BLACK POETRY 1965-2000

(notes towards a discussion & dialogue)


What is poetry? That is not a rhetorical question. What it is we are discussing? I define poetry as "stylized language." Within the context of what is generally called literature, I further specify that poetry is language stylized to have an emotional impact on its audience. Within the world of English-language poetry, the chief methods of stylization are: 1. meter and/or rhythm 2. the specific use of sound usually in terms of a. rhyme b. assonance/consonance c. alliteration d. onomatopoeia 3. figurative language, chiefly similes and metaphors.

The canonical standards for contemporary American poetry have their beginnings in England with Shakespeare and their most important developments in the modernist movement of the 1920s (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams). The fountain heads of contemporary American poetry are considered to be Walt Whitman and Emily Dickerson.

When we look at black poetry, however, we find another, and equally important, source: namely black speech and music, a distinct and distinguished oral and aural tradition which predates America and stretches back to Africa. These two trains are the twin engines of African American, or what I would prefer to call African Diasporan poetry. Most literary criticism gives short shrift to, and very little critical understanding of, black speech/black music as a source of black poetry. Most literary criticism does not consider that our ancestral mother tongues were tonal languages, which to some non-Africans sound like singing rather than talking.

My argument is that the best use of our language is in fact song. Is song, not sounds like song. And this song essence, this musical emphasis informs what we know as poetry. Indeed, while we may be unique in the degree of our congruity of speech and song, within the context of poetry, the fact is, all poetry, I repeat all poetry, started out as sound rather than text, closer to song than to monotone talking.

Moreover, even the paragon of English poetry, i.e. the work of William Shakespeare (whomever he or she, or they, may have been), even Shakespeare was primarily working in an oral tradition using the vernacular of his day. It is not inappropriate to argue that Shakespeare created the English language as a vehicle for literature. During his day, most literature was written in Latin or French. Shakespeare elevated folk forms and the peasant patois of his era to a literary art form. Shakespeare took the vernacular and created high art.

This brings us to the  Black Arts Movement. I know it probably seems like a major stretch to go directly from Shakespeare to the black arts movement of the 1960s, but if you understand that the effort of the black arts movement was to make art based on the speech and music of black people, drawn from the everyday lives of our people and returned to them in an inspiring and potent form; if you understand that the vernacular was the basis for the development of the art; and if you understand that text was not the singular consideration but rather one of a number of considerations, then you can appreciate the Shakespeares of Harlem, of Watts, of Detroit, Chicago, D.C., so forth and so on. And by the way, this artistic elevation of the vernacular is not limited to Shakespeare and the black arts movement.

This same concern shaped the work of the aforementioned founders and fountain heads of modern American poetry. Indeed, this same phenomenon is evidenced in the work of Homer and particularly in the work of Dante, just to name two very important poets from a global historical perspective. While I acknowledge there are other perspectives and considerations, I nevertheless proffer the theory that what was new about the black arts movement was that we were creating our own path rather than following the paths of others.

I also need to point out that the development of the Black Arts Movement had roots and precedents in earlier movements within black literature, as well as roots from outside the black literary tradition. For a general overview of the black arts movement, I refer you to my essay in the Oxford Companion to African American Literature. For a detailed investigation of the black arts movement, I refer you to my forthcoming book: The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement.

With that background I will now offer observations for discussion and dialogue. This is not a position paper; this is not an analysis; this is not a summary, but rather is simply a sharing of some ideas and observations toward the development of an assessment of black poetry 1965 to 2000. The black arts movement proper covers the time period of 1965 to 1976. In February 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated and shortly thereafter in March of 1965 a small group of artists and intellectuals coalesced in Harlem to take up work that Malcolm X had outlined in his vision for the Organization of Afro American Unity, the Oaau. Malcolm called for the developed of a cultural center in Harlem.

Amiri Baraka, then LeRoi Jones, Larry Neal, Askia Muhammad Toure, then Roland Snellings, and numerous others responded directly to this call. It is important to point out that the concept for what became the black arts repertory theatre/school did not originate with Baraka although it was named and actualized by Baraka. The specific thrust came from Malcolm X, who in turn was influenced by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad from whom Malcolm had split and from the whole black nationalist tradition dating back to Garvey in Harlem, a movement which Malcolm had studied intently.

Moreover, although looking at the work of key individuals is extremely important, what is more important is to consider the ideas and institutions, the programs and production that is engendered by individuals in motion during a given era. In this case the black arts era is birthed with the death of Malcolm X and makes it's own transition in 1976 when its three major publishing institutions all, each for different reasons, cease functioning. The three major publishing institutions are Dudley Randall's Detroit-based Broadside Press (which by the way re-emerged and continues to operate today); Johnson publications, Hoyt Fuller editedNegro Digest/Black World; and The Journal of Black Poetry published and edited by Joe Goncalves, aka Dingane. Between these three institutions hundreds of poets were published and over thousands of poems distributed in the Black community of the USA and worldwide.
There has been no comparable output of published poetry by any other movement in the history of America. Negro Digest/Black World, with a circulation over 100,000 was the largest literary magazine in American history. White, black or otherwise. Period. Broadside Press with its poetry books, broadsides, tapes and lps, and short lived though very important series of critical monographs is without precedent as a publisher of American poetry. No other press was as influential in terms of poetry.

And finally, although its circulation was not as large, the Journal of Black Poetry which published 19 issues between the mid sixties and the mid seventies, is one of the most vibrant examples of an independently published, non-academic poetry journal in the history of American publishing.

This period also produced three major poetry anthologies: Dudley Randall's The Black Poets, Abraham Chapman's New Black Voices, and Stephen Henderson's Understanding the New Black PoetryBlack Speech and Black Music as Poetic References. Of course, there is also the seminal anthology for the black arts movement, namely Leroi Jones and Larry Neal's Black Fire.

The next major period of black poetry is undefined in terms of a movement per se. This era of retrenchment from the ideals and actualities of black arts poetic production and movement toward, and indeed embracement of, more mainstream modes of poetic production finds its fruition in the work of poet, professor and anthologist Michael Harper. General acclaim given to Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyaaka and to national poet laureate Rita Dove, are both partially the result of the behind the scenes and extremely far reaching work of Michael Harper.

From his position as a professor of creative writing in the graduate program at Brown University, Harper has been able to mentor two generations of poets; champion numerous poets; bring back into print and cause a reassessment of earlier black poets, chiefly Robert Hayden and Sterling Brown; and publish a number of influential poetry anthologies including: every Shut Eye Ain't Sleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans since 1945 (published in 1994) and The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (published Feb. 2000). During this post-black arts period there has been a virtual proliferation of black poets coming through graduate programs in literature. One might call them mfa poets if it didn't have such an exclusive and exclusionary ring to it.

The fruition of Harper's vision is one of the most important developments of the 90s, namely the Cave Canem grouping of poets led by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eddy. Harper and Cave Canem are all academically-oriented, not exclusively so but in the main that is their orientation, and that means they are most concerned with text. Of course other currents were active during this period, and three of the most important figures in late 20th century poetry production in terms of editing, anthologizing, and championing the work of black poets, are Quincy Troupe, E. Ethlelbert Miller and the head of this crew Dr. Jerry Ward, whose 1997 anthology Trouble the Water-250 Years of African American Poetry is a quintessential embodiment of this viewpoint.

Additionally, from a pedagogic point of view, the most important of what I would term the third stream of modern Black poetry is found in the work of Joanne Gabbin with her furious flower conference and the extensions from that conference that include a four-volume video tape series, an online teacher's guide, an anthology of critical essays, and a forthcoming anthology of poetry.

Furious Flower represents an unparalleled summing up of mid to late 20th century Black poetry. Gabbin's vision embraces both trains of African American aesthetics, the text-oriented and the speech/music oriented, and manages to be both compact and comprehensive while acknowledging the strengths and importance of both schools of African American poetics. 

Here is text and context presented in multimedia appropriate for use in the classroom. The importance of the comprehensive third stream (as exemplified by Gabbin, Miller, Troupe and others) on the one hand and the academic poets (as clustered around Michael Harper and Cave Canem) on the other hand, are both eclipsed by the most recent development in African American poetry, namely the spoken word movement which began to dominate the production of black poetry in the late 1990s.

Watershed events in this regard are the nationally released motion pictures: Love Jones (1997) starring Lorenz Tate and Nia Long, and directed by Theodore Witcher, and Slam (1998) starring Saul Williams and Sonia Sohn and directed by Marc Levin. Although this movement was not started by these movies, these two films are collectively responsible for popularizing what is now the most dynamic movement in black poetry. If there is a watershed event it happened many, many years before: September 1979 with the release of Rapper's Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang. This was the beginning of rap recordings.

Rap, as an art form, is the single most important influence on Black poetry at the turn of the century. 1. Stressed the vernacular, and therefore was accessible to young people who were otherwise shut out of artistic production and most of whom (but not all) were excluded from higher education, and thus not likely to be directly influenced by the text tradition in a pedagogical way. 2. Had a strong performance orientation which stressed working with a live audience as opposed to a text orientation. 3. Had a commercial base which stressed popularity often to the detriment of development.

Many, many people in the text and some in the third stream camps are extremely critical of the spoken word movement. They make the mistake of focusing on the movement's obvious shortcomings and ignoring the strengths and potentials. (Read Lorenzo Thomas.) Mention Giant Steps by Kevin Young--all the poets included are mfa poets. The spoken word movement is an American movement and not a black poetry movement in that it encompasses blacks, latino/a, asian, indigenous peoples and whites. The black branch has yet to produce major anthologies or recordings, and thus is not easily available for study and teaching in the classroom.

Major figures of this movement on the black side include: Patricia Smith, Tracie Morris, Roger Bonair-Agard, Reggie Gibson and Staceyann Chin among many, many others. There will be a proliferation of work in this regard arriving soon. There has yet to be an anthology (which will necessarily have to include a cd) that exemplifies this movement. I have not touched on, but do want to mention the whole jazzpoetry movement, championed by Jayne Cortez, Sekou Sundiata, Kamau Daaood and yours truly. This movement works to bring together black speech and black music into a unified artistic whole. Each of the aforementioned have recordings that exemplify their work.

Finally, I want to end with a challenge: 1. Bring back Bam’s  major works Black Fire and Understanding the New Black Poetry, now out of print. If the books were being used in the classroom, they would still be in print. 2. Encourage students to study BAM and study spoken word the way we encourage (by the example of the books we write, authors we assign, and texts we canonize) the study of the Harlem Renaissance. 3. Put together a journal dedicated to the publication and critique of black poetry and black poetics. This activity could be expanded into websites, listservs, cd roms, videos, audio cds and the like. Which institution, which individuals will take the lead in the study and development of Black poetry? 

The further development of Black poetry is what is to be done.


—kalamu ya salaam

*   *   *   *   *



photo by Alex Lear 





Somewhere in America a young person looks at a trumpet. Ok, maybe they are not actually looking at a physical instrument. Maybe they are dreaming about a trumpet. Dreaming about playing a trumpet—the bell held high, gleaming in the sun, and people are dancing, and laughing, and shouting. Every riff played brings joy. Every move the dancers make in response, inspires our musician to higher heights of trumpetry.


All across America, many young people dream of becoming a great musician, but unless they are from New Orleans that dream does not include hundreds of people dancing as an integral part of a funeral procession. That dream is not playing “Big Fat Woman” in a Zulu Parade or “Ain’t Got No Food Stamps” outside the “Brown Derby” on Freret Street, or swinging through Treme playing “Atomic Dog” in homage to a neighborhood stray who has passed away—literally a canine who everyone loved and no one owned, or so it seemed.


This is a culturally specific dream grounded in a post-reconstruction tradition that began at the turn of 20th century and was drowned at the turn of the 21st century.


That first trumpeter, or at least the one most remembered, was Charles “Buddy” Bolden whom legend says you could hear clean across the river. Country born, city-bred Buddy Bolden is the man credited with starting jazz as we know it, and though the mythology of jazz perpetrated by popular jazz critics would point you to the brothels of Storyville as the cradle of jazz, the truth is that most of the music was played outdoors in the parks and streets of New Orleans, parading through the community or at picnics and Sunday outings. One famous gathering spot was Johnson Park, which was adjacent to Lincoln Park, located in the section of the city known as Gert Town, across the canal from where Xavier University is now. Some of the well-established Creole bands of trained musicians would play in one park and Buddy Bolden and his rough and tumble aggregation of literal “dark town strutters” would be in the other park. A battle royale would ensue. Buddy’s mixture of ragtime and blues always won.


Eventually Buddy Bolden was remaindered by the authorities to a mental institution on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain, the same lake which put an end to Buddy’s reign in the early 1900’s would rise up and swamp Buddy’s great-great-grandchildren in the early 2000’s.


After Buddy, Freddie Keppard was the guy most folk name as the standard bearer. RCA Victor offered him the opportunity to be the first man to record a jazz record. He refused, fearful that if he made a platter, then people would steal his music. They say Freddie would even drape a handkerchief over his horn so others couldn’t see how he fingered his notes. This stubborn, albeit, futile pride manifested itself repeatedly whenever a healthy percentage of people refused to leave the city in the face of oncoming hurricanes. But just as Freddie’s refusal came to naught—trumpeter Nick Larocca, the leader of the Original Dixieland Jass Band, was the first to record a jazz recording and thereby established forever that jazz was founded by Italian musicians, and not by Negroes—in a similar way, those who wanted to stay soon found themselves overwhelmed and almost everyone was forced out of the city.


If this mythical kid dreaming of trumpet glory had studied the music, he certainly knew that King Oliver was the next trumpet great. Oliver traveled across the then new land called America, coast to coast. One of the iconic photographs of King Oliver and band was taken on the sidewalks of San Francisco. Coming rather early in the era of recordings, most of what comes down to us is but a pale sliver of sound compared to the reputation of the king, whose most lasting claim to fame was as a teacher and father figure for someone often considered the greatest jazz musician of all time: “Louis Satchelmouth” Armstrong.


Over the course of a long, long career that included hits in the 1950s, Armstrong grew to be affectionately known as “Pops” because he shouldered the responsibility of caring for and about at least three generations of jazz musicians. While Pop’s artistry as a trumpeter and vocalist will last as long as American culture lasts, what most of his fellow musicians valued most was the unstinting support he offered, including but not limited to, gifts of money when someone was down on their luck.


For the first half of the 20th century, you couldn’t get no bigger than Pops, couldn’t be more loved, nor more welcomed worldwide. So when our kid is dreaming, undoubtedly the youngster envisions becoming as renown and loved as Pops was.


Armstrong’s shadow was so big that although he came along before the Harlem Renaissance, and although there were numerous other great jazz trumpeters including Bunk Johnson, who like Bolden came from the countryside, or Henry Red Allen (from Algiers, which is the part of New Orleans located on the west bank of the river), or Joe Newman, a stalwart of the Basie band, few knew that Joe was a New Orleans trumpeter, all of the brass men such as the aforementioned and many others notwithstanding, they were all dwarfed by the towering eminence of Louis Armstrong.


Within jazz in general there would be no serious challenge to Armstrong’s reign as the trumpet king until the meteoric rise of Dizzy Gillespie and the marathonic consistency of Miles Davis, both of whom would be eclipsed by another young man with a horn, another product of the New Orleans dream: Wynton Marsalis. And just as Pops was not the first, Wynton is not the last, yet equally they are the acknowledged masters of the jazz trumpets, bookends at the beginning and end of the 20th century.


Those who came before Pops are recognized in the chronicles of jazz, but as far as the general public is concerned, Armstrong is the first great name of jazz, and most certainly the first great jazz trumpeter. In a similar way, although a slew of significant trumpeters have followed Wynton—Terrence Blanchard, who would make a great name for himself scoring films, and Nicholas Payton, who physically resembles Pops and who is perhaps the fiercest soloist active on his chosen instrument—nevertheless, it is Wynton that the general public knows and defers to in matters jazz.


Pops appeared on television more than any other jazz musician prior to Wynton Marsalis, who became the authority when he was presented as the chief narrator and guide for Ken Burns’ award winning, multi-hour jazz documentary delineating the birth and development of America’s leading contribution to world culture.


At some level, our dreamer probably wishes to be considered more than merely an entertainer. Our dreamer would love to help sustain the community and also would love to be recognized as an articulate commentator on this beloved music.


While all of our dreamers want to be known worldwide, some of them never dream of leaving home. A significant number have flat-out refused to leave and thus they are relatively unknown outside of New Orleans. Have you heard of Kermit Ruffins, who started off in the Rebirth Brass Band and went on to become a social institution as both a jazz musician and a cook (Pops love of red beans and rice was embodied by Kermit), and then there’s Irving Mayfield who followed Wynton in much the same way Pops followed King Oliver. Irving even lived in Wynton’s apartment while studying with Wynton—today, Irving has made a name for himself not just as a trumpeter but also as a bandleader and as the city-government-sanctioned, official jazz ambassador of New Orleans. Or there is James “12” Andrews who can do an uncanny Armstrong impersonation, and don’t overlook 12’s younger sibling Troy (affectionately known as Trombone Shorty, who started out on trombone before switching to trumpet). Today Troy plays with Lenny Kravitz. And just as life goes on, there are others, other young dreamers with a horn.


Why has New Orleans produced so many important jazz musicians in general and trumpet players in particular? Is it something in the water, in the food, in the hot, humid air or is there some sociological rationale for a seemingly endless production of jazz trumpeters? Well its all of the above and none of the above. It’s a way of life in New Orleans.


Harold Battiste, Jr. is a New Orleans musician of countless accomplishments. He was the musical director for the Sonny & Cher television show as well as the often uncredited producer of all of the duo’s gold records. Battiste was the arranger for Sam Cooke’s first big hit, “You Send Me,” and the producer for the birth of the New Orleans legendary artist Dr. John. But more germane to this particular discussion, Battiste was the founder of AFO records in the mid-sixties, one of the first, if not the first,  wholly Black owned jazz recording label. AFO’s big hit was “I Know” by Barbara George that included a famous solo by Melvin Lastie, which became a standard one had to master if one wanted to consider one’s self a New Orleans trumpeter. Harold Battiste composed the solo that his good friend Lastie played.


Typical of what seems to Topsy-like “just happen” down in the Big Easy, the truth is that it’s the result of careful planning and execution. Battiste who teaches jazz combo, composing and arranging at the University of New Orleans in the jazz studies department insightfullly opines that the success of their program is not because of the school but because of the city. The New Orleans music community offers the young student a place within a community of jazz musicians and a myriad of opportunities to play jazz in many different styles, at a frequency and a depth of shared experienced unrivaled by any other American metropolis.


