Manhood

God cried into the soil
splattering mud

a little boy refused to grow up
presuming the reach of his roots
fell short of his branches

oh, but he was a seed
swimming in the mud
of God’s coldest tears
determined to take root
in ground not intended
to hold him tight

-Rahk.

#grief, #poem, #poetry, #sons, #storytime

Introducing “Mannah”, inspired by “Copperhead”.

Mannah never seems to notice the uneasy stares as he saunters barefoot across the street from the In & Out Mart off 56. The gas pumpers and the mail-checking neighbors never got used to seeing the young man walking with nothin’ but a pair of jeans cut off mid-thigh. He showed too much knee for a man of color. It didn’t help that he ran a lot in his earlier youth. Chasing dragonflies around the Miller pond gave him legs like an insect. His grandpa called him Grasshopper because of it. Told him, “If we judged by ‘pearances, we’d sing tale of you jumpin’ over Gabriel’s Moon.”

“Gabriel’s Moon” is a fable generations spread like butter on cornbread. The angel Gabriel had a bet with his brother, Jeffrey. Jeffrey swore that he could do a backflip over the moon if Gabriel’d just give him a hand-boost. Gabriel laughed at his lie but agreed to boost him anyway. The time came when the moon was low and hung like a witch’s smile. Lo! And Behold! Jeffrey careened up into the night sky and cleared the moon with a clumsy backflip! Gabriel boosted him but Jeffrey never quite got his footing. His left foot caught up on the last corner of the moon and that off-kilter backflip landed him square on his back. Crushed his wings all to canyon dust. He won the bet but his wings didn’t take him to heaven after that. He could only get as high as the moon when its just above the tree tops and the family always calls it Gabriel’s Moon.

Mannah, or Grasshopper when grandpa calls him, was built to clear that moon without a boost from Gabriel. All from trying to catch dragonflies on the edge of Miller’s pond. The people looked on as Mannah’s shoulder blades reflected the sun like a new penny. His skin always looked like a pre-winter leaf with the sun smiling behind it. June always called him “Pond Water” because he was just brown enough to require a bit of sunlight to see the sparse hair keen on his legs and arms and chest. Not to mention the patch, like down on a baby duck, just below the back of his neck. Save for that hair and his proud eyebrows, Mannah was bald.

He kept on heading down the path toward the old brick church. Dirt and rocks almost parting for his barefeet, like some country Moses. Humming a poem he read when he was a teenybopper, the whispers and puzzled faces becoming the baseline for his song. He felt it to his bones, but never acknowledged a thing. He never did lend an eye to those things people didn’t want him to see. Mannah didn’t wonder about the whispers covered by hands. Didn’t cast a thought to why Banjo tripped over a string whenever he came around the bend. Must not be important. If it was, someone would say something to him directly. Since no one ever did, it wasn’t a matter of life and death. When it’s a matter of life and death even dragonflies speak.

“Banjo, I swear. I put it on everything. The dragonfly spoke.” insisted Mannah.

“Grasshopper,” Banjo knew his friends grandpa, “that damn dragonfly didn’t say shit to you. Stop lying for once!”

“Did to. I was chasing him, a pretty one too. His wings were like black cobwebs carrying him around that pond. Flitting away as soon as I could get close enough to see how his backside was bluer than ol’ Ms. Carnegie’s eyes.” Mannah sat beside Banjo like a frog, hands on the tops of his feet. Banjo theorized that if Mannah used all the strength in his legs he’d probably leap over Pond-Lake County.

“That sounds like a dragonfly alright. But it don’t sound like a talking dragonfly. Did you see his mouth?” Banjo started tinkering with his guitar, a hand-me-down from his favorite uncle.

“Well if you shut up a minute I’ll tell you again. I was chasing him, like I said, and he went to the back part of Miller’s pond…where the bog is,” Mannah hopped on tiptoe in front of his companion, “but I was a kid then. I didn’t know any better.”

“You sound like you don’t know any better now; talkin ’bout a talking bug.” Banjo eyed Mannah as he leapt around. He wondered why the man never seemed to have dirt on the bottoms of his feet or sweat runnin’ down his back. He was swimmin’ stark naked in his own skin due to the southern sun. He couldn’t fathom setting a socked foot in that ground, nevermind his bare foot.

Mannah leaned against the brick wall and continued, “To get that dragonfly I started to run right into the bog and that’s when it happened. That dragonfly turned around and said, ‘Gwon now! Get!’ and I froze midstep. He sounded like Big Pa when he said it.” Mannah finally made eye contact with Banjo.

