SHORT STORY: I Sing Because...


I Sing Because...


         Amid the weariness of work day's end, Sarah-Bell savored the quiet of oncoming twilight. At last, she could momentarily take it easy, unhurried. And she was grateful for small blessings.

         Lilting into the breezeless amber of the October evening, a mesmerizing wordless song flowed from Sarah-Bell's full, plum-colored lips as she plodded down the dusty lane. Her ankle-length, thorn-tattered, sweat-soiled skirt swished with each step.

         Six-foot-four-and-a-half-inch, one hundred-eighty-seven pound Jim One-Toe, deftly dragging his maimed left foot, hobbled beside Sarah-Bell. He had a pretty fair voice himself.

         One-Toe smiled in admiration of the way Sarah-Bell made each phrase of her improvised reel end on a little upward swoop that just naturally made a man feel good.

         "Sarah-Bell, you sing so pretty. Can I be your man?"

         Sarah-Bell furtively peeked over at One-Toe, smiled and immediately refocused her gaze on the last visible tip of the orange sun swiftly falling behind the nearly clean-picked field of cotton plants.

         "One-Toe, you know I got a man."

         "But he don't come to you all the time," One-Toe retorted. A quick grin of near perfect white teeth flashed across the dimpled midnight of his handsome blue-black face.

         Almost two good moons had passed since anybody had seen Mule-Boy visiting Sarah-Bell. Gathering was most over, Mule coulda been sold off by now—everybody knowed Master Gilmore over to the nearby plantation was good for sending you down the river at the drop of a hat.

         Sarah-Bell scrutinized the squinting sincerity of One-Toe’s slender eyes. “It ain’t that he don’t. He can’t co…”

         Suddenly interrupting herself, Sarah-Bell deftly hiked-up her skirt as she stepped around a fresh pile of smelly horse droppings. Then, while shooing away a fat, green and black, fly with a quick fan of her much-pricked, field-toughened hand, Sarah-Bell continued her conversation, "...and you couldn't be with me every night neither, that is, if'n I was to even let you come by at all."

         One-Toe was encouraged that Sarah-Bell was at least considering the merits of being with him. He spyed a brief glimmer of interest smoldering in her eyes as she announced her decision, "Naw. I don't think so, One-Toe. I thinks I can wait."

         "Yes, m'am." One-Toe was disappointed, but not discouraged. He had plenty mo' days to blow gently on the spark he glimpsed in Sarah-Bell's pecan-shaped eyes. He reckoned harvesting the love of a woman like this was worth a long season of planting and weeding.

         "But if you was to get tired a waiting. I would come. You know I would. Like a bird to the nest. I would come to you every night I could."

         "Which make you no different from my far-away man who come to me every night he can."

         "Well, don't forget I'm closer to the nest. I can get to you quicker than him, even if'n I ain't got but one good foots," One-Toe joked. Sarah-Bell grinned as One-Toe made fun of his own infirmity.

         She liked his gentle humor but she didn't feel a need for another man climbing on her just now, even a fine man like One-Toe.

         For a few seconds they exchanged knowing glances and allowed their eyes to speak for them. Then, while holding her hand palm side out, Sarah-Bell gracefully waved to One-Toe and spoke in a husky half-whisper as she strolled on, "Good night, brotha One-Toe."

         One-Toe peered longingly at the broadness of Sarah-Bell's back and the ampleness of her hips. He looked til his imagination was as full as it could stand to be. One-Toe wanted that pretty-singing woman. He had seen a bunch of women who was face-prettier, but he had never heard no one or nothing, neither woman, man, child or bird, what sang prettier than Sarah-Bell.

         One-Toe had been thinking so hard about holding Sarah-Bell in his huge arms he missed catching sight of Chester Browne squatting nearby Sarah-Bell's door. When her singing faltered and then abruptly fell silent, One-Toe quickly surveyed the area to see what disturbance had stilled Sarah-Bell's song. One-Toe glared at Chester. Everybody knowed what a driverman in the lane after hours waiting by a woman's door meant.

         One-Toe spit into the dust, turned and drug himself into the bitter barreness of his resting room. Shortly thereafter One-Toe heard the thudding shuffle of Chester's horse moseying past the open doorway as Chester and Sarah-Bell rode out the lane. A high-pitched whinny from the horse taunted One-Toe, but One-Toe refused to look at the too-familiar abduction.

         Chester wasn't talking, and Sarah-Bell wasn't singing.

         The chomp chomp chomp chomp of the sorrel's hooves echoed against the mud-caked wall of One-Toe's sleep space and reverberated inside One-Toe's skull.

         One-Toe forcefully buried his face into the gritty dirt floor and stifled an urge to say something, to say anything; a word, a sound, call her name, something.

         Sarah-Bell's silence tormented One-Toe. He would gladly let them ax-chop his good right foot if-in he could visit Sarah-Bell; Chester or no Chester. Naw, if-in he had a cooing dove like Sarah-Bell to share nights with, he wouldn't even dream of running again. He would stay and comfort her.

         It was nearly an hour later before Chester had finished his business. Chester never kept any washing-water in his cabin, and Sarah-Bell had not even dared think about going down to the master's well, so all she could do was wipe herself with her skirt tail before she set off to walking back.

         Despite her general habit of immediately forgetting the weight of an overseer hovering over her and thrashing into her, Sarah-Bell found herself mulling over her plight. Her thoughts were accompanied by the stark crunch of her footfalls on the loamy trail.

         Maybe, if-in it proved necessary and she didn't wait too long, maybe Sarah-Bell could brave a trek over to Gilmore's and plead with Mama Zulie for some womb-cleaning chawing roots. Sarah-Bell paused and fleetingly hugged herself. I sure hope nothing that drastic is needed. Probably not. Her regular bleeding had just stopped a day or so ago.

         As Sarah-Bell pushed determinedly on a trivial worriation nagged at her. Even though she was aware that Chester's drool could do her no harm, it sure was a mighty aggravation the way the taste of Chester's nasty kiss sometimes seemed to stay in her mouth for days. Luckily, on this particular night, he had mostly wanted to suck at her nipples rather than her lips.

         Plus, he had come quickly enough. It hadn't been too long fore a spent and drowsy Chester dozed off and Sarah-Bell had been able to scoot from under him, slip off his pallet and proceed to walking the three-quarters a mile back to the lane.

         By the time she was most halfway there Sarah-Bell had managed to bury Chester's assault and summon up a plaintive song to soften the knot of jumbled sorrow resting heavy in the bottom of her stomach.

         Shortly, for the second time, the soles of Sarah-Bell's thickly-callused feet felt the well-worn familiarity of the lane's path. Sarah-Bell was welcomed back by the sleeping-sounds of her people. Snores. Whistles. Sobs. Groans. A few moans from someone sick, or was it from someone really tired, or maybe both.

         Sarah-Bell was too exhausted to stumble fifty more yards down to the creek for to wash herself. She would do that in the morning. And though she was hungry, she was also too fatigued to gnaw on the piece of hardtack secreted deep in the pocket of her skirt. Right now she needed to lay down by herself and seek the solace of sleep so she could disremember the dog-odor of Chester's hair she had endured when he had been slobbering on her breasts. It was funny how that foul smell lingered in her consciousness. Seems like smell and taste had mo staying power than the abuse of touch.

         Sarah-Bell's sharp ears caught the faint sound of some animal moving in the woods. Judging from the swift lightness of the rustling coming from the bushes, she guessed it must be a rabbit. An owl hooted. Sarah-Bell wordlessly empathized with the prey--run brother rabbit, less you be somebody supper.

         Times like this Sarah-Bell wished she was brave enough to hightail it like One-Toe had done. Maybe she would make it to Mexico, which is where One-Toe said he had been headed. Sarah-Bell thought of what One-Toe had declared when they brought him back: Some gets away, some don't. Getting free was worth the risk, worth losing some of a foot.

         She flinched at the thought of so permanent a loss. Even though she had survived more than her share of suffering, Sarah-Bell still didn't know if she could stand one of her limbs being mutilated or cut away.

         Sarah-Bell was too tuckered out and emotionally drained to do anything more than collaspe into her doorway. She didn't even crawl over to check on her children balled together in slumber beneath a patchwork spread of sackcloth and shirt pieces. No sooner her dark-haired head nestled onto the curved comfort of her pillow-stone, a weary Sarah-Bell was dead asleep.

         The next day in the pale dim of half-dawn morning light only one child sat where two usually fidgeted. Sarah-Bell's heart dropped. "Where Suzee-Bell?"

         "Them took her," Johnny-Bell replied.

         Was no need to say who "them" was. Was no need to ask "where" they took her.

         We ain't got nothing but each other, and they won't let us hold on to that, Sarah-Bell's insides roiled with anger. Both man and God was unfair. Man for what he was doing. And God for allowing men to act the low down way they did. Sarah-Bell knew Johnny-Bell would be next. She knew it just as sure as she knew a snake would eat an unprotected egg.

