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Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

I was recently introduced to Afro DZ ak when he was featured on the Swirl, Inc. blog. His poem about what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be mixed resonated deeply with me, while his powerful use of language and humor blew me away. Today, I want to share his words with you in my very first WGiBF feature! Also, do yourself a favor and click on the links at the end to hear some of his incredible music. Afro D may be mixed, but the funk came through pure and true. I’m allowed to say that ’cause I’m mixed.

…………………………………..

Just Cause I’m Mixed
by
Afro DZ ak

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean that I’m mixed up

Inherently confused or I need to be fixed up

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean I’m a mule

So don’t call me ‘mulatto,’ thinkin it’s cool

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean I’m adopted

Yes, she’s white, and yes, she’s my biological mama

But whether or not I was adopted, you ain’t got the right

To stare or make comments cause my mother is white

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean I’m ‘not Black’

Cuz the concept we can have only one identity is wack

And I stand proudly with all my people of color

Painting broad concepts of ‘sister’ and ‘brother’

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean I’m ill-conceived

As words like ‘miscegenation’ would have you believe

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean I’m ashamed

Cuz the ‘race’ of my mom and my dad ain’t the same

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean I’m predictable

So sayin ‘mixed people all do this’ or ‘mixed people are all like that’ is despicable

Just Cause I’m Mixed, and I rock a big fro

Don’t mean I’m Maxwell, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, or ‘that guy in that commercial for jeans, beer, or cologne’

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean that I’m ‘Other’

Miscellaneous, Oreo, or the ‘half & half brother’

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean racism has ended

As some ignorant conservative politicians have pretended

Just Cause I’m Mixed, that don’t mean that I’m perfect

Like some kind of ‘hybrid vigor’ has made my genes superior to mere earthlings

Cuz being Multiracial is a blessing and a curse

It’s better and it’s worse, it’s last and it’s first

It’s nothing and it’s everything, it’s yin and it’s yang

It’s the apocalypse, the creation, and the big bang

It’s a subject that inspires me to write

It’s a commonality which has helped me unite

With other Mixed people who can relate all across the earth

But being Mixed does not define my personal worth

…………………………………..

Afro DZ ak is a multi-instrumentalist MC who uses music, hip-hop and spoken-word poetry to promote positive social change. An on-stage triple threat, Afro DZ ak wields a mighty trumpet, plays keys, and rhymes on the mic. His debut solo album Elevation was released through Gnawledge Records in 2008.

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effort

my father hit my mother for
walking wrong
for sleeping wrong
for eating ice cream wrong

for

being pregnant

twenty one years later he wrote to me and said
that the spring had come exceptionally early
that the swamp maple trees were blooming like popcorn
in his north carolina yard
that his need for us to communicate was pressing
and well-motivated
but that i had made
no
successful
effort
to know him

a phone card pasted to the back page of a handmade book
and his writing in smooth blue ink read
Can we talk?

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home.

This is not my beautiful house. These limbs are not mine. This brown skin is a makeshift, see through veil over a life stretched thin. A body replete with mind.

I am not inside this shell, controlling these muscles. This is not my mouth answering questions. I have taken up my anchor and set my sails. I am not here.

I have traveled ten thousand miles and arrived at a place where an explanation is not required. Where membership is free. Where I feast on understanding and wash myself in the heavy, clove scented rain of love. Where the things I’ve forgotten return to me, wrapped tightly in the things that I’ve lost.

Little by little, I am regaining consciousness.

Here the sunlight is not a violation. The sidewalks are thickly cushioned. I turn myself inside out and rightside up. Sometimes I scream. Sometimes I speak in secrets. And when I am silent the weight of the air reminds me to press back. To move forward. To insist on the truth.

This is home.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please visit my facebook page for the musical pairing to this post!

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Happy birthday, Dad.

On Monday morning, I called Dad to wish him a happy birthday. His wife, Vicki, answered and said she was about to go looking for him. She was worried. Dad is always working on something in the basement or the yard or the woods behind the house, but since he is now experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s his wandering can be dangerous. Twenty minutes later, on the verge of a panic attack, she finally found him quietly reading in their bedroom and had him call me.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hiya! I’m here. I’m always right here. I keep telling them.”

“I know, Dad. Happy birthday! What are you up to?”

“Oh, I’m moving the stones around. There are so many stones! These stones are thousands of years old and it’s just tremendous what people can do with them!”

“That’s awesome. Are you building something?”

“Well, I don’t know. The person that knows more about it is the person that I love the most and she’s sitting right next to me.”

“That’s sweet, Dad. Vicki is really great.”

“Yes, she is. And I’m wonderful. Tell me that I’m wonderful.”

“You are wonderful, Dad,” I laughed.

