Struggling Roots

my coworker politely

and with hesitation

reached 

across continents

his hands outstretched

for my 

grabbable curly oh so unruly lovable

beauty of a kinked coiled hair

i didn’t make a statement

i wasn’t protesting

in truth, i was tired

the kind of tired that can sag into your skin

and soak up precious energy

tired of 

carefully descabbing the scorched scalp

so the blood flakes wouldn’t mar my fresh ‘do

three hours of yelling Dominican women

of avoiding water like acid

my angry kitchen wilting

tired of thinking that one day

my struggling roots would give up, 

fall out like milk teeth

tired of missing myself in the mirror.

Cancer

I sit on the steps of God’s house, contemplating the depression eating away at me like the stage 4 cancer failing both of my kidneys. Family’s hugs and weary eyes remind me of my enclosing demise. Can they see me?

I hide melting into the blackness. Alone, understanding and accepting what the future holds. Their stress hurts to watch; though, a confession lightens the soul it burdens the listener. They could not bear to know that their loving gaze makes me feel sicker. I’m beginning  to hunger for an escape into the clouds. My sweet chariot to swing low and ascend. Feel the warm kiss of death while she entangles my body and we drift into that ever lasting sleep.

I breathe deep and hold it in as if I’m drowning. Trying to feel the breathlessness of my lungs collapsing when I am no longer moving. I suppose on a grand scale death’s always pending . So it’s not fear that fuels this sense of certainty but knowing that they will miss me. Sitting here. Visualizing my daughter’s pain as her teardrops stain the hollowed shell of my remains. What comfort could my spirit gain knowing that I’m the reason she cries rain every night?

He pushed his hand into night’s pocket, seizing his food of desperation and munched it, the nutrients nestling in the thicket of his bowels; imagining death as his distant lover. He shunned all those who searched for him and moved further into the corner, cold floor, and hard wall his brothers whispering in his ear. Will you go now, right now, gently into her beckoning arms?

His answer may have been yes had it not been for the bucketful of gold rising in the sky, spilling yellow rays onto his cheeks that danced into his eyes. He could see his selfish ways. The courage to live kicked up in his throat as if singing from a serpent’s tongue. It whipped and split the remaining dark. Movitated him to seek out his seekers. Hang onto their hugs. Dry those weary eyes since a minute of their happiness was worth more than a moment of his despair.

With the sun warm on my face I sink deeper into their embrace. I don’t tell them about my relationship with death. She will come knocking on my door, waiting for me to satisfy her; but today, I will not answer. 

Birthplace

Deep in the Boogie Down—
	the bassinet of the boom bap
	where the trinity is The Treacherous Three,

English is the third language
	behind Bronx and Puerto Rican,
		and I was nervous

because I only speak Catholic school
	and I’m a Red Sox fan.  

I’m just a student of KRS-1, not a son,

on a train fourteen stops beyond my comfort
	zone hiding behind headphones coughing
		bass, and a backpack full of lyrics:

Notorious B.I.G., Rakim, Perdomo,
Run DMC, Brooks, wanting to be real cool,

wanting to be their “dawg”—
	but feeling like a mailman,
		another Elvis

to the students I will lead 
	through a workshop in a language

		I itch to get my rusted cavities around.
--Michael Cirelli

A Hero

A hero’s armor is supposed to shine.

Yeah, only the ones who have never dared to save anyone.

Mine is dented, bruised, a quiet dullness beginning to take over. Maybe once, when I was in my prime, I had that rare super hero form. I would ride through the ashes of some recent mayhem; feel the soot stain my face, the debris sting my eyes, and ride faster, growing more determined with each stride of the stallion beneath me. Draw the sword. Smite those belligerent beasts with precision. I was an amazing acrobat and archer. I can hardly recount the times I out ran a dragon’s breath without even breaking a sweat.

Fire, it seems, has lost its luster and I care not for being burned. History books won’t write what heroes lose. Time has whittled my kindness down to a mere dollop wallowing in the cold shadow of paranoia. The thrill of racing into the blaze, sword drawn, for my beloved’s rescue. Now, I can barely lift a pen to parchment to document my brave feats. Try as I might, this word is a hot coal that singed my skin with a fiery love that burns like a thousand blood thirsty torches. I resort to chipping icicles just to numb the pain of not living up to that title.