         Johnny-Bell was her fifth child.

         "What's yo name, boy?"

         "Johnny..." the child stuttered frightened by the hissed intensity of his mother's question.

         "Naw. Yo name Johnny-Bell. BELL. You Johnny-Bell. Yo brothers is Robert-Bell and Joe-Bell. Your sisters is Urzie-Bell and Suzee-Bell. No matter where they cart you off to, no matter what they call you by, you remember the name yo mama give you. And if you ever hear tell of yo brothers or yo sisters, you go find 'em if you can. But you remember 'em even if you can't find 'em. You remember yo people. You hear me?"

         "Yes, mam."

         "Say, yes, Sarah-Bell. Don't mam me. Call me by my name. Sarah-Bell."

         The confused four year old wet himself. He had never heard his mother speak so harshly to him; but he didn't cry.

         When she realized how hard she was shaking him, Sarah-Bell softened her grip on Johnny-Bell's shoulder. He was just a scared little boy, and her rage wasn't making this crisis any easier for him. She could feel currents of fear in the heavy trembling racking his little body, which was twitching like a throat-cut calf at slaughtering time.

         Within seconds Sarah-Bell reigned in her emotions, mustered up her fortitude, and tenderly enfolded Johnny-Bell into the comforting shelter of her bosom. They swayed in mutual anguish as she sought to rock away both his fear and her grief.

         Instinctively she handled her perdicament as best she knew how. Within seconds of hugging Johnny-Bell, Sarah-Bell was breathing out a long-toned lullaby and anointing the reddish-brown hair of her son's head with song-embellished kisses.

         And she didn't loosen her embrace until she heard the rooster crow for day. After emerging into the muted shine of daybreak, hand-in-hand, mother and child marched down to the water to bathe themselves.

         The word about Suzee-Bell buzzed through the small community. Just before departing for the fields, glassy-eyed and scowling, Sarah-Bell stood in the middle of the lane sullenly declaiming her determination.

         "Yalls, hear me. Every time I have one, they take and sell 'em away. Sarah-Bell is through birthing babies. No matter who lay down with me, ain't no mo babies coming out of me. I'm done. Done, you hear me. Done."

         And with the finality of her words resounding in everyone's ears, Sarah-Bell whirled and commenced to trudging off to the field. One-Toe scrambled to catch up to Sarah-Bell.

         Without breaking stride, Sarah-Bell closely examined One-Toe's unblinking gaze. Satisfied with what she saw, Sarah-Bell gave a quick nod and gratefully accepted the respectful silence of One-Toe's company.

         She started singing, quietly at first but more forcefully as they sauntered on. The irresible refrain of Sarah-Bell's song syncopated their gait. Together, they would face another day.


—kalamu ya salaam

POETRY: If You're Still The Same Afterwards




(to nia, thanx for making me better)



to say

"i am touched


by you"


is to be



            / into

a person neither of us

was before

entering the other


more open, a sun of sensitivity

emotionally nude, erupting joy

& willing to kiss life open mouthed

emoting the vibrancy of glow

endemic to souls in the flow


in fact, it's even unscientific

not to evol

ve/not to love, not to

grow & give back


the only humans who actually evolve

are lovers

all others

just simply fuck and reproduce


the transformation

of touch


that's all

love is


—kalamu ya salaam

ESSAY: when a man loves a woman

when a man loves a woman


i don’t know why i was immobile, just standing, caught between moving forward and backing away from some horror that was not my nightmare. i mean, why wasn’t i doing something, why couldn’t i think of anything to do besides be a voyeur, an onlooker, saying inside my head: this is none of my business, yet, steady gawking at the timeless tableau?


i didn’t see him wind up, but i saw the fist smash. they were half a block away. she cringed, or crumpled, or slumped, or something, against the brick wall of the white-painted old warehouse. too far away, i could not hear anything. but from the way she staggered, the hit must have been hard. no love tap. no heated argument slap. but a fist. to the head, or maybe the heart, the middle of her chest, between her breasts. i don’t know. from where i was, i could not really tell.


a moment before, i had been at my desk. and someone, i forget who, someone had rushed in and said a man was beating a woman, outside. i remember there were at least three of us, standing at the corner, just beside the front door entrance to the black collegian and edwards printing company. it was butch and me, and i forget who the third person was, probably bill, but i’m not sure. and by the time we got there, what may have started as an argument on the street, and probably included some cursing and even perhaps a shove, or maybe he grabbed her and she tried to jerk away, or could be she swung her purse at him trying to back him back, or something. i don’t know.


i don’t remember exactly how old i was, but since i left the magazine in 1983, i had to be in my early to mid-thirties, old enough to know better. i had not yet been to nicaragua, but by then had been to cuba the first time, and haiti, and jamaica, and tanzania, and china, and japan, and korea. i had been a lot of places. seen a lot of things. stood with progressive forces, even ventured into a few situations where to be caught was possibly to be imprisoned, if not straight up killed. some would say i had been fearless. some might say bold. going gladly where most folk feared to tread.


so why was i not moving forward this time. why was i just standing and looking. i told myself i did nothing because it all happened so fast. like liston going down in the first behind an ali punch most people didn’t even see, the fight was over before i could re-act. but i saw her body take the blow. and i did nothing.


immediately afterwards he looked like he said something to her. and they walked away. together. away from us. down the street. and the three of us went back inside. well. the old street adage: don’t get in the middle of lovers fighting cause you could end up getting jumped by the both of them. or, the other old saw: he might have a gun, she might have a razor (which was reinforced by the fact that most of the men in our office were gun owners, and lorraine, our first secretary, carried a straight razor). and the projects where those kind of people congregated was one block down the street in the direction the couple was headed. but i knew better, and besides, i have faced down police and soldiers—a pistol or a knife was nothing, comparatively speaking. no, the truth was, i wasn’t afraid for my own safety, the truth is, or was: i had been socially shaped not to respond to violence against women, and i was simply doing what i was trained to do: nothing!


trained by movies and television that are not only forever showing a woman being slapped, or smacked, battered or bruised, but the media has made violence into an acceptable form of entertainment, something we watch and enjoy, watch and laugh, watch and take pleasure in someone else’s pain.


seasoned by the callous lassez-faire of street life that essentially said: i don’t tell you what to do with yours, you don’t tell me what to do with mine.


encouraged by the army, especially in terms of all the shady dealings that went down with the women we sexually and economically abused with impunity—a lot of people don’t know that the word hooker came from the name given to the prostitutes employed by general hooker during the civil war; oh, yes, i’m aware general hooker didn’t directly pay the prostitutes or even officially condone the sexual laisions, but that’s the american way. the leaders always have maximum deniability even as the status quo works its nefarious show.


conditioned by a culture that said a fight between lovers was nobody’s business but theirs.


assaulted by the literature—i never forgot native son bigger bashing bessie with a brick.


not to mention pornography, the all-time top grosser among americans, even in the state of utah which is supposed to be so righteous. the violent sexual exploitation of women and children, our number one form of entertainment.


violence against women was reinforced by damn near everything i could think of. and the reinforcement was incremental, no one thing guiding it all, but the preponderance, the cumulative effect, like one rain drop does not a storm make, but a multitude steady falling will flood us out, wash us away, cast us adrift, like i was, hesitant, unsure on that sidewalk. where was mr. bold black man that day?


even though violence was never practiced in the home where i grew up, and even though it was unthinkable that i would personally hit a woman, nevertheless, in ways, until that day, i was not totally clear about, i  now realize that yes, i passively condoned such violence, and if not condoned it at least tacitly accepted men beating woman as the way it was with some people, a sort of twisted status quo. and, perhaps my passivity was birthed by an even more sinister moral equivocation: it’s ok to be my brother’s keeper, but that doesn’t include stopping my brother from giving my sister a beating—oh, sure, in the family, somebody you know, your mother, sister, daughter, lover, auntee, oh sure then jump in and break that shit up, but some sister on the street we never seen before, i don’t know, you never know what the deal be and ain’t no sense in getting caught up in some edge of night drama.


protecting an unknown sister‑no matter what i said in the abstract, when my face was pushed up in it in the real world, her back against the wall, some huge dude all up in her grill‑i hesitated.


there had to be some reason, some reasonable explanation for why i simply stood there. it took me a while to realize the main reason was that i live in a patriarchal society, a society within which violence against women is not only deeply embedded, but also a society within which violence in general, and violence against women in particular, is so broadly accepted that it becomes invisible even though it is ubiquitous. how can something so obvious be so ignored?


the weight of acculturation does not easily budge and can keep us from moving forward even as we believe that it is backwards to stand still.


afterwards, not minutes, but in the days that followed, i said i would never be silent again. that moment of stillness turned me around. i would never be  uninvolved again. and truth be told, i haven’t, but on the other hand, i have never been tested like that again. never been within shouting distance of a man beating on a woman.