The conversation was funny, but it makes more sense than you might think. Dad really has spent most of his life doing archaeology and teaching kids at the state museum. Sometimes he was invited to my school where he passed around birds and chipmunks that he had stuffed himself. He has always spoken the language of leaves and earth and rivers and since his retirement, he’s been building furniture out of fallen branches. He started by leaving miniature handmade chairs outside of bookstores and Home Depots with little notes attached, saying “I’m an orphan chair, please take me home.” It’s no surprise that, even as he loses his memory, he’d be out gathering stones.

But it’s not just the Alzheimer’s. Dad has always had trouble remembering things, especially names. Growing up, when knowing who called me ranked up there with the importance of food and water, he could never take accurate messages. “Melissa called for you. Or Meghan. Do you know a Melanie?”

“Did they call today, Dad?”

“Today or yesterday. You know I don’t like to answer the phone!”

“Why did you answer the phone?”

“To make it stop ringing.”

I used to think it was the effects of his previous alcohol abuse, back before he married Mom and adopted me. Or damage from the electric shock treatment they gave him in jail after he was arrested for stealing a Greyhound bus and plunging it into a lake. He was drunk then, but the stunt also had some larger social context. At least he said so in the book of poems he later wrote about it.

Whatever it is, Dad has always had trouble keeping things straight. Not baseball game scores or Native American history or what time to leave for work. Just certain things. One weekend in junior high, my friends and I were waiting outside of a fun park where Dad was supposed to pick us up. When he didn’t show, we called my Mom who told us that he had just returned home from attempting to pick us up at a skating arena in another town. Maybe he confused roller coasters with roller skates. Maybe he just had more important things on his mind.

Later that year, he staged a protest by burning the American flag outside the Albany courthouse. Well, he tried to burn it, but the flame wouldn’t catch. Still, it was enough to get him chased by angry veterans, his picture on the news, hate mail and phone calls and slashed tires. And it was enough to get me some hate speech of my own at school, from a few of my more conservative classmates. Dad wrote poetry about the flag burning too, featuring his persona, White Boy.

If he wasn’t at work, Dad could usually be found on the living room floor, leaning back against the couch with legs outstretched, cutting, folding and stapling his tiny booklets together. He wore t-shirts and Levi’s (which he called dungarees), and his brown curls had a spirit as wild as his own — he had no use for combs. His blue eyes glanced up from time to time to catch the baseball game on TV. When he got up, he left behind an outline of pastel paper slivers in the shape of his body. I didn’t get it at the time, but he was a giant of the underground press, self publishing and distributing more than 160 thousand pamphlets, in addition to his other writing. He sent out submissions constantly, each one with a self addressed stamped envelope. Our mailbox was always jammed full of fan letters, acceptance letters and, no doubt, plenty of rejections.

Between Dad’s exploits and Mom’s confrontational artwork (our dining room boasted an oil painting of Dad with the text Good Fuck), I was growing accustomed to not being understood by my peers. So I did what any self-respecting 13-year-old would do. I threw a keg party. It had all the requisite characteristics of an out of control bash — loud music, drunken breakups, uninvited guests, a visit from the police, and pizza deliveries that no one admitted to ordering. It also had some unique characteristics like our electric toothbrush being planted in the garden, the microwave being filled with dish soap, and the dirt from two broken houseplants somehow ending up in the piano. To top it off, a tape of the party was stuck in the video camera. (We got it out, but I lost track of that tape — if anyone reading this has it, please get in touch.)

Mom and Dad were in New York for the weekend, but Dad returned the next afternoon, earlier than expected. There I was, with a half-cleaned house trying to glue a broken leg back onto a chair. Afraid to face him, I hid in the study, where my “friends” had ransacked his papers. Pamphlets were strewn everywhere, ripped, crumpled, and missing. The following week, the pamphlets made their way around school along with stories of the party. Everyone knew my Dad was the infamous White Boy. And of course, I was in trouble. Not that much though. My parents were never great at punishment.

I don’t remember talking to Dad about what happened, the loss of his work, or my feelings about being the daughter of White Girl and White Boy. He just kept on writing, submitting and teaching. He kept on getting tattoos, performing his poetry in the nude and pitching for five softball teams every summer. And he kept on forgetting. But one of the things that remains constant, even as Dad’s memory gets cloudy and his ability to express himself erodes, is his enthusiasm. Last year, at his 70th birthday party, he gave an impromptu, five-minute speech about how beautiful we all were. Someone gave him a rainstick as a gift and he walked around the room showing it to each and every person. Dad’s excitement has always had a childlike quality and when you talk to him, it’s difficult not to get excited too. Even about stones.

