tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:/posts WordUp - kalamu's words 2013-10-08T15:36:37Z Kalamu ya Salaam tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69935 2013-03-08T05:21:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:26Z POETRY + AUDIO: WHY I DON'T LEAVE THE APARTMENT UNTIL AFTER TEN SOME MORNINGS (STUDIO VERSION)

photo by Alex Lear 









Why I Don't Leave The Apartment

Until After Ten Some Mornings 


i like to lay

in the curve

of your physique


you breathing

into the black

of my hair


the pressure

of thigh

to thigh


the beige softness

of your inner hand

slow moving



the tubular darkness

of my arousal



left arm reached

back massaging


the supple

flesh of your

lower back


for long minutes

quarter hours spent

with nothing


but skin

& pleasure

between us


—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Roland HH Biswurm - drums


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany

Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69951 2013-03-08T04:48:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:26Z POETRY + AUDIO: WHY I DON'T LEAVE THE APARTMENT UNTIL AFTER TEN SOME MORNINGS (STUDIO VERSION)
photo by Alex Lear









Why I Don't Leave The Apartment

Until After Ten Some Mornings 


i like to lay

in the curve

of your physique


you breathing

into the black

of my hair


the pressure

of thigh

to thigh


the beige softness

of your inner hand

slow moving



the tubular darkness

of my arousal



left arm reached

back massaging


the supple

flesh of your

lower back


for long minutes

quarter hours spent

with nothing


but skin

& pleasure

between us


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Roland HH Biswurm - drums


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69976 2013-03-07T06:27:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:27Z POETRY + AUDIO: GHOSTS
photo by Alex Lear









i have the smile of my great-grandmother seeing the end of slavery

& you have the hairline of an uncle/an aunt

who never pressed nor otherwise chemically altered their hair


only fools don't intimately know ghosts,

the dna of humanity, leaping like porpoises slick out of the sea

and back into our walks, our mannerisms, the way we giggle

when nervous, blush when aroused, or spit fire words

in sputtering ocher anger facing back the cannibalism of capitalism


ghosts are

just spirits fluttering angel breaths thru our corpuscles

the wing hum of hummingbirds motivating us to sound

snatches of remembered songs, lyrics formerly unheard

in this lifetime, psychicly transmuted across eras,

mali melodies maintained, aural treasures from our undying befores


face east young people, face east

imagine each line in your hand an ancestor

how well do you know the thoroughness of yesterday,

the arching influence of the previous century, the retrograde

of rationality, so slow compared to the velocity

of history smashing into the protons of personality


imagine, your voice is the texture of sun yat sen singing

a freedom song, your social erectness the reincarnate posture

of sitting bull standing barefoot his clear eyes kissing dark earth,

imagine, your breath the aroma of emiliano zapata biting the bullet

of revolution and spitting fire on the butts of robber barons

and dark-faced overseers who are the psychological sons

of simon legree in their twisted brutality towards their own people,

the defiance of your unsurrendering war stance could be ghana’s

yaa asantewa hurling up the west coast facing down british bullets

confident that the religion of resistance will always outlive

the technology of repression, you could be the heroics of history,

a phantasmagoria of sacred strugglers vivifying the surge

of timeless protoplasm that careens through your veins

and gives substance to the willfulness of your animated engagement

and confrontation of the omnivorous enemies of the planet earth


ghosts are

sacred illuminations coloring our stratagems and meditations,

they are the realization of sanity, the moment we truly understand

just how wicked the west actually is, the translucent

lights on the front porches of our spirits beckoning, guiding our

soft footsteps on the path, heading back homeward bound

dancing into the social circle of our collective selves


ghosts remind us

each individual is more than one, a communal hope chest

of ancient dreams actualized in the present


i believe in ghosts, i do

because i would be soulless matter otherwise

i would be some french rationalist trying to intellectually manufacture

& market the focus of life as the ego of thought, would be

some compassionless corporate ceo with spiritual arthritis

uninformed by the blessings of sharing, while pretending

that material possessions elevate morality as if you are what you own

rather than are what you do/be in relation to others and the world



do not like vaults and crypts, nor fences and forts

real ghosts prefer sensitive personalities and wild open spaces,

every time we inhale a leaf shakes,

a tree or a weed offers us breath

give thanks to the flowers for our daily inhalations


i am not a mystic

but i know there are ghosts

in the fecund topsoil which progress

callously covers with concrete,

i understand the reality that dust and dirt are airborne bones

pulverized by time into tiny particles


a rose by any other name is still the collected essence

of our forebearers grown through the life cycle into a fragrant state

of petal soft beauty on a bud whose shape is nature's re-creation

of the vaginal portal, whose redness is an honoring

of feminine life force and the blood value of matriarchy


if you do not believe in ghosts

where do you think your spirit will be

when the corporeal temple of your familiar

crumbles into seemingly insignificant pebbles of peat, or

when your temporal sanctuary dehydrates

once disconnected from the moisturizing of life's cosmic juice,

when the way station of your flesh altar no longer receives offerings

& when you revert to what you were before your human being

was conceived and made flesh via the union of your parents,

won't you be a ghost then?


there are literally millions of lives in your little finger


the karma of colonialism will not be undone

not unless and until the ghosts that reside

in the hosts of color worldwide can find a culture

which resonates daily contentment,


there will be no end to the wandering search for the promised land

unless and until ghosts can live

inside the wholeness of beating hearts synchronized

in embracement, respecting the healing touch

of every manifestation of life no matter how small, obscure,

or ostensibly insignificant,


no calming the tempest,

no mediation of the disruption of our heritage

not unless and until ghosts can emigrate

into a peace filled community of souls such as we

ought to be, vessels of awareness, responsible in our openness

to offer wholesome residences for the motion flow

of history seeking future,


there will always be a wailing issuing out our mouths

unless and until ghosts can live and

comfortably reside, live, and rest inside, rest

in peace, rest in us






























 —kalamu ya salaam






Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals


Stephan Richter – bass clarinet


Wolfi Schlick – tenor & reeds


Frank Bruckner – guitar


Roland HH Biswurm - drums




Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70006 2013-03-06T04:25:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:27Z POETRY + AUDIO: WHY I DON'T LEAVE THE APARTMENT UNTIL AFTER TEN SOME MORNINGS







Why I Don't Leave The Apartment

Until After Ten Some Mornings 


i like to lay

in the curve

of your physique


you breathing

into the black

of my hair


the pressure

of thigh

to thigh


the beige softness

of your inner hand

slow moving



the tubular darkness

of my arousal



left arm reached

back massaging


the supple

flesh of your

lower back


for long minutes

quarter hours spent

with nothing


but skin

& pleasure

between us


—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany

Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70047 2013-03-05T06:32:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:27Z POETRY + AUDIO: EXIT LEFT
photo by Alex Lear





exit left


when i came to i didn't know where i was

on the ground, prone, near the levee bottom—i blacked out

while jogging, got up, walked home, still laboring a bit

between deep gulps i told nia as much as i could remember


my brother is a cardiologist, nia urged me to call him

tuesday morning early i take an ekg and the results are so disturbing

keith schedules me for a battery of tests an hour and a half later

i still have a meeting to do in between, my blood pressure was normal


i reappear, am radioactively injected, get wired up and climb on

a treadmill, lay under a nuclear camera, chat as though nothing

was wrong, submit to a sonargram, nia is there the whole time,

the results are negative, acceptable, i did not have a heart attack


keith can not determine the etiology of the alarming ekg

but i know the hard truth: at fifty i am almost through

i am dying and perhaps there is a metaphysical reason

no physical break down showed up on the machines this time


as the world unravels around me i coolly center the resulting chaos

within the calm of my karma's core—this is how i exist: i dare to do

all the good i can, i accept the uneveness of chance, i simply love

life for what it is and when my time comes, i am not afraid to exit


—kalamu ya salaam


Music—"Monk's Mood" by Thelonious Monk


Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Georg Janker - bass



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70091 2013-03-04T05:40:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:28Z SHORT STORY: BRAS COUPE
photo by Alex Lear






0 0 1 9603 54741 Students at the Center 456 128 64216 14.0 Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

            "Kristin, I love you," I blurted, sounding like I was trying to convince myself more than Kristin, even though I was sincere. I both wanted her and wanted her to know I wanted her. Nevertheless, like rotely instructing a client on how to fill out a 941, at the moment, I felt emotionally disengaged.

            I snuggled closer. "Kristin..."

            "David, you don't have to say that to get me to do it. I know you love me."

            As I pressed close to her, all down my chest I felt her body stiffen. There was no smile on her face as my fingers traced the outline of her lips. She was distancing herself from me like I was the manager of a department where thirty grand was missing. I reached across her head and turned off the lamp on the night table. Almost as soon as the room was dark she spoke, "I'm not staying tonight. I've got an early meeting and I want to be prepared."

            I had been caressing the side of her face, down her neck and moving toward her breast when I stopped. Suddenly, I had the strangest sensation we were being watched. The light was out and we were alone, but it felt like Kristin's conscience was standing by the side of the bed auditing us. I imagined an unemotional spectre with PDA in hand intently and efficiently noting the details of every movement of two overeager people who were gropping in the dark searching for the right words to say to each other, determinedly trying to discover the right touches to unlock passion in each other.

            I wanted to say, Kristin, what's the real reason you're not staying? I wanted to say, Kristin, are you tired of sleeping with me? Maybe you want out of this relationship. Maybe you don't know where this relationship is headed. God knows I don't know.

            She placed my hand over her breast, "Come on, hurry up. I want to leave before ten."

            I didn't want to hurry up. I wanted to take it slow, like they say women prefer in those self-help, sex manuals Kristin furtively reads. I don't know why people even read those books, the procedures never work like they say. Even the ones with pictures don't work. It's a case study of diminishing returns. You try all that stuff and afterwards, all you've managed to accomplish is you've "tried stuff." The profit margin's too thin when you only accrue an extra penny's worth of pleasure for every dollar of time you invest in reaching the ultimate climax.

            She reached down and touched my dick. "You're not hard." She gently tugged at it. "Oh, David..." An exasperated exclamation, and then suddenly she scooted beneath the thin sheet covering us, and I felt her take me in her mouth.

            Please hurry up and get hard, I vainly instructed my dick.

            It didn't.

            After a minute or so, she gave up, pulled the covers back and sat up in bed. So instead of me asking her what's wrong, she was checking on me, "Honey, what's wrong?"

            I could feel my dick limp against my thigh. "Nothing."

            "Nothing," she softly repeated my lie like a proctor giving you a second chance to admit you cheated on a test. Then, with the adroitness of a prosecution lawyer waving a key piece of evidence before the jury, she reached under the covers and fingered my dick. "Yes, there is."

            I felt like I had been caught with a signed, blank company check in my wallet. Kristin had the uncanny ability to make me feel guilty about wanting to enjoy sex with her.

            "Maybe, I'm just trying too hard." Upon hearing my words, she immediately moved her hand.

            "Oh David," she said as she leaned over and kissed me. I didn't respond to her kiss.

            I wasn't looking for pity and besides it wasn't me taking the prufunctory approach. "I'm alright."

            I loved Kristin but I wasn't fully comfortable in bed with her yet. She would do whatever I asked her to but I always had to ask. I could never get a sense of what, if anything, she really wanted. Our relationship was humming along like a chain of hardward stores, efficient, neat, well stocked, well managed and totally without excitement.

            The lamp light blazed on. I turned my head into the pillow. The light physically hurt my eyes. After the metallic click of the lamp there was a long silence.

            "Did you hear about the shooting?"

            So that's what it was that was bothering her. God, somebody was always getting shot.

            "They," she paused briefly to let the weight of the loaded, one syllable sink in, "shot this lady's baby. My god, they shot a baby. None of us are safe."

            "What color was the baby?"

            "What difference does it make?" She misunderstood me. That was precisely my point, color shouldn't make a difference, but I knew that color was what she was really concerned about and not murder. "It was an innocent baby. Somebody has got to do something."

            "What color, Kristin?"

            "They didn't show the baby on television..."

            "What was the child's name?"


            I turned my head away and looked at the wall. I knew what was coming next, the same old white/black issue. I didn't feel like arguing about the color of a dead baby and whether color made a difference.

            "David, why did you turn away while I was talking? You make me feel everything I say is so wrong."

            The words I didn't dare let out of my mouth, played loud and clear in my head: Because if I turn around and tell you how racist you're acting, we'll end up arguing with each other and I don't feel like fighting. The truth is you're upset because the baby was white. If the baby had been black you might or might not have said anything but you certainly wouldn't have felt threatened. You...

            "I know you think I don't like blacks but that's not it. David, I'm scared."

            "I know. I'm scared too," I agreed, except my fear wasn't for my personal safety. My fear was that blacks and whites would never get beyond being black and white, separate, unequal, and distrustful of each other.

            "If you're scared, why did you move into this neighborhood? Something like fighting fire with fire?" I didn't answer and Kristin chattered on barely pausing for a response to her rhetorical question. "Soon as the sun goes down the only people walking around outside are..."

            I turned over slowly, lay on my back, and covered my eyes with my forearm. "Are what? Murderers? Muggers? Rapists? Thieves?"

            "You said yourself that some of these people don't even like the idea of you living in their neighborhood."

            "I'm really sorry to hear about that baby." I uncovered my eyes and reached out my hand to touch her knee. She covered my hand with a firm grip.

            "My brother says I should get a gun if I'm going to keep spending time with you."

            "I bet your brother Mike owns every Charles Bronsen video ever made and carries a long barrelled forty-four like he's Dirty Harry, or is it David Duke?" my accusation hung in the air like a fart.

            I could see her wanting to recoil but, like being trapped in one of those small interreogation rooms that IRS agents use for audits, there was no where to run and she had run out of documentation to prove her innocence. "Kristin, you don't have to come here unless you want to."

            "I want to be with you." Our eyes locked and searched each other until I turned my head and flung my forearm back across my face. Kristin started her well rehearsed sales pitch, "Besides, it's senseless for me to come pick you up, take you to my place, then bring you back to your place, and then drive back to my place."

            "That's right."

            "And you refuse to buy a car."

            "That's right. My bike and the buses do me just fine."

            "So obviously if we're going to be together I have to come see..."

            "At least until yall get bus service out their in civilized Metairie."

            "David, I'm not complaining about coming to see you. I was just talking about the safety issue."

            "Has anything ever happened to you around here, or to me? Has anybody even so much as said something out of line?"

            "David, it only has to happen once... and then... then you're ruined for life."

            "You only die once."

            Why did I say that? I have to learn to control my mouth.

            "Why did you say that? Mike says you have a death wish."

            "So your brother Mike has given up the family construction business to become a psycologist, huh?" She flinched at my parry but continued her offensive.

            "I told you about Ann Sheridan didn't I?"


            "She'll never be right again."

            We were about to get into a bad scene. This was one of those classic delimmas: you're callous if you don't sympathize with the victim and you're a bleeding heart if you criticize the routine stereotyping. I felt like I was trying to talk to a client who was also a good friend and who was trying to get me to help them cheat on their taxes. I guess I could say, let's not go there; it's not healthy. Or I could sympathize, being raped is a terrible, terrible thing.

            "She's seeing a psychiatrist. She stays pumped full of drugs. And she can't even stand to be in a room with a black man." Clearly this was going to be one of those evenings when all of our time in bed would be spent talking about the major issues of the day rather than more productive and more pleasurable pursuits.

            "Hey, you want a beer?" I bounded out of bed. Two hops and I was in the doorway, "Abita Amber." I looked back, Kristin shook her head no.

            When I got back from the kitchen Kristin was laying still with the covers pulled tightly around her. I stood looking down at the trim form shrouded in my ice blue sheet. I had been so smitten by her from the first time I saw her jogging in the 5K corporate run.

            "Hi, my name is David, and I just got to tell you, I think you're beautiful."

            "David, I'm Kristin. Your flattery is appreciated, but you said it so easily, I'm sure I'm not the only girl who's heard that today."

            "Look, I'm not from here. How does one get to talk to a girl like you?"

            "Do you want to talk to a girl like me, or do you want to talk to me?"

            "Touche." We walked in silence for a moment, catching our breath. Then we started talking, and we talked and talked, and talked some more. And now here we are several months later.

            As the immediate past of our getting together jetted through my mind, I concentrated on Kristin's hairline and on the upper half of her face which was the only part of her visible. Her eyes were closed but I knew she was awake.

            "Suppose it happened to me?" she said, picking up the conversation where we had left off when I tried the let's drink a beer evasion. Her voice was partially muffled by the sheet but the import of her question came through unimpeded.

            I put the beer bottle down on top of Ed McMann's smiling face on the Publisher's Clearinghouse envelope announcing that I had won $30 million dollars. At least the worthless envelope made a convenient temporary coaster. Usually that junk went straight from the mailbox into the front room trash can, but Kristin insisted that I ought to reply because "who knows, you can win a lot of money"—as soon as she leaves it's trashville for that scam.

            "Don't think like that," was my reply to her question as I leaned over and pulled the sheet down so that I could see her whole face.

            "I can't help it. I'm a woman. You're a man. You just don't know."

            I sat down facing the foot of the bed, one foot on the floor, my left leg drawn up next to Kristin.

            "Every time I leave here after dark, it's traumatic." Ignoring the strain in her voice, I turned, leaned over, brushed back her auburn hair from the side of her face and lovingly surveyed her facial features. She was ravishing.

            The subtle scent of an Italian perfume intoxicatingly waffed upward from the nape of her neck. The milk white orb of a perfect, polished pearl, stud earring highlighted her porcelin smooth, golden colored facial skin which was cosmetized with a deft finesse that made it almost impossible to tell what was flesh and what was foundation.

            New Orleans women, the mixture of French, Italian, English, Indian, Black and, god knows, what else gave a new meaning to feminine pulchritude. She had a classic Romanesque nose and a pert mouth whose tips ended in a slight upturn which almost made it impossible for her to frown. The attractiveness of Kristin's almond shaped, light brown eyes nearly hypnotized me and made it hard to respond to what was clearly some serious issues that she wanted to talk about.

            "Sometimes, when I get home, I have nightmares thinking about whether somebody has broke in and...

            "And what, shot and robbed me or something?"


            "Is that why you always call in the morning."


            "I'll be sure to phone you if something happens to me," I tried to joke.

            "David what are we going to do?"

            "Try to keep on living. Try to love each other. Try to make this city a better place."

            "That all sounds so noble but I keep thinking about that baby and about Ann."

            "Don't think about it."

            "That baby wasn't thinking about it and now he's dead. Before it happened to Ann, she never thought about it. I'm not an ostrich. I can't just stick my head in the sand and forget about it." I had to smile at that and hold my sarcasm in check. I had started to say that's exactly what you're doing by living in Metairie.

            After a short pause, Kristin continued, "Why do they act like that. They have to live here too? Can't they see that..."

            "Kristin, sweetheart, we're all in this together," I whispered while running the back of my fingers up and down her forearm.

            "No, we're not. We're the ones who have everything to l....," her vehemence indicated a real feeling of being wronged.

            It never seems to occur to many of us that black people suffer more from crime than we do. "You know the overwhelming majority of murder victims are black. You know most of the rape victims are blac..."

            "I know about Etienne. I know Ann."

            "I bet Ann was crazy long before that guy raped her," I said under my breath. Before she could ask me to repeat what I never should have uttered aloud in the first place, I tried to change the subject. "Come here," I said as I slid beneath the covers and pulled her toward me. Outside somebody was passing with some bounce music turned up to 15. Bounce was that infectious, New Orleans variation on rap that featured chanted choruses over modern syncopated beats. I felt Kristin stiffen in my arms as the music invaded the atmosphere of my bedroom.

            "I don't know how you stand it," she said into my chest.

            "It's just music," I responded while rubbing my face into her hair.

            "I'm not talking about the music."

            "What are you talking about?" I asked, pulling back slightly so I could read her physical expressions.

            "Not knowing when one of them..."

            "Them. Them! Who is them? You mean a black person," I questioned while disassembling our embrace and stretching my arms upward.

            She propped up on one elbow and spoke down to me. "No, I mean one of those crazy young black guys, the kind who would shoot you for a swatch watch."

            I looked her directly in the eyes, "You mean the kind who listens to that music we just heard?"

            Kristin didn't answer. After a few seconds, I turned away briefly at the same time that Kristin reclined and twisted her head to stare up at the ceiling. I watched her and waited for her reply for about forty-five seconds. Although she didn't say anything, something was clearly going through her mind. Her eyes were darting quickly back and forth like she was checking figures in a set of books against figures on an adding machine tape. I finally broke the silence with a dare, "Penny for your thoughts."

            She responded while still looking up at the ceiling, "Honest injun?" That was our playful code to inaugurate a series of questions and answers with no holds barred.

            Now we were both looking at the plaster ceiling with the swirl design—I wish I could have seen how those plasterers did that. "Shoot your best shot," I said, my eyes still following the interlocking set of circular patterns as I reached out to hold Kristin's hand.

            "Mike says you probably moved to Treme because you've got a black girl on the side," she paused as the gravity of her words tugged at a question I knew was coming sooner or later. Her grip on my hand involuntarily tightened slightly, "Have you ever done it with a black girl?"


            Her hand went limp and I heard her exhale sharply. I turned to look at her. She frowned, closed her eyes and spoke softly, barely moving her quivering lips. I wouldn't let her hand go even though she was obviously a bit uncomfortable interreogating me and touching me at the same time.


            "Five years ago, in college."

            She turned now and focused intently on my eyes, "That was the last time?"


            "Do you... do you... I mean Mike says..."

            "I'll answer any questions you have Kristin, but I won't answer Mike's questions. I'm not in love with Mike."


            My turn.

            "You want me to compare doing it with you to doing it with a black girl, don't you?" Her face tensed. She pulled her hand away.


            There, it was out in the open. "If you want to know you have to ask."

            Silence. She rolled onto her side, faced me and used her cherry red, lacquered, finger tips to outline my short, manicured, strawberry blond beard. She started at my ear lobe and when she got to my chin, she hesitated, sighed, lay back squarely on her back, and tried to sound as casual as she could, "Did you ever have trouble getting it up with her?"

            "No," I replied quickly, almost as if I didn't have to think about it, but, of course, I had already thought about it when I discerned the direction her questions were headed.

            A terrifying hurt escaped Kristin's throat, it sounded like she couldn't breath and was fighting to keep from being crushed. "I can't..." Kristin's words peeled off into a grating whine. "David, why..."

            "Why, what? Why did I do it with a black girl? Why did I have trouble getting it up a few minutes ago? Why did somebody shoot Etienne? All of the above? None of the above? What?"

            "I'm going home." She threw the covers back and started to climb cross me to get out of bed. I grabbed her waist and pulled her down on top of me. She tried to resist but she only weighted 112 pounds and was no match for my upper body strength.

            "No, don't run from it. Let's face this. We can do this." I held her in a bear hug. She vainly tried to push away.

            "David, stop. Let me go!" she hissed, struggling to break free as I determinedly tightened my grip. "Let me go."

            Her small fists were pummeling my chest while I forcibly retained her in my embrace. She had been momentarily kneeling over me trying to scamper out of bed when I caught her in midmotion.

            "David, you're hurting me." I used my left hand to grab her right wrist and yanked her right arm. As she lost her balance, I rolled over, pinning her to the mattress. "Stop! Stop!" She started pleading, "please stop. Let me go."

            "Kristin, listen to me."

            "No, let me go. Stop." She was tossing her head back and forth, trying to avoid looking at me.

            "Kristin, that was five years ago. Five damn years. If you didn't want to know, why did you ask me?" We stared at each other. "Five years ago doesn't have anything to do with us to..."

            "It has everything to do with us. That's why you can't get it up with me, because I'm not black."

            I pushed her away, swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up.

            "Did Mike tell you to say that?" I spat out the accusation over my shoulder.

            After she didn't answer, I pushed my fists into the mattress and started to get up. I heard Kristin crying.

            "Why... how do you think it makes me feel? I come out here to be with you and... oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit."

            I stopped midway in pushing myself up and allowed my full weight to sink back onto the bed. Now she was really bawling. I looked over at the Abita, grabbed the bottle and drained it. I sat focusing on the beer label and asking myself how did I let a couple of hours in bed degenerate into this mess.

            I had drunk the remaining third of the beer too quickly. A gigantic belch was coming and I couldn't stop it. For some strange reason I just felt it would be disrespectful to belch while Kristin was laying there sobbing, but I couldn't help it.

            The belch came out long and loud. "Excuse me," I apologized. Afterwards, I looked over my shoulder at a heaving mass of flesh and hair—even after our tussel, her long luxurious hair flowed beautifully across her shoulders as though sculpted by an artist.

            Her back was to me as she faced the wall silently crying and sniffling. I didn't know what to do, what to say. "Kristin, it's not..."

            "Give me a cigarette, please," she said without turning around while making a strenuous effort to stiffle the tears.

            I had an unopened pack of cigarettes sitting on the night table. Neither one of us smoked that much anymore except after we made love, we liked to share a cigarette. I ripped the cellophane with my teeth, peeled the thin plastic from the box and nosily crumpled the crinklely protective covering. I started to ask, why do you want a cigarette and we hadn't made love, but realized that would be a silly and insensitive question at this moment. I flipped the boxtop open and took out one cigarette. I pushed it back and forth between my fingers. As I lit the cigarette I felt a sudden urge to urinate but it seemed inappropriate for me to step away now. I didn't want Kristin to think I was running from her, or didn't want to talk, or whatever.

            "Here." As I reached the cigarette to her, she sat up and took it without really looking at me and without saying thanks or saying anything. She must have really been pissed because she seldom became so nonplussed that she forgot her equiette training.

            I picked up the empty beer bottle and, at a loss for what to do next, I began reading the fine print on the beer label.

            I felt movement in the bed. When I turned to see what she was doing, Kristin stepped to the floor, cigarette smoke trailing from the cigarette she held in her left hand behind her.

            I felt like I was sitting for the CPA exam. Neither of us was saying anything, but I knew I had better come up with the right answers or this deal was off. I looked up as she stepped into the bathroom and partially closed the door behind her.

            I saw the light go on in the bathroom. I heard her lower the toilet seat and then the loud splash in the bowl as she relieved herself. After she stopped urinating, I heard the flush of the toilet and then nothing. Maybe she was sitting there still crying.

            I sat on the bed with an empty beer bottle in my hand. Damn, five years was a long time ago. Linda. I don't think either one of us was really in love. We thought we were. I rubbed the cool beer bottle across my forehead as I remembered those crazy days in Boston. I think what was the most surprising was how unremarkable the sex was. I mean it was good but it just was. It was no big thing. No ceiling falling on us, the earth didn't move. And there was no scene about it. We did it and enjoyed it and that was it. Not like... I didn't want to go there. I looked at the vertical shaft of light paralleling the edge of the partially open bathroom door.

            I think Linda caught more grief than I did. A lot of her friends stopped speaking to her. All my friends wanted to know was what it was like. Sex really doesn't have to be all this. I remember how nervous I was the first time and how she just said, "look, I don't know what you expect and I don't care what you've heard. We're just people. I'm not into anything kinky. You will use a condom and if I ever hear you talking any jungle fever shit, you'll be swinging through the jungle all by your damn self."

            The thing I most remember is that she said thankyou the first time I ate her out and she reached a climax. "I don't know what's wrong with me but this seems like the only way I can get a climax."

            I had tried to cautiously ask her what she meant without being crude or rude.

            "Head. Straight sex is ok but I can only reach a climax when I get some head."

            "Is that why you're with me."

            "David, don't believe that shit about brothers got dick and only white boys give head. And, for sure, don't believe that you're the only one willing to lick this pot."

            "No, I didn't mean...ah, I didn't mean to im..."

            "Shut up! You talk too muc..."

            "David, I'm sorry. I kinda stressed out because..." As I snapped back to the present, Kristin was standing over me. I hadn't heard her return from the bathroom. I realized I had been sitting with my eyes closed, rolling the beer bottle over my face, thinking about Linda. "...well because I was afraid of losing you. I know you love me. And I think you know how much I love you."

            Yeah, enough to come over to the black side of town at night, is what I thought but, of course, I didn't say anything.

            "You don't feel like talking do you?"

            "No, I feel like it. I want to talk. Let's talk," I answered quickly. I opened my eyes and focused on her petite, immaculately pedicured feet. Her toenails were polished the same brilliant red as her fingernails. Her feet were close together and her toes were twitching nervously in the shag of my persian blue carpet. Kristin was standing so close to me that when I looked up, I was looking right at her muff.

            I quickly placed the empty beer bottle on the night stand. I pulled her close to me, embraced her waist and kissed her navel. I felt her slender hands caressing my head. Where was the cigarette?