yes, i have stopped young people who got into inevitable fights and tussles with each other. it really, really saddens me that so much play-fighting is accepted as a form of affection among many of our young people. their seemingly harmless mock violence is ameliorated by genuine affection or, more likely, rather than by affection, by pubescent desire; whatever, the result remains the same: in more cases than not, what began as a seemingly harmless activity actually ends up being a predictable  preparation for them accepting violence as part of the package deal of personal relationships, thus violence is fatally intertwined with what too often passes for true love.


i can not imagine any of my daughters or sons either accepting or perpetrating abusive violence.


i have marched. i have campaigned. i have written essays, plays, poems, made movies. but ever since that day, i have never been caught standing around simply looking when a man beat on a woman. nor will i ever again revert to letting aggressive violence go down without at the very least shouting out against such abuse, without doing something to stop the violence, and if not bring that violence to a “squelching halt” (to quote my father), at least intervening or in some other effective way opposing and lessening the negative effects of such violence.


cause when you get right down to it, a true love of one has to also be, to one degree or another, a love for all—and if we can not love others, especially those whom we see as the “other,” whether that be a gender other, an ethnic other, a racial other, a sexual-orientation other, whatever other, if we can not love an other and yet claim to love a particular individual then we are cutting off part of our own selves—the part of our selves that is also a part of the other. we are restricting our lives, constraining our souls, diminishing our spirit, and this is especially true when we are dealing with the questions of violence against women.


when a man loves a woman, truly loves a woman, he will not silently condone nor, through his own inaction, allow any man to do any woman wrong. because, while there are those fortunate enough never to be victimized by violence, in general there are no exemptions: each woman in a society shares some of the essence of every woman in that society. when a man truly loves a woman, he must love all women or not really love any woman at all.


—kalamu ya salaam

POETRY: You Can't Survive On Salt Water

You can’t survive on salt water

-seven haiku for old orleans-



dead dogs hang from trees

bloated barges sit on the

wrong side of levees



dumb pigeons have flown

now it’s people’s turn to perch

roasting atop roofs



a caravan of

yellow busses drowns because

the mayor can’t drive



official death counts

exclude so-called looters shot

on sight of their skin



dry folk uptown hold

their noses, rejecting wet

people’s funky stank



things that go bump in

the night: your boat against a

dead baby’s body



a son returns, finds

four month old bones wearing his

missing mother’s dress


—kalamu ya salaam

SHORT STORY: And Then They Laughed


By Kalamu ya Salaam



         SCENE ONE.


         —Places, everybody.


              A somber, chartreuse funk deftly settles expectantly into the cushions of the wicker sofa right between John and Angela.  Scooting its ass back deep into the throw pillows with the oriental scenes embroidered on them, looking from left to right, back and forth, checking out first the woman and then the man, the woman, the man, and greedily anticipating a rousing good fight, funk's emerald eyes were shinning with a scintillating brilliance.




              (If you were John right now you would be wondering why this woman was being so hard on you, calling your cards marked, your dealing cheat, throwing her hand to the floor, turning the table over and screaming about the sins of gambling.

              (If you were Angela right now you would be wondering why do men make you treat them so hard, why do they take a woman who sleeps by herself for some kind of rainbow trout to be caught with hook words, split open, gutted, fried, seasoned with dollops of hot sauce, and eaten with relish leaving only bones and a shriveled head on the otherwise bare plate.

         (If you were John you would be tired of this shit.)

              (If you were Angela you would be tired of this shit.)




              Funk knows that the fun part about this prime time drama is that an argument doesn't have to be about anything real to make a good show, it just has to be emotional.


              Once (a year to the day after their first date—she reminded him she had to remind him!) Angela wanted to talk about their future in the third quarter of a close game. 

Another time (about six months after he moved in) she wanted to discuss bills, 11:38 at night. 

Then there was the time they had just finished eating (at that time they hadn't even discussed living together) and John had even volunteered to wash dishes and Angela wanted to stand next to him rinsing the dishes and asking him questions about what he did with his dick.  With suds half way up to his elbows, John couldn't care less about what she put between her legs when he wasn't there so why, as he washed dirty dishes, did she care about who all he saw or why he wanted to sleep with a woman who wasn't her, shit, maybe the bitch was fine.  He even wiped the beige enamel top of the stove clean and wrung out the well used (three holes and frayed edges) dishrag.

              But though he cleaned the kitchen well, John had neither clue nor key to unlocking the deep concern he had for Angela which was incarcerated inside his size 47 1/2" expanded chest.  John's maturity, but a seed yearning for spring, was winter blocked by acquired emotions and ignorantly assumed stances that always seemed to missile guide the first words out his mouth -- maximum overkill syllables designed to destroy all vestiges of life.  John sincerely believed you had to be finger quick on the button push or else the other person's ICBMs would blow you away.

              Angela, on the other hand was visibly shaken, quietly close to crying.  Though she knew without a doubt when she was being fucked with, Angela was completely ignorant of what was happening inside of John, and, based on her ignorance and the stupid things John said and seemed to do with periodic regularity, Angela assumed the worst.  When the ground moves rapidly you don't have to be a seismologist to know it's an earthquake.

              It wasn't personal, there were many different Angelas and Johns tussling with this same bear.  Is there something in the air that makes it so hard now a days?

              "I don't know, maybe we, maybe I should be alone."  Self-rejection didn't even sound like her voice. John was well enough equipped to interpret the no trespass termination inherent in the dangerous-colored, slicing sharp, concertina barbed wire gradually unraveling out of the cotton softness of her sound.

              "I don't understand what you want out of this." A torrent of cold, quick darting lizards fell into his lap. Well, he didn't want to always be on trial, that was for sure. She was smelling up the air. Wasn't she woman enough to say it straight out if she really didn't want him anymore? Every inch of her body was covered. After loosening the reptiles, Angela looked like she was headed underground. John flinched and moved back an inch or two in distaste, although he didn't know he was moving back.

              Angela saw the small movements of his flesh which portended major emotional shifts. She foresaw his big feet walking out the door. His green shirt turning sundown forest dark as he slammed the door behind him without speaking or saying any kind of goodbye other than the finality of his olive drab silence.

Angela saw John's muscular back hovering over Crystal's nakedness and sensed his delight in being inside of Crystal. He had someone else (even though he swore that "it" was over, Angela had seen:

(how Crystal eyed John when they had gone to the mayor's inaugural reception and Crystal was allegedly working the room for the mayor and had shook John's hand two beats too long and had barely, limp-wrist offered Angela only the top half of her fingers in a half-hearted gesture that was supposed to pass for a sisterly greeting,

(and, besides, Angela was neither blind nor vain, there was no way Angela's lanky leanness could even come close to any one of Crystal's eye-popping curves—not that John ever publicly gave Angela any reason to feel jealous but still every woman knows when a former girlfriend and potential lifetime rival is the kind of fine that every man wants to fuck,

(and besides Crystal looked like she always got her man, plus anybody else's man she wanted,

(and Angela, even though she hated herself for hating Crystal, well not really hating Crystal but rather hating Crystal's body, hating that Crystal had that kind of body that other women can't help hating because it made a woman feel, well, feel inadeq… ah, uncomfortable, especially if one was a little overweight, or a lot, or a little underweight, or a lot, or just a little skinny—like Angela was—or whatever,

(Angela really didn't want to dwell on how thin her thighs were,

(Angela must have been the only woman in the world who "loss" weight after having a baby,

(and Angela never could find a really pretty hairstyle to complement the long oval shape of her face—what shade of lipstick was that Crystal was wearing?—shit,

(Angela could understand why former-collegiate-all star quarterback John was attracted to Crystal who, even at thirty something, looked preppy as a goddamn college cheerleader,

(well, at least I'm taller—not quite up to John's 6'3" but at least 6" taller—than she is, is what Angela rationalized to console herself when Crystal brushed pass John for the third time in less than two hours,

(Angela was tired, if John wanted that—and there was no doubt in Angela's mind that "that" was waiting by the phone to call John the minute John walked out of Angela's door and was fully able to avail himself of the various female options lined up waiting for a chance to do what Angela had not been able to do,

(oh la-dee-da if it was going to be all this then let him go to Crystal, men always had someone else…) to be inside of and she had no one else she wanted inside of her.

Angela wanted to want John, but considering how everything was turning out, at that moment she didn't want him inside of her again ever, no matter how good it felt and it did feel good most of the time, but, so what, no matter, she could handle missing him, missing it. It would be hard but the way to deal with a snake is to cut its head off, don't delay, don't play, don't hesitate.

              "John, please leave."




         Funk lay back exhausted but utterly thrilled, marveling at the depth of Angela's self-depreciating workout. Even thought that thing with Crystal had been over two years ago, Angela made that stale episode live again. God, she was good. The crying bit in the next scene was going to be a snap.

         Angela was glumly biting her lower lip, which she always did when the stress became a bit much. And John had just dummied all the way down, had not said a word as he did a mental inventory of what were the downsides to cutting his losses and booking up soon as this next scene was through—damn, she had said "please leave" just like she meant it, all soft and shit and with just enough resolve to make it razor sharp, soft but sharp, how did she do that?

