2016 a year of departures

We all need solace.  We all need to say farewell to many who have meant so much–personal friends, family, celebrated artists who help make our lives comprehensible.  Yesterday, the announcement that Laurie Carlos, performer, director, teacher, world-class provocateur finally succumbed to illness and only a few days after the sudden passing of Monica Hand, a fine poet and artist.  But also after the passing many friends’ parents, siblings.  And it is three years since my Mother departed and nine since my brother’s eldest was lost to us on Christmas Day.  Yes, we need solace.  I go to church.  I pray.  I hope that I live as well as I can by Christ’s commandment to love others as one loves oneself.  In this day, these times, that can almost seem impossible. But I try.  And faith was something that George Michael seemed to struggle with–unlike Leonard Cohen and David Bowie and Prince, his was not the music that inspired me, but that song worked.

We are at a cosmic crossroads–the planet literally in danger from humans greed, stupidity and lassitude.  Our nation will have what may be one of the worst Presidents in its history–making this globe less safe.  Prayer and protest may help as part of resistance to policies that will make poor people poorer and endanger water, land and air.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I think of the artists I’ve known who have said farewell this and other years as returning to the stars from whence we came.  As Joni Mitchell sang: “we are stardust/we are golden and we got to get back to the garden.”


Early December, light leaving, hope coming

Today I asked for prayers for Monica Hand, a wonderful poet who took her obsession  with Nina Simone and produced a wonderful debut collection me and Nina five years ago. She’s been working on a Ph.D the past few years.  She is not the only Black woman artist I know who is facing medical crisis and who has very little money.  We are mortal-a fact that I am reminded of daily as I wake with aches and pains that were not there 30 years ago–but more importantly because I can go into my address books and find people’s names/addresses/numbers who are no longer alive.  It pains me and many of my friends.  We see the generation ahead of us leaving and we are next and we know that.  But then there are the times when someone younger goes–no matter, it’s difficult.  It is sad.

It’s December.  A month of bright chilly days in which the light leaves bit by bit until the Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  It is also the month of Advent.  A month of prophesy and expectation–Oh come expected Jesus is one of the Advent hymns.  Prophesy and expectation are vastly different experiences.  As a poet, I find myself trying to bring these different experiences together–not in harmony, but at least in complement.

And so this past weekend I sat with fellow poets to plan programs that we all think are needed in these awful times.  We know that the best version of America is not expressed right now.  We know that men and a few women of great wealth who are joining the Trump administration have little regard to poor and working people. Most artists are poor, working people.  We know that the light is leaving bit by bit.  That “winter of discontent” is not a cliche this year.  From the marches in the street or the buying and selling of just about everything to imbibing many a spirit (bourbon, rye, whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila) we are all dis contented.  That our friends are ill; that our friends are burying their mothers, their grandmothers makes this December so much more difficult.  We know that little in our national experiment will benefit us over the next few years.

One of things that found interesting about reading John Glenn’s obituary that when he took is cosmic flight, he saw three sunsets and three sunrises.  So it seems great to remember about the Solstice is that once that short day is done, the light begins to return.  The sun will grow brighter even in dark days of January and February.  The light grows.  So I hope, our capacity to love, to live, to be good people despite the political era to come, will grow and shine much light.

lights in December

lights in December


no it is not a new world order


Bakery in Harlem

Just a return to old ideas re-packaged and tweeted.  That is what the President-Elect and the GOP led House & Senate seems to me.  We now have a President who is sort of like the melancholy version of Ronald Reagan.  It is twilight in his America and he’s going to bring us through a long, cloudless  night led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, hell bent on reversing just about anything that progressives have done in the past 80 years.

As I always remember, don’t agonize, organize and there’s plenty of organizing going on.

And finally, Hillary Rodham Clinton w/ all of her “deficits” won the popular vote even with considerable voter suppression; misinformation; the FBI and WikiLeaks; and oh you know White Supremacy, sexism and fear.  White Supremacy so that Obama and his policies (even if they helped America out of the hole it was in) could be repudiated.  Sexism for well women seeking power is simply not allowed in America.  And fear of change, fear of people of color, fear of terrorism (forgetting that most terrorist activity taking place in America by mostly White Americans) and just fear.  I guess the most dangerous American is a White man in rural America with a serious gripe against just about everybody.