“Nigga, if you don’t get the fuck outta here. It probably was Mr. Washington yelling from the house.” Banjo’s borrowed guitar lay on the ground. Its keeper couldn’t focus on one cord when in Mannah’s presence. Quiet as its kept, Banjo just couldn’t think and play at the same time. Why Mannah made him think so hard remains a mystery.

“No, Big Pa was at this church. I know what I saw…and heard.” Mannah somehow slid down the old brick wall, without smearing his skin along its weathered surface, to sit wide-legged on the sparse grass and ample dirt. Banjo inexplicably noticed his companion’s cut-off jeans shifting, baring more skin.

“Man, I ain’t foolin with you today,” Banjo muttered in annoyance while wiping the dirt from his guitar. “I’m going to go practice some more. See if Ms. June wants a private show.”

“Ms. June is old enough to be both our grandmother’s.” Mannah didn’t move from his spot on the wall.

“I know. That’s what sweetens the tea, Grasshopper. That’s what sweetens the tea,” he winked and said, “See ya.” Banjo hurried away– glancing back once while shaking his head as Mannah rolled on his stomach. You’d think he was laying on a sleep number bed, Banjo remarked to himself. As he turned his head back towards his destination, Banjo observed that there was not a particle of dust dulling the soles of Mannah’s feet or his exposed back. Mannah’s skin was somehow untouched by the complimentary coating of dust that assaulted everything else, even clothes.

Puzzled, Banjo shook his head again. He spent more time than he’d admit to himself dwelling on that peculiar sight. He spent no time at all questioning why he noticed in the first place. Finally, Banjo stared at the path to Ms. June’s; his head was still shaking when the sun blew out.

—–*—–

Rahk.

#copperhead, #excerpt, #prose, #relationships, #scenes, #short-story, #spoken-words, #storytime, #water

How Preacher Got His Name (a short story)

“Preacher, when’re you gonna listen without telling the sun he shines too bright? When are you gonna listen, boy? You can talk from here to Palm Sunday until someone asks ya for the truth. Then you become mute like a reverse miracle. Shut up, sometimes, will ya? Can’t hear a tornado moan without seeing the end of days. Preacher, you better not part your lips while I’m talkin’ to ya, now. Sit back and listen. I’ma tell you why you was born Preacher Adams. I’ma tell you so you can finally hear the wind rustling the leaves around you. I’ma tell you so you stop and think for once. Stop and collect YOURSELF. Not ten percent of the world around you. I’ma tell you why your Grandma Adams named you Preacher.

“Listen now, when Grandma Adams was first born her mama named her Psalm McEvers. Remember why she named her Psalm? I told you once before…you don’t do ya? That’s cuz you were too busy talking about rainbows being figments of the human imagination just because we don’t see them all the time, or something outlandish like that. I remember, you said something about ‘human beings needing to see beauty to combat all the ugly we imagine inside ourselves. So we make up rainbows to keep living,’ you said.

“That’s why you didn’t hear me tell you about the origins of Grandma Adams’ name. That’s why I have you sitting here shutmouthed and still. And if I see that view-from-the-mountain look you get when you ain’t listening, I’ma throw one of these peeled potatoes at your forehead. If ya think I’m playing you just try me.

“Now, Grandma Adams’ mama just loved dressing up on Sundays for Palm Sunday. Ever since she was a little girl. She’d almost wet herself as she dreamed about the uniformity of all the different people coming together; singing songs and running through the pews as if they just heard tell of a homeless man walking ’round in a 3 piece suit. So she named your Grandma, ‘Psalm’, after her favorite book in the Good Book. Everybody thinks she mispelled “palm”. But no, she just wanted to remember how on those Sundays, in her finest clothes, the world made a little sense. The world looked the way it should to her. Remember that church always wore white on Palm Sunday. Even the preachers. And for some reason, bless her heart, she always thought she was dark skinned–”

“Well, I heard she thought she was black– Oops! I’m sorry, PaPa. I didn’t mean to say nothin’.

PaPa chuckles. “I know you just couldn’t help yourself. And you’re right. She thought she, and everyone around her, was black as Stacy Adams. Though, most of the people in our family and at her church were brown skinned on up to white. Hmm…always thought it was odd that there weren’t many dark skinned folks at that church. Anyways. See, you got me talkin’ instead of saying what you need to hear. Mind it this time or you gonna have wet potato peels on your head.”

Preacher laughs. “Yessir.”

