Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: The Illest by Ran Walker



Ran Walker is an incredible author and I'm not just saying that because he's my mentor. *wink, wink*

Seriously, every time he drops something new I download or purchase it instantly. He's a serious quick-fix writer, a well-written author that pens stories that end way too soon. 

**Spoiler Alert**

The Illest follows Troy Dobbs, as he takes a post-graduation trip to pre-gentrified 1997 Brooklyn. Okay, I'm lying, he stayed in Brooklyn Heights. That's always been the nice side of town. However, that fact doesn't negate all the urban awesomeness that ensues. 

While fathoming the reality of being in the home of Biggie and Jay, Dobbs takes in Brooklyn and the city's sights: the promenade, Broadway, and the people. 

Getting ready for a summer alone, in a superior dwelling he's been allowed to housesit, he meets a woman who rocks his world. 

Eris Perry is a movie star and friend of Troy's aunt. She's the type of movie star that doesn't take herself too seriously, the way most men would envision Sanaa Lathan outside of work. The two of them have an interesting ride.

The Illest is a guaranteed page-turner, something you could finish in two sittings or a long train ride.

Check it out HERE




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For The Ex That Found His Way Into My Phone Once Happiness Arrived (& Yours Too)



I loved you.

No I'm not talking about the three words that people murmur when they are forced into a corner, by someone who feels the sentiment before they do. I'm not speaking of the thing that goes thump in a notion, during a crowded train ride. I'm not even talking about the moment you're trying to salvage the little bit of whatever you've got left and it's the only utterance that might save it.

I'm talking about that can't breathe--love you. I'm talking about seeing you leaning against a car, in a crowded Philadelphia train station, and watching you for six whole minutes before saying hello. I'm speaking of sitting across a couch from you, with a whole night and day ahead of us, and being incredibly saddened that in 36 hours we would be separated once more. I'm emphasizing being damn near the busiest woman in the world, but would stop, drop, and roll to put out any fire that came your way.

& knowing all that,
clasping hands in the darkness, 
swapping tears and kisses at goodbye, 
gushing over your kids, 
knowing I'd take them in if you asked me to, 
using my prayers to bless you, 
chancing my anxiety to wait on you, 
telling God and the quiet our fears and aspirations, 
pretending that our love wasn't stronger than anything we'd ever encountered, 
like there weren't moments that we couldn't take in air, 
because we realized it was the wrong time and wrong place,
knowing all of that...

you still left me.

Now we're here:

At the intersection of "I'm just writing to see how you're doing" and "Maybe I can still get a reaction out of her." Or are we on the corner of "I need attention" and "That thing I was pursuing didn't quite work out the way I thought it would?" 

I don't make it a habit to stand on corners. It's where incidental splashes happen, the block boys stand, the cat calls commence, and where aspirations go to die. I am no Frost poem, dead end, or two-way street. I am ONE solid decision. 

You've got to come harder than that. You pulling up to the curb isn't good enough: Get out of the car, explain yourself, stay a while, sip on some memory and regret...

This is how you start a conversation. Particularly a long awaited one. Particularly one that was never had or hashed out in two word responses, because being stubborn and right was more important than being in love or showing vulnerability. 

I feel sorry for you. Because the me, before you, believed in third, fourth, and sometimes fifth chances. But isn't it ironic that your actions molded me into someone who doesn't believe in a second? 

You never know how badly you're in it, until someone rehashes it for you:

My girls and I sat in a coffee-shop and started discussing love. You came up. They said they'd never seen me so enamored, my face would light up at the mention of you. They said they wanted love like we had. I frowned. I didn't know how to tell them that I couldn't define what we had, I was unsure. We were dancing between friendship and relationship, depending on your mood of the week and my love was too naive to understand that indecisiveness is just "I don't love you, as much as you love me" in disguise. 

I said, "He's everything, when he wants to be."

The "when" made them sense the uncertainty. As girls do, they badgered me with inquiry about our union. I told them the broken pieces, the mended ones,  and the ones we didn't know how to puzzle together. 

One of them replied, "That's love. He makes you want to write. That man is your muse. You've written him a book. (One I'll never release.) AN ENTIRE BOOK. If that ain't a labor of love, I don't know what is." 

