In Defiance of Morning

Wangechi Mutu, Riding Death in my Sleep

You catalogue the early shames,
a tattoo on the lining of your lungs.
The mural leaves its stain despite the stretch
and growth you chart first on door frames
then belt notches
then monthly statements,
each unit of measure distorting the fresco
as much as the measurement taken.
Recognizable no matter the eons intervening,
the arcs of those stories.
Petroglyphs,
kaleidoscopes,
crime scenes,
autopsies.

All tales have tongues.
They scour the natal down
from your heart. They leave a taste
like pennies and char.

Continue reading “In Defiance of Morning”

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Reading Beyond: Hari Kunzru

Kunru White Tears

White Tears, Hari Kunzru (2017)

The book you open at the start of White Tears is not the same book you close. Through a series of subtle turns, Kunzru unravels the husk of a story only to twist those threads into a rope thick and stained with blood.

A pair of white college boys run headlong into each other by way of an obsessive affair with Delta blues and the antiquated technologies for playing and recording it. Carter is charismatic and stunningly rich, Seth is bumbling and mostly-poor. Both are cracking along the seams. History and madness start to leak from this fraught relationship, blurring the edges of reality and folding time in on itself.

The true nature of the story tantalizes from corners and memories. Ghost story? Murder mystery? Psychological thriller? Under the skin of a bromance narrative pounds a rageful heart. It is a story of hobbled promise, race and class violence, and America’s legacy of capitalizing on the incarceration of Black men. Kunzru dips into and then out of this fury, barely a splash at first then a little deeper, one unsettling shiver at a time.

The climax plunges us naked into the face of this nation’s most toxic and worst kept secret. The clash between what seems and what happened results in a feat of vengeance that satisfies the conditions of justice while upending any moral balance derived from it.


Image from Publisher’s Weekly

Reading Beyond

tinho book mural

This time last year, I decided to change how I read. Or, more accurately, to change what I read. It was one small way to keep breathing expansiveness and hope at a time when despair threatened to suffocate both.

As is true for any bibliophile, reading fills up swaths of the time I’m not working or sleeping. Certainly other activities populate the days — eating, dancing, hanging with the kiddo, chilling with the girlfriends. Church and family. In fact, I trip and tumble over the heaps of stuff comprising our days. It’s a wonder stories make it in here at all.

Nevertheless, as is also true for any bibliophile, I find a way. The rare hushed hours, those still stretches, most deliciously belong to books. Bedtime, summertime, solitary dinners. And not always solitary. Sometimes my boy and I read side-by-side at the table weaving tendrils of languid conversation into the quiet. Even at eleven years old, Bug still wants me reading aloud every night at bedtime. We travel through the fantasy worlds we’ve entered together. Having only just acquired a TV after nearly five years without, the universes of film and television hold little appeal. Our secret indulgences almost always involve the page. Continue reading “Reading Beyond”

Like Riding

Valenti VeloTykes

How to write a poem
is one thing you thought you’d never forget
but after a while even the wobble escapes you.
Wheels warp, refuse to align.
Months of days passing the place you stashed it
before you notice it’s gone.
Stolen? At first it seems so, a ragged hole
the size of your fist
in the door just below the lock.

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Season of Light

Solstice Android Jones

My Unitarian Universalist congregation rang in seven new members at an exuberant ritual following our annual Joy Service last weekend. This gives us one more reason to celebrate in a season already packed with celebration. It also gives me a chance reflect on our congregation’s many members and friends, and the variety of ways we experience our faith journeys this time of year.

The days grow shorter still. All around, twinkling lights frame homes and shops, even our own glittering sanctuary. Yes, December radiates holiday cheer, but not all of us feel warmed by the light. Some of us may instead feel the chill of absent loved ones, uncertain finances, national political turmoil and minute-by-minute news of mounting global crises. The festive glow surrounding us can make things even gloomier as it illuminates the distance between ourselves and the holiday spirit. And because our hearts already feel two sizes too small, we may just keep these troubles to ourselves.

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Plenty of Time

clock jacek yerkaI’m racing for the light. The flashing orange hand counts down. On the other side of the street waits the supermarket where I’ll load up on almond milk and broccoli before hurrying back across to pick up my son at school. Still twenty yards away, my legs groan in resistance. The backpack chafes my shoulders. I curse under my breath.

When did reaching the other side of the street rise to such prominence in the pantheon of meaning? What is it I hope will happen when I achieve this singular purpose? In all likelihood, the produce section will revert to its simple functionality. Cinderella’s pumpkin at the twelfth stroke. I’ll grab what I need and try to outrun the lady with the full cart who’s headed for the short checkout line. The purchases will turn into a hasty dinner and an even hastier breakfast. At the office tomorrow, I’ll hustle through tasks, trying to stay a step ahead of the next item on the list. Then I’ll dash out to catch the metro in time to catch the bus in time to make it to my son’s school in time to pick him up at after care in time to go home and have dinner and do it all over again.

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The Question of Courage

typewriter if not now

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

– Audre Lorde

What keeps me from writing about racial justice? What stands in the way of articulating both the inequities in higher education and a vision for building structures of inclusion? While the fear of getting it wrong looms large, looking foolish worries me far less than doing harm. What I write could galvanize those who prefer white campuses and the insidious myths of individualism and meritocracy.

Back in November, an Admissions officer at the university where I work shared his reactions to the election on his personal Facebook page. His harsh post went viral, prompting conservatives across the blogosphere to point to his words as evidence of “liberal intolerance” propped up by the higher education system. This one employee’s private views became fodder for efforts across the country to gut inclusion initiatives. This is not hyperbole. Remember when the Tennessee legislature voted in April to cut all funds for the university’s diversity office?

At my Unitarian Universalist church, we’ve been grappling with a similar constellation of concerns. A polarized national climate has illuminated the deep and widening fractures in our communities. The choices we make matter. Each time we come together, we have a new opportunity to understand and undo the structures of white supremacy in our traditions and in our congregation.

Indeed, every setting in which we find ourselves offers up avenues for taking steps on racial justice.

Continue reading “The Question of Courage”