Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Idea of Ancestry II

Institutionalization can be debilitating.
I have friends who can’t leave because
they have grown so accustomed to the system.
Some, like Frank, I can still visit
because he remembers me inside.
My children call him uncle
because the myth of brotherhood
is hard to let die when it is the only thing.

Just six months out of the home
and in jail, Frank laughs and reminds me
that it is the other way around. That
he couldn’t wait to get out but out
was too big and in was more like home.
He asks me to bring pictures of the kids,
the ones we took on the 4th,
sweating on the lawn in shorts and grins
weary from play, wanting to know when cool
dark independence would come.
It is a good thing that I strove to succeed
Whose picture would keep my cell company otherwise?

I hear on the news today about eugenics
and I refrain from thinking about it until
it assaults me in print and on my desktop.
How many thousands of women forced to
forego progeny: I think of auctions and boys
clinging tearfully to mama’s skirts,
her wailing and gnashing, pleading mercy
Lord, have mercy;
and someone else’s definition of mercy
that saved her thus from a pagan life.

I call the home and ask for records
offered and refused before.
I can no longer believe my fantasy of bootstraps.
I want my mama, I want a brother,
I want roots.
Two weeks later a manila envelope
brings clinically detached news;
the words run ashamedly from my eyes,
down my cheeks.

My wife, Kendall reads:
Name: Samuel Jacobs
Mother: Harriet
Father: Samuel Ward
Date of Birth: 6 June 1968
Notes: Mother admitted to hospital in Winston-Salem complaining of severe
headache and dyspepsia, approx. 8 ½ mo. pregnant. Not married to father, father
serving overseas. Attempted termination of pregnancy, but mother entered stressed-induced labor and delivered. Cause of headaches, etc. appears to be malnutrition, as the mother is emaciated, though all internal organs seem perfectly healthy. Performed full hysterectomy to fix the problem. Child remanded over to the care of the N. C. Home for Boys…

Twin springs of my hope and tears
cauterized in my mother’s belly.

Twin springs of my hopes and fear
cauterized in my mother’s womb.

Spring 2005

Storm Horses

A million drops of spray on the metal of my roof
Prolong this underwater feeling of slow motion.
If wishes were horses I’d have ridden to you
At the first clap of thunder,
Eager to be rocked to sleep in your arms
With the lullaby of each drop

Time and space
And waves of fear
Have taken their toll
Demand it from the red reflections of brake lights
That spill out in puddles in front of me
A vibrant warning to keep me in the here and now.

Silver needles of rain intersect violently
With the mercurial asphalt surface
Windshield wipers keep time
To the tinny sound of Madonna crooning
About the feel of rain on her fingertips
And I’m thinking about the slick hum of
Rubber eating the time and space
Between us

My heartbeat an extra piston
That only allows forward movement
It’s been six years since I saw you last
Which has me hoping that those six years might be somewhere ahead of me
Wishing me a safe return
A hundred or so horses under my hood
Are trying hard to make that wish come true

Fall 1994/Summer 1998


An anonymous woman sips water on the top row of bleachers
In a patch of sunlight that seems to burn through her
She is here to remember a husband/brother/father
Taken in the line of duty, protecting Texas highways
The rest of us stand under the leafy coolness of oak trees
Still silent of birds whose retreat was somehow more disturbing than the
Armed salute that startled them
They have not yet been charmed back by bagpipes

Amazing Grace floats to me over the heads of other anonymous people
On the soft undulating breeze of a
Picture perfect May afternoon
That wants to deny the finality we’re all here to observe
That wants to carry away the memory of certain death
And keep us strangers to our own ends

Like these men, steel and bravado
No match for the insignificant death of an
Inattentive driver speeding by a traffic stop
An acquaintance turns to offer a somber smile
I think I return it through the shade
And walk away feeling nameless

Summer 2008

Movement Skinward

My skin does not walk under starlight
It runs and writhes and floats and flies

Magic and ink
I wonder if they’ve ever been separate
Why else do you need ink
If not to sign the universe
In a spot where you can access it anytime
Look at the wall and remember
That brief flash of understanding
That moment when it all came together

People inked beasts on cave walls in France
In some when we can only conjure
I’ve got to wonder—
Was it out of reverence? Remembrance?
Greater minds claim it was form of Voodoo
They captured the strength in ink
To capture the bull between stony spears and blood
And so fill their bellies

Tonight I’m hungry
I haven’t seen a star in months
I’ve lost my frame of reference
My skin sits silent waiting for some magic to move me

Energy and ambition ferment explosively
Magic and ink
The movement of life under my skin
Breaks free in a moment
freezing on my surface the stigmata of passion
I envision beasts and butterflies and horses
Black on black in proud cipher

Magic and Inky twining snakes, burst from beneath
My skin in bulging cords of muscle and tendon
To make my skin a little more comfortable to live in

Inked Beasts belly-full,
drawn on this cave of my skin
Magicked there to show possession—
A fiction I'm pursuing
On horses through the valley of her back
On gossamer wings between her thighs
And stuck to the tips of these beasts' horns
Gored through her navel
I consume visually while they feed.

