(For Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959)
Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and evelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
On the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…
Things have come to that.
And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
Nobody sings anymore.
And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into
Her own clasped hands.
Of the Harlem night
Drop one by one into stillness.
The last player-piano is closed.
The last victrola ceases with the
“Jazz Boy Blues.”
The last crying baby sleeps
And the night becomes
Still as a whispering heartbeat.
Without rest in the darkness,
Weary as the tired night,
Empty as the silence,
Empty with a vague,
I toss without rest
In the darkness
Until the new dawn,
Wan and pale,
Descends like a white mist
Into the court-yard.
by Malcolm Friend
The ocean breeze
used to dance to the barriles’ bomba,
my machete cut cane
to its cadence—
hell, even my father’s horsewhip
swayed against my back to its swing.
No one’s heard of bomba
This Steel City
moves at an industrial pace,
its tune a clockwork nine-to-five—
keep up, keep moving, keep up…
If you move too fast,
you’ll miss the drums
initiate Caribbean mating calls:
co-quí, co-quí, co-quí.
My mother called me “Momen,”—
a name made for bomba.
Here they call me “Bobby,”
a name fit for rigged steel
and cold concrete;
their footsteps sound less
like a beating drum
and more like the march of soldiers—
Maybe I will shape my own song—
Infield hit: tu-cu-tú.
Home run: tu-cu-tú.
Throw from right to third: tu-cu-tú…
In un momentito,
I will teach Pittsburgh
to dance bomba.
by Malcom Friend
—after Martín Espada
My abuela’s thoughts
On Puerto Rico’s political status
Swayed like Caribbean waves
Back and forth on the island’s shores.
When we won World War II,
Proclaimed freedom victor in the world,
She sang the Star Spangled Banner
Throughout the streets of New York:
You know, Puerto Rico should be a state.
We’re already citizens.
Yet when my father—fifth of seven children—
Was drafted to fight in Vietnam
She became fervent as Albizu,
Her tune changing to Lola’s Borinqueña:
Fucking imperial yanquis!
Puerto Rico should be independent.
Now you may think my abuela unpredictable
As a tropical hurricane, but, according to my dad,
She never once expressed pride in the stagnant status quo.
She never once praised the Commonwealth.
There is no warning rattle at the door
nor heavy feet to stomp the foyer boards.
Safe in the dark prison, I know that
light slides over
the fingered work of a toothless
woman in Pakistan.
Happy prints of
an invisible time are illumined.
My mouth agape
rejects the solid air and
lungs hold. The invader takes
seeps through the plaster walls.
It is at my chamber, entering
the keyhole, pushing
through the padding of the door.
I cannot scream. A bone
of fear clogs my throat.
It is upon me. It is
sunrise, with Hope
its arrogant rider.
My mind, formerly quiescent
in its snug encasement, is strained
to look upon their rapturous visages,
to let them enter even into me.
I am forced
outside myself to
mount the light and ride joined with Hope.
Through all the bright hours
I cling to expectation, until
darkness comes to reclaim me
as its own. Hope fades, day is gone
into its irredeemable place
and I am thrown back into the familiar
bonds of disconsolation.
Gloom crawls around
between my toes, at my ankles,
and it sucks the strands of my
hair. It forgives my heady
fling with Hope. I am
joined again into its
greedy arms.-Maya Angelou
RIP Maya Angelou
after Gwendolyn Brooks
When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real
men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we
drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school
I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk
of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we
watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight.
Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing,
his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We
watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.
He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,
how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we
got down on our knees in my room. If I sould die
before I wake, Da said to me, it will be too soon.
Into the tented city we go, we-
akened by the fire’s ethereal
afterglow. Born lost and cool-
er than heartache. What we
know is what we know. The left
hand severed and school-
ed by cleverness. A plateof we-
ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-
ing in the afterglow. A late-
night chant. Into the city we
go. Close your eyes and strike
a blow. Light can be straight-
ened by its shadow. What we
break is what we hold. A sing-
ular blue note. An outcry sin-
ged exiting the throat. We
push until we thin, thin-
king we won’t creep back again.
While God licks his kin, we
sing until our blood is jazz,
we swing from June to June.
We sweat to keep from we-
eping. Groomed on a die-
t of hunger, we end too soon.
by Aaron Samuels
Ayo Aaron, where you from? Where your parents
from? Hola, como estás? Why does your skin tan quicker
than mine? I overheard you saying the N-word so…do
you believe in god? You’re not really black…you can’t
rap? You can rap? Did you learn that from your father?
I thought you would be better at basketball. Wait,
you’re not Spanish?
You don’t even speak Spanish?
You shouldn’t send a picture to your scholarship program.
But is your MOM Jewish? What was the theme
to your Bar Mitzvah?
or Do you believe in god?
My daddy says that all the Jews are gonna go to hell
but I like you so can you come to church with me?
or Kike, don’t get offended by the word kike.
Nobody uses that word anymore. or
Langauge is evolving
It’s ok, there were black kids in my high school;
they told me it was ok.
They don’t care about a nigga; them mothafuckers jewed us
out the projectcs to build an Urban Outfitters.
THAT IS THE BLACKEST JEWISH STAR
I have ever seen. or
Jewtard Jewey mc duck
Jewey mc Jewface
You’re not really Jewish are you?
You’re not really black right?
Are you you? Are there others?
Are you others
like you? Is there anyone else?
Anyone in the world?
Is there any world like you?
Is there any world that likes you?
Pájaros preocupados sin costumbres de vuelo
aprenden a deletrear sus cantos
en el buche de las circunstancias:
alas de preocupaciones ágiles en los aledaños del sonido.
Pájaros de interrupciones asombradas
cantan en la garganta de la interrupción:
espacio entre dos besos afortunados,
que rechazan la presencia hiragana
de la conveniencia estéril de la duda.
Sonidos en bandas agrian la dulcedumbre
de la quietud de auroras estancadas;
ortigas escarlatas de silencios baldíos
recobran melodías que asumen
la posición de gritos;
y cantos desvestidos de sombra de hojarasca
amarran con rumbos claros aortas impalpables
que impulsan a la razón a ser fuego en las aguas.
Pájaros—las playas—quieren volar
sobre mares alborotados
de épocas encontradas;
y mares de abstracción saltan de gozo
porque saben que las bahías de la conclusion,
entretenidas en las discusiones de sus vuelos,
son su cuerpo y su palabra.
El canto de los pájaros
de estremecidas épocas
cambia el color de la melodía,
rompe la forma agónica de las modulaciones;
urge que se levanter la emoción enjaulada;
salta por encima de los trinos
del viento florecido de urgencias
que amarran y sueltan horizontes,
atiza la perplejidad arrugada del contenido;
y zumbidos de estrellas ponen luz en los nidos
sombreados de relámpagos.
Y aquí, donde lo caduco
quema el aire sin fuego,
el estremecimiento de lo nuevo:
lo nuevo estremecido,
abre de par sus puertas,
sin temor al perfil ruminate de lo viejo.
-Clemente Soto Vélez