Thursday, January 28, 2010

when a boy falls in love (10)

when a boy falls in love ...

i've heard them say love was a wonderful thing,
something you couldn't hide on a shelf

sam cooke

it’s something that can’t be hidden on a shelf,
under bed or bushel, however one may
try to warp masculine-like around it with
toughness or indifference as bark or skin.
ill-concealed by a not-so-transparent veil
of ignorance, behind which nothing is known
of self or ability, position, race,
ethnicity, sex or gender; where all are
rational, free & morally equal, a
young boy’s love, a wondrous delight, scatters
darkness, deepens shadow; a transient pulse.

© Joseph McNair;2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

ayiti nou led, nou la [9]

ayiti nou led, nou la

a sudden release from earthen crust,
a magnitude of seven, that seismic
heave & catastrophic shake; a nation
displaced & existential point reached
when circumstance nearly overwhelms
a beleagured people’s spirit, rushing,
falling headlong to denouement; to
ayiti nou led, nou la.

chauffard, initial point of rupture, is
but ten miles south of pòtoprens, where
corpses barricade the boulevards &
death is vended off the streets. but out
of mountains of despair can be hewn
pillars of hope. a world is rushing to
her aid; hope rises above corruption in
ayiti nou led, nou la.

we can bury the dead & tend to the living,
heal the sick, feed the hungry. we can
minister to the poor; raise them up. we can
even level the cities & build them anew with
straight streets & caretakers, quakeproof
shelter & resolve – but can we answer the
ugly, perplexing questions regarding
ayiti nou led, nou la.

like why are her forests felled & why do
the rains steal precious topsoil from her
naked hillsides. why is farming now
impossible, driving the poor to city slums?
why is hunger rife & infant death so high?
why is access to clean water, sanitation so low?
where does the blame for this truly lie in
ayiti nou led, nou la?

plenty blame to spread around. to victims,
the seething poor, to ghostly local powers pillaging
the mechanisms of state. to yankee occupation,
to penetrating foreign capital repeatedly
raping a captive source of raw materials
in high demand; to mulattos, noirists &
indemnity – a potpourri of blame for
ayiti nou led, nou la!

©Joseph McNair;2010

pat robertson's god is an awful god (8)

pat robertson’s god is an awful god

pat robertson’s god is an awful god
the worst that man has made;
capricious, vengeful, quick to wrath --
perennially afraid.

he need not possess too much
by means of higher thought;
he’s jealous & judgmental,
his mercy dearly bought.

primordial, unforgiving
& stingy in his grace,
punishes with quake or flood,
& turns away his face

from those who need him desperately,
the weak & dispossessed;
the faithful trampled underfoot
by excesses of the blessed.

a severe & angry deity
that fails more oft than not,
who fears he just might be replaced
by those who fear him not.

he would loose the hurricane,
& make to him the faithful cleave;
upheave the ground on where they stand
to ensure that they believe.

he’d even curse a skittish flock
who did turn to folkish elder gods
that served them true in days of yore,
tried & steadfast by all odds.

unbalanced & demented
a scourge unto himself,
pat robertson’s god is an awful god
as mad as pat himself.

©Joseph McNair; 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

it is for us to finish his work (7)

It is for us to finish his work

(In view of the revelations of the last few days, I feel compelled to warn you that this is an activist presentation. It is my sincere hope that I do not scare you with my excessive concentration of melanocytes in my skin or my tendency to lapse into some variation of negro dialect from time to time. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I never wanted to be president or be complemented by the likes of the inartful Harry Reid.)

In 1963, a thirty-four year old Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, in the nation’s capital and announced in poetic speech that the “Negro” had come out of the corners of American society, had come, in fact, out of exile in their own land, to cash a check.

At that historic moment, the young Georgia preacher became transfigured; became illumined from within by the socialized well-spring of African-American life; by the instincts, primordial emotions and deep collective images of African and American humanity.

In that moment, his avidity for power, his desire to increase his selfhood and the scope of his authority was transmuted as he truly experienced the magical identification of his innermost self with his God and with his people.

He became translucent, his mind and soul transubstantiated and made like crystal; as a lens to focus the yearnings and aspirations, the hopes and fears of the African dwelling in America for nearly three hundred and fifty years.

With an eloquence tempered in the white-hot fires of the gospel, shaped in the twin crucibles of the American Baptist seminary and the black church, Martin King proclaimed that when the founders of our republic scripted and signed the “magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” they also signed a promissory note.

