As Old As Nola (for the Katrina Decade)

[Photo Credit: Flickr / Franco Ferri Mala]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / Franco Ferri Mala]

I ask her how old she is,
and she proudly holds up all ten
of her slender fingers.
She bends them back down
and beams with a summer sun’s pride
for having made it this far,
for having survived this long.
Birth is such a calamitous affair.

I return the next day
and ask her how many years she has.
A slight pause to order the words correctly,
and then, a Two-Hundred-Ninety-Seven
slides out of her mouth with no tone of mistake.

I raise an eyebrow, but she remains firm
with her final answer, stoic and wise
like she’d lived every last one of them.
This is why the other doctors called me in,
wanted me to examine for myself this child
of only a decade speaking with the gravitas
of three centuries inside her bones.

I run the battery of routine tests, find nothing,
and see myself standing on the ledge
of losing my faith in science. I return
to her room for one last session:
How old are you?

She straightens her back,
breathes in the weight of the world,
and stares directly into my eyes:

I am as old as the Indians
who first lived this land before your fevers
and poxes made us into mortar for your walls.

I am as old as the bayous that have brought bounties
to my people for centuries, as old as their sacrificing
for the sake of being sold for shipping and the quaintness
of steamboats.

As old as good pirates, devout prostitutes, and corrupt politicians.
As old as boozehounds and blood feuds, as people coming
to lose themselves, and just as many to find themselves.

I am as old as your slave markets and sugar cane plantations,
the heat of our southern sun and the black blood
sprayed upon cotton fields.

I am as old as the mixing of peoples required for survival,
old enough to remember all our mother tongues and spices,
their sounds and spirits coming with them across a world’s waters.
I have taken them all in, and I have watched them all
die again and again.

I am as old as bloated bodies left floating
along highways and broken levees.
Old as houses still reeking of rot long after
they should have been wrung out to dry.
As old as people who had to leave home
beneath the darkness of storm clouds,
but could never find their ways back
once the sun returned to his besieged castle.

I am as old as violence, as independence, and self-reliance.
As old as being told I am not worth saving, not worth fixing,
that I should be put out to pasture, left to drift out to sea.

I am old, and you are so young. You have no respect
for the wisdoms and ways of the old.
You still have never learned how to value them.

She pauses, slouches, soul giggles
to match her ten-year-old body, and asks
Is that old enough, doctor?

I close my notepad, stand up wordless from my chair,
exit the room. I leave my doctor’s coat behind
and the door wide open. There was nothing I could do
to contain her anyhow. My help would only hurt her further.
Rebirth is such a calamitous affair.

I Wrote an Article on Spoken Word Poetry, It Got Published on YARN

[Photo Credit: Flickr / Garry Knight]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / Garry Knight]
Hey folks, remember that time a few months back I mentioned how I’d become a Poetry Reader for YARN? Welp, yesterday the journal decided to publish to its young adult audience one of the first spoken word pieces it has accepted (whaddup progress!). And since I’ve learned a few things about the art over the years, YARN asked me to write an article/blog post about it. And then they published it on their website, in conjunction with a video of that spoken word piece, and now I’ve got words about words getting out into the worlds. (Score!)

I’m honored that YARN would give me the opportunity to wax prosaic about poetry, specifically about spoken word/performance poetry and all our collective endeavors to help it receive the recognition it deserves as a legitimate art form. I talk about that, the “page vs. stage” dichotomy, and — more personally — about how the art has, quite literally, changed my entire life’s trajectory. (Shouts out to Vandy Spoken Word for making that happen.)

To read the article (with its long title of “On Spoken Word Poetry: Learning to Project Your Voice in the Shadow of Another’s”) over on YARN’s website, click here. 

New Home for an Old Poem, Part 3 – “The Pup That Made Me Paternal”

The Wee Baby Cappy, or Young Captain Alejandro (9 weeks old)
The Wee Baby Cappy, or Young Captain Alejandro (9 weeks old)

Y’all, my words have been putting in work recently, so I have some more great publishing news to share on their behalf. Another one of my poems that I’d originally written back in 2014 has found a new home with The Five Hundred.

I’d submitted my old “The Pup That Made Me Paternal” poem for their May 2015 prompt, “Are we there yet?” and they were kind enough to post it up on their site. (I also hope they’re kind enough to forgive me for sharing about it 3 months after the fact.) So check out my words over there, and maybe even consider submitting something of your own to The Five Hundred as well.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to all that goodness, The Five Hundred is currently putting together a print retrospective chapbook of the top pieces of writing it’s received over its past 5 years of existence. And out of the literal hundreds of people who’ve submitted over the past half-decade, the editor has thought my stuff good enough to be inked into existence forever! If you’d like to chip in toward making this printed awesomeness a reality, head on over to their GoFundMe page and throw some digital nickels at it. The list of contributors is phenomenal.

Happy reading, writing, and gifting to you all.
— LWM / JB

To The Rich White Frat Boys I’ve Been Mistaken For

[Photo Credit: Flickr / BadJonni]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / BadJonni]

You’ve never known nothingness –
to have your world washed away,
to hear silence, complete and actual silence,
because even the background birds
and crickets couldn’t manage survival.

You’ve never known what work is –
sweat and grime and filth caked on skin,
leave it there for the protection.
The sea will accept you as one
when you return to her.

You’ve never known sacrifice –
more than hard choice forced between stones,
but the loss of self, of love, of life
for the sake of something, anything more –
abandonment in exchange for betterment.

This similar surface we share cannot be shed,
but all things have been given to you since conception,
and appeasement never seems to sate little tyrants.
This is what separates us,
has always separated us,
and will continue to separate us.

You’ve never had to take every scrap of success,
every sip of kindness, every last drop
of independence and act grateful for it,
like it wasn’t something I had to steal
away from you, darting out the back doors
of your fathers’ mansions, the moon wild in my eyes.

Do not pity me, I ask not for it
and it will bring you no comfort.
Just remind them we are not the same,
remember it when you see me seated
across the table, gripping your last silver knife,
and considering where to plunge it.

Glass Organs (A Tanka)

[Photo Credit: Flickr / Andrew Katic]
[Photo Credit: Flickr / Andrew Katic]

we are not fragile
glass organs born from lightning
pack body with sand
there’s healing after heartbreak
the soul has never shattered

[Note: A proper tanka can be read beginning to end, as well as end to beginning, and make sense both ways, perhaps even with different meanings.]

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." — Henry David Thoreau

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