& sure I've written things for men before:

poems, 
letters, 
yes, no, maybe notes

But when I think about you...I cannot stop writing. 

Knowing this, the other girl said, "If you've shown him that much love and he's still unsure...he never will be."

She was/is right. I didn't know it then, but I definitely know it now.

I have never been this happy. I will not let you steal my joy. 

However, I will let you take some things from this post.

You're right. 
I will never love anyone like I loved you. 
No one will ever love me the way you did. 

But there are several different ways to love.
& I'm learning a new style, so I can enact it with a man who's style of loving surpasses your own. 

You're right. 
You're my first lesson on what it looks like.
But you my dear...are the prototype. 
I'm looking for the perfected version of you--the iOS system bereft of multiple glitches and incredulous updates.

I thought about answering your text. I wanted to be spiteful and land a "who is this?" in your inbox. I thought of inquiring whether you knew how broken you'd left me. 

Instead, I didn't answer at all. I reveled in my newfound happiness and continued my day. I wanted to leave you in silence.

The same silence you left me in, when I asked if we could be together. The same silence that slipped through my blinds on the mornings the sun could not wake me, because my heart was filled with midnight. The silence that kept you away from me, for weeks at a time.

But silence isn't all bad. There's been a good quiet here lately. So, shhhh, be quiet.






Monday, October 13, 2014

From My Journal: New Beginnings.

























I never really loved me. 

Actually, I'm not sure that's 100% true. There was a time, during the spring/summer of 2011, when I was walking through Crown Heights with fellow poets and someone asked me about my insecurities. I remember, for the first time, having nothing to say. I was completely in love, like, or something else, with myself. I was fresh out of college, I'd just landed a permanent substitute teaching gig, we'd just finished a literary panel at the Brooklyn Public Library, and I was thirty pounds lighter. I was so happy. I'm sure that the feeling that I had that day was the closest I'd ever felt to how I feel today.

After that moment: 
  • I met a man that I thought loved me. 
  • That faux love made me sacrifice things that I shouldn't have. 
  • Because...when you're young, fragile, and wanting...you will rush to give your world to someone who pretends to do the same. 
Somewhere amidst all that new love and loss, I did forget some of the things I wanted. That summer I was working on loving me: mentally, physically, soulfully, etc. But I wasn't finished yet. I knew I wasn't finished when the calls started, when the awkward hand holding began, and when he asked me to move in several months later. The feeling tugged at me, while he tugged me towards marriage. I ignored it, because I'd convinced myself that I could grow alongside him. 

& suddenly things started falling apart, all around us. The sacrifice begun: I grabbed on to as many freelance jobs I could, to keep things together. I decided continuing school wasn't the best idea, while trying to figure things out. I stopped researching writing retreats and put in more hours at my day job, to solidify my position and upward mobility. 

But he stood still. 
He gazed, applauded, and smiled.
But he stood still. 

I was on the top rung, when I realized he was still at the bottom.
I looked down and gestured for him to follow, but he shook his head no. 

I could say that our relationship stunted my growth. In fact, a year ago I might've. I would've told you, this time last year, that trying to salvage my relationship pulled me away from the things I wanted to write. However, the year 2014 showed me that the discrepancies that I had, after committing to this union led me to exactly where I needed to be. 

The heartbreak I endured and the mess of trying to forget it through a series of dates, helped me write the most powerful prose I've ever written. My wanting to forget buried me in the paperwork of my day job and I slowly and surely became a powerhouse. 

A month ago, I became one of the youngest upper managers in my agency. I neglected this blog for several months and really dove into getting to know my new direct reports and the culture of my new site. I really started to love my work and I realized that I always have, I've just let so many other things get in the way of my enjoyment.

A few days ago, we took videos of several happenings at work. Everyone was in stitches about how awesome the things we'd planned for the kids came out, but I was in tears. The woman on the screen, me, was someone I'd never seen. She was genuinely happy and excited, she was glowing. I loved her, more than I'd ever loved anyone in my whole life. 

I was looking at a woman who'd lived completely on her own terms all summer long. I spent some serious time with my family, I read up on my profession (like a mad woman), I cooked like crazy, I fell in love with new authors, I ignored the texts of men who'd remembered their conscience, and I spent my evenings in silence and thought. 

