Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shadowboxing with God (2006)

You've been shadow boxing with God
and lost
looking for a way out of egypt
but stopped at the water cauze you had no boat
Prayed for manna from heaven
and got mad cauze there was no gravy

One of these days, you're gonna get real tired, friend.

tangled in a net you cast
that blew back in your face and covered the whole of you
east of the Jordan river
with no catch

You've been shadow boxing with God and lost

Trying your best to scale the path to the mountaintop with no rope
Wandering through the wilderness with a cracked compasss
Praying for rain with no umbrella in hand

Be careful, brotha
as you test the waters like Peter and then look down
and find yourself drowning in your own fear
praying then looking around nervous that somebody might hear

Cauze one of these days you're gonna get tired of getting knocked out
like Sugar Ray Leonard
Bruised like Tyson
and bewildered like Ali

and recognize that a handshake is must better than a fist.

Necessity (2005)


I thought that Mammy
Was a memory
Of a woman I never knew
A great great grandmother
That did something a long time ago out of necessity
But not me
Not me in high heals
And $300.00 suits
And boots
Not me with a degree
And private schooling
Not me, miss I’ve-moved-beyond-just-Black-to-beautiful
And yet
I am beginning to suspect
That Mammy left her place in time and followed me one night
Exchanged her soul with mine
I struggle as I find
I am there to open doors so that
others can walk through them.
Prepare and serve meals
I will never eat
Share thoughts that become the blueprints for empires
And yet I cannot be trusted to lay the foundation
Of my own house
I am first to come, and last to leave
I turn the unthankful
Into something new and clean
And yet when the guest list was created for the blow out party
My invite was lost in the mail

Your underestimation of me should make me laugh, but instead I cry.

I rest on the shoulders of beautiful black women
Who did what men thought was impossible
Who picked up the dirty plate
And washed the linens
Made the plate into knives
Linens into ropes
And ropes into ladders
leading them to escape from inoculated ivory towers
The world watches, amazed
by what a black woman will do
out of necessity

Even You (2005)

Even You

blood spilled
On the outskirts of a Baghdad
Women in white linen are
Cloaked in a heavy garment of solitude
A mother
Runs to clutch her lifeless child to her chest
Holding for what seems to be an eternity what is left of a hand
Once small and sleeping
it used to clasp her swollen breast
Now the breast is
reticent and red
and full of rage
at the twenty four year old solider from Georgia
who was not looking to be a hero
just looking for a way to be an engineer
and now has mastered the art of war

And men say it is in the name of freedom

Tonight, having mastered the art of war,
A stately room somewhere outside of Washington
A finely crafted pen
Drew a line in the sand
And called it
A defensive action
Nearly five hundred eyes
Looked on
And hundred more lips
Remained mum
Their scream stolen and hidden behind their breath

And men say it is in the name of freedom

Tonight in the shadow of a stolen scream
somewhere east of the Sacramento River
A child’s fate was sealed
With another pen
The ink called sacrifice
the battle called the budget
the victims: those who will not fight back
with the glitz and glamour
and a little fanfare
the American Dream
has been signed away

And men say it is sacrifice.

Tonight in the afterglow of dreams
Somewhere in a county in California
There is nobody answering the phones
Nobody to listen to the calls for help
From the homeless, the seniors, the youth
Who are begging for
The I need/ we need/we all need
Fathers/mothers/mentors/records expunged
A hand to pull us away from a lover monster’s fist
A flu shot, a diaper, a bus ticket, a case manger, a doctor,
A home
A child waits for help, but they have sent all the workers away

And men say that it is in the name of sacrifice.

Tonight, a child has become a male, but not a man.
In a city outside a suburb
young life is flowing into the streets
In mourning of his life
And liquor bottles
Become mosaics
to his end
gone before he could finish the cell phone message
is mama I love
On the other side of the mirror
Sits a Samson
Without his hair
In a prison cell
Making things he will never own
Knowing he will never buy anything again except time
And even that is out of stock

And men say it is in the name of justice.

Tonight justice has retired for the evening
And hope is perched
Somewhere on a big beautiful church doorstep
Where a homeless man slept
And well meaning parishioners
Hurried, fearful, and overwhelmed to their cars
Thinking to themselves that Jesus knows my heart

And men call it faith.

Tonight faith waits
Somewhere inside apartment 123
a young mother weeps
because yet again
another man has bruised her heart
as well as her body
with false promises
and left the table
only after the plate was bare
nothing is left
not even for his sons

And men call it love.

