National Poetry Month: Dunbar

As the month winds down and with the abundance of poetry out there I’m finding it difficult to choose which one to post.

Tonight is “We Wear The Mask” by Paul Dunbar. I insanely relate to the poem. I have always kept people at a distance. It’s​ a defense mechanism. If I don’t let people near I protect myself. I’ve had to compartmentalize so there are many Bradley archetypes I cycle through. There are only a few people that have been around to see me collapse and they’ve been witness to the truest, most authentic Bradley. Usually people get the Bradley that plays the role of fill in the blank. I wear many masks, so many that I sometimes look in the mirror and can’t find myself underneath the mask.

“We Wear The Mask” — Paul Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

National Poetry Month: Saul Williams

I had the great pleasure of seeing Saul Williams perform. Truly life changing. “Bloodletting” was written during the Bush administration but it rings true even more today. We’re coming up on OrangeAsshole’s 100th day in office and another Congress facing a governmental shutdown. I’m wondering when we’re going to start listening to the revolutionaries and less to the talking heads.

Bloodletting — Saul Williams
the greatest Americans
have not been born yet
they are waiting patiently
for the past to die
please give blood
those crumbled tablets
were to share a story
with a burning Bush
where is that voice from nowhere to remind us
that the holy ground we walk on, purified by native blood has rooted trees
whose fallen leaves now colour code a sacred list of demands?
who among us can give translation of autumn’s hues to morning news?
the anchor man
thrown overboard
has simply rooted us in history’s repeating cycle
a nation in its Saturn years that won’t acknowledge karma
where is that voice from nowhere, the ones your prophets spoke of?
there are voices from fear
disconnected from their diaphragms
dangling from coffee covered teeth
that spill into our laps
and scorch our privates
there are voices from the sides of necks
some already noosed
dangling participles
pronouns running for sentence serving life in corner offices
and ghetto corners
their voices are the same:
dead to themselves numb to the possibility of truth
existing beyond that which can be palmed into your hand, period.
there are voices of elders
which seem to do no more
than damn us to our childish ways for in many households wisdom no longer
comes with age
so where is that voice from nowhere?
that burning bush?
that passing dove?
for i hear generals calling for ammunition presidents calling for arms and
women calling for help
where is that voice from nowhere?
that god of abraham?
can he be heard over the gunfire
the wizz of passing missiles
the crash of buildings
the cries of children
the crack of bones
the shriek of sirens
or is that his mighty voice?
your angry god craving the sacrifice of generation’s sons degenerate
your holy books
written in red ink
on burning sands
your prayers between rounds do no more than fasten the fate of your children
to the hammered truth of your trigger
a truth that mushrooms
it’s darkened cloud
over the rest of us
so that we too bear witness to the short lived fate
of a civilization that worships a male god
your weapons are phallic
all of them
that dummie that sits
on your lap is no longer
a worthwhile spectacle
his shrunken pale face
leaves little room for imagination
we have spotted your moving lips and have pinned the voice to it’s proper source
it is a source of madness
a source of hunger for power
a source of weakness
a source of evil
we have exited your coliseum and are encircling your box office demanding
our families back
our cultures back
our rituals back
our gods back
so that we may return them to their proper source
the source of life
the source of creation
our mother’s womb
the great goddess
we will cut through
the barbed wire hangers
and chastity belts
we will climb in and
incubate our spirits
through the winter
we will wait through
the degenerate course
of your repeated history
we will wait
for the past
to die

National Poetry Month: Dylan Thomas

I hadn’t planned on posting this today but I had a lively discussion at book club. We read a book where one of the characters had given up on her dreams and that led to a discussion about how today a person can still follow their dream no matter the circumstances. It got me to thinking about all the people I know that are holding it down and striving for their dream long past the point where society would try to convince us to give up and settle. I don’t mention it enough but I want to give a shout out and dedicate this poem to all those that haven’t given up and are still raging against the dying of the light. I want you to know I look at you in admiration and you help me continue to pursue my own dream.