When you've had enough time alone, when you know what it's like to have complete serenity...you're less likely to let the noise in. My friends say to me often, now, "Who are you? I like this Erica." They're right, I've turned into someone I don't recognize. 

I grew so free, binding love is no longer an option. Whomever I decide to align with must be as free as I am. I want nothing obligatory. I want something mutual, reflective, and just as in love with self as I've come to be.






Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 4




Brooklyn was never a place I needed to escape from. My mother’s house was. I spent nights in the park, after closing hours. I was more content with the feel of a bench then the pain of our apartment floor. Benny was always my mother’s favorite. He was nine years older than me and ten times darker. He’d left home at sixteen, even though you can’t really leave home when you live right across the street. He started shacking up with this older woman, from around our way. Mom was upset about it, but he was old enough to make his own decisions. Her words. She kept her disappointment quiet while she clasped the hush money he brought for her, once a week. I wasn’t old enough to understand how he could spend the whole day on corners and still manage to always be paid.
When Benny left, I thought I’d get to sleep in the bed with mom. We only owned a twin bed and after I was old enough sleep alone she made sure I slept on comforters on the floor nearby, every night. Benny fought her on this. He said that a child my age needed the warmth of his mother. I once heard her reply, “Not if he looks like the cold of his father.”

I was a product of his hazel eyes and wavy hair
skin so fair
her son but,
you would’ve sworn she thought I was daddy
my daddy
the way she stared at me,
knowing our fate,
pupils piercing and soul full of hate

Benny and I had different fathers. Mom met his dad while she was in college and after a freshman love affair they ended up pregnant. Benny grew up with a dad that was trying to finish school and support his child’s mother. Textbooks and index cards with psychological terms lie around, while he was breast-fed. He spent his daycare days in one provided by the commuter school and nights tucked in between both of his parents. After seven years of school, Benny’s father left our mom. Once he graduated, he decided that he wanted a different life for himself; a life that didn’t include Benny or mom. I was born three years after their split. Mom was living in the housing projects on the other side of the park and spent the years before my arrival trying to ignore the catcalls of neighborhood men. She worked retail and begged floor neighbors to watch Benny, when the makeshift afterschool center was decommissioned.

Without him I wouldn’t have my heartbroken
without you I’d still have my figure
I was the essence of beauty
and you stole that from me

It wasn’t long before Carlos was a huge part of mom and Benny’s life. He was a man who continuously offered to help with grocery bags, walk Benny to school, and ask my mother on her first real date. People say I look just like him: hazel eyes, wavy hair, skin so fair…
Carlos was locked up three days before my mother gave birth again. They say it was the biggest drug bust to ever happen in Brooklyn. I’ve never seen him. I don’t plan on it.
She spent the rest of my life blaming me for my father’s absence. Whenever she went on her tirades she spoke of a time of broken condoms and the need for money, because of my impending birth. Her thoughts were never together, always fragmented:
“Whenever it’s time to provide they leave you.
Where are you now?
WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
By myself, I have to do this by myself.
You look just like his ass.
Move.”
Benny spent those nights covering my ears, but I heard everything. When I was old enough to walk out of the house without her caring, I started to sleep outside. It was during one of those nights that I met your father.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I took in Damali’s story, while Brooklyn buzzed around us. We’d spent the afternoon at a coffeehouse talking about his new book and my writing aspirations. We walked around Fort Greene and found ourselves on the steps in the middle of the park, where he begun telling me about his childhood. We were a few strides from where he and my father grew up and I could envision a small brown, but tough, boy holding the hand of a man he’d only just met.
My father spent his evenings jogging in the park. He was the type of man to notice a child here, wake him up, and take him under his wing. Damali and I were the same age. I wondered where I was during his rescue mission. Was I tucked in? Was I watching evening news with my mother? Was I avoiding homework, by singing with my mom while she cooked dinner to the radio? 

I’d spent the night before flipping through the pages of Damali’s new book. After hearing his story, I understood the pain that sat between each line:

Mommy I’m not him
Mommy I’m not him
But she told me,
From 6-feet deep,
In my dreams,
You are him, you are him, you are WE

I reached over and touched his hand, “Wow. Did you see my father often, after that?”

“Of course. Your dad coached our community basketball team, he handed out food at the pantry, and sometimes he’d take us on these really dope field trips.”