         Funk could hardly wait for scene two.



         SCENE TWO.


         —Take it from the dialogue. Speed?






"John, please leave."        

              John had his directions backwards.  When he should have been moving forward he had backed up, now he was reaching out for her with his snakes outstretched. Like he was trying to capture something.

              He noticed that she was wearing the silver earrings he had bought her. She could keep them. He wouldn't ask her for them back.  Nor the red suede shoes or the orangish Kenyan woven handbag. Or the three hundred twenty-five he had "loaned" her. "This is a loan, not a gift," spouting mixed signals. He knew when he wrote that check that he wasn't going to see that money again. He never meant to see it. John only meant for Angela to be in his debt.

              She stood up.

Vultures were on the roof. Patient.

Angela knew nothing stays fresh forever but must all flesh rot so quickly? Was this cancer or murder? 

She looked up and the jury was glumly filing in.

Wes had beat her twice. The first time he just knocked her down

and if they had not been living in Houston

and if she had not had a baby who was five months old

and if she had not been so young

and if she hadn't just made up her mind to make it work

and if her Honda didn't have thirty-seven more payments

and if Wes hadn't been tearfully pleading, his knees scraping the mauve, stain-resistant Dupont carpet on the floor of their three bedroom dream/nightmare house, his pale blue linen-shirted arms encircling her thighs, not caring about how he must have looked, singing an Al Green beg about how sorry he was

and we're going to make it

and I'll never ever hit you again,

and if her mother had not just gone back home after staying five weeks helping with the baby,

and if she were not up for a promotion at Xerox,

maybe she would have left then and there,

and thus, never would have gotten slapped a second time and ended up going off on his ass, pouring a whole pot of just cooked spaghetti down his back and grabbing a long, long kitchen knife when he started to move at her, remembering the way her jaw had hurt for five and a half days after he had knocked her down that first time and then promising herself, like a Jew viewing relics of the holocaust for the first time, "Never again. Never again."

She had told John this story. He knew not to hit her.


              Look at her she thinks I'm going to hit her. John couldn't help his thought process; his Negro male ego, having successfully gnawed through the rope holding the door, was now fully uncaged and roaming the streets of John's emotions. A well chewed human dove's feathers warmly covered the bellicose, blood stained jowls of John's unfettered ego.

              This was a strange ass woman.

              This was an ordinary male.

              Nothing prepared him for living with something he couldn't control. All his examples were wrong. He had never seen any of his peers treat a woman like their new car and really take care of her. From what all he knew about women John would bet the farm that if you didn't watch out they had a secret way to make a man cry, and what man wanted to cry?


              "John, please leave."

              "John, please leave."

              "John, please leave."

              If she didn't stop saying that he was going to have to punch her out.

              "John, please leave."


              Regardless of what John thought he was hearing, after saying it the first time, Angela had not said another word.

              At a moment when it would have taken a whole lot of understanding or at least the image of some man John respected advising John on the manliness of admitting confused emotions and admitting to being lost on the relationships frontier, John pushed on confident as Custer that he could cope with whatever Angela had in mind. On the wide screen Eddie Murphy (whom John mistook for an experienced navigator/scout) was acting the fool, his manic guffaws misdirecting John. It made sense to John.

              John had watched tv football.  He knew what was happening. A fatal loop of instant replay was stuck in John's head. Angela was standing over John's quarterback, pointing an outstretched finger into the poor boy's face. Actually she was standing astraddle him doing the Cabbage Patch over his prostrate body. How did that look on Monday night television, a sack on his fifteen, and she jumping up, standing one foot on each side of his hip, "take that motherfucker, take that motherfucker!"?

              "On who?  On you!" that finger with the blood red fingernail kept saying.  About thirty-six million people was watching her knock him flat on his ass and then gloating with a long red finger in his face!

              "John, please leave."

              Where were his blockers?

              "John, please leave."

              Five minutes passed like that.

             "John, please leave."

              Although there was always another game, who wanted to lose like this?

              Angela didn't want to repeat herself. Once was enough. What she really wanted was to disappear. She also wanted her little girl Harriet to grow up in another kind of country where she wouldn't be expected to be some man's woman. If there was such a country, Angela's daughter Harriet could be happy. She could have children if she wanted to. Could have a lover, if she found one she wanted, but she wouldn't have to be "his" woman. That's what she wanted.

              John was leaning against the podium wondering what he was supposed to be doing. He didn't know how to talk his way out of this one. Worse than that, he didn't even know he was not trapped in something that he had to escape. The microphone was on, the tape recorders were documenting, the reporters had their pens ready to scribble down every word of the post-game, wrap up.

              John was almost forty. He had seen a lot of shit. He had been with a lot of women -- well, without really counting closely, he had been with seven, uh eight women in some kind of serious, well, almost serious, well like he had lived with (more or less) four different women in the last seven years and almost got married twice. He was tired.

              He was also unreconstructed. He didn't know how to disarm. How to divest of the need to own. John was afraid to let go and afraid to hold on to a woman's inquiry into his guts. John's EWAD (Early Warning Defensive Radar System) went bonkers -- Angela was set to launch fifty questions. His ego was asking him why did it have to go back in the cage. There was no logical answer.

              And Angela, his sweet, sweet angel, had her own pack of troubles to tote, she couldn't help him with his. Besides she was no expert on safe cracking, there was no way for her to reach into his head or even if she could, how could she know his head was not what most needed reprogramming.

              How does it happen that you can get to someplace but you can't go back to where you came from? How does it happen that you long for something you ain't never had? Something dim but very valuable was in the distance and they both were reaching for it, but it was far off, far off. Very far off.

              John decided he was too tired to talk but really his problem was he couldn't read the script. All he knew was English, albeit at a first year college reading level, thank you; English, a language severly limited in conjunctions and in nouns denoting inner realities. John had fifty-seven ways to express anger and only two words that he knew of that seemed to fit this puzzle. He didn't even know sign language. He had his arms folded.

              Angela was deeply hurt by John's refusal to unknot himself, but she was determined. She had journeyed to the crossroads at midnight many times before. Sometimes confused, perplexed and in a quandary, Angela had simply sat on her rump and stoically greeted the dawn. He never met her there; one usual lie was that you had to go to the crossroads alone, but if two was one then being together was alone, right? Sometimes, just marching on down the highway, she would catch a reflection of her moon-shadow on the roadside and realize how doofus she was being by courting the devil behind the particular simpleton in whose hands she was considering placing her life, and invariably on such occasions when even a little sliver of a moon would throw a sharply defined shadow sprawling across the gravel, invariably those would be the times when she knew that the particular man was not worth the particular effort, so even before getting to the crossroads she would back down and return home, would tell Alfred, or whatever his name happened to be in this particular incarnation, "This is not going to make it."

Angela had become strong enough to resist jumping in the water just because a swimming pool was conveniently near, clean and available. Once she had gone right, got married to Westley Richardson, II, Esquire. Blood turned out to be an excellent lawyer, the natural profession of liars. And once she had gone left and not married Julius James Johnson, the man all his friends and acquaintances affectionately called J.J., even though returning the rings and canceling everything damn near broke his heart, Angela knew that was better than going through with getting hooked up to a plow she was not prepared to pull. By then Angela had learned to listen to her stomach which invariably got upset at the way J.J. treated women, and Angela didn't take it personally because the fool was even hard on his mama which was a sign clearer than that storm God dropped on Noah that things wasn't going to work out. Yes Lord, Angela had been to the crossroads.

              At the crossroads anything you did had its ups and downs but, based on the lessons life had smacked hard into her head, for sure it was better to walk than wait, "Let's just end this now before one of us hurts the other."




         Of the three, predictably, Funk was the only one not hurting: Don't stop now. Keep the action going while it's flowing. (You know Funk is a midget and likes to drag everybody down to its level.)

         Angela was so into the scene she didn't hear the director yell "cut." Even though there was this tremble in her voice, somehow, she was still holding her head up and keeping her face dry, even though a floodtide was raging just behind the brown damn of her determined-not-to-cry eyes.

         Funk knew it would be a waste of tears if Angela didn't cry until after John booked up. Funk decided to take matters in hand and started whispering the name of every man who had ever fucked and left Angela. Wait a minute, Funk thought, that's a redundancy of the first order. Everybody Angela ever slept with was gone—well, of course, she had put a couple of them out, but they were gone, and hence, had left. It wouldn't be long now before she jumped to the grand conclusion that going to bed with a dude wasn't nothing but a prelude to the man leaving her. Funk liked the symmetry of that: getting laid was a prelude to getting left—how they said it? Wham, bam…





         (Do a slow-mo, three sixty shot.)




              John stood up. Turned slowly to walk out the room. And then, inexplicably paused. His back was to Angela. She wasn't looking. His voice stopped his feet from moving. He was shaken by what he heard himself uttering. He couldn't even look at her and say it. The words had thorns and ripped his lips as they poured out. Deep inside him he faintly heard something cursing at him. The mumble was the muffled indignation of his ego protesting confinement.

