a true allegory

I met the Devil the other day, in a dream. I was lost, looking for my siblings, and found him in an alley, among the boxes. He had fallen there or slept there--I can't remember. He was charming in that way of boys who are up to no good, surprisingly self-deprecating. He was red-faced, red-bodied, black-horned, and was he wearing a suit?

I asked to touch his horns, and he bowed to let me. I considered this a gesture to show him no, I'm not afraid of you. He seem to think it an everyday show of condescension, like he was used to it, like of course girls want to touch his horns, like it would win me over.

I asked him about heaven and hell, of course.

Heaven, he said, was like a never-ending game of make-believe. Everyone had power and everything was possible, but even that would get boring after an eternity. No?

My thought was that the creative would never grow bored. I'd love it.

Hell, I think was more of the same. He pitched it as more fun, if you attached to this world's "fun." He said the kinds of things you would expect a devil to say, like that's not me, that's all you guys and ultimately, God is the one in control. My powers are like a subset of Theirs.

He didn't sway me. I think I told him I was muslim, like I say to scare off missionary. And anyway, I had to get going. I was searching for my family. Wait, he said, me too. We're the same.

I was already moving to explore the California of my dream, but I asked why he was here on Earth and what he hoped to find. Ideas, he said, and smiled weakly like a Hollywood confidence man but I had no sympathy, none at all.

poems about insecure attachment

there was a hole in me where

Home should be, a childhood

deep & a mother wide

my filling is praise receipts

& prayers  names crumpled days

by the handful a

megaphoned song for anyone

digital lights singing i'm still hungry

 

the hole in me a lover tall

(i told myself) and burrowed

huddle small but

she was an ontologist who spoke rainfall

named as adam did the animals

unmade monsters into nothing

my absence into absence

once, each blink destroyed the land

--to a child, everything dies at night but me

but then she gives object permanence

brown & fertile

in two cupped hands

to plant.

Platonic

there is more love

in the bus driver's thumb

when he covers the slot

it's okay, go ahead

as my card chirps from hunger

as I stall and my purse coughs

 

than the thousand soft sighs,

rising wonders and longings

forming cloudlands for dreamed selves

of downcast-eyed boys

love poems for myself

you are the cutest little boy asleep

like a heathen legs wide & sheet-tangled

a bed of rainbows & donuts & all your best friends

(are silent) no Deco artist designed you

gangly neotenous elbowed& kneed thing

til death adolescent the plaid skirt itself

breaks curfew ah! it rises and swirls

like the first ever turns red-black stripe red-black

baby-halty eyes widen

the discovery of girlhood that wet

of a body still being learned--another naked dance

for a body still being learned--the first personal language

the last cartwheel is far too distance

the sand that drips from your underfoot

is sandiegan the hands' undertan knows

the blue-brown mix of beach

(& this can be a song in Robinese)

for applemound breasts & pearbottom

peachvellum tree brown yes & blue & future blue

the afro sprouts has become a halo

of strangers' caught compliments our thought cloud

in the glow of somewhere else you carry

& will one day return to a star or sun isn't that right?

hot black girl mess/ black girl hot mess / hot girl black mess

Sometimes, I want to tell a really unflattering hot mess bachelorette story about myself, like the time I was cooking half-naked on my second floor apartment and I heard someone call my name--but then i remember that the concept of “hot mess” belongs to young white women who are deemed attractive enough that their self-deprecating “mess” is forgivable because their lives have an underlying expectation of goodness and success regardless of their peccadillos whereas my mess as a black girl is not seen as charming but an endemic representation of the failings of my race whose negative stereotypes i must fight with declarations of royalty, fierceness, and beauty if not an 24/7 facade of respectability due to the societal expectation of me being low enough that the mess is assumed while the success is not, the success must be seized, the competency must be asserted, the intelligence must be proven, the confidence must be tested, and with all the time i must devote to these small tasks, i will scarcely be allowed the luxury of a benign mess. But still, I was cooking half-naked in my second floor apartment and I heard someone call my name. Of course I freaked out, thinking that 1) someone could see into my second floor apartment, 2) they recognized me, and 3) they now knew that I habitually went about my day in a state of undress. What else had they seen? Who else had seen me?

