Syrup

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Image source via google

Syrup

“I asked you to get real maple syrup,” she said.

“The fuck you talkin’ about?” I asked. “I got real syrup. It’s right there. See the bottle shaped like a lady?”

“I see it,” she said. “It’s okay, but it’s not real maple syrup.”

“There’s a difference?” I asked. “You fuckin’ with me, right? It don’t get no realer than the lady-bottle!”

“I’m talking about the real shit from the tree,” she replied. “Not this processed stuff.”

“Oh. My bad,” I said, trying to mask my wounded pride. “I honestly didn’t know. Must be a Black thing.”

“That’s no excuse,” she said. “Meh. Just squash it.*

And I squashed it, because she was right. It was no excuse, but it was a valid explanation, though a poorly-worded one lingering in that grey area.

It wasn’t a Black thing; it was a poverty thing.

Growing up in poverty, syrup was an unconventional indicator of how a family was doing financially. Strange, I know, but true. Another surprising thing about urban-American poverty; even when faced with syrup-sandwiches-and-sleep for dinner, we sometimes had the audacity of being picky.

Sometimes eating nothing was preferable to eating crap (which I’m just now understanding, is a relative term).

I’d wake up on a Saturday to the heavenly scent of pancakes only to find they were drowned in the sticky muck of something in a non-lady-shaped bottle with the word “Syrup” labeled in plain black-n-white font.

I’d take one look and be like, “God bless you for trying, mom. You did your best. Why don’t you just take a break and let me throw these pancakes in the garbage for you?” That obviously never went over well, but that’s another story.

But occasionally, Saturday pancakes were accompanied by the creamy, artificial goodness of the lady-shaped-bottle, alerting us to two things; (1) breakfast was going to be delicious, and (2) one of the parents had a come-up **, which meant there were many more delicious things in the pantry besides lady-shaped-syrup-bottles.

It’s funny for a forty-something male to not know the difference between real maple syrup and processed, lady-shaped-bottle syrup. I know this. But when I bought that crap, I was speaking a love language to my beloved that only I understood. My bad. It’s fun learning new things.

crisp, grey morning sky
sunshine drizzles her sweetness
memories of you
** *

Written for dVerse’s The beauty and the misery of grey – Haibun Monday, hosted by Bjorn. Go here to read other poets’ submissions.

I know I said I was taking a break from prompts to work on a passion project that I’m almost done with, but to quote Pacino as Michael Corleone:

 undertaker-sitting-up1

*squash it – urban slang, to abandon the conversation, agree to disagree, and move on to more positive topics.

**come-up – urban slang, an unexpected windfall, bargain, success, or other positive outcome benefitting a person or a group of people.

(Editor’s note: Much like Mrs. Butterworth’s isn’t “real” maple syrup, I’m aware that this post isn’t a “pure” Haibun. But y’all know ya’ boy likes to stir the pot a bit, so let’s just squash it. 🙂 We good, fam?)

 

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Photo by Asso Myron on Unsplash

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A brown empty cup
is how I entered this world
hungry ignorance
unaware of those hating
my random brown existence

Those folks call this stage
alligator bait because
in their eyes, our worth
can only be measured by
how brown skin is devoured

Outgrowing this phase
takes courage, guile, grit, and luck
especially luck
how fortunate was I then
to be born from mom and dad?

And their good fortune
passed forward by their parents
themselves grand fortune
treasures from great grandparents
seeds cherished by ancestors

Shackled in bondage
four-hundred years they languished
with limited means
yet somehow navigating
plucking fate’s string through eras

Living history
is my fate now, no longer
alligator bait
I may not reach those who hate
but how lucky am I now

To be mindful of this gift?
***

My Phlegmy Valentine

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By Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub – Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15686494

My Phlegmy Valentine

February’s second week
you are unwell, feverish
difficult, intransigent
unwilling to yield control

I bring you medicine
heat your soup,
soothe your fever
confronting your fight head-on

You are grateful for my patience,
remorseful for making life
much harder than it has to be,
missing the point completely

Your ragged breathing
is my lullaby
your phlegmy cough,
my action prompt
your sudden silence,
my panic button

When I am caring for you
it’s not an act of compassion
but it is the most selfish act
I can muster under pressure

I’ll work on my possessive streak
as soon as you’re well again
for now, I lead Eurydice from Hades
looking back as often as I need.
***

 

My Terms

My Terms

My next funeral will be mine
ain’t strong enough to bear mankind
I saw my mama laid to rest
so you all can just bear the rest

Yup, skipped-out on dad’s last ride
both grandmas’ gone to great divide
losses felt within my breast
withdrew from the manifest

Not fearful of facing west and careening
into oblivion’s bosom
my trepidation of death’s breath, sans meaning
keeping me keen on what could come

I cannot insulate from weathered fate
as winter’s weight descends
so I capitulate with feathered gait
as I await what ends