            "I know I'm not very sexy..."

            "Kri..." I tried to turn my head upward but she hugged my head hard to her stomach.

            "No. Just listen. I've got to say this. I know sex is important to you and I'm willing to try whatever you want to make you happy. Anything. OK? Anything."

            "Hey babe, we're going to be alright. You'll see. We're going to make it just fine."

            "Be careful who you love because love is mad," was all my father ever told me about love. Nothing about sex. Nothing about understanding women. Just love is mad. We were sitting in the front room listening to his Ellington records. He played that Ivie Anderson song where she sings about love being like a cigarette. And he played a couple of other songs. And a concert recording of Ellington, employing his trademark suavity, telling the audience, "We love you madly." I don't know how many other Ellington fans there were in Normal, Illinois, but early in my life my father recruited me simply by playing records for hours as he sat in the twilight on those evenings when he wasn't running up and down the road selling farm equipment.

            I guess I just wanted to be around him. He was so seldom there for any length of time, when he was there I did what he did. I listened to jazz. Mostly Ellington, Basie, and Charlie Barnet playing "Cherokee." I remember once Dad played Charlie Parker's "KoKo." Dad said Koko was based on Cherokee but I couldn't hear any Cherokee anywhere. He laughed. "Yes, sometimes life can be complicated." And then it was back to Ellington and all those gorgeous melodies. I still have the record Ellington signed for us backstage at the Elks dance many years ago. Well, not really signed because his signature wasn't on there. Just a scrawled "love you madly."

            "I believe you when you say that," Kristin intoned without missing a beat.

            "That's because I love you madly and mean it with all my heart." It had become easier and easier to reveal that truth to Kristin.





            "David, I just heard on the news that the casino is closing. What are we going to do?"

            "Well, you're going to hold on to your job with the tourist commission and I'm going to draw unemployment."

            "I guess now would be a good time for us to live together. I could move in with you—I mean if you want me to—and we could split the rent."

            "A couple of months ago you were scared to spend the night, now you're talking about moving in with me."

            "Only if you want me to." I detected a note of anxiety in her voice. Both of us were probably recalling that angry exchange we had when we first discussed living arrangements over dinner at Semolina's: "David, all I pay is utilities and a yearly maintenance contract, it would be a lot cheaper for you to move in with me even if you took a cab to work everyday."

            That's when I had unloaded, "I didn't move down here to live in a white suburb twenty miles away from the center of town. I know your family finds it a lot more pratical, i.e. safer, to enjoy New Orleans from a distance, but if I'm going to live in New Orleans, I want to live in New Orleans. Besides, that's one of the main reasons the city's so crazy now."

            And then Kristin had exploded with a preprepared litany of rationalizations: "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be safe. I love New Orleans. I didn't move to the suburbs to run away. I live in Metairie because it's family property and..."

            "Because you can't live uptown anymore because your family sold their lovely, hundred year-old, historic Victorian house," I had replied drily.

            "David Squire, you're just a starry-eyed idealist. You have no idea of how neat New Orleans used to be and how messed up it is now..."

            "Now that Blacks run and overrun the city. Right? Now that they have messed it up and made it impossible for us nice white folks to have a really neat time?"

            Kristen drew up sharply as if the bright faced college student who was our waiteress had put a plate of warm shit in front of Kristin instead of the shrimp fettuccini, which she hardly touched.

            "David, let's just change the subject, please," Kristin had said in the icey tone she used when her mind was made up and, right or wrong, she was going to stick to her guns.

            "Well just think about it, David. I'm not trying to push you or anything, it's just that my half would help with the rent." Hearing Kristin's languid voice flow warmly through the receiver made me realize that I hadn't responded to her question and that there had been several long seconds of dead air while she waited for my tardy reply.

            "OK, I'll think about it, Kristin. You know this whole job thing has happened so suddenly, I'm not sure what I want to do. So I'm going to just cool it for awhile and see how the chips fall."

            "God, David, you sound so cool to say you just lost your job."

            "Yeah, well, getting excited isn't going to change anything. Besides, I can get another job. Good accountants are always in demand."

            "David, I've got to go, but I just wanted to call as soon as I heard on the news..."



            "I love ya."

            "And I love you." The worry vanished instantly when I reassured her that our relationship was not in jeopardy. Her tone brightened. "I'm on my way to the gym. I could swing by when I finish."

            "No, I'm alright," I heard the disappointed silence like she was holding her breath and biting her bottom lip. Why was I being so difficult when all she was trying to do was reach out and touch? Besides I had come to really enjoy her perky company. "But, on second thought, babe, it would be great to be with you. Call me when you get back in."

            "I can come now. Skipping one day of gym won't be the end of the world."

            "No, no, no, no, noooo. Go to the gym. Call me when you get back home."

            "I'll call you from the gym."

            "S'cool." I said slurring my signature sign off of "it's cool."

            "It'll be around 8:30."

            "S'cool. I think I'm going to walk down to Port Of Call and get a beer or something. Later gator."

            It was a near perfect November evening in New Orleans, what little breeze there was caressed your face with the fleeting sensation of a mischievous lover enticingly blowing cool breaths into your ear. It would have been a waste of seductive twilight to stay indoors. I grabbed my lightweight, green nylon windbreaker and ventured forth as though this evening had been created solely for my enjoyment. I didn't have to go to work tomorrow. I would hook up with Kristin a little later. My rent was paid. I had twenty dollars in my pocket and a healthy stash in my savings account. I didn't have a care in the world.

            As I neared Rampart Street, just before crossing into the French Quarter, indistinct sounds of music mingled from many sources: car radios, bars, homes. No night in the old parts of New Orleans was complete without music.

            This is where jazz began. My father the jazz fan had never been to New Orleans. Satchmo and Jellyroll walked these very streets. I looked up at the the thin slice of moon that hung in the sky, "Dad, I'm here."

            I knew he'd understand what I meant. He had been a farm boy who never really cared much about the land. What he liked was meeting different people. All kinds of people, but mostly people who weren't living where we lived. Dad would have loved New Orleans and the plethora of street denizens of amazing variety who seemed to thrive in the moral hothouse of liscentious and sensual living which was the trademark of Big Easy existence.

            Before I reached  the corner a police car slow cruising down the street passed me. I looked over at the cops, one blond the other dark skinned, and waved. Their visibility was reassuring.




            When I got back from Port Of Call it was fully dark. I should have taken my bike. Cycling was safer than walking. Moreover, walking through the quarter was more dangerous than walking through Treme which was flooded with police once the casino had opened in Armstrong Park.. Hummppp, I wondered if they would keep up the policing now that the casino was closed.

            It was about twenty minutes to eight. I had casually checked my watch as I turned off Esplanade after crossing Rampart. When I got close to my place, I saw somebody had left a 40 oz. beer bottle on my stoop. I picked it up and routinely checked all around me to make sure nobody was trying to slip up on me as I unlocked my front door. The alarm beeped until I punched in the disarming code—that was my one concession to Kristin. No, I wasn't going to buy a car, but yes I would get a security alarm system put in.

            I locked the deadbolt and flipped on the front room lamp. I felt like some Dr. John. I put the empty bottle down, twirled my cd rack, pulled out Dr. John's Gumbo, slid it in the cd player, turned the volume up to six and sang "Iko Iko" along with the good Dr. as I danced to the kitchen after turning off the floor lamp. I was using the empty forty oz. as a microphone and moving with a pigeon-toed shuffle step. I ended with a pirouette and a slam dunk of the forty into the thirty gallon kitchen trash can.

            While pulling off my windbreaker and hanging it in the closet, I heard a faint knocking but I thought it was one of the neighborhood kids beating out a rhythm on the side of the house. The knocking persisted, only louder. Who could that be, nobody besides Kristin ever visits me. I jogged into the front room.

            "Yeah, who is it?" I shouted out as I detoured to turn the music down.

            "I'm Brother Cooper, man."

            "Who?" I shouted through the locked door.

            "Bras Coupe," came back the indistinct reply.

            "I don't want none."

            "I ain't selling nothing. I just wanna ask you something."


            "Open the door, please, mister?" There was an urgency in his voice which I couldn't deceipher. I peered out the window next to the door but the streetlights were to his back and most of his face was in shadows. I turned on my front flood light. I still didn't recognize him. His left hand was empty, I couldn't see his right hand.

            "I ain't goin' do you nothing, man. I just want to ask you something."

            "I can hear you," I shouted back through the solid wood, dead-lock-bolted door. I continued watching him through the window.

            "Look, I'm just as scared as you, standing out here, knocking on a stranger's door, enough for to get shot. I know you don't know me, but I used to live here twenty-two years ago. I left town and I'm just passing through. My people done all gone and I just wanted to see the house I grew up in."

            This sounded like a first class line to me. He stepped back so that he was fully illuminated by the flood light. "Look, I couldn't do you nothing even if I wanted to—I'm cripple." He twirled around to show me the empty dangling right sleeve of his sweatshirt. He was probably too poor to procure prosthesis. "If you got a gun why don't you get it and hold it on me, I just want to see the house."

            I was in a quandry. Suppose the gun thing was a trick to find out if I had a gun. Suppose he was planning to come back later and rob me. He didn't look like anybody I had seen in the neighborhood before. And there was this tone in his voice—it wasn't fear, it was something else. He pleaded with me, "I wouldn't blame you for not letting me in, but it sure would mean a lot to me to see the house."

            "The house has been completely remolded, you wouldn't recognize it now."

            "If you don't want to let me in, just tell me to get lost. That's your right. It's your property now..." Renters don't have property rights I thought as I weighed his appeal. "But, you ain't got to handle me like I'm stupid. I know the house don't look nothing like when I lived in it."

            I said nothing else. He backed down the steps and stood on the sidewalk. A car passed and he flinched like he thought the car was coming up on the sidewalk or like he feared somebody was after him.

            "You white, ain't you? And you afraid to let a one armed, black man in your house after dark. I understand your feelings. Can you understand mine?"

            It pained me to realize I didn't and, worse yet, possibly couldn't understand his feelings. I had all kinds of black acquaintances that I knew and spoke to on a daily basis, but not one whom I was really close to. I had been here over a year and still didn't have one real friend who was black and not middle class.

            My mind ping ponged from point to point searching for an answer to his softly stated albeit deadly question. Could someone like me—someone white and economically secure—ever really understand the feelings of a poor, black man? Especially since I wanted honesty and refused to settle for the facade of sharing cultural positions simply because I exercised my option to live in the same physical space with those who had little choice in the matter.

            My pride would not let me fake at being poor, walk around with artifically ripped jeans and headrags pretending I was down. Besides when you get really close to poverty you understand that poverty sucks big time. You see how being poor wears people out physically, emotionally and mentally.

            These neighborhoods are like a prison without bars and a lot of these people are doing nothing but serving time until they can figure a way to get out, which most of them seldom do. Especially, the men. They just become more hardened, callous and emotionally distant. My stay was temporary. I was not sentenced by birth, but visiting, one step removed from sightseeing. Regardless of what I like to tell myself about commitment and sincerity, it was my choice to come here and I always have a choice to leave—a real choice backed up by marketable skills that would be accepted anywhere I may go. I know that most of the people in this neigborhood have no such choice.

            As if to distract myself from the meaning of this moment of conflict, I looked at the disheveled man on my sidewalk and wondered had his father ever played him music and told him that "love was mad"? Obviously his father had not sent him to college. Could not have. But the conundrum for me had nothing to do with poverty in the abstract, or even with letting this man into the apartment. For me the deep issue was stark and cold: was I mad for trying to love the people who created jazz? If this man had appeared at my father's door, would dad have let him in?

            I overcame my fear and my better judgement, pulled out my key and unlocked the deadbolt. I started to throw the door open, but realized that there were no lights on in the front room and the hall door was wide open exposing the rest of the house. "Wait a minute," I said firmly through the door.

            I turned around, flicked on my black lacquered, floor lamp, turned the cd player off in the middle of Dr. John singing "Somebody Changed The Lock" and then closed the hall door. I quickly surveyed the room to make sure there was nothing lying round that... wait a minute, why was I worried about the possibility of a one armed man being a thief?

            I returned to the door, peeked out the window—he was still standing there—and then released the lock on the doorknob. I cautiously opened the door. "I guess you can come in for a minute." I felt my pulse pounding and struggled to remain calm.

            He started up the steps slowly. His hair was the first thing I noticed as he stepped into the doorway. It was untrimmed, it wasn't long, but it was uncombed. As I surveyed him, I instinctively stepped back from him and then I reached out my hand to shake, "My name is David Squire"—suddenly I was assaulted by a distinct but unidentifiable pungent odor that I had never smelled before. He reached out his left hand and covered my hand. I realized immediately that it was a faux pas to offer my right hand to a man without a right arm. He seemed to sense my embarassment.

            "I'm Bras Coupe. Lots of people call me Brother Cooper." His hand was rough and calloused. His skin felt leathery and unyielding. I looked down at his hand. His claw like fingernails were discolored and jagged. When I withdrew my hand and looked up at his face, he was examining the room. He said nothing more and just stood there looking around.

            Finally, I stepped around him to close the door. The scent that I had caught a wiff of in the doorway, engulfed me now and wrestled with the oxygen in my nose. I had to open my mouth to breath. I was certain I had made a mistake letting him in, now the question was how to get him out.

            "You want to sit down," I asked in a weak voice?

            He slowly sank to one knee right where he was. After swivleling around so that he was facing me, he locked into what was obviously for him a comfortable posture. He leaned his weight on his left arm which was braced against his upraised left leg. It was almost as if he was ready to jump up and run at a moment's notice.

            "You do not use the fireplace." He raised his head slightly and audibly sniffed twice, his nostrils flaring with each intake of air. "No windows open." He sniffed again. "You don't cook." He rose in a surprisingly swift motion. And then for the first time he stood up to his full height. He was huge.

            I backed up.

            He laughed.

            "I'm not going to hurt you. If I wanted to, I could have killed you by now."

            As I measured him from head to foot, I couldn't hide my shock when I saw that he was barefoot.

            "You wear your fear like a flag." He nonchalantly watched me inspect him and laughed again when my eyes riveted on his bare feet. "Show me the rest of my house, David Squire."

            I was glued where I stood. I couldn't move. I had never felt so helpless before. "Do you understand what you feel? You should see yourself. Tell me about yourself," he commanded.

            I stammered, "What wha... wha-what do you want to-to know?"

            "I already know everything I want to know. It's what you need to know about yourself that matters. Why are you here? What do you think is so cool about all of this mess?"

            I couldn't answer. Somehow to say "I came to New Orleans because I wanted to get to know the people who created jazz" seemed totally the wrong thing to do. He turned his back to me and looked at my stereo system. "Do you have any of my music?"


            He stomped on the floor three times in rapid succession with his right foot, shouting "Dansez Badoum, Dansez Badoum, Dansez Dansez." Then he spun in slow circles on his left foot while using his one hand to beat a complicated cross-rhythm on his chest and on his upraised left leg. Somehow, simultaneously with turning clockwise in a circle, he carved a counterclockwise circle in the air with his head. His agility was breathtaking. He dipped suddenly in a squat, slapped the floor and froze with his piercing eyes popped out in a transfixing stare. I felt a physical pressure push me backward.

            "I thought you liked my music." He looked away briefly and then returned his full and terrible attention to me. I was quaking in my Rockport walking boots. Neither of us said anything and a terrible silence followed.

            "Talk to me, David Squire."

            "It's, it's about life." I stammered quietly.

            "Eh? What say you?"

            "Black music. Your music. It's about life. The beauty of life regardless of all the ugliness that surrounds... usss...." Instantly I wished I hadn't said that. It was true but it sounded so much like a liberal line. Just like when Dad had introduced me to Mr. Ellington, I couldn't think of anything right to say. So, I said the only truth on the tip of my tongue, "I love your music."

            "Am I supposed to feel good because you love my music? Why don't you love your own music? Why don't you make your own music?"

            I had never thought about that. It didn't seem right. There was no white man I could think of who could come close. Even Dr. John was at his best when he sounded like he was black. When I looked up, Brother Cooper had his eyes steeled onto me like an auditor who has found the place where the books had been doctored. My mouth hung open but I had no intentions of trying to answer that question.

            "After you take our music, what's left in this city?"

            "I'm not from here." Words came out of my mouth without thinking.

            "You're from the north."

            "I'm from Normal, Illinois."

            "Where did you go to school?"

            "In Boston."

            "Where in Boston."


            "Sit down David Squire." Still in a squatting position, he motioned toward my reading chair with his hand. "You look a bit peaked."

            I sat.

            In a swift crablike motion, he scurried quickly over to me without rising. He touched my knee. There was nothing soft in his touch. It was like I had bumped into a tree. "Harvard eh, your people must have a little money."

            "Most people think going to Harvard means you're smart." I blurted out without thinking. Putting my mouth in motion before engaging my brain was a bad habit I needed to loose.

            "Smart doesn't run this country. Does it?" He looked away.

            I began sweating.

            "Go relieve yourself," Cooper said without looking at me.

            As soon as he said that, I felt my bladder throbbing. I almost ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. I turned on the light, the heat lamp, the vent. I unzipped my pants, started to urinate and felt my bowels stir with an urgency that threatened to soil my drawers. I dropped my pants, hurriedly pulled down the toilet seat, plopped down and unloaded.

            I wiped myself quickly. I washed my hands, quickly. I threw water on my face, quickly. And then I looked into the mirror. My face was pale with terror.

            "David Squire, come, I must tell you something before I go." At the sound of Cooper's voice, my legs gave way momentarily and I fell against the wash basin. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't go back out there and I couldn't not go.

            "David Squire," the powerful voice boomed again. "Open the door."

            My hand trembled as I flicked the latch and turned the knob. I pulled the door open and there he stood directly in front of the door. "Every future has it's past. What starts in madness, will end in the same again. My name is Bras Coupe. Find out who I am and understand what made me be what I became. Know the beginning well and the end will not trouble you." He looked through me as if I were a window pane. I couldn't bear his stare, I closed my eyes.

            "Look at me."

            When I opened my eyes I was in total darkness. I shivered. I felt cold and broke out sweating profusely again when I realized I was laying on my back on my bed. Now I was past scared. I was sure I was dead.

            Then that voice sounded again, "You fainted."

            His words wrapped around me like a snake. I felt the mattress sag as if, as if he was climbing into my bed. All I could think of was that he was going to fuck me. All the muscles in my ass tightened as taut as the strings on my tennis racket. From somewhere I remembered the pain and humiliation of a rectal exam when I was young.

            My mother was sitting on the other side of the room and the doctor made me lay on my stomach. The last thing I saw him do was put on rubber gloves. They squeeked when he put his hands in them. And they snapped loudly as he pulled them snugly on his wrist, tugged at the tops and let the upper ends pop with an omnious clack on his wrist. "This might hurt a little but it will be over in a minute." And then he stuck his finger up my rectum.

            It felt like his whole hand was going up in there. I looked over at my mother. She didn't say anything, she just had this incredibly pained look on her plain face which always honestly reflected her emotions. "It will be alright, David. Yah, it will be alright," she said, sounding the "y" of yes as though it were a soft "j"—her second generation Swedish background was generally all but gone from her speech except for the stubborn nub that stuck to her tongue when ever she was under duress.

            What had I done? What did I have? The pain shot up from my anus and exited my mouth as a low pitched moan. I was watching my mother watch me. I resolved that I was going to be strong and I was going to withstand whatever this man was going to do to me.

            The man with his whole hand up my butt wasn't saying anything. He just kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing. I don't remember him stopping. I don't remember anything else except that despite my best efforts, I cried.

            And now, here I lay in the dark awaiting another thrust up my ass. The anticipation was excruciating. My resolve to remain stoic completely crumbled and I started crying—but not loudly or anything. In fact there was no sound except the impercible splash of my huge tears flowing slowly down the sides of my face and falling shamlessly onto my purple comforter.

            Suddenly the bright light from the table lamp illuminated my perdicament. He was standing next to the bed. I recoiled, rolling back from the sight of him. "Are you Ok?" he questioned me. "You look..." he stopped abruptly and cocked his head as if he heard something. After a few brief seconds he returned his attention to me. "They're coming." Without saying anything else, he turned and walked away toward the kitchen. A moment later, I too could hear a police siren.

            And then it seemed like nothing happened. Just hours and hours of nothing. No sound from the kitchen. Nothing at all. My heart was pounding.

            I tried to make myself sit up. It was like a dream. I couldn't move. I told myself to get up. But I couldn't move. I wanted to move. I wanted to run. But I couldn't move.

            Eventually I made myself stop crying. It took so much effort, I was almost exhausted. Suddenly there was a loud knocking at my front door. The rapping startled me. I involuntarily let out a brief whelp of fear, "Ah."

            Cooper appeared soundlessly at the foot of the bed. "Go."

            I jumped up.

            I was in shock.

            The knock was louder. I don't know how I got to the front door, but when I got there, I didn't say a word as the insistent tapping started again. It sounded like somebody beating on my door with a club. Suppose this was one of Cooper's friends come to do me in.

            I glanced over my shoulder at the back of the house. Cooper had turned the bedroom lamp off.

            I glanced out the front window. Two policemen were outside. One on the stoop, one on the sidewalk. I hadn't done anything wrong. Why were they knocking on my door?

            "Yes," I said meekly without opening the door.

            "It's the police, sir."

            I cracked the door—I had forgotten to lock it when I let Cooper in—"Is anything wrong, officer?"

            "Yeah, I hate to tell you this, but there was a double homocide a couple blocks away and we have reason to believe the murderer is still in the neighborhood." The officer spoke of two people murdered with the casualness only a New Oreans policeman could evidence when discussing the carnage that had now become some common. "Have you seen or heard anything?"

            I could have stood there for ten hours and not been able to honestly answer that question. I didn't really know what I had seen or not seen. At that moment I doubted my own sanity. Just then my phone rang.

            "One minute, officer, that's my phone." The phone stopped in the middle of the second ring before I could answer the extension in the front room. It was too soon for the answering machine to pick up. No, couldn't be—I instantly rejected the notion that Cooper had answered the phone.

            I had left the door open and the policeman stuck his head in and made a quick annoucement. "Sir, we're just advising everyone in the area to be careful and please call us immediately if you see or hear anything."

            I dashed back to the door as the officer was talking. He was a young, black guy, medium build, clean cut, and he spoke with an air of authority. I was about to say something to him when I heard Cooper call out to me from the bedroom, "that was Kristin, I told her you would call her right back."

            "Ok." I said, responding to both Cooper and the policeman. Before I could say anything else the policeman was backing away from my door. I turned quickly looking for Cooper but it was completely dark in the back and I couldn't see anything. When I turned back to the front door, the police cruiser was pulling off from the curb. I closed the door, pulled out my key and made sure that I locked the deadbolt this time.

            As I started toward the bedroom, I realized that I had locked myself in the house with Cooper. I froze in the hallway next to the bathroom.

            I turned the hall light on. I started feeling afraid again. The bathroom door was partially open. I stood away from the bathroom door and pushed it fully open. Nothing.

            I turned on the bathroom light. Nothing.

            The front room light was on. The hall light was on. The bathroom light was on. There were only two more rooms: my bedroom and the kitchen just beyond it.

            The bedroom was completely dark, as was the kitchen. "Cooper," I called out in a subdued and shaky voice. Nothing.

            I repeated the call a little louder, "Cooper." Nothing.

            I put my back to the wall and inched into the bedroom. Just inside the door way, I stood perfectly still, opened my mouth to balance the pressure in my ears and listened as keenly as I could. Nothing.

            The table lamp was only about three feet away but everytime I went to reach for it, something kept me pinned to the wall. Was he in the dark waiting to waylay me?



            I took a deep breath, pushed away from the wall, and jumped on the bed. I was safe. I hit the lamp switch. Light filled the room. Nothing.

            All that was left was the kitchen.

            Now that most of the lights were on it was less frightening. I stepped into the hallway and reached my hand around the doorway to turn on the light in the little combination kitchen-dining room. This apartment was shaped funny because it was really a large double carved up into three apartments.

            There was nothing in the kitchen. I ran to the kitchen door which opened to the side alley. It was still locked with the deadbolt and I had the key in my trouser pocket.

            Every room was lit. There was nobody in here.

            I walked through every room growing bolder by the minute. I searched through each room three times. Nothing.

            Opened closet doors. Nothing.

            Pulled the shower curtain back and looked in the stall. Nothing.

            Looked under the bed. Nothing.

            I must have been hallucinating.

            I turned off the kitchen light and haltingly inched my way back into the front room.

            I turned off the front room lamp.

            I turned off the hall light.

            I turned off the bathroom light.

            I sat down on the bed and turned off the lamp.

            As soon as I felt the darkness envelop me, I flicked the switch back on. What was I doing? Where was Cooper? Was Cooper ever here? What the hell was going on?

            Then I remembered Kristin.

            I picked up the phone and dailed her. Her phone rang, and rang, and rang until the recorder came on. "Hi, I'm out at the moment, but I'll be right back. Please leave your name and number at the tone and I'll get right back to you. Thanks. Ciao."

            "David, get a hold of yourself. This is crazy," I mumbled to myself as I sat on the side of the bed staring into space.

            I got up again, went from room to room turning on all the lights. Tested the kitchen door. It was locked. Walked to the front of the house. Tested the front door. It was locked. Started at the front room and searched each  room in the house again. Nothing.

            I turned the lights off in every room except the bedroom. I sat down on the bed.

            I got up and walked around.

            I turned off the table lamp.

            As soon as it was off, I switched the lamp back on.

            I called Kristin again. No answer.

            I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face. Dried my face on the green towel hanging from the towel ring, turned off the bathroom light and went back in the bedroom.

            I kicked off my shoes. Lay down on the bed. Turned off the light. Heard something in the room. Turned the light back on. Nothing.

            I couldn't go on like this. Afraid of my own apartment.

            I called Kristin again. "I clearly remember Cooper saying that Kristin called," I said out loud to myself. She still wasn't home.

            I turned the radio on. I turned the radio off.

            I slipped back into my shoes and walked from the bedroom to the front room, turning on lights as I went.

            I walked from the front room to the bedroom, turning off lights as I went.

            When I got back in the bedroom I reached out to switch the lamp off, but I couldn't. So I stood there and looked at my hand on the switch. Finally, my hand moved to the phone and I called Kristin one more time. No answer.

            I lay down. I got up.

            I got tired of standing.

            I sat on the bed.

            I stood up.

            Then I thought I heard a knocking on the side of the house—Cooper was coming back. I walked through the house and turned all the other lights back on.

            I was exhausted. I didn't have the strength to leave the front room.

            I looked out the front window reconnoitering the area in front my house. I couldn't see anything.

            I left the window and stood in the middle of the front room.

            For the first time since I had come back from the Port Of Call, I thought to check the time. I looked at my watch. It was 9:05.

            I started to walk to the back of the house, instead I turned around. I had to go outside. I pulled out my key, unlocked the deadbolt, and threw the door wide open. I didn't think about setting the alarm, getting a jacket, or anything. I just stood in my open doorway and felt relatively safe now that I was halfway out the house. After a few minutes of deep breathing, I stepped completely out of the doorway and closed the door behind me.

            I looked up and down the street. A young guy was walking down the street with his hands in his pocket. Miss Sukky was pacing back and forth, plying her wares at her usual spot down the corner at Esplanade Avenue. A dog came sauntering toward me sniffing at the ground between the street and the sidewalk. The street mutt paused when he saw me, snorted gruffly, backed up briefly, turned and trotted away. A couple of blocks down, a police car's blue lights were flashing. It looked like every other night.

            Pow. Pow. I heard two shots in the distance and I jumped as each one went off. This was just like any other night. I had gotten used to the gunfire. Or so I thought. Pow. A third shot.

            I slumped down on the top step and before I knew better, I felt uncontrollable waves welling up inside me.

            For the first time since I arrived over a year ago, I began to question whether living here was worth playing Russian roulette, betting your life that the next murder wouldn't be your own.

            The economy, such as it was, was disasterously close to imploding. The gaming industry was a bust. Crime was spiralling out of control. Everywhere you looked the neighborhoods were disenigrating. Abandoned buildings, vacant property and housing for sale dominated the landscape—even on exclusive, posh St. Charles Avenue. The whole city was up for grabs.

            New Orleans wasn't fun like I had expected it to be, like I had wanted it to be. I couldn't go on pretending everything was cool. It wasn't.

            Madness again. That's what Cooper had said: Madness. Again. What did he mean by again? Was it ever this mad? Was New Orleans ever like this before?

            Kristin was always saying she admired my integrity. What would she think if she could see me now? I almost started crying again. I had to keep screwing up my face and rapidly blinking my eyes to fight back the tears—a crying man sitting on a stoop wouldn't last long in this neighborhood—but I wasn't totally successful and, everytime I wiped one away, another small tear droplet would form and sit at the edge of each of my eyes.

