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Archive for the tag “poetry”

Pray for Peace

from Ellen Bass, The Human Line (2007)

 

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:

Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,

his suffering face bent to kiss you,

Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,

Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary

that she may lay her palm on our brows,

to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,

to Inanna in her stripped descent.

 

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.

On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,

for everyone riding buses all over the world.

Drop some silver and pray.

 

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,

for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.

Make your eating and drinking a supplication.

Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,

each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

 

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.

Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.

Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

 

Make the brushing of your hair

a prayer, every strand its own voice,

singing in the choir on your head.

As you wash your face, the water slipping

through your fingers, a prayer: Water,

softest thing on earth, gentleness

that wears away rock.

 

Making love, of course, is already prayer.

Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,

the fragile cases we are poured into.

 

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.

Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.

Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

 

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,

to the video store, let each step

be a prayer that we all keep our legs,

that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.

Or crush their skulls. And if you are riding on a bicycle

or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution

of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:

less harm, less harm, less harm.

 

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,

a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail

or delivering soda or drawing good blood

into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard

with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–

 

With each breath in, take in the faith of those

who have believed when belief seemed foolish,

who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

 

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,

feed the birds, each shiny seed

that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.

Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

 

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.

Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child

around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water

from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.

Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling

your prayer through the streets.

 

Blue Line Black Men: I am not afraid

There were black men yelling on the Market Frankford El today.  We all got on the train at the same time, but separately, at 69th Street, the end/beginning of the line.  The first guy, who sat across the aisle from me, was on his cell phone.

“Did you hear about the Sixers?… They tradin’ Hawes!… That’s a bad move, man!”

Other guys pile into the car, in uniforms and work boots, bundled in puffer coats or in hoodies covering their heads.  They take empty seats or stand near the poles at the double doors, some of them with their friends and in their own conversations.  But the man on the phone is loud and the other passengers are forced to eavesdrop.  A murmur begins among the strangers.

“Naw, that’s good!”

“That’s a good move for the Sixers, dawg!”

“That’s what they need!”

The man on the phone hangs up with the caller as the train begins to leave the station.  Before hitting the button to close the call, he is responding to the other passengers. The men all become passionate about the subject. There are hand gestures and scrunched up faces, “naw dawg’s” and “C’mon man’s.” The oldhead tucked in the corner of the car offers up a comment and they all pause to hear him before they all chime in at once again.

The train stops at Millbourne, 63rd and 60th Streets, gaining and losing passengers, both pushing traffic through the loud, good-natured discussion.  It’s all gibberish to me. I know nothing about the 76er’s and could care less about basketball.  But I enjoyed being caught up in that moment with them—black men yelling, unafraid for those moments, interacting with each other, passionate about a thing.

I am used to black men yelling: my father is a Pentecostal preacher, my grandfather was a bit of a pimp, my brothers get pretty riled up when telling stories, my Uncle Joe sits on my grandmother’s couch quoting Farrakhan from behind an open Final Call.  I am not intimidated.  I am not shaken. I am not moved.  As a matter of fact, I feel right at home when it gets loud and rowdy—whether it’s on a Septa train, in a family room back home, or when walking past a neighborhood basketball court.

More importantly, though, I am used to black men.

I am reminded of this when I enter the classroom of Philadelphia FIGHT each week to teach my writing workshop, “Making Each Word Matter.”  When collaborating with FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice and their weekly creative writing class, I am in a classroom with black men, 20-30 of them, ages ranging from early 20’s to late 60’s, all of them armed with pens and paper, spilling ink and creativity.  And I tell you, it is only here, in this room full of black men, first loud with their ideas, then quietly writing their words, then patiently waiting to share what they’ve written while patiently listening to others… it is here in this room, full of stagnant stale air, yet vibrant with fresh art, that I become afraid.

I am afraid that no one will hear their stories or know their worth.  No one will hear the rhyme, the rhythm, the cadence of their poetry.  No one will hear the questions, the answers, and the brilliance of their tales.