              But there was also a warm light beckoning through the fog. John could hear its slow blinking, an E major seventh chord with a husky Ben Webster whisper, only John didn't consciously know Ben Webster's sound so he could only recognize it in his subconscious having stored it deep in his memory cells when he was a child and his parents were playing Duke Ellington's "In A Mellowtone" RCA album with the 1940 Ellington orchestra's rendition of "All Too Soon" or the 1942 "What Am I Here For," both of which featured Ben in all his majestic glory. Although John could not have called Ben Webster's name to save his life, Ben Webster's sound was the singular touchstone that kept John from making a total fool out of himself and walking out the door.

         When John had first heard Ben Webster his mama and daddy were dancing in the front room and he was hanging over the side of a tub they had put him in to keep him from crawling around, and they were speaking some funny language that John did not remember sounding like the language he later learned to speak by mimicking them. That sound that was blinking like a beacon inside of him. He wanted to be his daddy dancing. He wanted Angela in his arms. He wanted to hear Ben Webster again. But he felt awful stupid. He had hugged a lot of women before. But none of the others made music in him and suddenly like a baby, all he wanted was what he wanted, nothing more, nothing less, don't give him no other arms, he wanted his mama, he wanted Angela to be his mama and he wanted to be his daddy.

              But just like John didn't consciously know Ben Webster, he also didn't consciously know what he wanted. Which didn't make John feel better; actually, not knowing what he wanted made him feel worse. Meanwhile John's feet stayed rooted to the carpet. E major 7th. He could hear it but he couldn't think it. John didn't think his inability to leave was right, in fact he felt down right weak. If Angela had been hugging him at that moment and had had her head resting on his chest, she would have heard a faint grunt, an involuntary exclamation that acknowledged that at least John knew exactly what Stevie Wonder meant when he sang "There's something 'bout your love..." da-da-da something "...that makes me weak, and knocks me off (pause) my feet."  Even though Stevie was blind, Stevie had peeped this, so maybe, John having all his faculties of sight intact, just maybe, this was the right thing to do. Or something. Maybe being weak was right. John was barely passing his first lesson in submission to human love.

              But Angela wasn't looking. When John had stood up, she thought that was it, blood was about to do the famous fifty yard dash right on out of the danger of relating to a female other than his mama.

Angela was deeply hurt by what she interpreted as John's refusal to speak in the mother tongue rather than growl in the colonial language. His silence handcuffed her, and him. She started to nickname him Cortez. Made love with his boots on. Saw her indigenous femininity as virgin territory to be mounted, surmounted, claimed and controlled, a phallic flag stuck into with its nuts waving in the wind. Thinking of love like a business: what he could gain, what he stood to lose. Angela was really tired, at that moment, so she didn't hear him stop, desert the armed forces, and of course she didn't hear that E major 7th, nor the Ben Webster buzz. But what she did hear, she didn't believe at first, even though she had been wanting to believe.

              "Angela. I don't know what to do. I'm scared of you. But, I love you."




         Funk was furious. What a revolting development this was. Funk was sure that shit wasn't in the script.

After checking the newly revised script, Funk was even further dismayed to find out that Funk was eliminated entirely from the last scene.

Don't tell me you're going to shoot some lame-ass, happily-ever-after bullcrap Hollywood ending. Naw, couldn't be. This stuff just doesn't happen in real life. Not to Negroes; and weren't we supposed to be keeping this one real?

         Funk's bad breath was all up in Kalamu's face, but you know how  Big Mu can get when his mind is made up. Funk and Kalamu stood toe to toe for a minute, psychically parrying and thrusting retorts back and forth. Just looking at them, it didn't look like nothing was going on, but Kalamu was arguing with Funk the way authors do with their fictional characters, telling Funk, you don't like it you can just go head and write and direct your own story. But this is my project.

Funk, of course, shot back, naw, this ain't your story, this some bullshit trying to appeal to the women by putting men down cause a brother wasn't going to put up with somebody telling him it was wrong to feel the way he felt. Besides, Kalamu, you know good and well there ain't no happy endings for 99 out of a 100 Black couples.

Well, Funk, just call this: the one after ninety-nine. And with that Kalamu turned his back on Funk and called out: Make sure everybody has the revised script. The one with the Black ending.

         Kalamu knew that no matter how consistently acquainted with sadness this society forced our people to be, love and laughter was what we intimately craved and would risk everything to achieve. Fourth and inches. The safe play was to punt. But without a second thought, they lined up with two wide receivers and everybody else blocking.

         Funk reluctantly split behind the cameras, but staying nearby just in case one of them muffed it and Funk would be able to slip back in and put a real-ass ending on this bad boy.




         SCENE FOUR.


         —Is the crane ready for the overhead? This is the last scene, let's do it in one take. One smooth take. Tilt down as the crane goes up, zooming in as you rise. And Funk, back up, we're catching a bit of your shadow in the shot and we don't need that.




              Angela jumps up quickly but very quietly, she doesn't want to frighten him. Angela takes John's hand. Turns him around. He isn't crying. But his hand is shaking. She doesn't have to look in his eyes. She doesn't have to look period. Everything is bright, red bright, makes her close her eyes. She glances furtively at him before shutting her eyes.

              John's eyes are open but he isn't observing anything outside of himself. During this brief moment, John's eyes are a double mirror: he is looking inward at himself (even though he appears to be standing with his eyes wide open staring straight ahead at the hanging ivy in the ceramic pot with the macramé tie that Angela had labored on during the four and three quarter month period the last time she wasn't "seeing" anybody) and at the same time, Angela catches her own reflection in the opaque blankness of John's stare.

              Angela knows, with the unprovable certainty that those who believe in god possess, she just knows that at last, and also for the first time, somehow, John is deeply inspecting himself instead of questioning her motives when there is something he can't figure out. A pheasant, feathered the most dazzling green, flies across Angela's line of vision. She knows it has sprung from John's chest, free to fly the friendly skyways of her dream visions.

              Angela instinctively starts chanting prayers of thanksgiving. Cognizant that she is near a threshold and wanting to remain on the path, Angela humbly and silently asks the creator for guidance. There is no sound and she thinks the silence is the answer.

              "Don't do anything. Don't say anything. Just hold me."

              After he held her, they talk for thirty-nine straight minutes. It is a start.




          Today, it's one thousand, two hundred and forty-five days later. John and Angela are still together.

              They laugh about this now.


         —Cut! Ok, that's a wrap!


         By then Funk, in a truly foul mood, had angrily put on his wrap-around shades and silently slithered off the set into the urban shadows.




POEM: Govern Yrself Accordingly


Govern Yrself Accordingly


i have dismissed

the minister

of emotional defenses,


confetti to all

the guards and given

faithful and ever vigilant


several days off


the city

of me is well ready

to joyously receive and

rainbow celebrate

your unanticipated but

nonetheless profoundly appreciated

arrival into the intimacy

of our space


know that you are warmly

welcomed for howsoever long

you should choose to stay

here, you need no keys

no door is locked to you

every window is open


feel free 


—Kalamu ya Salaam

NON-FICTION: The Haircut



I never cared too much about haircuts, I mean about styling my hair. Just cut it off. My younger brother used to brush his hair for hours until waves appeared atop his closely cropped scalp. He used to say he wanted to make the girls seasick just by bowing his head in front of them. I’d smile and laugh silently to myself; he did have a lot of waves, plus he had deep dimples and a charming smile. I on the other hand wore glasses, scowled more than I smiled and was most content when my nose was stuck in a book or I was laying in the backyard contemplating a leaf, oh, except for that summer Geneva—at least I think it was Geneva—was staying with a family that lived on the next street over and our back yards were separated by a small empty lot from the side street and she would come outside sometimes and play in the wading pool the neighbors had in their back yard and she would be in a bathing suit and, why is it young boys freshly moving through puberty have voyeuristic tendencies, anyway I could contemplate a blade of grass for ten or fifteen minutes and not get bored. Who needed to spend hours brushing one’s hair?


Our barber was a friend of the family named Mr. Loomis who ran an unofficial barbershop out of the front room of his home. He had a steady clientele and since most of his customers knew each other and all lived in the isolated part of the city below the Industrial Canal, there was always a jovial atmosphere. People joked, discussed the latest needs, gossiped about the last predicaments of particular individuals—yes, men gossip, except it’s usually in the form of giving advice to the fool who was present about what said fool should have done about so-and-so situation or so-and-so acquaintance.


I walked in the barbershop with my lip stuck out. My father behind me. I’m sure both of my brothers were present but I don’t really remember. What I remember is my father had whipped me and then made me go with him to get my hair cut. The whipping had not dissuaded me. I am generally immune to punishment. If decide I want to do something or not do something, punishment is not going to be a deterrent. But as determined as I was, my father was even stronger than I. I could deal with his belt but then after the whipping he had the power to direct my behavior.


