Posted in Leaves on the Poet Tree (Poems)

A Little Less Vanilla

When one bakes with diversity,

add 3 cups of humility,

and take a long taste of Chocolate City.

Listen to some go-go.

Watch a young man dance before the coffin of his grandma in a love show.

Hear the song of joy and grief.

Add 3 tablespoons of the river Anacostia.

The change in your pallette may very well cost ya

and there could be some heart burn

as you listen and re-learn

to really breathe

because trying to mute DC is a form of hypoxia.

What you been cooking up doesn’t make much sense.

It’s time to use some different ingredients.

Maybe a little less salt.

And a lot more pepper.

More chocolate.

Less vanilla.

Because this is more than grabbing a chili dog from Ben’s Chili Bowl.

What good is soul food if you’ve lost your soul?

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Salvation From The Depths

There is a bridge in Washington DC that is named after an unlikely hero, a man who quite literally gave his life to save others.

Thirty-eight years ago, on January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 Boeing 737-200 crashed onto the 14th Street Bridge and into an icy Potomac River, killing all 73 passengers and crew. Four passengers and one flight attendant were the only survivors.

At least four of those people owed their lives to the “sixth passenger” as he became known.

After the plane crashed and began to sink into the ice-strewn river, six people could be seen clinging to the plane’s tail fin. A US Park Police helicopter arrived on the scene and immediately began trying to rescue the survivors. The helicopter rescued one person and then returned to the tail.

Arland D. Williams Jr. caught the rescue line and instead of wrapping it around himself, he passed it to flight attendant Kelly Duncan. When the helicopter returned to the wreckage a third time, it dropped two lines because the crew feared that the remaining survivors would succumb to hypothermia very soon. Williams caught one of the lines and passed it on to a severely injured Joe Stiley, who also grabbed Priscilla Tirado. Patricia Felch took the other line and was towed to safety along with the others.

When the helicopter returned, Williams and the tail section of the plane were gone. After the bodies from the crash were recovered, the coroner determined that Williams was the only passenger to die by drowning therefore he had been the “sixth passenger,” the one who gave his life for others.

Ninety-one years ago today a man was born who would give his life to rescue his people from the dark depths of racial segregation and discrimination. Fifty-two years after his death, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored and acknowledged through his monument on the National Mall.

I will probably never have a bridge named after me, but I want to be a bridge between people. I may never have to pass a rescue line to another, but I want to daily live my life in service to others who may need a helping hand.

I will probably never have a monument highlighting my deeds, but I can make my life a monument that honors an ordinary hero like Williams and the extraordinary life of Dr. King.

Perhaps I can be the one who keeps someone from slipping beneath the surface into the cold depths of despair.

Originally posted January 15, 2012, dates updated to reflect present.

Posted in Peace Quotes

Quote – America’s Prisons

As a fellow author from Mississippi, I am a big fan of John Grisham. (My signed copy of Street Lawyer is quite precious). Now I am even more impressed after I have begun listening to The Guardians. I found the following quote to be quite insightful:

“In white America, prisons are good places where bad men pay for their crimes.”

“In black America, they are too often used as warehouses to keep minorities off the streets.”

John Grisham, The Guardians, Chapter 7

Posted in Leaves on the Poet Tree (Poems)

We’re Going Wrong

sheltered from the
bitter cold and
the flashing blue
i drive past my
dreaded brother
being handcuffed
against his car
while cream sings
on my cd player
we’re going wrong

Posted in Musings and Reflections

Indiferencia Se Mata – The Quiet in the Land

My good friend, Verle, may he rest in peace, had a saying that he learned from his Latino friends that he would share often as we would strive to work outside in the West Virginia wilderness within the great buzzing clouds of gnats.

“Indiferencia se mata.”

“Indifference kills them.”

In other words, if you ignore the gnats, they won’t bother you.

Now there is no question in my mind that Verle’s mental capacity far outstripped my own so maybe it worked for him. Though he still would wear a bug net over his head when he was working outside. But in all honesty I really do think he reached a point where even in the midst of a buzzing cloud, the gnats had ceased to exist, at least for him.

I am wondering if perhaps the above adage might be worth applying to the seemingly endless negative rhetoric streaming from a certain White (Supremacist) House. (Or to any such useless drivel). In this age of the 24/7 news cycle and our ability to respond in an instant through social media to anything deemed disagreeable, it is far too easy to give attention to that which probably should be ignored.

Hear these words from Helen Keller:

“It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.”

So the question becomes, what or where or to whom are we expending our limited energy and resources?

Sometimes I wonder if our initial response is simply to alleviate our guilt at not being able to take the necessary steps towards lasting change within or without.

There, I wasn’t silent. I said something. I’ve done my part. Now on to the next tweet. Hey you, asshole, learn to drive!