Tonight the sons of God have gathered before him to offer their love
Yet, somewhere, just outside of
But not close enough to earth
Mary’s daughters are weeping
And weeping
Their tears thick like ink
Curdled like milk
Hot like blood
Enough to fill the oceans that create the distance between them
And men say it is in the name of sacrifice.
And men say it is in the name of freedom.
And men say it is in the name of faith
And men say it is in the name of love.
And men say it is in the name of God.

But is God listening to the sounds within the world, one must wonder, what on earth is it that He hears?

Yet somewhere
In a place called Calvary
In a small clearing
Before a scant crowd
Four stakes were driven into the soul of God
And tears were shed for
Our failure to be
All the things we name
And tears were shed because
Jesus knows the hearts of men.

And still,
God says,
“ But I have called you, even you, by name.”

Saturday, November 19, 2005

after dinner (2005)

after dinner
reflections on a couple dining in a thai restaurant

too brown not to love
in honor of memory
but too black to be a beautiful
paisley print queen

not ethereally ethnic
but decidedly so
and it excites and pains you all the more

i step out with a calling
dance in rivers
stand before giants
slaying them all

i bathe in daffodils
delight Delilah's daughter
with the desire's inspiration
then, I am
an earthen bowl filled with sun fed grapes
that were never raisins

my toes through oceans
step into the light
and become it
the craved image of my lineage
i never launched a 1000 ships
but brought each one home to a foreign land
their memory harbored safe in my breast
and yet

wanderlust lover,
it is never enough
for you.

no matter how coordinated our love
I'm just
the wrong shade of the rainbow
for your wardrobe to match

if i were...
tawny with tempest curls
a ruddy restless russet
a breathtaking beige
a butter pecan tan,
but i am

bittersweet brown
a magnificently coveted but avoided dessert
which is too rich for your palette
and you're too poor to afford

michelle milam

the beauty that souls wear (2005)

The beauty that souls wear
for every woman in the world

In the stillness of time
some women wear it as their signature piece
that slides on easily, as if it were made to fit
never, ever, resisted by
or weight fluctuations
or the general fall of youth
like autumn leaves to a snowy ground

this beauty is found

it glows with the effervescence of bright mornings
a cuba

this beauty is in motion
it is the meringue, the two step, and the bump
a melange of stevie wonder songs covered in jazz and a touch of poetry, behind the congo

this beauty
and flows with the smoothness of
sweet waters rushing
as soft and lilting as a lover's praise
as he admires his flawed self in woman form
and lives to drink her breath

it is the last thing to go before
nothing is left

and avoids the controlling gaze of a photographer's eye
this beauty is one that cleanses, uplifts, draws in, draws out
of the water
and like moses,
it causes unlikely love
that bring miracles to bear

this is the beauty that souls wear

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Faith (2005)

(For those who tell me to keep writing)

Last night I cried tears of sorrow for tomorrows
That some of my brothers, sisters, mothers, lovers and others
Will never see
A constant wound is taking in the whole of me
Shrouded in something too intangible to name
But to real not to
And I find myself asking why the ways of the world
Don’t move as they ought to

We sell each other down the river
For a 30 sheckles and a red bandana
And quiet room discussions are shadowy
places where the tongue becomes a bullet to poison the mind
That seeps into the spine of time
And stays there, lodged in our collective soul
Threatening to paralyze all that absolves
Of us our darkside
Here, everyman is out for himself grabbing for what little integrity he can find
And selling it
We drink the blood of others to make ourselves whole
And call it the way things are done

Last night I cried tears for all the years
I’ve pushed
and pulled
and grunted
and labored
to no avail.
Battled against a pervasive evil I cannot see, because it was always
so much bigger than me
But can still hear it lurking in the quiet rusty moments just before dawn
Last night I self medicated on serendipity, vacillated between hope
And futility
Struggled against the enemy inside of me
And came out clean

And I realized
that in the ultimate scheme of things
This is not just conspiracy theory
But conspiracy of the soul
Where the power of truth is thwartred by an evil
So deep that it covers the pain of
Our own indifference
And separation of the spirit from the source

Just as bodies are always in constant motion
I am in this constant struggle
Of struggling
That is bigger than the smiles of those who
Skim my skin and use it as a coat to cover that rainy day parade
And those who turn my curves into horse’s heels
I am a shining brown stallion, beautiful, but not behaved
Rewarded only when I am tamed and prim
Steady and dependable, perfect
but not quite human
And ultimately disposable

I am uncomfortable at parties
Where I’m invited to drink wine with wanderlusts
Great Gatsbyish gallant porches
When I am one of the few allowed to enter from the front door.
Respected, but not really.

Not really.