They had in fact signed a contract where they made an unconditional promise in writing to guarantee all Americans the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." They promised to deliver either at a fixed or determinable future time or on demand and under specific terms the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

King said that America had failed to honor that sacred obligation; had given America’s citizens of color a “bad” check and they had come to Washington on that August 28th 1963 day, in more than 2,000 buses, 21 special trains,10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars, bringing crowds that swelled to almost 300,000 people, 80% of whom were African American, to present again to America, that check, because they refused to believe “that there …[were]…insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

And then before the mesmerized hundreds of thousands before him and the millions watching on television or listening on the radio, he began to speak sooth! He gave over his voice to the yearnings, aspirations, hopes and, yes, dreams ensconced in the African American collective unconscious.

More compelling than the ancient Roman augur taking auspices from the flight of birds, or the pre- and retro cognitions of the modern clairvoyant, Martin Luther King took the psychic elements of the African American soul and like a skilled “father of secrets” tossed them onto the opon ifa of his oratory which semantically and systematically organized what appeared to be disjointed, random facets of the African American experience into a lucent, lucid and prognosticating dream.

He revealed in that dream a vision of equality that this generation and no subsequent generation before this one has yet to achieve. A vision of social equality – the just and equitable treatment of all of our citizens regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, linguistic difference, social status, and ability.

For even though modern science has confirmed that homo sapiens sapiens walked out of Africa 150,000 years ago and again, 80,000 years ago and populated the globe -- that all modern humans are, in fact Africans -- America, the greatest of the world democracies, is still rife with daily instances wherein one individual intentionally or unintentionally targets another for negative treatment because of skin color or other group-based physical, linguistic or religious characteristics; that systems of social structures still produce cumulative, durable, race-based and culture-based inequalities.

The election of Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States is, perhaps, the signature achievement for many Americans, and most African Americans, of the first decade of the twenty first century. It is an achievement that all Americans should draw considerable pride.

But the real and symbolic value of an Obama presidency does not obfuscate the continuing racialization of poverty, income, space, housing, and land use, the absence of high quality childcare for low income families and children of color, low African American male graduation rates, employment discrimination, racial disparities in sentencing, redlining, disproportionate healthcare, voter suppression, the prison-industrial complex and the pervasive segregation across the entire spectrum of education, among other glaring inequities.

The Obama presidency has drawn millions of marginalized people, and especially young people, into the political process, re-energized that process, appealed openly and consistently to the best, rather than the worst, in us.

Some of the more jaded among us, myself included, who thought his life was forfeit the minute he accepted the nomination, are becoming more cautiously optimistic that he may survive not only his first term but may live to run and win again. His achievements in the first year of his presidency are already more substantial than any other modern president, Roosevelt, Reagan and Clinton, notwithstanding.

But Obama, his administration and even congress itself, are not enough to make King’s dream an every day reality. They collectively do not have the capacity. That endeavor requires the energy, commitment and efforts of all like-minded Americans who believe that racism, individual and structural, sexism, heterosexism, linguicism, ableism and all other forms of social inequity should be dismantled and eliminated.

Martin Luther King, jr. was taken from us by an assassin’s bullet forty-one years, nine months and ten days ago, killed while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee,
too soon and before his work was done.

Since January 20, 1986 and for thirty-three subsequent years America, in spite of the opposition of Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, in spite of the reluctance of Republican President Ronald Reagan to sign the holiday into law, in spite of the resistance of Arizona, New Hampshire, Virginia and South Carolina to formally adopt and celebrate the King holiday.

We have come together in various venues resolving to make his dream real. We have sworn a thousand oaths; we have resolved to do better, we have even created activity days to better commemorate the King holiday. So powerfully intoxicating is that dream that we often forget the enormous individual efforts and achievements of the man himself as an example of the kind of energy, effort and commitment it might take to help flesh out this dream.

In 1954, Reverend King was a 25 year old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama, completing his doctorate of Divinity. Although his ministry was always a social action ministry, being a member of the executive committee of the NAACP, the murder of fifteen year old Emmett Till on August 28, 1955 (eight years before the March on Washington to the day) and one hundred days later, the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Birmingham bus, propelled him into readiness in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great African American nonviolent demonstration in the United States, the Montgomery bus boycott.
The boycott lasted a year and seventeen days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on southern buses, African Americans and whites rode the buses as equals. The personal cost to King? He was arrested, his home was bombed and he was subjected to all manner of personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as one of the most important black leaders of the day.