Magic and ink
Which way to go
If I'm still looking for the strength of a bull
How far have I come from Lascaux?
I won't deny the magic in the ink
Because it has secrets I can't know till we live in the same cave—
In the same skin

Magic and ink
Her hands busy all day reverently holding smoke
She rests the incense in an ashtray-shaped censer and performs the rites
Paints me magic
Channels the running, writhing, floating and flying
into direction for my skin

Spring 2005

I know

I will have to work twice as hard to get half as far.
I will have to do twice as good to get half the recognition.
I will have to have a perfect understanding of roots I’ve never known
My skin does not do justice
I shed its pale, mottled trap
Because it contradicts my heart
When I look across the room
At the only (other) black man and recognize
The humor and smallness and largeness and disconnected
“I know”
Without recognizing and receiving the knowing look
Back from blue eyes beneath pale hoods
Because it is a shield I didn’t ask for
But am responsible for using and abusing
And I don’t want to profit from
Because even in making a literary pretension to connection
I am distancing myself through accidents of genetic combination
I am a black man
But my skin hair eyes belie
A heritage that I was never taught
I am a black man
And am responsible for nothing more
Than disproving anyone who claims otherwise

Spring 2005

Baby Photos

Eyes pin-pricked to
keep light from entering and tears

from escaping; worried shut,
in glances, trying not to confirm

Paul Simon’s Myth of Fingerprints.

I, alone, invested with
thoughts and traces of lineage

thought and traced
my unknown mother

here: stale bed guarded by ghosts
in stiff white uniforms.

Stale sticky linens grasp at
her feet and thighs—not even the comfort of
crisp cool white

at the last; no chance in this
hell to win the part of the angel by the hearth.

I stand by my mother of fifteen minutes
imagining for her a fear and hatred

mistrust of doctors and best
interests, of anything besides

comfort in the firm reality of a baby’s wail.
I’m here, mama, you can stop

scanning the doorway and the ceiling
wishing for pictures better than

the dark-splotched memories of
fearful youth

I’m here, mama,
even if you don’t remember my name.

Spring 2005

Discarded Script

Sometimes I miss it
the calm assurance of nothing
the freedom of being whomever
of reading the lines for the character I'd scripted
the beauty of acting and the innocent
hope that the fairy tale would come true
and that there could be proven some
veracity to the adage that opposites attract
from moonlit backyard fast-food picnics
with one heart in earnest
the other in playful mockery of it
Well intentioned phone calls
Playing kickball with children in a hedge
Lying in the dark, hoping, praying for
a spoken kinship of heart that would never come
Sometimes I miss it
Most of the time I don't.

Fall 1996

The Color Red

I am the stranger in the dark
the whistling of the wind outside
your window on a frozen night
I am the face that you looked at
and wished you hadn't because
it was the beginning of the end.
There is a conditioned response to the color red.
You can't help the warning lights and buzzers
because you couldn't stop staring
and went insane
because you turned away quickly, sobbing
because you know in the end I'll be back for you .
The void, the cold, the fear
and you'll struggle every step of the
way because I'm leading you with
your hand frozen in mine.

Spring 1997

All In

Am I wrong to cry your forgiveness?
For so long I championed your heart
even later when I secretly held you responsible
Can I be held accountable for a promise
that you wouldn't let me keep.
It haunts me like treasured memories
mapping pirate hoard
A game.
or enigma wrapped in a riddle
with a gamble at a higher stake
I folded while I was ahead
and left the table to make my tally
I thought I could walk away
and leave those other cards on the table
But I'm flushed
sitting in the dark trying to sleep
and the memories
The thought of our hands brushing as we
pick up the cards cut to us
It's unsettling
All this I have to tell you so I can get to sleep
That I got tired
I never lied except to myself
And my heart still races when I hear your voice
to be that myth, and be surprised by an embrace from behind
But I've found my partner for playing hearts
and sometimes building bridges, until we meet our spades
I still think of you and love you
Goodnight Elizabeth.

