nursed Little Zutie because I knew it would make Phobos sad to know that my time was also near. But then, Phobos had to know. Just like I knew that his time was near. We were penda born of the same Ank.


Phobos put his arm around my shoulder. I looked at him. He briefly touched his forehead to my forehead. "Soon this old life will…"


I put a finger to Phobos' lips to silence him. I loved him so much.


As far back as anyone could remember, we penda had short life spans and did all the hard work. Although the pain of nursing eventually killed you, at least life was both easier and longer if you serviced an Ank than if you worked the interior. But only a few of us were lucky enough to be chosen by an Ank.


There was no way to know what attracted an Ank to a penda except seemed like all Ank's were crazy about nectar, and who could know why one pend's nectar tasted sweeter than another? Maybe it was chromosome 13. Who knew?


I adjusted the straps of my water sack, hoisting the load a little higher. "Come, let's get back before night light." One moon was already barely visible, and the second was not far behind.


Phobos leaned in to touch foreheads again but I drew back, afraid that we would not be able to control ourselves. Phobos responded with a tight embrace. I closed my eyes but tears still squeezed out. My pulse raced against my will. Phobos began drinking my tears, greedily licking up and down each cheek beneath my eyes. As soon as he swallowed his knees buckled.


"No, not here." I tried to hold him up, but I was not strong enough and he sat down clumsily, pulling me down with him. "No." I stared at him. But he ignored me and his face became wet with tears. I could not resist him any longer. I leaned into him, kissing every wet spot I could find on his face.


We both knew the potency of our tears. We both knew how weak we would be and that we would be knocked out and might not awaken in time enough to get back to the shelters before night light.


I don't know how long I was blissed out, but the next thing I knew Phobus was pulling me up. For a short while I did not know where I was, and then I remembered. Phobus just smiled at me and then started humming. I forced myself to get up but I really felt like sleeping.


I looked up into the emerald sky. We still had time. Phobus handed me my pouch, which I didn't remember removing, and then he turned back onto the path. I pushed my arms through the straps and caught up with Phobus.


Although we walked hand in hand, we were both loss in our own thoughts. I glanced over at him. He looked straight ahead, almost as if I were not beside him. We hiked in silence, except for the barely audible sound of our breathing and the distinct swoosh of our footfalls on the ochre-colored, dusty slope.


Finally, I remembered to ask him about the Eroz rocks.


"Oh, it's this theory that life started on Eroz and came here through the rocks."


"That's religious."


"No, no. There is this zone that supports life as we know it…"


"What do you mean, as we know it?"


"The theory is life didn't start here. The bang force of the universe zoomed the nine planets away from the sun and there is a certain distance from the sun that supports life, and Eroz passed through the zone before us and now it's our turn and next…"


"Next will be Gaia, the third one from the sun."


"Yes, and life goes from planet to planet carried by rocks."


"So, you believe that life exists on Eroz?"


"Existed—long, long ago, but we're it now. And, of course, every manifestation is different. There is no way for us to know what life was like on Eroz or even to guess what form it will be on Gaia."


There was a distinct note of pride in Phobus' voice as he shared his deepest musings with me. As attractive as he was, he could have made it on looks alone without thinking one original thought, but rather than his body, it was his beautiful brain that he was most proud of. His intelligence was breathtaking.


"You know so much…" I intoned admiringly and he responded to my complement by squeezing my hand a little. My voice stumbled slowly over the syllables as I offered up my self-depreciating assessment, "…and I know so little." I looked down as I talked. The dust felt cool on the soles of my bare feet as we walked. When I took a quick, shy peep at Phobus I was startled by the concerned look on his face. I tried to joke away my embarrassment by referring to my other attractive asset, "I guess I just have sexy tears."


Phobus stopped and yanked me around with a tender tug. "I told you many, many times, I love…"


"I love your spirit," I finished his oft-repeated declaration. He grinned. But I fell into the funk that only the homely and the ordinary know. If anyone likes us, it is always for our intangibles. But the truth was I wanted to be beautiful, I wanted more than a big penduta, I wanted a body like Phobos', I wanted to be able to think like Phobos. Who doesn't…


"Deimos, the Anks got you believing that tears and nectar are all you are good for, but the way life is is not the way life has to be. That's why knowing about Eroz rocks is important. Eroz rocks prove that the world can be different than it is."