But as they continued to call my name, it occurred to me that they might have been calling for a different Maya. And yep, I eventually met a little girl with her hair in barretted braids who lives in the same complex I do. Meanwhile, I bought a frilly black apron to fend off the oil spills and still wear whatever I want at home.

first world

what it first meant was:

the strongest buildings still announce bomb shelter

sturdy tan boxes where

before i was born

my parents cousins possible friends

learned to hear sirens and crouch under desks

 

what it really meant was a blue for freedom

like the seas between us

an arbitrary line drawn in bullet or tank track

red over there, for blood we still desire

 

what it means now is that a children's tv show

told me to save water.

i choose not to i like the fizz of its pressure,

white with excitement after brushing my teeth

& after the first spit, i cup my hand,

lower my mouth

lips to the water,

ah! how tasty how endless beautiful clean & free

that brief beautiful bubble when i was (we were) rich by osmosis

I was an impressionable child, overimaginative. I caught the sadness of anything near me, even if it was supernatural. After my dad told me about yajuj and majuj, and how Allah made humans of fire (jinn) and light (malaikah), I would idly look for angels in filtered sunbeams or listen for the voices of jinn leading me on--although I'd been told they were not at all like shoudler demons from cartoons, that they were most interested in minding their own business. Still, my dad was so sure that the end of the world was near that I looked for signs as a sort of impulse I still haven't entirely kicked.

Once, when Deadheads in town, my mom got lost on the way from the hospital and I cried of fear that she'd wandered into some other world, taken by ghouls or zombies. I didn't know what Deadheads were. I pictured something like a roving band of conjurers who worshipped the late Jerry Garcia, a baccanal Wild Hunt devoted to a 40-year old rock band. Maybe they even revived him during concert ceremonies--hey, I didn't know what their concerts got up to. All I knew is that the smells and looks of the nomadic van-living dreaded folks who overtook my familiar neighborhoods overnight made it feel as if a gate to the other world had opened. And mightn't Mom have wandered into it?

When Tupac died, I was torn between thinking he would haunt us or that he would rise again. I lived in San Diego while Pac lived and died in Los Angeles, but the mythology around the man was too large for a single city or county. I felt that the fate of the West Coast was tied to the fate of Tupac. He was our lamb and lion, while The Notorious B.I.G. was the martyr for the East Coast.

I didn't understand the difference between Tupac and Makaveli but the fact that Makaveli's album came out after Tupac's death was reason enough to believe in his return. The video for "Hail Mary" was a warning: the spirit of Tupac could act through others and punish those he loved, punish the state he loved for failing him.

The West/East rap rivalry took place largely through lyrical snipes and diss tracks, but I hadn't heard the songs in question. I saw the West/East rivalry as a cross-country gang war in which an underground network of color-coded national alliances, claimed territories, clans and dons and secret passwords. My brother had to assure me that Tupac wouldn't haunt us, that we hadn't betrayed him--because anyway we liked West Coast rap better, right? It was better.

(Well, even now, I prefer Odd Future to the A$AP Mob.)

So I refused to listen to Biggie to preserve my soul, and (when I became less superstituous) as a matter of pride. Total Request Live didn't care about my soul, however, and I couldn't help hearing and seeing the hits from Biggie's Life After Death. I wondered how his greatness had shaped his half of the country. B.I.G's posthumous album sounded not like revenge but like a celebration of a buried harchet. His best friend Puff Daddy mourned with Faith Evans but then they all popped champagne and went dancing in outer space. It sounded like and end and my brother verified that yes, Tupac's and Biggie's death meant the end of the West Coast/East Coast war.

(We would watch the videos for cameos that signified alliances. When Snoop Dogg signed with No Limit, that was irrefutable proof.)

So I wasn't particularly concerned about the y2k bug (we didn't yet own a computer when everyone else was panicking), the year of 1999 was beautiful to me. The apocalyptic symbolism of it, the magnitude of what it could mean... The zeitgeist had shifted from the 90s to the 00s: we'd gone from the hard-knocks and poverty of gangsta rap to the money, power, and sex of party rap.

Listening to "Mo Money, Mo Problems" felt like being in a national sweepstakes: I'd get a car, you'd get a car, they'd get a car, we'd all get cars! I thought that when Diddy said 'we' he meant 'black people,' not just his friends and labelmates. I thought he was wishing into being a world that finally loved black people. I had seen enough Mo-Town documentaries to know the history of black music, and I knew that we were often copied, unpaid, uncredited, erased. But here we were, front and center, successful and loud, top of the charts! Brandy's "Top of the World" told me where we were headed. Mya's Ghetto Superstar" was written with me in mind. The world finally loved black people.