My father made me walk back out Mr. Loomis’ door and come back in and this time speak to everyone in the room. To this day, regardless of what is happening with me personally, I can carry on with the task at hand. Thanks, daddy.


SHORT STORY: Forty-Five Is Not So Old

Forty-Five Is Not So Old

By Kalamu ya Salaam


            It was 1:30 in the morning.  Lucinda was half a jigger away from inebriated as she held a double shot of Seagram's and 7-Up poised before her glossy, hot pink painted lips.  Precisely at that moment, Lucinda made up her mind "since I'm going to die eventually, I might as well live tonight" which meant she didn’t want to go home alone tonight. In fact, she hoped she wasn't going home at all, at least not to her own home.

            Billy must of thought she was a fool.  "Away on business" or so he had said with feinted casualness.  Lucinda knew.  Even as she had allowed herself to act like she believed him when he said he had to go to Portland for four days, she knew.  Maybe he really did have some business to do there, but for sure he was sleeping with Sandra with her little narrow ass. It didn't matter that Billy Jo had left Thursday during the day and that Sandra was at work on Friday, answering the phone when Lucinda called on some pretense or the other. "I know something is up," Lucinda mouthed right before the cool liquor crossed her lips.

            Lucinda was a public relations specialist, she knew how to make things look like what they weren’t. Who had said life was just an illusion? Wasn’t it true that illusions were part of life? The only question was do you believe? Do you believe in what’s not there? Damn, this liquor makes you think some funny thoughts. But no, Billy Jo’s disinterest was no illusion. Nor was Sandra an illusion.

            Just thinking of that little 96-and-three-quarter-pound strumpet made Lucinda angry because invariably it made Lucinda think of when she weighed 115 pounds and was good to go, but that was at least eight years ago. Her eyes growing increasingly glassy, Lucinda silently surveyed herself in the large mirror behind the bar. One hundred fifty-five pounds really wasn't that heavy, “besides I'm tall and have big breasts. How is it these little skinny wenches can get men so excited, what's to it?

            "Furthermore, the slut has buck teeth.  What in the world could skinny Sandra possibly do for William James Brown that he likes better than what I do for him," Lucinda wondered as she took another slow sip of her mixed drink. "I don't look bad--for my age. Hell, in fact, it's not really age. It's experience. I look good to say I'm as experienced as I am."

            Lucinda smirked as she thought about how Sandra couldn't massage Billy Jo's feet like she did, then wash them in a little antique porcelain wash basin--I bet she doesn't even own any antiques--dry them with an ultra-fluffy, teal-colored towel, and then slowly suck his toes as her flawlessly-lacquered fingernails crawled up and down the soles of his size-eleven feet. And for sure, Sandra had no clue of some of the more stimulating thrills Billy Jo's big toe could arouse. Like when Lucinda felt really risqué, really felt like lighting up Billy Jo's little firecracker in her sexy night sky, after cutting his toe nails with a clipper and gently buffing the edges to a smooth evenness with an emery board, after washing them in warm water with a scented soap, after tenderly drying them and then sucking them as he lay back on their bed, and after massaging his feet with baby oil, and as it got good to him, after all of that, Lucinda would climb up on the bed and slowly stroke her pussy with his big toe, stroke it until she was wet. God, a woman didn't know what she was missing if she had never reached a climax with her lover's toe tapping on her clitoris. What did that inexperienced child know about sophisticated lovemaking? Lucinda took a long sip of her drink.

            Lucinda recalled how pleasantly surprised Billy Jo always seemed whenever she dropped in on him at work. With a toss of her luxuriously coiffured hair which had been crafted into a gleaming and glistening, jet black, lengthy, chemically-treated mane that languidly lay across her shoulders, Lucinda smiled slyly as she reminisced about how it had been, the last time she turned Billy Jo on at his office.

            "Billy, I was in the neighborhood, on my way to that little boutique I discovered, you know the one I told you specializes in silk batiks and as I crossed Poydras I felt this twinge like a little spark of lightening." He had looked at her partially annoyed but also partially pleased as she stroked his male ego. "I couldn't wait. So..." she slid seductively around his desk, "I decided to stop here."

            Lucinda reached down and slightly opened Billy Jo's bottom desk drawer. She propped her leg up on the edge of the drawer as she took his right hand and cunningly glided it beneath her skirt and up her thigh. Lucinda shuddered involuntarily as she expertly guided his fingers into the curly mass of pubic hair and the moist flesh of her mound. She tensed her thigh muscles when his fingers reached her clit. "Yes, yes, I needed that," she salaciously whimpered while throwing her head back and squeezing her eyes close with the same intensity as the forceful contractions caused by Billy Jo's fingertips tap dancing on the head of her clitoris. Lucinda savored the first trickles of what would soon become a flow. And then his phone rang. It was intrusive Sandra reminding "Mr. Brown" he had an appointment in ten minutes.

            "That's enough," Lucinda said pulling his hand away, "for now." And then she remembered his astonishment as she bent over to slowly suck her moisture off of his fingers. "We can't have you smelling like pussy when you shake hands with the movers and shakers of industry."

            When Lucinda completed tongue washing each finger, she reached into her mauve silk purse which hung by a silver metal shoulder strap dangling off her left hip. Moving aside her black satin panties which she had removed in the parking garage, she withdrew a pink linen handkerchief that was embroidered with her initials. Before she finished drying his fingers, there was a knock at the door.

            "Come in."

            As Sandra entered, Lucinda ostentatiously finished her task with a flourish, waving the handkerchief, "there, all clean, all dry."

            After daintily refolding her handkerchief and replacing it in her brightly beaded pouch, Lucinda slowly kissed her husband on his clean-shaved cheek, paused to close the bottom desk drawer and cheerfully called out to him over her shoulder as she sashayed past Sandra, "have a good meeting honey, we'll finish ours tonight."

            Pausing at the doorway, Lucinda pirouetted coyly, "and Sandra, you have a nice day. OK." That little narrow-ass secretary didn't know anything about how to administer sexual quickies, didn’t know that men liked sexually aggressive women who were otherwise the model of ladyhood.



While she was lost in the reverie of remembering the sexual games she often played with Billy Jo, an impeccably dressed young man sat on a stool one removed from Lucinda. Attracted by the resonance of his masculine baritone ordering a cognac, Lucinda turned to look directly at his massive profile. She sniffed and caught the faint whiff of an expensive cologne. He was ruggedly handsome.

            "Hi," she smiled at him.

            He looked at her, briefly. Lucinda saw the almost imperceptible survey flicker as his eyes started at her face, moved quickly down her body, strayed briefly to her behind--she sat up straight and slightly arched her back--and down her legs, and... and, nothing. He turned away without even responding.

            She wanted to throw her drink at him. Instead she decided to annoy him. "I said, hello."

            He grunted, turned his head and pretended he was ignoring her. Lucinda hated to be ignored.

            She got up, slid onto the stool next to him, and ignored his ignoring her. "My name is Lucinda."


            "And your name is?"


            Oh god, what a common name, Lucinda thought, he probably doesn't even have a college degree. Lucinda's liquor continued the conversation, "Jawon, that's nice." Pushing her purse aside, Lucinda leaned forward on the bar's leather lining. "Jawon, I'm conducting a survey. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of opinion questions?"

            Jawon grunted without looking at her.

            "I take that grunt to mean, 'oh god, why doesn't this old bag just leave me alone with her silly questions. I'll answer one or two, but she better make it quick'."

            Jawon was slightly taken aback by her boldness. He turned to get a second look at this woman. Lucinda leaned back slightly, crossed her legs, and did not bother to tug down her worsted wool dress. Noticing her broad, soft-calf leather, black belt with the bold, gold buckle, Jawon accessed she was probably some kind of leather freak who liked to tie down men or spank them with a black riding crop. Nah, it's not worth it, was his final appraisal. 

            "If our ages were reversed," Lucinda leaned forward again, bracing her flawlessly made-up face with the back of her exquisitely manicured hand, "If I was a mature man and you were a young attractive woman, would you be offended if I brushed you off without so much as a civil hello?" Sporting a self-assured smile, Lucinda looked directly at Jawon awaiting his answer.

            Acid cruelly dripped from Jawon's thickly mustached lips, "I think you ought to be at home baby-sitting your grandchildren instead of out here trying to rob the cradle."

            "Ah ha. Well, Jawon, ten years from now, I hope you're not sitting on the other end of this question, and if you are, I hope the lady whose attention you're trying to attract, is just a bit more understanding than you are now. That's all. You may go now."

            Jawon backed off the stool and walked away, leaving a dollar tip on the bar while offering no further acknowledgment of Lucinda.



