#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 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.

#NationalPoetryMonth 19/30

But the man in the position of great honor does not understand
the man who has power
the fat dictator with a chest full of medals
he smiles at the thought that he cannot die
he does not realize that he like those animals
fattened for sacrifice at the festival

— from “Let All Nations Hear Me”

Today’s read: The Psalms Of Struggle and Liberation by Ernesto Cardenal – Herder and Herder – 1971
Foreword by Thomas Merton, Translation by Emile G. McAnany, Photography by Robert Rush

The foreword for this collection is a very brief intro by Thomas Merton is a real joy as I did not know that Merton was a mentor of Cardenal. Merton is one of the few writers that can blend Catholic dogma with modern poetic sensibility and this hybrid is clear in this collection. Another unexpected bonus is the photography of Robert Rush. The combination of biblical language, Nicaragüense political urgency, and 70s urban images is pure delight. The extra bonus is that Cardenal’s prayers for his people to rise to vocalize their disdain for the political bourgeoisie makes this an incredibly urgent and current work. The above stanza not only applies to 45 but can also be used to describe the anti-COVID Americans who see themselves as medal toting patriots who can not wait to rush back to their old normal.

#NationalPoetryMonth 18/30

in the valleys, corruption
and trash everywhere.
In the city, immigrants
claiming to be natives;

in the country, natives
without a nation:
The democracy of colonies.

— from “Dispossessions of Empire”

Today’s read: Night Is a Sharkskin Drum by Haunani-Kay Trask – University Of Hawaii Press – 2002

Seeing struggle in different languages is another way that poetry is able to help me connect past my own experience. A poet who is unapologetic in their code-switching is a poet who helps me move forward in cultural empathy. The work to pronounce and, more accurately, mispronounce new words is a way for my brain and tongue to physically navigate in fresh directions.

Seeing the above lines I just jump to the issue of gentrification and the need for authenticity of place when so many of us are from other places and even our original homes are still just points of departure.