It’s not simply on-the-job-training, it’s a traditional way of life that is lived everyday. You learn how to play funky by playing in the streets, not from listening to records or following the dictates of an instructor in the classroom. At a secondline, or other traditional street performance, if you don’t play well, you’ll find yourself playing to yourself—people will literally walk away—or else they will talk over your meaningless musings. The streets are a hard taskmaster. People who have heard generations and generations of music are not easily seduced by empty technique. You have to bring the noise, in order to be heard.


And if the discipline of a hip audience was not enough, the other factor is that you find yourself playing in the company of musicians who may have played what you’re struggling to play for twenty years before you were even born. The multi-generational schooling that takes place in a New Orleans jazz band can only happen because the music transcends the contemporary infatuation with youth culture. Some of the music is over a hundred years old. And although new ideas and new ways of playing do enter the tradition, the old ways have never died—they may be modified over time, but they have never died.


The youngster who would be king has to master a tradition before blazing new paths. This is what Wynton Marsalis found out. Initially he started off as a post-bop trumpeter, but over time he was force to recognize the mountain of New Orleans musical traditions. Wynton knew that if he wanted to be truly great, he must first learn the greatness that preceded him.


And now we are at the end of an era. For the first time in the history of New Orleans jazz, a youngster who dreams of becoming the next king will not be able to follow in the footsteps of the masters. Our dreamer will no longer be able to parade through the streets of Treme with a spontaneous crowd of two hundred people in tow.* The little neighborhood joints are no more. The old master who has seen over sixty summers no longer lives around the corner. You can’t get together with a bunch of your high school friends and play for block parties on the weekend—indeed this year there will be no high school football games where the band rocks the stands. No Sundays on the lake front. No street festivals uptown in Central City or downtown in the Ninth Ward. There’s still the French Quarter itself but without the tradition buttressing it, what goes on in that roughly 12-square-block area is a pale imitation of life rather than the real deal—the vibrant, funky, Blackness of New Orleans culture.


Of course, one could make the same analysis of the food, or the visual arts, the social organizations and the lively vernacular of New Orleans. A way of life has been washed away because the people who created and continued that way of life have been “saved” and sent away, evacuated literally all over the country.


In Utah is there a hundred year-old tradition of parading in the streets that our dreamer can join? In Boston they bake beans, but can they make red beans and rice—indeed do they even have red beans in Boston? Somewhere in Minnesota our dreamer is going to go looking for a snowball in the summertime and people are not going to know anything about finely shaved ice saturated with a myriad of fruit-flavored syrups. Even in Shreveport, Louisiana, less than four hundred miles from home, one will not hear the boom of a bass drum and the hot blare of a trumpet celebrating and memorializing the life of a friend, one will not be able to respond by jumping up and joining the dancing procession.


It is not the thing itself, but the tradition that produced the thing; not jazz as a music form but the attitude and behaviors of the people, that is what kept the culture alive; not a particular song but indeed a whole approach to singing, that is what has been lost in the flood waters.


Somewhere a youngster dreams of being a trumpet king, of carrying on a tradition—now that New Orleans is no more, is there any other place where the trumpet tradition lives, and, if not, can the tradition be reborn in the new New Orleans? Can traditions continue to exist amid the absence of the people who created and sustained those traditions? Is a dream and a dreamer enough, or do we need a land of dreams, way down yonder in New Orleans?



This essay was written in 2006. Since that time something worst has “quietly” happened. By 2010 street musicians are banned by city ordinance from performing after 8pm. Brass bands parading without an expensive permit have been literally arrested. The spontaneous street culture of New Orleans that spawned jazz and supplied a seemingly endless supply of trumpet giants has been effectively censored and muted.


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear







Sometimes you don't hear them until they come swinging 'round the corner, off St. Philip turning onto Treme headed downtown. Sometimes you be on the telephone and have to cut your conversation short so you can run outside and find out who died or what community event is being celebrated, when and why. Usually it's during the light of day but sometimes it's in the heat of the night when you rise to the occasion, and without a second thought bop down the concrete of your front door steps to slip into the surging sea of revelers streaming joyously down the street. In key parts of New Orleans, seems like sometimes could be any time for the jump up of a second-line. This fertile crescent has got to be the dancing-est city in America.


I cannot ever remember dancing in a second-line and not greeting someone I knew, even if I only knew them by face and not by name. Whether situated next to the bass drum, behind the trombones or in front of the trumpet, or whether prancing on the banquette, you always see someone to greet and smile at (or more likely, smile with) as they squat down and back their thang up, or pogo bounce on one leg carving a sacred circle in the air, or leap like a Masai in time to the syncopated cross rhythms echo-echo-echoing off the wooden faces of dilapidated, but nonetheless brightly painted, shotgun houses built right up close to the sidewalks skirting these narrow streets.


You could live miles away and still find your sister's husband snapping pictures with his trusty Nikon, or your brother's oldest girlchild and her best-est buddy strutting their stuff in those checkered, blue plaid trousers that are the public school uniform. Indeed, isn't that your uncle, your mama's baby brother who got arthritis, tapping his cane in time to the beat while standing on the corner by the sweet shop? And for sure you're in the house of our holy-togetherness if you went to public or Catholic high school with some of these people, or at least danced with the sisters of your former schoolmates at the ILA Hall, the Municipal Auditorium, the State Palace Theatre, or was it on Claiborne and Orleans two Mardi Gras ago? Within this multi-hued gathering of shaking flesh, it's almost a given that someone will greet/touch you with a hug, a kiss, or at the very least an enthusiastic pound of fist atop fist.


Like a primitive two-cell life form, the second-line pulses and throbs, a small band of musicians its nucleus and an ever-shifting enveloping throng of celebrants its connective tissue. Although there are a lot of theories (some very plausible) and no certainties as to the origin of the term second-line, for sure the second-line refers to dancing in the street with a go-for-broke, unabashed shimmy and shake ecstasy. What would make a 38-year-old school teacher get "ratty," hike up her skirt and deftly wave a white handkerchief behind her protruding buttocks with nary an ounce of shame in her game? Nothing but the spirit; and when the spirit say groove, you got to move.


In New Orleans dance traditions are stronger than so-called "social decorum." Here it is customary to prance in the streets while exhibiting a profound interest and demonstrable proficiency in overtly sexually-suggestive body movements. But that's only logical. There can be no family members if there is no sexual activity, therefore, shouldn't we celebrate the creation of family? Even in the midst of grieving over the death of a loved one, a family member, we dance our defiance and celebrate the joy of life. And that is the ultimate strength of the second-line: even at funerals, we literally affirm the ongoing existence of the family. Thus, these jiggling humans are a spirit family of the streets.


What is a spirit family? Well, there is a nuclear family of father, mother and their natural issue. There is an extended family of kin and kind, folk related by circumstance and life struggles. And there is the spirit family, an activity-centered sharing of common cultural values.


What is the nuclear family to ordinary Black people—aka (also know as) the sufferers, the down-pressed workers whose labor has been systematically exploited since our arrival on these shores as chattel, but bka (better, and more truthfully, known as) the transformers and creators of America's most vibrant musical culture, even though seldom officially recognized as such?


What does it mean: father, mother and their 2.5 children under one roof? Coming from traditional African societies built on elaborate, extended linkages between each person, what sense does it make to define one's "family" exclusively in nuclear terms? If you had to deal with masters who treated you with less respect than a bale of cotton or a healthy mule, who regarded you as at best 3/5 human, who bred you like pigs and who callously and methodically separated offspring from parent, how could you maintain the so-called blessed union of man, woman and child?


And yet, there is another dimension. Historical documents indicate that during Reconstruction, Black folk went to extraordinary lengths to identify and find brother, father, sister, mother, husband, wife and all manner of kin. Our interpersonal relationships were always important to us—even when we lacked the social authority to shape and maintain our family structures.


For us family has always been more than the definition of immediate blood. During the first half of the 20th century, the Black family unit included children rescued from the harshness of segregation-enforced poverty, children of relatives and friends taken in and reared inseparably from one's biological brood. Even as adults, it was not uncommon to be adopted cousins, aunts and uncles. Why was this?


We are more than just twisted responses to slavery, more than a limited range of make-do solutions to inhuman social conditions. More of our existence than has been thus far realized is proactive choice and not simply reactive settling for the lesser of two evils. Our insistence on constantly creating family is ideological, not pathological. We bond with each other because we believe in the beauty of community.


The spirit family of the street has many, many expressions in New Orleans. The main folk articulation is the Social Aid & Pleasure Club (SA&PC). Both formally as in dues paying and rule-book following organizations with administrative officers, as well as informally in a grapevine sort of way, at the turn of the century these organically created social formations literally became burial societies and employment agencies, insurance companies and institutions where skills and goods were internally bartered by a money-poor membership who knew that if there was to be a good life for the Black poor in The Big Easy (as New Orleans became known because of its elastic, social safety net that made it damn near impossible to starve to death for lack of either food or pleasure), if we collectively were ever to make any of our dreams real, be those dreams American or otherwise, then we had to pledge allegiance to each other.


The anti-Black, terror campaign which enforced the repeal of Reconstruction and introduced the Jim Crow-era of modern-day Black Codes proved not to be the tomb of Black self-determination as was fervidly hoped for by the racist adherents of American apartheid (which predated South Africa's version). Instead, in its cross-burning fanaticism, hard-line racism actually became a fiery funeral pyre from which our spirit families rose phoenix-like to parade through Black communities declaring that regardless of the strictures of segregation, we could and would take care of ourselves, and would do so with panache.


Plessy vs. Ferguson might ordain that we could not ride first class on public accommodations and that segregation was the way the American South defined equality, but when we strutted up and down our dusty streets, we declared our independence from American conceptions of who and what so-called "Colored people" were. By the twenties, Blacks in New Orleans had reconstructed the course of 20thcentury American culture. Henceforth, American popular culture could not be definitively defined without referring to jazz and Black-inspired dance—indeed the twenties could not have become the "Jazz Age" had we not created jazz. Moreover this new music, initially spelled "jass," was always accompanied in its home town by body movement, by dancing, by strutting (usually but not exclusively while parading in the streets). Even though in most of America the music became a concert tradition played indoors mainly for listening, in New Orleans the streets remain a natural venue of spiritual expression.


Each of the SA&PCs has an annual celebration of their ongoing existence. At these events, usually held in the autumn, the members step out dressed to the nines in colors that would rival Romare Bearden's celebrated palette. Shoes that can cost more than half the monthly rent. Hats special-ordered from some obscure merchant in a far-off city. And silk shirts dyed a shockingly vibrant hue. I have seen some club members dressed up and standing proudly tall albeit supported by a walker—they ride the route in the club car (a highly waxed, spit-polished maroon Cadillac borrowed from Big Head Willie who run the sandwich shop over on Orleans Avenue), however, their physical infirmities notwithstanding, these stalwarts who have been paid-up club members for twenty-plus years had to be counted in that number of those who were present for the kick-off of the perennial parade.


These are poor people for the most part. Workers who are systematically underpaid their entire lives. Some may ask what they get out of this. But does anyone ask what does a materially empoverished but spiritually empowered mother get out of resplendently dressing her children for church? So what if "Cou-zan Louie" (as cousin Louis is affectionately known in this neighborhood) has been sick, he's part of the family and even though he has to lean on a walker, Louis nevertheless decisively demonstrates where his heart is at when he shifts his once-legendary dance style from the lower extremities of  his youth (wild-ass, crossed and uncrossed, angular leg shakes) to the sloping shoulders of his declining years (twitching mischievously in mini-motions which make him look like he has a massive vibrator hidden in the back of his jacket). Louis has metamorphosed his formerly fleet, foot movements into subtle twists and turns of his gray-haired head. His semi-paralyzed but still vigorous dance is all done with a deft aplomb and twinkling eye that outshines the more athletic achievements of countless younger and healthier people. For "Cou-zan Louie" and thousands like him there is no doubt that our music is medicinal and the conviviality of our camaraderie is rejuvenating.


With names that range from the lofty, such as Olympia, to the obviously near sacrilegious, such as Money Wasters, the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans are institutionalized forms of African secret societies developed for the expressed purpose of building community ("social"), offering mutual support ("aid"), and indisputably having a good time ("pleasure").


Beyond internally cementing the community and keeping alive the spirit of music and dance, the SA&PCs of New Orleans also functioned as a cultural calabash which contained Afro-centric aesthetics and philosophy. To this day, New Orleans remains America's most African city. You can not live in New Orleans and go untouched by the spiritual, aesthetic and philosophical power of Blackness. For example, here, even members of the Jewish community use a brass band to accompany the carrying of the sacred Torah during rare, outdoor religious ceremonies.


In addition to the SA&PCs, another Afro-centric spiritual franchise is the Mardi Gras Indians, whose exquisitely-colored, hand-crafted suits explicitly honor a tradition of united Black and Red resistance to genocide. Thus, the Mardi Gras Indians stress that our new family is broader than some mythological blood purity—mixing or (to use the pejorative term favored by those who tried to fuck everybody while at the same time contradictorily declaiming the sanctity of the "great White race") “miscegenation” was no problem for us. If we could be Black and Blue, if some of us could flaunt our "roon-ness" (you know, quadroon, octoroon, and so forth), then certainly we could and, given the realities of our history, we should be Blacks who were not only blue and partially White, but also Red too! Without ever cracking a sociology book or doing a statistical genealogical sampling, the Mardi Gras Indians spelled out the broad definition of family, a definition that goes further than blood, a definition that embraces the spirit of life as it was actually lived rather than mythologically romanticized.


What is most admirable about the spirit family of the streets is that it maintains its sovereignty even when there is a lack of formal structure. There is no government agency directing the second-line; no private sponsorships or aristocratic patrons paying for this out of the treasure chests of their pockets. Moreover, the second-line does not request permission to exist. We do it because we want to, whenever we want to.


It doesn't have to be a warm Sunday when the Treme Sidewalk Steppers are celebrating their anniversary, nor does it have to be Mardi Gras day when the Yellow Pocahontas are outshining the sun, no, it could be an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, partly cloudy and neither hot nor cool in temperature, and here they come horns blaring and drums issuing a clarion, centuries old call: "get your black ass on in these streets!"


(I have not described the indescribable music making that accompanies the second-line because words don't go there. No words, nor musical notes transcribed on a page, can capture the excitement this ancient music generates. Sometimes the musicians be teenagers of less than sterling technical expertise but even amid questionable intonation and fractured song structures, these neophyte musicians are unquenchable in their enthusiasm. Other times it be hobbling elder "musicianeers" (as Bechet called them) who have played these tunes for a thousand times or more but who attack each song with a gusto that makes you giddy.


(I will tell you the ingredients, but like listing a recipte for gumbo, that will not tell you how the music tastes—you’ve got to do that for yourself, so anyway, second-line music has a low-frequency percussive rumble that pulses through the physical frame like a muscle spasm, and a brassy sharpness that arouses like blood engorging a person's privates. At a second-line you will not likely hear anything that is memorable as a musical composition per se, and at the same time the whole atmosphere is unforgettable: the dancing, the singing, the way the musicians shake their horns at the vibrating body parts surrounding them, the songs that seemingly everybody knows—look how the people all shout and jump up at the same time as if this were a well-rehearsed, professionally-choreographed Hollywood dance number, which it isn't because, even though after the third "ta-dannn dant" you too are jumping and shouting in unison with everyone else, the truth is that this is only your second time being in a second-line.


(Some of this music is German, some is Scottish, a couple of airs are English folk songs, most of the riffs are Black melodic inventions thought up in the throes of the moment; however, in its essentials, all of this music is African and American; African in it's polyphonic/polyrhythmic erotic insistent intensity, American in its diverse multi-ethnic sources. Here then is another family secret that we shout in the streets of New Orleans: we got some of everything in us and we don't hesitate to musically celebrate our polyglot personalities and backgrounds. Despite the fact that we look like Southern Negroes and Creoles, blood-wise and, to a great extent, culturally we are literally a world family. Our sound encompasses all human sounds.)


Self-absorbed six year-olds strut on the corners convincing themselves they are dancing just like Big Jake, and everybody know can't nobody jook like Big Jake, except maybe Miss Noonay who got more wicked moves than a Louisiana politician lying under oath, anyway that's how them kids be dancing.


There is no television that can teach this. No computer that can buck jump like this. For, like I said earlier, at the core of this spirit is a healthy enjoyment of human eros—in our communities no one is ashamed to shake their thing: "This butt is mine, God gave it to me and I ain't supposed to just sit on it." And like family always do, we encourage the kids to show off and guffaw uproariously as the elders remind us not only were they young once but, more importantly, they still have some youthful vigor in their aching bones and withered flesh.


The second-line is then a way not only of celebrating life, but of building the future. The second-line gives young people something to look forward to as they try to do the dances the adults do, and gives elders a future to imagine as they teach their grandchildren to carry on after the current generation is gone. And that is why Mr. Al is standing in the intersection as the second-line makes it on down the street.


Sporting a bemused, dimpled smile, Al look like Elegba, a cultural sentry doing his duty at the crossroads. Mr. Al does not go inside until all of the children are safe back on the sidewalks and porches, and the procession has turned another corner.


With a certainty that is unshakable, Al knows that the family that dances together stays together, that music and movement are a form of prayer, that with this spirit in us we will never die, never, and that at moments like this, everything was, is and will continue to be jelly, jelly, jelly cause jam don't shake like that.


Let the congregation respond: aché.


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Cfreedom









Popular literature is about topical issues. Serious literature is about ideas and mythology (i.e. explanations and beliefs that explain the how and why of one's humanity). Pop ages poorly precisely because it is about the here and now. Serious writing is often not fully appreciated until years after it's appearance.


In the realm of novels, most Black novelists have been relegated to the realm of pop/topicality. Richard Wright and James Baldwin are considered the apogee of the issues approach, and resultantly often criticized for being propagandists rather than pure (i.e. "serious") novelists. Toni Morrison has managed to transcend the ghetto of topicality on the basis of the reach of her craft, yet even she is sometimes excluded from the ranks of the "great" novelists of the western canon. The only Black writer to be critically admired without reservation is Ralph Ellison who published but one novel during his lifetime, "The Invisible Man," a book that the "regulators of serious literature" considered the zenith of Black fiction. 

photo by Walter Beckham


In 1999 two major events are in the offing: the posthumous publication of an unfinished novel by Ralph Ellison, and the publication of correspondence between Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison as edited by Murray. My bet is that second book will be the one to read.


Although Murray and Ellison were comrades in the struggle to elevate the thinking and literature of Black folk, Murray is the one who has made his mark as a critic, and as such, Murray is the one who asks challenging questions and poses imaginative paradigms for understanding and addressing literature. As the book of letters between he and Ellison reveals, we may think of Ellison as the towering giant, but Murray has all the elements of the mythical trickster who is overlooked even as he is overcoming.