“Really, where?” I was confounded. I didn’t know my dad spent so much time across the park, in his old neighborhood.

“We went to museums, arcades, sports games, and several other places. He’d always take out all the young boys, an informal mentor to us all. It was cool, but those trips aren’t the ones that really resonated. The ones that meant the most to me were right here in this park. He’d sit us on these very same steps and tell us about the hell he’d been through and why it was important that we got out. He’s the reason I’m sitting here right now.”

The pieces of my memory started to mend. My father came in on most Saturdays, drenched in sweat and warm-ups. I knew he played ball for a few hours, every weekend, but now I knew whom he was playing with.

Damali continued, “When your dad died, we leaned out from our windows. I think we were expecting it to be a prank. We just knew he'd walk right back in and yell "PRACTICE" at 2pm. I watched boys of all ages look out into the courtyard, holding the tears back that your father always told us to use. Black boys cry he would say. They’re allowed to cry, he told us. No one cried. Rico and his boys were off the corner, the bodega owner closed down shop, and the whole hood was quiet. Out of all of those boys, about twenty of us were consistent. Sixteen out of that twenty went away to college and did something with their lives. Every single one of us came back home. We could have traveled the world. We could have assimilated into suburbia, but your father’s legacy showed us how important coming home was. That’s why I’m here. He’s why I’m home.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

The next evening, after a full day of work and stress, I was still recounting Damali’s story. The man I grew up with was a businessman. He boasted networking events, suits, and splendor. He’d never spoken about Damali nor any of the other teenagers he’d helped. I knew my father was a good man, but what I'd learned surpassed the notions I was raised with.

I was lost in thought when Malaki walked into my office, “Jai, are you okay?”

I snapped out of my trance and shuffled some paperwork, on my desk, “I’m great. There’s just some stuff on my mind.”

“Anything I can help with?”

Malaki flashed a smile and made his way across the room. Sitting at my desk, I was able to view all of his six-foot, slim, and chocolate delight. I wondered how other women were able to keep their composure around him, as I felt my hands begin to shake.

“No. I’m all right, I swear.”

Malaki took a seat in my guest chair, “I really enjoyed your company the other night.”

I leaned back in my seat and looked around the office, through the glass walls, cognizant that we were alone, “It was nice. Why are you at work this late?”

“Truthfully?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I saw that you were working late and I didn’t want you to have to leave the building alone.”

I smiled, “I do it almost every night. I’ll be okay.”

“I’m aware, but it didn’t truly bother me until today.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know, Jai. There’s something different about you.”

I started to pack the things on my desk, concerned that our innocent flirtation might grow wings. He assisted me, closing my planner, lifting my briefcase on to the desk, and making his way closer to where I was sitting.  He leaned down, I was frozen, “This could be incredibly inappropriate, but if I don’t put myself in proximity, I don’t know if you’ll ever have the chance to attempt something that you’ve always wanted to do.”

He was right. I pulled him in and kissed him.

I want to write
but my mind is suffering from withdrawal of your intelligence
You speak thunder
Raindrops falling from the tip of your tongue
Clouds in your daydreams
There is a storm in your lips 
And only I can hear it
I hold in urges;
of asking
every question I'd wanted to know the answer to
and constipate with them when you leave
you are the sh*t of dreams
the stutter of speech
batting of eyelashes
and grinding of teeth
and I'd rather write for you
than to you, 
so don't ever leave

Perfection is not the word
Excellence, precision, flawlessness
No Roget's Thesaurus synonym can cover it
I've search for words to describe you
When English wasn't good enough
I searched for foreign languages
With words that would come from my throat
That much sweeter
Just so they could have the pleasure 
Of being adjective to you...

But last night...
last night you said the sexiest thing I've ever heard,
between breaths, 
you said, "Let me be your sanity."







Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 3







Read parts 1 & 2 HERE.


________________________________________________________________________________

I checked Malaki's email once again:

FWD: Network & Jazz

Jai,

I'd love to see you here. Get out of that office and come have a drink, girl!

--M.M. 

I'd almost forgotten about Malaki's invitation.

Okay, I'm lying. I didn't forget. However, I was hoping that he'd forgotten and I could quell my anxiety of finding something to wear and teetering on the boundary of professionalism and damn-you're-fine.

