Saturday, September 30, 2006

Me, again

I'm wide awake and it's nearly 4:00 am.  I've had a request to share more of my poetry and of course, I'm happy to oblige.  I've read quite a bit of stuff online about 9/11 earlier this month so I've decided to share a poem that I wrote right after 9/11.  I generally don't explain my poetry; I leave it to the reader to draw from the piece whatever she or he may.  But I will give some context to this particular poem.  Directly after 9/11, we all treated each other better; it was as if each of us tried to offer comfort to our neighbors, to strangers in the coffee shop, to anyone and everyone.  In our grief and bewilderment, we reached out to each other.  A few days passed and my sister's husband made an interesting observation about all this goodwill.  He wondered how long it would last, how long before we returned to our old habits of indifference and self interest?  His comment was the inspiration for my 9/11 poem.  It's a little different.

There Be Monsters

The images on the screen kick you in the guts,
...smoke and ash…smoke and ash...

Smoke rises from the oil,
onions, peppers, a little garlic
a woman in her kitchen
stirring, preparing
her eyes on the clock
always on the clock.

On the flickering screen, horror and hate,
smoke and ash...

She grips the spoon,
absorbs herself in tomatoes and basil,
listens for the footsteps, the metal on metal of key and lock.

"Did you hear...have you seen...all those people..."
her voice falls into the silence of expectation.

"A shame," he tells her, "a damn shame."

His words match her horror,
together watching smoke and ash...smoke and ash

But there is too much salt or too little,
too much basil or not enough,
always too much or too little.

She surrenders to the horror of the fist in the face,
wraps herself in smoke and ash
knowing that the monsters are always under the bed.





Friday, September 29, 2006

campaign strategy

Warning: I'm talking about politics again.  I'm sorry.  I know that I promised to be shallow and self absorbed in my postings but I keep reading the news.  I can't begin to compete with the shallowness and self absorption demonstrated by President Bush and the US Congress.

On Thursday, by 65-34 vote (one cowardly soul stayed home), the Senate endorsed President Bush's toughness on terrorism legislation.  Twelve Democrats joined 53 Republicans in supporting the undermining of civil liberties in the US.  One Republic joined the dissenting Democrats.

It's all pretty simple.  Elections are coming up soon and being tough on terrorism makes for a swell campaign slogan.  Opposing the terror/ detainee legislation means that you are an unprincipled lover of terrorism and anti-American.  A good American, one worthy of being elected or re-elected to public office is: (1) vocal in his/her toughness on terrorism; (2) supportive of legislation that allows subjective judgment on the part of the office of the president as to the detainment and prosecution of alleged terrorists; and (3) perfectly comfortable with suspending the protections against unlawful imprisonment in the US Constitution.

May God save us all from the good Americans in Washington.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Riddle me this

A good friend likes to give me riddles to which he doesn't know the answer.  Recognizing my compulsive personality disorder, he knows that I will become consumed with figuring out the answer, thus providing both of us with eventual satisfaction.  I, on the other hand, try to only pose riddles to which I know the answer; I may be shallow, but I'm not sadistic.

Today's riddle is simple: How do you recognize an enemy combatant?

Answer: Just ask President Bush; he's the decider.

On Wednesday, September 27, 2006, by a vote of 253 to 168, the House approved the terror/detainee bill, which among other things bestows upon President Bush the power to decide who is an enemy combatant.  Initially, I was concerned from a distance--a purely intellectual exercise as to what may result from the renewed evisceration of the United States Constitution.  After all, I'm a law abiding citizen and not likely to be declared an enemy combatant.

Ignorance is bliss, and I was quite blissful until I opened my email today.  Another friend (not the tortuous riddler) sent me several links to additional information about the terror/detainee bill now being considered by the Senate.  Upon reading more about the provisions of the bill, my state of bliss was totally disrupted.

I began sorting through my memory, trying to recall if I had ever "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." If so, President Bush could declare me an enemy combatant and lock me up indefinitely. 

