Thursday, July 19, 2007

Song of the Rip Tide

You ripped songs from my heart,
and copied them over to yours.

I've heard how you set them to play all.
Don't you know that's not legal?

You're not playing fair with me.
Everyone I've known always leaves.

Don't leave me now.
See me standing on the corner

with my laptop in my backpack?
Don't leave me now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Only in nothingness there is unity.
Here the off-ramp loops around.

Only beneath a glass does a butterfly
become a sepulcher of wings.

Only in the quiet of my living room
does night air breathe pagan song.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ode to Norma Leftwich

Norma, you who dared tell me what to do and knew I'd listen,
girlfriend of 50 years since the first day of second grade
when you tapped me on the shoulder to borrow a pencil
and I gave you one with an eraser.

You were a half head taller than me with three braids,
one that reached out of your forehead and over an eyebrow
you could arch into a Whitestone Bridge
whenever we needed to make a quick exit.

You were half a parallelogram and I was your other half
creating each other from the stones of our youth,
writing our names on the sidewalk in pastel chalk
washed away in thunderstorms and smelling of clean pavement.

We held hands on the subway,
rode to Manhattan and discovered ourselves in the Egyptian Room
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, far from
the polluted shores of the Bronx River, by Hunts Point Avenue
filled with the smell of the Cafe Bustelo plant and the stench of garbage.

Your father was a probation officer on the Grand Concourse
who became the first Black Senator from New York State.
My Dad made arch supports in a shop near Bellevue Hospital.
Let's face it. If you'd been white we would've never met
to sun ourselves on Orchard Beach throughout the summer
until no one could tell the difference.

We stayed in each other's sight, looked around corners
and noticed what was there before making a move.
You gave me your birthstone ring before we parted for high school
and told me to never forget you,
Norma, who, like me, said goodbye to everyone whose eyes
were closed before they could be opened.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lulu's Story
Some kids have mobiles. I’d look up at the world through bars. What Grandmother did was to find an extra refrigerator shelf from a junk shop and put it over my bed like a lid. She said she didn’t want me to fall out.

The shelf had not been well cleaned by the junk store owner. Yellow bits of dried goop dripped down toward me like so many stalactites, crusted over with ancient droppings from another place and time. It was like living in my own apartment building, above me was my Grandmother’s drawer of underwear, below me, her sweaters. From the time I was around three months old I stared at a refrigerator shelf after my mother, Hilda, had dropped me off at Grandmother’s house for good.

Once I learned how to sit up, I could see my Grandmother's bed that was without the same bars which covered my own sleeping quarters; however, a strangely shaped bag attached to a long-nosed tail was draped across her headboard.

There was nothing on her bed I could see that resembled a blanket, which next to the refrigerator shelf was the other constant in my life, a piece of green cotton hemmed in by a darker moss green satin with a coolness that I liked to rub against my gums. The room consisted primarily of her bed, a lamp table, and the chest of drawers, the floor covered in brown linoleum-looking tile that faded around the edge of the room to white.

Of course, back then I didn’t have words for these things—they were sensations and feelings, a conviction about stripes, which is how everything appeared as I lay on my back.

My vision was segmented; I reconstructed pieces—a dress hanging from the closet door looked like flagged swatches of blue and white. The goop on the shelf, probably freeze-dried orange juice, gave me something to look at, a texture that moved whenever I blinked my eyes, whereas the plaster cracks in my Grandmother’s bedroom ceiling never changed. There was also the white moon of her washbasin, always on the floor, and the lace doilies that hung over a chest of drawers. I carefully studied the crocheted pattern that wrapped itself into petals, but it was the refrigerator shelf that captured my attention mostly because it shared my existence the way nothing else in my Grandmother’s room did. I clutched the blanket to my side and reached out with my fingers, and tried to touch the bars.

I always knew that I wanted to make music--if I could find a way for the waxy orange and the brown crusts to make sounds, they would keep me company while Grandmother sat on the toilet in the bathroom until I heard the water gurgle and the lid fall down, two sounds that signaled her appearance above me. When I looked up, there she was through the grille. She bent down toward me and removed the shelf. I saw her full face now, flesh dug deep into a trench of wrinkles that moved from the corners of her hazel eyes toward her chin, the line of her lips snaked upward trying to camouflage a mouth. But nothing about the refrigerator bars had prepared me to understand how some event in my Grandmother’s life had caused those two halves of her lips to break apart.

Whenever she held me I knew it was to feed me, but the refrigerator bars gave me love. Whenever she shook the green blanket over me at night it was to keep me warm, but the refrigerator bars gave me comfort. Whenever she called my name, “Lulu, Lulu,” it was to get my attention, but she didn’t hear the sound of my name washing over itself. She was too busy covering herself with liquids and creams, tickling smells that caused my brown hairs to stand up and cast shadows along the length of my arm; her lamp table was covered with bottles, jars, tubes, and faces in photographs whose names she'd intone to herself in a quiet prayer, Moishe, Leah.

Sometimes Grandmother’d pick me up, bounce me around several times, and wait for a response that I wasn't able to give, like a doll whom you expect to cry “Mama, Mama,” when you push a button on its back. I wanted to please her and smiled. I can remember her eyes softening as she pulled me closer. Mostly all she’d say was, “I’mprotactingudarklink.” Then she’d put me down and walk away. After she left, I sucked on my hands and fingers and they tasted good.

Later I discovered my feet that propelled themselves upward from my hip sockets and lunged forward. One day as I lay on my back, my toes were wild bandits pressed against the cold metal; I couldn’t stop moving them until I actually balanced the refrigerator grille on the soles of my feet, and watched the metal shelf turn around, spin, then drop, clink on the tiled floor. I was so happy, my feet touched and rubbed against each other. I heard them squeak. I hugged their softness. I told myself, “Lulu, remember this.”

It was Chanel who remembered. She was the girl inside my head Chanel. She always knew I wanted to make music. She’s the reason I’m being interviewed today on satellite hookup. I’ve waited to tell my story because it took a lifetime to understand the shape of my desire.