I haven’t loved anything as much as they loved me.

To think, I have fought the monsters that slip into children’s rooms at night against their will. Pulled away from men’s pleasures. Never once faltering into villainy. Saved men from themselves when their vices began to take hold. I’ve even freed a distressed damsel when others were too cowardly to acknowledge her screams. Strength, pride, beauty, moral fortitude. Those were my claim to fame, but really, it was indifference that allowed me to do those things. I didn’t run into the fire recover the person on the other side. I just could no longer feel the flames scalding my flesh.

Not for honor or justice or nobility. I used to wait, in heat, for life’s cruel, sadistic murmur to throw me another conflict to prevail. Another foe to foil. Yet, I have grown weary opting instead for a nice, silent retreat. Friends and family search for my helping hands through the smoldering wreckage, incessantly calling me to do their bidding; but, I have hung my cloak and put down my sword.

A hero no more.

I will reclaim my time. Maybe rekindle my passion and write until the frost surrounding my heart is shaken off by the feverish beating of content.

Plaster, Wood, Bricks

Plaster, wood, and bricks.

If I could speak. The things I’d say.

I’d let it all hang out in ways that she’d hate.

My body, poked and prodded with posters and pictures. I see her in a scarlet depression, smoldering. Curled into herself as she constantly slams my doors and cuts the lights. Thank God the eggshell paint absorbs some of the tension. I swear the heavy, sickening thickness in her bated breaths makes me tremble. Is it pain there behind her eyes as she sleeps, tossing in between bed squeaks? It can’t be just that.

This morning she rose gravely, perpendicular to the mattress like a fresh zombie from a grave. Something happened out of the ordinary. Before the un-swaddling of the covers, mussing of the flattened curls, smacking of sleep intoxicated lips and eye lids. There was a smile there amid the sunken sadness. A smile. Then she looked up. Before the morning music or shower, she looked up, past me, as if to thank someone. Brief and silently lingering was that look. Then the balls of her feet gripped the linoleum and she was off.

Sometimes I want to beg her to stay here in the dimness with the five of us. It’s safe, safer than where she disappears to anyways. Her scent is all over the place, and we’ve known so many over the years, but I think we like her. Another smile, and then another, in the mornings, sometimes in the day, and even in the night. Something’s changed. It must have.

Look.

Rarely any shallow sobbing into the silken pillow. Surreptitiously, we surrender our services to her. Soak in her off-collar looks, call in the breeze at night, and gently whisper in her ear as she drifts from the conscious world into the next.

this little hand in mine

In case I never get to tell you this

In case you forget who I was

In case we have a fight or stop speaking

Or you have questions

I have always loved you,

Not from the moment you were born or

When you threw up on my favorite shirt

But forever

From the inception of my existence

It was intrinsic that I would love you

Cradle

Hold you while you cried

Sing Marvin Gaye songs to put you back to sleep

To dream of how much we might look alike

And threaten your first date

To tell you that ma is the best person you will ever meet

Daddy always tries to help you navigate a world of bullshit and lies

In my short time I have failed to change it for you

So I have tried to change myself

I have been fallen been broken lied to lain with

Kicked down left lifted up cherished

I have seen beauty beautiful people ugly things history unfurl

Conspiracy and the truth get rinsed out in the wash

I have hurt people been hurt cried lied been found out abused

I like to think that I know some things

But the brave admit what they don’t know

Openly brazenly and without fear

Because there is no shame in not having all the answers

 

Learn to cook and laugh at yourself

Find someone who loves to be bored with you and go on an adventure

Know where you come from

Look to the moon for humility

Look in the mirror for strength

 

And just in case I am not there

When you leave for prom or

Learn how to ride a bike

In case I am not there for your next birthday or class trip

In case I am not there when you need me

 

Know that your little hand in mine altered my destiny

I love you more than

Peach cobbler collard greens and chinese chicken wings

Past all reason and cognizance

I’d hold on tight and die for you

Because that

Is just what big sisters do

 

For Nazir Samaira Rachel Rebecca Jazmin and any others after…

Hood Dreams And Tar Beaches

He reeks of cookie dough and alien paranoia, wipes his astronaut dreams on a snot crusted superman shirt as his eyes climb every star. He counts them as day slowly releases it’s grip and turns to night. “1,672…1,673…”. He used his fingers to mark his space in space and counted until his eyes were red and sore. Unable to focus anymore he drifted into sleep, dreaming of a cold shapeless desert filled with planetary wonders on top his tar beach.