Albert Murray was born in Nokomis, Alabama in 1916. He grew up in Mobile and graduated from Tuskegee Institute, where he subsequently taught literature. He is a retired major in the U.S. Air Force. His books include The Omni-Americans and The Hero and the Blues, collections of essays; South to a Very Old Place, an autobiography; Stomping the Blues, a history of the blues; Train Whistle Guitar (a National Book Award Nominee), The Spyglass Tree and Seven League Boots, novels; and Good Morning Blues —The Autobiography of Count Basie (as told to Albert Murray).


This interview was conducted by telephone.


KALAMU YA SALAAM: You are both a writer and what is popularly called "a public intellectual" but you come from what the young folks would call "the old skool..."


ALBERT MURRAY: To young folks, everything is old. The airplane, the atomic bomb, all of that is old to them. Everything is old if you're just born, but what you must remember is that everybody is born out of date, behind the times. All these things are here and they don't know about them, so their whole mission in growing up is to come to terms with things that are already here. What exists represents reality, not just "oldness" and reality means actuality, a response to your surroundings, your environment, your setting. The whole business of education is learning how to cope with the situation that you were born into and to reduce that to saying "that's old" is puzzling to me. What have eighteen year old and twenty year old people done to modify society, what have they done to modify the way people live?


SALAAM: They have in terms of popular perception. For example, when you look at the award programs, you see young musicians breaking all kinds of records and you see them proclaimed as major forces who have changed the face of music.


MURRAY: The popular perception is actually based on promotional copy. They are just interested in selling a product. They don't care whether the work is good, bad, or indifferent; whether it is banal or truly exciting. What they want to do is sell it. They are not interested in accepting the challenge of music, they just want to make something that you can say is music and that will sell. If it sells they give them a prize, a golden disc or a platinum disc. But that's a hysterical approach.


If you are not sufficiently historical in your perception of actuality then your daily life is going to be hysterical because you respond to everything that comes up as if it's new and a lot of that stuff, all you had to do was check up on it and you would have known that it was going to happen.


SALAAM: You have just completed a book of correspondence with Ralph Ellison. This is a genre which is different from fiction or essay in that when the letters were written they were not intended for a public audience but rather were meant as a private conversation. What did it feel like as you went back over those letters and began looking at them from the standpoint of making a public statement?


MURRAY: When Ralph passed, I was one of the participants in the memorial ceremony at the Academy of Arts and Letters. I decided to resurrect Ralph's presence and give people some feeling for the person who was my very close friend. I went through some of the letters that I had and made a few excerpts. There was a very good response to that. The Ellison estate asked me how many of the letters I had saved and wondered if they could get copies of them. The actual letters themselves belong to me but I don't have possession to the extent that I could publish the material.


SALAAM: The letters were your physical property but not your intellectual property.


MURRAY: Right. The estate asked me to pull the letters together to add to the Ellison papers at the Library of Congress. In pulling them together I decided that they would make a fine little book. I was going to call it "Works in Progress: Ellison on Literary Craft and American Identity." I prepared the manuscript and when Callahan, the executor, read the manuscript he said this is a fine volume but I miss your voice. What is it that you are saying that is turning Ralph on like this? I said, man, I don't remember that. I haven't seen those letters in forty years. He said, I will check Ralph's papers to see if he had kept your letters. He dug up the letters and sent them to me. He said, I hope you agree that this would make a more interesting and more complete book if we made it an exchange of letters, and I hope you will go along with that. I said, well, let me read them. I don't know. When I read them I thought I could go along with it. I then prepared another manuscript.


The letters reveal Ralph's personality like it is revealed no where else because his letters to other people are formal and straightforward, but our letters covered a wide range of expression. Ralph talked about what he was doing, for example, he talks about finishing Invisible Man and what the problems were finishing it. He talks about a manuscript of a novel I had. We discussed literary things and social things. We discussed other writers and critics. I was thinking about a lot of those things. I wasn't writing yet, though I was planning to write.


SALAAM: Do you think there is a difference between writing letters and talking on the phone in terms of the final product...?


MURRAY: Not too much because we actually talked to each other in our letters. That's what is somewhat different about his letters to me and his letters to other people. We talked through letters, it wasn't just business.


I didn't really know Ralph at Tuskegee. He was an upperclassman and he was a guy I liked, the way he dressed. He was very independent. Then I found out that he had read a number of the books that I was planning to read. When I checked the books out of the library I found he had read them. When we got together in New York during the war is when we became good friends.


SALAAM: This may seem obvious, but people born after say 1960 might not be aware of the library signature cards in the books.


MURRAY: That's right. They had a card that you signed and you could see who had read the book. Often, I would see that Ralph was the only guy who had read the book before me, other than sometimes one of the faculty members who might have been doing graduate work. We read the same copies of T. S. Eliot. We were reading all of that very literary stuff. Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, Return of the Native and all of that. I went to college to be a "college boy," to get an education in those things. I was keeping up with Esquire magazine and what Hemmingway was writing, what Faulkner was writing. I also wanted to know what the novel had been before. And then there was that famous Eliot essay: Tradition and the Individual Talent. He was talking about the nature of tradition.

 Albert Murray Hero

Tradition is that which continues. Tradition is not that which is old but that which survives. It's a stream of human consciousness. Eliot was saying that if you write something, even if it's but four lines, it should be informed, as far as possible, with the whole history of poetry. I understood that. I was telling my friend Wynton Marsalis when we were talking about jazz, if you have four bars, it should be informed by the whole history of jazz. That's when you are doing your do. Otherwise you'll spend a lot of time trying to reinvent the sonnet. But if you know what's in there, what the tradition is, then you are the cutting edge -- that's what the avant garde means: the cutting edge that is going to continue tradition, but you're going to redefine it because your sensibility is different. The combination that exists in your mind that you are operating out of is different from anybody else's although it should be informed by everything that went ahead of you.


SALAAM: Do you think that your aesthetic and Ralph's aesthetic were informed by your dual interest in literature and music?


MURRAY: Definitely. Ralph majored in music but I came to the musical metaphor after I got out of college. My thing was to read all the books I had not had time to read when I was in college. The big thing that happened to me was the discovery of the great writer Thomas Mann. I noticed that the great German composers -- and there were none greater at that time -- those composers gave Mann a basis for organizing literary statement. Mann was talking about dialectic orchestration. He was talking about using leitmotif like Wagner did. I said, that's a way of organizing literary statement. So, where's mine? That brought me back to the idiomatic experience that I was a part of and I was looking for a way to make my idiomatic experience a part of the fine art experience. How do you process that, extend, elaborate, and refine that so that it becomes universal in terms of its impact. So I said, "what is it?" and that's when I hit upon the blues and jazz. I said oh yeah, they have a prelude and a fugue, I'll have a vamp, and then a series of choruses, then I'll have a break, etc. The first character that I wrote was a guitar player called Louisiana Charlie. When I was writing him, when he would throw that guitar over his shoulder and hop a freight train, to me that was how I could do all these other resonances. As many resonances as possible; he was Orpheus. He's got on overalls, he talks the down home talk but the dynamics, ah, that's not a new story. You have to find out the old story and then do your variation on it. See? Orpheus when to hell and back, well sometimes he would go away to the penitentiary and then come back. Then I understood when Mann was talking about leitmotifs, I could talk about riffs.


I came straight into the blues and it's extension, jazz, whereas Ralph was into formal European music that you get when you go to a conservatory. At that time Tuskegee had a conservatory and it was head by William Dawson. Ralph was stictly majoring in music, but I associated him with having those books rather than his trumpet. I saw him directing the band in the grandstand during football games. I called him the student concertmaster. He was a special student at Tuskegee. He stood out. I never saw him play in any of the jazz bands however.


By the time Ralph and I really got together after he was out of school, I was more involved with jazz and jazz musicians than he was. Because he was from Oklahoma, Ralph knew about the Blue Devils and guys like Jimmy Rushing -- they kept in touch for a long time -- but Ralph was not keeping up with the music. So when it got to be bop time I was making the rounds but Ralph wasn't. I would go to school at NYU for graduate classes at night and after classes I would go up to 52nd street. Ralph was home working on Invisible Man. Ralph was a little skeptical of bop. He kept an eye on it. He appreciated the general aesthetic revolution, but he didn't go to hear it as much as I did.


"Art is a process through which raw experience is rendered into aesthetic statement."


I was interested in the dynamics of the creative process. Although I didn't want to be a musician as such, I wanted to be as close as possible to how the stuff was put together and how the musician thought. So much of what musicians such as Ellington thought fit right into what I wanted to do with the language. The more I knew about the music, the more I could extend that aesthetic into verbalization.


Everything I write tries to make the language swing like jazz. The Invisible Man is more discursive than any of my books. Ralph liked all the stuff I liked, but he was really strong on Dostoyevsky. I was strong on Tolstoy. I was very much into Mann. Mann was not one of Ralph's guys. We were together on Faulkner. I think Ralph accepted the challenge of Faulkner. Ralph was so impressed wih the heroic dimension that Faulkner gave to his negro characters, Ralph thought that he would have to do that too. My own personal thing was to say: the brown-skinned American never sounded better than in Duke Ellington and never looked better in print than in Albert Murray's writing. That was my challenge. That is what all my aesthetic emphasis adds up to. I have never thought of myself as a victim. I have always thought of myself as someone of high potential that I had to live up to.


In fact, my central image is a rabbit in a briar patch, which explains everything I have written. You're in a jam session situation where you are improvising all the time, at the same time you can improvise better if you have a rich background. I want my knowledge to sing and swing, to evoke, to put you there. Music makes what you want to move. I want my novels to make you want to walk that way, want to be that way, want to react to experiences in that way. That's a legitimate aesthetic objective. Art is a process through which raw experience is rendered into aesthetic statement.



—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear







Long Live Assata!




I'm not afraid to die but I am afraid I'm going to die. Afraid that, outside of a grave, there will not be one square inch of earth on which I can reside; afraid that my enemies will not allow me to breathe unless concrete and steel coffin me; afraid that this sweet island, which has been my sanctuary, will be curdled into a tropical casket.



For we who have been political prisoners, long term incarceration in modern Amerika is a certain death—it is not like South Africa's Robben Island where a number of movement men came out stronger, and it is certainly not the same as for those who go in unconscious and fly out as dragons both their wings and their fierceness engendered by the education and self-education that one can extract from the school of captivity. No, I am thinking about those of us whom they want not merely to confine and control, but those of us whose spirits they want to thoroughly crush; we are never released from prison unscathed—if we escape that is different, but if they release us, our freedom inevitably means the authorities have successfully, in some nefarious way or another, reprogrammed us to accept the world as they have constructed society or to either self-destruct in fits of rage or in spasms of insanity.


I know what I am saying. I know Huey Newton was never the same after prison. I know many of my comrades who remained there for ten, for twelve, for twenty years, I know if and when they are released they are deranged even if they really believe they are still ready for the revolution. I would never publicly give the government the satisfaction of recognizing such effectiveness, but I know there is no life after prison for people like me. The mind games, the chemicals they feed us in substances they claim is food, the constant dehumanization of strip searches: fingers forced into your everywhere, beneath each fold of flesh, piercing each cavity. And not just the dignity stripping of naked meat inspection, but also the simultaneous twisting of the ephemeral web that is one's consciousness, one's sense of self. Literally who we are becomes different after we have been systematically and scientifically fucked with by experts at mind games.



So you see, it was either escape, which I did, or die.


I am a runaway slave in an era when the descendants of slaves are well paid in the employ of both consuming and perpetuating big house fantasies. An era where living on the edge seems totally nonsensical, totally unnecessary to those reared on television and cyberspace, corrupted by creature comforts as seemingly innocuous as fast food hamburgers and video games, sports events and evangelical churches.


The mantle of conformity fits us so snugly that those of us who choose naked resistance rather than wear the weave of exploitation, we appear to be no more relevant than homeless bag people existing on the fringe of society, scavenging to survive as we mutter incoherent inanities about how bad the good life is.


Indeed, the guardians of good times tell everyone that not only are we maroons crazy, but worse, because we refuse to join the parade of collaborators with the status quo, we are painted as failures who are afraid to grasp the success that is available to any and all of us who would pledge allegiance to taking advantage of others.


And where can I run to now that capitalism is global and the liberated zones are nearly all paved over and billboarded? If Cuba goes under where will I be able to stand tall? What other country would endure the economic whippings administered to anyone who shelters me? What other nation would (or could afford to) refuse the bounty the government of my tormentors offer for my head, my body?



Though I rose from the dead once before, I do not believe in miracles. I do not believe if they entrap me this time that I will be able to live within the grip of their murderous clutches.


My strong instinct for survival, so strong at times that I have done what the normal person can not even imagine, indeed, I have done what I could not imagine, I have done whatever was necessary—and you know that necessity is unsentimental and often very, very ugly, if not sometimes downright amoral. My strong instinct for survival will not allow me to be locked down by them and turned into a person who accepts the status quo, or worse, a person who insanely (and ineffectively) rages against the dark of 24-7-365 nightmares.


After all is said and done, I am a human being who loves life, the beauty of quiet moments, the joy of conversation and sincere touch, the exhilaration of sweating as I labor, as I make love, as I exercise. My instinct for survival is no impulse merely to breathe, my instinct is to live, to love life freely and to be free to love life, and I will never accept slavery no matter how comfortable.





she followed instructions. got out with her hands up. and then the world exploded. she was on the ground, bullets in her. and she did not really know what happened.


a person caught up in the chaos is the most unreliable witness there is.


perhaps if she had been the bullet, she might have seen the whole scene more clearly, or if she were the gun, she would have known who the targets and who was calling the shots. or if she had been the finger on the trigger she might have known the time table, the sequence of events, but she was only the target, and before she was struck had no warning that the bullet was coming, after all, as the medical experts testified at her trial, given her wounds there was no doubt her hands were up in the gesture of surrender, she was following instructions.


she was not the bullet. so at that moment she did not know it had entered her torso, missed vital organs, and ended up lodged near her neck, leaving a mess of rented flesh in its wake, thin streams of thick blood seeping from the open door of the entry point.


nor did she know that the first bullet had a companion who followed closely on its heels like a younger sibling trailing an idolized big brother.


the impact of the first slug spun her around like a rapist sadistically intent on anal penetration.


the second bullet burrowed into her back.


immediately afterward, in the distance she could hear noises and voices. and thankfully so, for although the voices sounded muffled like that time as a child she had an ear infection and her mother poured some heated liquid in her ear and then plugged it with cotton and all day she kept loosing her balance and asking people "what did you say?" she was thankful because at this moment it was strangely comforting, reassuring even, to hear the words "she ain't dead yet" and to know that the "she" who was alive was her.



life is full of choices, most of them are minor, trivial details and inconsequential chains of events, but kernelled in the ordinary are those little nodes on which turn one's whole existence. why would an assata surrender? perhaps she did not see herself surrendering. perhaps this was just a momentary hassle, a stop and delay tactic. perhaps her gesture was meant to be a diversion. who knows. life is like that. sometimes we ourselves don't know what we are doing even though the doing will have profound and far reaching consequences. who knows. how can anyone know the future?



the discovery of the future is always an evaluation of the past. we only learn what the future means once it is over, once we have experienced it, once it has become history. and by then it is too late to change anything. we can never fully know anything, least of all exactly what we did and why. our ability to sense reality is too limited to take in everything. we can only ever grasp a small part of the totality of our existence. the trooper with the gun drawn, barking orders, at that moment what was assata thinking?



have you ever faced a gun beaded on you, an enemy hollering at you? do you know what you would do if you were shot and on the ground, or in the hospital chained to a gurney, or even in a courtroom and lie after lie after lie after lie was going on record against you, and the judge threatens to throw you out of the courtroom if you don't be quiet, and every fiber of your being is quivering with the urge to resist, even though enchained, even though guards are over you, and what do you do?


assata was removed from the courtroom and her comrade too. they were shunted into a side room while the trial proceeded and during that isolation they made love.


your enemies are kangarooing you to an almost certain death sentence or at least life imprisonment and you make the decision. to make love. think about choosing love as an act of resistance at that moment. then think about the bravery to make love.


you are a prisoner. on trial. armed agents are standing just outside the door. most of us would never even have thought of making love. and very few, very, very few of us would have had the bravery to bare our nakedness knowing that at any moment the guards could have busted us in the middle of getting it on.


oh, the adrenaline rush, to steal the sweetness of sex under such conditions. now if there was ever a definition of revolutionary fucking, that was it.



but every act has its consequence. every movement carries us somewhere else then where we were when we started. and sometimes we think we are ready to travel, but we really don't have a clue as to the magnitude of the trip we blissfully, or blithely, or unknowingly started on.


did assata know that she would become pregnant?


how many times did they do it in the dock?


and now it is decades later and kakuya, a girlchild, has grown up without the emotional anchor of a father's familiar words, without the rudder of a mother's daily teachings. a daughter has been reared by extended family. did assata reckon on that? of course not. sometimes we throw our rage at the state without a thought of where we will be thirty years later, who we will become, how our actions will affect those not yet born.





I am a warrior and I tell you I hate war. There have been so many times when I have had to go one on one with despair, and it was not always a given that I would win. Sometimes I battle day after day, other times, rare times, I have whole weeks, occasionally a month or two, when I am good to go, well, at least I am ok with being on the periphery of normalcy. My daily diet is the stress of uncertainty.


I know life back in the world is different from when I went underground. I know my people seem freer and hence less consciousness—the intoxication of options, the addiction of material acquisitions, the disorientation of commodification. People even come to Cuba for a vacation. A photograph with me becomes a trophy. It is hard not to be bitter.



The struggle has become so convoluted, so complex. I can understand the seduction of comfort corruption… even these words seem like so much political rhetoric.


When I was locked down, I kept myself defiantly alive, poised to escape. Now that I have escaped, I find that I am still in captivity, a qualitatively different captivity, a captivity where my range of motion is, of course, much, much wider, my ability to speak out significantly broader, and certainly my opportunities to love life infinitely greater, but I can not fool myself… as long as those who measure life by counting possessions and grading bottom lines are in charge of most of the earth, I remain either in captivity or on the run, never surrendering, constantly resisting, measuring how alive I am by how long, how well I am able to fight until death. What a hard way to live… but this is my life. My. Life.





the embargo is real. some times sanitary items are non-existent. there is nothing romantic about resistance. nothing romantic about the grind of constant vigilance, ceaseless struggle. romance is idealism. resistance is realism.


if you read about the struggle many years after, when victories are celebrated in textbooks, when most of the ugliness is erased, when the human costs are barely reckoned or recognized, if you only read about struggle then you can think of its beauty. but the runaway often literally stinks; they do not have the daily luxury of bubble baths or clean fluffy towels after a long, hot shower. the vegetarianism of a subsistence diet of beans and rice, or beans and tortillas is not a trendy choice. very few relationships last a life time in the field, or perhaps, that is the more brutal truth, such relationships only last the shortness of life in the field—life on the run is seldom very, very long and elderly runaways are rare.


people nostalgically talk about the good old days when the political struggle was on fire in the united states, but how many people are rushing to cuba to volunteer to live in exile with assata? we all like to dream, to fantasize about being heroes and to romanticize those individuals whom we consider our heroes. but, oh, the reality of being a runaway is a state embraced by only a very strong few, only a few, very, very few… while the rest of us rationalize about choosing to remain cocooned in the materialism of our relatively comfortable captivity.