I am afraid that whether black men are yelling on the El or yelling on the page, the only ones who will listen are those of us who are not intimidated, shaken, or moved—those of us who are used to black men yelling. Or more importantly, used to black men.

The others, too busy blinded by the darkness and deafened by the noise, will continue to keep black men silenced and make up their own stories.

And I am afraid that that will not be enough.

It’s raining sunshine

I am soaked down to the bone

My skin is my proof

—- John Tolbert, haiku from “Making Each Word Matter”

must be the gods’ black

I am, unfortunately, down and out with the flu this week.  Please enjoy a creative piece instead of new commentary.  This was an assignment to describe beauty without using the word.  I think it’s the perfect piece to usher in Black History Month.   

 

she had that black skin that was much deeper than the blacks from savannah, memphis, or new orleans—places where they say the sun don’t show no mercy on the backs of colored folk who belonged to slaves.  you could tell that she wasn’t blackened by no angry, punishing sun.  it was like her color came from gods who grew tired of pinks and yellows, tawnies and terra cottas.  she wore the color of the sky before it knew stars and moon, and when they arrived, situated themselves behind her lips only to shine when she parted them.  there were no lines, no flaws in the darkness that blanketed her body which she sometimes clothed in printed cottons or pieces of matching mud cloth. but I preferred her nakedness and its enviable endlessness of the color from which I came.  that blackness untouched, untainted, and Righteous.

Writing with Giants

Earlier this year, I took writing classes with Sonia Sanchez.  Next week, I will be in workshops lead by Binyavanga Wainaina.  Today I am in a class with Eghosa Imasuen and Chimamanda Adichie has been teaching all week.

With each interaction with these accomplished authors, I have taken the opportunity to carefully construct new material as assigned, observe the examples chosen by the instructors, and put into practice the feedback and advice given regarding the art and practice of writing.

This process, however, would not be as effective and inspiring if not for one of the most vital entities of such learning environments: its students.  My peers.

With any creative piece of work, as its creator, we are very protective and even defensive about the art that is born out of our souls.  Generally, we are usually receptive to the opinions of professionals—taking their word as gospel regarding the formula in which we should write, the words to employ, and how tone, voice, and point of view has positively affected the work we have shared.

However, when it comes to building with others who come from different backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, our vulnerability heightens.

In writing workshops, trusting the other to respectfully critique your work while, in turn, delicately offering suggestions on how one can improve her/his creative piece is quite a balance.

This week, I, along with 21 other New African Writing Fellows, have opened our 8-9 hour workshop days with creative compositions that we have spent the previous night composing and perfecting.  When we share our pieces, we are thoughtful about the other’s style and voice and we respond accordingly, working only to provide feedback to improve the flow and readability.

It is no small feat, actually.  Sometimes, we are fighting for why we have chosen certain words while at other times, we are persuading our friends on why particular sections of a piece should be omitted or revised.  It’s a BIG task before a writer further develops work, revises the work, and ultimately, submits the work.  It takes writers who are just as BIG to both dish out and take in feedback that will help elevate the work.

This week, I am happy to be writing with Giants who understand that aspiring to be great at what we do should be no tall order.

Selected Writers for 2013 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop

I am extremely honored to be counted among these amazing writers and to be learning under the tutelage of Chimamanda Adichie, Binyavanga Wainaina and our other esteemed teachers. These are the moments when you are affirmed in the work that you do and the choices that you make to pursue your craft. I won’t get to preaching here, will save it for another day. But I am feeling really blessed.

Farafina Books

Chimamanda Adichie

In April, Farafina Trust called for entries for the 2013 Farafina Trust creative writing workshop, inviting writers from all over the world to submit their short pieces. From the numerous applicants, twenty-five outstanding writers have been selected to participate in the workshop this year, which will be taught by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Eghosa Imasuen, Binyavanga Wainaina and other writers of note.