And that realization sets heavily with me
With the coarseness of a thick glass hitting a table

I pick in the
And those who look like me but just hate me because
I am a mirror image of their most hated center
The mother of their constant winter
And me the pleaser, serves them a conciliatory punch
That unwittingly hits them in the stomach
As I try to smile and nod
Crisp, attentive and ready to serve

They mistake my service for a minstrel show
Virgin faith, for naivety
The battle is not only rages outside but within me
Keeps me living on the edge of who I believe I could, we could be

We are in a battle
That we cannot buy our way out of, retire from, or grow out of.
We are in a battle that does not accept credit, take holidays or long weekends.
We are in a battle for the soul of humanity
What is,
Verses what we can be
Yet in this battle, the outcome is already known
I guess the truth is the devil is in the details

And I find myself struggling in a liquid pool
Of lucid light, fighting a battle that is not mine to fight
But knowing there is no other choice
But to be still, crawl up in some green soft field and die under moonlight

But tonight
I realized that
In a moonlight street over a Mississippi
In a quiet room off Hoffman Blvd.
In a spacious loft in Soho
In a country house in outer Atlanta
And in hotel on the outskirts of Rwanda

There is hope
Swirling around in a glazy blue flask
Ready to be guzzled until at last the last drop is to be had

Somewhere someone has given their gift with the world
Even if it is all they have
Somewhere men and women stand naked before one another
Bruised and beautiful
And only look each other in the eye

There is a good that triumphs the pontification
And the axis of evil is named for what it truly is:
our hurt, fear and pride
Refusing to believe the truth
that surpasses all the evil things collected from the wasteland of the human soul we glean

That faith is the substance of things hopedfor
The evidence of things unseen

Michelle Milam

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

After five (2005)

It is after five
five 5:53 to be exact
when my opinion hereby
becomes fact
somebody asked me what I hoped for today
and I couldn't answer
I write this poem because
sixty six years ago
My grandmother lacked the five dollar tuition to finish her college education
five dollars?
a dollar made by man to have value
a man devalued by a dollar
a prime number
one short the sign of man
and one too many
to be the four corners of the earth
and yet
Five cents and a a man will pay a colored girl's fare to planet nowhere
all the way
or so they say
so I throw my .05 into the wishing well
wishing that
d boys would fly kites
instead of keys
roll bikes
instead of trees
see big lights
instead of big letters
that read
property of the state penitentiary
I'm humming out a hymn
in hiphop blue notes
praying for five seconds
that five minutes
becomes five hours and I can yet again say I made it through another day
all on faith
hoping that
somebody will pay my fare
all the way to somewhere
out there
and not over the rainbow
of which us colored women have
sho'nuff had enough
but it gets difficult sometimes
and I wonder sometimes
while riding the seventy-five
if I am singing zion or
singing a threnody
where ghettofabulous has become synonymous with
and people still think God is nascent
I labor for my five foremothers
reincarnated in
and the boldest baddest
zaftig beauties
laving against
a wall of battered spirits that is too big to break through
but being beautiful and determined
they dig under it, over it and around
trying not to do the inevitable
...break down
In five years
I've broken down boundaries
broken down walls
broken my nails
broken bones
and broken into my own home when i lost my key
and broken down
because of assata
because of tupac and all the other tupacs
because of all the nameless people i know
who will never be people you know
because they aren't important enough to be on the
cover of time, and vogue and the new york post
because i know that for all the world rewards lavish life
in the fast lane
cribs is not a reality but that ain't the tragedy
because the world hates those who don't participate in the insanity
because jesus died on calvary

and anyway, who has time to worry about
fainéant self-indulgence of sitting out a fight
when he was fighting all his life
agianst people who
didn't even know him like that?

I wish that people could
just be simple
rolled and clean
like socks
and appreciate the beauty of utility
but that just isn't life

in real life we seldom get votes, although we should
but voting won't solve all the worlds problems
or remove all the d-boys from the corner
pushing keys
and send them looking for kite in a summer sky again
it won't restore
the blossom to the tree
which leaves one wondering what's a colored girl
in a blank palette world to
When shoutin'
and cryin'
and votin'
and cookin'
and dancin'
and writin'
and pushin'
and shovin'
and hatin'
and lovin'
and withholdin'
and payin'
and buyin'
and prayin'
and rememberin'
and fightin'
and standing
isn't enough

I wrote this poem because sixty six years ago my grandmother lacked the five dollar tuition to finish her college education

thinking about how little old me can change anything in the world after five but my ego
and then I remember

and I pause
and I stand still
and pray and wait
and hope
that somebody will
pay my way
after five minutes of waiting I ask
God, is that you?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Just words (2005)

I began writing at the age of seven or eight. A voracious reader, I loved consuming books I liked to call "real life fiction", with the swiftness of a hungry cat on a mouse. Back then writing seemed like a natural progression from my organic love to create and frame the world around me.