I decided that I was being melodramatic and gave myself a stern talking to, reasoning that as I had not done anything I was in no danger of disappearing into some dark, dank cell for the next 30 years.  I was regaining my bliss until I read about Jose Padilla.  Mr. Padilla is a US citizen who spent three years in a military prison without being charged with a crime; he was designated an enemy combatant in 2002 and locked away.  I don't know Mr. Padilla personally and I have no insight as to his guilt or innocence but it seems that he should have been charged with a specific crime before he was locked up.  Deputy DA McCoy (Law & Order) always charges the criminal of the week with a crime before he or she is incarcerated.  Of course, that's just television, not real life.

In real life, the terror/detainee bill not only allows an alleged enemy combatant to be detained indefinitely but denies the detainee the right to file a petition of habeas corpus.  The law still relies on a slew of terms in Latin; habeas corpus loosely translates as you (should) have the body.  The concept dates back to English Common Law and basically gives an imprisoned individual a right to petition to come before a court and have the court decide if there is a basis in law for the individual to lose his freedom.  If there is not, he must be set free.  At least, that's the way it used to be.

By now, my bliss was totally gone.  Warning, I'm about to write things that may be construed as subversive; please write me when I'm gone.  I hope that they allow enemy combatants to receive mail. 

At the heart of our legal system is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  There are checks and balances in our legal system, not the least of which is the right to hear the evidence against you and to have an opportunity to refute that evidence. 

The proposed premise appears to be that enemy combatants have waived their rights under our system of law by their actions.  The problem with this premise is that it is fundamentally flawed.  Under the terror/detainee bill, suspicion of misdeeds is sufficient to declare someone an enemy combatant.  The suspect is then locked away and given no opportunity to challenge the legality of his/her imprisonment.  The mere allegation of wrong doing, without specific charges or proof of guilt is sufficient to deprive an individual of his/her liberty under this proposed system of kangaroo justice. 

This isn't a mere violation of law; it is the rape of the Bill of Rights, of the very principles upon which this country was founded; the President and Congress should be ashamed.  We should all be ashamed that we are so willing to sell out the principles of a democratic society because we are afraid.  This country has already worn a crown of shame far too many times--slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, the Trail of Tears, and the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII--to name a few. There are some things that are worse than terrorism; it is not the enemy from without that will destroy us. 


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gas, Terrorism, and GWB

A good friend sent me an email about my journal.  He said that he liked it but that he wished that I'd write about more political stuff.  Always anxious to please and desperate for approval, I decided to read the news today and select an issue for my focus.

After several hours of reading local and national news, I'm sufficiently depressed and disgusted to share my pain with you.

There is some good news, gas prices are expected to continue to fall.  Of course, every silver lining is surrounded by a storm cloud.  It appears that gas prices are an index of the president's approval rating.  As gas prices fall, George W.'s approval index rises.  (  Evidently, this cause and effect phenomenon did not occur with GWB's immediate three predecessors in the White House.  I guess that GWB is just special.  It's probably a coincidence that the dwindling gas prices have arrived shortly before fall elections.  Only a conspiracy theory nut would believe that there is any possibility that the administration has deliberately manipulated gas prices.

GWB's renewed vigor and focus on the war on terrorism also contributed to the rise in his approval rating over this last weekend.  Today (9/21/06), he and the dissident Republican Senatorial triumvirate of McCain, Graham, and Warner, have reached an agreement as to how much torture of suspected terrorists is permissible.  I can only anticipate another surge in his approval rating.  Oh, joy!(

As a matter of full disclosure, I have never been a fan of GWB.  However, my disgust and anger isn't with the president, but with the American public.  GWB is only as powerful as we allow him to be.  One term as president could have been excused as a colossal misjudgment on the part of voters, but election for a second term lies on our collective shoulders.  We stepped into the pile of crap with our eyes wide open.

As a nation, we are wrapped up in an ongoing desire for revenge for 9/11, a day that left us all in state of outrage and horror.  But revenge is not an appropriate basis for foreign or domestic policy.  GWB's administration stirred up our emotions with talk of evildoers and persuaded us to invade another nation on what has been subsequently revealed to be a bogus claim that it possessed weapons of mass destruction.  GWB continues to call for our renewed support for the war on terrorism, appealing to our anger and outrage over terrorists acts.  Maybe I'm just too dumb to understand, but how do you fight a war against terrorism?  Terrorism is defined as the use of terror as a means of coercion.  Terror is defined as a state of fear induced by acts of coercion.  It sounds really scary and important to fight against terrorism but it masks any practical identification of the real issues.