In 1957 King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the sprawling American civil rights movement.

Between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times. He authored five books and numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive peaceful protests in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", called by some the manifesto of the African American revolution.

He planned and led numerous voter registration drives in Alabama, co-directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., where he delivered his "l Have a Dream" speech. He regularly conferred with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and was present when Johnson signed the 1968 Civil Rights Bill into law.

King was arrested twenty times, assaulted at least four times awarded five honorary degrees. He was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963 and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1964.

What can we do individually and collectively to transform the King dream into an American reality? As a community of learners,
the Miami Dade College faculty, staff and administration, just as we mobilized to develop and implement learning outcomes, we can
1. Come together to identify and address structural racism and structural inequality as the key civil rights challenge for the 21st century.
2. We can organize our productive conversations around the premise that
a. opportunities exist in a complex web of inter-dependent factors, and that to alleviate inequities in any single area, we must first consider the entire structure that supports these inequities.
b. everyone should have fair access to the critical opportunity structures needed to succeed in life; and that affirmatively connecting people to opportunity creates positive, transformative change in communities.
3. We can infuse our respective disciplines with content that brings to the surface the geographic and ideographic footprints of inequality. Social justice issues are never static and new challenges and issues are constantly emerging.

Martin Luther King did not live long enough to see his beloved nation rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. He did not live long enough to see the sons and daughters of slaves and slave master sit together comfortably and by choice around the table of brotherhood. Nor did he live to see the pockets of injustice and oppression, whether in Mississippi or wherever they festered in this country, transformed into places of freedom and justice. He did not even live long enough to see his four children grow up.

It is for us to finish his work. Can we do it? Are we up to it? Cynics might say that it will never happen. Who could expect such from the powerful historical exploiters, the villains or the ne’er-do-wells. Who could expect such from the oppressed, dispossessed and disenfranchised. I take courage from poet Countee Cullen pondering the mysterious movements of God:

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

And James Weldon Johnson who extols in two stanzas the achievements of a people brought so low:

O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel's lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
"Nobody knows de trouble I see"?

©Joseph D. McNair;2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Requiem for Chief Sandrell Ihinosen Rivers (6)


Chief Sandell Ihinosen Rivers

Omi tutu, Ona tutu, Ile tutu, tutu egun!

We have come and are gathered at this place to acknowledge and celebrate the translation of our mother, grandmother, aunt, great aunt, sister, friend and companion, Chief Sandrell Ihinosen Rivers, the Gbesiewu of Badagry, from human being to revered ancestor, from aiye (earth) into orun-odo, the realm of the ancestors.

Ko si ku
May death be no more
Ko si ọfọ
May there be no more loss
Ko si eyo
May tragedy be no more
Ko si arun
May disease be no more
Ko si fitibo
May there be no more overwhelm
Ko si alopa
May there be no more disrespect!

Ibà á şẹ Egun, mo juba
Ibà á şẹ Aruku, mo juba

Ibà á şẹ Sandrell Ihinosen Rivers,
Ibà á şẹ Sandrell Ihinosen Rivers,
Ibà á şẹ Sandrell Ihinosen Rivers,

Ancestral spirits are much more than just dead relatives. Our ancestors live among us, make themselves a part of the day-to-day lives of the living. We seek them out for guidance and, yes, protection.

Transiting from the world of the living to the domain of the dead is anything but finite, but part of what Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka calls the "cyclical reality" of the "Yoruba world-view."

Each of us comes to this life, born on the winds of Oya, from the world of the unborn and through the "abyss of transition." And each of us will leave again through the same as we make our way back to the world of the ancestors.

When we come into this world, as children, we bring with us aspects of a revered ancestor, certain features of their personality, parts of their physicality, or elements of their knowledge and wisdom. When the time comes for us to leave this place, it is not the end of existence. After death, we pass into a 'life beyond' -- Èhìn-Ìwà.

Spiritual traditions of African people, acknowledge not only souls that after death go to a spirit land, but also souls which remain actively involved in the worldly affairs of the family and community. It is considered perfectly natural and prudent for people, individually and collectively, to call upon the ancestors for advice and guidance regarding important decisions, rituals or celebrations. In grave decisions or decisions of great moment, it would be unthinkable for the elders and chiefs to proceed without first consulting the ancestors.