Phobus' sincerity was energizing. I smiled despite the feeling of futility gnawing at what little confidence was inside me. I diverted my gaze to the road ahead. When I peeked back out of the edges of my peripheral vision, Phobus was steady smiling at me. I held my head up and after a few more steps, Phobus continued, "They say there are at least ten Eroz rocks in one of the secret Ank chambers."


"Yes, but a rock is not life."


"Aha, but that is what Nef and Amo discovered. Inside the rocks are spoors that are the seeds of life."


"Seeds of life, that is what some Anks called our nectar."


Phobus looked over at me and smiled sadly, "Yes, except rocks don't have feelings."




"Zutie, have you heard of Eroz rocks?"


She looked at me over the rim of her bowl of gumba. Licked her lips, took a long sip which emptied the bowl and then lay supine placing the bowl beside her, "Yes. They exist."


Zutie said nothing else and simply stared at me as if to say, Deimos, where did you get this knowledge. I looked away. Who was I to question an Ank?


"To me, Eroz rocks prove god exists."


"What did you say?"


I could not bring myself to look at Zutie as I repeated my words.


"Deimos, there are two big challenges in life: one is to be satisfied with the life you are given and the other is to always reach for more." The vein that ran back down the middle of her head bulged as she stared at me. I waited dutifully for her to explain but, instead, Zutie intentionally changed the subject. "The gumba was excellent."


"Cave water instead of synthetic wet. Makes a big difference." I picked up the bowl and gestured to ask did she want more. Zutie shook her head no.


"I'll take a little more," Little Zutie said.


I moved to get her bowl but Big Zutie stopped me with her voice, "No, Deimos. I want you to eat the rest. Little Zutie and I are full enough. Besides gumba makes the nectar sweeter."


I said nothing but my head was spinning. I was getting too old to keep on giving nectar. Nursing was going to be the death of me. Would there ever be a time when penda were more than simply a source of something sweet to suck? Maybe in the next world…


—kalamu ya salaam



photo by Alex Lear






Nina is song. Not just a vocalist or singer, but actual song. The physical vibration and the meaning too. A reflection and projection of a certain segment of our mesmerizing ethos. Culturally specific in attitude, in rhythm, in what she harmonizes with and what she clashes against, merges snugly into and hotly confronts in rage. All that she is. Especially the contradictions and contrarinesses. And why not. If Nina is song. Our song. She would have to be all that.


Nina is not her name. Nina is our name. Nina is how we call ourselves remade into an uprising. Eunice Waymon started out life as a precocious child prodigy -- amazingly gifted at piano. She went to church, sang, prayed and absorbed all the sweat of the saints: the sisters dropping like flies and rising like angels all around her. Big bosoms clad in white. Tambourine-playing, cotton-chopping, tobacco-picking, corn-shucking, floor-mopping, child-birthing, man-loving hands. The spray of sweat and other body secretions falling on young Eunice's face informing her music for decades to come with the fluid fire of quintessential Black musicking. But there was also the conservatory and the proper way to approach the high art of music. The curve of the hands above the keyboard. The ear to hear and mind to understand the modulations in and out of various keys. The notes contained in each chord. She aspired to be a concert pianist. But at root she was an obeah woman. With voice and drum she could hold court for days, dazzle multitudes, regale us with the splendor, enrapture us with the serpentine serendipity of her black magic womanistness articulated in improvised, conjured incantations. "My daughter said, mama, sometimes I don't understand these people. I told her I don't understand them either but I'm born of them, and I like it." Nina picked up Moses' writhing rod, swallowed it and now hisses back into us the stories of our souls on fire. Hear me now, on fire.