Just a theory, but the word that keeps popping up is coercion, so what are the practitioners of terrorism (terrorists!!!) trying to coerce others into doing?  What do the terrorists want?  Why are they willing to die for for what they want? Suppose our government actually asked the questions and listened to the answers.  Suppose our government formulated a foreign policy designed to focus on addressing the issues raised by the dialogue and also engaged in some serious self examination. 

I know the litany--I'm naive, I have no military experience etc.  Maybe it's my naivete and lack of experience that makes me afraid to leave it to the current administration to stay the course.  What's the end destination if we continue on this course?  I don't think that our leadership has a clue.  Staying the course may well lead to a crash that leaves no survivors.

P.S. I really should stick to my general self absorption, this political stuff makes my head hurt. 

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's a hair thang!

Many years ago, MS magazine published an article by Audre Lourde about the politics of hair.  A major symbol of the "give peace a chance" hippie philosophy was long hair, afro hair, blowing in the wind hair. I remember Angela Davis' afro, a cloud of kinky ringlets crowning her head, shouting loudly, "I'm black and I'm proud."

I'd like to say that I started wearing an afro because my consciousness was raised by the fervor of the 1960's focus on black power, civil rights, and making love not war.  The truth is that I embraced wearing a fro because of gym class.

I was 14, in the ninth grade, and had gym class three days a week.  The gym teacher, Mrs. Gilchrist, was a tall, lean woman with close cropped hair and the demeanor of an army drill sergeant.  The first day of gym class, I was consumed with the dread of the chronically fat child, certain that I was about to embark on a thrice weekly cycle of humiliation and physical torture. 

Our gym clothes were royal blue one-piece belted jump suits.  For added humiliation, the legs ended about mid thigh, revealing all of my dimpled glory for the amusement of my classmates.  I looked like a blue dumpling wearing a belt. 

"All right ladies, line up, single file and give me two laps around the gym."

My death sentence began with a shrill blast from the whistle that Mrs. Gilchrist wore around her neck.  I made my best effort, panting and praying my way around the gym. Certain that at any moment my legs were going to collapse, I trudged onward, when suddenly I heard an angel of mercy calling my name.  I came to an abrupt halt, turned and looked in the direction of the voice.  Mrs. Gilchrist beckoned me over.

"Yes ma'am." 

Standing before her, I was acutely aware of the sound of my breathing and the rivers of sweat running down my inner thighs.

"I need someone responsible to take attendance each class and take the roster to the office.  Can you do that?" 

For the rest of the school year, I ran one lap before doing my duty as assistant to Mrs. Gilchrist.  For whatever reason, she liked me.  Or maybe she just pitied me.

In spite of Mrs. Gilchrist's fondness or pity, I couldn't avoid the humiliation of the girls' shower room.  After gym class, no one escaped stripping down and taking a hot shower before getting dressed in our regular clothes.  The school supplied the shower with soap, wash cloths and towels but neglected to provide shower caps.  For now unfathomable reasons, it never occurred to me to bring my own shower cap. 

Prior to gym class, my mother would hard press my hair every two weeks.  The goal of a hard press is to straighten out the natural curl and kink of black hair.  The primary tools in this operation consist of a fine tooth iron comb, hair grease, a stove and your mother.  Some wealthier girls were able to substitute a beauty shop for their mother's kitchen.

Straightening my hair required the correct application of heat, hair pomade and skill in the use of the straightening comb.  Every other Saturday, after washing my hair, I'd sit in a kitchen chair and watch my mother heat up the metal comb on the stove.  Trying desperately to adhere to her admonishments of, "Hold still," I'd close my eyes as I felt the heat approaching my head. 

My mother was quite skillful with the straightening comb, and unlike some of my friends, I bear no lasting scars from this beauty ritual.  So although I wasn't particular fond of having burning heat applied to my head on a regular basis, I had adjusted reasonably well to the process over the years, until gym class.