Although many of us wrap ourselves in objective and materialistic attitudes and do not ordinarily think of our personal ancestors as directly participating in the events of our everyday lives, most of us who dwell here in the land of the living, remain connected to our ancestors by our memories of them and their teachings, the passions residing in the deep recesses of our hearts and souls and the direct manifestations of our DNA.

The Yoruba people tell us that the greatest reward for living a good life is to be remembered by the living. To be remembered is to be kept alive. When an ancestor has been forgotten, he or she simply passes into the infinite where divinities and spirits dwell.

When the ancestor remains within the Sasa, the land of the living, he or she may intervene here on earth, because, in the words of Mbiti "the living-dead are bilingual: they speak the language of men, with whom they lived until 'recently'; and they speak the language of the spirits and of God, to whom they are drawing nearer ontologically."

In exchange for being ritually remembered, the ancestors watch over the family and community and can be contacted for advice and guidance.

So let us remember Sandrell. Let us keep her among us. Let us remember her for the multi-talented singer, dancer, actress, she was. Let us remember her diversity as a performer, director, and university professor. Let us remember her tireless work to uplift and edify the arts in our community.

Let us remember her outstanding community leadership, achievements and service. And let us remember her efforts to reconnect African Americans and the African Diaspora with the motherland.

Let us see her in our dreams and in our spirit communications. Let us allow her to impart information or explanation or give instructions on any matter of family and community. We have lived with her some of her life story. Let it be a lasting message of guidance and good wishes. Let us receive her gift of life and consecrate her sacred task of joining those who have gone before her -- of becoming an ancestor.

© Joseph D. McNair; 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

farewell hakim (5)

farewell hakim

for hakim ali muhammad
aka steven marshall

farewell our son, our brother, our father & friend.
take our poignant wish for yr welfare at parting;
a parting of flesh and spirit, a cleaving it seems
of one from the many.

but we know that this is not true; u cannot be
separated from us. our shared experiences alone
have tangled our lives in knots that can never
be untied.

u the impish trickster, the linguist, scientist & sage,
the first among us to dabble; to pierce the unknown.
like lemmings, some of us followed you to edge –
the cutting edge – to walk barefoot, in single file &

always behind along occam’s razor; leaving it to u
to find the simplest theory to fit the facts of our lives.
& when in time we found our own way, thinking &
growing for ourselves, u would always reappear

to open a new doorway; to point us down new roads,
at different vistas or backwards into the past. & now,
u lead us once again, into the cosmic soup where
souls & stars are made; into allah’s peace.

farewell hakim, & stay in touch! It is not too
much to ask. for years & with hundreds, even
thousands of miles between us we were but a phone
call away, & though we used our telephones

sparingly, sometimes grudgingly, our connection,
more than wires or underground cables, more than
light racing signals relayed by satellites, was inside;
more interior than cells, or molecules, or sub-atomic

particles, indelibly etched not on microchips or
silicon but on the quanta of intelligent space. we can
still call; still connect on a line as clear as prayer.
until then, hakim, until such time as our separate

realities converge and u reappear again, dreaded
or clean-shaven, speaking in tongues or playing your
guitar, trumpet & harp, bringing us up-to-date or until
we regain our places next to you in starry networks,

until then, hakim, allah kiyyaye!!

©Joseph McNair; 1997-2009

for venita (4)

for venita mcnair lennox

memories of u...

that cold morning in
when u, unmoving, camped
sphinx-like (though not as
enigmatically silent) on the
house-fronting sidewalk; &
yr bags packed & parallel
the white & indifferent
picket fence.
yr normally mellifluous voice
amped up to ultra high frequency
shrieks of outrage.

"i want to go to new york i
want to go to new york i want ..."

& inside, pacing the floor
like a king's knight errant,
a chess piece out of control,
our belt-wielding, thundervoiced
daddy, looking very unlike the
power incarnate that he
was. his face, shades blacker
than usual; the color of rage,
of indecision.

jesus, what noise u made!

daddy had said no! had put
his awesome foot down! mama
was wringing her hands in the
kitchen, (i was hiding somewhere
making myself very small, very

jesus, the deaf must have heard u!

