Like that

December 19th, 2014

Tin has a book called The People Could Fly, which are American Black folktales. In one of the stories, a lion keeps jangling everyone’s nerves because he keeps beating his chest exclaiming, “Me and Myself, Me and Myself” until one day Bruh Bear and Bruh Rabbit get him to meet Man whose gun teaches He Lion a lesson in humility. The cadence of these stories reminds me of the first time I read a Toni Morrison novel and thought how in her hands fictional narrative reads like poetry. It’s also how in a recent meeting about Ferguson when a colleague got up to speak from her heart, it was Spoken Word.

I wonder about this blood that runs through us, especially today with the news that Obama is lifting the embargo from Cuba and I think of my blood that’s all tied up in Spain, Cuba, Israel, Turkey, Louisiana and thereabouts. Stanley asked me today would I consider living somewhere else and I said I have – I have thought about this a lot. I am raising a Black child in a city that is the best and worst place to raise a Black son. I’ve thought about this when the waters rose all around us and we had to flee. But at the end of the day – New Orleans feels like Havana. New Orleans feels like Istanbul. New Orleans feels like Senegal, like Ghana, like Nigeria. New Orleans feels like this blood that beats through me. Stanley said when he went to Paris he could feel New Orleans there. Exactly.

In the tale of the lion, the narrator ends most sentences with “like that” – it seemed to me to be a narrative trick, but recently I noticed that it’s a phrase Stanley uses a lot. “I was hoping we could go away to the beach, like that” Stanley tells me. And I always have to bring it on home, well, it’s like this, I’m here with my son, who is out of school, and I’m baking bread and I’m working on a report. And Stanley laughs real easy because it’s all good, baby. He’s cool, like that. Easy, like Sunday morning.

Meanwhile I’m Monday.

It’s I who am wound up like a top with blood that flows like molten fire burning canyons into my bones and leaving me restless and always bouncing back from the brink of whiplash – self imposed, of course – I’m like this, when I really ought to be like that.

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Viva La Revolución!

December 19th, 2014

I was born a child of the revolution. Conceived in Havana to my Sephardic father and my Louisiana mother, I was briskly flown to Miami to be born because Fidel Castro had marched into Havana in March 1959, two months before my due date. For 55 years, I’ve lived in a country that has refused to recognize the suffering of the Cuban people and instead upheld an embargo to make sure they suffered even more so because of a revolution that took place 55 years ago. Don’t get me wrong the Cuban people in Miami – some of them relatives – were part of the reason for that embargo – because they dreamed of taking back the Cuba that belonged to them (natch).

And today President Obama has lifted the EMBARGO – say what? I’m doing the happy rhumba. I cannot wait to go back to Cuba and see my cousins. The land where of sangre y sol. Who knows, I may even move there. Cuba, baby – now that’s a revolution! Obamanos.

This photograph is my mom and dad at a nightclub in Cuba – they epitomized Havana cool – my father with his swagger and Cuban rhythm and my mother with her Hollywood good looks. Wow – dynamite.

NamerDad&Mom

Happy Hanukkah

December 16th, 2014

Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah is the story of religious freedom. In 168 BC King Antiochus (pronounced an TIE uh kus) the 4th, who inherited his kingdom from Alexander the Great, set up an idol in the Jewish temple and ordered Jews to worship it. He was a zealous Hellenist and wanted all people to follow Greek ways. A revolt led by Mattathias and his son Judah the Maccabee to overthrow Antiochus raged with the odds against the Jews; they were ill-equipped and vastly outnumbered [think the Saints or David & Goliath or Rocky). But the Jews were fighting for their homes, their faith and their freedom as the Syrian mercenaries were not. So, in the winter of 165 BC the Jews were victorious and marched into Jerusalem.

The first act was to clean the temple and get rid of the idol. When they arrived, there was only a single flask of oil to light that should have lasted one day. It miraculously lasted eight.

Later, to commemorate the victory, candles were lit for eight days. There was an interesting dispute between the followers of Shammai and Hillel (Hillel and Shammai were two leading rabbis of the early 1st century BCE who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought, known as the House of Hillel and House of Shammai). Shammai advocated lighting the eight candles moving downward to a single candle. Historians believe Shammai’s basic view was that the glory of Israel lay in the past and there had been a steady downward trend among the Jews. Hillel’s followers foresaw a glorious future for Judaism. Symbolic of their faith and hope, they advocated a rising crescendo of light. Of course, they prevailed. Today the candles are lit from left to right.