Missy, JanetTLC wore armor and jumpsuits to summon the future with love songs, bye songs, and synced dances. Computer graphics was younger but came closer to replicating our world with every new game and film. Cell phones were still yet twinkles in investor's eyes, and all technology shone with hint & possibility. Black people were front and center in the media, happy and copied and admired by the world. And yet...

I don't know how much money my family had at that time. I know that we moved to the East Coast (Providence, Rhode Island, to be specific) around that time, and we seemd to have moved right into the music. I was ten, tuning my ear to hear the production differences between Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes, and Timbaland. Some part of me knew I would be rich someday, I knew it, because I was a good person and a hard worker--A student without even trying). I was creative and I was young and it was about time. I had everything the world said I needed to be rewarded.

The world was new and new and new no matter where we went and I would be one of those pretty naked girls in Cancun one day, no doubt! I wasn't allowed to wear swimsuits and show that much skin but it would be a matter of course that I would meet Carson Daly.

This was just before politics mattered to me, when everyone was corrupt in a way that didn't matter because everything was fun and everything was fine. Who cared!? The future was coming on. I don't remember how long we were second-hand rich, how long I had the future. I do know that it was gone by the end of 2001. By the end of that September, definitely, it was gone.

Even now, I am one of those impressionable, overimaginative people who think there might be an alternate world in which Bowie and Prince are still alive, a world with more balanced energies in which Trump was not elected. In that world, the FBI caught the hijackers when they were simply names on a watchlist, Bush was not a wartime president and thus not re-elected, the nation that Obama inherited was not a limping thing but a spritely hyperpower arcing towards peace & progress, there was no housing crisis or Great Recession or need for Occupy, and the world really did love black people and the hiphop hit party never ended.

there are things blackness hasn't touched

or doesn't touch

or will or should, like

 

the cork-hat or the cork-hatted man,

his sons: Irwins, Kratts, Hanna

in safari tan, all.

 

or the mother of watching, who crouches

hidden recording & watching a band

or family troop or community that--

(how does she rank them? a step above us? me a step below her?)

in the light of the college's chapel

what did she think when i raised my hand and voice:

'i think their rights are not as pressing

for now'? or the plant-fed girls seated around me

 

or the father of altruism, sitting tenured

over his envisioned drowning child,

hands forming professorial barrels

around something like 'liberation'

--i want to say he stole that word

just as his young infiltrate a farm quicker than a prison,

free cattle sooner than a man

 

before all that, i lay before the tv

(9 or younger

(legs swinging

(hair still braided)

with my animal books & a notepad

sketching the photos of roseate spoonbills

pallas cats

fennec foxes

endangered and extinct:

that whales this pigeon that tigers

i am not Black yet

when we are all beasts

 

a human onscreen talks of warmth and breasts

& i realize my mothers (& my own someday)

but i don't yet weigh men's bodies

against dogs or lions;

link the wildness of the Motherland

to my own blood

or recognize the yokes or cages & colonies in it no

 

i learn somethings of Human Nature,

build my morals it brick by fact by brick

they tell me something about tooth and claw

violent innocence green wonder

black theory has yet to address

my search for the great homeschooled novel

Back around 2011, when I bought an up-to-date Guide to Literary Agents and did market research while sincerely believing I could sell a middle grade book despite my utter distance from the literary market, I read that there was a gap in the market for book about homeschooled kids.

As a homeschooling grad, I thought (and still think) I could fill that gap. But not right now; right now, I don't know what the Great Homeschooled Novel looks like. I'll probably be fumbling towards that as I continue to write, for adults as well as for kids.

There are a couple of things that resonated with me as a homeschooled grad, and I feel like these influences will bring me closer to figuring out how to portray the experience:

  • Where the Red Fern Growswhich struck me as a kid as familiar and vivid and adventurous, same as it would strike any other kid, right? There is a scene where the wild boy protagonist comes face-to-face with a normal schoolboy from town, and someting in that scene make me realize that I was the wild boy and not the schoolboy.
  • Captain Fantastic, which I had been dying to see since it came out but have watched only recently. Based on the childhood of the director Matt Ross, the family in the movie has a particularly White Anarchist back-to-nature philosophy, but so much of it rings so true to my life. It would be easier to list the differences:
    • That we were seven siblings, not six
    • That my dad plays flute and drums, never bagpipes
    • That our mobile home wasn't a renovated bus named Steve, but a brougham of some sort
    • That my dad doesn't make fun of christians, not that much
    • That my dad would never buy us knives (wth?)
    • That we didn't celebrate Santa OR Noam but Ramadan
    • Oh, and my mom is still alive
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I haven't seen yet. I know the show covers themes of innocence/shelteredness that I am afraid I will relate too strongly. In my mind, the set-up is too close to the narratively-ironic innocence of Room, which gets way into the darker side of seculsion from society, way into abuse and neglect. I haven't seen that either, and don't really want to...
  • Similarly, Dancer in the Dark, and the rest of Lars Von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy. The sweetness/darkness of Dancer in the Dark resulted in it being the only movie that's ever made me cry. Having Bjork portray an immigrant who believes in Broadway musicals but gets screwed over by America is just too cruel. I haven't seen the others in this trilogy, but I got into his unfinished American Trilogy through Dogville, which smacked the martyr out of me and also killed me a bit. (It was a good idea to watch them both entering the nonprofit world! 🙂)
  • On a lighter note, I loved The Wild Thornberries, or anything else where the kids live in an RV and learn from books and nature but not teachers. That show gets special bonus points because Nigel Thornberry's job is the one I once wanted. (RIP Steven Irwin, forever love and admiration for you and your wife and your kid 💙) This was one of the few kids cartoons I could watch not set in a school, but there should be more. I like to think the lack is what drove me to anime like Pokemon, which featured preteens running wild, free of all institutions, and learning about fauna and flora.
  • I occasionally read up about the Quiverfull movement, although I have been shy of watching or reading too much about the Duggars or Jon + Kate, because of all the hate aimed at them. A lot of the homeschool movement is Christian, though, so I'm obligated to know about them as well as the anti-establishment hippies, I guess.
  • Speaking of hippies, Sufjan Stevens, but also anything related to Wardorf schoolsMontessori schools, or other kinds of alternative education. Since I really don't know how to portray school in fiction, I really have no choice but to set my child characters in settings where they have more choice, freedom, or democracy in how they learn. Oh well.
  • Anything Jaden And Willow Do Or Say Or Think Or Make Or Sing, on a similar weird-schooling note.
  • And last but not least, J. D. Salinger's Glass family stories. I can't and won't say too much about how this series affected me for fear of spoiling an upcoming project, but I know me and my siblings bonded over this series. It's already providing me a roadmap for how to write my life.

poems about particles and/or waves

GLORY

to the dumped me

someone quoted that a good love

is one with someone who thinks the sun shines

out of your ass.

 

well i think everyone is made of starstuff

(gay enough to want to be liked by every pretty girl)

but i have once or twice seen a body where light burst unbound

from every orifice

rays freed shone enough to bask in,

irradiation that made me high

 

& the sources so?

or thanks my wife saw it first, or sees it brighter

or i don't believe you and ran

 

hey me too,

i don't yet believe i (woodhued clayborne gangly thing)

speak anything but dioxide poison

prove me wrong i tell the wait

& listen for someone's awefilled gasp

at what cosmic timeless light i hold

(of a bird) to wave or open and shut (its wings or tail) with a quick flicking motion

i am a little bit dense

of a girl, teasing out love's phonemes or quanta

to destroy implication.

i like must never mean i will sleep with

nor should a yes to dinner.

i wonder how to make words mean only meaning,

would sentiments expire?

how often should we renew?

 

can it work if a kiss does not mean union

does not means future

does not mean only

just why not? or that you are deft or pretty,

have trust or flavor.

must a held hand contain a therefore

& because & if i'm beautiful, yes thanks but so?

that doesn't tie me to you

(sometimes you are beautiful & i never want to touch you)

 

there is no space in love to fit forever,

we can announce each tomorrow

instead, each whens calms me

more than touch yes each

plan is a palm stroke

promise makes the back arch

 

is coffee coffee?

or simply your place--no

but i want to hear it:

my home my body my ownership 

(which is still no certainty

what is in your bookshelf?

or game or film or meal instead)

 

the last boy's language was a reclining

& a firm claiming; a want that grew

when passed from body and back

to body and back to body

in blameless animal language

 

say, what muscle, of eye or lip

led you on as you claim?

what red what flash what fever

sorry. i am a little bit foreign of a girl, to all customs

the only mating dance i know i have written for myself

poems i wrote in my head while biking through the black side of town

WHAT WOULD BROKEN WINDOW THEORY SAY

about the time we tied a jump rope to a glass door.

(it was fun for a while) to play single-dutch,

young limbs too unsynced to share.

would it say something other than to beaver's stray baseball?