Lucinda turned to face the mirror behind the bar and in the reflection caught sight of Roderick, the genial bartender, standing discreetly to the side, dressed in black slacks, a crisply starched white shirt topped with a hand-tied black bow tie, and a black and white checkered vest highlighted by a metal name tag which mirrored the bar's multicolored neon-and-florescent-lit interior. There was neither smile nor smirk on Roderick's placid face, nor did his eyes give any indication that he had watched the drama unfold. Without bothering to look directly at him, Lucinda sat her drink on the dark wood of the bar and familially addressed Roderick, "Well, Rodney don't just stand there. Freshen my drink, please."

            As Roderick moved toward her, Lucinda glanced at her watch. It was almost midnight in Portland. Lucinda mischievously decided to call Billy Jo and disturb whatever little excitement in which he might be engaged. Before Roderick could pour the freshener, Lucinda waved him off, "Rodney, I've decided to go home instead of sitting here and getting my feelings hurt. Be the gentleman that you are and call a cab for me please."

            Lucinda never, never ever drove her white Lexus when she went alone to paint the town. A solitary woman cruising down the avenues late at night was like flashing a baked ham in front of hungry bulldogs. Any man that she might meet would pay more attention to her car than to her, and assume that where there was a Lexus there was a big bank account that they might access. Besides, it was safer this way. Not that she had ever done much more than flirt, just to see if she still had what it took to attract a man ten years younger than she. Most of the time... oh, why think about.

            Pulling two crisp, new twenties from her purse, Lucinda waved them at Roderick, "I assume this will cover my tab for three doubles and also adequately provide for your well being."

            Roderick nodded affirmatively as he received the bills with a smile. His clean-shaven head was oiled to a soft, attractive sheen and were it not for the gaucherie of two gold-capped teeth, Lucinda might have found him attractive as well as personable.

"Will there be anything else I can do for you?" he asked Lucinda in a charming tone that implied he was both a trustworthy listener and a resourceful procurer.

            Lucinda's liquor got the better of her normal disinterest in what other people did or didn't do. "Does diabetes run in your family, Rodney?"

            "Not that I know of. No, I don't believe so. A little arthritis is all I've ever heard about, but then my folks are from the country, out Vacherie way. Don't a day go by they don't walk at least a mile and all their food is fresh, home cooked."

            "You're fortunate, Rodney. Did you know the treatment for diabetes is deleterious to the libido?"

            "So, I've heard."

            "Watch your diet young man, we wouldn't want your libido going south before you're sixty-five."

            "Ah, no mam. We certainly wouldn't want that to happen." Roderick had been idly wondering if she were single or out for a fling, or both. Without her having to say anymore he knew that she was grieving for a husband or lover who was no longer sexually active. Someone called to him from the other end of the near empty bar. Roderick waved an acknowledgment to the customer while he was wrapping up with Lucinda. "Is there a particular company you prefer?"


            "Cab Company."

            "No. How would I know, I don't usually take cabs."

            "OK. I'll be right back." Roderick walked briskly down to the waiting customer, served him, reached under the register, pulled out the bar’s phone and rotely punched in the White Fleet number as he walked back to where the matronly woman sat.

            "A cab is on the way. The dispatcher will ring me when they're outside."

            "Such an efficient young man you are."

            "Thank you," said Roderick with a graceful bow of his bald head.

            "Rodney, one more thing."

            "Yes. At your service."

            "Might, I use your phone to make a quick long distance call?" requested Lucinda while removing another crisp twenty from her purse along with the note page on which Billy Jo had written his hotel telephone number. "My husband would just love to hear from me at this particular moment." Roderick took the twenty with his right hand and handed the phone to her with his left.

            "Take your time," Roderick said over his shoulder as he moved to the far end of the bar.

            "Mr. William James Brown, please. He's a guest." Lucinda smirked at the thought of calling Billy Jo from a bar.

Although she felt her mood turning foul, when Lucinda heard Billy Jo answer the phone, she brightened her voice, "Hello, my lover. Where ever you are."

            "You know where I am. I gave you the number and you called it."

            "I miss you."

            "I miss you too, honey."

            Then there was an awkward hush as Lucinda waited for Billy Jo to indicate interest in her. And waited. And waited.

            "Other than missing you, I'm doing all right, thank you," Lucinda finally broke the stalemate, not bothering to mask her sarcasm.

            More silence.

            "I'll be home late Sunday night."

            "Should I wait up?"

            "You don't have to."

            "Billy Jo why do you..." her words trailed off into a strained silence. Something was in her eye, she paused to dab the edges of her left eye with the heel of her hand. "You know where I am now?"

            "No, I don't Lucinda. Where are you?"

            "I'm sitting in a bar, but I would rather be somewhere with you."

            Again, silence.

            Something else was in her eye now. "Billy, I just want to make you happy. Be good to you. Make it all good to you..." Lucinda abruptly stopped babbling. "You see you've got me babbling. Would it excite you if I told you I wanted you so much that we could make phone sex right now. And...," Lucinda paused. "I started to say something really naughty but this is a mobile phone and anyone could be listening."


The liquor kept her talking long after she normally would have stopped.

            "I'll be forty-nine next week and, in another four months or so, you'll be forty-six, and that's not so old. I was thinking maybe some other medication might help you, I mean, maybe, make you feel less, or, I mean, feel better, or...," his tight-lipped silence was not making it easy. "Are you sorry that I couldn't have children?" As Lucinda questioned Billy she instantly regretted saying anything and wished that he would say something. Anything. "Billy are you there?"

            "Yes, I'm here."

            "And I'm not."

            "Lucinda, I think you've had too much to drink."

            She had not realized she was slightly slurring her words.

            "It's all right. I'm catching a cab home."

            "See you Sunday night, honey."

            Lucinda held the phone to her ear long, long after the dial tone sounded following Billy Jo hanging up. As Lucinda lowered the phone from her ear, Roderick moved toward her. Before she could hand the phone back to him, it rang and startled her. She almost dropped it. Roderick grabbed it, also catching hold of her hand in the process of securing the phone.

            "It's OK, I've got it." She left her hand nestled in Roderick's as he used his free hand to expertly hit the talk button, shift the phone to his ear, and answer, "Hello." While he listened to whomever was talking, Lucinda tightened her fingers on Roderick's hand. "Thanks. She will be right out."

            Roderick hit the talk-off button and leaned on the bar without trying to pull his hand away. "Your cab is outside."

            "Is it?"

            "Yes, it is."

            "Rodney, you wouldn't be interested...?"

            "I don't get off until four and I've already promised..."

            "Just kidding." said Lucinda unconvincingly as she reluctantly released his hand. "Have a good night."

            Lucinda slowly descended from the stool, studiously attempting to maintain her balance and walk as straight as she could. Roderick shook his head. She didn’t have a ring on her finger and she was calling her husband from a bar at almost two in the morning; Roderick had seen so many like her, "the world is full of lonely people."



At the door Lucinda paused before heading out into the chilly dark. Who was she fooling, she had never cheated on Billy Jo. And never would; even if she did like to sometimes pretend she would enjoy being promiscuous. No, what Lucinda really enjoyed was being desired. Desired like Billy Jo used to do before his illness flared and… Lucinda didn’t want to think about it.

So, why did she keep thinking about how unfair it was that she had been a virgin when she first married, stayed married for five miserable years, spent seven wasted years so-called “dating” until she found Billy Jo floundering in a marriage that was all but legally over; so terribly unfair that now that she have found the man she wanted he didn’t…

Lucinda had salvaged Billy Jo from Betty’s neglect. That woman was so…beneath Billy Jo, so incapable of helping him achieve the finer things in life. Unfortunately, for Billy and Betty’s children, all three of them looked like their mother and, worse, acted like their mother. They were all parasites, they just wanted what little money Billy Jo had saved, which wasn’t much. What was a measly $78,000 anyway?

It’s amazing what one can think of when opening a door.

Betty didn’t understand Billy Jo, what he wanted in life, what a legal career could mean. She was uneducated and Billy Jo deserved more. Betty undoubtedly didn’t know how to do all it took to keep a man—Lucinda used to say to “keep a man happy.” These days she cynically just placed the period after man. Later for this happiness crap.

            But wasn’t she entitled to happiness? People admired her—she came from a good family, was well educated, took care of herself. That thing with her uterus didn’t stop her from being a woman. And my, my, my, wasn’t she some kind of woman? Exactly the woman Billy Jo needed as a helpmate to eventually become a judge.

            Lucinda loved Billy Jo. He would be a public success, and God knows he was privately terrific. Lucinda loved the way Billy Jo made love to her, even though she knew he was not as interested in loving her as she was in being loved by him… Oh, this was all too… Lucinda pushed against the burnished brass plate etched with the club name, Black Diamond.



As the door swung open, an early morning gust sent a shiver through Lucinda and she suddenly remembered asking Billy Jo to turn around. “I want to suck too,” she had said while he had been patiently slurping her wetness with an almost disinterested expertness.