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Cfreedom






let me sense the chaos

   a semi-autobiography 

   (based on the mca jimi @ woodstock CD)



            And those who took away our Voice

                                    Are now surprised

            They couldn't take away our Song.

                                                 --Kofi Anyidoho




in the news



the blk world




fragmented / confused



to grasp



confused / fragmented


fresh murders

marbling the sidewalks

of our psyches

in an indelible redness

no future sun can bleach


            "in Rwanda

            ten thousand dead

            in one day"




i know that bosnia is bad

but have you seen liberia

have you heard haiti

been seized by rio's preteen

street grown gangstas

or ingested the platinum

raps of inner city america

celebrating its own depravity


today's blkness

makes humpty dumpty look whole




we are

the palsied palms


of ex-chattel

picking melodies


african black

& mulatto


intermixed with the eye tears

of murdered cherokee


& dappled

by the martial noise


from motley strains

of conquering caucasians


chortling praise

to their bellicose god


            this mixture is the indigo matrix

            of my muse's midnight hue





have we survived the past

only to give up the present


the speedy spin

of integration

flings us


away from groundings

with our people


a chocolate despair consumes

our sweetness

leaving the dry bones

of neglected unity

disconnected & rotted


is the bottom line higher

than the common good




i have a new cd

of ancestral soundz

previously unreleased


roaring strings timbred to a keening

juice of electric hurling through


akin to the incredible jism jerk

of groin muscles shooting off


i needed to make this hollering

this ghostly heart cry





the thick

of rhythms'



there is

always a need

to assert



to cry

to announce

            i am





the road to life

is no gentle path

birth is a renting of flesh

a messy letting

of dangerous blood

rife with pain & promise


& ultimately

merely momentary existence

amidst the vastness

of eternity





within the cruelty of this

avaricious modernity


life's mystery

is the capacity of color

to forge beauty

from the chaos


the simple courage

to shed

systemic chicness

& stand unshod


authoring the gospel

of musical creativity




such singing


whether with others

with orchestra

with hand instruments

or single voice alone


such singing is answer

is signpost



we've found a sound


that turns the temporary

of today's tough earth

into a life long

spiritual home





without dark sound sanctuary

nurturing imagination


my future is limited

to this tone deaf present


except within vibrant

hymnal shelter


how else can

my soul survive







let me sense the chaos


to my blues resound


let me sense the chaos

i will respond

with a song


let me

sense the chaos


why else


was i



 —kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear







After the last time Shawn stopped talking to me, I told myself I never wanted to see her again. I put all 78 of her pictures in a plastic grocery bag and threw the memories in Thursday’s trash. I avoided hanging out by the Moonwalk. And it was ok, until me and my brother was at a Hornets game. Kenneth, who had forgotten more girls than I will ever know, laughed, punched me on my tattooed bicep, “ah, man look at Shawn. She looking some good!”


When I reluctantly peeped up at the monitor, I spied Shawn’s smile, the same smile that first attracted me to her.  Shawn’s eyes—the size, shape and color of unshelled pecans—were sparkling. She sported her favorite shade of shiny, watermelon-red lipstick that made her luscious lips seem even more luscious. Her teeth were never perfect but I used to like sticking the tip of my tongue into her small gap. That was her sister, Monique, sitting on one side and Derrick, who I believe was her cousin, jumping up and down next to her as people cheered #24-Mashburn’s dunk. I didn’t have to guess why they zoomed in for a full-frame close up of Shawn’s coffee-without-cream complexioned face—she’s beautiful.


And then the camera focused on the new coach shouting at the team to hustle back on defense. With a mouth full of half-chewed hot dog, Kenneth hunched me and impishly prodded, “Man, why you don’t holla back at Shawn? From what I hear she ain’t even much still talking to old dude from St. Aug.”


“Man, shit, they got too many fish in the sea, besides I wasn’t really liking her all that much no ways. You know what I’m saying? She ain’t the only chick that got lips like that.”


“Boy, you a fool. Fine as Shawn is, who wouldn’t miss that?”


At first I didn’t say anything, but then the truth popped out. “She quit me, I didn’t quit her.”


“Man, if you a man, you don’t let no girl quit you.”


I didn’t now what to say, so I didn’t say nothing. I don’t make 21 until next month and since I couldn’t hold on to Shawn, was I really a man?


Later that night, after I had dropped Kenneth off and was headed back home, it took me four stoplights and two stop signs to screw up my courage and call Shawn.


“You need to stop calling me. I told you, I don’t even like you no more.”












“Dang, why you call me then?”


She was right, but how do you tell a girl: I called you because I saw you at the game and you was looking good and I started thinking about when we was together, and I was missing you, and… and well, you know, I think I kind of… Plus, I don’t know what to do with my hands, I mean, with my fingers, specifically my pointing finger, the one she sucked one time when we were just sitting around kissing and I was touching her face and she drew my finger into her mouth and made like it was hard candy. That sounds nasty but it felt so nice.


Sometimes, especially when I’m eating crayfish and lick my fingers, I find myself missing Shawn, or is it my fingers missing Shawn, specifically the finger she had so tenderly sucked into her mouth?


Shawn hung up before I could finish thinking of what I wanted to tell her; but I wasn’t going to punk out this time. So I speed-dialed her back.


“Look boy, don’t call me no more if you ain’t got nothing to say. What’s wrong with you? I’m not even much going to answer your calls no more. I used to really care about you.”






I almost lied to her and said something crazy like, I love you, or some b.s. like that. But I didn’t let the truth make me tell a lie.


“What? Just say it. What?”


“I want you back. Can we get back together?”


“Why you want me back?”


I was home now, sitting in the driveway with the phone to my ear and my tongue tied in knots like that time at a party six years ago when I was just starting high school. I’ll never forget the embarrassment. I was bent over trying to peep through a keyhole at the girls in the bathroom and Shawn’s uncle, who was supposed to sort of be watching over us caught me and asked me, “boy, what the fuck you doing? You ain’t never seen no pussy before?” And everybody laughed at me and I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say nothing. I was only doing it cause a couple of the other dudes had done it before me and I was just the one who got caught.


I hated what Shawn was doing to me, the way she’s so patient like when we studied Trig together or when she would ask me what I wanted to be after telling me she was going to be a registered nurse like her aunt. She would always just quietly wait, and wait, and wait for me to say something even though she knew I didn’t know what to say. Damn, this shit was harder than Algebra 2, which I never would have passed without Shawn’s help.


I guess I was supposed to say: because I need you in my life, or because of how much I lo… but I couldn’t make my mouth move. I couldn’t lie. Besides, it wouldn’t sound cool to say: because you’re a burning in my chest that I can’t stop.


“Since you ain’t going to say nothing, I’m going to say something. Good night. Good bye. Don’t call me no more.”


And that was the night I stopped believing in science because my tears couldn’t put the fire out.


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear








it is late in december 1998, the weather is uncharacteristically warm. there is much that is wrong. an old man has killed himself. 


if he had been an airplane and fell from the sky, the forensic engineers might have diagnosed: metal fatigue—the quality of structural breakdown when the weariness caused by the ravages of time destroy an object’s physical ability to bear the weight of existence. but this fellow was not a passenger jet. he was just a chestnut colored, elderly african american whom everyone said looked remarkably good for his age.


his eyesight was fit enough—without glasses he could drive day or night. and he would step two flights of steps rather than wait on a slow elevator. he was sensible about his diet and walked two miles every morning to keep his weight down. plus, any day of the week, he could out bowl his son. no, his age was not a problem.


so what was so disastrous in his life that the permanent solution of suicide was the action of choice to deal with whatever temporary problem he was confronting?


we are not sure what exactly was wrong, but we do know that when he resolved to end it, he was watching television. got up and said something to his wife, who was in the kitchen. shortly thereafter went into his back yard with a gun in his hand—no  one in the house saw him go outside. but what if they had? could they have stopped him? probably not. at best they may have been able to momentarily postpone the inevitable, but eventually life turns cold. or we are deluged with the dreariness of chilly rains. and we die.


what did the slow moving man think as he descended the steps into the back yard? indeed, did he think, or was his mind blank with certainty?


his body died there, but was he already dead in spirit? does it matter what happens to the body, once the spirit has been broken? this is a story about death.



i have often thought about those stark black and white photographs of lynching scenes. we know what happened to the lynchee, but what happened to all the lynchers? the ones standing around. some smiling into an unhidden camera—look, you can see that these people know that a photograph is documenting them. a number of them are looking at the camera full on, challenging the lens to capture something human in the grisly scene. a significant number are children, young boys and girls, leering.


i have heard stories of whites who were repulsed by those death scenes. those who were changed forever by witnessing a lynching, hearing about a lynching, backing away from their parents come back home chatting about the nigger who got what he deserved. ok. but what i want to know is what happened to the lynchers who did not back away. those who took in the murder scene as acceptable. later on in life, how did they raise their children? do they have flashbacks of lynchings—occasionally? often? never?


does watching a man or woman die a violent death diminish the person who enjoys the spectacle? can one revel in the fascinating flame of a human on fire and afterwards remain emotionally balanced? and what about memory, does the extreme violence of mob murder involuntarily replay years later triggered by scenes such as oj maintaining he did not slice nicole’s throat or wesley snipes on the silver screen bigger than life kissing a white woman who favors irma singletary, your daughter’s friend who divorced a black man after he beat her one night and she refused to press charges against him the next morning?


in many of those garish photographs there are a lot of people standing around. i wonder how many among those audiences are alive today, driving america’s streets and buying christmas gifts?



richard hammonds was a handsome man. he was moderately intelligent. could work hard but really didn’t like to exert his body to the point of sweating. believe it or not what he was really good at was leather work. give him a piece of leather and his tools and he could make anything from shoes to hats and everything in between. and he would do it well, so well that a number of people have been buried wearing shoes richard had made—their family knew how proud the deceased had been of richard’s handicraft, so that’s what the corpse wore at the funeral.


for example, brother james sweet—his name was actually james anthony johnson but, with a twinkle in his eye, he would raise his left hand, flashing his ruby and diamond pinkie ring, graciously tip his every present gray stetson, and, in his trademark rumbling baritone, request that you call him “james sweet, bra-thaaa jaaaames sweee-eat, cause i’m always good to womens, treats children with kindness and is a friend to the end with all my brothers”—well, brother sweet had instructed everyone of concern in his immediate family to bury him in his favorite, oxblood loafers that richard had hooked up especially for sweet. there were no shoes more comfortable anywhere in the world and he, sweets, which was the acceptable short form of brother sweet, certainly didn’t want to be stepping around heaven with anything uncomfortable on his bunioned feet (nor, likewise, running through hell, if it came to that—and he would wink to let you know that he didn’t think it would come to that). of course, at a funeral you don’t usually see the feet of the recently departed but that was not the point.


the point is that people were really pleased with richard hammonds’ handiwork. unfortunately, in terms of a stable income, although richard hammonds excelled at making leather goods, what he actually loved to do was watch and wager on the ponies. and since he lived in new orleans and the fair grounds racetrack was convenient, well, during racing season, which seemed to be almost year round, richard spent many an afternoon cheering on a two year-old filly while his workbench went unused.


fortunately, richard hammonds seldom wagered more than he could afford to lose and on occasion won much more than he had gambled for the month. however, winning at the racetrack was uncertain. no matter what betting system he used, richard could never accurately predict when he would win big or how long a loosing streak would maintain its grip on his wallet.


routinely, richard would do enough leather work to pay the house note and give eileen an allotment to buy food and then it was off to the races. needless to say, had eileen not worked as a seamstress at haspel’s factory in the seventh ward, this would have been an unworkable arrangement.


but richard hammonds didn’t drink more than a beer now and then, went to mass every sunday morning, and was moderately faithful, so what could have been a precarious and intemperate social situation settled into a predictable and manageable state of affairs until richard was wobbling home one october evening—he had had a very good day and had indulged in a few drinks at mule’s, in fact, he had even bought a round for the guys and stashed a small bundle in his hip pocket for eileen and still had in his inside jacket pocket enough money to pay for every bill he could think of.


when the police stopped richard his explanations of who he was, where he had come from, where he was going and how he came to have so much cash weren’t sufficient to please the two officers who were looking for a middle-aged colored man who had robbed and raped a woman over in mid-city.


we do not have to go into any details. the focus of this story is not on the beating, the injustice of his subsequent death, or even the condemning of the two police officers. remember we are concerned with death, and the question is: when, if ever, did richard know he was going to die and what was his reaction, or more precisely, what were his thoughts about that awful fact, if indeed he ever realized the imminence of his demise?



everybody, sooner or later, thinks about dying. for many african americans there is even a morbid twist on this universal reflection on the inevitability of mortality. for us, it is not just a question of when we will die but also a more thorny question, a question we seldom would admit publicly but one that at some occasion or another consumes us in private: would i be better off dead? if you had been reared black in pre-sixties white america, sooner or later, you probably looked that thought in the eye?


however, the universality of death thoughts notwithstanding, there is a big difference between abstract speculation about the eventuality of death and the far more difficult task of confronting the stale breath of death as it fouls the air in front your nose. death is nothing to fuck with. indeed, actually facing certain death can make you shit on yourself, particularly if death not only surprises you but also perversely gives you a moment to think about crossing the great divide. like when a lover in the throes of getting it on, sincerity announces through clenched teeth that they are about to come, you respond as any sensible person would by doing harder, or faster, or stronger, or more tenderly, more intensely, more whatever, you increase the pressure and help usher that moment, well, when it’s death coming what do we do, do we rush to it, or do we withdraw from it? don’t answer too soon. think of all the people you have heard of who died as a result of being some place they really shouldn’t have been, being involved in some situation they should never have encountered, at the hands of someone whom they should never have been near. think about how often we die other than a natural death—and then again, what death is not natural, because isn’t it part of human nature to die, and to kill?


richard never expected to die on that day, especially since he had just experienced the good fortune of a twenty-to-one long shot paying up on a fifty dollar bet. even when the tandem took turns trying to beat a confession out of him, even after his jaw was broken and he could only moan and shake his head, even then richard still didn’t think of death. he was too busy dealing with pain. when they put the gun in his mouth, he perversely thought, “go head, pull the trigger, that would be better than getting beat like this,” but even then, richard didn’t really expect to die. he just wanted the beating to be over and if it took death to end it, well, he was feeling so bad he thought that death might be preferable. yet, richard didn’t really think he was going to die. in fact, as is the case with so many of us, richard died before he realized they were going to kill him.


we blacks wonder about fate and destiny, justice and karma. sometimes there seems that there is no god, or rather if there is a god then he is capricious with a macabre sense of humor—we grant him humor because to think of god without humor would be to concede that we are at the mercy of a monster who enjoys literally tormenting us to death.


which brings up another question, would we procreate if it were not so pleasurable? if sex didn’t feel good, would we bother with conceiving children? for many of us the answer is obvious; of course, we wouldn’t. that’s why birth control was created—to protect us from disease and children, to make it possible for us to enjoy the pleasure of sexual procreation with none of the responsibilities of child rearing. which means that the drive to have children may in fact not be as strong as we have been led to believe, or maybe, it’s simply that in modern times we have been conditioned to think only of ourselves—the personal pleasures. but the question i really want to raise is this: what if death were pleasurable would we end ourselves? what if it felt really good to die—not just calming but totally pleasurable?


of course, richard was not thinking any of these sorts of questions as the two officers smashed in richard’s face. formal philosophy is a task engaged in by those for whom survival is not a pressing issue.



every age, every people, every society has an ethos—a defining spirit. and this spirit expresses itself in sometimes odd and fascinating ways. for much of the 20th century the ethos of african americans was one of contemplating the future with a certain optimism. why else march through the streets of birmingham, alabama and sing “we shall overcome” to bull connor, a man who was not known for any appreciation of music?


the birmingham of bull connor was just about half a century ago. during that period when bombs regularly sounded throughout birmingham and the deep south, if you go back and look at the pictures of black people of that era when they posed for a portrait, especially if they were college educated, you will invariable spy among the men what i call the classic negro pose of hand to chin in contemplation. a variation is one temple of a  pair of glasses held close to or between the lips; then there is the pipe firmly grasped, not to mention the college diploma held to the side of the head like a sweetheart—these are iconic images of optimistic negroes, images that capture the ethos of their era.


today, the hand has moved from the chin. we no longer pose in contemplative ways, what is cropping up more and more is the hand to the crown of the head, not in a woe is me posture, but more like: damn, this is some deep shit we’re in.


unconsciously, during a recent photo shoot, i ended up in that pose. when the picture was published i was mildly surprised, i did not remember adopting that look of serious concern. but just because i don’t remember it does not mean that it didn’t happen. clearly it happened. there is my unsmiling portrait. and i see that pose more and more, particularly when i look at the publicity shots of writers. we are children of production—we are shaped and influenced, even when unconscious of it, by the prevailing ethos. a lot of us look like we are gravely weighing the upsides and downsides of both life and death.


and when people tell you how much they like that photo, then that tells you just how much the photo reflects our current contemplation of death. in those photographs rarely are we smiling. our eyes are wide open. we are not dreamy eyed romantics. we are not lost in meditation. we are looking at death. the disintegration of our communities, the fissure of our social structures, the absence of lasting interpersonal relationships, the proliferation of age and gender alienation. the death of a people.


and when i took my photo it was supposed to be a happy occasion. but obviously the myth of the happy negro is long gone.



i wonder when the old man put the gun to his head did he hold his head with his free hand?



richard couldn’t put his hands to his head because his hands were handcuffed behind him.



which story seems more plausible: the old man or richard? is it not odd that by piling up details and framing the story in a believable context it is relatively easy to believe that richard hammonds actually died as a result of a police beating and shooting in the late fifties in new orleans? and that the old man seems to be a metaphor. but an old man (whose name i don’t want to reveal because it would add nothing to our story) actually killed himself during the christmas holidays (of course i speculate and fictionalize a lot of the old man’s story, but the suicide actually happened) and the story of richard hammonds is totally fictitious except for the cops who killed him—cops did kill negroes in new orleans.



the old man and richard hammonds had gone to high school together, and gone to bars together, making merry, drinking and acting mindlessly stupid on a couple of occasions. they had double dated a couple of times, and had once even engaged in sex with the same woman (at different times, months apart, but the same woman nonetheless—she remembers the old man as the better lover because he was more tender, seemed more sincere.