I wasn't desperate----much.

It'd been five years, since I'd been in a serious relationship. I'm not sure if I could even call it that, considering it started and ended during my sophomore year of college. I'd spent six years, in the south, acquiring a Bachelor's and Master's Degree and not once, during post-grad, did it occur that it might be time to date. After six months in NYC, with no roommates and no demanding class schedules, the loneliness started to kick in. There was only so much wine, a good Netflix series, and a pack of batteries could do, for much longer.

I grabbed my cutest, all black, H&M dress from the closet, threw on some heels I'd got at an incredible discount, and puckered up to some Ruby Woo. I did my best struggle walk--courtesy of the several steps descending into the station--to the train, praying I'd catch the shuttle to the other side of Brooklyn. The platform was filled with a Brooklyn that I was still trying to recognize. Hipsters in variety: off color gals with sunken trousers and bohemian bags, those with trust funds and those with a dream, men in Vans or boat shoes, brown girls with wild hair gabbing about the tiny apartment that they were forced to share. I looked for the little boys with blue snow-cone lips, the beckoning mamas with swaying breasts, the confused Timberlands in muggy weather, the BK I grew up in. 

I opened my notebook on the train, squeezed between a woman with a laundry cart and another on her iPad: 

Lorraine and I found love at the bodega
He was gesturing to the sound of slapping dominoes
and sipped Heineken 

Marcus checked Lorraine first
Of course he did
She was chocolate smooth
and all legs

I was portly,
back then

All hips, lips, and acrylic fingertips

"I wanna be your man." 

& I knew he wasn't talking to me, 
but L-boogie already had one of those, 
so she walked right in and ignored him

I could hear her from outside of the 
chimes-still-ringing,
glass door

"Lemme
get a 
ham and cheese
lettuce,
tomatoes, 
onions,
mayo,
mustard, 
vinegar,
on a roll
& don't give me none of that cheap sh*t
I want the cheddar kind,
the yellow one that got taste"

His second attempt was a grab at my arm:

"So you just gon' act like you didn't hear me?"

& although I knew...
none of his words, before this
were for me

I swallowed them
on park benches,
in the laundry room of his apartment building,
after church, 
when my parents were still conversing,
and could care less about where I was, 
long as I got my scripture

I remember his purple Sunday suit
a few weeks after I found out that I was old news
He was pissed that I ended it first

My mother, father, and I 
walked with bibles in hand

"YO B*TCH!,
GET OFF THE BLOCK!"

Funny...
I'd been dating eighteen year old Marcus for six weeks, three hours, 
and 43 minutes, sometime last month...

But that day...was the first time I'd ever seen a MAN
My father lifted him up to a broken street light
and asked him if he'd like to see God

"I love your daughter."

I'm still looking for the love he spoke of that day...

Brooklyn. 

I arrived, to the networking event, thirty minutes later than I expected. My feet were already in incredible pain and I longed to switch into the flats, immersed in my oversized purse. The location was right around the corner from Free Verse, an unmarked store, with dark drapes in the windows. I'd always assumed to be closed. There was a huge man, in all black, standing at the door. 

"Password," he said.

I gave him a blank stare.

"PASSWORD."

I remembered the flyer, "Swanky!"

Walking into the venue was like stepping into another world. The entire place was open brick, draped in all white. There was a huge bar along the wall, with bartenders that wore tuxedos, and the jazz band sat right across from it, on a platform stage. I looked at the man, at the piano, and immediately knew him to be Robert Glasper. What kind of shindig was this?

The crowd was intense. Everyone was draped in dark hues, despite the luminous decor. I spotted Louboutins and Armani suits, champagne glasses clinked, and the sound of forced conversation pervaded the space. I pushed through a cohort of cackling naturalistas--that I'm sure were "Mean Girls" in their heyday--and dropped my coat off at coat check. I made my way to the bar and pulled my wallet, from my purse. I hadn't spotted Malaki and I was in need of something brown, warm, and numbing. I asked the closest bartender for a whiskey, neat and a splash of water. I took out a ten to pay him. He leaned over, touched my hand with the payment, and whispered, "Open bar love. Enjoy." 

I didn't know why I was embarrassed, but I was sure that I blushed. The gentleman next to me must've noticed. 