Hmm, I wonder. Each day is an opportunity to become a better person, and to the best of our limited ability, to make the world around us a better place.

Am I becoming a better person? Am I treating the people around me with kindness and respect? Am I becoming less of a jerk? Am I gentler with my myself and others? Am I helping to make this world a better place?

If, at the end of the day, I can answer yes to these questions, then for that day at least I can say that I am on the right track.

I wonder what would happen to me and the world around me if I would spend more time in prayer and praise than I do in reacting to yet another ignorant comment or bit of negative rhetoric.

Christ have mercy.

Posted in Musings and Reflections

Holy Week – Church Burning

I too mourn the burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

I too sing Ave Maria with the thousands gathered in tears around the sight.

But where is the mourning for the black churches burning throughout the South – eight sacred places gutted since 2014?

Where are the thousands of witnesses gathered around these fires crying, singing Lift Every Voice and Sing?

A cathedral burns.

It is live streamed to millions around the world.

It will be on the news for days.

A black church burns.

The world turns
its ash streaked face away.

Posted in Leaves on the Poet Tree (Poems)

Rhett O’Rick

you think it’s a paltry thing
these words you so quickly sing
without thought as to in whose mind they might land
like Rhett you quite frankly don’t give a damn

then suddenly the world is Scarlett red
the violent acting on what you said
now i find your response laughable my friend
in your pretend world love is Gone With The Wind

(Image by Alexander Parsonage)

Posted in Musings and Reflections

This Maelstrom of Myopic Malignity

In these waning days of summer, when the clouds hang low in crooked shades of blue, heavy with promise, it seems the Dixie storms of my boyhood home have joined the dark migration from the South to here.

Unlike my brown sister, I was not forced to leave by men in white robes, whose cries of hate in the dead of night remind me of the grinding thunder outside my window, the flashes of guns and fire crisscrossing that landscape long ago like the lightning inside the billowing sky.

I make it inside before the clouds open up, but my mouth is thick with the bitter taste of sulphur, my eyes blinded by the strikes, my ears ringing with the booming of ugly words, my heart filled with fear.

I have yet to find someone who can walk between the raindrops, who can step out into this tempest and not get wet. I must succumb to the baptism, confess my capitulation, and admit that I too have contributed to the din of divisiveness, to the howling hurricane of hate.

I cannot control the weather. Yet I can control my response to the storm.

I can wall myself off from the tempest or I can offer shelter to another who seeks refuge from the deluge.

I can let the thunder drown out my voice or I can let my silent prayers reseed the clouds.

I can cower in fear from the strike or step boldly outside, turn my face to the sky, and scream my resistance into the pelting rain.

I can listen with joyful ears as the ugly water disappears with a roar into the gutter, running blindly underground, until it dissipates with a whimper in the bright brine of the cleansing sea.

Posted in Musings and Reflections

Der Untermensch

The term is almost 100 years old, first used by the Klansman Lothrop Stoddard in 1922 and then subsequently adopted by the Nazis.

It means subhuman, or literally “under man.”

It was used to describe those whom the Nazis deemed lesser beings, whose sole value in life was to be terminated or worked as slaves.

In an earlier post (It’s in the Blood), I mentioned the remarkable words of one Menno Simons who described this devaluation of others and how our doing so has a direct correlation with our willingness to kill said others.

Menno penned those words in 1539, long before Stoddard or the Nazis laid the foundation in language for the systemic slaughter of those whose blood to them was of “well-nigh equal valueā€¯ to swine’s blood.

Such devaluation has been happening since Cain and Abel. In every case, the end result is death, whether physical or otherwise.

In this day and age of 24/7 social media and talking heads, we would be wise to watch our words. And even more so, to be vigilant in avoiding the realm of thinking of another as less than a precious child of God, who loves each and every one of us with an equal and uninhibited love.

In the eyes of God, no one, let me repeat, no one is “untermensch.”

Nor is a specific group of people “animals,” the term so recently used by a certain person in a position of power. Such a description is merely the wicked lie of the “untermensch” raising its ugly head.

And let’s be clear. It is a lie. It is also very wicked.

As is the old adage;

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Perhaps not physically, but they lay the foundation for such. Anyone who has lived upon this earth for any length of time knows the incredible hurt that can be caused by someone’s words. Or how words can become the catalyst for genocide.

We know the power of words. We can speak death words or life words. We can curse. Or we can bless.

One way of speaking is life-giving. It gives value to the other, whoever they may be. It lays the groundwork for mutual honor and respect.

The other way, the putting down of the other with the language of the “untermensch,” is just as evil in 2018 as it was in Genesis, in 1539, or in 1939.

Whether it leads to physical death or not, such speech is the Zyklon B for our collective soul.