Summer 1998

Tarnished Image

Chapel of night
with incense of pine
I remember being here before
on my knees with a broken heart
and it felt better than I do now

As the darkness fades
so does the weight on my heart
The light is too harsh
and doesn't reflect this
emptiness that stars can

Who is this void and
what can ever fill him again?
His head bowed in wonder and admiration
While his mouth mocks his maker
and calls death upon himself

He plucks at the bloom of
what was once Faith
and in proxy sits
the flower of conversation
a plastic arrangement His arid words sow
discontent and a drought
from his heart copies the void in him

Be sure of your allegiance
while you can still be sure of it
When you draw your Ace of Spades
Death comes swiftly and silently
even through the loudest cries and lonely months

Break me again
Bind this haughty heart
with grace until it cries in blood

Crush those guilty memories
of impetuous youth in your hand
and destroy those bonds which hold me to them

I am unregenerate
I am selfish
I am lustful
I am trying to give you control
I am
I was that which you are
You are beautiful
You are perfect
You are jealous
You are merciful

Give me that chapel of night
That candelabra of worlds
That Spirit of worship
That feeling of Peace.

Summer 1998

Desert Song

Dry and dusty I am blown
All these miles gone from home
Let the thought of you cover me warm.
I seek my shelter from this storm.

That's my life, how I want to live.
One of these days it'll be all I've left to give
Living on a love I had never hoped to find
Girl I'm living a dream because I know that you are mine.

Waking because you are morning
and this day will bring me a little bit closer home
no matter how far I wander
You are with me no matter how far I roam.

That's my life, how I want to live.
One of these days it'll be all I've left to give
Living on a love I had never hoped to find
Girl I'm living a dream because I know that you are mine.

Dry and dusty I am blown
Each new mile is another one closer home
I pull the thought of you over me warm
and take my shelter from this storm.

That's my life, how I'm gonna' live.
I thank the Lord, 'cause all I have He gives
Living on a love I had never hoped to find
Girl I'm living a dream because I know that you are mine.

Summer 1999

Questions for my children

A small voice will respond to this
Tired gruff one
As Daddy.
A small hand will grasp
A finger of this calloused hand
And feel safe.
Someday my hands will caress
A life I will have been entrusted with.
How do I look into her eyes
Knowing I've hurt others?
How do I correct his ways
When I know my own?
What do I tell them
When they ask
How do I tell them
There are times to rush at the goal
And times to walk leisurely?
How do I teach them to know the difference?
How do I know?

Summer 1999

White Hands

Red hands bloodied by four hundred years
And not at least one drop has permeated this skin.
Black hands, blackened only by the ink in which I immerse them.
I need more to continue this
I need experience I can call my own
I hold up white hands to help
And know that I am still not ready because
I think of them this way.
When my hands are ready that is all they will be.
Ready hands

Spring 2000

Do this in remembrance

I believe in truth
I believe in simplicity
I believe in absolutes
I believe that purity is a gift,
not an accomplishment
I believe in God
and his counterpart
I believe that music has power
to create and destroy
I believe that fiction is sometimes
more real than life
I believe in love
I believe in light
I believe in blackness
I believe in denial
I believe that all great men
are humble
I believe that size encompasses everything
I believe that a genuine smile encompasses heaven
and a cold shoulder, hell
I believe that three AM is the witching hour
I believe that a person can reveal more
through their eyes than through their mouth
I believe that friendship is a prize worth
fighting for
I believe in my potential
I believe in those who question my motives
I believe that I don't know everything
I believe I'll find out one of these day

Spring 2000

And counting

A decade past deciding
three hundred fifteen million seconds
and a lifetime away

Even now, that powerful wave of time at my back,
I know as much about my father as before
and he easily sums me in a plaque

Last night's telephone call tells me he is tired
as ever
I hear joy and hope in his voice
and wonder how many seconds
past hanging up that it will last

Three hundred fifteen million
little freeze-frame opportunities
and still not enough

I didn't even stop to think about
the seconds lost to my mother

I wonder how much of the day
my grandparents sit, silently, reverently
as they mark the seconds
each stroke the shuddering stiffness
of another lost friend
Each, for one second, the
tireless hand
moving around the face of an anachronism

Three hundred fifteen million-
how many left?
each moment (tick) I waste
at my desk reading (tick, tick)
each weekend (tick, tick, tick)
not spent
another one hundred seventy thousand gone

Three hundred fifteen million seconds
and that many more gone

Spring 2001

Poetry Posts

Since my old website has been defunct for some time, I have not had any place to archive my poetry in an easily-accessible place. Also, I have recently been inspired to write a little more frequently lately and have shared those here, so I thought perhaps that this could be my new archive, easily accessible through the label function (click here for my poetry).

It will take me awhile to migrate all of the poems over. I hope along the way some of you will discover new favorites, remember old ones, or have a good-natured (or not) chuckle at the expense of my sophomoric bluster and teenage angst.