The next day began with his mother’s knocks on the door to the rooftop, telling him to get ready for school. He rolled out of his lawn chair and raced down the stairs. Shower, dressed, and breakfast. He raced down a few more flights, out of the double doors, then ten blocks down to his elementary school. When his mom hugged him good-bye, there were always stars in her eyes that dripped down her cheek. Those hugs were for every teacher that would report back that her son was nothing more than a dreamer. He needed reality. Great feats and stars were beyond his grasp.

The angle of the tall, red, brown brick school building reminded him of communication towers on Mars. He was a spaceman, outfitted with a suit and gear to find his friends among the aliens. To the control homeroom before the bell rings, and he shrinks back into his regular clothes. He takes a seat at his desk and tries his best to listen to what the teacher says, but she was a creature with a ruler that didn’t believe in him. Year after year they would be there theses creature features pitted against him. He would laser blast them. He was invincible; with each of his counted stars he built a shield against their bitter remarks, stereotypical and cynical laughter.

Then came high school and those afternoons into the nights were no longer spent on his tar beach. He hung out with his friends in the streets, movies, parties. Sometimes smoke filled the nights because he no longer gazed at the sky. One by one they faltered into the sea of daunting maturity like sunset, drowning those hood boy dreams. He was at the edge overlooking his friends. The Dancer, the Artists, the Basketball star…the stars…

And there she was, his mother, sitting across from him. It had been a long time since he actually looked at her, or hugged her the way he used to. Her star drops, her wasted tears rippled through the gulf that had formed between them to reflect his night sky before morphing back into the kitchen table. He couldn’t bare her disappointment, so he strapped on his boots and reached for the moon, graduating at the top of his class. He returned to the roof, but this time, instead of counting his stars he held them in the palm of his hand.

Things Done Changed

Remember back in the days, when niggaz had waves
Gazelle shades and corn braids
Pitchin’ pennies, honies had the high top jellies
Shootin’ Skelly, motherfuckers was all friendly

Loungin’ at the barbecues, drinkin’ brews
With the neighborhood crews, hangin’ on the avenues
Turn your pagers to nineteen ninety three
Niggaz is gettin’ smoked G, believe me

Talk slick, you get your neck slit quick
‘Cause real street niggaz ain’t havin’ that shit
Totin’ techs for rep, smokin’ blunts in the project
Hallways, shootin’ dice all day

Wait for niggaz to step up on some fightin’ shit
We get hype and shit and start liftin’ shit
So step away with your fist fight ways
Motherfucker, this ain’t back in the days
But you don’t hear me though

No more cocoa leave io, one two three
One two three, all of this to me is a mystery
I hear you motherfuckers talk about it
But I stay seein’ bodies with the motherfuckin’ chalk around it

And I’m down with the shit too
For the stupid motherfuckers wanna try to use Kung-Fu
Instead of a Mac-10 he tried scrappin’
Slugs in his back and that’s what the fuck happens
When you sleep on the street

Little motherfuckers with heat want
To leave a nigga six feet deep
And we comin’ to the wake
To make sure the cryin’ and commotion
Ain’t a motherfuckin’ fake

Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us
Look at ’em now, they even fuckin’ scared of us
Callin’ the city for help because they can’t maintain
Damn, shit done changed

If I wasn’t in the rap game
I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot

Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums
Eatin’ five cent gums, not knowin’ where your meals comin’ from
And now the shit’s gettin’ crazier and major
Kids younger than me, they got the Sky grand Pagers
Goin’ outta town, blowin’ up

Six months later all the dead bodies showin’ up
It make me wanna grab the nine and the shottie
But I gotta go identify the body

Damn, what happened to the summertime cookouts?
Every time I turn around, a nigga gettin’ took out
Shit, my momma got cancer in her breast
Don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin’ stressed, things done changed

–Notorious B.I.G