(there had been this untalked about but often expressed rivalry between richard and the old man. close friends are often bound by both love and jealousy, so there was nothing unusual about them being attracted to the same woman. but remember richard was the handsome one. he was also glib, perhaps because he learned how to hold back his feelings. he could talk a woman into bed, or more likely the back of a studebaker—richard’s father worked as a pullman porter and made nice money for a colored man and had bought a car but was often not in town to enjoy the car and richard, though he didn’t personally have much money, did have access to the car. anyway, richard never thought about what the women he bedded in the back seat thought about before, during or after he bedded them. after all it was just a moment’s pleasure.


(but the old man, well, he was a young man then, he thought about how other’s felt about him a lot, and though he fucked mildred, it was not because she was available but because he was really, really moved by mildred and told her so. told her, “girl you moves me.”


(“i do?” she was used to men wanting to sex her, but not to men admitting that they were deeply affected by her.


(“yes, you does,” and he twirled her at that moment—they were dancing and he was whispering in her ear, dancing in a little new orleans nite club, to a song on the juke box—he twirled her. and smiled. and she had never been twirled quite like this gracefully dancing young man twirled her. and when she reversed the twirl and spun back into his arms, he momentarily paused and said, “i wish i could dance with you all night.”)


the old man had not been angling to get her in bed, he was just genuinely enjoying her company. he liked to dance. she liked to dance. they were having a good time. and when somehow they ended up making love on the sofa in her front room that night while her sister and her sister’s children soundly (he hoped) slept two rooms away, he had been a little nervous at first.


her softness felt so good, before he knew it, a little cry caught in his throat. he was trying to be quiet, but goodness and quiet sometimes do not go together. i mean, you know how good it hurts to hold it in? well the possibility that the sound of your love making will disturb and awaken others nearby, that anxiety about discovery adds to the covert enjoyment. so, instead of surfacing upward through his throat, the cry was redirected down into his chest, but it bounced back and was about to pop audibly out of his mouth. mildred felt that sound about to pour forth like a coo-coo clock gone haywire, and with the mischief that only a woman can summon she cupped one hand tightly over his mouth and with her other hand reached down and gently squeezed his testicles.


ya boy liked to died. he shuddered. he couldn’t breath. her hand tightly covered his mouth and partially blocked his nose. and he was coming like mad. and he moaned a stifled moan, air yo-yoing back in forth between the back of his mouth atop his throat and the near bursting constriction of his chest. finally, he wheezed gusts of exhales out of his distended nostrils, which flared like those of a race horse heaving after a superfast lap. and then he cried out and tried to call back the sound all at the same time. and that was followed with another terrible quake. in a semi-conscious state, he lay helpless, wrapped up in the murmured laughter of mildred’s playful passion.


but he didn’t hear her soft, soft laughter. he didn’t hear anything. he was totally out of it. he was struggling to catch his breath, in fact had almost slipped off the large couch—if her legs had not clamped around him so firmly, he would have tumbled to the floor. after that he didn’t distinctly remember anything until he woke up the next morning, at home, in his own bed and didn’t know how he got there. he must have walked home or something, but all he could remember was her softness, her touch, his lengthy orgasm (he had never come that long before), and the way her legs held him when he almost fell over. you can easily forget a short walk home, but there are some experiences that are so sharply etched in the memory of your flesh, those encounters you never forget.


a couple of days later when richard asked the old man about mildred, whether they had done it, the old man had said, “no, we just had a good time dancing and i took her home. then i went home.” richard had replied, “you should have got it, she likes you. i got her drunk and got it once but she never would let me get no mo. but she likes you. you should get it.” the old man had said nothing further, merely looked away, certain that richard would not understand that what the old man felt for mildred, although initiated by the sharpness of their sexual encounter, was, nonetheless, a feeling deeper than a good fuck.


many years later, when the old man was watching the house of representatives vote to impeach bill clinton for lying to the american people about the monica lewinsky affair, something terrible took hold of him. although he continued to see mildred for over twenty years and even had a kid with her, the old man had never told his wife. and he felt intensely guilty. intensely.


he felt horrible. felt like he had felt at richard’s funeral. sitting in the catholic church before a closed casket. the body had been too brutalized to have a public viewing. the police had shot his good friend richard, shot him in the head.


while he sat between his wife and two daughters on one side and his young son on the other side, the old man was thinking about his dead friend when he looked up and saw mildred looking over at him with those large, limpid, brown eyes. nearly every time he stole a glance her way, she seemed to be looking directly at him. he could not read her eyes.


but his friend richard was dead. and his wife and legitimate children were at his side and his woman was across the isle staring at him, and the old man felt really guilty about how he was living his life, and he put his head in his hands and just wanted to ball up and die. and he didn’t realize he was crying until his wife daubed his face with her handkerchief.



a murder is a crime against society. we look at pictures of murderers and wonder about them. wonder what led them to do it. wonder do they have feelings like the rest of us.


what motivates one human to lynch another?


in the case of a suicide, everyone who survives wonders not only what led to the murder but also, particularly for those who were close to the victim, we wonder what could we have done, what “should” we have done to prevent the murder.


murder is a crime condemning society and suicide is particularly damning of those who were close to the murderer (who is also the murderee). if you think about someone close to you committing suicide, you have to ask yourself, what did i fail to do that would have prevented that person from committing self-murder? while sometimes we ask that question of a mass murderer—what could have been done to prevent them from acting the way they did—we always ask that question of a suicide. and why? if we can not stop people from committing large and impersonal murders, how can we hope to stop small murders, the most personal of murders: the suicide? the question is perplexing.


after awhile though, you come to an awful realization: maybe it is impossible to stop people from killing each other and themselves. indeed, is it not a certainty that it is impossible to stop suicide?



if you are shot in the head with a large handgun it can be messy.



if you shoot yourself in the head with a large handgun it can be messy.



the old man’s casket was sealed before the funeral mass just like richard’s had been. a closed casket is a terrible death for it is a death which suggests that this death is much more worse than ordinary death. this is a death you can not look in the face. and what can be more horrible than imagining how horrible death looks when the corpse is too horrible to look at?



mildred was at the old man’s funeral. so was their son who favored his mother but had his father’s skin color. mildred had not talked with the old man in over two months, and then it was only briefly over the phone. he had said something about being sorry he had never been brave enough to marry her. and hung up. mildred had waited in vain for him to call back. as anxious as she had been, she had never once broken their agreement. she knew where he lived, knew his phone number, but she never called. never. and now he was dead, gone. life is so cruel, especially when much of your life is lived cloistered in a box of arrangements shut off from what passes for normal life. to everyone mildred looked like the statistic of single mother with one child: a son, father unknown. but what she felt like was a widow, a widow whom had never been married but a true widow nevertheless, her de facto husband’s corpse sequestered in a closed box, not unlike her whole life, lived unrecognized outside of sight. issac (mildred and the old man’s son) used to ask who his father was, but he stopped asking after weathering junior high school taunts. and once he was married and had children of his own, he understood that what was important was not who his father had been but what kind of father he would be for his children. when his mother called and asked him to accompany her to the old man’s funeral, issac at last knew the answer without ever having to rephrase the question. mildred and issace both remained dry-eyed throughout the service even though inside both of them were crying like crazy.


you can not gauge the depths simply by looking at the surface. printed on the program was a smiling snapshot of the old man. next to the closed casket there was an enlargement of this same posed photograph. but what picture of the old man was in various people’s mind?


moreover, what does a self murderer look like whose death has left the corpse too gruesome to witness? certainly not like the smiling headshot on the easel surrounded by flowers.


was the look in the old man’s eye as he pulled the trigger anything like that wild look in the eyes of white people staring at a lynched negro—of course not? but what did he look like looking at his own death?



have you ever seen a picture of the man who was convicted of bombing the baptist church in birmingham, alabama and killing those four little girls? he looks like a white man. and once you get beyond the racial aspect of the murderer, he looks like a man. and once you get beyond the gender aspect of the murderer—a grown man killing four little girls—well, then, he looks like a human being. murderers are human beings. they look like what they are. it is a conceit to think that murderers look different from “ordinary” human beings. what does a killer look like? look at the nearest human being.



while i admit i have not seen a lot of pictures of white people—and then again i have undoubtedly seen more pictures of white people than of black people when you consider how the image of whiteness surrounds us and bombards us in school, in commerce, in television, in entertainment, in advertisements, everywhere—but anyway, i don’t remember seeing many white persons in the classic negro pose of yore nor in the contemporary iconic hand to the crown of the head pose.


in examining the photos of lynchings i see none of the concern for the future that the hand to the head would indicate. that hand to the head indicates that a person has a heart. that a person is feeling life, and though the life that is felt may not be pleasant, at least we are still feeling.


but when you watch and listen to and smell a person dying, and when you cut off your feelings for the fate of another human being, well...—and you know it is not biological. have you read about the civil wars in africa typified by the hutu vs. tutsi conflict? how literally thousands of people are hacked to death. it is one thing to fire a gun or drop a bomb, it is another thing to whack, whack, whack with a machete slaughtering a human being as though assailing a dangerous beast or a tree that was in the way of progress. when any of us, be we white, black, or whatever, when we severe our feelings to the point that not only do we methodically and unfeelingly commit acts of mass murder or acts of ritual murder, when we can watch murder and not feel revulsion then obviously we have moved to the point that death gives us pleasure.


when i first raised the issue about death and pleasure you may have thought, “oh, how absurd.” but the next time you are chomping your popcorn and sipping your artificially flavored sugar water while watching thrilling scenes of mayhem, murder and mass destruction on the silver screen (perhaps i should add that you have paid for the privilege of this pleasure), but the next time the bodies fly through the air, the bullets rip apart a young man in slow mo, the very next time you watch an image of death and get pleasure from it, see if you can remember to say “oh, how absurd.”


i think you won’t be able to, any more than at the moment of orgasm you would holler “oh, how absurd.” for you see pleasure in and of itself is never absurd, perverse perhaps, but never absurd. and taking pleasure in someone else’s death: oh, how... what? how do we describe that pleasure? what is human about enjoying death? or perhaps, since deriving pleasure from someone else’s demise seems to be a norm today, maybe i should ask, what is inhuman about enjoying death?


there is much that is wrong.


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear






(Based on an idea by Lynn Pitts)


Juno listened intently, his lean body hunched forward and tightly coiled as though he was preparing to leap into the screen. Bashe paced back and forth across the back wall of the control center, her head down but obviously attentive; she would pause every time a salient point was made. The debate was winding down and it was almost time for the vote of the extraordinary session. We all knew the decision could go either way.


"Don't be so stupid as to think that only tomorrow counts," Juno snapped as one anti-project elder spoke, citing the meagerness of our resources and a need for more defense development. "What better defense than completely knowing our history?"


A decision to discontinue the time travel, history-recovery project had never been this close before, but then again, we had never before been so besieged. Most people on the planet had either been overwhelmed by or had voluntarily accepted merger into the OnePlanet scheme, and only a few pockets of Diversity proponents were still active.


For me it was simple, no matter how mixed my history, I wanted Blackness to always exist. Everybody turning beige just didn’t appeal to me. But then, Juno always said, the only color that counts in OnePlanet is the color of money. Social values and a way of life is where the real difference is and that’s what we are fighting to preserve and develop.


I couldn't take it anymore, I got up and started to walk back to quarters. Sometimes I just get so frustrated. Why couldn’t we just be left alone. We were already reduced to tiny outposts, strategically located across the southern zones of the Americas, Africa and the Pacific Isles. We were barely twenty million strong. We just wanted to be ourselves, we…


"Sheba, don't leave," Bashe didn't even look up as she said that while continuing her slow strides. Her intonation told me her injunction wasn't a request.


"This is so stupid," I muttered to no one in particular as I sat back down.


Just then Muta entered control. "Have they voted yet?" he asked flopping down into the console seat next to me.


"I think they will as soon as this asshole…"


"Sheba," Bashe got on my case again.


"Sorry, but this is getting on my last nerve. And all we can do is sit here and wait while these guys decide our fate. And you know half of them are…"


"Quiet. They are about to vote." I looked over at Juno who held up his left hand, palm out, as he gave his full attention to the screen. Muta and I moved over to Juno's console to look over his shoulder.


The tally was almost instantaneous: 19 green, 10 red, 1 yellow. "Oh, shit. What do they do now. How do you count a yellow?" I asked, turning around to stare at Bashe. We needed at least 20 votes.


She looked up unsmiling. "If it's a vote to maintain an existing policy, yellow is counted as a green and if it's a vote to initiate a new policy, yellow is counted as a red."


I looked around, neither Juno nor Muta seemed pleased. "So why is everybody looking so glum?"


"Because the yellow vote came from my father," Bashe said as she moved to the center of our module.


I knew his enthusiasm had cooled on our project after we lost Celine on that last jump, but I thought Bashe would be able to persuade him to continue his support.


"Listen up." All eyes fastened on Bashe as she started running down the game plan, "We just got a reprieve, but it's only temporary. My father is going to vote to cancel our program in the next session if we don't retrieve Celine."


"That means we're through."


"Juno, don't say that. We've got two more months before the next council session, and…" Juno never even looked up as I babbled on trying to paint the most positive picture I could, "…once the new scanner is calibrated, we should be able to find her."


"Sheba, I'm not so sure of that. It takes two of us to safely operate the scanner and the transport system." As much as I would be glad when the project was over, I didn't want it to end unsuccessfully. As Bashe spoke, my mind started to drift. "And the council won't authorize us to accept any more jumpers this cycle. Which means we have at the most a total of three more jump opps."


"Bashe, technically, I could do two more jump operations." I finally spoke up, but not very loudly and not very confidently.


Muta shook his head and delivered the bad news in a slow monotone as though he had no emotional investment, even though we all knew how much he wanted to retrieve Celine. "The real problem is if we go searching for Celine we won't be able to gather critical history to complete this phase of the project and…"


"If we don't find Celine, there won't be support to continue our project."


"You're exactly right, Sheba. But—and you know I want to find Celine—we do have a chance to finish the project without finding Celine. If we go searching for Celine, we won't have enough jumps left to finish the project, especially if we loose another jumper."


Muta's assessment hung heavily in the artificial air of the module. When we started almost ten moons ago we were a team of twelve plus Bashe as commander. We were now down to four.


"I'm not feeling searching for Celine." Juno looked over at Muta, then slowly swiveled his head to take in each one of us. "Look, realistically, the technicalities don't matter. We only have two jump opps left and what's been our return ratio? The average is only one of every three jumpers makes it back. Celine had the best record out of all of us. We've got jumpers out there who never made it back from their first jump."


It got awfully quiet. Finally, Bashe attempted to bring closure, "Ok, ok. If Juno’s assessment is correct, then it's either finish the project or try to find Celine—we don't have the resources to do both."


"I vote we finish the project," Muta spoke up.


I could tell Muta wasn't speaking his heart, but instead was just saying what he thought a good trooper was supposed to say. "Well, I vote we search for Celine."


"Who the hell said this was a democracy," Juno hissed as though Muta and I had no right to speak. "We knew this was a goddamn suicide mission when we signed up. But we all thought salvaging our history was worth all the risks. Besides, what's so special about Celine. We've got eight other jumpers out there. I don't hear anybody talking about searching for them to bring them in." Juno stood up slowly. "The fact of the matter is, we've got two jumps left, maybe three…"


"What do you mean, maybe three. You just said…"


Juno cut me off before I could finish, "I know what I said. Two jumps to finish the mission and one jump to find Celine. Bashe you've got to stay. Sheba and Muta, in that order, should jump to complete the mission and, after the mission is complete, I'll take the third jump to try and find Celine." I looked over at Bashe to see what her reactions were. As the team leader she was going to have the last word.


"Juno, we can't afford to loose you. You're the only one of us left who really understands the technology."


"Yeah, but I wouldn't jump until the project was complete and then… well, if I didn't make it back, we still would have a completed project."


"That's true, but there are other considerations. Eventually…" Bashe looked up at the module ceiling. We knew everything we did was recorded. "Look, there is some classified info I can't say, but Juno you're going to be needed. I'll take the last jump."


"Permission to enter space." At the sound of Elder Hodari's voice code, all of us except Juno jumped to switch our console screens on.


"Screen on," Bashe gave an immediate command.


Elder Hodari's handsome image flickered and quickly stabilized into a sparkling picture. He looked stressed. "I assume you all saw the vote."


Bashe answered for all of us, "we did."


"Commander Bashe, I'm sorry. I know how much this project means to you, but it's basically over. I was able to negotiate a stall period, but there are other pressing priorities." He let that hang for a moment. We looked at each other but said nothing. "Bashe, did you mention the FutureBlack project to your crew?"


"No. It's classified and not everyone here is cleared for that level."


Muta stood up and moved away from the line of vision of his console screen, looked over to me and silently mouthed, “What's FutureBlack?” I hunched my shoulders in response and looked over to Juno. Juno just shook his head no. Meanwhile, Elder Hodari continued talking. "Bashe, hit me back on a secure line."


"Forty." Our screens blanked out as Bashe started pushing code. The lights dimmed, we were switching power and frequencies. "Everybody go to helmets," Bashe ordered and we each plugged into the black box console. We had direct contact with each other in the module and encrypted, relay-delayed contact with the outside.


"Standby." Bashe punched in some more code. An old identity shot of Elder Hodari filled the patches on our goggles as he came online. I hated these things. Every time someone talked they just showed an image of who was talking, an old ID shot. "Elder, the team is online."


"I'll make this brief. FutureBlack is a classified project. The official clearances will come down shortly, but commander Bashe your whole crew is going to be switched off the history project and on to FutureBlack. The Creoles knocked out another module early this morning. We have had to make the decision to accelerate our escape program. Our immediate future depends on finding a future. Some of us are betting on you guys to find that future for us.”


Nobody said anything. We were trained to listen when a ranking officer was speaking. Whatever questions we had would be discussed later.


“We're bringing you guys in. The gang over at R-D have constructed working, time-forward transports and we have to do some quick forward probes to find a suitable space where we can community. We have no idea how far future we will have to go, nor do we have any idea of what we will find. They've been sending out box probes but…" he hesitated.


Juno spoke up. "They come back empty."