As I grew older, writing became a way to channel pain, to try the world, to push the boundaries of expression. I was lured by the seduction of the word. Words had the power to change minds and hearts, to instill fear, or impart knowledge, to make the world fall in love with us, or revile us.

I loved the way that words sounded. Putting them together was like creating a dance or a painting. Words seemed to have a secret rhythm with layers of internal music outside a orb of truth. If you could get to that place in the dance, where the sweetness, and bitterness, and love, and truth, and loss and everything in between all commingle together to produce some quality that is truthful for everyone, no matter what their subjectivity, I believe words can be art.

Even now, I get gross bumps when I hear the word, "ethereal", or "mesmeric" or "slick." How bellowing, "omnipotent" sounds compared to the earthiness of the word, "navel" or the litheness of the word "sari" or the impish smugness of the word, "besmirched." How beautiful it is to take a word like "red" and pair it with "earth" and create 1,000 different images in ten minds. Or change the picture by adding "danced" to form, "The red earth danced down the green plain."Without mentioning the word erupted, or lava, but words evoke an image through mere suggestion. Living with words is like living with a bipolar drama queen that is on a crash diet. They can be manipulative, seductive, airy, earthy, bitter, raging or calm.

At my best each word seems to be a character that channels existentially, and then suddenly rises from random characters to something that has meaning, breath, and yes, purpose.

Words have purpose.

But somehow, some way, I loose my words every now and then. I get caught up in the grind of living and forget vocabulary I learned ten years ago. Stress steals away my rhythm so my mind is no longer dancing, and my pen unacknowledged and still. And sometimes there is an emptiness that words don't fill because that is a place reserved for emotion. And then after that, there are words, which when faced with the monumental girth that is life, seem so small. After all, they are just words.

Today I was reading Jill Scott's "The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours," which is a collection of poetry she's written over the years.

She has one line in the prologue, which I am decidedly in love with. "I wrote because tears weren't sufficient." That sentence is the paramour in my writing life. there are many nights when I cry at the injustice of the world, the chilling pain of life until my tears drink all of my oxygen, and it seems at any second I will stop breathing. And then, when I have no more room for anything else inside me, my words fall down. In an odd way, I feel a sense of not relief, but justice. And I want to share it with others. That is the gift God has given me. Although I am comfortable in the spoken word, I find that in my mind with my words I am at home, and truly free.

Now that I am older, I am learning to enjoy silence just as much as I enjoy words. I try to talk less, listen more. I am getting used to the fact that stillness is the presence of God, and not an absence something. I find the quiet makes the music of the written word all the more delicious, like a fresh rain clears the air, crisp like consonants, lush and open like vowels.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Story Pickin my Brain...

I wanted to share a story I wrote about four months ago. I think it may end up being a screenplay.

It is about what we are looking for when we try to fill the hole in our lives with anything other than the person who we were created to be. It is fragmented, and a draft, but I felt compelled to share. We all know this man, the man who is never satisfied. What are you filling yours with?

Warning: Now keep in mind I'm an artist, so I'm sensitive about my work!



The first time I told Lisa I loved her we were sitting on the couch watching Good Times. She had on my favorite soft ribbed blue sweater. I was telling her that as a kid I used to write poems to Janet Jackson.

"Aww, you were geeky?"
"I was not geeky, that was Janet."
'"She write you back?""Shut up. See now you just can't appreciate a man's skills. " I grinned sheepishly,"I never sent them."

"Why not?"

"Cause... I don't know. I guess they were personal."
" Personal love poems to Janet Jackson?"
"Hey, rejection ain't no joke, especially for a kid. But you women wouldn't know anything about that."
"Is that so?" she raised an eyebrow and started rubbing my leg.
"See now, look at what you started. I'm just sitting here trying to watch a nice episode of pop culture iconography and here you are tripping. I'm gonna have you arrested for making a brother nervous. Police!"

Unfazed, Lisa leaned over and laid her head on my chest. Her skin smelled delicate like caramel and pecans. Something stirred inside me, having her there.

"Now you making me miss watching Penny get whupped by her mama."
"Michael, what do you like about me?"
I smiled. Then I looked down and saw the quiet fear in her eyes. Suddenly the comfort that I felt gave way to heart racing.
"You're smart. You're kind . You're beautiful."
"You never write me any poems. You never show your work." she declared.
"I've written you lots of poems," I said quietly.
"I never sent them."