"I would offer to buy you a drink, but the bartender just ruined my game."

I smiled.

The bald brother wore a black linen shirt and slacks. He had the strongest hands I'd ever seen. He extended one for a handshake.

"I'm Karam."

I grasped his hand and shook it, "I'm Jai, short for Jailin, nice to meet you."

"I've never seen you here before. How'd you get your invite?"

"A co-worker invited me. Well, he's more so like my boss. Kind of. He's a colleague," I was trying to make myself sound more important than I actually was.

Karam laughed, "You always this nervous expounding on the hierarchy of your occupation? May I ask what you do?"

"I'm in publishing. I work for.."

Just then Malaki slipped in and finished my sentence, "She works for my firm Karam."

Karam stepped back, as if he'd been caught doing something wrong, "Oh. Then you work with the best." 

Malaki and Karam embraced one another, like longtime friends.

"I guess there's really no need to introduce you Jai. This is Karam, my brother from another mother. He works for the devil."

Karam play jabbed Malaki in the side, "He means...I work for Goldman Sachs. Hater." 

Malaki excused us and showed me around the room. There was a VIP loft area, a raffle for a Jamaican getaway, and dinner being served in the back area. He explained that the event was very exclusive and only the best and brightest were here. 

I joked, "Why was I invited?"

He stopped mid-tour, "Because that's exactly what you are. I wouldn't have invited you, if you weren't."

Malaki was no Marcus. He'd probably never known the serenity of sitting on a Brownstone stoop, kissed a girl in an alley, or played ball in Gersh. He was no silver spoon, but he'd always been given the best. The child of Bajan immigrants, his parents persevered and made sure that he was enrolled in the greatest programs NYC had to offer. At thirteen, he was accepted into a private school with a view of Central Park, where he'd be one of two black students. At 17, he left for Harvard. Now he was back home, jet-setting and making his mark in the industry, sure of himself, and fine as hell in his repetitive tailored navy blue suit.

Something fabulous blurred past with a compliment, "Ludlow. J. Crew. Correct? Looking good Mal."

Malaki smiled back at her and caught a quick glimpse of her behind, while she walked away. I looked down at my crumpling H&M dress and suddenly felt a little insecure.

"Oh, you have it like that? I see."

"Sometimes, but I've been single for a while. I'm turning 28 this month though. I've been thinking that it might be time to settle down."

I looked up at him, avoiding his perfect chestnut stare, "Is that right?"

He licked his lips, "Yeah. I need someone smart, ambitious, creative, beautiful, mysterious..."

He touched my arm while he spoke. The room suddenly seemed empty. I wanted to fill the spaces between his adjectives, with something. I just didn't know what, yet. 

After watching Karam do a tipsy dance to the reggae they'd switched to, after Glasper and his band left, and several introductions to Malaki's friends, I started to think about Free Verse. I wondered what was on their schedule for tonight. Malaki was conversing with a group of other publishing folks, when I grabbed my coat and whispered to him that I was leaving.

He stepped away from the conversation, "Do you need a ride home?"

"No, I'm good. I think I'm going to head over to Free Verse and get some coffee and a new book." 

He put his arms out, asking for a hug, "C'mon. Bring it in."

I laughed, he'd clearly had a little too much to drink. I hugged him. 

Walking into Free Verse, felt like coming home. Mr. Miles was behind the register, in the bookstore, and I gave him a fist pound upon entrance. 

"Jai! Looking more like your momma everyd ay girl."

"That's what they keep telling me, sir."

I could hear noise coming from the performance space, on the second floor, "What's going on tonight?"

Miles took the money from the register and placed it in a small blue bag, for deposit, "Jones is having his reading. Just dropped a book today."

I didn't know who Jones was, but I was always down to support a new author. I crept upstairs and found a seat, in the back. There were black and white books stacked in a corner, a girl sat next to them on guard and took twenties from folks who couldn't wait to buy one. The host stood at the microphone urging the author to come back up and read one more excerpt, before it was time to go. 

"I've been bugging him all night and he's agreed to give us one more. Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands back together for Damali Jones." 

I watched Damali get on stage and finally put two and two together. Damali Jones. 