Lake George, 1982 <----------------------------> Thatcher Park, 2007

So, here’s to you, Dad. You drove me crazy growing up, but I think I’m starting to get it. The world is crazy. You actually make a whole lot of sense. Happy birthday.

Please visit my facebook page for the musical pairing to this post, dedicated to Dad, who — you’ll be shocked to find out — is not on facebook. He’s in the garage.

Links:
Poet of the Hard Pavement Returns to the City Mission, 1988
SEEING RED, WHITE AND BLUE – FLAG BURNING ANGERS VETERANS, 1989
Nary A Spark, No Flags Burned in Park, 1990
Teaching’s Easier Through A Thick Skull, 1994
Underground Press Conference, 1995
Just Because I Didn’t Leave The Driving To Us I Got Jailed And Juiced Good
It’s A Table, It’s A Bench… It’s A Dutch Throwback, 2003
Fan Is At Home With His Favorite Team, 2003
Taking A Seat, 2005
The Albany Poetry scenes, as seen through Dan Wilcox’s lens, 2008
Freedom of the Press: Artists Publish on the American Presidency, 2009

Buffalo by the book: Western New York’s rare books collections
University at Buffalo Poetry/Rare Books Collection

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  1. that i am still here
  2. the time
  3. a glass of water
  4. the red glow from my curtains
  5. barack obama, yes we did poster
  6. indian tapestry from a dear friend
  7. remember, be here now by ram das
  8. clearly now
  9. a wall of earrings
  10. single hole puncher
  11. possibilities
  12. my macbook (with an r. crumb drawing over the apple that says: “For Adult Intellectuals Only”)
  13. stacks of chapter drafts
  14. equal area presentation world map
  15. erykah badu (with wings, and a tape deck for lady parts) and by the way, that painting my mom did of me… isn’t it weirdly similar?
  16. my LG flip phone
  17. wounds of passion by bell hooks
  18. calendar
  19. “we are all imperfect” sticker
  20. tripod
  21. vietnamese woven bag
  22. hand-painted pottery
  23. photo of mom and i when i was a baby where it looks like we’re both singing, but i’m actually yawning
  24. photo of grandma and grandpa
  25. photo of doji, my friend’s son a.k.a. the cutest boy on earth
  26. a shell i picked up on the beach in cape cod last year
  27. plastic gumball dispenser full of notes between my friends and i in junior high school
  28. a pride wristband on the head of an african statue
  29. a lamp made of amber glass
  30. television w/ built in DVD and VHS (gotta have the VHS)
  31. the dresser i’ve had all my life
  32. piles of fabric
  33. sewing machine
  34. that nothing has changed
  35. that everything is different

happy birthday to me!

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Traffic.

i look ahead while she looks on
watching the words puddle around me
watching me wade barefoot
in the wet stream of my own passing moments

is nothing sacred?

i look back while she looks inside
as if my pain were her own
tears on her breast as i sucked

is there nothing that’s mine?

it’s biological she says
when she worries that i might actually
want to cast my body into the oncoming traffic
in paragraph four

but the traffic is a metaphor
an approximation
a comparison

being hit would not be any more fun
than crying last year’s tears today
than reliving the decay
of a friendship come undone

i look away while she looks around
for an answer to the question she asked
thirty-four years and fifty-one weeks ago

is my baby going to be ok?

we are now two
the journey is over
the escape was successful
the race is won

this is not a call for help
this is a victory lap

your job is done

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What I Am (response #2)

If I am what I have and I have what I want, what else is there to do, but be?

I am nourished
I am water
I am light

I am coming home

I am my words
I am a friend
I am
my breath

I am exactly who I need to be
I offer myself up
to myself
and I am
gentle

I am empowered by fear
I am my own potential

I am
this
moment

I am united
I am global
I am change

I am absence
I am understanding
I am gratitude

I am love

I am the questions my ancestors asked
I am the space in between
I am twenty-four seven

I am free
I am here

I am
forever.

As always, visit me on Facebook for the musical pairing. And if you enjoyed this, click the Subscribe button on the right to receive my future posts by email. White angels with black faces will grace your dreams.

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What I Have (response #1)

My last post raised some interesting questions. Many readers were moved by my declaration of desire, while others wondered whether wanting is productive. It got me to thinking — when I enter a state of want, do I feel passive or active, empty or empowered? As an exercise (perhaps inspired by the upcoming thanks-giving), I decided to rewrite the piece from different perspectives. What follows is not a revision, but the voice of a different part of myself. And although I discouraged this — it wants to be read.

~

I have it all.

I have a comfortable home, food, running water, and total indoor climate control. I say things worth saying and get paid for saying them. I have deep and meaningful friendships, the kind that exist in a dimension outside of time and space — the kind where you think of your friend and she calls you, cause it’s just like that. My breath is my drug.

