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....