The selected writers this year are:

1. Zenique Gardner (USA)
2. Maryam  Shuaib (Minna)
3. Tolu Agunbiade (Ketu)
4. Timendu Aghahowa (Ikeja)
5. Abdulrashid Muhammad (Abuja)
6. Uchenna Ude (Lagos)
7. Udoh Charles Rapulu (Onitsha)
8. Gbolahan Adeola (USA)
9. Lilian Izuorah (Minna)
10. Suleiman Agbonkhianmen ( Lagos)
11. Nicholas Ochiel (Kenya)
12. Yakubu Damilola Daniel (Kwara)
13. Kelechi Njoku (Abuja)
14. Lesley Nneka Arimah (USA)
15. Tajudeen Sagaya (Lagos)
16. Adaora Nwankwo (Onitsha)
17. Chidinma Nnamani (Enugu)
18. Arinze Daniel Ifeakandu (Kano)
19. Okpanachi Eyo Michael (Zaria)
20. Okechukwu Otukwu…

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Grave

Day 7. For Granny. November 2012

Yesterday I learned
That death is cold and gray.
Facing stone
Kneeling on new grass
Arms outstretched
And splayed fingers
Reaching for what my soul
Had lost.
I brought no gifts
I performed no ancient rituals
Nor did I recite religious rants
For the lost.
I only sat
Sinking into broken earth
the wind washing over me
Offering my tears
For all that is no more.

Cigarettes and Oil

Day 5. Circa 2010.

He holds the cigarette in his hand, a stream of smoke ascending from the lit tip.  It’s halfway done, even though he has only taken two draws from it.   It burns between his fingers more than it burns between his lips and, at this moment, I wish I smoked so I could take a few hits on it to both taste the wetness he leaves on the paper and to ease my angst about the wastefulness of the thing.

Why do I care? I think to myself.  After all, no one wants anyone to smoke these days with ubiquitous posters and billboards screaming:  “YOUR CIGARETTE KILLS THE AIR AND UNBORN BABIES!” Perhaps I too should preach about the atrocities of burning up an American Spirit and blowing its smoke out your mouth.   That’s not my thing, though—I leave that for the environment freaks and fault-finding Christians.

I inhale the secondhand smoke that mingles with the scent of his body which smells of sandalwood or patchouli, likely a fragrance oil that he purchased from some Muslim guy who sells them on a North Philly street or in an underground subway car.

Who can resist an aromatic roll of scented oil from the strange hand extended to you on your commute from City Hall to Cecil B. Moore?  You know this guy in the long robe and short pants makes a living from these miniature vials and if you have a five dollar bill, you hand it to him—still crumpled from your pants pocket—and watch a smile appear somewhere between the bushy beard on his chin and the knit kufi pulled over his brow.  With this, he uses both hands to place the small bottles in your palm, gives a hearty thanks and then glides over to the other passengers, occasionally bidding “Salaam-ailakum” to the burka-covered woman or other bearded brother dressed just like him.      

I am thankful for those pious palm-holding, vial-selling, subway peddlers when I am in his presence.  I am even thankful for menthol Newports, Marlboro soft packs, and Camel Lights when he’s around.  If he ever asks if the smoke bothers me, I would tell him how hopeful I am that the scent of his cigarette stays with me until I arrive home and get in bed—just let the smell of smoke ascend above my head and form a halo around me as I sleep. 

Or I would just say to him, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Confession in a Parked Car

Day 4. a poetry class journal entry. Circa 2009

 

There is only stale air and failed words

Between us

There has been no truth for days

Now silence

Endless deliberation

Be honest or tell lies?

Lies

That have fallen flat for days

And widened the chasm

Between us

He sits up straight

Separated

only by the inches

Between us

Steering wheel in hand,

His head low,

He confessed.

I cried.

Four months apart

Had been too long.

Of Silent Types

Day 3. Poetry. Circa 2009.

Lately,

I have tried to refrain

from saying I love you

and, instead, be like you.

Lately, I see

that love ain’t about

the words formed

in my mouth

or in cursive

on little lime-green post-its

that I have placed

in your brown bagged lunch with chips,

but on your face

and in your eyes

when you pick me up

on rainy days.

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