& as u hoped he would,
a desperate gamble on yr
part, daddy gave in to yr willfulness
– his first capitulation.
he drove u himself to the
we didn't see u for a time...

those stormy years in pasadena...

u were married then. with
yr house directly behind our
own, our backyard, the battlefield
when yr house failed
to contain yr wars.
poor david. one would have
thought that u were goliath.
(though no heaven-guided pebble
would have vanquished u.)
our house shook regularly from
the impact of plates, lamps,
knives, anything throwable
which crashed against yr

& a good thing for david
that yr aim was so bad.

no human being could be
the vile, grotesque, misshapen,
abominable, & ugly things
u called yr husband.
if our right reverend daddy
heard u (& i'm certain he
did), he commended the matter
to the lord, having long ago
given up trying to straighten
u out...

those dark uncertain days...

when mama retreated behind
walls of catatonia; when daddy
soldiered in a distant place,
u came, like a rushing wind,
to mother us, bringing with
u that parade of men – norman,
the artist, jimmy, the hipster,
bob, the business man.
they never seemed to go home.
i would meet them in the morning,
sometimes sleeping in yr bed.
such was my devotion to u
that i never even once slipped
a hint of such goings on to
daddy. & i was always blurting
out some injustice in those

u slept alot then, were always
tired. funny how people thought
u were pretending...

& then nephritis, an inside
thief, stealing piecemeal right
under our noses, succeeded
in stealing yr kidneys with
everyone watching. almost
robbed u of yr life.

i would sit with u in a succession
of hospital rooms,

watching u watch yr body
fluids bubble & ooze through
the surgically implanted bovine
shunt in yr arm & thigh,
through the latex umbilicals
into the machine which
laundered yr urine.

i marvelled at how u worked
through this tragedy, how u
so quickly adjusted, made the
best out of this terrible circumstance.
u learned all u could about
yr disability (u refused to
call it an illness), consulted
with doctors & surgeons,
kept abreast with new developments.

soon, u were almost
as knowledgeable as the specialists.
after the first transplant, u
banished yr own morbid thoughts,
of being kept alive through
the agency of another persons'
death, of having inside u
the vital parts of a stranger.

u wore well the bodybloat,
the puffy face of steroids
policing the body's immune system,
warding off rejection.

u were comforter & avenging
angel to fellow patients.
u spun a web around them
making them family. u
organized them, advocated for
them even protected them from
the maladministrations of erring
callous nurses, or inept, indifferent

u voiced in no uncertain terms,
the patient's tensionfear of
death, of becoming different
with no chance return, no
chance of being at the mercy
of sadistic hostile coverts,
who masqueraded as health
care workers. who could not
& did not care.

u demanded the same attention
for yr patients as u did
for yourself & as u gave.
pity the brusque, the hostile
the condescending nurse.

pity again the rough-handed
doctor, or the obviously stupid.
yr retributive justice was
swift, bone-breaking, legendary.
nurses physically beaten,
chased out of wardrooms.
Intravenous fluids, their needles,
& their bottles, serving trays,

& half-filled bed pans were
hurled at, rained on fumbling
interns, incompetent attendants.
u patiently explained once to
an arrogant resident how to insert
the needle into yr shunt;
that it hurt unbearably when
it was not inserted in such
a way.

he paid u no mind. &
he hurt u

& he will never forget how
u stuck yr pearl handle
twenty-five automatic into his
mouth, cocked & fully loaded;
a handful of his hair in yr
talon-like grip; how it took
the entire medical staff, &
the local police to talk u
out of blowing off the backside
of his head.

& i remember how u would
cry rivers when any of the
patients gave up & died...

those years when u overrode
constant, insistent pain,
malignant poverty, &
soul-freezing depression
to nurture me through psychic

u made formal introductions
on my behalf to spirits. &
they used u for a time to
speak to me, to guide my first
faltering steps on the path
of inner awareness.

these were the days of preparation,
readiness, & reckless
experimentation – & waiting
for the one who might come to
teach me

u dragged me from seance
room to psychic fair, from burntout
spiritualists to light

u supervised me through a
psychic par course, through
various developmental stations:
psychometry, palmistry, clairvoyance,
clairaudience, automatic
writing, trance, tarot, numerology,
& astrology.

what a marvelous tarot reader
u were. those pasteboards
would jump from the deck,
would arrange themselves as
if by prior agreement.

& when u read for me, it
seemed that u became a direct
mediumistic conduit for my self
to come through, so unkempt
& cluttered my own channels.
when my own small gifts were
made manifest, u encouraged
me to use them & make them
soon, my own teacher appeared...

that november day in '71...

when i, a fledgling astrologer,
saw what looked to be, among
my charts & calculations,
a portent of daddy's demise.

i reached for the telephone
to call u (though u &
i rarely needed telephones)
& it rang just as i touched
the receiver.