I am exactly who I need to be. I offer myself the same support when I mess up as I offer to others. I am empowered by fear. I am courageous in groups small and large. I have my life backed up on an external hard drive so I can access it later, when I forget what I’ve been through. Every moment counts.

I am one of many. My success is wrapped up in the success of everyone else. I have a life that changes every day, that hands me what I least expect. Opportunities abound.

Just recently, the leaders of every country and every tribe and every island returned from the global yoga gathering in Rishikesh. We all participated remotely through massive mandatory meditation. We had a global vision and saw our own survival; saw spirit trumping religion and love trumping morality; we saw healthy, sustainable, whole food in the bellies of every being. And then I saw myself with babies; round, brown faces touched by the sun herself.

My parents are only human. My biological father knows how much he hurt me, by hurting my mother and not being there. He also hurts. My real dad remembers me, even as his mind goes numb, even as he blames his midnight fridge-raiding on a mob of Italian immigrants who arrived at the door with nothing but Tums, asking to be fed. His wife knows how much I appreciate her recording the precious imagination of an artist’s mind retreating into itself. My mother leaves me alone, but never leaves me alone; I don’t blame her for anything, because she walks her path with grace.

My story matters. I never say goodbye because nothing ever ends.

I am loved by many. My chest expands to accept the love and it aches to grow bigger than the space allows. Lovers appear before me, dipped in bronze and gold and silver. They speak in tongues. One of them speaks Meadow and her voice pierces through me, leaving echoes of ancestors.

I have all the questions and some of the answers. I have plenty of room. I drink and eat and dance and write, and I sleep soundly, knowing I am doing everything I can. My back moves with ease. My teeth floss themselves. My skin and my airways are clear. I travel the world and speak every language. My soul DJs and my heart pumps music.

I live.

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What I Want

I want it all.

I want a comfortable place to live, healthy food, running water, and sunshine. I want to say something worth saying and be paid for saying it. I want deep and meaningful friendships, the kind that exist in a dimension outside of time and space — the kind where you think of your friend and she calls you, cause it’s just like that. I want a new drug.

I want to know that I’m exactly who I need to be. I want to offer myself the same support when I mess up as I offer to others. I want to be empowered by fear. I want to be brave enough to speak freely in large groups. I want to backup my life on an external hard drive so I can access it later, when I forget what I’ve been through. I want every moment to count.

I want to feel, if only for a moment, what it’s like to be what you appear to be. To have a life full of traditions, expectations, and roles, and fill them gladly. I want to be one of many, to feel my success wrapped up in the success of everyone else.

I want the leaders of every country and every tribe and every island to take yoga classes together. I want massive mandatory meditation. I want us all to survive. I want love to trump religion and spirit to trump morality. I want organic to cost less. I want babies.

I want my biological father to know how much he hurt me, by not being there. I want him to know that his absence bore a hole through my DNA that I’m afraid I’ll pass on. I want my adoptive dad to remember me, even as his mind goes numb, even as he blames his midnight fridge-raiding on a mob of italian immigrants who arrived at the door with nothing but tums, asking to be fed. I want my dad’s wife to know how much I appreciate her recording the precious imagination of an artist’s mind retreating into itself. I want my mother to leave me alone, but never leave me alone; I want to blame her for everything in one lifetime, then tell her I’m sorry in another. I want my story to matter. I don’t want to say goodbye.

I want to be loved by someone who makes my heart press against the walls of my chest, aching to grow bigger than the space allows. I want that person to also happen to be the most incredible lover in the universe. I want their voice to pierce through me, leaving echoes of ancestors.

I want all the questions and some of the answers. I want more room. I want to drink and smoke and party and dance and write, and still sleep eight hours a night. I want my herniated disk to spontaneously heal. I want my teeth to floss themselves. I want clear skin and no allergies. I want to travel the world and speak every language. I want my soul to DJ and my heart to pump music.

I want to live forever.

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things she does

there are things she does because she has to
things that left undone
will burn a hole
the shape of themselves
through the flesh
of the undoer
things you would tell her to do
if you only knew her

there are things she does because she has to
things that the doing of which
is like opening a bottle
of seltzer
a burp
a fizz
a satisfying release
of pressure

there are things she does because she has to
because not doing them
is like running backwards

like living her whole life
on her death bed

like taking photographs
in a pitch black room painted
orange and green and red

like being frozen in a wax museum
while everything else
is in motion
things that the doing of which
releases a magic potion
a slippery lotion
upon which she slides
colliding with a self
of her own personal notion

there are things she does because she has to
things that become
bigger and bigger
the longer they are left undone
while the undoer becomes
less and less of herself
and more and more unfun

there are things she does because
there is no question
that they are what she has to do
so do them she does
and does them she do

there are things she does because she has to

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