My first memory of Nina is twofold. One that music critics considered her ugly and openly said so. And two that she was on the Tonight show back in the late fifties/very early sixties singing "I Love You Porgy." Both those memories go hand in hand. Both those memories speak volumes about what a Black woman could and could not do in the Eisenhower era. They called her ugly because she was Black. Literally. Dark skinned. In the late fifties, somewhat like it is now, only a tad more adamant, couldn't no dark skinned woman be pretty. In commercial terms, the darker the uglier. Nina was dark. She sang "Porgy" darkly. Made you know that the love she sang about was the real sound of music, and that Julie Andrews didn't have a clue. Was something so deep, so strong that I as a teenager intuitively realized that Nina's sound was both way over my head and was also the water within which my soul was baptized. Which is probably why I liked it, and is certainly why my then just developing moth wings sent me shooting toward the brilliant flashes of diamond bright lightening which shot sparking cobalt blue and ferrous red out of the black well of her mouth. This was some elemental love. Some of the kind of stuff I would first read about in James Baldwin's Another Country, a book that America is still not ready to understand. Love like that is what Nina's sound is.


Her piano was always percussive. It hit you. Moved you. Socked it to you. She could hit one note and make you sit up straight. Do things to your anatomy. That was Nina. Made a lot of men wish their name was Porgy. That's the way she sang that song. I wanted to grow up and be Porgy. Really. Wanted to grow up and get loved like Nina was loving Porgy. For a long time, I never knew nobody else sang that song. Who else could possibly invest that song with such a serious message, serious meaning? Porgy was Nina's man. Nina's song. She loved him. And he was well loved.


In my youth, I didn't think she was ugly. Nor did I didn't think she was beautiful. She just looked like a dark Black woman. With a bunch of make-up on in the early days. Later, I realized what she really looked like was an African mask. Something to shock you into a realization that no matter how hard you tried, you would never ever master white beauty because that is not what you were. Fundamental Blackness. Severe lines. Severe, you hear me. I mean, you hear Nina. Dogonic, chiseled features. Bold eyes. Ancient eyes. Done seen and survived slavery eyes. A countenance so serious that only hand carved mahogany or ebony could convey the features.


The hip-notism of her. The powerful peer. Percussive piano. Pounding pelvis. The slow, unhurried sureness. An orgasm that starts in the toes and ends up zillions of long seconds later emanating as a wide-mouthed silent scream uttered in some sonic range between a sigh and a whimper. A coming so deep, you don't tremble, you quake. I feel Nina's song and think of snakes. Damballa undulations. Congolesian contractions. She is an ancient religion renewed. The starkness of resistance. And nothing Eurocentric civilization can totally contain. Dark scream. Be both the scream and the dark. A crusty fist shot straight up in the air, upraised head. Maroon. Runaway. No more auction block. The one who did not blink when their foot was cut off to keep them from running away. And they just left anyway. Could stand before the overseer and not be there. Could answer drunken requests to sing this or that love song and create a seance so strong you sobered up and afterwards reeled backward, pawing the air cause you needed a drink. You could not confuse Nina Simone with some moon/june, puritan love song. Nina was the sound that sent slave masters slipping out of four posted beds and roaming through slave quartered nights. Yes, Nina was. And was too the sound that sent them staggering back with faces and backs scratched, teeth marked cheeks, kneed groins, and other signs of resistance momentarily tattooed on their pale bodies. And despite her fighting spirit, or perhaps because of her fighting spirit, the strength and ultra high standard of femininity she established with her every breath, these men who would be her master would not sell her. Might whip her a little, but not maim her. Well, nothing beyond cutting the foot so she would stay. With Nina it could get ugly if you came at her wrong, and something in her song said any White man approaching with intentions of possessing me is wrong. Nina sounded like that. Which is why this anti-fascist German team wrote "Pirate Jenny" and it was a long, long time before I realized that the song wasn't even about Black people.


Nina Simone was/is something so potent, so fascinating. A fertile flame. A cobra stare. Once you heard her, you could not avoid her, avoid the implications of her sound, be ye Black, White or whatever. Her blackness embraced the humanity in all who heard her, who experienced being touched by her, whose eyes welled up with tears sometimes, feeling the panorama of sensations she routinely but not rotely evoked wherever, whenever she sat at the altar of her piano and proceeded to unfurl the spiritual history of her people. When Nina sang, sings, if you are alive, and hear her, really hear her, you become umbilicaled into the cosmic and primal soul of suffering and resurrection, despair and hope, slavery and freedom that all humans have, at one level or another, both individually and ethnically, experienced, even if only vicariously. After all, who knows better the range of reactions to the blade, than does the executioner who swings the axe?