            Why was I crying? I wasn't hurt.

            But I was in pain.

            I wasn't robbed.

            But an essential part of my sanity was gone.

            "Kristin, I'm sorry." I had been so condescending toward her. I threw my head back and bumped it repeatedly against the front door. Harvard educated. Bump. Physically fit. Bump. And emotionally traumatized. Bump-bump. I head-knocked the door a couple of more times, partially dried my face with my shirt sleeve, reached into my pocket, pulled out my handkercheif and, in an almost pro forma attempt to clear my nasal passages, blew gobs of mucus into the white cotton. I sniffed once more, gave the tip of my nose another cursory brush and then dabbed hard at my moustache and down the sides of my mouth and over my beard. I folded the handkerchief and stuffed it back in my pocket. As I did so, my fingers touched my keys and I recoiled with a reflex action. I couldn't go back in there. Not now. Not tonight.

            I resigned myself to sitting on my steps all night. Or maybe I would walk over to the Exxon on Rampart and Esplanade and call for Kristin, and ask her... ask her what? To come get me. Ask her... somebody was standing in front of me.

            I was almost afraid to look the youngster in the eye, he might interpret my gaze as a challenge or a putdown. I had seen him around a couple of times. He unblinkingly looked at me like he was trying to decide what to do with me. I just looked at him.

            I could have gotten up and gone inside. I could have spoken to him. He could have spoken to me. But I just sat there and looked at him. He just stood there and looked at me. Neither one of us said anything.

            Finally, he nonchalantly turned, walked to the corner and stood there with his back to me. He pulled out a cigarette, lit up, blew smoke up in the air, turned around and started walking away. When he reached the far corner, he turned and disappeared. I finally exhaled.

            Leaning forward, my forearms resting heavily on my knees, I clasped my hands and dropped my head. "I don't want to die. Please, God. I want to live. I'm trying God. I'm trying my best." I couldn't remember the last time I had prayed to God. Whenever it was, for sure I had never uttered a more sincere prayer in my life.

            My hands were shaking. Literally shaking. I tried to keep them still. I could feel them shaking uncontrollably. I pushed them under my thighs momentarily, trying to sit on my hands to keep them still. It didn't help.

            I passed my hands through my hair, interlaced them behind my head and leaned back against the door. It didn't help.

            I leaned forward again, clenching and unclenching my fists. My hands were still shaking. I entwined my fingers and tightly clasped my hands. I had my eyes closed. I was afraid to look at my hands. Afraid to look at myself.

            I took a deep breath.

            "It's not worth it. It's not worth it," I heard myself muttering a bottom line assessment I never thought I would be thinking, not to mention saying it out loud.

            "David, what's wrong? Why are you sitting out here?"

            I looked up and there was Kristin, dashing out of her car and racing breathlessly toward me. I hadn't even heard her drive up. Her trembling voice was full of anxiety as she sprinted across the sidewalk.

            "Are you OK? I got here as fast as I could. Who was that on the phone?" her words gushed out in a torrent of concern and consternation.

            At that moment all I could do was drop my head and tender my resignation. This business was a bust, it was time to move on while I still could, "Kristin, I'm scared. Please, take me to your place."

—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70137 2013-03-01T06:16:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:29Z POETRY + AUDIO: FIREMAN'S BALL





Fireman's Ball


glistening in the heated night glow

yr arced torso radiates


the sculpted bronze intensity

of an earth toned ewe passion mask


yr hypnotic breasts

are brown mesmerizing eyes, yr nipples


dilated pupils aroused into

elongated surprise


yr navel a heavy




with every sharp breath


& listen

that dark forest, yr sideways mouth


silently chants the sacred syllables

of my secret name


as i plunge into the discovery

of its musky depths


unable to stand

i joyously recline


jumping in the happy immolation

of yr explosive flame


—kalamu ya salaam 



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Roland HH Biswurm - drums


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70183 2013-02-27T05:48:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:29Z POEM + AUDIO: I HAVE MY MOTHER'S HANDS
photo by Alex Lear







i have my mother's hands


though cancer claimed 

my mother's body decades ago 

inola's reincarnation remains within me

a deeply treasured and unerring auditor—

an inquisitive, music loving child

with eyes wide bright and earth brown

whose trusting reach upthrusting 

to clasp a helping man's hand 

unclenches the maleness of my fist 

and continually causes my essence 

to cup the strength of masculine fingers 

into the soft of a flesh spoon

emulating and saluting the feminine 

gesture of giving unconditionally


—kalamu ya salaam





Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Frank Bruckner – guitar 

Recorded: June 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70235 2013-02-26T06:16:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:30Z POEM + AUDIO: SHARING IS HEREDITARY
photo by Alex Lear





Sharing is hereditary



my four foot-eleven mother was world wise yet unburdened 

by the cloying cynicism sophistication so often suggests

she projected a generous spirit adeptly balancing gifting 

and keeping her nose out of other people's greed, and 

equally, my burly country bred father taught us 

the eternal lesson: regardless of how you looked 

or what others thought, there was no wrong in doing right


the curatorial joy of their prescient caring shaped three 

strapling sons who continue to strive to match inola's 

exalted social statue and to embody big val's prophetic 

folk wisdom, our parents offered the treasury of themselves 

and thereby ushered our entrance into the sanctuary 

of responsive and responsible manhood wherein we fulfill 

ourselves by emptying our hearts into the life cups of others



—kalamu ya salaam




Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70283 2013-02-25T04:54:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:31Z POEM + AUDIO: SNAPSHOT: DAWN IN DAR ES SALAAM
photo by Alex Lear





snapshot: dawn in dar es salaam


our intimacy is as subtle as the mottled shade of shell colors

on a warm basket of cayenne scented boiled crabs

or, more likely, the faint hint of spearmint tea

silently seeping while your attention is turned

to spreading the beige soft of cashew butter across

the crisp of one slice of toasted sourdough

which innocently rests near the dark

of seeded unsugared strawberry jam freshly smeared

atop the face of the bread's twin -- quiet contentment

is morning within our colorful kitchen where we are

as gaily nude as the golden gleam of early light

streaming through our window diagonally impressing

a translucent tattoo onto both the half sphere of your breast

& the upraised arm of my hand reaching to caress


—kalamu ya salaam



Music: "Reflections" by Thelonious Monk 

Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Frank Bruckner – guitar 

Recorded: June 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70328 2013-02-24T05:42:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:31Z ESSAY: W.E.B. DUBOIS: MORE MAN THAN MEETS THE EYE
photo by Alex Lear






W.E.B. DuBois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was one of the most prescient American intellectuals of the 20thcentury. We know, honor and respect his achievements and are often awed by the depth, breadth and sheer volume of his work as a scholar, editor, man-of-letters and activist. Certainly his Souls of Black Folk is one of, if not indeed, the most frequently cited book published in America.


DuBois' Souls of Black Folk gave us two definitive and classic concepts: 1. double consciousness and 2. that the problem of the 20th century would be the color line.

There is no other intellectual who can match DuBois in addressing the issues and concerns germane to Black folk in modern America. Indeed, the very weight and wonder of DuBois' work contributes to a romanticizing, and often a misunderstanding, of DuBois the man. The general picture many of us hold of DuBois' personality is that of a proper, indeed almost puritanical, highly educated egg-head who was a bit aloof and even contemptuous of the common, working class African American. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, and partially because of a skewed appreciation of DuBois' talented tenth formulation, we often think of DuBois as a bit of an elitist snob. Nevertheless, a close reading of DuBois reveals a man who enjoyed life and was surprisingly down to earth as well as radical in his personal views. This is the DuBois I respect and admire.

Here are a few aspects of DuBois that offer a fuller view of both the man and his views on life. Debates around sexism and gender politics continue to rage among our people today. How many of us are aware of DuBois' progressive and insightful stance on women's rights.

In his book Darkwater published in 1920, the year before women's sufferage became the law in America, DuBois' essay "The Damnation of Women" offered this radical reading of gender politics:

All womanhood is hampered today because the world on which it is emerging is a world that tries to worship both virgins and mothers and in the end despises motherhood and despoils virgins.

The future woman must have a life work and economic independence. She must have knowledge. She must have the right of motherhood at her own discretion. The present mincing horror at free womanhood must pass if we are ever to be rid of the bestiality of free manhood; not by guarding the weak in weakness do we gain strength, but by making weakness free and strong. [page 953]

Even in the 21st century these remain progressive positions; imagine how radical they were 80 years ago! But then DuBois was always clear that we are engaged in a social struggle and not simply an intellectual quest; education is necessary but not sufficient, we must have action.

We have all heard or read DuBois' famous propaganda quote taken from the October 1926 issue of The Crisis:

Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent. [page 1000]

I would add that DuBois understood that while all art is propaganda, not all propaganda is art. All art carries and proposes ideas and ideals, an ideology and worldview, thus, whether explicit or implicit, overt or covert, there is a propaganda aspect to all art. DuBois was a man who had been educated at Harvard and in Berlin, a refined and well bred intellectual, but he was no advocate of art for art's sake. While it is no surprise that DuBois believed in the power of art and that he favored a partisan art, what we sometimes forget is that this great educator and intellectual was above all an activist who dedicated his life's work to the cause of freedom, justice and equality.

While some choose to emphasis the propaganda element of DuBois' work as a critique, I think DuBois' emphasis on the artist as activist gives us a deeper understanding of the man—for he was no mere mouthpiece for someone else's ideology, here was a man who committed himself to creating the world his words envisioned. DuBois was then a man of praxis and not simply an intellectual who stood apart from the fray of social struggle commenting from the safety and security of the ivory tower.

A third aspect of DuBois that is fascinating is DuBois' views on sex. Listen to DuBois in his February 1924 Crisis review of Jean Toomer's book Cane—and we should remember that when Cane first appeared it was barely noticed and shortly went out of print. Cane's status as a classic required a long gestation period, and yet, DuBois early on understood the gender significance of this innovative work.

The world of black folk will some day arise and point to Jean Toomer as a writer who first dared to emancipate the coloed world form the conventions of sex. It is quite impossible for most Americans to realize how straightlaced and conventional thought is within the Negro World, despite the very unconventional acts of the group. Yet this contradiction is true. And Jean Toomer is the first of our writers to hurl his pen across the very face of our sex conventionality. [page 1209]

But wasn't DuBois "straightlaced and conventional" in his views on sex? There has been a misreading of DuBois. His views on sex when examined closely suggest a serious reevaluation of DuBois and offer us clues to reinterpret and better understand some of DuBois' reactions and positions, specifically with respect to the publication of Fire by the young writers of the Harlem Renaissance and DuBois' often ad hominem quarrels with Marcus Garvey.

Writing in his 1968 autobiography, DuBois candidly notes:

In the midst of my career there burst on me a new and undreamed of aspect of sex. A young man, long my disciple and student, then my co-helper and successor to part of my work, was suddenly arrested for molesting men in public places. I had before that time no conception of homosexuality. I had never understood the tragedy of an Oscar Wilde. I dismissed my co-worker forthwith, and spent heavy days regretting my act. [1122]

Evaluating his own sexuality, DuBois writes:

Indeed the chief blame which I lay on my New England schooling was the inexcusable ignorance of sex which I had when I went south to Fisk at 17. I was precipitated into a region, with loose sex morals among black and white, while I actually did not know the physical difference between men and women. At first my fellows jeered in disbelief and then became sorry and made many offers to guide my abysmal ignorance. This built for me inexcusable and startling temptations. It began to turn one of the most beautiful of earth's experiences into a thing of temptation and horror. I fought and feared amid what should have been a climax of true living. I avoided women about whom anybody gossiped and as I tried to solve the contradiction of virginity and motherhood, I was inevitably faced with the other contradiction of prostitution and adultery. In my hometown sex was deliberately excluded from talk and if possible from thought. In public school there were no sexual indulgences of which I ever heard. We talked of girls, looked at their legs, and there was rare kissing of a most unsatisfactory sort. We teased about sweethearts, but quite innocently. When I went South, my fellow students being much older and reared in a region of loose sexual customs regarded me as liar or freak when I asserted my innocence. I liked girls and sought their company, but my wildest exploits were kissing them.

Then, as teacher in the rural districts of East Tennessee, I was literally raped by the unhappy wife who was my landlady. From that time through my college course at Harvard and my study in Europe, I went through a desperately recurring fight to keep the sex instinct in control. A brief trial with prostitution in Paris affronted my sense of decency. I lived more or less regularly with a shop girl in Berlin, but was ashamed. Then when I returned home to teach, I was faced with the connivance of certain fellow teachers at adultery with their wives. I was literally frightened into marriage before I was able to support a family. I married a girl whose rare beauty and excellent household training from her dead mother attracted and held me. [pages 1119-1120]

Here I find the clue to DuBois' disgust with Wallace Thurman and with the journal Fire. DuBois was no prude about heterosexuality, but instead was, in his early years, intolerant of homosexuality. Furthermore, DuBois' arguments with Garvey were probably colored by the fact that DuBois had engaged in an interracial romance and thus was surely at odds with the Garvey racial essentialist position, much in the same way forty-odd years later, a number of critics were at odds with the Black Arts Movement, their opposition fueled in part by their advocacy and practice of interracial relationships clashing inevitably with the strident rejection of White women that was a sine qua non in the Black Arts Movement.

None of the above noted attributes of DuBois the man are quite as radical, however, as DuBois' stand on religion.

My religious development has been slow and uncertain. I grew up in a liberal Congregational Sunday School and listened once a week to a sermon on doing good as a reasonable duty. Theology played a minor part and our teachers had to face some searching questions. At 17 I was in a missionary college where religious orthodoxy was stressed; but I was more developed to meet it with argument, which I did. My "morals" were sound, even a bit puritanic, but when a hidebound old deacon inveighed against dancing I rebelled. By the time of graduation I was still a "believer" in orthodox religion, but had strong questions which were encouraged at Harvard. In Germany I became a freethinker and when I came to teach at an orthodox Methodist Negro school I was soon regarded with suspicion, especially when I refused to lead the students in public prayer. When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer, but the liberal president let me substitute the Episcopal prayer book on most occasions. Later I improvised prayers on my own. Finally I faced a crisis: I was using Crapsey's Religion and Politics as a Sunday School text. When Crapsey was hauled up for heresy, I refused further to teach Sunday School. When Archdeacon Henry Phillips, my last rector, died, I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church screed. From my 30thyear on I have increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war. I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools.

Religion helped and hindered my artistic sense. I know the old English and German hymns by heart. I loved their music but ignored their silly words with studied inattention. [pages 1124-1125] 

This short passage contains so many iconoclastic concepts that one is forced to completely reassess DuBois' character. Clearly his scholarly stint in Germany (1892-93) was critical to the development of DuBois as an intellectual "free thinker." The Germany connection helps clarify what seems to be a major contradiction. In the Souls of Black Folk, DuBois starts each chapter with a quotation of music. The book also contains the magnificent essay, "The Sorrow Songs." Souls would seem to indicate that DuBois was an ardent Christian, but perhaps it was not Christianity that DuBois was extolling but rather cultural theories exemplified by the German philosopher Herder who asserted that national cultures are based on folk culture. DuBois was celebrating the cultural mores of the folk rather than focusing on the religious specifics of Christianity.

In any case, DuBois the man was not a Christian moralist and haughty social snob. DuBois was a complex and challenging Black man who advocated and struggled for radical change on behalf of his people. DuBois was far more than generally meets the eye when we think of this great intellectual and activist.



*All quotes are from DuBois Writings (The Library of America, 1986).


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70382 2013-02-23T05:24:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:32Z POEM + AUDIO: EPIPHANY
photo by Alex Lear









(something like how nia feels to me, xcept, this one is not really abt her)


god sent me / here / she said / & smiled / when we first met


glowing / & unblinking / she looked me / brown eye to brown eye / which wasn't easy / seeing as how she was only five-three / maybe / sneaking up on five-four / one of them no make-up / womens / wearing a mixture of clothes / tie dyes / silks / colored cottons / whatever gave the impression / the vibe of red / yellow / gold / green / & a couple of blues / nobody has a name for yet


i wanted to say / well / god / must have been / mistaken / cause i ain't sent for nobody


well, not really sent / it's more like / i was called


oh shit / i thinks / to myself / she's one of them / touched people


later / when she reads / some of her poems / honey nectar tart sweet aromas / explore the air / around us / fill my ears / & it is i / who am touched / by this woman


this woman / i'm with / this woman / i will always be with / no matter / what happens / whether we separate / or stay together / there are people / places / experiences / that become you / contribute to / making you be you / people you can never unfeel / un-be / leave behind / even when they are gone / they are there in your particulars / the rush of your breathing in the dead of sleep / the timbre of your sound / singing to yourself / speaking to another / they are there / anyone who has been truly intimate / remains / impressed inside


later i learn / how this woman / has a way / of appearing before me / with every vision i get / like, i wake / in the middle of the night / to play a dream tune / & she is already up / waiting for me / with the lyrics for our next song / fresh ink on soft paper / she knows where i'm going / before i get there


what i mean / is not simply / her physically being there / because sometimes her body / still be in bed / but her inspiration / in my head / be tongue licking my imagination / how else could i conceive / except impregnated / by some emotion seed / she dropped / into my soul / when i was busy / not consciously paying attention / to how she was subconsciously / moving me


so what / could i do / but submit / to the beauty / touch / spirit intellegience / of this hip / bundled laughter / looking up / at me / one soft autumn day / in the late years / of my life / ? / you dig?


& that's how / i met / my second / wife


—kalamu ya salaam




Music: "Misterioso" by Thelonious Monk 

Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70429 2013-02-22T05:19:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:32Z POEM + AUDIO: WHEN YOU SAID YOU LOVED ME
photo by Alex Lear





when you said you loved me


what did you do with it

after you didn't anymore

after the rain of love dried

after laughs

after baths

after toast & watermelon

after cups of water in the night

after morning smiles & phone calls


i know what i did with mine

i have a wall of pain painted

  nigerian indigo,

  created lyrics for a howlin' wolf,

  fashioned a mask of brown sadness,

  & in a midnight hour

  buried love's corpse quietly

  watching dry eyed

  as the heart-red crypt slipped

  peacefully deep into

  the sea of my experiences

  where the brackish-green, obsidian

  sealed sepulcher shall sleep

  untroubled by resurrection attempts


when you said you loved me

i never thought of it in the past tense


what did you do with it

after you didn't anymore






Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70477 2013-02-21T04:54:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:33Z POEM + AUDIO: I LOOK BUT WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
photo by Alex Lear










I Look But What Is There To See?



ing for

you is like


on the track

staring at the space




by a slow train

what done long



around the bend



the whistle sound


in the air


and the ground’s


felt down

to your toes






—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – reeds

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Mathis Mayer - cello

Georg Janker - bass

Michael Heilrath - bass

Roland HH Biswurm - drums



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70520 2013-02-20T06:39:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:34Z SHORT STORY + AUDIO: CLIFFORD BROWN
photo by Cfreedom 








(you get used to it)


they used to call me brownie—clifford brown. i don’t have a name now, at least none that any of you can translate. i guess you can call me the spirit of brownie, except that’s so limiting and in the spirit world there are no limits. can you understand be everywhere all the time at the same time? never mind. this is about to get too out for you to dig.

when the accident happened, i had nodded off. i mean the ’56 pennsylvania crackup, not the one in ’50 that had me hung up in the hospital for a year. dizzy came and visited me, encouraged me to resume my career when i was released. not that one. instead i mean the big one where i woke up dead.

max and newk, they were in the other car, which had gone on ahead. so when they heard we had died, well, maxwell really took it hard. i guess because he knew richie’s wife shouldn’t have been driving because richie had only recently taught her how to drive—recently like a matter of weeks.

but when max, who was six years my senior and had seven on richie, tried to intervene, richie sounded on him. you know how we young cats asserting our manhood can run guilt trips, “max. max. why you always treating me like bud’s baby brother? i play as much box as earl does, more, ‘cause bud is so inconsistent, and me, i’m always there.”

which was true. he was on time, all the time. “plus i arrange and compose.” and he would touch his thick glasses in a disarming gesture that belied the stern words he was declaiming. “i’m a grown man, max. a grown, married man. i got a wife, a woman, a life, a man. why are you second guessing me on who can drive and who can’t drive? why you treat me like a boy?”

it was such a drag, such a drag seeing youngsters straining to act so old. but you know, like richie was carrying a gorilla on his back. what with richie tickling the ivories and being the younger brother of earl bud powell, the reigning rachmaninoff of jazz piano. i bet you if my older brother played trumpet and was named dizzy, i would play bass or drums. but then again, being who i was, what choice did i have but to play what i played or else not play at all? no one chooses to be born who they are.

but anyway, max, max starts drinking to get drunk. and drinking and drinking. no even tasting the liquor, just pouring it in trying to kill the pain. richie’s gone. his wife was gone. i was gone. max is whipping himself like a cymbal on an uptempo “cherokee”—ta-tah, ta-tah, ta-tah-tah, tat tah! and newk, newk just disappeared, was up in his room, standing in the middle of the floor, going deep inside himself trying not to feel nothing.

max was in his room drinking and crying, crying and drinking. and newk, in a room above max, was silent as a mountain. i had to do something, so i played duets with newk all that night. all night. we played and we played. and we played. all night. i was willing to play as long as newk was willing and newk stayed willing all night. it was like he was a spirit too, but that comes from being a musician. when you’re really into the music you get used to going into the spirit world all the time and bringing the peoples with you. that’s the real joy of playing, leaving this plane and entering the spirit world.

as much as me and newk played that night, that’s how much max drank and cried. finally, i couldn’t take it no more and i had to appear to max. i stepped in the seam between worlds. i was like translucent. that was as close as i could come to having a body but i was solid enough for max to peep me, and i spoke… well not really spoke, kind of sounded inside max’s head while i was shimmering in the shadows of that gloomy hotel room. 

“max, it wasn’t your fault, man. you can’t live other people’s lives. you’ve got to sound your own life.”

i couldn’t find the words to tell max how it was. we all live. we all die. the force that people on earth call god, gives us all breath but also, sooner or later, takes that breath away. in time, god gets round to killing each of us. whatever we do in between, we do or don’t do.

and max starts bawling even louder, talking about how i was too good for this world, how my example helped all of them clean up their particular indisciples. he was moaning, you know, crying and talking all out his head at the same time. crying pain like a man cries when he’s really broke down.

if i had still been alive i would have hugged him but i was dead and that’s why he was crying. so finally, all i could do was tell him the truth. “hey, max, it’s alright, max. it’s alright. get yourself together and keep playing. i’m cool where i’m at. it’s alright!

the next morning, when they left, max and newk got in the car and didn’t say a word. for the rest of their lives they never talked to each other about that scene. we all have different ways of dealing with death, even those of us who are dead.

and there it is. life is always about decisions and consequences made within a given set of circumstances. you can’t change the past. you can’t foresee the future. all you have is the clay of today to shape your existence. no matter what particular condition you are in, you can only do what you can do. you can only go with the flow of where you are at, and work hard to blow the prettiest song you can conceive. that’s all any of us can do in however many choruses we get the chance to take while we’re alive.

besides, believe me, death ain’t no big thing. you get used to it, after a while.


—kalamu ya salaam



Musical composition: "I Remember Clifford" by Benny Golson

Short Story by Kalamu ya Salaam 


Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Wolfi Schlick – tenor

Frank Bruckner – guitar


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70563 2013-02-19T03:40:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:34Z SHORT STORY: AIN'T GOING BACK NO MORE

photo by Alex Lear








1.—The mountain village


     It was raining by the bucket-fulls. The door to Soulville, which is what we called our collectively rented hooch, was open and it was early afternoon. Rain softened daylight streaming in. And warm, a typical summer monsoon day.


     Em, which was the only name I knew her by, was near me. She was reading the paper. I had a Korean bootleg Motown record spinning on the cheap portable player plugged into the extension cord that snaked out the window to some generator source that supplied this small village with a modicum of juice. Did I say village? The place was erected for one reason, and one reason only, to service the service men stationed on the other side of the road, to supply the base with cheap labor and even cheaper pussy. I know it sounds crude, but that's the way occupying armies work.


     I had never fucked Em, and, as it turned out, never would. I remember one wrinkled old sergeant, a hold over from World War II, talking on the base one day about Em sucking his dick, but that was not the Em I knew. Somehow, the Em I knew, the woman reading the paper I couldn't read because I couldn't read as many languages as she could, somehow, the lady who put down the paper and, as the rain fell, calmly carried on a conversation with me, clearly that Em was not the same Em that the sergeant knew.


     It would be many, many years later before I realized that sarge never knew Em. How can one ever really know a person, if one buys that person?  If you buy someone, the very act of the sale cuts you off from thinking of that someone as a human equal. Sarge simply consumed the pleasure given by a female body to whom he paid money, a body which kneaded his flesh and opened her flesh to him, made him shudder as her thighs pulled him in or as she sucked him. A business transaction. Nobody buys pleasure in order to get to know the prostitute. In fact, the whole purpose of the deal is to remove the need for a human connection while satisfying a desire.


     I didn't think like that at that time, laying in the hooch with my boots off, day dreaming as I gazed out into the rain, my chin on my arm. In Soulville, just like in all the other hooches, which were usually little more than a large room that doubled as both a living room and a bedroom, we took our boots off upon entering. Even now I like to take my shoes off inside. At the time it was a new thing to me, a difficult thing to get used to, especially with combat boots rather than the slip-ons which most of the Koreans wore. But that's the good thing about going to a foreign country: learning something that you don't already know, something that you can use for the rest of your life.


     It's funny how stuff can catch up with you years later, and only after rounding a bunch of corners does the full impact of an experience become clear. I mean more than a delayed reaction, more like a delayed enlightenment. I remember one of the cats we used to hang out with. He was a real deep dude and sometimes he would sit on his bunk holding court while we played an all night game of tonk on a make shift card table constructed of two wooden footlockers stacked one atop the other and a big bath towel (to keep the cards from sliding when we slammed our winners down) serving as playing surface. Some argument or the other would come up and we'd all look to Unk to settle it — his name was Samuel, which naturally got shortened to Sam, and since we were in the army, Uncle Sam was almost inevitable, which in turn got transformed into "Unk” by one of them country dudes out of Alabama with a molasses slow drawl — early one morning when we was mustering up for roll call, Hezakiah came strolling up in a lean back amble, his fatigue cap rolled up in his back pocket (which he knew he should have had on his head the minute he stepped out doors), Hezakiah (whose named didn't get shortened) fell in next to Sam and, with a glee-filled slap on the back, greeted Sam with a loud, long, hearty, albeit southern-slow "what's happening Unk?" It was just the way Hezakiah said it, cracked everybody up and from that day ‘til Sam went back states-side, everybody called Sam by his new handle: "Unk."


     Anyway, I don't even remember what the particulars was that we were arguing about, but I do remember, just like it happened yesterday, that when we turned to Unk for his Solomonic judgment, he pulled a draw on his pipe and casually dropped a gem.


     "Don't neither one of you ignant motherfuckers know what the fuck you talking about.”  Unk looked to his left, "Billy, you just plain dumb‚ and country, and cause the only schooling you ever had was how to hitch up a mule and how to pick cotton, I wouldn't expect you to have no real learning.”  Unk looked over to the other combatant, "And, Jones, you from the big metropolis of southside Chicago, but you dumb‚ too.”  Then Unk inhaled a long draw on his pipe, took the pipe out of his mouth, studied his cards with feigned seriousness, casually blew the smoke through his nose, and continued just like he had never stopped talking.


     "Billy, he ain't never had the advantage of schooling but he got brains.”  Then Unk turned his full attention to Jones, who was sitting to his right, "You had the advantage of schooling but you ain't got no brains, which is why you just dissed that deuce and let me go on out. Read um and weep gentlemen. Tonk!”


     As he collected his pot, Unk continued the lecture. "Let that be a lesson to all yalls. If you got to choose between an ignorant motherfucker and a stupid motherfucker, choose ignorance. Cause stupidity, just like ugliness and diamonds, is forever. Whose deal is it?”


     Billy picked up the cards and started shuffling. Unk was on a roll and, with a two beat paused punctuated by his cackling laughter, Unk just kept on talking right through Billy's fast shuffle which ended with the deck sitting in front of me for my cut. "You know what I mean,” Unk turns to me, "cause at least you can enlighten an ignorant dude, but a stupid motherfucker, huh, you wasting your goddamn time. Cut the cards, man.”


