Quincy Troupe – “My Take” (Issue 13-1)

My-Take-13-1But May is also a month where tornados may strike some parts of the nation, causing great destruction with their incredible winds, rain, hail and lightning strikes, not to mention floods. The month of May, like life, is complex, holding within its parameters the constant dualities of life and death. It is the month when the great musician, Miles Davis was born — May 26th 1926 to be exact — and who left us way to soon on September 28th, 1991. And because Miles was born during this month, it has also been a bittersweet time for me because the many musical celebrations that usually surround his birth also remind me of his death.

Which brings me to the fact that I find myself today remembering all the friends, colleagues and others whom I’ve admired over the years who have died, since the last issue of Black Renaissance Noire was published. The list is much too long in my opinion and include the great Nigerian novelist, poet and essayist, Chinua Achebe; poet and essayist, Jan Carew; poet Harvey Shapiro; art critic, Thomas McEvilley; poet and performance artist, Jayne Cortez; poet and organizer, Brenda Connor-Bey; original Watts poet, Emery Evans; home-girl singer, Fontella Bass; poet, Amselm Hollo; poet, Ruth Stone; novelist, Piri Thomas; composer, and musician, Butch Morris; the photographer, Hugh Bell and the ground breaking African art dealer and collector, Merton Simpson, among others. Surely, there will be more by the time this installment of My Take appears.

Usually in this space I present my personal views regarding what I feel are some of the pressing political, social and cultural questions impacting the country, like the first election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States and his subsequent re-election to that important post. But I will dispense with my usual angst this time around, because so many difficult questions still face the nation and I can’t possibly address them all here in this limited space. Suffice it to say many of this country’s political, media and cultural leaders — countless regular citizens — seem to be having complete mental breakdowns that render them incapable of solving many of our most urgent and pressing political, social, religious and cultural decisions. I attribute it to what I call “Obama-dystopia,” or “Obama-distortion” — take your pick of either linguistic formulation, since both terms are my own neologisms. What I mean by these neologisms is the severe, intractable opposition especially by those republicans in Congress to anything having to do with President Obama. In other words, if President Obama is for something, they are against it, no matter what.

This opposition is literally tearing the nation apart in so many important areas, which anyone with a brain can identify. All one has to do is just look at the American landscape to identify the widespread destruction of many of the nation’s historical mores, political institutions, its civility and civil life. As a consequence many of our important institutions, like the media and the press, the halls of jurisprudence, cultural life — literary, film, music, you name it, are being debased and corrupted. The desperate grab for power by conservative, wealthy, racist and xenophobic forces that have joined together to influence the future direction of the country out of a profound fear of the demographic changes the country is undergoing. These destructive forces refuse to accept that nothing can stop this transformation. Consequently the nation suffers because of the terror white people feel at what they imagine is their impending loss of privilege and control.This, in my opinion, is at the heart of all their anxiety and dread and disharmony, which I fear threatens national paralysis and collapse of our basic, fundamental institutions.

On the other hand, often lasting important, historic, and ultimately progressive changes come amidst great chaos and on that note let us focus on the optimism inherent in the idea of rebirth, exemplified during the spring season in the month of May. As the old axiom goes, “April showers bring May flowers.”

In the new issue of Black Renaissance Noire, we celebrate the poetry of Brenda Connor-Bey and Jayne Cortez. We acknowledge and honor these important cultural workers with an essay on the work of Brenda Connor-Bey by Gary Johnston, as well as a poem by Brenda, and one by her friend, Mervyn Taylor. The section on Jayne Cortez – which is larger because of her affiliation with nyu’s Institute of African American Affairs and the celebration of her life that took place on February 6th, 2013 at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. From that celebration, we are publishing the tributes by: Amiri Baraka, Manthia Diawara, Rashidah Ismaili, Robin D. G. Kelley, Dr. Rosamond S. King, Eugene B. Redmond, and me, the editor of this journal. Also included are sculptural images by Jayne’s husband, Melvin Edwards, which alternates with 4 poems by Ms. Cortez. Chester Higgins’ photograph of Jayne Cortez, opens this section. The section closes with photographs of the Cooper Union Celebration by Joyce Jones and Eugene B. Redmond.

In addition, brn is also proud to publish the poetry of Darryl Alladice, George Barlow, Tara Betts, Kwame Dawes, Tyehimba Jess, Jacqueline Johnson, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Bojan Louis, Brandy MacDougall, David Mills, David Mura, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Cedar Sigo. Also in the issue is fiction by A. Igoni Barrett, Aimasi Hines and Iheoma Nwachukwu, as well, as excerpts of a memoir by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. We are also pleased to publish Ishmael Reed’s essay on his recent trip to China and a personal essay by David Mura. We look at the work of Richard Wright in a piece by Dr. Floyd Hayes, III. Art historian and critic, Lizzetta Lefalle-Collins contributes essays enhanced with visuals on the paintings of Robert Colescott and Mary Lovelace O’ Neal to produce a stunning spread of the works of these important artists. Last, but not least, we are pleased to offer the stunning photographic art of Lesley Dill, whose artwork graces our cover.

As always, we at BRN welcome your feedback on this new issue and we thank you for your continued support of our efforts.

