When Betty Saw Malcolm: Happy 90th.


In the poem, “And How Could I Live On,” by Nikki Giovanni, she talks about the night Malcolm’s grandson, named after his grandfather, threw gasoline on his grandmother, Betty, and lit the match. Excerpt:
I felt him before I heard him::::::::Heard him before I saw him::::Called
out MALCOLM don’t do this to me
And he threw gasoline on me
MALCOLM don’t do this to yourself:::::Stop Now
and he lit the match
and he tossed it
I’ve always believed that when she called “MALCOLM,” those three times, she was not calling to her grandson to stop. She was calling for her dead husband. For however long, she saw him there.

Happy 90.

We still see you.

To The Women Who Hugged Me: Happy Mother’s Day

(photo: me and Aunt Pam)

In a sleeping bag on a dirt patch in the middle of the desert in southern California I cried, experiencing the happiest and saddest moments of my life simultaneously. Before arriving to this place where I’d climb to a higher state, I was told I needed an intention before finding warmth in my sleeping bag. “I want to know what real love feels like,” I thought, hoping I wouldn’t have to share that with the group. I didn’t.

Every painful moment in my life, I remember wanting nothing but my mother to hug me, and maybe an aspirin (later, a Percocet). Every time I cried for something as simple as another sandwich as a kid, or every time I fell on a sidewalk in Detroit or Charlottesville and skinned my knees, I ran to her, or tried to indirectly get her attention if friends were watching, hoping she’d run over and check on me. Even now, when I get something as small as a headache, I think about calling my mother, knowing she’ll go overboard with a cure, starting with telling me to go to the doctor just in case it’s more than just a headache. For me, though, calling her and hearing her voice is a way to get a hug from thousands of miles away. In that sleeping back on the dirt patch in the middle of the desert in southern California I cried, realizing real love is like a mother’s hug. And my mother appeared (clearly my mind was on something different) and hugged me, and I broke down. The happiest.

The saddest. When my mother hugged me and I realized this the purest form of love a human could experience, I thought about my friends and the beautiful people I’ve met who no longer have a mother to hug them, to offer them solace, and affirmation.

I cried more, not knowing how to help them, wanting to hug them, but knowing my hug wouldn’t be nearly enough. Maybe my mother could hug them, too. Maybe when they’re sick, she can make them chicken noodle soup and toast and pour a glass of room temperature ginger ale, and they could lay up and watch The Flintstones like I did as a kid. I’ll hug them anyway and hope they feel the true love I have for them.

There are women in this world, though, who love me and hug me when I can’t get to Charlottesville, and when my mother can’t get to me. Women who call me to check on me, and hug me, and make sure I’m eating. Through them, I realize motherhood is more an attitude than anything. One of my most necessary friends hugged me once in Walmart and changed my life. If we realize that, and we’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by these beautiful women, we realize a mother’s hug is never more than a short walk away.

One of the most amazing things to witness as a father, at least for me, is to spend time with The Kid and see how often he talks about his mother. How often he wants to call her just to see what she’s doing, and to say goodnight, and sometimes just to say “I love you.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Doreen Wells, and all the women in my life who’ve hugged me.

(my mother and Aunt Jackie)

Love With a Pillow Over Your Head: For Lisa Bonet (a little)


I’ve become obsessed with Lisa Bonet and Pablo Neruda. “There’s this thought in my head: Beyonce probably loves Red Lobster, but too ashamed to be seen there now.” I’m sitting on fabric I’d love to know the name of, and the plate of olives, mozzarella, and sundried tomatoes in olive oil and herbs in now empty and licked. This is what my day has wrapped up to be.

I’ve been stressing over possibly not being a poet anymore. I can’t seem to write what I want or how I want, but I find other ways to get it out. Less poetic, yes, but still with a nice flow. I am a writer. I am a student of all writers who killed at imagery and making others feel. I love, like love, Baldwin, but I’m not sure if I saw what he wanted me to see. I’ve tried, and I’m still unable to see David as a white man. Same goes for Hella, Jacques, and Joey. I saw a glimpse at my vulnerability, sadness, despair, hope, and love of life in Giovanni, though. I won’t say Baldwin failed me because I love him too much.

I want my work to be loved, but I don’t want the applause. I’ve never been nervous before a thing, but always after because I hate the pleasant confrontations. Words of affirmation are not my thing. I want the people to love my words, but not love me unless I love them back. This is why I don’t understand celebrity. I love Baldwin’s/Giovanni’s/Neruda’s/Shire’s words, but I know too little about them to love them. They understand. At least Nikki does; I’ve asked her.

It’s night in London. The rain stopped hours ago, and sidewalks are determined to be dry by morning. There’s a band playing old Bob Marley songs not too far off, and a white boy from Holland with locs singing “Could you be loved” loudly. I can hear them. I hear the neighbor panting, moaning, and howling with pillows over her face, and him with nothing over his. The one kid whose straight-from-the-islands mother works the night shift is still in the courtyard running bases alone, counting “First. Second. Third. Home” to himself. These is never silences. Eventually 3am will come, and the music and white boy will be gone, the kid will be sleep, the neighbor will have orgasmed for the last time, but the random tick near the water heater will sound, and a car will drive by, its tires letting me know the roads have not dried completely.

I leave soon. London is nice in the springtime. Paris in April isn’t so bad. Norway was lovely, and I imagine with the right amount of heat and someone who doesn’t require constant cuddling, I’d love it there all year. Amsterdam above everything. It’s time to go home, isn’t it? There’s a fight I’m missing.