     Except I never could figure out how it was that Unk fell in love with Jenny, what with her being a prostitute and all. I mean like on the serious side. Got so, he paid her a $100 a month, and she wouldn't even much look at nobody else. I could understand her, cause Unk was her ticket to ride. Anybody in her position would want to get to the states.  But why would somebody like Unk want to bring Jenny back with him to the states?  It was deep, too deep for me to figure. I wasn't sure whether my inability to comprehend where Unk was coming from was cause I was ignorant or cause I was stupid, so I never did say no more to Unk about it.


     When Unk's time was up, the money was on him leaving Jenny behind, just like did ninety-nine percent of the GI's who fell in love in Korea. To no one's surprise, although there was some awfully sentimental moments, Unk went back and Jenny stayed behind.


     My reminiscence was broken by Em's hand on my arm. I looked over at her. This wasn't no sexual thing. We both knew and observed the one rule of Soulville, i.e. no fucking in Soulville. Soulville was a place to hang out and cool out. We put our money together and rented Soulville so as anytime day or night when you didn't feel like being around the white boys, if you was off you could come over to Soulville and just lay. And you didn't have to worry about interrupting nothing. It didn't take long for all the girls in the village to know Soulville was like that. So a lot of time was spent in here with Black GIs and Korean women just talking or listening to music. It was the place where we could relate to each other outside of the flesh connection.


     From time to time we had parties at Soulville. And of course, some one of us was always hitting on whoever we wanted for the night. But when it came to getting down to business, you had to vacate the premises. We had had some deep conversations in Soulville. One or two of the girls might cook up some rice or something, and we'd bring some beer or Jim Beam — although I personally liked Jack Daniels Black, Jim Beam was the big thing cause it was cheap, cheap, cheap — and, of course, we brought our most prized possessions, i.e. our personal collections of favorite music, and we'd eat, drink, dance and argue about whether the Impressions or the Temptations was the baddest group. As I remember it, there wasn't much to argue about among the girl groups, cause none of the others was anywhere near Martha and The Vandellas. Soulville, man, we had some good times there.


     Em was getting old. She had been talking about her childhood and stuff. And when she touched my arm and I looked over at her, I could see a bunch of lines showing up in her face. Most of the time, when you saw the girls it was at night or they had all kinds of make up on their face. But it was not unusual for some of us to sleep over at Soulville and if we were off duty we'd just loll around there all day. Early in the morning we would hear the village waking up and watch the day unfold. Invariably, one of the girls would stop by to chat for ten or fifteen minutes. Or sometimes, two or three of them would hang out for awhile.


     On days like this one, you'd get to see them as people. Talking and doing whatever they do, which is different from seeing them sitting around a table, dolled up with powder and lipstick, acting — or should I say, "trying to act” — coy or sexy, sipping watered down drinks through a straw and almost reeking of the cheap perfume they doused on themselves in an almost futile attempt to cover the pungent fragrance associated with the women of the night.


     Just like when we was in Soulville we was off duty, well it was the same way for them. And I guess without the stain and

strain of a cash transaction clouding the picture, we all got a chance to see a different side of each other.


     I started wondering what it must have felt like to be a prostitute, a middle aged prostitute getting old and knowing you ain't had much of a future. A prostitute watching soldiers come and go, year after year. What it must have been like to have sex with all them different men, day in and day out and shit. Especially for somebody like Em who spoke Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese, and could read in Korean, English and Chinese. I mean, from the standpoint of knowing her part of the world, she was more intelligent than damn near all of us put together.


     Her touch was soft on my arm. I looked down at her small hand, the unpainted fingernails, the sort of dark cream color of her skin. I looked up into her face. Her eyes were somber but she was half smiling.


     "Same-o, same-o.”  She said, rubbing first my bare arm and then her bare arm. "Same-o, same-o.”




     2.—The border town.


     There was no Soulville in Juarez, Mexico, which was the service town at my next duty station at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Tay-has, as the Mexicans say it, actually North Mexico.

The stolen land. Well, actually, all this land is stolen land, but that's another story, right now, I'm just telling you why I ain't going back in there no more.


     As clear as it was that the relationships between the indigenous women and us Black men was a business, the exchange of sex for cash, still, in Korea, there had been a human side to it, a side which had some of us falling in love, and most of us, to one degree or another, made aware that there was only a very thin line between us. But Juarez was different.


     Different in that it was brutal and inhuman. I remember my first and last trip to get laid. It was such a downer that I came close to making up my mind then and there, that I wasn't going back anymore. At first I thought my problem simply was that I wanted more than a quick fuck.


     Life is so funny. We be changing and growing up, but because it's us, and because it happens day to day, we don't notice it much. I hadn't noticed how Korea had helped me grow.


     I immediately noticed the obvious changes in some of the other guys who I had shipped out with to Korea. They had been assigned to different bases up and down the peninsula, and now it was like a whole year later. We was running into each other and swapping lies about our tour in the land of the rising sun.


     The growth process was most noticeable in the guys who came from the small southern towns. By the time we hooked back up, everybody was slick in their mannerisms and modes of dress.

Shit, if Korea didn't do nothing else, it had us all dressing like hep cats. Even Roger, who I never saw hanging out much, had brought back a silver-gray, sharkskin, tailor-made suit from Korea.


     Within a year we were all either actual or aspirant pool sharks. We all drank like crazy and acted like today was our second to last day on earth. I saw it clearly in them. I don't know if they saw the same thing in me.


     I don't know how much I had changed or what I looked like, but I do know that there was some things I just couldn't deal with and at the top of the list was Juarez pussy.


     When you find yourself doing something you don't like doing even though you thought it was something you wanted to do, you get real philosophical. So standing in this dark, dimly lit room where the only light was shadows, an old hag, which is not an exaggeration, holding out her deformed hand for the money and then afterwards asking to see my dick to make sure it wasn't infected or something, and feeling it expertly for blemishes and sores, standing there under than short arm interrogation, Louis Jordan's song was beginning to sound in the back of my brain: "if I ever get out of here, I ain't never coming back no more.”  At least I think it was Louis Jordan who sang that, maybe it was me making it up and kind of attaching it to something that I half remembered Jordan singing. Whatever, the point was the same. This shit was awful.


     After I passed the test and made the requisite payment, I

was led into a smoke drenched haze that set my nostrils to flaring under the sharp assault of musky odors in the room which was an even darker room than the dark room of shadows I was just in, a room so dark that til this day I can't tell you what the woman I fucked looked like, or, for that matter, whether she was really a woman, or for that matter whether I really fucked her, or him, or whatever or whoever it was in that lightless hole.


     Memory is never accurate. Memory is colored by feelings and limited by awareness, especially when you are dealing with an emotionally charged situation. I guess you can tell I been spending more time in the library than across the border, more time reading a book than drinking in a bar. I'm not ashamed to say that I never went back even if it do mean that I wasn't a man like the other men who went over to Juarez all the time.


     I still went over there, but for the most part all I bought was cheap liquor. Boy, one time it was so funny. Between four of us, we collected about twenty dollars, made a quick run and came back with two shopping bags full of rum and brandy. We sat in the deserted, Sunday evening barracks and drank, and drank, and drank until we literally couldn't drink no more.


     I never will forget the feeling. I mean we were so stoned that if you had made a movie of us, it would have been the perfect thing to show to kids to scare them off drinking. At first we were just drinking and telling tall tales, lies and what not. Then we was drinking and thinking that we was talking — you know like in that routine Richard Pryor does when first he's talking mucho shit, then he's mumbling, and then his mouth is moving but he ain't saying nothing, then he's nodding, and then all of a sudden his head snaps back and his eyes buck-wild wide open and he shouts "was I finished?", well, we was like that.


     The "high point” of that particular session happened towards the end when one of us, I forget who, I know it wasn't me, at least I don't think it was me, but one of us was sitting with our legs crossed and then, boom, just keeled over and fell on the floor. I remember thinking that who ever it was was on the floor. He had fell out. And nobody laughed or nothing. Nobody moved. He had fell out on the floor, the rest of us had fell out sitting up. I mean at that point we was so cool and so stoned that literally the only move any of us could make was to keel over.


     Eventually, I gave up that kind of drinking after I got puking drunk on wine one night. But all of that was something I learned over time, this Juarez pussy thing was instant.


     I don't know why I even went through with it. I mean even after I had paid my money I could have left. It wasn't nothing but five or six dollars or so, but you know, the thing about being a man is that once you start something you supposed to see it through. No, I'm lying, what the deal was is that I kept thinking that somewhere in the process there had to be some pleasure. After all it was like the old joke between the two

privates who was arguing about whether fucking was fifty-fifty pleasure and work or whether it was more work than pleasure. A old master sergeant comes along and settles the argument by telling them, there wasn't no work involved in fucking, it was all pleasure, cause if there was any work involved in it, the officers would make the privates do it for them, and wasn't no officer asking no private to do his fucking for him.


     So, I believed that there had to be some pleasure somewhere and I was going to find it.


     But you can't find what ain't there. There was no pleasure, only a deeper and deeper disgust with myself. She said something. I don't remember whether it was in English, Spanish, Splanglish or what. I don't know what it was we did it on. It wasn't a bed.


     This wasn't anything but unadorned sex and the basic sex act itself. No petting. No caressing. No talking. Not even no real touching. I came as fast as I could to get it over with. And left in a hurry with my head down, truly ashamed of myself.


     I never went back.




     3.—The desert shack.


     Masturbating was better than Juarez. I saved money, it was cleaner and I didn't feel guilty afterwards. Still, being that I was what we used to call a "cock-strong” twenty years old, there was the undeniable desire, indeed, there was almost a driving compulsion, to fuck. I found myself wishing for Korea sometimes.


     At that point, I really wasn't opposed in principle to participating in prostitution, just opposed to what I perceived to be the degradation of Juarez compared to the "enlightened” prostitution of Korea. Sometimes it takes us a while to get our ethics straight. I was ready to do it as long as it didn't repulse me, and I wasn't really thinking about the women.


     The women who were the "same-o, same-o” as me. In fact, the Mexican women were darker and often looked more like sisters than did the Korean women. But I wasn't ready yet to see women in the same way I saw men. So even if we were the same color and suffered the same racism, when it came to the particulars of their situations, I didn't really see and understand the particulars of the suffering of women.


     I remember Yoko Ono saying — I believe it was Yoko, or somebody associated with the Beetles — that women were the niggers of the world. To me that seemed like an over simplification of a complex condition, meaning the complexity of racism rather than the complexity of being a woman. I never even thought of how complex it must be to be a woman. But, like the song say, if you live, your time will come.


     Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.


     We were at a party somewhere in New Mexico. I don't even remember how we got there. By then I had wheels and one of the three of us that hung together had heard about this party and suggested that we ought to go, said there was going to be some sisters there.


     Now, you have to be in the army, stationed in a place where Black women (who would associate with soldiers) are few and far between, to understand what it meant to go to a party where there was going to be Black women there. I mean you'd drive to another state for a party like that. Which is what we did.


     The party was a small, house party and there were some women there — two in particular. One was plump and one was tall. Skee-zazz, whom we sometimes called "Lil Man,” cause he was short, decided to pair up with the plump girl and I went after the tall one.


     The rap on soldiers was all we wanted to do was fuck and after that forget it. Of course that's an over generalization, but it's not too far from the truth. But on this night whether we finally fucked or not, we were having a good time. The liquor was flowing. There was some food there. And whoever was responsible for the music, had a bunch of good jams.


     We drank, we danced, got sweaty, talked, slowed dragged and belly rubbed. As the night wore on, this tall sister got to looking more and more outrageously fine to me.


     My rap was kind of on the weak side and I hadn't really developed no game. I mean I did my share of bullshitting with

the guys and stuff, but as far as talking a girl out of her drawers, you know like when you meet somebody cold at a party or dance or something, and then get them in bed four or five hours after you just met them, I had never done that.


     Skee-zaz˙ was in the corner laying down his line and giggling through his teeth, flashing his big dimples. Me and Tall Girl was talking about something, I don't know what. I think what was saving me was that I could dance. So, when a good jam came on, I would jump up and talk shit, clear out space on the floor, cut the fool and give everybody a good laugh. I think on that night nobody even came close to some of the moves I was laying down.


     There's something intoxicating about dancing when you get into the flow of the music. Everything I could think of, I was able to do with a panache that only, say, James Brown would have been able to match. I guess being in the army and being in good shape helped a whole lot. But I know the real deal was having this big, tall, fine, healthy Black woman smiling at me as I whirled and twirled, talked shit and popped my hips was the real spur to my confidence.


     That particular warm New Mexico night it was getting so I couldn't do no wrong. By about one a.m. when peoples started drifting off, I knew it was time to make a serious move. We was slow dragging on some number, my hands was crawling up and down Tall Girl's torso — I can't tell you her name cause I don't

remember her name, besides, names ain't important on one night stands — I gave Skee-zaz˙ the eye and he winked back at me.


     Skee-zaz˙ had his bottom lip tucked into his mouth and was squeezing his eyes shut with exaggerated concentration while he rocked his head from side to side. Tall Girl was saying something in the general vicinity of my ear. I nibbled a reply on her neck. She kind of moaned a little. My left hand was resting on the top of her butt, rotating in synch with her rocking from side to side.


     "How you getting home?”


     Tall Girl answered me. I didn't hear her answer. I really wasn't listening to a word she was saying. My radar was locked in on the target and I was close enough that my heat seeking missile was about to explode with a direct hit. It didn't matter to me what she thought.


     "Say man, let's go,” Skee-zaz˙ commanded with the terse finality of a general ordering troops forward into battle. Our foursome stumbled out into the star encrusted desert night way out in lost-found New Mexico. Shit, I didn't know where I was and didn't care. I had this fox on my arm and I was about to get laid.


     I don't remember what Skee-zaz˙ and Plump Girl was saying. Knowing Skee-zazz, he probably had a drink in his hand and was laughing into his fist, his characteristic gesture when he was having a good time, bent over slightly at the waist and then abruptly rearing back hollering, "Stop, stop, stop” as he laughed full out, holding his balled up hand to his lips like he was drinking an imaginary bottle.


     I was cooler than that. I had Tall Girl on my arm and probably was asking her to stand still a minute, stepping back and framing a shot with my "air camera” and then waving the make believe picture back and forth until it dried Polaroid style and then looking at it with intent interest and pronouncing, "Just like I thought, this proves it, your smile put the moon to shame.”  And then Tall Girl would blush with her mouth of twenty-five or so gold capped teeth — she was missing a few but that wasn't no big deal to me, and she obviously didn't feel uncomfortable about it cause she laughed with her mouth open and didn't hide her smile with her hand or turn her head away the way people who are self-conscious about their bed teeth do. I liked that she was comfortable with her self.


     There was no question about where we was going. Skee-zaz˙ and his pick-up was in the back seat, I was driving, and Tall Girl was sitting there beside me with that tight green dress riding up those long, luscious legs. Skee-zaz˙ leaned forward and touched my shoulder in pretentious imitation of what he though a rich man did with his chauffeur, "Aug Jeeeeee-veeeesssss, take us...” and then he turned to the girl, "where you live baby?  Is it alright if we go to your place?”


     "I stay with my sister. Yeah, I guess it'll be ok. But I

got to ask her when we get there, you know.”


     "Yeah, yeah. Yeah.”


     "Well,” I said.


     "Well what motherfucker,” Skee-zaz˙ said impatiently.


     "Well where the fuck am I going?”


     Skee-zaz˙ turned to the girl again, "Where we going baby, what's the address?”


     The plump girl said something. Skee-zaz˙ relayed the info, "yeah, that's where we going. Just drive motherfucker. We'll tell you where to go.”


     I pulled off.


     The plump girl said something. Skee-zaz˙ hollered a loud guffaw,  "Hey, Doc, you going the wrong way. You got to turn around.”


     After I dropped Skee-zaz˙ off and we had agreed that we would rendezvous in two hours or so, I turned to Tall Girl and just smiled.


     "What're you smiling at?”






     "Cause you make me feel like smiling,” and I put my hand on her thigh above her knee. She didn't move it. "Come on, tell me how to get to your place.”


     Tall Girl lived way out in the desert. I'm sure it wasn't really that far out, but it was at least two or three miles away from where I had dropped off Skee-zazz. Fortunately, these one horse towns don't have too many streets to get lost on. It was mostly straight shot highway.


     When I pulled up to what looked in the dark like an adobe style blockhouse, the first thing I noticed was there was no lights on nowhere and it was deathly quiet. As I rolled my window up and stepped out the car, I heard my footsteps and Tall Girls footsteps making a real loud crunching sound in the sand of the walkway leading up to her door.


     Like a friend pulling my coat, I had an eerie intimation that perhaps this wasn't going to turn out like I thought it was going to. For some reason I just got the impression that this house was a one room hut and there was some kind of faint, familiar odor which I couldn't identify.


     Although it wasn't as dark walking up to her front door as it had been in that room back in Juarez, and although Tall Girl's crib‚ was far more substantial then the hooches back in Korea, still I had this strange, but brief, deja vu premonition that I had been through this scene before. Just then a coyote howled from not too far away. Tall Girl paused briefly when she heard the canine's call. On cue, my arms flew around her waist and pulled her to me. We kissed. Then she stepped back to dig her keys out of her jacket pocket, which was when I noticed that she didn't have a pocketbook with her.


     I imagined by now that Skee-zaz˙ was humping and pumping, and I intended to be doing the same in a few minutes. Tall Girl started talking some talk about having a good time and thanking me for bringing her home and shit. The missile had left the launcher. I didn't want to hear no stalling and side walling.


     Inside her place was a musty aroma really different from the night air we had been breathing. The house really wasn't hardly nothing more than a front room with a open kitchen behind it and what must be her bed room off to the side. I didn't see where the bathroom was. Maybe it was out back.


     I was trying to follow Tall Girl without bumping into anything. She was bending over something and then I saw she had a child laying on a cot. I said to myself, "Goddamn girl, you left that child here all by herself.”  Child didn't look like it could have been no more than three or four years old. Fortunately the child was sleeping.


     After pulling the cover up around the child's shoulder and passing a kiss with her hand from her lips to the child's head, Tall Girl said "Thanks.”  Again.


     Fuck that I thought. We was going to fuck or fight. I put my hand on Tall Girl's butt. Just wanted to make sure she understood where I was coming from.


     She squirmed away.


     I followed her into her bedroom. There was this big bed and another child sleeping in a crib.


     I started to hit myself with the heel of my hand upside my head. Wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming.


     Tall Girl kicked her shoes off.


     She left her two kids sleeping to go partying. Goddamn what kind of mother was she?


     The sound of her zipper brought me back to my senses.


     She had on a black slip.


     What if the child woke up while we was doing it?


     She sat on the bed.


     I kissed her and felt up her right breast.


     She lay back on the bed. "I'm on my period.”


     Meaning what?, I started to ask. I was still thinking about those kids. How she could just leave them out here in the middle of nowhere. Then I thought, if that's bad, then how is it you can be here trying to fuck this woman, why you want to fuck her if you think she's so trifling?


     Ignoring both my question and her statement, I kissed her again. Maybe she was just saying she was on her period to get out of fucking. I reached my hand under her slip, up between her legs, and felt the lump of a sanitary pad sitting like a stop sign at the fork in the road.


     "Please...” and she just looked at me, didn't try to move my hand away from between her legs, didn't even try to turn away or nothing. She just looked at me.


     I was rubbing her thigh and at the same time I could see her eyes searching my face. Her brown pupils moving back and forth in the moonlight. Didn't say nothing else. Nothing more.


     I didn't know which of us was more pathetic.


     My eyes were growing accustomed to the surroundings. I couldn't help not see that baby in the crib. I couldn't help not think about it. I was close to getting some pussy. But at what cost?


     We stayed like that for almost a minute. It got so quiet I could hear the child's light snore of contented sleep. It was clear Tall Girl wasn't going to stop me if I really wanted to do it, yet the more I thought about it the madder I got with myself. What was I doing laying next to this menstruating woman, a woman whose name I couldn't remember, a woman I never wanted to see in life again. It was too much. I couldn't do it.


     I got up.


     Stood over her for a few awkward seconds.


     "Thanks.”  She sat up. I didn't say nothing. As I started to turn to leave, Tall Girl said, "I really did had a good time.”


     I realized just then that she was thanking me for not forcing myself on her. "I would offer you a drink or something, but I don't have nothing,” she said matter of factly without a trace of self pity. That's just the way it was.


     "Yeah, that's ok.”  Then there was another anguished pause. I didn't know what to say, "well, see you around.”  I took my keys out of my pocket. We both knew that we would never see each other again.


     I walked out, or rather, to tell the truth, I stumbled out. I don't even remember what else I said, or even if I said anything else to Tall Girl. When I got to the car, I realized that I had been almost holding my breath on the way out. The smell was the same smell I had smelled in Juarez, in Korea, the smell of poor women at the mercy of men, men like me, men like Skee-zazz, like old sarge, like any of us, no matter whether we was a private or a general, poor women at the mercy of men.


     Tall Girl, I thought to myself, you sure got a hard row to hoe, and you can't even afford to get your head bad and forget about it. There she was, lying on that bed, not wanting to fuck but resigned to the rules of the game. I wondered what I would be like if I had to let somebody fuck me every time I just wanted to have a good time.


     I turned around in the middle of the deserted street. I took my time driving back to retrieve Skee-zazz. A lot of thoughts was tying up in my head. Although I probably did the right thing, I felt bad because I had come so close to not doing the right thing.


     It looked like it took me twice as long to get back to where Skee-za˙ was at then I remembered it taking when I had dropped him off, and even so, I still had to wait outside til almost 5:30 before he came out.


     Although I had rolled the windows up, locked the door, let the seat back, slouched down deep and pulled my black leather lambskin cap over my eyes, I didn't really sleep. I kept hearing Tall Girl saying "Thanks” and seeing her large eyes looking at me.


     Later, on the ride back to the base, Skee-zaz˙ told me how he had "got them drawers. She kept saying, no, no, no. But I just pulled them drawers off her and got me some. I told her, I said, baby, if you didn't want to fuck, you shouldn't fucked with me. Them bitches know how the game go.”


     I told him about Tall Girl being on the rag.


     He said that wasn't nothing, I should have just pulled that rag out of there and gone ahead and got that pussy. "You should have got that pussy, man. That was your pussy. Yours for the taking. Betcha, if I would have been there, rag or no rag, she would have been fucked.”


     I was confused for a moment. Skee-zaz˙ was from Newark and could be cold blooded as a knife in the back. Sometimes he didn't have no respect for nothing or nobody.


     I kept vacillating between being satisfied with the decision I made not to fuck Tall Girl and the desire to be more like Skee-zazz. To young men there's something attractive about being a barbarian, something manly about being a ruthless hunter and a stone killer, just taking whatever you want regardless of what it is or who it belong to, which is why, I guess, "to Bogart” was a major verb in our everyday vocabulary. Skee-zaz˙ and Humphrey Bogart would have fucked Tall Girl, maybe I was being too southern, too soft. I don't know.


     When you're growing up, sometimes the hardest decision to make is the decision to be yourself, especially when being yourself causes you to have to put principle above pleasure.


     So here we are, driving through the New Mexico night back to El Paso discussing whether to fuck or not to fuck. I didn't say nothing about how the place looked. I didn't say nothing about the kids. I was just mad with myself cause I was in the middle of some trifling shit that I finally decided I had no business being mixed up in.


     That was it. As we crossed the state line I made a pact with myself. I wasn't going to buy no more pussy in Juarez, or no place else for that matter, for the rest of my life. And I wasn't going to be taking advantage of no women who were so poor they didn't have nothing but they bodies.


     For the rest of my natural born life, as much as I could help it, I wasn't never going to take advantage of a poor woman just for some pussy, and it wouldn't make no difference if she was yellow, black, brown or white.


     It would be over seven months later, not until I returned home and had been mustered out the army, before I made love to a woman, but that's a nother story, for another time.


     I guess I must have been thinking real hard to myself and ignoring Skee-zaz˙ cause the next thing I knew, Skee-zaz˙ was sitting with his head thrown back, snoring loudly as I drove back to the base.


     Directly in front of me, in the east, the sun was coming up. A new day was on the way.


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70610 2013-02-18T06:33:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:35Z SHORT STORY: MILTON NASCIMENTO
photo by Alex Lear 




milton nascimento


in the scheme of things, as flows this river called life, our barges momentarily close to each other, because the currents are what they are, fast running & strong, with an undertow that will sweep you off into areas you don't want to go if you don't steer your craft with determination, because there are also so many lights and sights on the shore, so many distractions, so many invitations to dock and get lost in enjoying the landside diversions, because there is sometimes fog on the river and also because of our natural wariness—and that's really a wrong description, our wariness is not natural, our wariness is "nurtured," after being on the river awhile one learns that everybody who rides a barge is not necessarily a fellow traveler—because of all of that and more, especially this fog and just the speed we travel, a speed which discourages skipping around from boat to boat, a speed which sometimes does not allow us to fully grasp what is happening as someone whizzes by us and we are also moving real fast and here passes us somebody else moving faster, like amiri baraka says, somebody's fast is another body's slow, and who knows when you are on your boat alone or I on mine, alone, who knows, and we be trying to make our way, even those of us straining to push our barge up river, no matter the direction we all are struggling along, all of us once issued from the mouth waters of our mother's womb are actually headed downward toward that big sea wherein we will become part of the eternal dust/water & spirit of this universe, how long do we have on the river, who knows, where we dock, that is our choice, how long we sit there, and then again, sometimes it is not really our choice, sometimes, like our ancestors we are forced into spaces and not given choices, not given the space to decide how to maneuver and negotiate our time on the river, fortunately, for us, we have a bit more leeway than did our ancestors in this regard—and I give thanx and praise to them because their struggles on, or should I say "in" the river, swimming without aid of boat or oar, swimming sometimes without even driftwood to hold to, swimming with balls and chains shackled to their limbs, the ways in which they miraculously waded through and parted the waters to make a way for us, to create an opportunity for us to acquire barges and boats and other vessels, the navigational lessons they learned and passed down to us, learned on the sly, on the fly, anyway they could, and passed on, goodness, we must give thanx and praise -- so here float we, sometimes moving on our own steam, crisscrossing the river of life, sometimes out of fuel just drifting, some times shut down in despair, and sometimes we're just out there and we've got everything we need to keep going except the will to do the hard work of moving our boats along on the big muddy of this river whose waters are increasingly polluted and stinking and sometimes even on fire, rivers literally on fire burning oil slicks, or sometimes we are in serious disrepair, rudders broke, holes in the hull and the like, sometimes got everything we need to move except good common sense so we waste our resources and the richness of our legacies handed down to us from those who struggled to get to the water in the first place, who waged the herculean battle just to get down by the riverside, when I use this metaphor of floating on the river of life, I mean more than just you and i, more than just a line I toss out to make conversation, I mean something so deep, so deep, so when I call out to you in the lightless night or through the morning fog, when I holler out my identifying shout and momentarily maneuver close, close enough so that our barges bump gently against each other, touch and go, as we float on down the river, and it is morning, or just after noon in a crowded river, or late past midnight and we are the only vessels visible in the darkness, or whenever, when I shout and sing my request, ask your permission to board, it is in the fullest awareness that my request is not about a merger of companies but rather a momentary sharing, a temporal but not temporary alignment of spaces and personalities, temporal in that it is time bound, you've got places to go, people to meet, things to do, and so do i, and neither of us intends to leave our vessels unattended for long, nor either of us give up our vessel for life aboard the other's, and similarly, I understand should I hear you sing, unlike sailors mythisizing some madness about the sound of women singing on the water is a siren song that will lead them to ruin, I understand—i'm listening to milton nascimento at this moment and his music is so mystically beautiful, so ethereal, I mean his voice climbs like sunlight descending on a shaft through the clouds except that it reverses the flow and rises where the sunbeam comes down his voice ascends and the melodies he utters and the stories in his voice, I don't speak portuguese but I hear milton's meaningful beauty, and when I read the lyrics translated it helps or doesn't help, but all i've really got to do is open my ears and listen, and that is the beauty of great art, we don't have to know how it was done, in many cases don't even have to know the language, especially when it's music or visual, all we have to do is be open to beauty and it will take our hand and lead us there, it will kiss us full on the mouth, lips open with the surprise of the tongue moving lucidly in and out our mouths thrilling us to our toes, ah milton nascimento—I understand you are not asking for anything all the time even though this knowing is forever, the paradox of life on the river, nothing lasts, everything flows on, everything changes, but awareness and knowledge of the deepness and connections between soul mates stretches pass any fence that time can erect, breeches the dams built to hold us back and exploit the movement of our waters, so sometimes I will call to you, or you to me, and if we are close enough and if the time permits, I mean if we are not busy steering through some particular rough waters or on a mission that requires all our attention, if there is time we will tie up to each other and one board the other for a moment, and that's all I ask, permission to board, not to stay, nor to take anything with me, but to be in you, with you for whatever sharing time there is for us on this river called life, encircled in your embrace, and, of course, you in mine, for whatever time…


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70655 2013-02-17T04:15:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:36Z SHORT STORY: MEN WITH GUNS
photo by Alex Lear








from: shay@hotmail.com

to: dred_dee@earthlink.com



my fingers hesitate, but i must tell someone, and who better than you, even though, i’m sort of sure, I mean, i’m pretty sure, you’re not expecting to hear from me. you know, the way we left, or at least, the way i left. maybe one day before we make thirty you will forgive me... i hope you’re willing to read this ... anyway, stop distracting me. oops, i’m sorry. i didn’t mean to say that.


i’m blaming you again for my own in-discipline. remember, how once i jumped on you for sleeping to quietly? you woke up and asked me what i was doing, and when i realized i had spent 20 minutes just looking at you sleeping, i got angry at you... anyway, how are you?


sometime back i filed some photos for the christian science monitor. was supposed to have two shots but it got cut down to one (kalamu re-ran the article on www.topica.com/lists/e-drum, you can search the archives for “black diamond” and read it). i’ve attached the two photos.


i think i did a pretty good job even though no one photo can tell it all. plus, you know, i don’t know that photography (or anything else) is capable of telling the whole story over here. remember we talked about what photographs can do, about why i continue as a photographer, why i think i can make a contribution being a revolutionary photographer. yu said a picture of a gun can’t shoot shit. and my reply: but a picture of a woman with a gun can make a man shit. lol. rotglmao (that’s, rolling on the ground laughing my ass off). smile, that’s just my macabre humor at work.


what’s that blues line: laughing to keep from crying? except, i really felt like crying after that shoot. you’d have to be here, i guess, to feel me, except if my pictures are strong enough to make you feel... i’m talking in circles again, huh?


we were in this encampment at a village caught in the middle. d, there’s nothing left. the guerillas invited us in to report on what happened. the journalist i’m traveling with is interviewing guerilla women, including one named black diamond. she’s only average height, robust but not big. a plain, oval-shaped, dark face. could be any woman in this area. except she speaks with fierce intensity. not shouting or loud, but not soft either. and, like, everything she says sounds like a command that everyone follows without hesitation. of course, i took some shots of her, me kneeling and angling up, making her look like a giant.


while the interview continued i looked around for something else to shoot. there was nothing. devastation is not dramatic unless you can find a small something that will hit home to the viewer, but there’s nothing  we would recognize as a destroyed home. and... d. are you still reading? i hope so. i’ve got a whole half hour of internet access. it only took me about ten or twelve minutes to file photos. my batteries are charging now, and i have about fifteen minutes left, so that’s why i’m rambling...


i’ma be honest: i miss you. but i know you know that cause whenever we argued and I threatened to leave, you used to all the time say, you know how you drawl, dawg, you gonna miss this bone when i’m gone... “dawg!” d. was that your hip way of calling me a bitch without saying the word? did you think i was acting like a bitch cause i didn’t want to commit to a long term relationship? ... i didn’t mean to bring that up.


this girl was standing by a tall, slender tree, one arm around the trunk. ther was something, like, I had this feeling she had been watching me for a long, long time. she did not avert her gaze when i glanced at her. just stared back. instantly  i knew she had seen a lot of stuff, there was no innocence in those eyes. no curiosity. just witness. her eyes were like my camera.


i held my camera up and pointed it toward her to ask permission. she didn’t respond. just kept looking. my hand flew to my mouth covering my lips, you know the gesture i do when I’m embarrassed, you always used to point that gesture out to me. i thought about you at that moment and how you would always say: ask for what you want, don’t be embarrassed by your wants.


so, i said, “photo”? no response at first, then she raised her free arm and hugged the tree like it was a best friend. i started to try and quickly frame that shot but before i got the camera up all the way she said, “yes, mam.” her english was clear and her deference made me hesitate.