A Celebration of the Life of Brenda Connor-Bey

Close Love — A Bop
               For Fahja

She felt my heart long after I left her womb
This was unspoken but felt by us both. When I
was eight, while she slept on the beach, the song of
salt air, ocean music and voices pulled me away from her.
Even with her eyes closed, she scanned supine
tanning bodies, found me before tears slid from my center of fear.

Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise

Bonds linked so closely create a tortured
route for teenaged lies. Hard to sidestep
a mother like this. Crooked words slid down glass.
Questions darkened greasy walls.
My lies traveled nowhere. I gave up.
Why bother? She looked and turned away.
Like me, she’d had enough.
I felt her heart struggling to breathe.

Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise

Distance smoothes rough edges, gives you space to grow.
Old connections begin to make sense. Phone calls happen,
her voice whispers on summer breezes. Her belief in
the rightness of life gives my heart wings to soar with God’s angels.
But sometimes I crave those moments when she spooned
her body around mine protecting me from the cold.

Sometimes close can be a burden
Sometimes, a blessing in disguise


 

FLOWERS III – PANAMA FISHING MAN

I remember you made me hear laughter
instead of loud crying songs
Showed me Caribbean beats as you
placed my small feet on top of yours
dancing the meringue in a kitchen
warm with baking gingerbread

You told me
loose women feel apart
because they lost their senses

You said:
“Let me teach you how
to smell the rain, girl
know when it’s coming
gonna show you what a man really like I’ll show you the ocean
make you hear the songs in the waves
You got to know dis chile
‘cause every man want a woman
who know how to fish good!”


 

Midnight Moon
                    For Marc Bumathi Joseph
This story has been told many times; how the faceless,
nameless Haitian wooed a milk-white, blue-eyed black woman,
loved her till she swole up, bursting with sparkling chimes,
tumbled into life on a moonless autumn night. That child
was blessed with who she would become — Grace.

The story thread, knotted in three-finger
lengths, frayed beyond repair and glued where
its final breath whined before jumping
like water on a hot pan, gathered remnants from last words,
replaced with phrases or scenarios, tickling imaginations of
listeners, making the speaker look good.

My version of this tale landed in a poem.
Images burst through a darkened New England winter
while I dreamed this story. I could see his face;
imagined his tobacco and bay rum smell, knew the feel of
an always-present sun beneath his skin. But I try not to lean
into that dream too long. My inward search
for this nameless man produces a centuries’-old yearning,
something that goes deeper than the soul.

This pain hollows out interiors. It is too great to contain.
It is that yearning pushed aside where links are erased, making wholeness possible. I seek something to quiet
the shatter shatter of an invisible mirror. It is only an ache,
one that can be healed. This is my reminder everytime
I feel the slipping downward pull of loss and wonder.

How do I say, yes, my grandfather was Haitian?
No, I do not know his name?
No, I do not know which part of the country his family came from?
No, I do not know his name…?

This story lives in the air I breathe.
It travels in bloodlines.
Blood always finds its way home.


 

Willie Ten Spade
After Whitfield Lovell’s Rounds VIII & Rounds XXV, 2006-2007

We whispered “Willie 10 Spade”
after his scent of Old Spice, Lucky Strikes and
sweet and brilliantine hair cream were
left hanging in the air

Could have been that strange cut of hair he wore
Shaved back hairline
shaped his face into a high yella spade
Kinfolk say he was tryin’ to show
off the plains of Indian blood running thru his veins

me and my friends
say he just wanted
us to see
all of him, that’s all!

We all know spades s’pposed to mean
no luck, but Willie was a hard playing
Boston bid whist man
never lost a game in his life
that’s how the story went
when liquor was flowing
and all lies matched the easy down
of sparkling amber liquid

Willie played his cards
played both women and men
but never messed with anyone
always left alone because he
waited for that 4b light to shine
before making his move

Every woman on our block wanted
to be that 9 diamonds dancing lady in 4b
that took his mustard yellow eyes
and purring cat’s voice away from
our imaginings
Us dancing, his wide pant legs
blowing in the wind
but you know the dreams of young girls
We’d wait Saturday afternoons
when Willie walked to 7th Avenue
to get her some chicken and waffles

We’d stand back
Take a deep breath
And dream a little more


Woman in the Woods
After Enock Placide’s painting

When I first saw her
I was young enough to believe
the artist erased her face on purpose
a cloth taken to still-wet canvas
brown acrylic smudged gently
erasing her smile
Laughter caught mid air

I imagined where he began
Her dark eyes, doorway to her soul
Was this knowing woman being swallowed whole
by muslin balled up tightly
floating above dappled, muted greens and
browns of the forest in this painting?
Or was her breath snatched away
with a quick wipe of sponge?
Did her nose leave her face the same way?
Or was she in the act of seeking the flowery
pink bursting spores exploding on canvas?
Placide, the Haitian visionary
whispered in moods shifting
between the faceless woman and I

As I grew older, even though still faceless, this
woman in white speaks to me of futures and pasts
Seeks my counsel as the soggy floor on which I stand
disappears, sending me into a downward spiral
until I land at the beginning of my thoughts
once again allowing myself to be led there
where the question of erasure comes and goes
Trusting that, even without a face
she knows what she saw