Nina hit you in the head, in the heart, in the gut and in the groin. But she hit you with music, and thus her sonorous fusillades, even at their most furious, did you no harm. In fact, the resulting outpouring of passions was a healing. A lancing of sentimental sacs which held the poisons of oppressive tendencies, the biles of woe-filled self-pity. A draining from the body of those social toxicants which embitter one's soul. A removal of the excrescent warts of prejudice and chauvinism that blight one's civil make-up.


Sangoma Simone sang and her sound was salving and salubrious. Her concerts were healing circles. Her recordings medicinal potions. She gave so much. Partaking of her drained you of cloying mundanities. Poured loa-ed essentials into the life cup. You left her presence, filled to your capacity and aware of how much there was to achieve by being a communicative human being.


Nina Simone. Supper clubs could not hold her. Folk songs were not strong enough. Popular standards too inane. Even though she did them. Did them to death. Took plain soup, and when she finished adding her aural herbs, there you had gumbo. Nina hit her stride with the rebellious uprises of the sixties, and the fierce pride of the seventies. Became a Black queen, an African queen. Became beautiful. Remember, I am talking about a time when we really believed Black was beautiful. Not just ok, acceptable, nothing to be ashamed of, but beautiful. Proud. And out there. Not subdued. Not refined. Not well mannered. But out there. Way out. Like Four Women. Like Mississippi Goddamn. Like Young, Gifted And Black. Like Revolution. Like: "And I Mean Every Word Of It". This was Nina who did an album with only herself. Voice. Piano. And some songs that commented on the human condition in terms bolder than had ever been recorded in popular music before. Are we The Desperate Ones? Have We Lost The Human Touch?


My other memories of Nina have to do with the aftermath. I recall the aridness of counterrevolutionary America clamping down and shuttering the leading lights of the seventies. Nina's radiance was celestial, but oh my, how costly the burning. Seeking fuel she fled into exile. Who would be her well, where could she find a cool drink of water before she died?


Then, like indiscreet body odors, the rumors and gossip began floating back. The tempest. The turning in on the self. What happens when they catch you and bring you back. Reify and commodify you, relegate you back into slavery. You are forced to fight in little and sometimes strange ways. But the thrill is gone. Cause only freedom is thrilling, and ain't no thrill in being contained on anybody's plantation, chained to anybody's farm. Anybody's, be they man, woman or child. Nobody's. Nothing thrilling about not being liberated.


Nina, like most of us, went crazy so that she could stay sane. Just did it hard. Was a more purer crazy. Cause she had so much to be sane about. So much that leeches wanted to siphon, sip, suck.


How do you stay sane in America? You go crazy. In order to be.


To be proud. And beautiful. And woman. And dark. Black skinned. You have to go crazy to stay sane. You have to scream, just to make room for your whispers. You have to cry and cuss, so that you can kiss and love. You have to fight. Fight. Fight. Lord. Fight. I gets. Fight. So tired. Fight. Of. Fight. Fighting all the time. But ooohhh child things are gonna get easier.


Don't tell me about her deficiencies, or her screwed up business affairs, her temper tantrums, her lack of understanding, her bad luck with men, her walking off the stage on the audience. Don't tell me about nothing. None of that. Because all of that ain't Nina. Nina Simone is song. And all of that is just whatever she got to do. Like she said: Do What You Got To Do. Oh Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.


I play Nina Simone. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. This morning. Tonight at noon. Under the hot sun of Amerikkka, merrily, merrily, merrily denigrating us. In those terrible midnights. I play Nina Simone. Just to stay sane. Stay Black. To remember that Black is beautiful, not pretty. Beautiful is more than pretty. Beautiful is deep. I play beautiful Nina Simone. Nina Song. I play Nina Simone. And whether Nina's song turns you off or Nina's song turns you on, whose problem, whose opportunity is that?


No. Let me correct the English. I don't play Nina Simone. I serious Nina Simone. Serious. Simone. Put on her recordings and Nzinga strut all night long. And even that is not long enough.


To be young, or ancient. Gifted, or ordinary. But definitely Black, definitely the terrible beauty of Blackness. Nina Simone. Nina Song. Nina. Nina. Nina.


Oh my god. I give thanx for Nina Simone.


—kalamu ya salaam