            In her dating career, which seemed like another life time ago, she had had the opportunity to sexually examine maybe twelve dicks. Ah, the variety of the male sex organ, the little differences, particularly when aroused. She liked the feel of some, especially the way they throbbed when she squeezed or how they jumped as she teased the scrotum with her fingernails; for a couple of others it was how they looked, the veins pulsing on…what was his name, yes, Andre, light-skinned Andre, with the thick veins crisscrossing the surface of his thing, or the hooded darkness of Jerome’s uncircumcised penis; and then there had been the size of Harold’s tool. A  basketball player’s big dick, but he hadn’t known what to do with it, or without it, for that matter.

Love making with Billy Jo had been the biggest turn on, surprisingly so—oh, you could never tell just by how a man looked, or even how he danced, you could never tell if he knew how to make love without using his dick. Billy Jo knew. And Lucinda really, really liked that.

            Moreover Billy Jo wasn’t squeamish about her freaking him. He hardly moved the first time she inserted a forefinger in his rectum, while she was sucking him and he was busy down there giving her head. Why was she like that? What did it look like? She supine, he on top of her, his head bobbing between her quivering thighs, his knees astride her head, his member in her mouth, her nose just beneath his taunt testicles—Lucinda really liked that he was clean so the smell was never suffocating—and her hand spread across his bottom, one long finger deep inside him. What would a photograph of that look like?

He never questioned her, or made her feel embarrassed or feel anything but happy to have her way with him—not even the time she reminded him to shower and have a bowel movement before they jumped to it when they had been out on that wonderful weekend at the spa in Nevada, and had had a big lunch, and a scrumptious dinner, and had been out all day and dancing half the night, and...her finger was all the way in him, plunging at him, and the more deliberately she pushed, the more he nibbled at her clitoris, and she sucked him so hard she was afraid she was going to hurt him, but it felt so good. Why? Why all of that? Why did it take all of that?



At the curb, the cab driver held open the back door of his maroon Toyota Camry. Lucinda slid in, thanking the driver by flashing a wide smile and making no attempt to hide her thighs as, one by one, she slowly swung her legs into the sedan. She would have really given him a good peek but he was studiously not looking, and Lucinda was not sure whether he was just being a gentleman or if, for some unfathomable reason, he really didn’t want to catch sight of what lay between her legs.

Lucinda slid all the way over to the driver’s side of the back seat so that she was directly behind him when he got in. After she gave him the address, Lucinda folded her arms, briefly; she made sure the door was locked and then pushed her body deeply into the corner of the back seat.

            Lucinda knew what she was going to do. Lucinda knew what she shouldn’t do.

She scooted down, lay her head on the fabric of the backseat and pretended to sleep.

Her hand crept under her dress. She had not worn panties.

            “Any particular way you want to go?”

            “Oh, whatever. I’m sure you know how to do your job. Take whatever route. This time of the morning, what difference does it make? Are you…?” Lucinda stopped herself. She didn’t want to make small talk. She wasn’t even mildly interested in this young foreigner. She certainly didn’t want to know what country he was from with his African accent. What did that matter?

Yes. Her left hand was there.


            “Don’t mine me. I babble sometimes after a drink or two. I’m not used to drinking.”

Good, he was taking the expressway. No lights. No stops.

            If he turned around and saw her—God, I would be so embarrassed, Lucinda lied to herself, halfway hoping he would look at her, would… “Oh.” She scooted down further and gapped her legs wider. Forefinger in the hole, thumb on the button.

She was beginning to breathe heavily—is that why he turned the radio on? “Is OK I play radio?”

“Yes. Of course.” Their eyes met briefly in the rearview mirror. Could he imagine how smooth her thighs were? The treadmill and the exercise ball were really an effective way to keep her legs toned. What would he think if he turned and saw her, saw down there? The way she kept her private hair close cropped. How the dark of her looked in the shadows, the deep chestnut of her bulging labia major set off by the cream of her dress bunched up almost to her hips. Would he pull over and try… even on the expressway? What would he do if he could see the glistening sheen of the beginnings of a mildly musky flow dripping down there?

Lucinda smiled wanly. The guy looked away and pretended to be just driving a woman home. But Lucinda knew. Maybe he could smell her arousal. “Billy.” Barely audible, her utterance was more a release than a sounding. Lucinda wanted to touch her nipples, to rub them between her thumb and the side of her pointing finger. She could smell the driver, he reeked of Old Spice or was it one of those obscenely-colored (whoever heard of quality perfumes in those garish shades), one of those obnoxious body oils those unkempt street merchants hawked? Lucinda closed her eyes.

Lucinda imagined Billy Jo’s lips sucking her breasts. Could you call this sex? A short tremor shot through her. Lucinda’s legs jerked and she bumped against the back of the driver’s seat. She knew she should stop. Billy. Just thinking about him.

            She turned slightly sideways as though she was going to curl up on the seat or like she was trying to get comfortable, or look out the window. Or anything but… “Oh.” Why was she doing this to herself? She never usually made sounds during sex with Billy Jo because she usually had him in her mouth when she came. Lucinda wanted to stop, wanted to move her hand. But. “OH!”

            “You OK, lady?”

            “I’m OK.” Lucinda caught her breath and held the air inside her chest, tensing to enjoy the sweetness of the release that was just about to happen.

             Lucinda paused, turned and looked up at the rearview mirror; she was certain the man was leering at her. But he wasn’t. At least he was pretending he wasn’t. Lucinda was sure he was waiting for her to close her eyes and then he would stare. “OH,” a sudden contraction caused her to jerk. Her free hand flew to her mouth. She bit her fist.

Lucinda knew that men got off on watching women please themselves, however, she no longer cared whether he was furtively observing her. Lucinda squirmed as she continued and her thumb press hit just the right rhythm. “Oh-Ohhh.” She turned her head just as the driver adjusted his rearview mirror.

            Patrice Orobio saw the woman fling her head back and open her mouth, like she was, well, like she was… No, she couldn’t be. These crazy  American women. He didn’t like that they were so out of control.

            Meanwhile, in Portland, after replacing the receiver and pausing for a moment of silence, Billy Jo lay on his side in the dark, Sandra firmly massaging his back.

            "That was Lucinda."

            "What did she want?"

            "Nothing. She was drunk."





Be About Beauty


be about beauty

as strong as a flower is

yet as soft too

as an open petal

receiving the mist

of a midnight raindrop,

be about beauty

no matter life's dirt

be about beauty


—Kalamu ya Salaam

creative quilt by Adrienne Cruz (


"The art I create fulfills a powerful desire to express visually what's not easily spoken. I am moved by a passion for color, a love of symbols, and a deep interest in matters of the Spirit. Blending these elements keeps the rhythms of my roots alive by acknowledging the gifts of my ancestors, angels, and spirit guides. The power of art, beyond its visual image, is developed over time - born of the spirit, of roots, and the celebration of survival.

"I welcome you to journey through this site for a taste of my world of art as meditation, a great source of joy and peace I share with you. May your spirit be lifted and inspired! Thank you for visiting."                Adriene Cruz 

Life should be Beauty, Magic and Joy
Smile, love, laugh and laugh some more
Our birthright is to know joy and experience pleasure
A spirit fueled with joy is charged and ready to go about the work we’re here to do.

It’s true we won’t always be happy or even feel good.

The challenge is managing to remember our birthright when the burdens get us down. Transform grief to beauty and dream something wonderful. 

In my life, the experience of love and beauty has been the best medicine for elevating a beat down spirit. As in the beauty of … 
A smile 
Good music Dancing, dancing, dancing
Travel to new and familiar places
The love a support of family and friends
Children laughing
Kind words
Working out
My happy dog
Faith infused with courage
Selfless giving
Love, love, love
Flowers, trees, sunsets, walks by the river, a moonlit sky, and all the wonders of nature’s abundance …
The beauty of finding magic in everyday life
To have magic in our lives is to remember it’s real, profound and sacred. Enjoy! 

For generations, the women in Adriene Cruz' family have been sewing and designing clothing. A native of Harlem, New York, Adriene attended the High School of Art and Design, then the School of Visual Arts graduating with a BFA. In those years Adriene worked in wood sculpture, often with fiber elements, and gradually the fibers, especially tapestry crochet, became her primary focus, linking her art more directly to those traditions in her family.


In 1983, Cruz moved to Portland, Oregon, where a quilting course at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts reinvigorated her artwork. Since then, she has been creating brilliantly colored and adorned quilts, piecing together richly patterned materials in rhythmic arrangements that are stately as well as exuberant, structured as well as improvisational, deeply moving on a spiritual level as well as simply enjoyable for their sheer beauty.

The resonant depths of these works arise from many factors: the relationship of the materials to Adriene’s ancestry; the warmth and comfort; the powers and symbolic qualities of cowrie shells, mirrors, and talismans; the artist's ability to connect viewers to the rhythms, shapes, and patterns of abundant life

Adriene's gifted use of color and design has also garnered attention for public art in the Portland community. She has created street banners and painted murals, and created the installation art for the Killingsworth Light Rail Station using glass concrete and steel. In addition to museum exhibits nationwide, Adriene has been featured in numerous books and publications.

CONTACT INFORMATION: Adriene may be reached by email.