She looked up when she realized how fast my heart was racing.
Then she smiled the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen in my whole life.

* * * *

I wouldn't let go.

She was struggling with me. Wrestling with me. Pleading with me, but I wouldn't let go. I couldn't. Her breath was short, and I could hear her gasping and fighting as she pushed my weight away from her. At any moment I knew that I would loose my grip. I could feel my fingers pressing into her skin, slipping from the thickening sheaths of sweat. Suddenly I felt something break and my body pushed against the wall. Lisa got up and picked up a fire poker.

"Touch me again and I will kill you, Michael. I will split you open on this carpet."

She was yelling, screaming, cursing. Half of her hair was stuck to her check, the other half stood straight up, reaching for the ceiling. Mascara blackened her eyes, and her arms were shaking. Her eyes were liquid fire.

"You knew! And you lied about it because you knew."

Removed from her, looking at her there, I couldn't answer. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't look into her wrath. If I did I felt like I'd be consumed right there, and there would'nt be be anything left of me.

"You know you pretended you were so different, like you were better. But you are no better."

I didn't hear her leave the room. I didn't hear her close the door. There was nothing there but numbness. I didn't even feel the tears until to my horror, I noticed them hitting my skin and running down my hands.

A few hours later Dawan and Clarise knocked at my door, which was open. They found me sitting at the same spot on the floor that I always. Dawan's deep eyes flashed when he saw me sitting there slumped over. His dark cheeks hardened. I then felt him kicking my stomach. Totally unprepared I tried to get up, but he had a foot and over a hundred pounds on me. I tried to breath but I could taste blood and mucus in my saliva In the background I could hear Clarise screaming. Finally, heaving from the force of the blows he stood over me, face stony.

"Dawan, just let him go. Let's get her stuff and leave."

Clarise pulled Dawan back from me.

"Be a man. Hit a man, punk!" his voice boomed, "You better not let me see you in the street!"

"Just let him go, Dawan. It's done. Go get the stuff out the bedroom."

Dawan sighed heavily and kicked me one last time in the gut before heading into the back bedroom.

"I didn't hit her, but I shouldn't have grabbed her."

Clarise spun around.

"Damn right you shouldn't have."

"I love her," I said , "I didn't mean to hurt her," I said surprised by my own whisper.

"What?Michael you ain't never gonna love nobody because your love is only about you. If you loved my sister why you get the other girl pregnant?"

The next week Regina called me in her clipped reserved tone and matter-of-factly told me that she had an abortion. I asked her if she needed me for anything. She gave a wry chuckle.

"Need anything?"

"I just--"
"What could I possibly need from you?"
She politely excused herself from the phone, and that was the last time I ever heard from her.

I went back to school in the fall, and told no one not even Tyrell what happened. When he picked my up from the airport and he saw my face, and gave me the gift of his silence. He picked up my bags, and together we walked out of the terminal each speaking no words. Later on that week, I found a several hundred dollars in my wallet.

I studied. Partied occasionally. Dated women who required very little of my time or effort. Tutored kids at the YMCA. Mostly kept to myself. After months of going through the motions, I started to believe that the incident never happened.

* * * * *
It was at least three years after Ashe told me Regina died that I dared call anyone and ask where she was buried.

"Depression," Ashe said knowingly,"She went down hill after she dropped out of law school," with an arched brow.

"She never contacted me. We didn't stay in the same circles."

"Yeah, I guess we never do," she said leaning against the counter. She never spoke Regina's name to me again.

Slowly, I begin to put my pen to paper and soon I was enveloped in a sea of simple words.

For Each One, Especially Her

Free to be strong and weak
Without judgment
And without fear that I would rob you of what you protect
You needed me to say I love you in the past present and future tense
You needed me to love you
And you needed to believe that
My love was honorable
But I lied to you
Took from you without giving myself
Expected from you what I should have expected from me
I didn't say loving things, didn't treat you with the care you deserve
I fought you to gain my own honor, and lost.
Now the weight of my shortcomings are reflected in your eyes
No matter how much I wanted to be more, I'm just a man
And maybe not even a very good one.
For all the things I regret
I will forever be sorry that
I couldn't be that man to you
And to myself
I don't ask you for your love
But for your forgiveness
And a fresh page

I placed the poem in a simple envelope and nervously turned off the ignition to car. The house was a simple adobe, and nothing like I remembered. Then a woman in the window dusting. She reminded me of my grandmother, tall and still, even while moving. She looked nothing like Regina, but something about the raised shoulders, mighty like mountains, reminded me of Regina's walk. For a moment our eyes met. The fall wind seemed to pick up slightly, blowing the leaves, blowing the grass, and maybe even blowing the sky. I started the car again, and headed to the grave site.