"How did you know that, officer Juno?"


"The same thing happened when we first started our jumps. I thought those guys in R-D would understand that by now. Time warps can't transport unprocessed matter. That's why the jumps are so hard. When we get there all we can bring back is what we remember… if we can get back at all."


"The R-D guys told us they could design a transport to jump as many as twenty people at a time."


"Yes, elder. We can transport any number of people, we just can't guarantee retrieval nor can we bring anything concrete back. Plus, there's the problem of pinpointing where we send people. Our calibrations are just not that good. About ten minutes is max before we lose reference signals. What you need are jumpers to act as scouts. The problem is ten minutes is not enough time to reconnoiter whether a spot is safe. But then again, I imagine the new scanner might give us a bit more time."


"Between 24 and 30 hours, officer Juno."


Juno let out a long, low whistle. "How did they do that?"


"I really don't understand all the technical stuff like you do, officer Juno. Anyway, commander Bashe, your crew has the most experience with time jumps and we have had to accelerate our escape plan. The new scanner calibration will be complete on this end within a couple of hours. It works exactly like the previous model except it has a finer calibration. The council has decided that the FutureBlack project is critical to our survival and for the time being we will put on hold all history retrieval probes except for one more ju…"


"You want us to find Celine?"


"Officer Juno, I want you to test the new scanner. Now if you happen to find Celine during the test run, then so be it. After the test run, we will start immediately on the FutureBlack project. Copy?"


We all answered "forty" near simultaneously.


"Commander Bashe, download your new assignment. Oh, and one more thing. You're running silent from here on in. There will be no further direct contact until you file a mission report. Good luck, brothers and sisters. Commander Bashe?"




"Daughter, I love you."


"Love Black back at 'cha."


"A luta continua."


We all answered the salute and then the screen went blank. As I pulled off my helmet, I saw a faint smile on Muta's face. Maybe he and Celine would be reunited after all.




Jump center is eerie—we've got nine bodies laid out on slabs, surrounded by translucent tubes. Each of them looks like they are sleeping… or dead, and they are neither. They are suspended, their minds are gone. No, not their minds. Juno always tells me, it's not the mind we send out but the spirit, the life force. Their minds are still functioning, er functionable. If they had the lifeforce they could get up and move and think and respond. I don't understand all of it, no matter how often Juno tries to explain.


Muta is, of course, looking at Celine, I mean, looking at Celine's body.


"Muta, I've got a good feeling that Juno is going to find Celine."


Muta doesn't respond to me. He touches the pyrex shell with the tips of his fingers on his right hand. "Sheba, I appreciate your gesture, but…"


"No buts, Muta." I move pass Ishmael's tube, stand beside Muta, and place my palm next to his hand. "If any of us can make it back, Celine will. She was… is our best jumper. She knows what she's doing. And Juno… you know Juno can work that scanner. He's going to find her and they'll make it back."


"We couldn't retrieve any of the others." He steps away from me and slowly looks around at our comatose comrades. I look directly in front of me to the unnerving sight of Harriett with her huge, unblinking, dark brown eyes popped wide open like she's playing a game of holding her breath, except her body metabolism is slowed so much she is technically alive but practically a vegetable.


Unfortunately, Muta was right. It really didn't look too good for Celine. Even though we had gotten pretty good at retrieval and we had had four successful jumps before we loss Celine—and it couldn't have come at a worse time. We loss her one day before yesterday's council meeting. Buzzard luck.


"Muta, I know how you feel."


"No, you don't. You know how you feel. You only think you know how I feel." An undercurrent of bitterness thickened the quiet wisp of Muta's normally massive voice. He stares at me and then looks away. After a short moment that seemed like an eternity, Muta returns to his post at the head of Celine's pod.


This was why command was always discouraging intimate relations among team members, but here we were. Living in close quarters with each other for over a year at a time in this spherical module that was only about 4500 meters in diameter; no human contact except among ourselves. Buried deep into the side of a mountain in what used to be Suriname. What else were we going to do but grow closer or get on each other’s last little nerve, or both?


Muta leaned over and kissed the shield right above Celine's face. And then he embraced the tube like he was going to physically lift it, but instead lay the side of his face on the coolness of the covering. I went to him and bent to hug him. I couldn't think of anything to say, so I didn't say anything, I just hummed an improvised song hoping the vibrations would make Muta feel better, and, more than that, would make me feel better.


The intercom crackled with the unmistakable double whistle calling us to the control center.


I reluctantly peeled myself from Muta and started slowly out of the jump center. While the computer read my palm print before disengaging the automatic lock on the door, I turned to look at Muta, who was still looking at Celine. Even though my eyes and grown accustomed to the blue dimness of the jump center, at the distance of only 10 meters or so, the whole scene was like I was in the audience watching a science fiction movie. It was hard to believe that nine comrades in suspension and one comrade near immobilized by grief was real.




"We've got a problem, yall?" Juno was talking into his fist, which he was bouncing back and forth against his lips.


"The scanner’s not ready?"


"No, Sheba, it's up and running fine. All systems go."


"So what's the problem?" I asked as I looked back and forth between Bashe and Juno. I could tell they had been talking before Muta and I arrived. Bashe had her arms folded and was peering at me like she was trying to look through me. I know she doesn't like me, and I know why she doesn't like me. I turned away from the nearly palpable distaste of her unblinking gaze. I flopped down to my console and as I looked around at the twelve empty consoles, I suddenly felt very, very weary. When I looked up Bashe was still staring at me. I glanced briefly at Muta who appeared to be deep in thought, then I peeped at Juno, who had his head down—as though the answer to whatever the shitty problem was was down between his boots—and then I closed my eyes.


"The new scanner only goes forward."


My head snapped up as I processed in shocked disbelief the meaning of what Juno had just calmly uttered. Juno avoided my eyes and turned towards Bashe. I followed his lead and clearly saw her nod an almost imperceptible but unmistakable signal to Juno. It was like everything had already been decided and nobody had told me or Muta any goddamn thing.


"So, we're just going to abandon Celine?" I blurted out louder and with more of an accusatory edge to my voice than I actually meant.


"So, so what's the problem?" Muta folded his arms across his chest and locked stares with Juno. For almost a full minute nobody said anything.


"Fuck! Why doesn't somebody say something?"


"Take it easy, Sheba."


Before I could spit my disagreement at Juno for even suggesting that I should be cool about the problem, Bashe interrupted our exchange, just like she had interrupted us when I was in Juno's pad.


Bashe gave me that same damn look, that same timbre in her voice. "Oh" was all she had said. Just "oh." Like as if one little silly syllable could explain everything. Could explain what I was doing sitting on Juno's bunk, and explain what she was doing visiting Juno's pad when her quarters were on the other side of the module. Oh!


"That's not the real problem."


I glared at her. What wasn't the real problem? The scanner? The fact that both of us were trying to get next to Juno? What?


"Not being able to go back and search for Celine seems like a realproblem to me," I icily responded.


Juno got up and walked towards me. "We've got a solution for that, Sheba. The problem is the new scanner only goes forward and network central is only going to bring us topside for one more launch before they retool our module."


I knew we had to be on the surface to make a jump and being exposed to satellite surveillance was a big risk that our position might be discovered or our security compromised, but Juno seemed to be suggesting something else. "So, I don't understand."


Bashe cut in quietly, "If we're going to search for Celine we have to do it on this next jump."


"But I thought he said the damn thing only went forward." I waved my hand with my thumb extended in Juno's direction without taking my eyes of off Bashe. "We can't find Celine by going forward."


"We're going to do a double jump."


"A what?" I blurted out incredulously.


"A double jump, Sheba." Juno said quietly as though he was talking about running a routine module check.


"The problem is I don't know how to use the scanner. I mean, theoretically I know, but I don't have any experience at it and neither do you." Bashe actually  gave me warm body language as she spoke. First she pointed to herself and then as she said "neither do you" she placed her hand lightly on my shoulder.


It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. "Wait a minute, if we do a double jump and we use the old scanner and the new scanner, we're going to need an operator at each one, who’s going to operate the transports?"


"I can handle the transport but I…" Muta stopped and we all silently filled in the rest, each of us remembering the day before yesterday when Muta had fumbled with the codes on what was supposed to be a routine jump. I was working the transport. Juno had been standing next to Muta assuring him that he could handle the scanner when something went terribly wrong and within the short space of a few seconds we lost contact with Celine and by the time Juno took corrective measures her signal was fading fast.


Bashe walked over to Muta and stood directly in front of him. "Trooper Muta, you and officer Juno will operate the scanners and the transports while officer Sheba and I make the jumps. You can do this. You haveto do this."


Muta visibly flinched as Bashe issued her instructions.


"But the old scanner. Is. In a different area. From the new. Scanner," the words leaked out of Muta's mouth in awkward clumps. "Suppose. Something. Goes wrong?"


"Nothing is going to go wrong." Bashe firmly grasped Muta by the shoulders, "And if something does go wrong, you will just have to deal with it. We will all have to deal with it." Starting with Juno, Bashe slowly surveyed our tiny crew.


"Muta is going to operate the old scanner and Juno is going to operate the new scanner." Bashe paused as the full impact of her words penetrated each of us. She turned to face me, "I will inject you and then I will inject myself. We will preset the transports and hope for the best."


"But you know that sometimes you have to adjust the levels on the transport. The risk is…"


Bashe cut off Muta's objections, "We have one shot, and one shot only at retrieving Celine. We have lost nine other jumpers. We can't afford to loose Celine."


"I don't understand." Everybody looked at me like I was suggesting a mutiny or something. "You know I want to find Celine, but I don't understand taking the risk that we will loose Commander Bashe—I mean I'm not even worried about me." I hesitated to say what I was really thinking because I didn't want Muta to think I was being callous, but like Juno had said, what was so special about Celine other than that she had made eight successful jumps before we lost her? Of course, that was amazing, considering that nobody else had done more than three successful jumps.


"I don't believe we lost the other eight."


"Juno, what did you say?" This was tripping me out. Juno slumped down further in his console.


"I said I don't believe we lost the other eight. I believe something happened, I don't know what, but I know it wasn't pilot error…"


"So you're saying I lost Celine but all those other eight people just disappeared?" Muta took a few steps in Juno's direction. I could see that Muta was really roiled. "You were at the controls for six of those other eight. What happened if it wasn't pilot error?"


"I don't know what happened, trooper, but I do know it wasn't pilot error." Juno had such a fierce expression on his face when he looked up at Muta that Muta actually backed up two steps.


"Muta, we reviewed the logs. I personally inspected each entry, looked at the video of the procedures, poured over all the printouts, there was no indication of pilot error and…"


"Except for when I lost Celine."


"Except for when we lost Celine." Bashe moved next to Juno. "We lost Celine on Juno's watch, Muta. I have never held you responsible. Besides, the question now is how to carry out our mission."


"That's simple," I replied, "We do a forward jump. Gather the required information, file it with control central and that's all she wrote as far as fulfilling our mission."


Bashe shook her head from side to side. "Officer Sheba, we have multiple missions. One is to do a forward jump and the other is to retrieve trooper Celine. And I intend for us to accomplish both. Understood?"


Bashe took turns silently assessing each of us. No one moved or said anything, finally, I broke the silence. "So, when is jump time?"


"07:00 hours."


I checked my console. It was 22:48 hours. "Well, I guess I ought to go get some sleep. Or is there another problem we need to solve before jump time?"


"You and I just have to decide who’s jumping forward and who’s jumping backwards," Bashe said just as I was about to shove off.


"Tell you what. Why don't you just surprise me in the morning," I said sarcastically and started walking toward quarters.


Bashe reached out and touched me gently, not to stop me but to physically share her feelings, "Sheba, you know me. You know I hate surprises and bes…"


"Oh," I interrupted Bashe's comments. "Well, surprises don't bother me. I'm a jumper. I've been there and back three times before. Since this will be your first time…" I looked Bashe dead in the eyes and as I brushed past her, I cavalierly tossed my decision over my shoulder without breaking stride, "…you make the call. Make it easy on yourself."


I kept expecting Bashe to order me to stop but the only sound I heard was the slap of my sandals thudding against the double-thick synthetic, hard rubber flooring.





I don't handle rejection well and that's why I'm careful about what I ask for. I don't even know why I am sitting here. I know Juno doesn't have any deep feelings for me and...


"Unless I'm really misreading the situation, you're going to have to search for Celine and Muta is going to have to be your operator. He's not comfortable enough at the scanner controls to work the new scanner and the old scanner doesn't go forward, and..."


He just stopped talking. I looked up at him as I leaned back against the wall. All of the compartments were the same tiny size: a six foot bunk, a small desk with a hutch, a cabinet and that was it. Everything looked just like my compartment. Juno was staring at me. He sat down on the bunk on the opposite end from where I was hunched into the corner.


"What?" I gathered myself for whatever Juno was about to say.


"Sheba, I know you didn't come over here to talk about the jump tomorrow."


I hate it when people want to make you beg for what you want. One part of me was pissed. Pissed that I was here. Pissed that I even thought about coming here. And another part of me was so damn needy. I knew, tomorrow I could be dead or worse—who knows what happens to your spirit when you get lost out there. Your body vegetates here in jump control and your spirit... fuck it. I start to get up but don't. When I look up, Juno is not even looking at me.


"Why do you think I came?"


“Sheba, I’m not going to play that game.”


“I’m not playing.”


He looked away, silently took a deep breath and then looked at me. Without sounding like I was some kind of freak, how could I explain to him that I didn’t want to die horny. Sacrifice is one thing, but if liberation doesn’t include love-making than how liberated are we? Was it my fault that there were only four of us left? Muta is thinking about Celine. And Bashe is our leader.


The intercom buzzed interrupting my scheming on how to make a move on Juno without looking like I was just throwing myself at him. I knew it was Bashe, maybe I had conjured her up by thinking about her at that moment.


Juno responded, "Yes."


"Juno, can we talk?" It was like she knew I was there and was choosing her words carefully.


"Affirmative. I'll be over in five."




Juno looked at me as he stood up. "This shouldn't take long."


"Does that mean you want me to wait here for you to come back?"


Juno hesitated. "Sheba..."


"Tell you what. I'll be in my compartment if you want to stop by when you finish talking with Bashe."


"No, Sheba, let's not play those games. I'm not going to stop by and I..."


"And you don't want me to wait here."


Juno didn't say anything. I put my head down on my knees. When I looked up he was still standing in the doorway. "Sheba, I'll see you tomorrow morning, 06:30."


I got up and started toward the doorway, squeezing between the desk and the bunk. Juno stepped into the corridor. He grabbed my arm as I brushed past him. "It would be worse if I let you stay."


I looked him full in the eyes. He let go of my arm and then turned away. "Don't forget to secure your quarters," I said. Juno kept walking away, not even acknowledging what I had just said. Then I heard his door automatically slide shut and lock. I headed in the opposite direction back to my compartment.


After I rounded the first corner I stopped and sat down on the floor. I didn’t want to go back to my little lonely space. I didn’t want to be alone… I know it sounded so undisciplined not to be able to face the severity of our situation. But sometimes you get tired of being strong, alone. Sometimes it would be nice to be held by someone before you made a leap into the unknown.


Suddenly all I heard was the hum of our module; all the equipment doing whatever it did: the computers, the air supply, the power generators. I put my hand down on the floor and could feel vibrations. I knew I was just going stir crazy. Except for the jumps, I had not been topside in the natural world for almost a year. And the last time I had made love was with Harriett and that was over six months ago. And… I threw my head back and intentionally bumped it on the wall. Two, three, four times. I never saw people get horny in none of the space movies—there might be a romance, but… I jumped up. I must have been sitting there feeling pitiful for at least ten minutes. Although I tried not to think about it, I knew I was going to do what I usually did when I felt this way: masturbate, fall asleep, and forget about it.


When I turned the last corner and saw Bashe, her bald head bowed, eyes closed, sitting in a lotus position, meditating beside my compartment door I was shocked. I thought she and Juno would be going at it by now. I stopped but she must have sensed my presence because she calmly looked up at me and smiled. I saluted her as she stood up. She returned the salute and then opened her arms to embrace me. I just stood still. Bashe stepped forward and hugged the rigidity of my body to her.


"Sheba, I'm not your enemy. In about seven or so hours we are going to face a very tough situation." Bashe relaxed her arms and stepped back. "I came here to talk with you because... well, because I need, no, because I want our team to be a team. We are down to four people and after tomorrow... well, who knows. This situation has been very tough on all of us. I admire the way you have held up. I wish I had your spunk."


Bashe was trying to use textbook psych on me. I looked her in the eyes briefly. What I saw there frightened me. She was totally in control of herself. I was shaking inside. I turned to face my door.


"Sheba, I am 37 years old. Juno is 34. You are 26. I know..."


"Don't forget about Muta."


"Muta is not part of this triangle."


I refused to look at her. I started to say, what triangle, but I knew I wasn't prepared for whatever might be Bashe's response.


"I have prepared myself for years to be able to do whatever needed to be done and to control my emotions. I believe I can face anything. Right now, I have questions. Make no mistake, I am going to go forward with our mission, but at the same time I am questioning. Questioning everything."


"I don't understand."


"There is something happening out there and we don't know what it is. We don't know what happened to our crew. There is a great unknown, but I am prepared to face it and I think you are too. But the unknowns outside are not my major concern at this moment. What concerns me is our inability to face the problems we know about."


She paused. I looked over at her briefly. Bashe's unblinking stare was fixed on me. "I don't understand," I pretended.


"You want to be with Juno and I want to be with Juno. Neither one of us is going to get our wish. We don't need to carry this baggage with us when we do our jumps tomorrow. Juno is committed to celibacy during the course of this mission. I know because we've talked about it. And because he practices..." Bashe paused. She was still staring at me. She was still not blinking. "It is my responsibility to monitor everything that happens on this unit."


I can not return Bashe's unblinking focus so instead I look at a spot in the middle of her forehead just above her eyes, the place where the mystics say the third eye is located, the place where Hindu women wear a red dot. I hate it when I loose a battle of wills but Bashe is by far the most intense person I have ever encountered. I have never been able to stare her down. Never. At the same time I am trying not to succumb to her hypnotic force, I reactively wonder how much was “everything”. Did she really mean everything—bathroom, bed? Did she mean there is never a time when someone isn't watching us?


Bashe firmly but softly repeated herself, "Everything."


"That's a lot." Did they lie to us about not having cameras in our compartments, about allowing us that small bit of privacy? Had Bashe watched me touching myself?


"Sheba, I came here to thank you for not attacking me and to let you know that I do not stand between you and Juno." Then she reached out and embraced me again.


I actually shuddered. I couldn't help myself. Bashe scared the shit out of me.


"Good luck on your jump tomorrow."