But no more bitter-sour goodbyes.
***

Kate and Edith Too

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The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Kate and Edith Too

She was made mostly for me
harvested, fermented, distilled guarantee
she parts my lips and pickles me
bad is blinded, blended, bound as tamed

She was not made just for me
plucked, dried, rolled into opaque slips of a tree
weaponized vapor, she infuses me
heavenly scent, demonized flames

Together, will they be to me
what opium and hemlock were to Socrates?
I’d empty the goblet with boundless glee
no toxin could bind with sweeter degree

Together, we’ll be poetry
smoke and spirits consumed, transmuted, free
green dragon extract from our torrid sea
can a phoenix be drowned in poison? Let’s see
** *

Written for dVerse Poetics with poisonous plants, hosted by Bjorn. Others have contributed to this prompt here. I know I’m supposed to be taking a break from these prompts to work on my collection, but could pass on such an intriguing prompt as this? Is it still procrastination if I’m technically still writing? Probably, but I had fun so screw it!

Tuna Salad

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Momma and me, circa sometime in 1981-83, I think.

Tuna Salad

Wifey made tuna salad today and offered me some. I gratefully heaped a pile of it into a cereal bowl, but stopped short of eating. It was missing something. I diced up two hardboiled eggs and mixed them with the tuna salad. Much better, but it was still missing something. I sprinkled paprika onto the dish and tasted it. It was good, but one more thing was missing; Ritz crackers. Sadly, we were out of Ritz, so multigrain gourmet cracker nonsense had to do. I tasted, and was transplanted back to Chicago housing projects during the many times momma made this special snack for me.

grayer than most light
noon sky, counterfeit silver
I pocket the fee

Minus the Ritz, I had inadvertently made momma’s special way of making tuna salad, which on the surface, was probably unremarkable to most. But it was the one meal she made where I didn’t feel like a poor person while eating it. I could imagine all wage brackets having a tuna salad craving, and I imagined people from all walks of life savoring this delicacy in some fashion. It felt good to be on some kind of universal level with wealthy ones who enjoyed tuna salad occasionally.

clouds hide sky-scrapers
visibility is poor
to what lies beneath

I had always known I was poor, but it wasn’t a big deal because everyone I knew was also poor. We lived the same struggles, went to the same government check-cashing places, shopped at the same discount stores, ate the same public school free lunches, wore the same knockoff-brand clothing, and feared the same criminal element and/or corrupt, racist police shakedowns. I didn’t experience any stigma or shame for being poor until I began being bussed to the magnet school Beasley Academic Center. I have nothing against the school, as it was an expansive learning opportunity, but it was perfectly apparent to me that I was one of the poorer kids in attendance. Many kids were from stable, successful 80’s Cosby-sitcom-style homes. They wore Guess jeans, Genera button-ups, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, BK’s, you name it, and they always had the latest technological marvels like Walkmans, mini-synthesizers and etc…

rain bathed in streetlight
amber-hued menagerie
all will be covered

I recall being teased for many things; being shy (back then, nobody mentioned introverts as otherwise normal folks content to keep to themselves; we were “shy” kids who needed to be “fixed” so we would be more social like a “normal” kid), being a nerd (back at regular school, being a nerd just meant that I was smarter than the average sixth-grader or had greater intellectual curiosity than most; being a nerd at the magnet school – where I was rendered intellectually average due to all the other “gifted” kids being bussed in –  just meant that I was the funny-looking kid with the coke-bottle glasses), and being rather unfriendly and all too eager to throw hands for someone so tiny, shy, and nerdlike (if all you wanted was to be left alone, but others kept screwing with you, I suspect you would develop a chip on your shoulder as well).

But for all the random teasing, nothing left me as defenseless as being teased for bring poor. Being a shy nerd who fought a lot was in my DNA, and I owned all of that, but I had nothing to do with being born poor. I had no say in it. Those were cards I had been dealt.

sunshine reveals you
true colors rich, emboldened
the shade, deeper still

The hilarious part was that after three consecutive days of being teased, bullied, getting fed up and fighting back, and ultimately, losing said fights in overwhelmingly one-sided fashion, a teacher decided to counsel me. She wanted to “crack my shell” and find out why I was always so angry and depressed. She wanted to know what in my home life could possibly make me so enraged and isolated. It had to be something at home, right? Perhaps my mother was abusing me, or had boyfriends with boundary issues.