Weekend Poetry (Saturday)

Another Day

Walking through
Still walls of silence
Hands yearning to touch
distant scarves of green fields

Drinking from earthen cups
Of otherness
Pregnant with a thought
That life
Always yields

Give us today to drink with abandon
To allow our minds to be dressed in the
Scarlet sashes of an Atlantis sunrise
To eat the gleaming grapes
That blistered our fingers
And pricked our thumbs
If only to know
That human wounds heal more quickly
than vineyards
But the earth gives
As much as we take from it, if not more…

So today
Let us be beloved by the laity of lilies
And dress ourselves in dandelions
Wash our feet in the running tide of
The same rain that has fallen since the first
Let us be the tenders of the gardens
That our foremothers found
Mark our bodies not with fear
But with the
of the age

Here we are
Chosen, but not appointed
Cast, but not crowned
Each crop watered
Is a lover to the tender
Blossom lips kissing the center
Of an ideal that unfolds
from the harshest soil
With the sweetest scent

And while
This season is
Bare boned
This crop
Is yet to be picked.

Post Election Blues
Thought I'd share some:
George W. Bush is a man who believes that God is on his side. Progressives and conservatives don’t agree about whose side God is on, but they do agree he was on the ballot this year.

In the aftermath of a hellish election, conservatives gloat. Progressives look for a culprit. Droves of evangelical Christians armed with bibles and ballots, fueled by GOP outreach voted to keep a president they once believed was too moderate to represent them. The Christian left, advocating peace, is dumbfounded. Where did it all go wrong?

The role of faith in politics should not be ignored. Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and one another. Both the left and right seem to have a hard time doing both.

In this messy landscape it is easy to wonder if the church will ever agree on anything. While mainstream denominations loose members without replacements, evangelical movements and prosperity ministry grow. Both are battling for religious shoppers looking for something that fits their check list. Protestant Christians that historically supported progressive values stand before a fork in the road called civil rights not knowing which way to turn. Fundamentalists see abortion, and gay marriage, as opportunities to legislate “morality.”

My argument with the Christian right is that it thinks that God is and government are one and the same. (Some also think that God doesn’t love “losers.”) The poor, the afflicted, and the opposition are cast as Satan’s little helpers, and Bush as King David. If the state could bring about true peace by just rule it would have done so. There would be no need for Christ to die. Jesus shunned the theocratic establishment because it followed the letter of the law forgetting the spirit of love behind it. I hope the right realizes that Jesus was a loser before he was a winner.

My argument with the Christian left is that it thinks it can change the world without God. Leadership, even by the best and brightest is always subject to the fundamental human flaw; we are not perfect and govern accordingly. People need spiritual food to undertake social change. Christian faith relies on individual change rooted in a relationship with God. The world is a work in progress. We can’t become bitter and tell people to love one another. It is fruitless to leave God out of social change, and be upset when he doesn’t show up.

It is time for the church to plant the fruit of the spirit described in Galatians as, “love joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.” Christians don’t need a new political covenant, we need to take the old one seriously. If churches can’t agree on candidates, agree to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the broken. If we don’t agree on economics, agree it is a sin to see a hungry man by a church that has full refrigerator, a clothing box, and a phone. If we can’t agree on health care policy, start by agreeing that everyone deserves medicine when they are sick. Treat people kindly. Be more than pew warmers, bible thumpers, and theogogues. Walk in love with God and each other. Then the world will change. Then we can truly say that God is on our side.

Looking Down the Other Side of the Mountain

I once heard a pastor say in a sermon, "You better learn how to praise God in the valley because you are going to spend the majority of your life there. Not in a valley? Don't worry, it is coming."

circa 4000BC: Moses comes from the mountaintop and gives the 10 commandments. Immediately everyone breaks them.
3BC: Jesus gives his sermon on the mount. Is crucified within three years.
1968: Martin Luther King sees the mountaintop, and is shot.

But it is in the valley you grow, so the songwriter says.

Not in a valley? Don't worry. It is coming.

I find myself recalling these words after coming out of a major bout with writer's block, and self doubt. Within the last week, on more than one occasion, I half jokingly respond to well wishers asking, "How are you?" with "I am trying to find out. I'll let you know when all the pieces of me are here so I can respond." It seems as if society has created us to become more and more fragmented.

I am daughter/sister/lover/friend/writer/worker/woman of God/believer/dreamer/doubter/doer/procrastinator/blacksistahomie/overexploited/ e=mc2 multiplicity of myselves times infinity.