The worst enemy of pressed hair is moisture--water, humidity, steam or sweat.  The combination of running my lap, and the hot shower would undo all of my mother's careful work and my hair would revert to its natural state of kinks and bends.  At first, my mother would attempt to repair the damage with another session with the straightening comb, but she soon grew tired of the every other night beauty ritual.

"You are old enough to straighten your own hair.  When I was half your age, I not only did my own hair but I straightened your grandmother's hair and all of my sisters' hair too!"

I tried; I really did try.  But I couldn't seem to master the technique.  If the comb wasn't hot enough, the grease wouldn't melt and the hair wouldn't get straight; if it was too hot, the grease burned my scalp and my hair!  My head was a mix of kinky clumps of grease laden hair and bald spots.

Salvation came my way on the evening news.  There was Angela Davis in all her natural glory, with a fro like a halo around her head and in an instant, I knew what to do.  That weekend I washed my hair.  Relying on advice in Ebony magazine, I  sectioned my hair, sprayed each section with Afro Sheen and braided it tightly. 

The next morning, I carefully loosened each braid and fluffed my hair with my new tool, the afro pick.  My halo wasn't nearly as magnificent as Angela Davis' but it had clear potential.

My mother was not immediately taken with my new hair style.

"You're not leaving my house with your hair undone!"

However, as she wouldn't and I couldn't press my hair, she eventually chose to ignore my new do.  A totally unexpected side effect was that others viewed my fro as a political statement.  So I donned a dashiki, a pair of dangling hoop earrings, and purchased a pick with a black power fist as the handle.  I had found myself, liberated by Mrs. Gilchrist and her gym class.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Seasons change

Autumn hasn't officially arrived but the cooler temperatures announce that its arrival is imminent.  My sister, brother and I pay close attention to weather.  Summers in North Carolina can bring 100 degree days, so hot that you sweat in the shade.  I think that the heat accounts for the love of iced tea that permeates the south.

The first time I went north I ordered iced tea in a restaurant.  It was a clean, well lighted place and appeared to be civilized, until the waiter brought my tea.  It was a tall glass of amber liquid with only three ice cubes floating at the top.  Not wanting to be rude, I took a sip and was horrified to discover that it was unsweetened.  When I drew this obvious error to my waiter's attention, he pointed to the sugar packets on the table and suggested that I help myself.  Any southern toddler can tell you that it is impossible to appropriately sweeten a glass of cool tea.  The sugar has to be added when the steeped tea is still warm, preferrably hot.  Stir briskly and then add cold water.  And please do not boil the tea bags!

Sorry for the digression, enough about tea and back to why my siblings and I monitor the weather temperatures. 

In North Carolina, heat arrives early and leaves late. We didn't have a/c until I was 14 and we moved into a home with central air.  Our joyous anticipation of cool at last, cool at last, thank God almighty etc. was short lived. 

My dad doesn't believe in spending money. He frequently references his money management skills; the rest of us just call him a tightwad.  Among his many money saving strategies is his thermostat theory. By the way, for a number of years, my mother also was a disciple of this theory.  The essence of the theory is that no matter how hot it is outdoors, if you set the a/c thermostat below the outside temperature, thou shall be cool.  An example of this theory in application: it is a 96 degree day in August with a heat index of a 105; if you set the a/c thermostat at 84 you won't dissolve in a puddle that rivals the wicked witch's demise at Dorothy's hands.

For years, in spite of our cries of "I'm melting!" my siblings and I suffered for approximately five months per year. When we eventually moved out into the wide world to live on our own, we still returned for visits.  Often those visits were during the summer and involved over night stays.  During such visits, my sister, a middle child and always a bit rebellious, would steal over to the thermostat and lower the setting to a comfortable 76 degrees. Unfortunately, my dad would eventually notice that no one was gasping for air and reset the thermostat to 82 as a concession to us.  

However, the real torture occurred after we all went to bed.  Sometime in the night, my dad would ease out of bed and turn the a/c off.  This is a manifestation of the it's cooler at night and no a/c is needed theory.  Around 3:00 a.m., I would wake up, fighting for air and struggling to free myself from a damp bed sheet. Once I opened a window, but my energy efficient parents had installed storm windows.  The storm window was stuck and wouldn't budge.  Determined, I struggled mightily until I met with success.  Exhausted, I lay across the bed with my head pointed toward the faint breeze wafting through the open window.  Then I heard my father's voice, loud and low in the dark, "Don't open those windows, you'll let out all the cool air." 