The basic issue of the Maccabean struggle was religious freedom. The Jews fought for their right to worship God in their own way. Not long after the victory, war broke out again, this time Judah was killed in battle and the new colossus, Rome, bestrode the Middle East. The Hebrew state [Israel] was crushed until May 1948. It is interesting to speculate on what this victory of the spirit has meant in human history. If Judaism had been destroyed in the second century before Jesus, would Christianity have come into the world, or Mohammedanism? Both were products of Judaism and both derived sustenance from the living Jewish people.*

My nighttime reading has been Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg, a fascinating treatise on how entrenched hating Jews is in the Western Hemisphere. In a review in the Washington Post, Michael S. Roth writes:

The idea of Judaism — together with the fact that there were still people in the world who chose to remain Jews — was an affront to that universalism. “To the extent that Jews refused to surrender their ancestors, their lineage, and their scripture, they could become emblematic of the particular, of stubborn adherence to the conditions of the flesh, enemies of the spirit, and of God.

Throughout the centuries theologians returned to this theme when they wanted either to stimulate religious enthusiasm or quash some perceived heretical movement. Not that you needed any real Jews around to do this. You simply had to label your enemies as “Jews” or “Judaizing” to advance the purity of your cause. In the first through fourth centuries, Christians fighting Christians often labeled each other Jews as they struggled for supremacy. And proclaiming your hatred of the Jews became a tried and true way of showing how truly Christian you were. Centuries later, even Luther and Erasmus agreed that “if hatred of Jews makes the Christian, then we are all plenty Christian.”

Islam followed this same pattern of solidifying orthodoxy by stoking anti-Jewish fervor. Muhammad set Islam, like Christianity, firmly within an Abrahamic tradition, but that made it crucial to sever the new religion from any Judaizing possibilities. Rival Islamic groups, like rival forms of Christianity, often painted their adversaries as hypocritical Jews scheming to take the world away from spiritual truths essential for its true salvation.

As I study and learn more about how racism is encoded into American DNA, it has been interesting to parallel this journey by understanding how hating Jews is encoded into the West’s moral DNA.

The miracle of Hanukkah is not that one pot of oil burned for the Maccabee and their small army, the miracle was that these Jews lit the one pot the next night, and the next, and the next for seven more nights. It’s this leap of faith that warms my heart against the dangers of cynicism and apathy. Happy Hanukkah to all y’all and to all a good night.

Basquiat and the Boys

December 12th, 2014

Evan Christopher, Tin’s godfather, composed songs as interpretations of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings on display at the Ogden Museum for Prospect 3. We went to the Ogden last night to hear Evan and his band play and we were treated to one after another phenomenal arrangement. The night provided a good bridge to Tin’s nascent interest in both music and art – he told me later he expected to have his own gallery where he would throw big parties. And he expected to live alone.

I, on the other hand, am giving a nod to big parties and have opted to not hold my annual Hanukkah party but instead to have intimate gatherings as they occur during the next few weeks. Some times you have to mix it up and change your tune to figure out what works for you in any given time frame. Doing the same old thing just isn’t fun after a while.

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We just passed the five year mark – exactly five years from the day I met Tin – December 7, 2009. We celebrated with our family birthday gathering and we sat around and shared memories of celebrations past. I get a good feeling from knowing the family we have cobbled together has developed tentacles into a shared history.

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And at the same time, through this lens of warm and fuzzy, I stared at Basquiat’s photograph outside the exhibit, he was so young, so talented and full of life and dead at age 27 from a heroin overdose. Minutes later, I watched Evan putting together his interpretation of Basquiat’s interpretation of his life and all its noise while all the while Tin made crowns on the 2nd floor and although I know it is the extreme sensitivity to life that causes artists to create masterpieces and that anger fuels beauty and sadness overlays joyous strokes and notes, I still wondered if being alive and being awake and being present isn’t just about the hardest thing in the world to be for boys.

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The Leisure of a Lover

December 12th, 2014

I said to a younger friend the other day that there will come a time in her life when she will be through looking for the perfect partner, the husband, the boyfriend, the man who will ask her on a date, or the end all be all that is supposed to arrive with all the answers.

Instead, she will open her arms to a lover.

I’ve watched my lover up close and from afar – no expectations is what we bring to each other – and just leisurely watching what unfolds and recognizing that every time, I think I have him pegged, he surprises me.

Without all the expectations of a more formal relationship, there are no demands, there is just the leisure of experiencing someone else.

It is quite magical.

So for today, in the middle of this December that has had erratic temperatures as well as erroneous predictions and pronouncements, I’ve decided that I am throwing the towel over my crystal ball and enjoying the very essence of Stanley, my lover.

Lover:Kahlo

Strand(ed)

December 5th, 2014

I can never finish my Sunday New York Times so I have just gotten used to the fact that I will read it all week. It’s the product of having a young child (and a puppy). So today, Friday, I learned from last Sunday’s Times that Mark Strand had passed at 80 years old. And I’m just sitting with that right now.

Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

* * * *
Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

* * * *

My all time favorite:
Courtship

There is a girl you like so you tell her
your penis is big, but that you cannot get yourself
to use it. Its demands are ridiculous, you say,
even self-defeating, but to be honored somehow,
briefly, inconspicuously, in the dark.

When she closes her eyes in horror,
you take it all back. You tell her you’re almost
a girl yourself and can understand why she is shocked.
When she is about to walk away, you tell her
you have no penis, that you don’t

know what got into you. You get on your knees.
She suddenly bends down to kiss your shoulder and you know
you’re on the right track. You tell her you want
to bear children and that is why you seem confused.
You wrinkle your brow and curse the day you were born.

She tries to calm you, but you lose control.
You reach for her panties and beg forgiveness as you do.

She squirms and you howl like a wolf. Your craving
seems monumental. You know you will have her.
Taken by storm, she is the girl you will marry.

th

Thank God For You

November 29th, 2014

My mom died five years ago today (Nov 30), she would have been 79 years old on December 28th, but she did not make it to her 74th birthday. When she was the age I am now, my father had been dead for five years and she was still adjusting to an unmarried life and empty nest. She was a natural beauty both inside and out, but fear had held her back most of her life. Like a lot of us in my family, she had anxiety issues, she hadn’t learned to meditate, and she didn’t know how to be. I inherited all this restless person syndrome from her – the pacing in your own house, the inability to go anywhere without the pressing feeling that you had to go back to where you came from and so you couldn’t relax and be where you went to – it’s this insanity that I have tried to overcome.

When my mother was dying in the hospital – a process that took six long months – she had a tube in every orifice and she called me over and barely able to breathe, much less speak, she whispered to me, “I thank God for you every day.”

Mothering is a bitch – because no matter what you do your child is going to hold you accountable for just about everything that goes wrong in her life. She’s going to hold you to task, she’s going to check you from the time you get up to till the time you go to sleep, and there is nothing that can be done about it. And then one day you are going to die and your child is going to miss you as if a vital organ had been removed from her body.

My mother is responsible for my son’s presence in my life. She died and he appeared. There are no coincidences in life. And I thank God for him every day. This mothering stuff is not for pussies; it is the feeling as one person put it of having your heart outside of your body walking around independent of you. It will bring you to your knees.

And here I find myself on this fifth anniversary of your passing Mom, on my knees, thanking God every day for you.

NamerMom

Big Man Moves Into the Spirit House

November 29th, 2014

This year marks a turning point for me, although there is still a lot to clean up from the last two years of thinness. I celebrated recently by driving to Lafayette and buying an old cypress pew from an old church there. The pew is nearly 12 feet long and it barely fit across my truck. But I drove there, bought it, and drove it home. It fit perfectly in the dining room and what could be more appropriate for the Spirit House than a church pew?

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Feeling content with my new pew, I set off today to gallery hop with a friend – we were boycotting any post-Thanksgiving Black Friday shopping in protest against the recent decision in Ferguson. I was checking out some paintings by Willie Birch in Arthur Roger’s gallery and stumbled upon an old colored lithograph of his, that had been in the drawer for some time, and when I casually asked the price, not only was I surprised, but so were all the people working at the gallery – one said if I didn’t buy it, she would. I snapped it up and now it will hang above the pew in the dining room. Birch painted BIG MAN in 2000. This work of art stretched my budget, but I was walking on air when I left the gallery because when I saw BIG MAN, I knew he was for me.

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Wordless Thanksgiving

November 28th, 2014

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Saying Goodbye to a Lover is Never Easy

November 24th, 2014

I dreamed last night about Stanley and I woke this morning with a groggy clarity that was colored in orange and red hues of sadness. Stanley so sweet – so sexy – so present and giving – and yet I cannot give him what he wants from me. Not now maybe not ever. And so he has answered the siren’s call to head out to another gig, in another town, and I am moving on. How sweet these past weeks have been in the large, strong arms of desire.

But what my friends have seen from all of this is how much I have grown. Me. So now I will take my victory lap. Who doesn’t want to be desired by someone they desire? Who doesn’t want lips so sweet to kiss yours? Who doesn’t want love to lift you off your feet?

My intuition has been strong. My knowledge in what I am prepared to give has been a knowing deep in my bones. My hesitation has proven prudent. My love of self has come to the forefront. I battled me.

We all must meet in a space where we feel protected. I have stood sentry over my temple (with a little help from my friends).

I am sad and yet my clarity is like a beacon of light into my now and tomorrow.

Tonight, I will light a candle for my struggles – I battled the old me, and the new me won. I will call out to my ancestors again for giving me wisdom and a heart that is fearless. I will thank God for my friends and their support.

I will say to my sexy friend, thank you for you, you helped me be me without fear.

And I will tell the world in a hush, bring me another lover, with a sweet smile on my lips.

her name