Oh the Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls of it all! That woman was onto something.

I found an old tape of a conference I spoke at a long time ago on youth grantmakers nearly ten years ago. At the time, I was paired with another young woman from Oakland who was a part of the initial Kids First Initiative. That was in the heyday of youth grantmaking and youth development when philanthropy patted itself on the back for responding to the need for youth to be a critical piece of developing strategies to reduce youth violence.

As I listened to myself and others talk about the importance of giving, I am shocked. Not so much by what is said, but how passionately it is conveyed. I listen to myself saying, "Giving mean more than receiving, because when you give you get a five fold investment on what you get." And another young woman," If you give to me, and I have everything, it doesn't do any good to me. But if you give to someone who doesn't have, it means so much more." And
"Philanthropy can help youth by supporting sustainablity. Our foundations are are partners in this effort, but it the initiative ends in four years. Nobody's life is four years."

Then in occurred to me. We actually believed what we were saying, without reservation! I was painfully reminded of the many times, despite my strong opinions, I throw out some redundant regurgitated thought, because it is the catch phrase. It could even be a thought I feel no deep ownership or connection to, like working poor. What the heck is that? An oxymoron? A truth?

I've got a serious case of disconnect with myself, and I am not alone. How little connection we have to one another. We live in separate lives on separate islands, drive to work in separate cars to separate compartments of our lives, come home to our isolated little bubbles. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. This is who I am at work. This is who I am when I go out. This is who I am at church. Some part of you always manages to get shorted.

If we do connect, it is likely through non tactile means: television, internet, cell phones. No wonder we have so many people problems. Rugged individuality is isolating. What do we feel connected to except a swiftly tilting planet of hopelessness by the day? Children murdering other children, money spent on conquest, not community. The LA Times reads: Urban Schools are Drop Out Factories, and who really cares beyond the election year?Been wondering why nobody has connected the decline in public education and the decay of communal society, but that is a bust. Education can be somewhat controlled. It is an institution. Family is a construction. Much harder to patch up.

Not exactly good fodder for poets write about the human spirit when much of our time is spent struggling, wrestling with it like Jacob did with God. And who am I write about the struggle?

But even in the face of ten year old statistics, there was something fresh about our voices at that conference. The honesty made me realize that my writer's block is a fairly recent phenomenon. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood it becomes harder for me to write because I no longer trust my own truth. I was told that my view of the world wasn't to be trusted. Now I am a well seasoned diplomat trained to look for the multiple "truths" called "perspectives."

"The world is after all more than your seat an your view," a friend's poem reminds me. Maybe my fragmentation is a sign of maturity-- or indoctrination? Do I really believe in philanthropy after I discovered my heroes turned out to be Johnny Appleseeds that are here today gone tomorrow, and sustainability is just another catch phrase? And government, well maybe that is just another overcodified word for the failure of humans to run the world?

When did dreaming, and believing, and yes, giving become not enough?

As much as I would like to believe differently, I find myself wondering if the only reason American outreach for the tsunami disaster was so large was because the UN scolded our only truly egalitarian American belief--our self centeredness.

Then my ego says, but it has to be bigger than that. After all, we are a world power. We are at the proverbial mountaintop. Since world War II more Americans enjoy a high level of attainment and wealth than ever before. Still it is clear that a significant portion of E Pluribus Unam is livin la vida broka-- and they call it plurality. A significant portion. Perhaps since WWII the perception of attainment has become our new identity?

eg: I am my SUV and my SUV is me?

Tsunami's aside, lack doesn't unilaterally bring out the best in the human spirit. But sometimes it can teach us humility, patience, empathy, trust and faith the kind of faith that caused my grandfather leave the rural south that denied him the opportunity to be a doctor to head to California, where he succeeded, but never became the thing he coveted. My grandmother's tuition was $5 a semester, and she took up babysitting and washing to pay her way through school. She only went for two years, although she was the head of her class, she couldn't afford the five dollar tuition required to complete her studies. "Can you believe it?" she'd say," Can you believe nobody could give me $5 to pay my semester? She exclaimed eyes shining,"Don't you think somebody oughta have given me the $5 it would've taken to finish school?" Her words fell to the ground, heavy. Sixty year old broken promises.

Their bitterness was channeled.

Each of their three children sat prompt every day in the front row of a one-step from-segregation school room. My grandparents were determined philanthropists in the truest sense of the word. They gave their children, and others what they never had. There was so little hope back then, but there seemed to be so much. Their whole world was a big sigh full lungs holding breath that could not wait to be released.