“Grandma Adams’ mama always made me scratch my beard about one peculiar thing or another. But she loved seeing that black and white. Especially on this one preacher the pastor always let give the benediction, but poor brother never did have a sermon. He was the only dark skinned man there. She saw him and everybody else in all that white. She thought she was as black as that preacher who never preached. But she wasn’t. I don’t know if something was the matter with her vision…

“Then the McEvers moved near to Eden, North Carolina. I can never remember the name of the actual town…hmmm.

“Anyhow, Grandma Adams’ mama never saw all that white again on Palm Sunday. The new church just dressed in whatever fashion made them content. But she remembered all that white on her skin. She remembered all that white on that preacher on those special Sundays. She remembered the joy she felt when everything looked the way she could understand. So she named her daughter ‘Psalm’. You remember now, Preacher?”

“I sure do. She didn’t misspell her daughter’s name. She meant to name her Psalm, so she could remember the Sundays when the world was small enough to hold in her palms.”

“That’s right. So words do go in and not just out, huh? Now, you got to really listen, Preacher. See, when your daddy told Grandma Adams he got somebody pregnant she told him to “Treat that woman like he meant to get her with child.” Your daddy listened. You don’t seem to have taken after him that way. At least not yet. Though you can be taught, I see. That’s good.

“Your daddy treated your mama so good she let him name you. Unheard of ‘mongst most peole, I reckon…

“Well, on the day you was born, Grandma Adams’ randomly called your daddy and told him your mama was gonna have you a little earlier than expected. He laughed. Woo, your daddy laughed! At first. Then he remembered he was talkin’ to Psalm, Grandma Adams, and he drove all the way to your mama’s house and woke up her whole family. Heh hehheh heh! Booooy, they looked at him like he had swallowed an egg without breaking the shell! But then, your mama started having birthing pains. They scrambled to that hospital, then. Sho did. Your mama was so grateful. She had a name all picked out but she told your daddy that he could name you. Her parents almost needed a doctor themselves but they recovered well. Once they thought about it…

“Your daddy was so flustered. Lawd have mercy! He just blurted out something. And he said “Preacher!” Your mama never batted an eye. She said, “Then his name is Preacher. Preacher McEvers-Adams.”

“Your mama’s parents, your other grandparents, they were so mad. Before they stormed out, they asked him why that name of all names. And, listen now, he said, “Because Grandma Adams knew my son was gonna be born as black as the preacher my great grandmama saw on Palm Sundays. She knew he was gonna be a reason to see rainbows. Even if they are shades of imaginary black skin and white cloth. She told me all this the other day. Before she called me to get your daughter to the hospital. And then I see him, my son. And he’s just as black as the man my mama fell in love with as a child. Before she moved near Eden somewhere. That preacher looked the way she saw herself. Though she was the same complexion as me. And my Grandma Adams never knew her mama. She just knew her mama named her after the world being small enough to hold in her palm on the few days life made sense in her world of black and white. So I named him Preacher because if it weren’t for my grandma telling me to treat your daughter like I intended to get her pregnant, I would have treated her like I treated all the other women I had sex with. Then I wouldn’t love your daughter. I wouldn’t be able to name my son.”

“Preacher, them white folks ran out of that hospital room as if they’d screamed “nigger” at a Black Panther protest. And I still don’t quite understand what made them leave so ruffled. Your daddy, remember they used to call him Snake, just told the truth. Snake just told the truth. And that’s why you don’t see your other grandparents. They moved far away from Eden as they could. Moved way out of North Carolina running from the truth: Snake never intended to impregnate their daughter, your mama. And they saw their baby girl so taken with Snake that she let him name her child, their grandchild, ‘Preacher’. And your daddy never intended to get her pregnant. But he treated her like he did and she fell in love with him. Yeah, boy, your mama, Biddy-Ann…she loved your daddy. And if it won’t for Grandma Adams he would have lived up to his forbidden name. Grandma told him not to be a snake. She told him to be a man.”

“I get it PaPa. And that’s how Grandma Adams named me Preacher Adams. Cuz I’m the rainbow she imagined her mother saw when she fell in love as a child.”

“That’s right. And, like your daddy, Grandma Adams don’t want you to live up to your name. She wants you to shine through it. She wants you to imagine rainbows, Preacher. But she also wants you to speak the truth.”

“Yessir. Grandma wants me to be like my daddy. She wants me to act against my name. She don’t want me to be like a preacher, always talking and making sense, but never listening. Never truly standing shutmouthed before God because they proud. They gloat in being chosen. In answering “the call”. In being given a name, like “preacher”, and living up to the name. Instead of being silent. Changing the world for little girls who can see love in black skin. Even in a congregation of white. Great great Grandma McEvers never knew that preacher’s name. But seeing him gave her so much joy. Causing her to see black, PaPa, when she didn’t have to. Ma McEvers wasn’t crazy. She didn’t have bad sight. She saw black and white and both colors worked together to make her world make sense. You’re saying I shouldn’t be ashamed of my name, PaPa. I should be like my father. I should listen. Especially to the people who love me enough to tell me the story of how I got my name.”