“what’s your name?” I asked.


she replied, “kuji.”


i told her my name and fired off two quick shots. i wanted to talk but couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say, so i asked her age?




“you live here?”


“no. i am with the freedom fighters.”


i took another shot, she was holding her hands clasped in front of her.


“how long?”


“for life.”


“no, i mean when did you join the freedom fighters?”


“when i saw captain diamond.”


d. i’m running outta time (you know how long it takes me to type, how I usually send postcards, but we have not had easy access to the mail, except the office email is working fine, thus, this email but no postcard, you unnerstand?), anyway, i will just tell you what kuji told me. kuji is a war orphan, her mama was beat to death, never met her father, her twin brother is missing and she dosn’t have anyone else. she said she used to go to school in the city and one day they all had to leave suddenly. their teachers put them in the back of a truck trying to escape, but the truck was attacked and all children jumped out running, except kuji climbed a tree and she saw one of the guerillas catch a teacher. kuji heard the woman screaming and saw the man grab her red hair, that’s what kuji said, “red hair.” the teacher tried to run but tripped. the man grabbed her by hr blouse. the cloth ripped. kuji said, “she had one of them white straps holding her breasts” and the gurilla he grabbed that and it broke. and then he kicked the woman and jerked her by her arm and dragged her into a hut. after a while, kuji said, black diamond came with some other women guerillas and then the man came out with his gun in his hand, saying something kuji could not hear. when diamond tried to go inside, the man stepped in front of her. dimond pushed the man aside and went in. she came out quickly and walked straight up to the man and before he could do anything, she hit him with her gun. twice again. and ordered one of her soldiers to take his gun.


d. it was extraordinary to hear the pride as this young girl described this. kuji’s eyes were shining while telling me what had happened. kuji says, the guy and black diamond started shouting. diamond turns to the other guerillas and they discuss what to do. that’s when kuji climbed down and told them what she saw. they asked her questions and the guy questions. the man said kuji was lying. she said, I’m scared but i’m not lying. and than the man tried to grab her and shouted, “this kid is lying.” and i said, i mean, kuji said, i no lie! that’s when diamond ordered, let me see your dick. show me your dick! we will see if you have been with a woman just now. the man grabbed himself and shouted no. long story short, black diamond shot him. and proclaimed, we are fighting so that men with guns can never hurt us women again. death to thugs!


d., i got to go. i wish i had got the picture when kuji repeated diamond’s words, holding her little fist fiercely above her head: death to thugs! if you saw all the mad violence i’ve seen here, you would understand a teenage girl being proud of helping to kill a rapist. or maybe not, but anyway, life’s truly tragic here and probably it will take more women killing a bunch a men in order to put an end to all the killing and raping women suffer.


those are hard facts, but what else can anyone do? war is hell and women are heaven.


let me know how you like the article. i’m thinking about doing a book about the women over here and maybe i will call it, death to thugs.


gotta run. ciao (mein). ;>)


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70713 2013-02-16T05:38:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:36Z SHORT STORY: ANYONE WHO HAS A HEART
photo by Alex Lear





Anyone Who Has A Heart




On the ninth day Akim woke up before the sun. Today he was going home and his family would be there to greet him and to thank him. Akim was a hero.


Akim greatly enjoyed basking in the new day sunlight. He sat on a rough, stone bench and remembered when the bus had pulled away to bring him to this cold place that made him shiver—for the first time in his life he had slept under a blanket.


Unconsciously, Akim flashed a warm smile as he recalled the way Kuji had waved to him, her slender arm twisting like palm trees sashaying to and fro in the sea breeze. His sister and their mother had been standing side by side, each with one arm wrapped around the other’s waist. Mother hailing him with her right hand high above her head and Kuji rocking her small left hand back and forth at the height of her shoulder.


Mother had been sporting her best red skirt that was short enough that it would even be short if Kuji had been wearing it, even though, at fifteen, Kuji was half a head shorter than her mother and did not have long legs like her mother. Their mother also had on those black shoes with the pointy toes that she only wore when she went out at night. She did not have on much of a top, it was something black-colored, thin, and tight that stretched over her bulging breasts. But she did have on a red wrap artfully arrayed on her head covering her short hair. Akim was glad mother had not worn her wig, like she usually did in public. The wig made her look so different, made her look like a lot of other women. With that wig on, it was sometimes hard to tell she was their mother.


Kuji had on her plain red-and-white striped dress and rubber sandals, her hair tightly corn-rowed. Regardless of what she wore, Akim would always recognize Kuji’s circular face, round as the bread loaves the women sell in the market.


Early this morning when the nurse had handed him his small bundle and told him to get dressed, Akim put on the same clothes he had worn when he came to this place: a dingy but freshly-washed Nike t-shirt and long shorts that had once been some one’s jeans but had been cut off just below the knees so the leg bottoms could be used for patches.


Akim wondered if that man who brought him here would take him back home. That man, who had given his mother a brown envelope, had had on clean clothes and new shoes. Akim could tell the shoes were new when he saw the bottoms. At first Akim thought he was the bus driver, but when that man had walked up to them to talk to his mother, Akim realized his mistake. This man did not labor. He smelled like some kind of soap Akim had never smelled before. He had a sweet smell, too sweet for any man who worked hard and nothing like the sweat, or smoke, or liquor, that most men smelled like. But then, this man also spoke clean words. He talked with a clipped, flat sound obviously proud of how distinctly he could pronounce each part of every word he uttered. This man even made the short words sound long when he assured his mother, “Is going to be A-OK. You will see. A-OK.”


Akim had followed directions and found a seat next to a window near the rear of the bus. His mother had given him a small bag of peanuts and some smoked fish wrapped in a piece of paper. Once the bus had left the familiar neighborhood and lumbered away from the coast, Akim clutched the cloth pouch that secured his dinner, and anxiously pressed his face against the window while looking at all the sights he had never seen before.


Now it was time to return home and Akim tried to imagine what his family would look like when he got there. Akim could clearly envision Kuji waiting, tall, standing with her feet close together, looking like that pole in front the old barbershop while wearing her dress-up dress with the torn sleeve.


Akim flashed back to when they had decided one of them would do it. They had agreed to toss a beer cap for the honors. She got to choose, he got to flip the cap high into the air. He was so fearful of the outcome, he couldn’t bear to look. When Kuji stomped her bare foot on the hard-packed dirt floor and exclaimed, “haa,” then sucked her teeth before pouting, “you always win,” that’s when Akim opened his eyes and let out a long sigh—his prayers had been answered.


“The next time, it will be your turn to go.”


Kuji had not been listening to him, instead she had plopped down on her little stool, sulking, her face turned to stone as she stared at the paper-covered wall. “No fair. You would not even know if I had not told you.”


Akim had hesitated. Kuji was right. She had been the one to find out about the offer. She had been the one to tell him about her plan to help their mother. But he had been the one bold enough to go into the big building and ask questions. Kuji was brave but she was shy. Akim had almost said he would swap turns with her, but, no, a deal was a deal. He was to go first.


Who else would be there to welcome Akim home? Who else was there? No one really. There was no other real family that he knew of. He had never met his mother’s people. They lived so far away. In the north. They never came to the city.


Do pictures have family? Akim had always wondered, ever since his mother silently showed him the fading photograph that revealed One-Eye with a grim grin that made the man look hard, at least Akim thought the face was hard, maybe it was because you could not see his teeth, or maybe it was the way he was clutching Akim’s mother. One-Eye had a big python grip almost crushing her into his side, and she was not smiling, just looking straight at the camera. What kind of family would a huge arm have? Who would claim a man whose smile showed no teeth?


Akim recalled how once, when his mother was away, he had snuck into the basket to examine the little photo in detail—the stiff paper hadn’t even covered his tiny ten-year-old palm. When he put his finger atop the man’s face, the face disappeared.


The picture was not too clear, so you could not really make out One-Eye’s features. He had big ears—Akim had touched his own ears, they were not big like the man’s ears. And Kuji’s ears were the same size as his own ears, which was natural since they were twins and were alike in almost every way, except she stuck out at the top—her breast poked out like little ant hills, and he stuck out at the bottom, sometimes, almost big as the small orange bananas that he liked to eat.


Kuji had caught Akim just as he had lifted his finger off their father’s face. Akim had tried to wrap the picture up quickly, so she wouldn’t know what he was doing, but she saw. When he shoved the basket back into the corner, she darted over and grabbed the cloth and carefully re-wrapped the photograph. “You have to do it just like mother or else she will know you were trying to find out her secrets.”


Another time, when they were older, Kuji had asked, “do you think our father knows he is our father? I mean, do you think he knows we were born?” They were squatting together and Kuji was holding the picture with her thumb atop the man’s chest when she spoke so softly, almost like she was talking to herself, but since their heads were close together and it was so quiet that he could hear her breathing—they even breathed the same—he heard every word, every short pause between words, everything. “Do you think One-Eye has a picture of us and looks at it the way we look at him?”


“No, don’t you remember that day mother was crying. Remember she said, ‘Nobody cares about us. Nobody even knows we are alive’?”


“That was the day she was sick,” Kuji had made an excuse for their mother. And the saying stuck. Whenever their mother came home and they could see someone had beaten her, they would say she was “sick.” Akim wondered had their father ever made their mother sick. He looked like he might have.


In the picture, the man had his hat pulled so low and at such an angle that you could only see one of his eyes. That’s why Kuji called their father, One-Eye.


All their mother had ever told them was, “He is gone. His name was David.” Akim had wanted to ask where father-David had gone? But the sad way his mother said “was David,” Akim knew “was David” was not coming back. And when he had looked up from the photograph he was startled, frightened really, to see tears glistening on his mother’s cheek. Later he would learn, that’s always the way she cried: silently. The tears made no sound as they rolled over the cliff of their mother’s high cheek-bones, streaking her gaunt face like chalk marks scrawled on a blackboard by children who did not know how to write.


When Kuji told their mother how much money they could get, at first, their mother did not believe Kuji. “No more getting sick, mother. And we can get a house with everything inside—the water, the latrine…”


“They call it bathroom.”


Akim spoke up for the first time, “Why do they call it bathroom if the latrine is there?”


“Because, the room has a shower and a toilet…”


“What is to-let?” Akim innocently asked his mother.


“Akim, you are in school now. You must say it proper. ‘toy-let’.”


“Tar-let,” dutifully repeated Akim. “What is tar-let?”


“It’s a latrine that’s shaped like a stool.”


“Well, yes. We can get a room with one of those in it,” Kuji insisted.


“Kuji, I will have to find out more about this. I do not believe it is easy so to get plenty much money.”


“And they even pay you in dollars. Five hundred dollars,” Akim announced.


Ama had heard about this before. She had even gone to that man who knew about these things. He told her there was another man she had to go see. And she had gone. He stuck her arm and took some of her blood and told her he would let her know in a handful of days. When she had gone back to him, he said they did not want her. Her blood was wrong family or something like that. Other people she knew had tried, but the man did not want most of them either because either they were sick or they had the wrong family blood.


Ama was certain that if her blood was the wrong family, then most likely they would not want her children because they surely had the same family she had. When she went back to find out the twins’ test results, Ama saw the man smile for the first time. He said the twins had the right family blood and both of them were healthy. So, yes, they would buy a kidney—whatever that was. He had said everybody had two but you only needed one to live.


When the bus dropped off Akim back at the marketplace where all the busses came, only Kuji was waiting for him.


“Why is mother not here? Is she sick?”


“Yes.” Kuji’s eyes were puffy like she was getting over some man making her sick.


Akim looked away before he asked the question, “Kuji, have you been sick?”


“No. But we must do something. Mother is very sick.”


“Well, we have money now. So we can…”


Kuji cut off Akim before he could continue, “Someone took our money.”




“I came home from school one day while you were gone and mother was on the ground and she was very sick. Everything was broken and tossed about.”


They walked in silence for a while. Finally, Kuji resumed recounting what happened. “Akim, mother is hurt very, very bad and the money is gone. Mother had paid for my school and for your school too, but they took the rest.” Kuji took a deep breath, “Now, it is my turn to go and get us money.”


Akim’s side was beginning to hurt a little. “Kuji, please, I can not walk so fast right now.”


“Akim, I forgot, you are sick too.” Kuji slowed down and touched Akim lightly on the shoulder, “You must tell me what I need to do to prepare to make the money. Does it hurt when they cut you open?”


“I don’t know how it feels. I was not awake when they did it. They made me sleep through everything. Afterwards it feels like a goat hit you hard in the side. That’s why I can not walk so fast.”


They were not even half way home yet, but Akim had to stop to rest. He could tell Kuji was thinking something. “Kuji, what are you thinking? I will be alright. I’m just a little tired. Don’t worry about me. And I’m sure that mother…”


“I tried on mother’s red dress.” Akim looked at his sister and was afraid to ask her what she was thinking, but Kuji knew Akim wanted to know, and Kuji began talking before Akim could say anything. “I am too skinny. And too…” Kuji paused and then suddenly changed the subject. “Can I see where they cut you?”


“It is covered. When I change the bandage tonight, I will show you. Come on, I can walk now.”


It took them a long time to get home.


* * *


When Akim and Kuji got home their mother was dead.


* * *


“We nah need more kidney. Them need heart. You sell heart?”


Akim was surprised when Kuji spoke up, “How much heart be?”


The man thought about how much money he could skim off these kids and decided half, “Heart be plenty-oh. Two thousand dollars. American. You sell heart. Let me know.”


Akim swiftly grabbed Kuji’s hand and tenderly tugged her away from this man he did not trust. Outside as they walked slowly Akim struggled to figure out what he would do to save Kuji from wearing wigs too big for her head and dresses too short for her legs. Plus, school would be out soon and then they would not have any more food.  Their plan for Kuji to sell her kidney did not work and now, there was… well, there really was nothing else since Akim knew he did not have two hearts.


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70749 2013-02-15T04:40:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:37Z SHORT STORY: JAVETTA STEELE
photo by Alex Lear




Jevetta Steele


            "Don't look at me that way. I tried to warn you. I told you, 'don't love me.' You would not listen. I'm a cardinal, just a red flash through the dawn and then gone. Morning breeze disappeared at noon."

            I remember those words. The sound of the words. The way you spoke. The purse of your lips when you were thinking or silently asking for a kiss. Wide lips. Big lips. The taste of your breath. The aroma of your words. You were that close when you said them. I smelled each exhale of syllables.

            My sheetrocked wall remembers. The carpeted floor does too. My wristwatch could tell you the time. Sometimes you wouldn't wear your watch when we went out. When you were getting bored I could always tell because you would always want to know what time it was and then I would know what time it was.

            Like when we were sucking on those crawfish and you were telling me they tasted O.K. but they weren't worth the mess of cracking open those muddy red crustacean shells. I tried to tell you the trick was to suck them rather than rip them open.

            You opened your mouth and laughed. You opened me and laughed. I could see your teeth, your tongue, your gums. The palate of your mouth. The half chewed pieces of crawfish. Your laugh. Then you closed your mouth, smiled, leaned over and kissed me, the salty flavor of the shellfish still on your lips.

            I wonder how I tasted. Once you kissed my genitals. No, it was more than once, but I remember that specific "once". Just like that "once" when I hit a high fastball home run further then I had ever swung before. Although we had no fence and the ball was being chased down by Pop-pee with his strong right field arm, I still didn't even have to run. I trotted and clowned slowly around second base backing into third watching Pop-pee pick up the ball and knowing, no matter how strong he was, he couldn't get the ball all the way home before I shuffled across the plate. I'm not a fast runner but that's just how hard, how far I had hit that ball.

            You laughed in my groin, coloring my pubic hairs with the paint of your smile. I got hard like long ago when I was at the Golden Pheasant Lounge dancing close with Inez who told me, "if you don't hold me so tight I can move better."

            I didn't and she did. I don't remember what music we danced to but I remember her hips and the locomotion of the ocean. I was in way over my young head but didn't care.

            The closest I ever got to the red bird was fifteen feet or so, and then it was gone a streak of red ribbon in motion. I grabbed your arm once, not meaning to stop you or pin you down or anything, but just to momentarily delay you. As hard as I held you, tight like my bat, I still hit nothing but air. Even though I held you I completely missed you. You hissed like the swish of the bat fanning the air and the thick thud off the ball burrowing into the catcher's mitt. Or like a snake warning me you didn't stand holding.

            I think all I really wanted was for you to look at me, admiringly, just like I looked at that ball shooting off high into the atmosphere off my bat, which I still held in the tingle of my left hand, the wood's vibration massaging my palms. When I hit it I could feel it.

            Inez hardly seemed to be moving. I looked down as best I could at her pelvis, at her hips to see what she was doing but I could not see anything. No motion that suggested how she extracted the excruciating pleasure her subtle unseen motions were awakening in me. The warmness in my pants, the throb, and the absolute let down of the three minute record ending an hour too soon. The rest of the night sitting around the table talking, they drinking beer and me drinking a soft drink. All of us taking turns dancing, although Inez was not my girl she had rolled on me and taught me not to hold too tightly.

            I had seen the pitch coming in high and outside and I knew I could hit it, knew I could reach for it, knew I could. When I started swinging, even before I hit it, I knew it would be gone. It would be out of here.

            Sure enough, I call you three days later, or however many minutes later and the sound reverberates around in emptiness because there is no you to receive it. Your ear is not there to catch my call.

            The telephone wires don't care. The cardinal's red is so strong that even after it is gone I still see red. I once saw the dull red blotches on the edge of the sanitary napkin you had folded and thrown into the dark brown trash can in the bathroom. The blazing red of the lipstick you threaten to wear just to tease me knowing I don't like the taste and feel of lipstick on my lips or yours. The vermilion red of your blood the time you cut yourself. The emergency red of the pain of you almost doubled over suffering the cramps the same day I saw the leavings in the trash can. The succulent red of that watermelon and its translucent red juice dripping down your chin. The off-red of your gums, and of course the moist fleshy red of the inside of your vagina. The indistinct red of your eyes one night when you hadn't had much sleep in two days. The primary red colored ticket for William's party that neither of us went to even though we were both invited. This was before we got together, and before we broke up too like the way one pulls a round loaf of bread apart. The messy red of the pizza sauce with the sliced tomatoes and the brownish red of cooked bell peppers on it. Some of it stained your sleeve. Common red at the stoplight when you were in that borrowed car and took off with the wheels spinning and smoking I imagine, but because I was inside the car grinning at how you reveled in the power behind the wheel I didn't see the rear wheels raising up.

            What other red was there? I can't remember. The cardinal is gone. "Don't love me," you said even though you never directly said those words. What is this the twenty-eighth time I called you. I don't know. You don't know cause you're not there to answer, or if you're there, you are not answering.

            Red is such a different bird color, you always remember a red bird. You remember the way it flew. And fire. Van Gogh with his hand in the flame ready to settle for seeing her only as long as he could hold his hand in the flame. Gordon Liddy in prison scaring hard timers with his ability to hold a cigarette lighter to his arm and let it burn. The red of the flame burning hairs on Liddy's arm. And burning skin on Liddy's arm. And burning flesh on Liddy's arm. And burning up the blood on Liddy's arm. And the other hand, Liddy's other hand steady holding the flame steady. Not just standing the pain without a hint of what was going on reflected in his eyes, in fact holding a conversation about something he had read earlier in the day. Some of the hard timers dodging his eyes fascinated by that flame burning up that arm but more fascinated, and, if the truth be told, not only fascinated but also frightened by those eyes that were somehow disconnected from that arm. Any eyes that were not part of the body not only could not be trusted, but that body could not be trusted either. He probably could cut his hand off and throw it away with the other hand while steady talking about the weather or the cost of airline tickets going up. Liddy's other hand steady holding that flame, keeping the tab on the lighter depressed so the flame wouldn't go out, so the flame would burn his arm up.

            My hand was in your flame and I thought I could stand it. I could stand it. I could take your red and paint my life with it. But I couldn't hold it. I couldn't keep it. Your red had wings and my ability to stand pain only had feet.

            I got cocky and stood nearby home plate, waiting for them to relay the ball and try to throw me out. I knew they couldn't. They knew they couldn't. I had hit that ball. I thought I had hit you like that, high into the sky, but your red arm was faster than my feet.

             What is this, the thirty-ninth time? Really it's the last time even though I don't know it's the last time. I'm still thinking I'll see you. You never know when you'll stop looking for the red bird, but you do. Soon the memory is not red. Soon? No, not soon, but eventually.

            It was almost evening as I remember it and the sun was going down. The sky was rouged on the horizon like a cardinal streaking cross the edge of the world. I guess you're not going to answer me are you, even though I keep calling you long, long after the red is gone.


—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69933 2013-02-14T03:06:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:26Z SHORT STORY: HORACE SILVER
photo by Alex Lear





Horace Silver


            Where is the orange pumpkin face with the lit candle inside? Where the wide snaggle tooth smile like the one Ma'dear used to beam at us? But she also used to bust our butts and that warm smile would turn to a grimace just like the one you got now, and just like I never pleaded with Ma'dear to slack up on whipping us, I'm not going to beg you to stay.

            You used to glow radiant like you were plugged into god's bright light when you first came here in that happy yellow dress I liked to see you wear. Although you arrived in December, in winter, your aura was so unwintery, plus you had yellow shoes with spaghetti straps. From the beginning you were always munching fruit.

            "You like jazz?" I asked. You nodded. I gestured toward the sofa and dropped a record on my system. You sat listening attentively to Horace Silver blowing the "Tokyo Blues." I don't know why I chose that album to play to you, or why I asked did you like jazz, or even why I invited you over.

            You were so thin, thinner than any woman I had ever been with at that time. I don't even like thin women, so I mean you were already way ahead of the game. Maybe it was the geisha girls on the cover with Horace sitting between them that caused me to pause while flipping through the stack searching for suitably impressive sounds to play. Maybe your bright red lipstick, the rouge tastefully spread on your cheek, and, of course, your quietness reminding me of the way I imagine Japanese women are, and your carefully painted fingernails, and the small amber ring you wore, with matching earrings, your legs crossed listening to "Cherry Blossom," saying you had that record in your collection.

            Before the LP was over you looked up at me. I was standing tall. You smiled and then sat back and looked away briefly, then looked back and gave me a full, big eyed stare like you had already figured what you wanted out of this. I was just steady looking at you, at how small your breasts were and trying to think was this going to be worth my time. If I knew what I know now, I never would have cared about you, but I didn't know. You let me fall in love with you, and now that I do, you don't care.

            I still remember standing in my living room the evening of the first day. It was already December dark even though it was only like a quarter to seven. You were admiring my African sculpture that my sister gave me from her trip to Ghana and I had on a cranberry colored sweater. Horace Silver was spinning exactly at 33 and 1/3 revolutions a minute. The orange lights on the turntable gauge where perfect squares standing still. I remember all that. I just kind of stood there listening to Blue Mitchell's exuberant trumpet calls and was wondering what all this was about.

            Yeah I'm a little upset. I mean I care. Yeah, I would prefer if we worked this out, if you would glow like you used to when you looked at me with your huge brown eyes telling me about some book you had read or how you liked the way I touched you, glow like you did that first evening when I was standing surrounded by Horace Silver's hip sounds washing over us and you returned your face to me and told me, "I don't want anything serious. I want this to be light. I want us to enjoy it. I'll stay as long as it's light."

            I suppose I was supposed to kiss you at that moment, but Horace was playing so beautifully I had to be more subtle than that. So I squatted in front of you, touched your knee briefly and simply said, "yeah, that's what I want too. As long as it's good." I never intended to really, really love you. I mean you wanted it "light," and I imagined this could be very convenient, us seeing each other and seeing other people too.

            I asked you if you wanted something to eat and you held up the apple you were chewing and smiled. You never liked to cooked. I never met a woman like you that was so open about not wanting to cook, about refusing to cook. I cooked more than you did and I can't cook, and my surprise to learn you were a school teacher. I guess I thought all school teachers were also supposed to know how to cook.

            You never corrected the way I talked so I couldn't imagine you an English teacher but I guess you had to be something. I never really knew you before that day you came over and right now I'm realizing that I have never really got to know you since.

            It's only a few months later. The weather has just turned to spring, nevertheless, here you are intoning in that husky voice of yours (a sexy huskiness that first attracted me to you, a voice which initially sounds too deep for such a petit body, that voice which tipped me off that maybe there was more to you than it looked like there was), here you are saying "Harold, it's not light anymore."

            When did it stop being light. It's still light for me. For a teacher you sure do get a lot of stuff backwards. Winter is heavy, spring is light. Look at you right now, you're hunched into that frog position you like so much lately: your heels pulled up on the edge of the chair, your arms wrapped around your legs, your chin on your knee.

            "Is this because I don't want to drive to Atlanta to see Nelson Mandela?" You answer "no," dragging out the short response, but it sounds like yes to me.