My siblings and their families continue to visit my parents during the summer, as do I.  However, in spite of our mother's pleas, we refuse to spend the night beginning around Memorial Day through Halloween.

My mother takes great pleasure in having her children visit and spend the night at her house, and she is not pleased with the "no sleep over zone" to which we all adhere.  She permits my father to live there, but it really is her house.  My father is not allowed to contribute to the decor except in the garage and the attic.  The one thing that my father controls in the house is the thermostat.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Poets are eternally faced with the question, to share or not to share?  (sorry WS) There is a strong compulsion to share, to send your words out to others in a revelatory process similar to flashing.  Of course, people often don't respond favorably to flashers.

I've shared my poetry over the years and received mixed reactions.  My sister is my biggest fan and I thank her for that.  I shared some of my poetry with a man that I met about a year ago.  He is a charming man but he wasn't charmed by my poetry.

Interestingly enough, although I wanted him to like my poetry, his lack of appreciation has not deterred me from continuing to share.  Flashing is a compulsive disorder.  From time to time, I will be posting my poetry here.  If you don't like it, please feel free to cover your eyes and look away.


To Be Black and To Be Southern is a Fine Contradiction


I know about mint juleps…

how the ice should be fine,

the mint leaves fresh,

the cup silver and properly chilled.

I know that ice and nice and rice

are all multisyllabic,

that pen is pin,

that Mary is merry

and quite a belle

as she promenades in her summer chiffon.

I know all these things

as well as I know the dark ghosts

who somberly bend and lift in Mississippi’s fields,

who mutely swing in Alabama’s trees,

who sing “Steal Away Jesus”

in hidden corners of Carolina woods,

whose names are the names of my mothers and my fathers.


I know that past and present intertwine

like honeysuckle steals round the oak,

so I gather the remnants that are my heritage,

fashioning them unto myself.


To be black…

To be southern…


Monday, September 11, 2006

Much Ado About Survivor

Can't sleep so I just finished reading comments about Survivor's new ratings gimmick--dividing the tribes by race/ethnicity.

Please explain to me how it is racism to divide the teams into groups based on race/ethnicity? I'm a 51 year old black female born and raced in the south and I've seen my share of bigotry, prejudice and racism. This is not my idea of racism. To the contrary, Survivor will be the first of the reality shows to have more than one or two token people of color on a show. The odds that the winner will be a person of color are considerably increased from past seasons, 75% of the contestants are people of color. As anyone who watches the show regularly knows, while intial competition is among tribes, eventually, everyone who is left is merged into a single tribe and competition is on an individual basis.

More importantly, it's only a game! It's not intended to address issues of race in this country; it's designed to attract viewers. I don't feel insulted or discriminated against because Survivor has come up with what may be it's greatest ratings gimmick ever. I look forward to watching the show and may the best player win, regardless of race or ethnicity!

PS Another vice exposed! In addition to being shallow, I'm also addicted to Survivor and Big Brother.

Nothing and Everything

A good friend has been telling me for almost a year that I should write a book.  A man that I just met says that I should write a book and start a blog.  My sister has been encouraging me for the past 30 years to write a book.  This isn't a book but at least I'm writing something.

This is supposed to be all about me but I'm not certain if I'm ready to tell anyone all about me. 

I'm neurotic.  I worry about things.  I worry that I will never be thin enough to wear a slinky, bareback, gold lame dress.  I worry that I am shallow. 

I recently left my job of the past six years and now I worry that I am going to be thrown into debtor's prison.  Rationally, I know that there is no legal authority for imprisoning people because they don't pay their debts but I'm also melodramatic.  I imagine myself, wearing a tattered, slinky, gold lame bareback dress, huddled in a prison cell.  At least I'm thin.

I must be shallow.  The world is continually at war; children are victims of abuse and torture; people go to bed hungry and have no place to sleep except a cardboard box under a bridge.  I feel sorry for myself because I'm fat and can't wear slinky dresses.