“You sho is sharp, boy. Just like your Grandma Adams…”


-Rahk.

#excerpt, #memories, #prose, #short-story, #spoken-words, #storytime, #water

Pop’s Fables

Son regret just like a dog with two tails–
he can’t move his ass without waggin’.

So, tell that woman you wanna hold her in a dark room and witness the stars in her eyes.

Love that woman, boy. Love her man-like. Then love her like you a woman too. Tell her

“I’m not as strong as I wanna be and I’m weaker than I think. But I can keep a volcano calm when I choose to hold you tighter than my ego.” Tell her

A bejeweled crown adorns her trust and you have become her tallest throne. Show her. Show her.

Son, a dog with two tails is a sad sight to behold. And son… if you’ve never seen one, keep living ’til you get old.


-Rahk.

#fathers, #poetry, #relationships, #sons, #storytime

Baby’s Heart

I told Baby, “Don’t go back there ‘hind them woods where that creature live.” I told Baby not to go but she went over yonder one strangely cold summer day, ’round June, after I’d made her self a lunch of buttermilk biscuits and collard greens– Baby never liked meat too much. Said it tasted like sin to her. Said if God ate sin, it’d taste like meat with all the seasonings and cooked to perfection. Make you feel heavy afterward. Fill you up. It’d nourish you, but at what cost? Baby said, “Lady Mama, that ol’ meat a little too heavy for my soul. Don’t matter if it tastes good if I got to ask forgiveness later.”

Anyway, I’m just a-yippin’ and a-yappin’ like folk got time to hear a ol’ woman talkin’ bout fanciful things like a thoughtful child.

Imagination they called it. Tuh– imagination. If they knew the things I know I done seen they’d say I ‘magined it. But I told Baby what I saw. Warned her ‘cordin to just what I know I seen with my own eyes: that creature live ‘hind them woods. Out there by a little bog that ain’t got no life. Not even a fly piss in those waters. That’s how you know there ain’t no life. Flies, nasty things, they follow dead and decaying things. The nasty part of living is dying. Or so we think.

That creature creepin’ in the brush lives by a place that ain’t got no life. He thinks he knows what we don’t, us folk who follow life. Naw, the creature think life is just a part of death. He think from the moment we’re conceived we’re settin’ ourselves up to die. But what a creature that don’t live know ’bout life? You’d think not a damn thing. But Baby told me different.

Baby went in them woods. Sho’ did. Almost didn’t come back when her body did. I ‘spected something when she absentmindedly spooned some scrambled eggs in her plate one morning. She would’ve eaten ’em too if I hadn’t shouted. Ain’t nothing in the world could make my Baby forget her strict diet.

You could tell she’d seen something wretched. Something that’d make you sing Amazing Grace or the Lord’s Prayer. Or put the needle on a Patti Labelle record, especially if you seekin’ deliverance from that thing you saw that your mind won’t let you unsee. But your heart know it.

Your heart got more eyes than vessels and ventricles. It sees things out our souls which are hidden when looking out our bodies. And Baby’s heart never found its way inside her little chest while she formed in the womb. At least, that’s what I told her when she asked what made her so special. She never asked again when she came back from ‘hind them woods.

Her heart sees with everything its got, that’s why she took a moment to return to her body. Her little heart sees with ears and lips and hands and nostrils and thoughts. Lawd, that creature put a number on my Baby! If only she was a little more heart-blind, she might not have suffered so. But that’s just it, isn’t it? The heart sees with everything you got. Whether you want it to or not. And Baby saw, bless her heart, she saw that creature and almost didn’t come back.

When she finally did return to herself, she told me something that almost made me drop like a fly right where I stood.

“Lady Mama,” she always called me, “I shouldn’t have gone down there. I should’ve listened to you.”

“It’s alright Baby. I’m just glad you finally came back.” I held her tighter to my bosom then.

“Lady Mama?” she inquired softly.

“Yes, Baby?” I replied as I skwez her real tight.

“That creature…it don’t mean nobody no harm. And it’s a wretched creature to look at, if your heart stays hidden away. But when it doesn’t, when your heart finds its way outside you, that creature looks just like God.”


-Rahk

#prose, #short-story, #storytime