            "Was it about that AIDS walk I didn't want to go to and you went by yourself?" You answer me "no" but here we go again, it sounds like yes.

            "Is it because I don't want to use condoms? I mean it's mainly you and me right..."

            You slowly close your eyes.

            "I mean you did say you wanted this to be light, right?"

            I can hear you not listening to me.

            "What do you want? You want us to live together? You already said you don't want to be married. What, huh? I don't understand..."

            I looked at you. You are fading before my eyes. I reach out to touch you, to hold you. My hand goes right through your body and touches the back of the chair.


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69941 2013-02-13T05:23:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:26Z SHORT STORY: EMILIO SANTIAGO

photo by Alex Lear





Emilio Santiago


I woke up, slowly, or I thought I woke up. Maybe I was still dreaming. Next thing I knew I had quit my job at the factory, and at the office, and on the assembly line and I was sitting on the warm ground with my father fishing in City Park. We both had on freshly washed jeans and old shirts. His had a torn pocket and a hole in the left sleeve, mine had chocolate milk stains on it from that morning when I went to drink the milk and missed my mouth.


My dad was showing me things he never showed me when he was alive, or maybe it was things he showed me but things somehow I was unable to see then even though he tried to show me. I smile as I see myself learning stuff from my dad. I was 13 and I was learning how to smile like a man.


When the sun started going down we walked home. He walked slowly enough that I could keep up without rushing. I was holding the poles and the empty bucket, we had released all the fish we caught. Daddy had said there was no need to take what we didn't need, we had food at home. I asked him why had we come fishing then, and he put his arm around my shoulder, loosely around my shoulders, and kissed me on the nose.


Fully awake now, I look over at you. You are still sleeping. The windows in our room are shaded but the morning light is spread around the edges like the crust on bread. You make a very light whistling sound as you inhale while sleeping. I don't want to turn the TV on. I don't want to see anymore hostages. If I turn the tv on I will become a hostage too. What does your mother think of me now? I am in the middle of my life and there are no bells on my shoulders, no post graduate degrees on my wall.


I can hear the traffic in the street outside. Where do people think they are going? I wish everyday I could go somewhere I've never been before, touch the doors of houses I've never entered, walk in the wash of seas that have never wet me. I start to wake you and ask you the last time we walked along in the park wandering hand in hand through the flock of ducks or when was it I most recently kissed you in public. Over all I'm pretty satisfied with our furniture, it's just the nagging thought that we didn't really need a leather sofa and glass topped coffee table to be happy, but it's just a thought.


I see the shape of you beneath the thin sheet pulled up almost to your shoulders. The radio has come on automatically, and as the jazz filters into the room and into my consciousness I realize it's on WWOZ and someone is on the radio saying that this is a gorgeous Monday, that Mondays are the best days of the week. I look at him queerly. The music is nice.


Suddenly there is this sound, this song that doesn't quite sound like the average song, it sounds so, so, so I don't know, so lonely, no not lonely, so incomplete, unfinished. It sounds like he is in my head, or I mean that music is music that is inside me, and somehow he saw it. Did my father tell him to play this music? And then the track is over. I listen for who the artist is and the DJ calls my name, but I never made any music. I never made the music I wanted to, maybe he is trying to tell me something.


The next song that plays is a ballad in some language I don't recognize but I clearly see myself singing this foreign song on a red tiled patio early in the morning with five freshly cut yellow roses in my hand.


I stand up to listen to the music better. Both my hands are on top of my head with my fingers interlaced. I am nude. You wake up. I can feel you watching me. My eyes are closed.


When the song ends you ask me what am I thinking. I tell you I don't know and you kiss my hand, the hand with which I reached down to touch your thick dark brown hair.


Is this still a dream? No, my fingers are wet where you kissed me. The music is filling our bedroom. Maybe I am supposed to be an artist. Finally I tell you as much of the truth as I am able to understand at this moment, "I was just listening to that music and it made me think about a lot of things I've always wanted to do...."


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69971 2013-02-12T04:28:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:27Z POEM: MADIBA WORD MUSIC - A HAIKU SEQUENCE FOR NELSON MANDELA
photo by Alex Lear






– A Haiku Sequence for Nelson Mandela




haiku #40


nelson busts robben's

rocks like cousin john henry

swinging freedom steel






haiku #54


mandela's teeth cracked

captivity's bones & sucked

resistance marrow






haiku #61


murdered children's deaths

bandoliered cross our chests

we hate apartheid





haiku #112


emerging from jail

their dragon, our butterfly

his smile is so huge


—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/69986 2013-02-11T05:59:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:27Z SHORT STORY: DON'T EVER GROW OLD
photo by Alex Lear




don’t ever grow old


don’t ever grow old, he said.


i had stood aside for the lady i assumed was his wife. with a painfully visible effort she haltingly scooted out of the narrow seat. i had told her, “take your time.” and then, with a tenuous grip on the seat back, he excruciatingly  rose and looked up at me, hesitating. i told him to go ahead. he chuckled, his eye twinkled and he advised me, don’t ever grow old. from behind me a middle-aged lady wryly intoned, what other option is there?


he slowly shuffled down the aisle, i was behind him, taking half steps so that i would not run up on his heels. once off the plane i darted around the old couple, someday i will be old like that but i hope... what do i hope? concerning growing old what hope is there?


i stopped at the kiosk where southwest airlines had complimentary orange juice and donuts. while holding down the tap to fill my cup, this guy approaches, picks up a napkin, and tries to decide what kind of donut he wants.


“you ever wonder what your life would be like if you and carol had got together?”


what? i look up but this guy is not looking at me and doesn’t even seem to be talking to me, even though i clearly heard him. how did he know about carol, about the crush i had on her in 7th grade?


“you know there is a parallel universe, another place where the path you didn’t take continues on. if you want, i can put you on that road.”


i almost spit up the juice. this time i’m sure the guy’s lips weren’t moving, yet i’m also sure i’m hearing strange things.


“but if you go, you can’t come back. you only get one chance to live again. i know you think this is a joke, but it’s not. it’s real.”


at that moment, i thought the strangest thought--what if i could be with any of the women i have ever loved, would i take it?


“i can hook you up with carol.”


i turned away and said in a low voice, no you can’t. carol died of breast cancer about a year ago.


“you’re wrong buddy, what i mean is you could rewind and have a life with carol. it wouldn’t stop her from dying but you would be there until she died and, hey, afterwards, you could marry another love, and...”


i walked away. i am on my second go-round already, i don’t have to travel back to get here. bustling forward, i mull over marrying a previous love and am forced to acknowledge donut man has a point: choosing one love over another is disconcerting.


like the summer i declined to choose jean kelly. at the time, i didn’t even know i was making a choice or, as it were, ignoring a choice i could have made. i simply basked in the moment, giving no thought to what could be. in fact, as many males do, i thought i was fortunate to be able to enjoy without being forced to choose. but then again, if i was not ready to choose, how ready would i have been to deal with the results had i made that choice? i thought about jean because even now, decades later, the residue of her unerasable tenderness continues to reside in the marrow of my being at an address deeper than bone. why couldn’t i then recognize her permanence...?


i guess that guy was trying to offer me a chance to both keep and savor two love cakes from the ingredients of one life time, or..., or maybe i’m being sentimental. i always want every love to be true and lasting; don’t we all? or am i just being male and desiring every woman i’ve every wanted? shit, life is too short and too complex to go back.


i hang a right at the newsstand where literally hundreds of glossy magazines are strung out in come-hither displays featuring all the flavors of the month, particularly the female-fleshy variety.


a security guard gives me a cursory glance. no matter how individual i believe myself to be, i’m still but one of thousands of travelers she scans every day. and then in a flash i know: the most important life choice is not who we hook up with but rather which route we trod. on the road is where we meet our mates, to go one way is to reject another. boy, i can be a philosophizing fool while walking my ass through an airport!


on the down escalator i vainly try to gather up my thoughts. few of the travelers around me look happy. are they scowling in disappointment about dead-ended routes?


the terminal doors open automatically. i step into the dallas morning sunshine, gently sit down the black briefcase that contains my laptop, unsling  my carry-on from my shoulder, and lean back against a concrete column, reprising my monthly waiting-for-my-ride routine.


mr. donut passes without even a glance in my grey-bearded direction. i’m not surprised. when you’re fixated on the past, you don’t recognize the future. on the other hand, to truly know yourself, you must recognize everything and everyone you’ve rejected or avoided.


i probably looked somewhat silly, standing there beaming my crooked-tooth smile at life’s little paradox: all the things we are is also a composite of all the things we chose not to be? is this how it feels to grow old?


—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70020 2013-02-10T06:39:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:27Z ESSAY: DO RIGHT WOMEN
photo by Alex Lear




Black Women, Eroticism

and Classic Blues




          I'm going to show you women, honey,

               how to cock it on the wall.

          Now you can snatch it, you can break it, you can

               hang it on the wall

          Throw it out the window, see if you

               can catch it 'fore it fall

                    --Louise Johnson


     "I fantasize spanking you. What sexual fantasies do you have?" an ex-lover intoned into the phone receiver.

     As she spoke I remembered a time when we were in one of those classical numeral positions and at a peak moment I felt the sharp smack of her bare palm on my bare butt--not in pain nor anger, but surprisingly, for me, I remember a tingle of pleasure, the pleasure in knowing that I had been the catalyst for her, a person of supreme sexual control, going over the edge.

     After I hung up, I admitted to myself that like many males my main fantasy was to be sexually attractive to and sexually satisfying for thousands of women. I "fantasize" sexually engaging at least a quarter of the women I see, ninety percent of whom I don't know beyond eyeing them for a moment as I drive down some street, spot them in a store, in an office building, in line paying a bill, or walking ahead of me out of a movie.

     I remember in one of my writing workshops in the fall of 1995 I shocked a room of young men by declaring that sexual expression among male homosexuals represented the fullest flowering of male sexuality. Some reacted predictably from a position of virulent homophobia and others were just genuinely skeptical.

     I explained that if he could, assuming that there were no restraints and that it was consensual sex between adults, then the average American male would engage in promiscuous sex every time they felt aroused--which undoubtedly would be often. A major brake on our promiscuousness is the unwillingness of women to cooperate with male socio-biological urges.

     I asked one of the more skeptical homophobes in my workshop, "haven't you seen a woman today you wished that you could get down with, a woman whom you didn't know personally?" He smiled and answered "yeah, on my way to class just now." After the laughter died down, I told him that this is indeed what often happens with gay sex precisely because there is no restraint other than desire and safety.

     American male sexuality is, among other characteristics, a celebration of the moment. Our fantasy is immediate sexual gratification with whomever catches our fancy. Most of the time we deny, transfer, repress, or misrepresent these fantasies. However, in popular music we forcefully articulate the male desire to wantonly enjoy coition with women. Thus, these 90's rap and r&b ("rhythm and booty") records about rampant sex with a bevy of willing cuties is not just adolescent, post-puberty fantasizing but rather is an accurate projection of ethically unchecked and socially unshaped male sexuality--a sexuality which projects the male as the dominating, aggressive subject and the female as the pliant (if not willing) object of consumption.

     Here is a significant cultural crossroads. I hold no truck in prudish and/or puritanical views of sex; while I abhor pornography (the commidifying of sex and the reifying of a person or gender into a sexual object), I am opposed to censorship. The status quo would have the whole debate about the representation of sexuality boil down to either reticence or profligacy. The truth is those extremes are not different roads. They are simply the up and down side of the status quo view which either come from or lead to the objectifying of sexual relations. Objectifying sexual relations is a completely different road from the frank articulation of eroticism.

     Within the American cultural context, this difference is nowhere as clearly presented as in the early, 1920's woman-centered music known as "Classic Blues."





     You never get nothing by being an angel child,

     You better change your ways and get real wild,

     I want to tell you something and I wouldn't tell you no lie,

     Wild women are the only kind that really get by,

     'Cause wild women don't worry, wild women don't have the blues.

                    --Ida Cox


     Known today as "Classic Blues" divas, these women married big city dreams with post-plantation realties and, by using the vernacular and folk-wisdom of the people, gave voice to our people's hopes and sorrows and specifically spoke to the yearnings and aspirations of Black women recently migrated to the city from the country. While many women took up domestic and factory work, the entertainment industry also was a major employer of Black women. In Black Pearls author Daphne Harrison sets the stage:


     Young black women with talent began to emerge from the churches, schools, and clubs where they had sung, recited, danced, or played, and ventured into the more lucrative aspects of the entertainment world, in response to the growing demand for talent in the theaters and traveling shows. The financial rewards often out-weighed community censure, for by 1910-1911 they could usually earn upwards of fifty dollars a week, while their domestic counterparts earned only eight to ten dollars. Many aspiring young women went to the cities as domestics in hope of ultimately getting on stage. While the domestics' social contacts were severely limited, mainly to the white employers and to their own families, the stage performer had an admiring audience in addition to family and friends. (Harrison, page 21)


     The Classic Blues divas who emerged from this social milieu were more than entertainers, they were role models, advice givers, and a social force for cultural transformation. Ma Rainey is considered the mother of the Classic Blues. "She jes' catch hold of us, somekinaway." scripts poet Sterling Brown in giving a right on the money description of the cathartic power of Ma Rainey's majestic embrace which wrapped up her audience and reared them into the discovery of self-actulization's rarefied air. "Git way inside us, / Keep us strong" (Brown, pages 62 - 63). Birthed by these women, we became our selves as a people and as sexually active individuals.

     Twenties Classic Blues was the first and only time that independent African-American women were at the creative center of Black musical culture. Neither before nor since have women been as economically or psychologically "liberated".

     In a country dominated by patriarchal values, mores and male leadership (should we more accurately say "overseership"?), Classic Blues is remarkable. Remember that although slavery ended with the Civil War in 1866 and the passage of the 15th amendment to the Constitution, suffrage for women was not enacted until 1920 with the 19th amendment. The suffrage movement, which had been dominated by White women, was also intimately aligned with the temperance movement, a movement which demonized jazz and blues.

     Black women were a major organizing and stabilizing force in and on behalf of the Black community between post-Reconstruction and the Twenties. Historian Darlene Hine notes:


     The second period began in the 1890s and ended around 1930 and is best referred to as the First Era of the Black Woman...black women were among the most active and determined agents for community building and race survival. Their style was concentrated on internal developments within the black community and is reflected in the massive mobilization that led to the formation of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs that boasted a membership of over 50,000 by 1914. ... Black women perfected a "politics of respectability," a "culture of dissemblance," and a cult of secrecy and silence. (Hine, page 118-119)


      But a curious dynamic has always animated Black America--while those who hoped to assimilate, to be accepted and/or to achieve "wealth and happiness" strove for and advocated a "politics of respectability" the folk masses sang a blues song a la Langston Hughes' mule who was black and didn't give a damn, if you wanted him, you had to take him just as he am. In other words, the blues aesthetic upsets the respectability applecart. And at the core of the blues aesthetic is a celebration of the erotic.

     I content that this is a major cultural battle. Eroticism is the motor that drives Black culture (or, more precisely, drives those aspects of our culture which are not assimilative in representation). Whereas, polite society was too nice to be nasty, blues people felt if it wasn't nasty, then how could it be nice.

     As James Cone notes in his perceptive and important book The Spirituals and the Blues:


     It has been the vivid description of sex that caused many church people to reject the blues as vulgar or dirty. The Christian tradition has always been ambiguous about sexual intercourse, holding it to be divinely ordained yet the paradigm of rebellious passion. Perhaps this accounts for the absence of sex in the black spirituals and other black church music. ... In the blues there is an open acceptance of sexual love, and it is described in most vivid terms... (Cone, page 117)


     Many of us are totally confused about eroticism. Most of us don't appreciate the frank eroticism of nearly all African-heritage cultures which have not been twisted by outside domination (e.g. Christianity and Islam). Commenting on "Songs Of Ritual License From Midwestern Nigeria" African Art Historian Jean Borgtatti notes:


     The songs themselves represent an occasion of ritualized verbal license in which men and women ridicule each other's genitalia and sexual habits. Normally such ridicule would be an anti-social act in the extreme... In the ritual context, however, the songs provide recognition, acceptance, and release of that tension which exists between the sexes in all cultures, and so neutralize this potential threat to community stability. (Borgatti, page 60)


     The songs in question range from explicit and detailed put-downs to this lyric sung by a woman which could be a twenties blues lyric.

     When I Refuse Him


     When I refuse him, the man is filled with sorrow

     When I refuse him, the man is filled with sorrow

     When my "thing" is bright and happy like a baby chick, it drives him wild

     When my "thing" is bright and happy like a baby chick, it drives him wild


My argument is that socially expressed eroticism is part and parcel of our heritage. In the American context, this eroticism is totally absent in the "lyrics" of the spirituals (albeit not totally suppressed in the rituals of black church liturgy). On the other hand, Black eroticism is best expressed and preserved in the blues (beginning in the early 1920s) and in its modern musical offshoots.

     Erotic representation is another major point of divergence. Euro-centric representations of eroticism have been predominately visual and textual whereas African-heritage representations have been mainly aural (music) and oral (boasts, toasts, dozens, etc.). The eye sees but does not feel. Mainly the brain responds to and interprets visual stimuli whereas the body as a whole responds to sound. Moreover, textual erotic representation invites and encourages private and individual activity. E.g. you are probably alone reading this--if not alone in fact certainly alone in effect as there may be others present where you are reading but they are not reading over your shoulder or sitting beside you reading with you. Moreover, you most certainly are not reading this aloud for general consumption. If you do read it aloud it is probably a one-to-one private act.

     Aural and oral erotic representation, on the other hand, require a participating audience, become a ritual of arousal. Music, in particular, is not only social in focus, music also privileges communal eroticism. Thus, whereas text encourages individualism and self-evaluations of deviance, shame and guilt; musical eroticism encourages coupling, group identification and self-evaluations of shared erotic values, sexual self worth and pleasure.

     Finally, within the African-American context, sound is used as language to communicate what English words cannot. The African American folk saying, "when you moan the devil don't know what you talking about" contains an ironic edge that goes beyond spiritual commentaries on good and evil. The White oppressor/slave master, i.e. "the devil," does not understand the meaning of moaning partly because of intentional deception on the part of the moaners but also because English lexicon is limited. Moans, wails, cries, hums and other vocal devices communicate feelings, moods, desires and are the core of blues expression. This is why the blues is more powerful than the lyrics of the songs, why blues lyrics do not translate well to the cold page (when the sound of the words is not manifested much of the true meaning of the words is lost), and why blues cannot be accurately analyzed purely from an intellectual standpoint. Moreover, erotic desires, frustrations and fulfillments--the most frequent emotions articulated in the blues--are some of the strongest emotions routinely manifested by human beings.

     In the 1920's mainstream America was nowhere near ready to acknowledge and celebrate eroticism. Thus, as far as most Americans were concerned, a frank and explicit expression of eroticism was shameful. This social "shame" became the singular trademark of the blues. Moreover, the identification of sexual explicitness with the blues was so thorough that sexually explicit language became known as "blue" as in "cussin' up a blue streak" or the kind of  "blue material" which was often "banned in Boston."

     Within the context of American Puritanism and Christian anti-eroticism, it is important to note that "blue" erotic music was first brought to national prominence not by men but rather by women. This privileging of feminine sexuality was an unplanned result of the newly developed recording industry's quest for profits. When "Okeh Records sold seventy-five thousand copies of 'Crazy Blues' in the first month and surpassed the one million mark during its first year in the stores" (Barlow, page 128) the hunt was on. Recording and selling "race records" (i.e. blues) was like a second California gold rush. There was no aesthetic nor philosophical interest in the blues. This was strictly business. Moreover, during the first years of the race record craze, because race records were sold almost exclusively to a Black audience there was less censorship and interference than there otherwise might have been. Black tastes and cultural values drove the market during the twenties. There were both positive and negative results to this commercialization.


     On the positive side of the ledger, the mechanical reproduction of millions of blues disks made the music far more accessible to the public in general, and black people in particular. Blues entered an era of unprecedented growth and vitality, surfacing as a national phenomenon by the 1920s. As a result, a new generation of African-American musicians were able to learn from the commercial recordings, to expand their mastery over the various idioms and enhance their instrumental and vocal techniques. The local and regional African-American folk traditions that spawned blues were, in turn, infused with new songs, rhythms, and styles. Thus, the record business was an important catalyst in the development of blues that also facilitated their entrance into the mainstream of popular American music.

     On the other hand, the transformation of living musical traditions into commodities to be sold in a capitalist marketplace was bound to have its drawbacks. For one thing, the profits garnered from the sale of blues records invariably went into the coffers of the white businessmen who owned or managed the record companies. The black musicians and vocalists who created the music in the recording studios received a pittance. Furthermore, the major record companies went to great lengths to get the blues to conform to their Tin Pan Alley standards, and they often expected black recording artists to conform to racist stereotypes inherited from blackface minstrelsy. The industry also like to record white performers' "cover" versions of popular blues to entice the white public to buy the records and to "upgrade" the music. Upgrading was synonymous with commercializing; it attempted to bring African-American music more into line with European musical conventions, while superimposing on it a veneer of middle-class Anglo-American respectability. These various practices deprived a significant percentage of recorded blues numbers of their African characteristics and more radical content. (Barlow, pages 123-124)


     When the depression hit and Black audiences no longer had significant disposable income to spend on recordings, the acceptable styles of recorded blues changed drastically.


     The onset of the depression quickly reversed the fortunes of the entire record industry; sales fell from over $100 million in 1927 to $6 million in 1933. Consequently, race record releases were drastically cut back, field recording ventures into the South were discontinued, the labels manufactured fewer and fewer copies of each title, and record prices fell from seventy-five to thirty-five cents a disk. Whereas the average race record on the market sold approximately ten thousand copies in the mid-twenties, it plummeted to two thousand in 1930, and bottomed out at a dismal four hundred in 1932. The smaller labels were gradually forced out of business, while the major record companies with large catalogues that went into debt were purchased by more prosperous media corporations based in radio and film. The record companies with race catalogues that totally succumbed to the economic downturn were Paramount, Okeh, and Gennett. By 1933, the race record industry appeared to be a fatality of the depression. (Barlow, page 133)


     The Classic Blues divas founded and shaped the form of Black music's initial recording success in the twenties. By the thirties women were completely erased as cultural leaders of Black music. While there was certainly an overriding economic imperative to the cutback, there was also a cultural/philosophical imperative to cut out women altogether.

     There was no precedent in either White or Black American culture for women as leaders in articulating eroticism. This significant feminizing of eroticism was predicated on an unprecedented albeit short-lived change in the physical and economic social structure of the Black community converging with a period of massive national economic growth and far reaching mass media technological innovations in recordings, radio, and film.

     Despite optimal economic and technological incentives, the twenties rise of the newly emergent Classic Blues diva was no cakewalk, not only because of the virulence of class exploitation, racism and sexism but also because of cultural antagonisms. Regardless of race, there was an open conflict between the blues and social respectability. The self-assertive, female Classic Blues singer was perceived as a threat to both the American status quo as well as to many of the major political forces seeking to enlarge the status quo (i.e. the petty bourgeoise-oriented talented tenth).

     Moreover, unlike many post-Motown, popular female singers who are produced, directed and packaged by males, Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, Sippie Wallace, and the incomparable "Empress" of the blues, Bessie Smith, were more than simple fronts for turn-of-the-century blues Svengalies. Yes, men such as Perry Bradford, Clarence Williams, and Thomas Dorsey were major composers, arrangers, accompanists and producers for many of the Classic Blues divas; and yes, these women often were surrounded and beset by men who attempted to physically, financially and psychologically abuse them, nevertheless the Classic Blues divas were neither pushovers nor tearful passive victims.


Emerging from southern backgrounds rich in religious and folk music traditions, they were able to capture in song the sensibilities of black women--North and South--who struggled daily for physical, psychological, and spiritual balance. They did this by calling forth the demons that plagued women and exorcising them in public. Alienation, sex and sexuality, tortured love, loneliness, hard times, marginality, were addressed with an openness that had not previously existed.

     The blues women accomplished this with their unique flair for dramatizing their texts and performances. They introduced and refined vocal strategies that gave the lyrics added power. Some of these were instrumentality, voices growling and sliding like trombones, or wailing and piercing like clarinets; unexpected word stress; vocal breaks in antiphony with the accompaniment; syncopated phrasing; unlimited improvisation on repetitious refrains or phrases. These innovations, in tandem with the talented instrumentalists who accompanied the blues women, advanced the development of vocal and instrumental jazz.

     Of equal significance, because they were such prominent public figures, the blues women presented alternative models of attitude and behavior for black women during the 1920s. They demonstrated that black women could be financially independent, outspoken, and physically attractive. They dressed to emphasize their symbolic importance to their audiences. The queens, regal in their satins, laces, sequins and beads, and feather boas trailing from their bronze or peaches-and-cream shoulders, wore tiaras that sparkled in the lights. The queens held court in dusty little tents, in plush city cabarets, in crowded theaters, in dance halls, and wherever else their loyal subjects would flock to pay homage. They rode in fine limousines, in special railroad cars, and in whatever was available, to carry them from country to town to city and back, singing as they went. The queens filled the hearts and souls of their subjects with joy and laughter and renewed their spirits with the love and hope that came from a deep well of faith and will to endure. (Harrison, pages 221-222)


     Never since have women performed major leadership roles in the music industry, especially not African-American women. The entertainment industry intentionally curtailed the trend of highly vocal, independent women. Most of the Classic Blues divas, it must be noted, were not svelte sex symbols comparable in either features or figure to White women. The blues shouter was generally a robust, brown or dark-skinned, African-featured women who thought of and carried herself as the equal of any man. America fears the drum and psychologically fears the bearer of the first drum, i.e. the feminine heartbeat that we hear in the womb.

     Bessie Smith and her peers, were sexually assertive "wild" women, well endowed with the necessary physical and psychological prowess to take care of themselves. Actively bisexual, Bessie Smith belied the common "asexual" labeling of stout women, such as is suggested by Nikki Giovanni in "Woman Poem"


     it's a sex object if you're pretty

     and no love

     or love and no sex if you're fat

          (Giovanni, page 55)


     "No sex" was not the reality of the Classic Blues divas. Yes, many of them were then and would now be considered "fat" but they were far from celibate (by either choice or circumstance). Or, as the sarcastic blues lyric notes:


     I'm a big fat mama, got meat shakin' on my bones

     A big fat mama, with plenty meat shakin' on my bones

     Every time I shake my stuff, some skinny gal loses her home


     In recent years the best description of the liberating function Blues divas served for the Black community is contained in Alice Walker's powerful novel, The Color Purple. Walker's memorable and mythic character Shug Avery is an active bisexual blues singer a la Bessie Smith. Shug instructs the heroine Celie in the recognition and celebration of herself as a sexual being:


     Why Miss Celie, [Shug] say, you still a virgin.

     What? I ast.


     Listen, she say, right down there in your pussy is a little button that gits real hot when you do you know what with somebody. It git hotter and hotter and then it melt. That the good part. But other parts good too, she say. Lot of sucking go on, here and there, she say. Lot of finger and tongue work. (Walker, page 81)


Shug then instructs Celie "Here, take this mirror and go look at yourself down there, I bet you never seen it, have you?" The blues becomes a means not only of social self expression but also of sexual self discovery, especially for women.

     In a life often defined by brutality, exploitation and drudgery, the female discovery and celebration of self-determined sexual pleasure is important. Thus the blues affirms an essential and explicit reversal. We have been taught that we are ugly, the blues celebrates our beauty and this is especially true for Black women.


     I lie back on the bed and haul up my dress. Yank down my bloomers. Stick the looking glass tween my legs. Ugh. All that hair. Then my pussy lips be black. Then inside look like a wet rose.

     It a lot prettier than you thought, ain't it. she say from the door.

     It mine, I say. Where the button?

     Right up near the top, she say. The part that stick out a little.