"what's the matter with daddy,"
u asked, (before i could utter
a meaningless hello), "i've been
seeing something strange in the
tarot, recently."

& we discussed our findings.
we agreed that u would fly
up, talk to the elder members
of the family, prepare them
for a difficult year for daddy.
i would alert the younger members.
my god how they mocked us,
silently & aloud. we were
branded mad, alarmist, irresponsible --

until daddy died a
month later...

those years when our love for

each other flowered. such
a love between siblings is rare.
perhaps we have loved each
other through many lifetimes.
there was no cost too high,
no distance too great that would
keep us from seeing, from being
with, from sharing with one

we partied together, read for
each other, turned our
collective forces against demons,
of all shapes & sizes.
brother & sister together,
an alliance of first daughter
& first son in riotous romp
& frolic in & between worlds,
for ten breathtaking, gloriously
uncertain years...

& those last days...

when yr endless reserves
of exuberance dried up,
when yr unfailing fight for
life fizzled. & u withdrew,
refusing to eat, to communicate,
u even shut me out for a time.
when i penetrated yr barriers
it was already too late.

u had embarked on yr final journey
before any of us could stop
u. not friends, not family,
not me.

when i met u on that hospital
bed, a shrunken totem of
yourself, we had our last

"joe, i'm tired."

i begged u to fight, even
threatened to hold u here
against yr will. all to no

"i'll hang on until the family,
those who are coming,
get here. tell them to
hurry, baby, i'm tired."
they came. all but one.

the 'phone that final morning rang
with foreboding. yr doctor,
his voice choked with tears,
told me that they were keeping
yr body alive. i asked if

there was any chance for recovery,
but i already knew that answer.
he said "we can keep the body
alive indefinitely. it's yr

"turn the machine off," i said.

& i cried rivers...

i miss u, tee.
i miss the presence of yr
body in this space. a hand
to hold, a cheek to press against.

i miss yr infectious laughter
& terrible rage.
it's not, though, that i have
not felt u in the years since
u left us.

yr love is a tangible thing,
reaching from beyond the grave,
is closer than memory, & has
never left me.

& my own love embraces it,
envelopes it, binding us,
erasing the barrier between
yr space & mine.

© Joseph McNair 1990-2009

dirge for daddy (3)

dirge for daddy

reflecting on my father’s passing
december 1971

my face contains u like a tomb.
in my memory’s labyrinth, u lurk
a mirthful ogre whose laughter steals
attention from the wounds u caused.
now that u are gone, some of the veils
are rent. u stand a family monument
tall & tragic. a mountain wherein
god, a cloistered monk
despaired the practice of his preachments.
as i child i adored u. would pierce
yr shadow. be wide-eyed & underfoot
when u fell from grace.
in my innocence, i’d provoke yr terrible
wrath. the muscles in my back still sing
sagas of yr punishment.
perhaps u only meant to thicken my skin.
were i an existentialist, i’d find u
easy to condemn, judging u against the
sum of yr violence.
but i who live in a prison of motives
saw easily through yrs. u are betrayed
an unwitting foil in my life’s drama.
i will not blame u for my creations
my ineptness at loving, or for the walls
within my chest which hold my captive.
i only wish to think of u warmly.

© Joseph McNair; 1990-2009

mother moon (2)

mother moon
april 15, 1971

at least i found u approachable, mother
closer than skin; distant beyond the reach of
measured arms – like the moon, nurturing
from some far off place.

in my youthful nights, i would cry out to
u, afraid in my private darkness. u
would come, always, bearing yr broad,
yellow face to place against mine.

©Joseph McNair; 1990-2009

Friday, January 8, 2010

ibà á şẹ (1)

ibà á şẹ

for chief sandrell rivers
the gbesiewu of badagry

skillful bird winging thru the illusory land
of the living, unborn & egun. no raffia,
cloth or wooden masques can begin to analog yr
beak, teeth or feathers, nor need u high falsetto or
low rumble yr voice. u are captured by memories;
tethered to our great need of u. we have invoked the
spirits who transform the living to keep u among
us, ibà á şẹ aruku, mojuba. we have
invited you into our dreams, into our trances
where u make yr nest in our iroko hearts by the
river of life, oh skillful bird with feathers & beak,
with feathers & teeth, with bones as feathers & bones as
teeth, with iron feathers & teeth; feathers & teeth of fire.

© Joseph McNair; 2010