And now we have a President who seems to represent vices and very few virtues.  I suspect we will be protesting, organizing, petitioning, etc.  BUT I HOPE many consider electoral politics.  Progressive should be on city councils; school boards; in the Assembly, the Senate. governors mansions, etc.  and then the House and the Senate.  Don’t agonize, organize and find/support candidates.

Meanwhile, poets are writing, organizing and publishing.  Look for many ways the language works to undermine the oddness of this moment.


Sunday listening to music that mourns and dreams

Singer/songwriter Andrew Bird sings and plays violin and makes songs that mourn and dream. It is a time of dreaming and mourning. So much about the world is like the leaves scattered on wet sidewalks or puddles–decadent. The trees will in spring burst yellow buds and then green leaves if they live past a winter coming. I think this where faith comes in–existence is always in jeopardy; faith claims that some how the living will continue to live. These trees.
I visited Calabar Imports in search of something bright to send to a friend who is facing major health crisis–scarf, earrings and Heloise Aton was there and declared she’d only recently returned from South Africa. I didn’t know she had gone. She and two friends and a grand daughter went to Capetown and had many wonderful adventures–she walked with an elephant. I assume the elephants are used to walking with human tourists. I was impressed that she and her pals on a long trip to a wild life sighting met gay couple who found them kind and fun and asked them for homecooked meal –one of the couple’s birthday. They went and had much fun. New Yorkers can go pretty much anywhere, meet all kinds of people and just have fun.
Calabar Imports, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Calabar Imports, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

While visiting, a elder came in and she remembered he is a jewelry maker/seller from Niger. He had the most beautiful silver pieces including Taureg pieces that ought to be in the collection of say Jay Z and Beyonce, that is if they collect jewelry from Niger. I bought a pair of earrings which if they had been in a Manhattan store would have been $75 or more (the silver alone) and then Carl came in and found himself buying a beautiful ring–definitely for a man. An interesting conversation about jewelry trade and the loss of buyers–Boko Harum is in Niger too and wreaking havoc. It feels as if the spoiled brats of the world now have guns and stupid followers and rage and no morality. But you know they are so tough. They beat up people. Starve people. Rape people. Kill people and swagger and piss. Swagger and piss. I did not have the money to buy from this gentleman, but you know I had to –what few dollars I gave up might mean the difference between life and death for him or a member of his family. Mournings and dreams.

Carl’s new ring.
Now home with a bright scarf, earrings that I will wear at a reading along with the bracelet I always wear that I bought from Vicki Hudspith back in the early aughts. It is a cold day and an harbinger of a challenging winter–not just our moral and political weather is being formed. So

my new hat
I bought a new winter cap.
It was good to talk with Heloise and Carl and to think of my friend and her illness and to think of other friends who have faced similar situations with rage and fear and resolution and luck and love. We are who loves us. We must voice that love. This is a Sunday when many people understood who they are and how they are loved.  Something sweet comes through the scattered leaves and the political news.  We mourn the loss of beauty.  We dream new worlds where the sweets do no harm.

Harvest and moons

After going to the Page Poetry Parlour performance of Janice Lowe for her brilliant volume Leaving CLE--where she performed her poem/songs with a stellar group of musicians–she’s a great composer/arranger as well as poet–I walked out into the late summer evening and beheld the slowly waning harvest moon.  Odd, cop car mid street at 9th Avenue and as I walked along past a building where I heard fantastic drumming (Michael Carven) I saw more cops, a WPIX van and asked two guys, what’s going on.  “Explosion” between 6th and 7th.  Masses of people were hanging at the corner , no one was panicking  just another night in Gotham-one with bombs and 29 people injured.  This is life during Wartime.  It has been that way for 15 years. And we continue to make art, make love, make our lives as best we can. So this huge moon like the strawberry moon in June reminds me of cycles and sustenance–that things pivot and yet stay the same.  There are terrible people who have time and bad intentions on their minds and we can no more stop them then we can stop the wind. They are not going to go away. So I say make your art–poems, stories, songs, paintings, installations, movies, whatever.  Make them.  Reap a harvest of new work to share.  This is nurture. This is the good intention that we all can do as we live our lives as best we can under whatever huge moon we see.9-16-2016 Harvest Moon over w. 23rd St. Chelsea


0617151505I sent my brother my extra copy of Of Poetry and Protest: from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (WW Norton).  He’s thrilled to have it and I am thrilled to be in it.  This has been a year where so many Black poets have had to to “yet again” respond to the ongoing violence against our persons and community -vigilantes, police the political elite esp of one party.  It’s 2016.  Today is the 15 anniversary of the attack on and destruction of the World Trade Center, two edifices that tourists from around the globe seek to see.  The irony of that is not lost on me or most New Yorkers.

