#NationalPoetryMonth 24/30

I strip, listen
To the sound of my skin scrape against the earth,
And dance to the music of the only instrument
I ever learned to play: the dirt.

— from “Cemetery”

Today’s read: Calendar Of Dust by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Broken Moon Press – 1991

I always wanted to be a b-boy. I wanted to make music out of all the things I grew up around in the Bronx. A Bronc that was around before there was a name for hip-hop.

We didn’t know what to call it but we knew you could pull out a cardboard box from the side of any bodega counter, take it to the front sidewalk, flatten it out, and you had a spot to bust a move. Not dance. We knew it was a dance but it wasn’t the hustle or salsa. It was its own thing without a name. And if you needed some music then you plugged a radio up to the nearest lamp post. You just wedge a quarter into the side to pop off the aluminum lid and just plug right in. And if you didn’t have a radio then you just found a milk crate and somebody could conga a beat. And if you didn’t have even that much well then you just tapped out the beat in your head, slap your thigh, pop your lips, smack your tongue, to bring out a rhythm that didn’t have a name.

I wanted to be all these things because my father was an early architect of sound. A DJ at the local college radio station which was even more freedom then we had. He had access to Hector Lavoe, Manu Dibango, Miles Davis, Ruben Blades, James Brown, Fleetwood Mac, the Jackson 5, Celia Cruz, Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert, and all the remaining Fania All Stars and Motown hits. He would sneak in all the 45s into the house. This would be the mix and we just knew it was music. And I broke them all. Each 45.

The story is that I did some kind of mischief in the house. In return, I got a spanking. The old kind. No lesson. No words. Just a lot of slaps of belt until my dad thought I had learned something. Which I did. I learned the payback, the big payback. I took some classic wax and found out that it just snaps in your hands. Even when you are little and don’t know how to make a proper fist. Your hands can still make things break. I found out that my hands could make things disappear.

Then we started to really dance. We got into the deep mix. I got whooped some more and then more records would turn to shiny dark crumbs. And back and forth. Whips to break, slaps to shards, lesson to lesson. This was the rhythm of my education. I didn’t have a name for it.

I guess then I was always a b-boy even before there was a name for being.

#NationalPoetryMonth 23/30

Across the street an old woman hobbles by.
My mother tells me: She is unhappy here.
She thinks she would be happier
back home.
But she has forgotten.

— from “Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park”

Today’s read: Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park: Poems by Nellie Wong – Kelsey St. Press – 1977

The place of this poem still exists. It is no longer a railroad park but still lives on as a one block garden park that also houses a child care facility and help center for immigrants. As well as one of many refuges for Oakland’s homeless population. I have driven past it many times and always enjoyed how it breaks up the rows of Chinatown small homes with a small splash of lawn and a modest pagoda that never seemed out of place. I have wondered how it has survived so long through the waves of gentrification. The poetry optimist in me imagines that Nellie Wong’s collection and title poem may have something to do with it. This image of generations of women, native and displaced, asking questions, speaking answers. You can see this cycle still happening in that same corner. Who deserves to be here? Where is the happiness? What does it mean to belong?

#NationalPoetryMonth 22/30

The Central Valley is an aging
fruit tree breaking concrete
with the knuckles of its toes

The sidewalks stay warm
under naked feet slapping
from one street lamp to the next

— from “Southpaw Curse”

Today’s read: Shadowboxing: Poems & Impersonations by Joseph Rios – Omnidawn Publishing – 2017

I miss walking through New York City. It’s always been a different thing for me. When I first moved out to Oakland I walked around but it wasn’t the same and it’s still not the same. Oakland is the city I have learned how to run through. A city that I can spot old architecture and bright murals. So many murals that tell me bits of story but I don’t have enough personal backstory to fill in the gaps. Even fifteen years later and I can only fill in small cracks in the asphalt. New York hit different. I remember walking hours through the Bronx as a kid because I had to make a choice. I could either get on the bus twice, or I could walk the whole way and have money for a slice and paper cup of soda. I was young and loved pizza so I walked, got lost, then found my way under a train line. When you walk like that in a city summer, the heat compounded by the sparkle of cement, your mind goes places. It turns those trapped crystals into mirrors. You see more than gum stains, piss marks, and blood trails; you find your way home.

#NationalPoetryMonth 21/30

But we are not unalike. When we
look at someone, we are seeing
someone else. When we listen,
we hear something taking place
in the past. When I talk to her,
I know what I will be saying
twenty years from now. She watches
me as if she never went into exile.

— from “The Island”

Today’s read: The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché – Harper & Row – 1981

I am again reminded of the COVID-deniers. Their stance at this time to put bowling alleys and tattoo parlors ahead of an exhausted national health system. I know what I will be saying ten years from now. I will remember when I was not at my best. That there were times I felt discouraged and tired. I will also remember people saying Thanks for small things. There have been many smiles and I was able to laugh at the most unexpected times. The people I have chosen and those who have chosen me have modeled vulnerability and also shown strength. Strength to choose other lives, faces we have not seen, above other things.

#NationalPoetryMonth 20/30

Pages are cavernous places, white at entrance, black in absorption.

— from “WHEREAS when offered…”

Today’s read: Whereas, Layli Long Soldier – Graywolf Press – 2017

Last week I was in a space of anxiety and dread during the pandemic. This week there is a shift to anger with Shelter-in-Place demonstrators. I don’t even know if that is the right word. I am sure it is not protester and it is definitely not rights advocates as right-wing media has been portraying them. Shelter-in-place entitled feels like the best term as I see signs demanding the inherent right to get a haircut or that massages are essential services. It’s a popular meme but it rings pretty true that Anglo America has been asked to cut back on its routines for one month and they can’t handle it. They stepped into the pages of history and their whiteness has not provided any protection or privileges. A strange place indeed for this class of citizen. Give us our baseball we don’t even attend, the authenticity of Chevy’s, and crowded aisles in Walmart. This will be the echo for White Murica.