I mumbled something in reply, but I don't know what. Probably, yeah, and good luck to you too. Her hug was both a shelter and a trap. As she stepped back after holding me all I could think to do was snap off a salute.


"Comrade sister Sheba, every little thing is going to be alright." Bashe didn't return my salute, instead she kissed my right cheek, smiled at me, turned slowly and seemed to float down the corridor back toward her quarters. I found out just how much I was shaking when I pressed my trembling palm to the cool screen to i-d open my door.




There is no time. Time is an illusion. Everything is now. The past. The future. It’s all now. All going on at the same time. And no matter how random or chaotic. It’s always the same. Changing but the same. And I have no fear because I don’t need to be me. In order to exist. I could ride the wind as a leaf, hug the earth as a tree.


Juno is so clever. He tried to explain to me that every death is a birth because to die is to be born on another plane since we can neither add to nor subtract from existence only transform in terms of what plane we exist on.


I guess if I could have children I might feel differently. I jump so well because it really doesn’t matter if I come back. I have no fear. No anxiety.


I am trying to describe the color I see when I close my eyes. To myself. I’m trying to explain me to me. Inhale nostrils. Exhale mouth. Suppose I am not coming back but going to. Suppose. Suppose. Suppose.


I tried to talk to Celine about jumping. But her experience was so different from mine. I think she wanted to be conscious. I just let myself be. And become. We searched by vibrations. I was confident that people who struggled gave off a certain vibe and tried to tune in to that vibe of struggle, and let my own self-awareness merge into my host. In a sense, I guess, I became one with my host.


I remember, once, when I was in this guy who living in the swamps, I don't know. It was so comfortable. He was so sure of himself. All alone out there. It wasn't even a thought process. It was a certainty of spirit. He was going to die out there rather than return. And I had to struggle with myself not to stay with him. Maybe that's what happened to the other jumpers. Maybe once we got inside a host who was really committed to our people, maybe we decided to stay. Just add our spirits to them. Make them that much stronger.


Something like Bashe. Maybe she has a jumper from some other place inside her. Juno says that a lot of the traditional ceremonies with the potions that people drank, and all the dancing and drumming, was just another way of time traveling and that people actually plugged into other times and other places and other people when they went into those trances.


I don't know. All I know is that we don't really know as much as we think we know. Who really knows what life is and how life works? Our job was to find the ones who didn't give up, regardless of what odds they faced. Find them. And learn their stories. Because those were the ones who were lost to us. And at the same time those were the ones who made it possible for us to be us.


I found myself thinking about being in that brother in the swamp and the time he slipped back to the plantation one night to be with this woman. She didn't hardly know him. But she knew what he was. She gave him some food. And she gave him herself. And I was with him when he lay down with her. And when he came I came. Damn. What an orgasm that was.


Did she get pregnant? Is any of this passed on in the dna? Juno says that there is never just one explanation for anything. Everything has a multiplicity of factors and for sure every new birth is a result of the mating of at least two separate forces… I'm not a thinker. Juno likes to deal with these kinds of questions. But I know how to make stuff happen. That's why I'm jumping right now.


Bashe was who I last saw. She had injected me. And was leaning over me. And squeezed my hand gently. And I felt loved.


Now it’s that pulsing dark, that warm brown that you get when you hold your face toward the sun with your eyes tightly closed.


I always go to sleep, just totally relax and drift. Usually I think about colors. Yellow-cream. The feel of warm water. The sound of my own breath: in through my nostrils, out through my mouth, in, out, nostrils, mouth. Butter. I’ve only tasted it once. It was soft, soft. Had been laying in a shallow dish on a counter all morning. Soft to the touch. I tasted it on my finger tip. Looked over the ridge and there was the soft sun rising, yellow. Yellow as the butter.


I have the feeling that I have been someone else before and am becoming someone else now. I lock in on the vibrations. I feel like I am getting close to Celine but I'm not there yet, and yet, somehow, I'm getting these vibes that feel good, feel right, feel Black like the Black we're trying to save. I will go with this and see where it leads...


This is strange. Because I know this neighborhood. I know these sidewalks. The houses. What goes on behind closed doors. The people. I recognize almost everyone I see. Foots is standing on the corner. I lower the driver’s side window and stick my fist up in the air.


“Hey, Kalamu.”


“Give thanks, Foots. How you be?” He crosses the street toward me, I ease my foot down on the clutch and ease the shift into first but keep the clutch to the floor.


“Man, I’m just getting ready for Jazzfest. I got some designs to lay on them.”


Foots, sibling of Billy Paul, he’s got some heavy new jewelry to sell. He pushes his hand into my open window and shakes. The car is rocking, I have Incognito turned up so loud. I like to ride with the windows up and the music up higher than the windows, which are all the way up. Foots smiles at me, bopping his head to that beat. I ease up on the clutch and swing on round the corner.


I’m 54 years old and sometimes I feel weary, but then I get a spurt of energy. I don’t know where from. Actually, I believe all my extra energy comes from either one, or maybe both of the major life forces other than the one I was born with. They are: one, the here and now; two, the been here and gone; and three, the soon come to be. The been here and the soon come, offer a reason to keep going, cause if it were left to me in the present, I could just check out at this point. My work is relatively complete. I have done my do. Fought the good fight. Reared—actually, to be honest and correct about it, helped to rear some slamming young people, those biologically from me as well as a number of others whom I have touched. And, well, what else is left, but a little bit more of the same.


I think about my parents. My mother dead of cancer at 57, and my father dying suddenly some years later. There are days when I dream about one or the other of them, usually my father—and when they were both alive, I always thought I was closer to my mother, but life is it’s own reality, not what we think, or wish, or hope for, but what it is and the truth, the real is sometimes something other than we are ready to admit.


There is something in me that will not let me stop and yet, I don’t believe in god. I don’t disbelieve. I just have no opinion on that issue. Once I left the church as a teenager, no organized form of religion has ever appealed to me. Spirituality, well, I studied stuff but anything organize around a specific system was just, well, was beyond where I was willing to go, or maybe not as far out as where I am. So when I say I believe in the ancestors and the unborn, I don’t mean it in any concrete way except to say that there is something inside me I can’t explain. Except I know it’s there.


It’s almost noon and I have not eaten anything at all yet today. But the music has me feeling upful. After unfolding myself from the driver’s seat, I stand beside the car a moment. The weather is warm. Sun in March.


When I get inside I call Lynn and we talk about workshop next week. I will be out of town and she will lead workshop and choose the study piece. Immediately I jump online and spend the next couple of hours doing email. Fortunately, I don’t have to teach school today and then as is always happening in Treme, I hear a brass band in the distance, sounding like it is coming this way. I jump up.


Sometimes I ignore the bands, but other times I go see what’s going on. As I step down to the sidewalk, the procession is rounding the corner and there is this little girl, maybe six or seven years old, prancing beside the lead trumpet. At times she looks up at the horn player, at other times she is dancing so intently her eyes get that far away stare like you see when people catch the spirit. Her little limbs jerk lithly, but not like a puppet on a string, rather like there is something inside her bucking to get out. Her knobby little knees wobble from side to side. She can’t weight no more than a matchstick but she’s flowing like a willow tree rocking in the breeze. I am transfixed by her; there is something about the way she dances that is older than she is. Something familiar. But I don’t know her, have not seen her in the neighborhood before. I feel like I should know her. She has that Dionne Warwick kind of face, triangular with almond-shaped eyes that sit at a slight upward angle on her dark face. She is not smiling. She is so serious about this dancing. I just look at her. When she jumps, turns around, squats, hands on knees and backs it up, I fall out. A whole procession of people passes, but all I see is this young girl. Dancing. Dancing. Dancing down the street.





“We’re locked on. We got her!”


At first I didn’t know what Muta was talking about. I’m leaning against the transport table for support. I always feel weak after a jump, like I want to sleep.


I look around the launch area for something yellow. There is nothing. Why am I looking for something yellow? And then I look up and directly above me is a yellow light on the ceiling connected to the transport control. I smile. I knew I wasn’t crazy…


“Sheba, did you hear me? Power up Celine’s transport. We got her.”


Celine? Transport? Power up…?


“Sheba, hurry. We’re going to loose her if the transport is not functioning.”


I try to move quickly, but I stumble. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It takes so much effort to take one step. What am I doing? I have that lost feeling, like someone waking me in the middle of a deep sleep and asking me to solve calculus problems.


“Fifty-eight ticks and counting.”


Celine looks so perfect. It’s funny, she could be dead… damn, what am I saying. She is dead. For all practical purposes. She is dead. But she doesn’t really look dead, or is it that I don’t want her to be dead, or to look dead. Her skin is healthy looking, there is blood circulating through her although at a very, very slow rate, sort of intermittent rather than continuous.


I remember us playing around once. Wrestling. She had me around the waist trying to flip me and I was holding her neck for leverage; she couldn’t flip me without me falling on top of her. And our heads were close together. I remember the wonderful sweetness of her breath. Not an artificial sweetness, but real sweetness. Deep inside of her she is sweet. And I know she shits like everybody else does, but her intestines, or at least her stomach, has got to be the healthiest in the world. Soft and cool. That was the thing. We were wrestling but her breath was still coming out soft and cool. And sweet. But her body was tough. I mean mostly muscle and bone, no fat, no padding. She must have had muscles all up in her breasts. Her neck was like a steel cord. And I could feel her fingers gripping me in a dead man’s grip…


“SHEBA! Code Black. Fourteen clicks and counting. Set the switches, Sheba.”


Eight-zero-niner. Enter. The switches run through the colors. Starting at red, burn through to amber. And then one by one. Green. Green. Green. Power up.


I look over at Muta. “Power up.”


Muta is lost in the gyrations of multitasking. Keeping the beat, easying back on the transport accelerator. Tapping in code with his right hand. Holding the frequency attenuator with his left hand and bumping it up at appropriate moments. His left foot tapping a beat for the vibration resonator. And his right foot dropping harmonics—Juno always said, the harmonics is the key to making everything work. Watching Muta from the rear he looks just like a jazz drummer playing keyboards and drums at the same time.


This was Juno’s innovation. Instead of using a gyroscope to set and lock the rhythm, the operator had to establish the flow. Juno said, flow allowed for maximum variation. The jumper could go wherever, experience whatever, change, flip in and out of time zones, in and out of hosts and it was no problem, except if the operator couldn’t keep up. The old way with the fixed rhythm never yielded great results because we would so seldom find somebody functioning at whatever vibrational frequency we were locked on, but this way, we could change to fit the conditions…


“Celine!” Muta pushed me aside, like I was a fly buzzing his face. He was lifting the cover on Celine’s transport before I fully understood what was happening.


I looked down at Celine’s body. It wasn’t moving. But the gauges on the transport control panel indicated that she was alive. She was back.


“Celine.” Muta was almost crying. Celine was not moving. He started checking for her pulse, and then he shook her gently. “Come on, baby. Wake up. Wake up.”


There was no sense in telling him to stop. He felt for her pulse by the big vein in the side of the neck. And he smiled his huge smile, the one that made him so attractive.


“Her heart is beating.”


I leaned over to put my ear next to her nose and I smelled her breath. “She’s back,” I whispered. “Celine is back.”


Muta broke down at that point. Sort of like made a choking sound and let his head keel over onto Celine’s chest. He was crying, softly at first. Then loudly enough that I knew he was not embarrassed about it and was just letting it go. Happy crying. He was hugging her, his face buried into her bosom. Hugging her and crying. And calling her name, between sobs. Over and over.


Then Celine’s hand rose up, the gesture was so slow and so graceful it looked like something you see in a dream. Her hand moved. Up and then out like she was reaching for something, and then her fingers spread apart, wide apart. And just as slowly she brought her hand to rest on Muta’s head and stroked his head over and over, like what I imagine a mother does to a baby suckling her breast.


Now I had to turn away. This was too intimate for me to witness. Muta was still crying when I heard Celine’s voice drawl like she had been drugged: “Muuuu-taaaaa. Whyyyy. Youuuuu. Cryingggggg?”




None of our palm prints would open the module. We had not been coded in, but we could see through the glass. Juno was thrashing away, his fingers flying, rocking back and forth, his knees pumping furiously—I had never seen him so animated at the controls. Something must have gone wrong.


“Dag, I didn’t know we had two scanners,” Celine says out loud although not directly to either Muta or myself.


“It’s brand new. This is the first tim…” I said.


“Whose jumping—not Bashe?”


Muta answered quietly, “there’s no one else left to jump.”


“How far back are they going?”


“Celine,” I reach out and touch her elbow, “it’s a future jump.”


“A future jump?” her eyes grow wide as though she dare not believe me. “When did all this happen?”


“You’ve been gone a long time…”


“Sheba, I thought you said it was only three days, some hours.”


“Yeah, well three days is a long, long time around here.”


“Damn, something is wrong.” We both turned and stared at Muta as he quietly sized up the situation and confirmed my suspicion.


“How can you tell?” I asked.


“Because look at the rhythm he’s using with his left foot and see how rapidly he’s stopping and going with his right foot, that’s not normal, that’s an extremely high level of activity. Plus he keeps swinging the antenuator to extremes in both directions. Damn.”




“It’s beautiful. Beautiful the way he’s working those scanner controls. How can he move that fast and not loose it, but look, he hasn’t dropped a beat.” Muta had his hands up beside his face like he was cutting off glare, or like a kid staring into a movie-scope. “But I still think something is wrong.”


Now all three of us had our faces pressed to the transparent wall separating us from the control module.


“This is weird. I feel like we should be in there.”


“Doing what, Celine?”


“Muta, you know there is always something we can do. Didn’t you just say it looks like something is wrong?”


I suck my teeth. “If they wanted us in there, they would have included our palm prints in the access codes.”


“Maybe they didn’t think about it. But on the other hand, even if they don’t want us, maybe they need us.”


“Celine, you’re always so positive.”


“Thanks, Sheba.”


“That wasn’t a complement,” I half joke.


“No, you were just telling the truth and it’s good to know that I am appreciated,” Celine chuckled. It was good to hear her laughter again.


For a couple of long minutes no one says anything. Juno has been working like a man possessed. Suddenly I notice that Juno is wearing a helmet—Muta only wore earphones. “Muta, why is Juno on helmet.”


“Cause he’s flying blind.”


“Flying blind? What does that mean?”


“It means he’s blocking out everything around him and only seeing the scanner codes and getting aural feedback through the ear phones,” Celine answered me matter-of-factly.


“Yeah, but the helmet does funny things to your hand and foot coordination, you can’t hear yourself operating the controls and there’s almost no tactile feedback.”


“Yeah, you get more control of the input but you get less feedback in terms of what you’re doing. Juno tried to show me how to use the helmet but I preferred the earphones.”


I glanced over at Celine, not only was she our best jumper, she also was pretty good at operating the scanner controls. 


“Look, you see how fast he’s doing code with his right hand and how smooth he’s manuvering with his left hand at the same time. I believe he’s bringing Bashe back now.”


I couldn’t see any difference in what Juno was doing.


“Damn, when I grow up, I want to be able to control a scanner like Juno,” Muta muttered softly, shaking his head in admiration.


“If you put the time in, you can do it. But even if you don’t get any better, you can transport me anytime.” Celine said, and then those two fools smiled at each other like they were both the first and the last people on earth to fall in love.


“Oh, no. Bashe!” Muta pounded on the window trying to get Juno’s attention. Bashe was back alright, but her body was thrashing from the waist down, her head spastically jumping like she was convulsing. Juno finally looked up, tore his helmet off and tossed it aside in one quick motion while bounding over to Bashe still strapped in the transport, her arms flailing frantically.


Juno threw himself atop Bashe’s body and locked restraints on her wrists and then he gripped her head with both hands.


Celine figured it out immediately, “she’s epileptic. That jump could have killed her. Secure her tongue, Juno, so she doesn’t choke on it. Give her an injection and then hope she pulls through ok.”


Juno moved as though he heard everything Celine said, right down to an injection. That went too smoothly. It was like Juno was prepared for the seizure to happen. And then it hit me. “I bet you that’s why they locked us out; they knew.”


“No,” Celine said, “it’s not that simple. They know I’ve got the most medical training, they would want me in there.”


“Yeah, but you just got back, and nobody knew where you were or if you wanted to come back” I joked, even though it wasn’t funny.


“I hear that, Sheba. But damn, Juno looked like he was prepared…”


“Celine, that’s just what I was thinking.”


Bashe was completely still now. Juno finally stopped to look around and noticed us standing there. He went to the console and opened the door.


We rushed in, nobody saying anything, everybody looking at Bashe. Juno eventually came over and hugged Celine, “Welcome home, trooper Celine.” And then Juno dapped up Muta, “Good job, trooper Muta.”


We all smiled briefly.


“Celine, please run a check on commander Bashe. Officer Sheba, have you done a full debriefing yet?”


“No. We came straight over here to see if you all needed some help.”


“Trooper Muta, do a full debriefing with officer Sheba. After you and officer Sheba have recorded the debrief, return to this module. Celine and I will see to commander Bashe.”


Both Muta and I snapped off salutes. Juno was not hesitating in taking charge. He was clear and direct in his orders and unhesitating about what had to be done, but I could see the concern swimming in his eyes, which were glazed over with moisture that I assume was tears or stress, or both.


As we were leaving, I heard Juno said something about Bashe predicted this might happen. How do you get up the nerve to volunteer for a jump if you know you’re an epileptic?


* * *


After everything was over, we all received promotions, except for Bashe who was already a commander. The ceremony, as such, was scheduled to take place within another two weeks when our small crew was to be brought topside. Meanwhile, here we are receiving final orders from Bashe.


Bashe looked at each one of us before saying a word, and then she looked down before finally raising her head proudly.


“Please stop me if I go too fast. I’m going to skip the official rigmarole. The deal is a truce has been declared and we are all being disbanded. Of course, it is not going to be announced like that, but the end result will be, the war is over.”


“Bashe, wait, you said, disbanded?”


“Yes, Muta. Disbanded. CC is being absorbed into…”


“I don’t want to hear it,” I blurted out my immediate reaction. “The jumps, the units…”


“Sheba, we were the only unit to survive. All the others either failed to complete their assignments or they were captured or destroyed. The elders decided the cost was too high and…”


“What about ‘no surrender, no compromise’?” I asked.


“Sheba, the truth is I don’t know.” There was a long silence while we waited for Bashe to continue. “I don’t think any of us know. This movement has been our lives. I grew up this way. My father was in this movement before I was born.” Bashe fell silent. Her head was angled slightly upward and to the side. If you watched her eyes you saw them shifting back and forth like she was reading something.


“This can’t be it. Not like this!”


“Sheba, calm down.”


“Not with a bang, but with a whimper.”