He stood in silence at first, looking crisp and simple. Playing with the cross that hung on the v-neck collar of his white tee, he spoke into the mic: 

She’s from a small town.
Depending on what side of the fence you stood on,
You were home,
Or somewhere far away.

But no one ever left.

Her mother vowed
She would be different

Enrolled her into performing arts high school
Tuition scraped off dinner plates,
They sent her off to college
On a full stomach

But she was hungry.

Parties, boys, and the occasional girl
Dissolved between part-time jobs
And school work
Someone had to pay the difference
That someone had to be her

Living life in a blur,
She kept responsibility on (lock)

Lock

Locks, the color of fire,
drape her butterscotch neck
Like sweets set ablaze

Ring through her heart shaped lips
She knew nothing of love,
Degree in one hand
Burden in the other
Her past somewhere in her sleeve

An uncle,
Who disguised incest with playtime
And cousins
Who needed help to meet
Childhood orgasms

Her art,
Performed and perfected
Relative-ly

She walks university halls with her head down
Mumbling whispers,

“I don’t belong here.”

Pummeling dorm walls with her fist
Claustrophobia of her memories
Catching up to her

She feels (lock)ed in

White lines replace
(or sit on top of)
Textbooks
She snorts her release

Roommates worry,
She promises to kick/sniff the habit

“Don’t worry, I got this on lock.”

Tardy and absences
Swallowed
Grades faltering
Lectures with the store supervisor

“How could you forget to lock up?”

Questions become literal
She opens up shop
Craig-listing her attributes
For the world to see

Re: I bet you can’t find a lower price than this

Craig is a white man with a wife
And two kids
Who balances his checkbook,
Like his junk on prostitutes

He knocks at her front door
Arrangements made
Chastity forgotten

She lets him in
The door (locks)

The 52-year-old
graying man unzips,
demands that she (locks) lips with it

Her knees lock into position
One she knows all too well
Her locks, fly back and forth for dear life,
like the two-hundred dollars she needs for rent
depends on it

He tells her to “come”, after he’s done so

“Sit here, so I can look at you.”

He all too pleased,
Grins as he leaves

Forgetting to (lock)
The door behind him

Allowing the shame
To sift into the January wind
Money flickering like light leaves
On the nightstand

She cannot look in the mirror.
Pulling at her dreads,
A hyperbole for what she will feel in the morning,
A (lock) of hair falls to the ground

as does she

she’ll do anything to keep from going home
anything to be the first in her generation to progress
she will dance with success

otherwise there is no movement
stuck where you started
tight position

a complete stop

closed mind
closed heart
closed opportunity

closed everything

LOCK.

So much talent, Jai thought.

The crowd applauded him and several folks got up to grab his book. The host got back up on stage, "Grab a copy of "Sever" and make your way out, after you get it signed. Y'all know the deal." 

I waited for Damali to engage with his prospective readers. He signed each book with care, took pictures with people, and gave dozens of smiles away. He was some kind of awesome, tonight. I was the last to get my book signed.

He looked down at the open book, "Who am I making this out to?"

"Jai."

He looked up and smiled, "Good girl. How are you?"

"I'm great, just waiting on my signature."

He leaned back in his chair and smiled, "Anything else?"

I bit my lip and held back on what I really wanted to say, "I also want to know how you know my dad."

After Damali packed the rest of his books up, said thank you to Mr. Miles, and helped to close the store, I walked him out. While walking through the foyer I inquired about my father again.

"He was like the father I never had. A mentor, if you will."

Damali continued to the door, but I stopped him.

"I was always with my dad. How am I just meeting you now?"

Damali pushed the door open despite my protest, "Your dad was very protective of you Jai. He kept you away from where he was from, but he always came back to see us. He always came to see me." 

We walked down the steps and as I got ready to ask another question, I saw Malaki waiting at the corner. Once he saw me, his eyes lit up. He walked towards us and took my, now heavy, purse from my arm. 

Malaki spoke, "I'm going to put you in a cab and ride home with you. I can't have you taking the train this late."

Damali looked Malaki up and down, "Gonna introduce me to your friend?"

I looked at the both of them. Malaki was clearly headed to drunk and Damali was sober and annoyed. 

"Malaki this is Damali. He's...he's...a friend of my dad's." 

Look forward to new installments of "Free Verse", every week! I'd love to hear your comments, below!