As I said elsewhere my animus is focused mostly on the men who carried out the attack.  They had the opportunity to not murder over 3,000 people.  They chose not to.  It might have been a matter of belief, but so what.  People believe in all kinds of things, worship God or Gods or Goddesses and yet do not kill 3000 people.  The event led to many other more horrific ones including America’s invasion of Iraq.  Death and destruction continues.

It makes me realize how easy it is to war.  To start and sustain conflict and put bodies in place to carry out the orders.  The use of drones is just one more measure of the mechanization of this human effort.  Whether by a soldier’s hand in combat or hand on a computer screen other humans die.  Many other humans.

Peace is hard.  Peace is about grown people finding ways to not lash out, not destroy, not manifest rage on somebody else body.  And right now few people are ready to wage peace.  That the Syrian president-a trained opthamologist is willing to drop chlorine bombs on children tells all of us just how bad the people who wage war want to win.  I don’t even know if there is a place in hell for such a “leader”. Or maybe there is a new hell.  Peace is hard.  And no it will not be in my lifetime that peace will take root, but maybe in my grand nephew’s?  I so hope.

Because as LaBelle sang “We need Power” but also “We need love.”

There is a reading of about 15 poets at Jefferson Market Public Library, 10th and 6th avenue, 2-4 p.m.  FREE.

Come by.  Commemorate.


The East Side

The past several days I’ve been going the East Side of Manhattan.  For good reason.  One was to hear famous and soon to be famous African poets read their work at the Ford Foundation–a reception organized by Elizabeth Alexander for the African Poetry Book Fund.  The Fund is the brain and heart child of Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani–also there was Matthew Shenoda.  I was invited through the other wonderful Patricia, Patrica Jabbeh Wesley, a great poet/scholar and exurberant force of all things positive in this world.  She was super dynamic, everyone was. But getting there meant taking the East side express which is super crowded and navigating Grand Central –at least I remembered how to get to the Ford Foundation, with the UN Building and Tudor City to its East.  A couple of nights later I had drinks and dinner with Major Jackson–who is writing great poems; teaching all over the joint and is now a distinguished professor at the University of Vermont–he’s also a proud papa and has found the wife he’s been searching for.  Good for him.

Then today, I joined Nita Noveno, a terrific Filipina-American writer who teaches at CUNY and who is just so smart and pretty and wise and we had lunch at the Asia Society (shivering) while outside the air just got thicker.  After the lunch, I suggested we go see the Diane Arbus exhibition at the Met Breuer–Nita was like what?  I explained that the Met has taken over the  uptown Whitney Museum space as the Whitney is all the way downtown–she was kind of skeptical.  I am glad we walk into the think air for a few blocks and found our way into the museum.  Here’s my thoughts on the Arbus exihibition:

The Diane Arbus exhibition at The Met Breur is really important. There’s something about looking at an artist’s work as it changes-the nuances, the sudden shifts. Arbus’ has been so analyzed and analyzed and that it is great to see things not seen before–the be in a fresh place with her. The city she encounters is no longer here and yet–the odd intimacy she captures; the “performing” children–they work in circuses, in vaudeville, as “city kids” showing off; the actual performers: singers, freak show actors, female impersonators; and the “ordinary” who are not so “ordinary” all in glorious black and whites and grays in small format (for these days). Indeed it is a shock to see the large format photographs-all famous in the last gallery. They seem not so much a step into the major leagues as a kind of huge shift away from something that could no longer be done or expressed–am not sure of how to say this. They did not seem like a culmination of practice, but a recognition that the practice no longer worked. Walking through, well actually meandering through the installation was a kind of treat. It reminded me of my first few years in the city, taking a new path, finding a new way to get from the East Side to the West; from Canal Street to 23rd, all by foot. Please see this exhibition. See if you can discern the beauty, the pain, the comic, the silly and the dream in her work.