Do not go gentle into that good night — Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

National Poetry Month: Lift Off


The student speaker at the convocation ceremony for the Harvard Graduate School of Education gave his remarks in poetic form. As we head into graduation season, I want to share the inspired words of Donovan Livingston. And, if you want, you can see the video here.

“Lift off” — Donovan Livingston

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin,
Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” – Horace Mann, 1848.

At the time of his remarks I couldn’t read — couldn’t write.
Any attempt to do so, punishable by death.
For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power.
Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —
The guardians of information.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering
In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.
For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.
How many times must we be made to feel like quotas —
Like tokens in coined phrases? —
“Diversity. Inclusion”
There are days I feel like one, like only —
A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises.
But I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice.

Disruptive. Talkative. A distraction.
With a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness —
Beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.
I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain,
With veins pumping revolution.
I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree.
I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate.
I am a movement – an amalgam of memories America would care to forget
My past, alone won’t allow me to sit still.
So my body, like the mind
Cannot be contained.

As educators, rather than raising your voices
Over the rustling of our chains,
Take them off. Un-cuff us.
Unencumbered by the lumbering weight
Of poverty and privilege,
Policy and ignorance.

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius —
Shining in their darkest hour.

I look each of my students in the eyes,
And see the same light that aligned Orion’s Belt
And the pyramids of Giza.
I see the same twinkle
That guided Harriet to freedom.
I see them. Beneath their masks and mischief,
Exists an authentic frustration;
An enslavement to your standardized assessments.

At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.
A crater is a reminder that something amazing happened here —
An indelible impact that shook up the world.
Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
An injustice is telling them they are stars
Without acknowledging night that surrounds them.
Injustice is telling them education is the key
While you continue to change the locks.

Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a Black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.

National Poetry Month: Otherwise

It’s the last Monday of the month which means it’s the last poetic version of motivational Monday.

This afternoon I’m thinking about how my back is aching and how my legs are sore and how I’m exhausted. But I know that I have things much easier than someone else.

I recently read this article suggesting that looking on the brightside of things, looking for a silver lining was a negative thing. I vehemently disagree with this line of thought. I have always looked for the silver lining and trust me my life has not been peaches and cream. For me, brightsiding is another way of practicing gratitude. I will honor the struggle and pain that my friends are facing. But I will also remind my friends that we all should be grateful.

I hear so many complaints and less compliments. Jane Kenyon reminds us that, no matter what we’re experiencing, it could be otherwise. Life is full of ebbs and tides. Once we learn to accept that, I feel that life becomes more navigational. My back hurts but I’m thankful that it’s nothing serious. My legs are sore but at least I have legs and that they work. I’m exhausted but at least I know I have a warm bed to sleep in later tonight.

“Otherwise”  — Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

National Poetry Month: Sunday Morning

God Breaks the Heart Again and Again Until It Stays Open (after a quote from Sufi Inayat Khan) — Sandra Cisneros

But what if my heart is a 7-Eleven after its third daytime robbery in a week?

What if my heart is a piñata trashed to tissue and peppermint shrapnel?

What if my heart is a peeled mango bearing an emerald housefly?

What if my heart is an air conditioner weeping a rosary of rusty tears?

What if my heart is Sebastião Salgado’s sinkhole swallowing another child?

What if my heart is Death Valley in wide-view Cinemascope?

What if my heart is a chupacabrón chanting, Build the wall?

What if my heart is the creepy uncle’s yawning zipper?

What if my heart is a Pentecostal babbling a river of tongues?

What if my heart is the cross-eyed Jesus bought at the Poteet flea market?

What if my heart is El Paso, Texas, in bed with the corpse of Ciudad Juárez?

What if my heart is unhinged from the weight of its lice-ridden wings?

What then for an encore, oh my soul, when you have blessed me a

National Poetry Month: Detroit

I’ve had a lovely long day. So much crammed into the day. A quintessential Detroit day. And, in honor of that, I tried to find some poetry to reflect that. This comes from a series that Surface magazine did in recognition of Detroit becoming an UNESCO City Of Design. Check out the whole series here.