 

or to the frisbees collected on the white gravel

of the roof of our lopsided yard, 

on our hillsided street;

tossed back to californian blond(e)s,

on a scale from oops to neglect, just what

 

or while biking through the black side of town

( an immigrant home also wanted by gentry) 

i spy ahead, the tremor of the filament in a broken taillight,

wondering what depth or death is rattling there

 

here i see dandelions,

a sidewalk that threatens a spine,

parallel parking just a little too ascrew

& if i get lost drop or spill or mistake out here

alone (i hear censure whispering feel eyes)

how would Broken Window Theory judge it?

alternative lineages for black folks who prefer democratic representation

Welcome, melanated ones. We live in a democrative republic, yes?But the Democrats and Republicans do not want us; what now? Should we return to Monarchy? No, let's keep the equality of all but instead of kings and queens, try reaching into your blood, your past, to discover who you are. Your great grandfather and great great grandmother and their greats were Great, no doubt. And you, descendent must be....

Defenders & Warriors: You who hewed the path, warscarred, fireblooded, loyal. You body was toned, reflective black tendon beautifully tensed and trained. Your Greats and Greats stood shoulder to shoulder, vowed and expired. Your bones remember some betrayal. But also, pure strength: an arrow twang, a spear's thud, the many of a home kept safe, yes, even now.

Healers & Doctors: You know the body, as those before you knew theirs and their lovers. Blood is in your blood, inured against pain. There is magic on your tongue, wise saliva. The Black grey matter from your Greats and Greats, you have been handed, to save.

Givers and Lovers: You are the reason you are here, so great is your empathy. You cannot harm because you hurt when you hurt. You must give care. Your tears grow forest. Your Greats and Greats grew shells and so must you, callouses to save you. Love flows from you, an unbroken chain from the past to whom? You must choose wisely where to give.

Artisans & Crafters: Your Greats and Greats had nimble fingers, birthing hands, whose children Oppressors and Others might erase. But look! That column, that cake, that carriage! That melody, that road, that garden. That mansion is your mansion. Even unsigned uncredited, it all is yours. Your fingers know as they whittle or carve. Whether they clench clay or marble, it is home.

Thinkers & Teachers: You knew another name for Anamnesis. Some other tongue will unlock the memory of your Greats and Greats, who may have failed to record. They stored their findings in the minds of the young, abstract seedlings passed down and down to you. Whatever is not known to you, you have been made to learn or relearn, but most of all, regive.

Explorers & Heroes: Much of the new doesn't feel so, to your blood. Your Greats and Greats found the whole world, the first world, before. Strangers just repeat. You must go farther, longer, deeper, more; to the moon, the wandering planets, the sun. You will live forever if it saves the day.

Storytellers & Seers: You can see the past if you wish, a closed-eye-view to your Greats & Greats but moreover, you must see beyond. Can't you feel it? In dreams or in songs? Whatever is not given, you envision to make. You must tell others to turn the vision real.

Rebels & Tricksters: You are alive for the same reason as ever: outsmarting someone. Maybe the taxman, maybe death. Maybe Oppressors or Others, you've dodged. They are bigger but you have money in your shoe and butter on your tongue. Your Greats and Greats played cards with the devil to win you skills; be careful! Don't singe yourself when you burn things down, take someone with you against the Way-Things-Are. You are a cool fire, quicksilver or lava.

Muses & Mystics: Everyone watches you. They are hungry, for how you set their lives aflame, ineefable. Inspiration in your lungs, they want to kiss or lap it up, to suck and gain. Your Greats and Greats knew the unknowable. Even god was jealous, let alone man. You will be chased, as they were, but you are forever just beyond and will never be caught.

Guides & Seekers: You carry a torch, never lost. Your brothers and sisters huddle to you, whispering in the darkness, which you do not fear. Your Greats and Greats made peace with darkness, with unknowing and wayfinding. True North is deep in you, stars look like family's faces. Your love of the sun becomes language, it tells you where to go. Or it doesn't, and you blaze the path.

Dancers & Artists: Being is most being to you than anyone. The uncreative life is no life at all. You have the most of it, more and more of it, until it makes your body move. It bleeds out of your fingers, words or colors. Or streams out of your mouth, lyric and rhythm. Your Greats and Great were thought mad, so full of newness and More and Making. You are beauty itself; you are all the above.

You melanted one, are one of many, equal to all and master of a niche that the Greats and Greats carved out for you. And yet, you can choose to change. Give and break and carve something new, for those who come from you someday. Farewell.