Now, we are deflated balloons left alone as a reminder that party has gone to somebody else's house.

I watched the other day as a television evangelist visited India and literally wept and ran away from the scores of children that were living in the worst poverty imaginable. She ran to a nearby car to escape the obscenely beautiful faces of smiling brown children who followed her every step. Then two boys came up to the car window and began tapping on it. She looked up, tear stained and forlorn. They had two cookies. Thrusting out a ruddy brown hand they handed the woman the cookie, a gift she tried to refuse, but ended up accepting. Then they smiled, walked away from the van and went to a nearby bench to share the one cookie.

Although this woman was probably a Republican, and will may never understand the significance of the role that rich nations such as ours play in the global poverty warfare game, she clearly was moved by something this country never confronts; it doesn't take things to be happy. I'm not suggesting the children happy to be poor, but their joy wasn't based on their lack. If it were they would always live in misery, on Prozac...or Zolift.

Sadly the American dream is based on the corruptible. But the dream is an ideal. Simply put:Maybe an idealized is a failed life. We base our happiness on an ideal, and we miss true joy, collecting thing after thing, never satisfied. It is something Black people have learned for years. Find joy in what you have. Find joy in who you are.

But even as I write that I wonder, what happened to that tradition in our community? Did it die with the last benefit sho'nuff 1975 afro? Have Black folks today lost hope? Are we fragmented people, now that we have reached the promised land? Is that why we get stuck in this cycle of spiritual poverty, which is worse in many ways than physical poverty? And the bourgeoisie Bill Cosby middle class of us--having arrived have we given up on the rest of ourselves? If this is the mountaintop, what is next except a valley?

I don't know the answer. But maybe I will finally be able to feel I've re-earned my right to write about it.

And maybe it is in the valley that you grow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Who is Watering the Grass?

When I was a child one of my favorite pastimes was to play in the grass. It never ceased to amaze me how wonderful it was to smell that ruddy earthy smell that can only be produced when sun, water, and earth form to become tall green silos of stuff. And in the stuff, possibility! Imagine my amazement when I discovered that without the reciprocity between all the elements, including the intake of our carbon dioxide, we couldn't have oxygen, the stuff that keeps us all taking in deep breaths each morning.

The poetry in the simple act of living is lost on most of us. We get up each morning , calculate a do-to list, and then another, methodically marking off the days, minutes and hours that it takes to be completed with our work for the day. At the end of the day, how many of us can claim satisfaction?

I realized quite some time ago that I was missing something that could not be filled with my wants or even my needs, or completed by the realizations of my hopes and dreams. There is something bigger than life itself that is composed into its parts, each part needed to create the whole.

Some would call that a naive assumption that the human soul desires to exist beyond its own means, the ego taking on a god-like desire to be beyond the being.

I, however, call it faith.

If you notice, true to Jesus' saying the grass gets watered regardless of human intervention for the most part. Oh there are droughts, and dry spells, and disasters, to be sure. But even after the Pacific rim erupts in a destructive splendor, obliterating everything in its path, emerald green is still the first sparkling color you see. The sun still shines, the rain still falls, the earth molested by human lust, still manages to care for a tiny seed that is here today, gone tomorrow.

Grass can resist birds, disease, and storms, and too much sun and not enough, and too much wind, and not enough, and yes, even us. Imagine that the living thing that acts as the intercessor for human breathing, so devalued by us that we cut it just when it starts to thrive, just because.


And yet most of us will spend the rest of our lives worried, confused, stuck in the redundant chaos of human imperfection that keeps us up late at night. How many of us have the faith of a blade of grass, which by most accounts, should have no faith at all.

Which leads me to wonder-- who on earth is watering the grass?

And if God were a color, would he be green?

Now I am no gardener, but I am an admirer of them. It almost seems as if gardens are a superficial attempt to keep nature controlled. Keeping the "undesirables" at bay. Maybe a little elitist? One woman's weed is another one's prize? Considering how difficult it is to keep a garden it is a wonder than anyone every attempts it.

If you know anything about weeds, you will learn they are tenacious characters, armed with millions of years of evolutionary attitude. The more we try to isolate them, the smarter they get, forcing us to go on the offensive, producting tougher, cleverer strategies. And yet we still create gardens. We still trust that with constant care, the oasis we've created can thrive given the right conditions.

And yet the In the garden of Eden man struggled to keep human nature at bay and lost to the lone weed. I often think that God is a gardner. Knowing the odds he still labors. Why?

Why water the garden that is doomed to be invaded unless something strongly compels you to continue?

This is the question of faith. This is the understanding of love, and all that other stuff....