     I look at her and touch it with my finger. A little shiver go through me. Nothing much. But just enough to tell me this the right button to mash. (Walker, page 82)


     The major characteristic of the Classic Blues is that the vast majority of the songs were sexually oriented and nearly all of the singers were women. In his major study of Black music, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) notes:


     The great classic blues singers were women... Howard W. Odum and Guy B. Johnson note from a list of predominately classic blues titles, taken from the record catalogues of three "race" companies. "The majority of these formal blues are sung from the point of view of woman... upwards of seventy-five per cent of the songs are written from the woman's point of view. Among the blues singers who have gained a more or less national recognition there is scarcely a man's name to be found." (Jones, page 91)


Jones goes on to answer the obvious question of why women dominated in this area:


     Minstrelsy and vaudeville not only provided employment for a great many women blues singers but helped to develop the concept of the professional Negro female entertainer. Also, the reverence in which most of white society was held by Negroes gave to those Negro entertainers an enormous amount of prestige. Their success was also boosted at the beginning of this century by the emergence of many white women as entertainers and in the twenties, by the great swell of distaff protest regarding women's suffage. All these factors came together to make the entertainment field a glamorous one for Negro women, providing an independence and importance not available in other areas open to them--the church, domestic work, or prostitution. (Jones, page 93)


     Ann Douglas, in her important book Mongrel Manhattan In The 1920s, Terrible Honesty identifies the twenties as a period of (quoting from the dustjacket) "historical transformation: blacks and whites, men and women together created a new American culture, fusing high art and low, espousing the new mass media, repudiating the euphemisms of outdated gentility in favor of a boldly masculinized outspokenness, bringing the African-American folk and popular art heritage briefly but irrevocably into the mainstream." Douglas believes the birth of modernism required the death of the white matriarch.


     "The two movements, cultural emancipation of America from foreign influences and celebration of its black-and-white heritage, had for a brief but crucial moment a common opponent and a common agenda: the demolition of that block to modernity, or so she seemed, the powerful white middleclass matriarch of the recent Victorian past. My black protagonists were not matrophobic to the same degree as my white ones were, but the New Negro, too, had something to gain from the demise of the Victorian matriarch."  (Douglas, page 6)


Such anti-matriarch sentiments directly clashed with the reality of female-led Classic Blues.

     We are forced to ask the question: does the freedom of the Black man require the destruction of the Black woman? To the degree that the Black woman is a matriarch, a self-possessed and self-directed person, to that same degree there will inevitably be a conflict with the standards of modern America which are misogynist in general and anti-matriarchal in particular.


     Thanks to the revolt against the matriarch, Christian beliefs and middleclass values would never again be a prerequisite for elite artistic success in America. Nor would plumpness ever again be a broadly sanctioned type of female beauty; the 1920s put the body type of the stout and full-figured matron decisively out of fashion. Once the matriarch and her notions of middle-class piety, racial superiority, and sexual repression were discredited, modern America, led by New York, was free to promote, not an egalitarian society, but something like an egalitarian popular and mass culture aggressively appropriating forms and ideas across race, class, and gender lines. (Douglas, page 8)


     Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, et al may seem to contradict Douglas' thesis but actually the disappearance of big, Black women from leadership in entertainment is proof that Douglas was correct in her assessment of modern America. Among Black people, the Black matriarch continued to reign in the arenas of church, education and community service. However, to the degree that Black people adopt modern American ways to that same degree our culture inevitably becomes "masculinized"     and "anti-matriarchal." This is inevitable because, as Douglas' book demonstrates in great detail, American modernism is based on the refutation of the woman as culture bearer. Yet culture bearer is precisely the role that the Black woman fulfills.

     "The blues woman is the priestess or prophet of the people. She verbalizes the emotion for herself and the audience, articulating the stresses and strains of human relationships" (Cone, page 107) proudly proclaims theologist James Cone, a Christian man who had sense enough to sus out the potency of blues priestesses, a potency which is overtly sexual but which also made strong social, political and economic statements (e.g. "T.B. Blues" by Ida Cox decrying poor health conditions and "Poor Man Blues" by Bessie Smith condemning class exploitation).





     There's a new game, that can't be beat,

     You move most everything 'cept your feet,

     Called 'Whip it to a jelly, stir it in a bowl',

     You just whip it to a jelly, if you like good jelly roll


     I wear my skirt up to my knees

     And whip that jelly with who I please.

     Oh, whip it to a jelly, mmmmmm, mmmm

     Mmmmm, mmmm, mmmmm, mmmm

               --Clara Smith


     In western culture the celebration of dignity and eroticism does not and can not take place simultaneously. From Freud's theories of sexuality which focus for the most part on penile power to the church which goes so far as to debase the body as a product of original sin, there is no room for the celebration of eroticism, and certainly no conception whatsoever of the female as an active purveyor of erotic power. To me, the blues is clearly an alternative to Freud and Jesus with respect to coming to terms with our bodies.

     James Cone correctly analyzes this alternative.


     Theologically, the blues reject the Greek distinction between the soul and the body, the physical and the spiritual. They tell us that there is no wholeness without sex, no authentic love without the feel and touch of the physical body. The blues affirm the authenticity of sex as the bodily expression of black soul.

     White people obviously cannot understand the love that black people have for each other. People who enslave humanity cannot understand the meaning of human freedom; freedom comes only to those who struggle for it in the context of the community of the enslaved. People who destroy physical bodies with guns, whips, and napalm cannot know the power of physical love. Only those who have been hurt can appreciate the warmth of love that proceeds when persons touch, feel, and embrace each other. The blues are openness to feeling and the emotions of physical love. (Cone, pages 117-118)


     Moreover, the fact that Freud's theories find their first popular American currency in the 1920s at the same time as Black women's articulation of the Classic Blues suggests an open contest between widely divergent viewpoints. The Classic Blues offered an unashamed and assertive alternative to both the traditional puritanical views of sexuality as well as alternative to the new Freudian psychological views of sexuality. Bessie Smith and company were battling Jesus on the right and Freud on the left.

     The puritans with their scarlet letters projected the virgin/whore (Mary mother vs. Mary Madaglene) dualism. For the most part, Freud either ignored the psychology of women, thought they were unfathomable, or else projected onto them the infamous "penis envy."

     The period between the Civil War and World War II is the birth of American modernism. It is also the period when the bustle (an artificial attempt to mimic the physique of Black women) was a fashion standard. While it is not within the purview of this essay to address the question of how is it that Black buttocks become a standard of femininity for white society, it is important to at least mention this, so that we can contextualize the battle of worldviews.

     Freud proposed the "id" as the controlling element of the civilized individual. The purpose of Black music was precisely to surmount the "id." The individual looses control, is possessed. This trance state is a sought for and enjoyed experience. Rather than be in control we desire to be mounted, i.e. to merge with and be controlled by a greater force outside ourselves. Blues culture validated ritual and merger of the micro-individual into the social and spiritual macro-environment. In this way blues may be understood as an alternative conception of human existence.

     In a major theoretical opus on the blues, Blues and the Poetic Spirit, author Paul Garon argues


To those who suggest that the blues singers are 'preoccupied' with sexuality, let us point out that all humanity is preoccupied with sexuality, albeit most often in a repressive way; the blues singers, by establishing their art on a relatively nonrepressive level, strip the 'civilised' disguise from humanity's preoccupation, thus allowing the content to stand as it really is: eroticism as the source of happiness.

     The blues, as it reflects human desire, projects the imaginative possibilities of true erotic existence. Hinted at are new realities of non-repressive life, dimly grasped in our current state of alienation and repression, but nonetheless implicit in the character of sexuality as it is treated in the blues. Desire defeats the existing morality--poetry comes into being. (Garon, pages 66-67)


     Musicologist/theologist Jon Michael Spencer takes Garon's argument deeper when he comments in his book Blues and Evil:


Garon was seemingly drawing on the thought of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault, who said in his history of sexuality that if sex is repressed and condemned to prohibition then the person who holds forth in such language, with seeming intentionality, moves, to a certain degree, beyond the reach of power and upsets established law. Sex also might have been a means for "blues people" to feel potent in an oppressive society that made them feel socially and economically impotent, especially since sexuality inside the black community was one area that was free from the restraints of "the law" and the lynch mob.


     In essence, the Classic Blues as articulated by Black women was not only a conscious articulation of the social self and validation of the feminine sexual self, the Classic Blues was also a total philosophical alternative to the dominant White society.

     In this regard two incidents in the life of Bessie Smith serve as archetypal illustration. The first is Bessie Smith confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan and the second is Smith's confrontation with Carl Van Vechten's wife. The Klan is the apotheosis of racist, right wing America. Carl Van Vechten is the personification of liberal America.

     In Chris Albertson biography of Bessie Smith he describes Smith's July 1927 confrontation with the Klan that occurred when sheeted Klan members were attempting to "collapse Bessie's tent; they had already pulled up several stakes." When a band member told Smith what was going on the following ensued.


     "Some shit!" she said, and ordered the prop boys to follow her around the tent. When they were within a few feet of the Klansmen, the boys withdrew to a safe distance. Bessie had not told them why she wanted them, and one look at the white hoods was all the discouragement they needed.

     Not Bessie. She ran toward the intruders, stopped within ten feet of them, placed one hand on her hip, and shook a clenched fist at the Klansmen. "What the fuck you think you're doin'?" she shouted above the sound of the band. "I'll get the whole damn tent out here if I have to. You just pick up them sheets and run!"

     The Klansmen, apparently too surprised to move, just stood there and gawked. Bessie hurled obscenities at them until they finally turned and disappeared quietly into the darkness.

     "I ain't never heard of such shit," said Bessie, and walked back to where her prop boys stood. "And as for you, you ain't nothin' but a bunch of sissies."

     Then she went back into the tent as if she had just settled a routine matter. (Albertson, pages 132-133)


     Bessie Smith was not an apolitical entertainer. She was a fighter whose sexual persona was aligned with a strong sense of political self-determination. This "strength" of character is another reason that singers such as Bessie Smith were widely celebrated in the Black community. Furthermore, Smith not only was not intimidated by the right, she was equally unimpressed with the liberal sector of American society, as the incident at the Van Vechten household demonstrates. Along with his wife Fania Marinoff, a former Russian ballerina, Carl Van Vechten ("Carlo") was the major patron of the Harlem Renaissance. Albertson describes "Carlo" as an individual who "typified the upper-class white liberal of his day." (Albertson, page 138)


     Van Vechten loved the ghetto's pulsating music and strapping young men, and he maintained a Harlem apartment--decorated in black with silver stars on the ceiling and seductive red lights--for his notorious nocturnal gatherings.

     His favorite black singers were Ethel waters, Clara Smith, and Bessie. (Albertson, page 139)


     Van Vechten persistently sought Bessie Smith as a salon guest. She resisted but finally relented after continuous entreaties from one of her band members, composer and accompanist Porter Grainger, who desperately wished to be included among Van Vechten's "in crowd." Smith finally agreed to make a quick between sets appearance. Bessie exquisitely sang "six or seven numbers" taking a strong drink between each number. And then it was time to rush back to the Lafayette Theatre to do their second show of the night.


     All went well until an effusive woman stopped them a few steps from the front door. It was Bessie's hostess, Fania Marinoff Van Vechten.

     "Miss Smith," she said, throwing her arms around Bessie's massive neck and pulling it forward, "you're not leaving without kissing me goodbye."

     That was all Bessie needed.

     "Get the fuck away from me," she roared, thrusting her arms forward and knocking the woman to the floor, "I ain't never heard of such shit!"

     In the silence that followed, Bessie stood in the middle of the foyer, ready to take on the whole crowd.

     "It's all right, Miss Smith," [Carl Van Vechten] said softly, trailing behind the threesome in the hall. "You were magnificent tonight." (Albertson, page 143)


     What does any of this have to do with eroticism? These are examples of Black womanhood in action accepting no shit from either friend or foe. Blues divas such as Bessie Smith were neither afraid of nor envious of Whites. This social self assuredness is intimately entwined with their sense of sexual self assuredness. As Harrison perceptively points out, the Classic Blues divas "introduced a new, different model of black women--more assertive, sexy, sexually aware, independent, realistic, complex, alive." (Harrison, page 111).

     These blues singers were eventually replaced in the entertainment sphere by mulatto entertainers and chocolate exotics, Josephine Baker preeminent among them. Significantly, the replacements for Blues divas were popular song stylists who aimed their art at White men rather than at the Black community in general and Black women specifically. The replacements for the big, Black, Classic Blues diva marked the consolidation of the modern entertainment industry's sexual commodification, commercializing and exoticizing of Black female sexuality.

     Although entertainers from Josephine Baker, to Eartha Kitt, to Dianna Ross, to Tina Turner all started off as Black women they ended up projected as sex symbols adored by a predominately White male audience. In that context, sexuality becomes, at best, symbolic prostitution. The Black woman as exotic-erotic temptress of suppressed White male libidos is the complete antithesis of Classic Blues singer. The Classic Blues singer did not sell her sexuality to her oppressor. This question of cultural and personal integrity marks the difference between the sexual commodification inherent in today's entertainment world (especially when one realizes that the major record buying public for many hardcore rap artists is composed of White teenagers) and the sexual affirmation essential to Classic Blues.

     Another important point is that Classic Blues celebrated Black eroticism based in a literal "Black, Brown or Beige" body rather than in a "white looking" mulatto body. When we look at pictures of Classic Blues divas, we see our mothers, aunts, and older lady friends. Indeed, by all-American beauty standards most of these women would be considered plain (at best), and many would be called "ugly."

     For example, Ma Rainey was often crudely and cruelly demeaned. Giles Oakley's book The Devil's Music, A History of the Blues quotes Little Brother Montgomery "Boy, she was the horrible-lookingest thing I ever see!" and Georgia Tom Dorsey "Well, I couldn't say she was a good-looking woman and she was stout. But she was one of the loveliest people I ever worked for or worked with." Oakley opines


     She was an extraordinary-looking woman, ugly-attractive with a short, stubby body, big-featured face and a vividly painted mouth full of gold teeth; she would be loaded down with diamonds--in her ears, round her neck, in a tiara on her head, on her hands, everywhere. Beads and bangles mingled jingling with the frills on her expensive stage gowns. For a time her trademark was a fabulous necklace of gold coins, from 2.50 dollar coins to heavy 20 dollar 'Eagles' with matching gold earrings. (Oakley, page 99)


     I'm sure the majority of Ma Rainey's female audience did not fail to notice that Ma Rainey resembled them--she looked like they did and they looked like she did. There is no alienation of physical looks between the Classic Blues singer and the majority of her working class Black audience. Physical-appearance alienation of artist from audience is another byproduct of the commodification of Black music.

     What started out as a ritual celebration of openly eroticized life was transformed by the entertainment industry into mass-media pornography--the priestess became a prostitute. Albertson's citing of  a colorfully written Van Vechten assessment of a Bessie Smith performance clarifies the difference between Bessie Smith performing mainly for Black people and subsequent "Black beauties" (including the famous Cotton Club dancers and singers) performing almost exclusively for Whites. Van Vechten not only points out the literally Black make up of Smith's audience, he also points out how Black women identified with Bessie Smith.


     Now, inspired partly by the powerfully magnetic personality of this elemental conjure woman with her plangent African voice, quivering with passion and pain, sounding as if it had been developed at the sources of the Nile, the black and blue-black crowd, notable for the absence of mulattoes, burst into hysterical, semi-religious shrieks of sorrow and lamentation. Amens rent the air. Little nervous giggles, like the shattering of Venetian glass, shocked our nerves. When Bessie proclaimed, "It's true I loves you, but I won't take mistreatment any mo," a girl sitting beneath our box called "Dat's right! Say it, sister!" (Albertson, page 107)


     The implication of such example is psychologically far-reaching and explicitly threatening to male chauvinism, as Harrison explicates:


...the silent, suffering woman is replaced by a loud-talking mama, reared-back with one hand on her hip and with the other wagging a pointed finger vigorously as she denounces the two-timing dude. Ntozage Shange, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston employ this scenario as the pivotal point in a negative relationship between the heroine/protagonists and their abusive men. Going public is their declaration of independence. Blues of this nature communicated to women listeners that they were members of a sisterhood that did not have to tolerate mistreatment. (Harrison, page 89)


     That these women--big, black, tough, non-virginal, sexually aggressive--were superstars of their era is testimony to the strength of a totally oppositional standard of human value. Their value was not one of physical appearance but one of spiritual relevance. And make no mistake, at that time there was no shortage of mulatto chorines and canaries--Lena Horne, archetypal amongst such "All-American beauties." Nor was there an absence of White male sex-lust for exotic-erotic mulattoes. The difference was that during the twenties there was an unassimilated Black audience which self-consciously embraced/squeezed the blacker berry, i.e. the Classic Blues diva.

     The Classic Blues diva was an extraordinary woman whose relevance to a Black audience has never been approached, not to mention matched. William Barlow's assessment is fundamentally correct.


     The classic blues women's feminist discourse grappled with the race, class, and sexual injustices they encountered living in urban America. They were outspoken opponents of racial discrimination in all guises, and hence critical of the dominant white social order--even while benefiting from it more than most of their peers. They identified with the struggles of the masses of black people, empathized with the plight of the downtrodden, and sang out for social change. Within the black community, the classic blues women were also critical of the way they were treated by men, challenging the sexual double standard. Concurrently, they reaffirmed and reclaimed their feminine powers--sexual and spiritual--to remake the world in their own image and to their own liking. This included freedom of choice across the social spectrum--from political to sexual resistance, from black nationalism to lesbianism. Like the first-generation rural blues troubadours, the classic blues women were cultural rebels, ahead of the times artistically and in the forefront of resistance to all the various forms of domination they encountered. (Barlow, pages 180-181)


     At the essential core of the Classic Blues was a throbbing, vital eroticism, an eroticism that manifested itself in the lifestyle and subject matter of the Classic Blues divas. Although we can analyze in hindsight, the ultimate manifestation of blue eroticism is not to be found nor appreciated in intellectualism but in its funky sound which must be experienced to be fully appreciated. Once again, Alice Walker's The Color Purple is exemplar in portraying the importance of the blue erotic sound--an eroticism best articulated by Black women.


     Shug say to Squeak, I mean, Mary Agnes, You ought to sing in public.

     Mary Agnes say, Naw. She think cause she don't sing big and broad like Shug nobody want to hear her. But Shug say she wrong.

     What about all them funny voices you hear singing in church? Shug say. What about all them sounds that sound good but they not the sounds you thought folks could make? What bout that? Then she start moaning. Sound like death approaching, angels can't prevent it. It raise the hair on the back of your neck. But it really sound sort of like panthers would sound if they could sing.

     I tell you something else, Shug say to Mary Agnes, listening to you sing, folks git to thinking bout a good screw.

     Aw, Miss Shug, say Mary Agnes, changing color.

     Shug say, What, too shamefaced to put singing and dancing and fucking together? She laugh. That's the reason they call what us sing the devil's music. Devils love to fuck. (Walker, page 120)




Albertson, Chris. Bessie. Braircliff: Stein and Day Paperback, 1985 (Originally issued 1972)

Barlow, William. Looking Up At Down. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989

Borgatti, Jean. "Songs Of Ritual License From Midwestern Nigeria" in Alcheringa Ethnopoetics (New Series Volume 2, Number 1). Dennis Tedlock and Jerome Rothenberg, editors. Boston: Boston University, 1976

Brown, Sterling A. The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown. Michael S. Harper, editor. Chicago: TriQuarterly Books, 1989

Cone, James H. The Spirituals and the Blues. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1972

Douglas, Ann. Terrible Honesty. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995

Garon, Paul. Blues & The Poetic Spirit. New York: Da Capo Press, 1975

Giovanni, Nikki. The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni. New York: William Morrow, 1996

Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls, Blues Queens of the 1920s. Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990

Hine, Darlene Clark. Speak Truth To Power. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1996

Jones, LeRoi. Blues People. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1963

Oakley, Giles. The Devil's Music, A History of the Blues. New York: Harvest/HBJ book, 1976

Spencer, Jon Michael. Blues and Evil. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Pocket Books/Washington Square Press, 1982




—kalamu ya salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70061 2013-02-09T01:37:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:28Z ESSAY + AUDIO: DONALD BYRD / "Byrd In Flight Mixtape" > breath of life


“Byrd In Flight Mixtape”

[Source: Breath of Life (November 24, 2008)]


Some of us used to call it “blue collar jazz,” i.e. jazz aimed at the working folk, people who liked to have a good time in joints, taverns, bar rooms, and assorted other drinking emporiums where the music was part of the overall ambiance. No concerts here. No genteel audiences quietly listening. If the folk dug it they let you know it; they danced, they shouted “amen” (and other more secular epithets of approval). I guess you could label it as party music, music for the good times.

No surprise as dancing and having a ball were literally a foundation of early jazz—a New Orleans secondline is not a concert performance! On the other hand, jazz has always had a strong concert element. The dancers and the listeners have long had strong opinions about what jazz is or should be, and they were often at odds with each other.

Coming out of the sixties, the effort to popularize jazz took an internal split that is not often acknowledged. Far too many assume that Miles Davis was the man who popularized post-Civil Rights modern jazz with Davis’ infusion of rock elements into his music. But there was another trumpeter and within America’s Black communities he was even more popular than Miles.
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I know the elevation of Donald Byrd over Miles in terms of R&B-influenced jazz sounds like heresy, but if you check the Billboard R&B charts or the playlists from Black radio of that period, you’ll find a lot more Donald Byrd than Miles Davis. Indeed, ask Blue Note what was their highest selling recording from that or any other period of Blue Note’s famed position as the all-time premiere jazz label.

Would it surprise you to find out that Herbie Hancock played piano in Byrd’s group before joining Miles? Can you believe that John Coltrane recorded more with Donald Byrd than with Miles Davis?

Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II was born in Detroit on December 9, 1932. Historically, Detroit is not only a major city in modern jazz history, politically it’s the mecca of black working class politics. Given his roots, the direction that Donald Byrd took with his music is no surprise.
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Moreover, Byrd is a scholar of the music. The son of a Methodist minister, Donald Byrd graduated from famed Detroit’s famed Cass High School, completed his bachelor’s degree in music at Wayne State University in 1954 and a master’s from Manhattan School of Music. He taught as a professor of music at Hampton New York University, Rutgers and Howard University. At the same time he was successful in academe, he also had a rich career as a hard-bop trumpeter before pushing on into fusion jazz.

Although I like both aspects of his playing, he made a higher mark with his fusion experiments than he did with his straight ahead outings. He really deserves a lot more attention than is usually accorded to his career. I’m just as guilty as anyone else; were it not for Mtume including “Cristo Redentor” in this week’s classic mixtape, I might not have thought to do a Donald Byrd mixtape.

Hear my attempt to rectify Byrd’s omission from the general list of jazz greats. This mixtape is an audio definition of blue collar jazz.

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1. “Flight Time” and 2. “Black Byrd” are two archetypal tracks fromBlack Byrd (1972), Donald Byrd’s most popular album.

The cover demonstrates two aspects of Donald Byrd’s wide ranging interests. One, he offers us a peek at Black history and two, he makes sure we understand that he sees this music as functional, i.e. dance music, and not as music solely to be contemplated in silence. Also, check out that the color palette is red, black and green, the colors of the Black Liberation Movement.
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It is important to note that the Mizell brothers were the producers. Alphonso “Fonce” and Larry Mizell were (surprise) products of the Motown machine. Fonce was part of the team that wrote and produced the early Jackson Five recordings including “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save.” The Mizell production team, which included a former classmate, Freddie Perren, also did stellar work for flautist Bobbi Humphrey, organisst Johnny Hammond, saxophonist Gary Bartz, L.T.D. (“Love Ballad), and A Taste of Honey (“Boogie Oogie Oogie”).

The Donald Byrd connection is not only Detroit as home base; both Mizells were students at Howard (Fonce studied music under Byrd, Larry majored in electrical engineering). The combination of Donald Byrd and the Mizells was a potent force in seventies jazz.

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3. “just My Imagination” — Places And Spaces (1975)
Here is a roller-skating take on The Temptations hit song. This is precisely the kind of song that soured many hardcore jazzheads in their assessment of Donald Byrd. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy in terms of musical development but it fits right in with the summertime radio format and that was Byrd’s aim.

What is significant about Donald Byrd that other jazz musicians were able to match was Byrd’s comfortable fit into this genre. Byrd is not simply slumming or playing down to his audience. Donald Byrd is actually and intentionally producing music for the freeway and the roller rink, for picnics and just jiving around—not to say that it’s necessary for every musician to produce this kind of music, rather I think it’s noteworthy that when Donald Byrd chose to, he could do produce pop music that was actually popular and not just popular sounding.

4. “Design A Nation” and “Think Twice” — Steppin’ Into Tomorrow(1974)
This is my favorite of Byrd’s funk albums. One of the major reasons I rank it so high is the fluid alto saxophone solos by Gary Bartz. And for sure folk under thirty will relate to Erykah Badu’s version of “Think Twice.” I particularly like the sophisticated changes in the song which are innovative in a pop context.

There is often the temptation to pass this music off as light compared to some of Byrd’s more hardcore jazz efforts as if producing strong popular music is easy. Many jazz musicians tried to produce popular jazz fusion music but none were as consistently successful as Donald Byrd.

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5. “Eldorado” — Blackjack (1967)
6. “Night Flower” — Free Form (1961)
These cuts represent both the apogee and the tail end of Byrd’s hard-bop period and as such give us Byrd on the cusp of turning to fusion. This is jazz, elegant, swinging, lyrical everything one enjoys in a good hard bop jazz recording.

On “Eldorado” the band is Sonny Red on alto Hank Mobley on tenor, Cedar Walton on piano, Walter Booker on bass and the instantly identifiable Billy Higgins on drums.

“Night Flower” is a precursor to Miles’ second great quintet period. Trumpeter Byrd is joined by Wayne Shorter on tenor Herbie Hancock on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. This is a totally beautiful exposition of an original jazz ballad. Just the kind of music Miles mastered yet here Donald Byrd is presenting two of the major factors (Shorter and Hancock) in Miles’ ascendancy before they joined Miles. Herbie’s piano accompaniment and gentle solo accurately prefigures what he was shortly to bring to Miles. As for Wayne Shorter, his solo is killing. Wayne was already a monster accurately building on Trane’s lyricism and Sonny Rollins’ sense of form.

When someone refers to a jazz song as “pretty” this is exactly what they mean.

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7. “Chant” — A New Perspective (1963)
“Chant” is from the same album that produced “Cristo Redentor.” A New Perspective illustrates another aspect of Donald Byrd. He pioneered using spirituals in a straight ahead jazz context and also was influential in encouraging the use of choral voices in jazz. Here the choral arranger is Coleridge Perkinson. The band is Hank Mobley on tenor, Donald Best on vibes, Herbie Hancock on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Butch Warren on bass and Lex Humphries on drums. The musical arrangements are by Duke Pearson. Were it not for Black Byrd, which came nearly a decade later, A New Perspective would have been Byrd’s crowning achievement.

A trivia note: tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley would go on to hold the tenor chair in the Miles Davis band between John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter’s tenures. If it seems like I’m overemphasizing the concordances between Miles Davis and Donald Byrd that’s because Miles has gotten for more recognition and I want to make sure Byrd gets the credit he deserves.

8. “Places And Spaces” — Places And Spaces (1975)
It’s the Mizell’s again. Larry Mizell is the conductor and arranger.

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9. “Rock And Roll Again” — Steppin’ Into Tomorrow (1974)
Ok, this is the one. This is my favorite funk jazz cut. The tempo is just right and Gary Bartz is outstanding, the spoken word interlude by Donald Byrd is philosophically on point and the doo wop background tickles me no end. Oh, by the way, the whistler is James Carter. I just love the whole thing. Brings a smile to me every time.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

          THE MAN WITH A HORN         


Donald’s version of “Just My Imagination” – which I’m hearing for the first time as I type this – is all sorts of weird: schlocky, schmaltzy and cheesy, and yet, interestingly arranged, creatively conceived and, all in all, well done. Good or bad? I don’t know.

“Black Byrd” is the shit, on some ol’ “laying out on the sofa like it’s back in the day” type of vibe, but we already knew that. “Design A Nation” is creamy like butter and so is the original version of “Think Twice.” I’d been listening to Erykah’s version for some time before I realized it was a cover, and actually, when I did find out it was a cover, it was only because of yet another version of “Think Twice,” this one by Jay Dee (AKA J. Dilla) from his ‘Welcome 2 Detroit‘ album. Dwele’s on vocals on that one and it’s almost as good as the other two versions. The first time I heard the Donald Byrd version was a revelation though. The arrangement is so much more intricate; and then you get Marie Evans’ vocals floating lovely in and out. Very sweet. I like all three. Maybe I should hit y’all with them next week. But what else would I say? :-)

Now “Eldorado” is on more of a straight-ahead vibe that I’m digging. Then there’s “Places And Spaces,” which sounds like an outtake from War’s ‘All Day Music’ LP (that’s a compliment…a big one) and, what can I say, Donald’s the man. The only track I really don’t like is the Rock and Roll funk whatever thing at the end. Sounds like a duet between ’80s-era Earth Wind & Fire and Najee or somebody. Other than that one, thanks for the tracks, Baba. I’m digging ‘em….