I looked over at Juno. Leave it to him to suddenly quote poetry at a moment like this. “Who said that?”


Bashe didn’t even look in my direction when she answered my question, “T.S. Eliot.”


“Damn, Juno, at least you could quote a Black poet.” I retorted quietly.


“Is there some kind of amnesty program or something? You know some of us…”


“I know, Muta. Some of us are wanted. From what I understand there is some kind of table of responsibilities and consequences, and depending on what you’re wanted for, they’ve worked out… Look, all of you are cool. Any of you who wants to go back can do so without prejudice. I’ve checked on your cases.”


“Bashe, what are the options? I mean suppose we don’t want to go back. Where else can we go?”


“Celine, as far as I know there is no other place to go. OnePlanet is everywhere.”


“Well, I’m not going back. I’ll stay here, if I have to,” I looked at Bashe who was listening to me and sending out support-vibes. “When I said, no surrender, no compromise. I meant it. I meant every word of it.”


Juno spoke up suddenly, “Bashe, what about you? Can you go back?”




“No, you can’t or no, you won’t?”


“Sheba, I can’t and I won’t.”


“So, what are you going to do?”


“I don’t know.”


“Well, I tell you what, wherever you decide to go, count me in, cause I don’t want to go back.”


“I’m with Juno on that,” I said.


Before Bashe could respond, Celine spoke up. “Muta and I really, really have to talk this over. You know…” Celine paused. “My first inclination is to stay here with Bashe…”


“Yall, there is no here to stay at. Don’t you understand? This is the last module and tomorrow it will be turned over…”


“I mean, Bashe, I understand. But what I was saying is that my first inclination is to go wherever you go and…”


“I thank all of you for your support and for the confidence you have in me, but right now you are being confronted with a reality you probably never imagined. You don’t need to make any rash decisions. You need to think about your future. You understand? Think about what it is you want for the rest of your life. Sheba you are still very young, you could literally start over. Celine and Muta, you two have each other. Go start a family. If you register you can have a child.” Bashe looked deep into my eyes and then deep into Celine’s eyes and Muta’s eyes. Her look was saying much more than her words.


“What about Juno?” I asked even though I knew the answer already, or at least I thought I knew the answer. Juno wasn’t going back.


“What about, Juno?” Bashe never even glanced his way, but instead bore into me with those searching eyes.


“No, I was just saying, you gave advice to me and to Muta and Celine, but you didn’t say anything to Juno.”


Bashe smiled. “Are you asking me if Juno and I are getting together?”


It got quiet. Real quiet. I looked away. It was still quiet. I peeked over at Juno. He never even looked up.


“Well, Sheba, is that what you want to know?”


“Ah, I was just, ah, I mean Juno did say he was going to go wherever you go.”


“I repeat, are you asking me if Juno and I are getting together?”


“What the fuck, it doesn’t make any difference, does it? Just like that, it’s over. The Community Council has cut some kind of deal and some people will get taken care of and the majority of us will become some little cog in some urban center. And shit. Who cares, fuck it. I guess it was nice while it lasted but the fun is over and it’s back to the goddamn real world.”


“Sheba, you’re hurt and confused at the moment. Don’t say anymore… but then again, maybe you should. Maybe you should get all of that out of your system.” Bashe walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “The truth is CC negotiated a deal for the whole community. Most of you will be acquired as normal citizens, and all of us, rank commander and above, will be sent to a restricted zone for an indefinite time.”


Her touch felt so light and yet so strong.


“Sheba, do you want to be exiled on a restricted zone with me?” Of course I did not answer her. I could not lie and say I was ready for a life that was closer to death. Those zones were everything we were fighting against.


“I didn’t think so. I don’t think any of you wants to go through that. Right?” Bashe looked at each of us in turn. None of us spoke up to say we wanted to join her in such a harsh and pitiful place. “CC offered us the option of remaining underground, but we would probably never get back to the world again. I wouldn’t even bring that up to you all, confused as you are right now, we might have elected to do something irreversible that we would surely come to regret.”


Bashe was right. I really couldn’t see myself living the rest of my life on this module. I could easily see myself dying in battle, but living like this, I just never foresaw anything like this as being our future.


“Our movement ebbs and flows. There are no guarantees except that we must struggle. Sometimes we will have to withdraw and lie dormant, other times we must throw ourselves against impossible odds. Muta, Celine, Sheba, Juno, I love each of you. Fiercely. I do. I know your hearts are strong. I know your minds are clear. Your beliefs are with our people. I know this like my blood knows my body.”


Bashe looked at me last. I didn’t realize I was crying until Bashe stepped to me and wiped a tear off my cheek with her bare hand. Bashe hugged me and then drew back.


“You know how in our studies we found out that different groups of our ancestors had different ways of dealing with slavery? Some of us adapted and some us committed suicide. Some of us resisted and most of us just kind of did whatever we had to do to survive.”


At first nobody answered Bashe. We all just waited for her to continue. And then Juno spoke up, “Bashe, we know the story. You’re going to walk into the sea, aren’t you?”




Bashe stepped away from me and continued talking to all of us, “I guess I just don’t have it. I don’t have that something inside that enables a person to put up with bullshit. You know I used to wonder what did our ancestors do when a slave revolt failed. The ones who were still alive but who had been part of the rebellion. What did they do? Well, we’re about to find out, aren’t we?”


“Bashe, you are the bravest person I know,” Celine was speaking very, very softly. “You took that jump knowing that it could have killed you… and you did it so that there would be a chance, just a chance that I could be brought back. I owe you my life, I know that.”


“Celine, you know what you owe me?” Bashe walked over to Celine and embraced her and then embraced Muta. “You owe me the two of yall having a child together. I chose not to have a child. Maybe if I…” Bashe didn’t finish her thought.


“I tell you what crew, this is a lot to think about. Let’s reassemble in the morning. Why don’t we all just sleep on what we want to do. Juno, Sheba, Celine and Muta, each of you have the option of going anywhere in the world you want to go. You will receive full global citizenship, a grade-omega passport, and a choice of service or research jobs. The details of the deal are being finalize as we… I’m terrible at giving speeches. Meet back here 09:00. That’s all. Dismissed. Oh, there is one more thing: CC is bringing us topside in the morning. Tonight will be our last night aboard this module. That’s all. Dismissed.”


We started to snap off a salute, but the words wouldn’t come. “We can’t even say ‘a luta continua’ anymore,” I said to no one in particular.


“Sheba, we can still say it,” Bashe looks at me with a tenderness I hadn’t recognized before. “It’s just that the struggle will now have to take a different form.”


* * *


The jerk of the module docking topside woke me up early, a little after six. Our compartments are soundproof, someone could have been shouting outside our door and we would not be able to hear them, but we could feel the motion of the module, which was always moving this way and that through a maze of tunnels. To evade detection, our module was never still for more than five or six hours except when we docked topside for a jump and that usually took no longer than two hours.


Before I even realized what I was doing I had finished packing and placed the bundle on my bunk. When I got tired of standing up looking down at my gear, I flopped on the bed and kicked at the backpack. The kick felt so good, I let go with a second and stronger kick. The pack thudded against the wall at the foot of my bunk. I kicked it again. And then another kick.


All my possessions were in that pack and I doubt if it weighed fifty pounds. None of us really owned anything much, we didn’t need much, not even clothes in this controlled environment.


I wondered what Juno was doing; what Bashe was doing; whether they were doing whatever they were doing together? I looked over at the computer screen. It was just a little after seven. I couldn’t just sit anymore.


Out in the hall, I just started walking. I didn’t have any particular destination. I was avoiding Juno’s compartment, that’s one place I wasn’t going.


Where was I going to go?


I decided to go say goodbye to all the jumpers who never made it back. When I got to the jump room, the room was completely dark, not even the usual night lights were on. And the door was open. We never left this door open. Even before I keyed up the lights, I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea how wrong. An involuntary gasp jumped out of my mouth when I saw that the room was empty. For almost a minute, I couldn’t believe it. All the pods were empty. Empty!


Things were moving too fast. How could all this have happened so quickly? I had no choice. I had to go see Bashe.


Her compartment was empty. The door was open. I ran to the control center. Sprinted. No one was there. Everybody couldn’t have left me. At control center I turned on the security monitors and started searching for Bashe, Juno, Muta and Celine. Anybody. Everybo… and there was Juno operating the new scanner. But who was jumping? I ran down the hall.


When I got to the new scanner room, Juno was standing in the open doorway, just like he was waiting for me. He started talking without looking up at me, “She’s gone. Jumped somewhere into the future and she’s not coming back.”


I looked into the room and there Bashe’s body was, laid out, perfectly still and unplugged. I glanced over at the scanner, it was off. None of the transport lights were on.


I kept trying to get a grip on my mind, but I couldn’t think a straight thought.


She left us. I looked over at Juno and when he finally looked up at me, I was stunned. His eyes were troubled, reddish. He wearily rubbed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.


“Bashe woke me up early this morning and asked me to send her on a jump and to disconnect her after she was out there.”


“You could have said no.”


Juno just sadly shook his head in response. “If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have told you no. Why should I tell Bashe no?”


I didn’t know what to say. This was all too much for me to process. I just sort of shut down. Turned away from Juno and looked at Bashe’s body.


“I used to believe in karma,” Juno said, “at the same time that I believe in evolution. I mean all the scientific evidence supports some form of evolution. But then I could never get with white people ruling the world, being the dominant branch of the species. Dominance and karma just don’t go together. In fact, dominance seems to be what evolution is about and… well, there are so many people who didn’t survive, who are now extinct. That was evolution, but was there any justice in that?”


I only half heard what Juno said. It was like he was babbling, more talking to himself than talking to me.


“Juno, I don’t understand. Everything is breaking down and you’re talking about karma and evolution, and… and, well, this doesn’t make sense. None of this, I mean all of this… it’s like chaos, just plain chaos.”


“Exactly. Like I said, I used to believe in karma and evolution.”


“And so what do you believe now?”


“Sheba, I believe shit happens. It just happens. Some of it be sweet, some of it be bitter. We endure the bitter and enjoy the sweet. I mean some of us. Some of us endure, some of us enjoy. But there’s no rhyme, no reason.”


I must have been looking at him like he was crazy, because he laughed, a hard and almost cynical laugh.


“You think I’ve lost it, don’t you?”


“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. What do I know?”


I turned to look at Bashe for the last time. Her face was calm. Her eyes were closed. At least she was at peace with her decision. Impulsively I bent over and kissed her. Her lips were already cool.






“I said, do you want to jump too? If you do, we have to do it now, we’re almost out of time?”


“What…?” I was totally disoriented. “Juno, I don’t know. What are you going to do?”


“I’m going to be one of the ones who stay on the shore.”


“What? Juno, what are you talking about?”


“I’m talking about how some of us walked into the sea and most of us stayed on the shore.”




A chill went through me. I knew I was going to stay on the shore too, even though I had made four back-jumps, right now I just wanted to… to what? What did I really want? Before I realized what was happening, words were tumbling out of my mouth, “Juno, can we… I mean since I don’t know and you don’t know, can we kind of don’t know together?”


Juno smiled a half smile.


“Can I take that smile as a yes?”


“Yes, you can take it as a yes, but that’s not why I was smiling.”




“Come on,” Juno grabbed my hand. “I was smiling because the last thing Bashe said was if you stay, stay together. Don’t try to face down OnePlanet by yourself.”


Suddenly the main lights went out. The module automatically switched to backup power. Juno, hardly reacted except to murmur, “They’re here.” He was still holding my hand.


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear




Just Like A Woman


         You know I ain’t scared of nothing. Not nothing. Mainly cause I been tried, tested and found true. I been stabbed. I been shot. I ain’t never been poisoned but I done slept in the same cell with the most vicious bunch of cut throats in the world, thanks to old cigar smoking Judge Shea who sentenced me to a double dime on accessory to armed robbery. I wasn’t armed but I was there when we stuck that store up when Peety popped the dude upside the head with the gun, I just stepped politely over the blood and tears flowing on the floor, and went on about my business of rahzooing the cash register. We had sense enough to shoot out the video camera eye, but not sense enough to take the video tape before we left. Aw well, you know, you live and learn. Time ain’t nothing but a classroom, and either you learn and move on, or you stay stupid and just keep doing time. I did a dime and loose change behind some stupid shit.

         You know the joint is good for getting your head together. It didn’t take me long to realize that sticking up poor people was both stupid and evil. First they ain’t got nothing much and second why take anything from somebody who ain’t got next to nothing? You hear what I’m saying? I view the joint just like grade school, you do that shit once and you ain’t never supposed to return. Me, myself, I ain’t never going back to the joint, twelve years is a motherfucking-Ph.-motherfucking-D. Besides them young thugs what’s showing up now in the slams is straight out ignorant ass fools, you know what I mean?

         As I look round this funny ass hole in the wall, it seems to me that everybody in this motherfucker done been up on the yard except for that pretty boy sitting over there checking out every hard leg what walk up in here, I guess he know how long he would last in the joint, and then again, some of them living better in prison than they ever could live out here in the world cause there ain’t no big time faking and fronting up in the joint. Damn near everybody is ether sticking and getting sucked or else sucking and getting stuck, so you know, you kind of get used to men being women. Dudes like pretty boy is a prize that brothers fight and die over everyday. Lil dude like him get a big time murderer to be his old man, ya know, a cat who got more time than Methusaleem, or whatever that old dude in the bible was called, anyway, they get sponsored by one of them kind of dudes who ain’t gon never see the sun shine again.

         Being in the joint is just like anything else after you get used to it, it becomes your life. The joint be your life just like being in the world is somebody else’s life. You do what you got to do to live. And you do whatever you can do to enjoy your life, you know what I’m saying? At first it be different, but after you spend a bunch of years doing it with dudes, you get used to it. Some people don’t, but most people do. It ain’t no big thing, not like it seem…

         Well ain’t this a bitch, here come Popeye Henry. How in the fuck did he get out? And who that woman he got with him? She look too fine to be Popeye’s squeeze. She must be a whore and he must be buying his first piece since getting out. The motherfucker acting like he don’t know nobody, strutting around with that real pussy by his side.

         “You want another beer?”

         “Yeah, give me another one.”

         “We don’t give nobody shit around here. You can buy another one.”

         “I got money, motherfucker…”

         “Man, have some respect for your mama. Call me Mr. Motherfucker.”

         Me and Euclid the bartender been going at it for over two hours now. Euclid’s a funny ass motherfucker. He claim he got his name cause he was conceived in the back seat of a Ford when his mama was in high school and she opened up a book that was on the floor and picked the first name she saw. Ain’t that some shit?

         You don’t talk much, do you? You ain’t said a word since we been sitting here.

         Aw shit, now look at this. Look like Popeye and that broad got some kind of major static happening.

         “…I can say whatever I want to say.”

         “See how much you can say with a fist all up in your big ass mouth.”

         Oh Popeye, that ain’t no way to treat a lady. Boy, you know I taught you better than that. “Henry, my man, why don’t you cool it.” She must not be no whore he just met, cause I don’t believe he giving her enough money to take a ass whipping like that.

         “Who that dipping they lip in my business?”

         Look at him fronting. He ain’t even so much as looked over here to see who it is sounding on him. Reaching his hand up in his coat like he packing and I’m supposed to be scared or something.

         “It don’t matter who it is, right is right, and right ain’t never wronged nobody. Just cause you got a beef with your lady, you ain’t got to go upside her head.”

         “Fuck all that shit. A man take care a business wherever the business is.”

         Now where this motherfucker get off challenging somebody’s manhood. See, before I went to the joint I would have been all over that nigga talking that murder mouth shit. But like I told you, I don’t plan on going back, and seeing as how I’m still on parole, I don’t need to be getting into no fight behind somebody else funny business. Except, you know, I know this nigga. We did time together up on the yard. I know him in ways he don’t want nobody to know. Maybe he didn’t recognize my voice.

         Now look at this shit. He hitting her again just to show me he can hit on a woman. Hey, man watch my back. I don’t want no heat slipping up on me while I’m dealing with this roach-ass nigga.

         “Miss, you ok?”

         “Steve, this ain’t your business man.”

         So, you did recognize me. You just fronting but I got something for your fronting ass.

         I look at the woman, and she don’t say nothing. “I said, are you ok, lady.”

         “Hey man…”

         “I’m talking to the lady, Henry. Not to you.”

         “Yeah, but that lady is with me.”


         “Meaning, this ain’t none of your business.”

         “I’m alright,” she finally says cutting the silence of me and Popeye squaring off like some typical Saturday-night, two-dudes-fighting-over-a-bitch shit.

         I can hear the place get quiet. There’s always this silence before some shit jump off, sometimes the silence is less than a second, sometimes it be a minute or two, but there’s always this point where it could go any which way, and it’s like everybody be holding their breadth. And waiting. The dangerous quiet. That’s when you got to act fast.

         Popeye slips his hand back in his pocket. Knowing this nigga, I’m sure he got a shank, might even be packing a piece. I turn my attention away from him, hoping to cool the scene out, “What’s your name, baby?”

         She looks at Popeye when I ask her that. “I’m Marlene.”

         Popeye glares at her. “What difference it make to you what her name is?”

         Look at this motherfucker fronting. “My name is Steve. Me and Henry go back a long ways. We did time together. Did you tell her about me, Popeye?”

         “She know I did time. I’m just saying that was then, this here shit is now. And I don’t appreciate…” I watch him make exaggerated hand motions in his pocket. “…you butting into my business.”

         “When you got out?”

         He don’t answer me. After we exchange snake eyes for a minute or two, I let it drop and head back to my seat. From over my shoulder I hear the ruckus. “What the fuck you looking at him for, bitch?” And I hear him slap her again. I know Popeye is just acting out on account of he just got out the joint, and he sitting up in here with a bunch of motherfuckers who been up in the joint, so he trying to prove that he’s a man and not a turned out, jailhouse bitch, but he ain’t got to be beating all over that broad to prove he a man. I can’t stand to see no shit like this go down, so I got to do what I got to do.

         “Popeye,” I say to him as I turn around and walk up in his face. “When you was my woman in the joint, did I treat you this way?”

         Henry don’t say shit. He kind of shrink back into himself a little, take his empty hand out his pocket, don’t say shit, and just walk away straight out the door. Marlene looks confused as a motherfucker.

         But, see Popeye should have been cool from the jump and I wouldn’t have had to call him out on that mishandling a woman shit. It reflects bad on me for him to act like a thug. Right is right and wrong ain’t nothing nice. And, like I said, ain’t nothing wrong in doing right cause right ain’t never wronged nobody. You know what I mean?

         “Hey, Euclid, sell me another beer, mister motherfucker.”


—kalamu ya salaam