I never opened up, partially because at the time – though an undiagnosed schizophrenic initially losing her grip on reality – mom was the best thing going for me and I didn’t want any outsiders screwing that up by revealing her secret. Also, I never opened up, partially because I felt like asking for help was a sign of weakness, and I felt compelled to endure on my own. But mostly I remained silent because I couldn’t fathom why the teachers couldn’t see the bullying right in front of their faces and understand it for what it was. I was baffled at having to show them what was happening and having to explain why it hurt so much to have to endure it. So, I never did.

birdsongs vibrate moods
gathering for the ride home
we flock and migrate

I would bus home after a particularly rough day of being teased and bullied for wearing generic versions of Converse shoes and a Michael Jackson jacket only five years out-of-style. Sometimes mom would have tuna salad on Ritz crackers waiting for me. I don’t think she knew all that was going on with me, but I suspect she knew I was traversing a rough patch. She never asked about it, but she would talk with me, cracking corny jokes to get me to crack a smile and laugh a bit. She always succeeded. I don’t know if the tuna salad was her secret weapon, but it was often present while she was peppering me with corny jokes. I miss those jokes, as well as the sound of her laugh. But the tuna salad I accidentally made in her honor was pretty tasty.

bluest sky leans west
surrounding me with comfort
memories of you
** *

Written for Terri Ann Dawson, on the ninth anniversary of her death.

Vain Brown Mess

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Vain Brown Mess

I cannot recall
when mirrors became
the enemy.

They reflect a stranger;
I fail to maintain eye-contact.

Cursory glances reveal
sagging, ashen skin
concealing bashful blush.

Reddish,
buttery-brown skin
barely begins my story’s depths.

Hate my lips,
my nose, love
my sad eyes,
hate the sad lies
behind them.

They see a blurry,
russet, greying, messy mesh
unworthy of the love
it somehow netted.

Legs too long,
torso too short;
too much midriff girth,
not enough bicep mass

Shoulders broad, bearing
burdens of never was,
wishful nights, and
what was once a neck

A greying-brown mess.

** *

A doctor once told me
I was a small man in a
large man’s frame, but
that was a time before nachos.

A time after that,
a beautiful, fit
personal trainer told me,
accurately,
I was a mess.

Up-selling gym membership,
but I must confess
I believed him,
nevertheless.

But as I stop averting my own gaze
and look directly at the mess,

I see the insecure boy
within the sad old man
occupying this saggy
stretch-marked meat bag.

Imperfections carry
a certain undressed beauty
left unaddressed; now I see differently.

This body is worthy of love
and being loved, despite aberrations.

Despite poor choices,
heartbreaking shortcomings,
succumbing to immediate need

Perhaps living inside
this greying brown mess
isn’t as bad as I envisioned.

** *

Written for Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Poetry about the Body, posted by Sumana Roy.

I’ve been shying away from online poetry prompts recently, opting to work on a collection I hope to have published before the end of the year. But this prompt compelled me to revisit a vulnerability I’ve dealt with since I was a child.

I apologize for yet another naval-gazing (see what I did there?) confessional poem, but this one just fell out of my head. I may take it down in a few days. 

 

Longest Night Yields to Wolf Moon

earth and moon

Image source: https://science.nasa.gov/

Longest Night Yields to Wolf Moon

Knowledge,

for a time,

lagged behind us

on the longest night

when we would celebrate,

sacrifice animals,

indulge in wine, feast,

and flesh, ignorant of the science,

the moon’s tidal-shifting dance,

stabilizing the magical tilted trance

that allows for being,

for celebration, sacrifice,

indulgence, feasting, and

blissful ignorance.

 

Knowledge,

through exploration,

measurement, and study,

having long ago cast aside sheep skins and

rosy veils of ignorance,

reveal the illusion of

Sol’s seasonal retreats and returns,

our angles, no longer dangled,

steeped in superstition and myth,

but no less necessary for our

existence, and thus,

still worthy of celebration,

sacrifice, indulgence, feasting,

and heavenly knowledge.

 

And yet!

Knowledge continues

to reveal new truths,

unlocking doorways to cosmic realities;

the longest night, the redundant,

recurring, cyclical cycle of ending,

beginning, rendered trivial,

infinitesimal against infinite

intergalactic backdrops.

 

Knowledge stands before me

in this January doorway,

rendering me insignificant,

raising the curtain on liberation,

beckoning me to wonder at

what has yet to be unlocked.

I will feast upon her

in a drunken stupor,

all the while, a wizened man

howling at the new year’s Old Moon.

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Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

** *

(Mild nudity in video. Mildly NSFW.)

Written and shared for the prompt, Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Doorway(s), posted by Susan. Feel free to stop by and read other poet’s entry to this prompt

January is my birth month, which hasn’t held much significance in my life in quite some time. Susan shared some intriguing knowledge on January’s origin that compelled me to take another look at it. Per her entry:

“Door” is also the deepest root meaning of January:

 January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after the Latin word for door (ianua), since January is the door to the year and an opening to new beginnings. The month is conventionally thought of as being named after Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology, but according to ancient Roman farmers’ almanacs Juno was the tutelary deity of the month.

Pretty neat stuff! How could I not break the seal on 2018 and scribble a few lines after that?