—Mtume ya Salaam


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70098 2013-02-07T04:28:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:28Z ESSAY: TWO TRAINS RUNNING: BLACK POETRY 1965-2000

photo by Alex Lear   






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



>via: http://nathanielturner.com/whatisblackpoetry.htm


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70150 2013-02-06T03:53:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:29Z ESSAY: SPIRIT FAMILY OF THE STREETS
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 20th century 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


Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70186 2013-02-05T04:30:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:29Z ESSAY: I DO NOT PROTEST, I RESIST
photo by Alex Lear




I Do Not Protest, I Resist


Like most writers, figuring out how to economically support myself is a major problem. I have worked as an editor, as an arts administrator, and as the co-owner of a public relations, marketing and advertising firm. I have freelanced on projects ranging from $10 record reviews to commissions from publishers. Economy necessity is a major influence on what I write.


I have written commercials whose messages I personally reject like a radio jingle for a Cajun meat-lovers pizza when I don't eat red meat. Of course, like many others, while I try to steer clear of  major contradictions, I have done my share of hack work.


Doing what one must in order to survive is one major way in which the status quo effectively shapes us. As a writer, money making options are surprisingly limited. We all know and face the wolf of survival. There is no news in that story.


But wolves run in packs, and survival is not the only predator. There is also our own desire to succeed—I remember reading about "the fickle bitch of success" and wondering why was success described as a "bitch." I have my own ideas, but that's a different discussion.


Success is a very complicated question. We can easily dismiss "selling out" our ideals for a dollar, but what we can't easily dismiss either in principle or in fact, is that we all want our work to reach the widest possible audience. On the contemporary literary scene, reaching a wide audience almost requires going through major publishers. Participation in the status quo makes strenuous demands of our art to conform to prevailing standards, one of which is that the only overtly political art worthy of the title art is "protest art".


Capitalism loves "protest art" because protest is the safety valve that dissipates opposition and can even be used to prove how liberal the system is. You know the line: "aren't you lucky to be living in a system where you have the right to protest?" Without denying the obvious and hard won political freedoms that exist in the USA, my position is that we must move from protest to resistance if we are to be effective in changing the status quo.


The real question is do we simply want "in" or do we want structural change? Most of us start off wanting in. It is natural to desire both acceptance by as well as success within the society into which one is born. But, in the immortal words of P-funk President George Clinton: "mind your wants because someone wants your mind." Those of us who by circumstance of birth are located on the outside of the status quo (whether based on ethnicity, gender or class), face an existential question which cuts to the heart: how will I define success and is acceptance by the status quo part of what I want in life?


While it is simple enough to answer in the abstract, in truth, i.e. the day to day living that we do, it's awfully lonely on the outside, psychologically taxing, and ultimately a very difficult position to maintain. Who wants to be marginalized as an artist and known to only a handful of people? Given the choice between having a book published by a mainstream publisher and not having one published by a mainstream publisher, most writers (regardless of identity) would choose to be published, especially when it seems that one is writing whatever it is one wants to write.


Without ever having to censor you formally—after a few years of rejection slips most writers will censor and change themselves—mainstream publishers shape contemporary literature by applying two criteria: 1. is it commercial, or 2. is it artistically important. Either will get you published at least once, although only the former will get you published twice, thrice and so forth.


Unless one is very, very clear about one's commitment to socially relevant writing, even the most revolutionary writer can become embittered after thirty or forty years of toiling in obscurity. As a forty-seven-year-old (this essay was written in 1994) African American writer, I know that if you do not publish with establishment publishers, be they commercial, academic or small independents, then you will have very little chance of achieving "success" as a writer.


I sat on an NEA panel considering audience develop applications. One grant listed Haki Madhubuti as one of the poets they wanted to present. I was the only person there who knew Madhubuti's work. I was expected to be conversant with the work of contemporary writers across the board. But how is it that a contemporary African American poet with over three million books in print who is also the head of Third World Press, one of this country's oldest Black publishing companies, was unknown to my colleagues? The answer is simple: Madhubuti is not published by the status quo. He started off self publishing, came of age in the 60s/70s Black Arts Movement and is one of the most widely read poets among African Americans but all of his books have been published by small, independent Black publishers.


Too often success is measured by acceptance within the status quo rather than by the quality of one's literary work. That is why we witness authors proclaimed as "major Black writers" when they have only published one or two books (albeit with major publishers) within a five year period. There is no surprise here. My assumption is that as long as the big house stands, "success" will continue to be measured by whether one gets to sleep in big house beds.


This brings me to the subject of protest art. The reason I do not believe in protest art is because I have no desire to bed down with the status quo nor do I have a desire to be legitimized by the status quo. Instead, my struggle is to change the status quo. For me protest art is not an option precisely because in reality protest art is simply a knock on the door of the big house.


There is a long tradition of African American protest art, especially in literature. As a genre, the slave narrative emerged as an integral part of the white led 19th century abolitionist movement. One major purpose of the slave narratives was to address Christian senses of charity and guilt—charity toward the less fortunate and guilt for the "sin" of supporting slavery.


But even at that time there was a major distinction to be made between abolitionist sentiments and charity work on the one hand, and, on the other hand, active participation in the armed struggle against slavery, which included participation in the illegal activity of the underground railroad and support of clandestine armed opposition. This meant fighting with the John Browns of that era or joining the throng of insurgents storming court rooms to "liberate" detained African Americans who had escaped from the south and were then ensnared in the web of the Northern criminal justice system which continued to recognize the "property rights" of Southern slave owners.


While the issues of today are no longer revolve around slavery, the distinction between protest and resistance, between charity and solidarity, remains the heart of the matter at hand. To protest is implicitly to accept the authority of the existing system and to appeal for a change of mind on the part of those in power and those who make up the body politic. To resist on the other hand is to fight against the system of authority while seeking to win over those who make up the body politic. "Winning over" is more than simply asking someone to change their mind, it is also convincing someone to change their way of living.


In the 50s and 60s a debate raged among Black intellectuals about "protest art". Ironically, one of the chief opponents of protest art was James Baldwin—"ironically" because over the years the bulk of Baldwin's essays, fiction and drama can be read as a "protest" against bigotry and inhumanity, as a plea to his fellow human beings to change their hearts, minds and lives.


When Baldwin started out he wanted to be "free" and to be accepted as the equal of any other human being. He did not want to be saddled with the "albatross" of racial (or sexual) themes as the defining factor of his work. Yet, as he lived, he changed and began to voluntarily take up these issues. I believe life changed him.


The reality is that we can not continue to live in America with the social deterioration, mean spiritedness, and crass materialism which is polluting our individual and collective lives. We are literally a nation of drug addicts (alcohol and tobacco chief among our drugs of choice, with over-the-counter pain killers and headache remedies running a close third). We are suffering horrendous rates of violence and disease. There is a widening economic gap at a time when many of our major urban centers teeter on the brink of implosion: aging physical infrastructures such as bridges, sewer systems, housing; corrupt political administration; and increasing ethnic conflict. Something has got to give.


My position is simple, we live in a period of transition. We can protest the current conditions and/or we can struggle to envision and create alternatives. We can plead for relief or we can work to inspire and incite our fellow citizens to resist. As artists, we have a choice to make. Indeed, there is always a choice to make.


Protest art always ends up being trendy precisely because the art necessarily struggles to be accepted by the very people the art should oppose. Ultimately, protest artists are, by definition, more interested in relating to the enemy than relating to the potential insurgents. This is why we have protest artists whose cutting edge work is rejected by neighborhood people.


Yes, neighborhood people have tastes which have been shaped by the consumer society. Yes, neighborhood people are parochial and not very deep intellectually. Yes, neighborhood people are unsophisticated when it comes to the arts. But the very purpose of resistance art is to confront and change every negative yes of submission into a powerful and positive no of resistance! Our job as committed artists is to raise consciousness by starting where our neighborhoods are and moving up from there.


Resistance art requires internalizing by an audience of the sufferers in order to be successful. The horrible truth is that every successful social struggle requires immense sacrifices, and the committed artist must also sacrifice—not simply suffer temporary poverty until one is discovered by the status quo, but sacrifice the potential wealth associated with a status quo career to work in solidarity with those who too often are born, live, struggle and die in anonymous poverty.


We think nothing of the millions of people in this society who live and die without ever achieving even one tenth of the material wealth that many of us take for granted. We think nothing of those who are literally maimed and deformed as a result of the military and economic war waged against peoples in far away lands in order to insure profit for American based billionaires. Somehow, while the vast majority of our fellow citizens are never recognized by name, we artists think it ignoble to live and die without being lauded in the New York Times.


But if we remember nothing else, we should remember this. Ultimately, the true "nobility of our humanity" will be judged not by the status quo but by the people of the future—the people who will look back on our age and wonder what in the world could we have had on our minds. Protest is not enough, we must resist.




—kalamu ya salaam



Kalamu ya Salaam
tag:wordup.posthaven.com,2013:Post/70221 2013-02-04T01:36:00Z 2013-10-08T15:36:30Z ESSAY: THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT
photo by Lynda Koolish






The Black Arts Movement


Both inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts movement was the only American literary movement to advance "social engagement" as a sine qua non of its aesthetic. The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature and dashed forward toward an alternative that initially seemed unthinkable and unobtainable: Black Power.

In a 1968 essay, "The Black Arts Movement," Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." As a political phrase, Black Power had earlier been used by Richard Wright to describe the mid-1950s emergence of independent African nations. The 1960s' use of the term originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from "racist American domination," and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of Blackness.

Although often criticized as sexist, homophobic, and racially exclusive (i.e., reverse racist), Black Arts was much broader than any of its limitations. Ishmael Reed, who is considered neither a movement apologist nor advocate ("I wasn't invited to participate because I was considered an integrationist"), notes in a 1995 interview,

I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, and others all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave the example that you don't have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your own background, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge is for cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.


History and Context. The Black Arts movement, usually referred to as a "sixties" movement, coalesced in 1965 and broke apart around 1975/1976. In March 1965 following the 21 February assassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) moved from Manhattan's Lower East Side (he had already moved away from Greenwich Village) uptown to Harlem, an exodus considered the symbolic birth of the Black Arts movement. Jones was a highly visible publisher (Yugen and Floating Bear magazines, Totem Press), a celebrated poet (Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, 1961, and The Dead Lecturer, 1964), a major music critic (Blues People, 1963), and an Obie Award-winning playwright (Dutchman, 1964) who, up until that fateful split, had functioned in an integrated world. Other than James Baldwin, who at that time had been closely associated with the civil rights movement, Jones was the most respected and most widely published Black writer of his generation.

While Jones's 1965 move uptown to found the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) is the formal beginning (it was Jones who came up with the name "Black Arts"), Black Arts, as a literary movement, had its roots in groups such as the Umbra Workshop. Umbra (1962) was a collective of young Black writers based in Manhattan's Lower East Side; major members were writers Steve Cannon, Tom Dent, Al Haynes, David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Joe Johnson, Norman Pritchard, Lenox Raphael, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, James Thompson, Askia M. Touré (Roland Snellings; also a visual artist), Brenda Walcott, and musician-writer Archie Shepp. Touré, a major shaper of "cultural nationalism," directly influenced Jones. Along with Umbra writer Charles Patterson and Charles's brother, William Patterson, Touré joined Jones, Steve Young, and others at BARTS.

Umbra, which produced Umbra Magazine, was the first post-civil rights Black literary group to make an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, and sometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge a Black-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split in Umbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves as primarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers have always had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Moreover, Umbra itself had evolved out of similar circumstances: In 1960 a Black nationalist literary organization, On Guard for Freedom, had been founded on the Lower East Side by Calvin Hicks. Its members included Nannie and Walter Bowe, Harold Cruse (who was then working on Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, 1967), Tom Dent, Rosa Guy, Joe Johnson, LeRoi Jones, and Sarah Wright, among others. On Guard was active in a famous protest at the United Nations of the American-sponsored Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and was active in support of the Congolese liberation leader Patrice Lumumba. From On Guard, Dent, Johnson, and Walcott along with Hernton, Henderson, and Touré established Umbra.

Another formation of Black writers at that time was the Harlem Writers Guild, led by John O. Killens, which included Maya Angelou, Jean Carey Bond, Rosa Guy, and Sarah Wright among others. But the Harlem Writers Guild focused on prose, primarily fiction, which did not have the mass appeal of poetry performed in the dynamic vernacular of the time. Poems could be built around anthems, chants, and political slogans, and thereby used in organizing work, which was not generally the case with novels and short stories. Moreover, the poets could and did publish themselves, whereas greater resources were needed to publish fiction. That Umbra was primarily poetry- and performance-oriented established a significant and classic characteristic of the movement's aesthetics.

When Umbra split up, some members, led by Askia Touré and Al Haynes, moved to Harlem in late 1964 and formed the nationalist-oriented "Uptown Writers Movement," which included poets Yusef Rahman, Keorapetse "Willie" Kgositsile from South Africa, and Larry Neal. Accompanied by young "New Music" musicians, they performed poetry all over Harlem. Members of this group joined LeRoi Jones in founding BARTS.

Jones's move to Harlem was short-lived. In December 1965 he returned to his home, Newark (N.J.), and left BARTS in serious disarray. BARTS failed but the Black Arts center concept was irrepressible mainly because the Black Arts movement was so closely aligned with the then-burgeoning Black Power movement.

The mid- to late 1960s was a period of intense revolutionary ferment. Beginning in 1964, rebellions in Harlem and Rochester, New York, initiated four years of long hot summers. Watts, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, and many other cities went up in flames, culminating in nationwide explosions of resentment and anger following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s April 1968 assassination.

In his seminal 1965 poem "Black Art," which quickly became the major poetic manifesto of the Black Arts literary movement, Jones declaimed "we want poems that kill." He was not simply speaking metaphorically. During that period armed self-defense and slogans such as "Arm yourself or harm yourself' established a social climate that promoted confrontation with the white power structure, especially the police (e.g., "Off the pigs"). Indeed, Amiri Baraka (Jones changed his name in 1967) had been arrested and convicted (later overturned on appeal) on a gun possession charge during the 1967 Newark rebellion. Additionally, armed struggle was widely viewed as not only a legitimate, but often as the only effective means of liberation. Black Arts' dynamism, impact, and effectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocacy of artistic and political freedom "by any means necessary." America had never experienced such a militant artistic movement.

Nathan Hare, the author of The Black Anglo-Saxons (1965), was the founder of 1960s Black Studies. Expelled from Howard University, Hare moved to San Francisco State University where the battle to establish a Black Studies department was waged during a five-month strike during the 1968-1969 school year. As with the establishment of Black Arts, which included a range of forces, there was broad activity in the Bay Area around Black Studies, including efforts led by poet and professor Sarah Webster Fabio at Merrit College.

The initial thrust of Black Arts ideological development came from the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), a national organization with a strong presence in New York City. Both Touré and Neal were members of RAM. After RAM, the major ideological force shaping the Black Arts movement was the US (as opposed to "them') organization led by Maulana Karenga. Also ideologically important was Elijah Muhammad's Chicago-based Nation of Islam.

These three formations provided both style and ideological direction for Black Arts artists, including those who were not members of these or any other political organization. Although the Black Arts movement is often considered a New York-based movement, two of its three major forces were located outside New York City.

As the movement matured, the two major locations of Black Arts' ideological leadership, particularly for literary work, were California's Bay Area because of the Journal of Black Poetry and the Black Scholar, and the Chicago-Detroit axis because of Negro Digest/Black World and Third World Press in Chicago, and Broadside Press and Naomi Long Madgett's Lotus Press in Detroit. The only major Black Arts literary publications to come out of New York were the short-lived (six issues between 1969 and 1972) Black Theatre magazine published by the New Lafayette Theatre and Black Dialogue, which had actually started in San Francisco (1964-1968) and relocated to New York (1969-1972).

In 1967 LeRoi Jones visited Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of Karenga's philosophy of Kawaida. Kawaida, which produced the "Nguzo Saba" (seven principles), Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names, was a multifaceted, categorized activist philosophy. Jones also met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver and worked with a number of the founding members of the Black Panthers. Additionally, Askia Touré was a visiting professor at San Francisco State and was to become a leading (and longlasting) poet as well as, arguably, the most influential poet-professor in the Black Arts movement. Playwright Ed Bullins and poet Marvin X had established Black Arts West, and Dingane Joe Goncalves had founded the Journal of Black Poetry (1966). This grouping of Ed Bullins, Dingane Joe Goncalves, LeRoi Jones, Sonia Sanchez, Askia M. Touré, and Marvin X became a major nucleus of Black Arts leadership.


Theory and Practice. The two hallmarks of Black Arts activity were the development of Black theater groups and Black poetry performances and journals, and both had close ties to community organizations and issues. Black theaters served as the focus of poetry, dance, and music performances in addition to formal and ritual drama. Black theaters were also venues for community meetings, lectures, study groups, and film screenings. The summer of 1968 issue of Drama Review, a special on Black theater edited by Ed Bullins, literally became a Black Arts textbook that featured essays and plays by most of the major movers: Larry Neal, Ben Caldwell, LeRoi Jones, Jimmy Garrett, John O'Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Ron Milner, Woodie King, Jr., Bill Gunn, Ed Bullins, and Adam David Miller. Black Arts theater proudly emphasized its activist roots and orientations in distinct, and often antagonistic, contradiction to traditional theaters, both Black and white, which were either commercial or strictly artistic in focus.

By 1970 Black Arts theaters and cultural centers were active throughout America. The New Lafayette Theatre (Bob Macbeth, executive director, and Ed Bullins, writer in residence) and Barbara Ann Teer's National Black Theatre led the way in New York, Baraka's Spirit House Movers held forth in Newark and traveled up and down the East Coast. The Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) and Val Grey Ward's Kuumba Theatre Company were leading forces in Chicago, from where emerged a host of writers, artists, and musicians including the OBAC visual artist collective whose "Wall of Respect" inspired the national community-based public murals movement and led to the formation of Afri-Cobra (the African Commune of Bad, Revolutionary Artists). There was David Rambeau's Concept East and Ron Milner and Woodie King’s Black Arts Midwest, both based in Detroit. Ron Milner became the Black Arts movement's most enduring playwright and Woodie King became its leading theater impresario when he moved to New York City. In Los Angeles there was the Ebony Showcase, Inner City Repertory Company, and the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (PALSA) led by Vantile Whitfield. In San Francisco was the aforementioned Black Arts West. BLKARTSOUTH (led by Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam) was an outgrowth of the Free Southern Theatre in New Orleans and was instrumental in encouraging Black theater development across the south from the Theatre of Afro Arts in Miami, Florida, to Sudan Arts Southwest in Houston, Texas, through an organization called the Southern Black Cultural Alliance. In addition to formal Black theater repertory companies in numerous other cities, there were literally hundreds of Black Arts community and campus theater groups.

A major reason for the widespread dissemination and adoption of Black Arts was the development of nationally distributed magazines that printed manifestos and critiques in addition to offering publishing opportunities for a proliferation of young writers. Whether establishment or independent, Black or white, most literary publications rejected Black Arts writers. The movement's first literary expressions in the early 1960s came through two New York-based, nationally distributed magazines, Freedomways and Liberator. Freedomways, "a journal of the Freedom Movement," backed by leftists, was receptive to young Black writers. The more important magazine was Dan Watts's Liberator, which openly aligned itself with both domestic and international revolutionary movements. Many of the early writings of critical Black Arts voices are found in Liberator. Neither of these were primarily literary journals.

The first major Black Arts literary publication was the California-based Black Dialogue (1964), edited by Arthur A. Sheridan, Abdul Karim, Edward Spriggs, Aubrey Labrie, and Marvin Jackmon (Marvin X). Black Dialogue was paralleled by Soulbook (1964), edited by Mamadou Lumumba (Kenn Freeman) and Bobb Hamilton. Oakland-based Soulbook was mainly political but included poetry in a section ironically titled "Reject Notes."

Dingane Joe Goncalves became Black Dialogue's poetry editor and, as more and more poetry poured in, he conceived of starting the Journal of Black Poetry. Founded in San Francisco, the first issue was a small magazine with mimeographed pages and a lithographed cover. Up through the summer of 1975, the Journal published nineteen issues and grew to over one hundred pages. Publishing a broad range of more than five hundred poets, its editorial policy was eclectic. Special issues were given to guest editors who included Ahmed Alhamisi, Don L. Lee (Haki R. Madhubuti), Clarence Major, Larry Neal, Dudley Randall, Ed Spriggs, and Askia Touré. In addition to African Americans, African, Caribbean, Asian, and other international revolutionary poets were presented.

Founded in 1969 by Nathan Hare and Robert Chrisman, the Black Scholar, "the first journal of black studies and research in this country," was theoretically critical. Major African-disasporan and African theorists were represented in its pages. In a 1995 interview Chrisman attributed much of what exists today to the groundwork laid by the Black Arts movement:

If we had not had a Black Arts movement in the sixties we certainly wouldn't have had national Black literary figures like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alice Walker, or Toni Morrison because much more so than the Harlem Renaissance, in which Black artists were always on the leash of white patrons and publishing houses, the Black Arts movement did it for itself. What you had was Black people going out nationally, in mass, saving that we are an independent Black people and this is what we produce.

For the publication of Black Arts creative literature, no magazine was more important than the Chicago-based Johnson publication Negro Digest / Black World. Johnson published America's most popular Black magazines, Jet and Ebony. Hoyt Fuller, who became the editor in 1961, was a Black intellectual with near-encyclopedic knowledge of Black literature and seemingly inexhaustible contacts. Because Negro Digest, a monthly, ninety-eight-page journal, was a Johnson publication, it was sold on newsstands nationwide. Originally patterned on Reader’s Digest, Negro Digest changed its name toBlack World in 1970, indicative of Fuller’s view that the magazine ought to be a voice for Black people everywhere. The name change also reflected the widespread rejection of "Negro" and the adoption of "Black" as the designation of choice for people of African descent and to indicate identification with both the diaspora and Africa. The legitimation of "Black" and "African" is another enduring legacy of the Black Arts movement.


Negro Digest / Black World published both a high volume and an impressive range of poetry, fiction, criticism, drama, reviews, reportage, and theoretical articles. A consistent highlight was Fuller's perceptive column Perspectives ("Notes on books, writers, artists and the arts") which informed readers of new publications, upcoming cultural events and conferences, and also provided succinct coverage of major literary developments. Fuller produced annual poetry, drama, and fiction issues, sponsored literary contests, and gave out literary awards. Fuller published a variety of viewpoints but always insisted on editorial excellence and thus made Negro Digest / Black World a first-rate literary publication. Johnson decided to cease publication of Black World in April 1976: allegedly in response to a threatened withdrawal of advertisement from all of Johnson's publications because of pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist articles in Black World.

The two major Black Arts presses were poet Dudley Randall's Broadside Press in Detroit and Haki Madhubuti's Third World Press in Chicago. From a literary standpoint, Broadside Press, which concentrated almost exclusively on poetry, was by far the more important. Founded in 1965, Broadside published more than four hundred poets in more than one hundred books or recordings and was singularly responsible for presenting older Black poets (Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling A. Brown, and Margaret Walker) to a new audience and introducing emerging poets (Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight, Don L. Lee/Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez) who would go on to become major voices for the movement. In 1976, strapped by economic restrictions and with a severely overworked and overwhelmed three-person staff, Broadside Press went into serious decline. Although it functions mainly on its back catalog, Broadside Press is still alive.

While a number of poets (e.g., Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez), playwrights (e.g., Ed Bullins and Ron Milner), and spoken-word artists (e.g., the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, both of whom were extremely popular and influential although often overlooked by literary critics) are indelibly associated with the Black Arts movement, rather than focusing on their individual work, one gets a much stronger and much more accurate impression of the movement by reading seven anthologies focusing on the 1960s and the 1970s.


Black Fire (1968), edited by Baraka and Neal, is a massive collection of essays, poetry, fiction, and drama featuring the first wave of Black Arts writers and thinkers. Because of its impressive breadth, Black Fire stands as a definitive movement anthology.


For Malcolm X, Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X (1969), edited by Dudley Randall and Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, demonstrates the political thrust of the movement and the specific influence of Malcolm X. There is no comparable anthology in American poetry that focuses on a political figure as poetic inspiration.


The Black Woman (1970), edited by Toni Cade Bambara, is the first major Black feminist anthology and features work by Jean Bond, Nikki Giovanni, Abbey Lincoln, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Gwen Patton, Pat Robinson, Alice Walker, Shirley Williams, and others.

Edited by Addison Gayle, Jr., The Black Aesthetic (1971) is significant because it both articulates and contextualizes Black Arts theory. The work of writers such as Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and J. A. Rogers showcases the movement's roots in an earlier era into sections on theory, music, fiction, poetry, and drama, Gayle's seminal anthology features a broad array of writers who are regarded as the chief Black Arts theorists-practitioners.

Stephen Henderson's Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) is important not only because of the poets included but also because of Henderson's insightful and unparalleled sixty-seven page overview. This is the movement's most thorough exposition of a Black poetic aesthetic. Insights and lines of thought now taken for granted were first articulated in a critical and formal context by Stephen Henderson, who proposed a totally innovative reading of Black poetics.


New Black Voices (1972), edited by Abraham Chapman, is significant because its focus is specifically on the emerging voices in addition to new work by established voices who were active in the Black Arts movement. Unlike most anthologies, which overlook the South, New Black Voices is geographically representative and includes lively pro and con articles side by side debating aesthetic and political theory.

The seventh book, Eugene Redmond's Drumvoices, The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: A Critical History (1976), is a surprisingly thorough survey that has been unjustly neglected. Although some of his opinions are controversial (note that in the movement controversy was normal), Redmond's era by era and city by city cataloging of literary collectives as well as individual writers offers an invaluable service in detailing the movement's national scope.


The Movement's Breakup. The decline of the Black Arts movement began in 1974 when the Black Power movement was disrupted and co-opted. Black political organizations were hounded, disrupted, and defeated by repressive government measures, such as Cointelpro and IRS probes. Black Studies activist leadership was gutted and replaced by academicians and trained administrators who were unreceptive, if not outright opposed, to the movements political orientation.

Key internal events in the disruption were the split between nationalists and Marxists in the African Liberation Support Committee (May 1974), the Sixth Pan African Congress in Tanzania where race-based struggle was repudiated/denounced by most of the strongest forces in Africa (Aug. 1974), and Baraka’s national organization, the Congress of Afrikan People (CAP), officially changing from a "Pan Afrikan Nationalist" to a "Marxist Leninist" organization (Oct. 1974).

As the movement reeled from the combination of external and internal disruption, commercialization and capitalist co-option delivered the coup de grace. President Richard Nixon's strategy of pushing Black capitalism as a response to Black Power epitomized mainstream co-option. As major film, record, book, and magazine publishers identified the most salable artists, the Black Arts movement's already fragile independent economic base was totally undermined.

In an overwhelmingly successful effort to capitalize on the upsurge of interest in the feminist movement, establishment presses focused particular attention on the work of Black women writers. Although issues of sexism had been widely and hotly debated within movement publications and organizations, the initiative passed from Black Arts back to the establishment. Emblematic of the establishment overtaking (some would argue "co-opting") Black Arts activity is Ntozake Shange's for colored girls, which in 1976 ended up on Broadway produced by Joseph Papp even though it had been workshopped at Woodie King's New Federal Theatre of the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side. Black Arts was not able to match the economic and publicity offers tendered by establishment concerns.

Corporate America (both the commercial sector and the academic sector) once again selected and propagated one or two handpicked Black writers. During the height of Black Arts activity, each community had a coterie of writers and there were publishing outlets for hundreds, but once the mainstream regained control, Black artists were tokenized. Although Black Arts activity continued into the early 1980s, by 1976, the year of what Gil Scott-Heron called the "Buy-Centennial," the movement was without any sustainable and effective political or economic bases in an economically strapped Black community. An additional complicating factor was the economic recession, resulting from the oil crisis, which the Black community experienced as a depression. Simultaneously, philanthropic foundations only funded non-threatening, "arts oriented" groups. Neither the Black Arts nor the Black Power movements ever recovered.


The Legacy. In addition to advocating political engagement and independent publishing, the Black Arts movement was innovative in its use of language. Speech (particularly, but not exclusively, Black English), music, and performance were major elements of Black Arts literature. Black Arts aesthetics emphasized orality, which includes the ritual use of call and response both within the body of the work itself as well as between artist and audience. This same orientation is apparent in rap music and 1990s "performance poetry" (e.g., Nuyorican Poets and poetry slams).

While right-wing trends attempt to push America's cultural clock back to the 1950s, Black Arts continues to evidence resiliency in the Black community and among other marginalized sectors. When people encounter the Black Arts movement, they are delighted and inspired by the most audacious, prolific, and socially engaged literary movement in America's history.

From The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Oxford UP.


Kalamu ya Salaam