Item 65 poem and image

Sometimes you take the plunge when there is no water

here the divers-three divers on a board rise up out of sand

then fall into a blue day, made bluer by the cleansing

winds from the Caribbean.  We are witness to the falling

to the divers 3 in the sands of Coney Island.  John Ahearn

bids us greetings and farewells, sunsets and sunsets.

Sometimes you take the plunge when the water is not near.

Poem by Patricia Spears Jones–art by John Ahearn

Atmosphere by Coney Island,  July 2016

divers by John Ahearn, Coney Island

divers by John Ahearn, Coney Island

thinking more than feeling.

On Bastile Day a truck drove into a crowd in Nice  France and killed 80 people (so far).  The driver is dead.  A man shoots policemen in Dallas, he is dead.  These suicides/murders seem to be proliferating–a tactic from the Middle East makes it way to Europe,then the U.S.  where does it stop–Mongolia?

I wish I were smarter or braver or could predict some way out of this time of violence, terror, and fear.  I cannot.  But no one can.  This kind of overwhelming volatility is outside ordinary thinking.  We need to accept that the West gave up on a generation of people and now that generation’s children are fighting back and they are as unkind unfeeling and dismissive as those who were unkind, unfeeling and dismissive oftheir kin.  They come out of the prisons “radicalized” which is another way of saying they come out of prison with skills to avenge whatever wrongs they felt were placed upon them and little in French or Belgian or American society is done to undermine these tendencies. It really is that reaping and sowing moment.

I am a poet.  I know that language matters.  The rhetoric in the American campaign esp. on the part of the right has left many people feeling unwelcome in their own country. The dismissal of criticism –oh that’s PC when something is the work of an anti-Semite or a racist (the KKK) or (YOU NAME THE SUBJECT) by the presumptive candidate for the Republican Party is one more way of allowing the worse of our actors onto center stage.  Language matters and questions matter.  Why are pollsters asking about trust?  Most people do not trust their family members so how is that 67% of Americans somehow trust Donald Trump?  Trust him to do what?  Why are pollsters asking what candidate has created legislation that supports you?  Or called for innovation in some way shape or form and do you agree with it?  I don’t trust politicians.  I do agree or disagree with policies.  But then I am an adult and I am not interested in adolescent responses.  I want to hear from people who are curious, look at facts and demand real answers.  I don’t want to wait from the avengers to come after the rest of us.



Hotter than July–really

Art from Kongo, 17th c.

Art from Kongo, 17th c.

The past week is one that tries all our souls. The deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the Dallas police and traffic officers are awful. But remember it is very rare to ambush policemen. However 3-4 people are fatally shot by the police in this nation each day–the Washington Post has been keeping an account. Sterling and Castile would be alive today if the officers had refrained from shooting first and asking later and please, none of needs the “they should have done this that or the other” in order to stay alive. Citizens treated with respect rarely die in police custody. Both men were disrespected, their movements misinterpreted and their 2nd amendment rights to carry guns ignored.

I am not pro-or anti-police–that is an absurd phrase. I do think that policing by those who actually understand law, know the communities that are being policed and work with the people in them makes sense. My brother exemplifies that kind of work and he has taught that to his son. I know others whose families have police who are absolutely appalled at the lack of professionalism on the part of their fellows in blue. The other kind that seems to find many people further impoverished, overly imprisoned and dead ain’t working. ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ and this idea/hashtag/movement is not going away because of a terrible ambush.

The list of Black, Brown, Native American, Asians, and yes White folks who have been un armed; peaceful; playing in the park; talking to their wives; their girlfriends; the best friends; on the way to a job interview; leaving work late; minding their own business; driving down a road in early evening; late day; the morning; midnight, etc. seems to bring out the worst fantasies of a subset of officers who are frightened and dangerous–they are not bad apples, there are too many of them. Those officers are part of the norm and the norm needs to change. We can lift up the lives of those who were shot in the line of duty, their sacrifice was great. We can also demand justice for the victims of police violence and the kind of police work that continues to dignify that sacrifice. Anything less is cablenewstv talkingheads world–one none of us needs to live in.

Art from Kongo, 17th c.