Archive | April, 2013

The last Wednesday in April

30 Apr

It began as any usual Wednesday. I left Bruin Walk
on borrowed CP time- just enough for Yarborough’s
lecture on the Harlem Renaissance. Think he taught Toomer.
I remember being bored and that was odd; there’s
something arresting about Toomer. I also remember a sense
of foreboding like great grandma’s return to warn me.

Soon the trek back down the Walk was halted by what
lay before me. It was warped and surreal, like Clocks that Melt
maybe. Pools of students huddled in catchalls near kiosks and
corners, strategizing a response while one kid buzzed from huddle
to huddle spreading ideas. Someone shouted “F Tha Police!”
A girl wailed, shrill and incomprehensibly and I asked the universe,
“Who died? And why are all the kids who care BlackBrownYellowRed?”

Exiled from the hood, we were detained and sequestered on
the fifth floor of The Co-op on Landfair. Like suburbanites we were
subjected to watch justice in her most perverse prom dress on television.
Our city ignited into a six alarm fire fueled by blood and vinegar on
a 20 inch screen. Only these were not glamorized gangsters on MTV
but the liquor stores and donut shops on Mama & Nem’s street.

10:15 PM and the 405 was an anomaly of sorts, vacant and leggy like
Overseas Highway; only the sea to our right smelled of salt while the
left of singeing flesh and gas. The landscape questioned the boundaries of
war, fantasy and reality. It was pretty at first glance, nearly serene, but
then our eyes readjusted, clarifying that the sun had not set its horizon
on the city of Angels. Instead rage scavenged viral among us, consuming
life, the fruit of its labor, all while incinerating mercies.

That was the ride home from school on the last Wednesday in April.
Suddenly I had no sense of home. All my childhood adventures were
temporarily unavailable, beaten down in a squat white interrogation room.
I don’t remember sleeping that night. Seems like the news monitored us until
we faded into something safer than the city blocks surrounding us. Two days later,
hoarse and wheezy from night fires, I mistook ashes on the lawn for snow.


Pedagogy & Scholars

25 Apr

My pupils trip over word traps
they alone set for themselves
with false hopes of impressing me
sprouting trite loquacious syntax.
In other words, they fall “tryna
sound smart.” Still we
work because they are mine.

Like paupers at the wedding brokerage
they know their seat at the banquet table is
often forged with mercy and grace as many
arrive with meager means. They come
with empty gourds hoping to take their
fill and run as far as public education
will take them.

I fight the pedestal erected for me because
I am not a wizard; I have no magic wand.
We toil wherever we find each other and
navigate the labyrinth as best we can. They call
me “school mom,” “Mama C,” and some sadly
just call out “mommy.” One told the principal
she wanted the last name Charles.

This life of mine spans three two-term presidents,
two states, three national tragedies, and thousands
of lives bearing the same thirty faces. Ten of those sleep
in hallowed spaces. Every year I mistake them for three
of my own. Every year I want to take three home but
I settle for school mom instead and give them back.

Every summer their names are all “Sweetie” because
now well above two thousand, my mind can’t bear to hold
each syllable. Not sure if that means much because like cells
their stories attach faces and bond to carved corners in
my heart. Yes, I’ve grown weary as some stars twinkle
and others flicker while some, well they just think they’re dead.

So every August, though I swear I’m spent and done,
I return to the meeting place hoping to find someone ready for a run.

Copyright Asani Charles

Urban Blight

22 Apr

“The Chair of the Federal Reserve reported today that although the country’s financial situation appears to be bleak, he is most certain the upturn of the recession is in sight.”

What has become of Suburbia, Middle America,
you know, where you live? Are her lawns
kelly green and curtly manicured? Is the minivan
still stocked with soccer, baseball and football
adventures? Does the ferris wheel lollipop around with
rosy-cheeked giggles and cheers for pizza afterwards?

Or has the American Dream found a new normal,
a blunt elbow-blow reality so tritely named urban blight?
The picture, now expanding, is recycled nightly
in the news. Its graffiti mural bleeds into Chicago streets
rendering illiterate rappers famous and suits on LaSalle
awkward and powerless. Yes, it sloshes about the neighborhood
while teenage angst results in twitter suicides and Margaret
copes with mommy juice and The View. Empty cargo trains slug about,
pushing town to town, barricading these from those

pawn shop boarded-up mom-and-pops
foreclosure liquor store empty church
pawn shop vacant lot notice how freeway on-ramps
are always headed out.

Copyright Asani Charles 4/22/13


18 Apr

Standing in a room full of words
I find none to fit the breath before me,
trying to become a sentence describing
the significance and my dependence upon
all that is you.

I tug at words but like sliding in and then
out of your bear like slip-ons they just don’t fit.
I play with fonts; like that will make a difference
but whether in Candara or Braggadocio, my heart
craves you the same and still lexicon can’t frame it.

Tongue tied and awkward, I realize there is a limit
to logos. It’s like saying I’m fluent and then suddenly
I become stumped by flailing “Plomero Spanish,” spiraling
out of control, wading in “¿Cómo se dice?” for
“stay,” “you,” “need,” and the ever evasive, “adore.”

When you are the subject it’s clear I could never write
for Hallmark. So let this blunder serve as the legend to my
faux pas. Blank stares are glances lost in awe and wonder.
“Shut the hell up,” is a cry for patience and maybe caffeine and
of course a side-eye assures you are still here.

Perhaps it’s passive aggression that spawns this game of verbal tag-
you pull me in and I push back with lingual paralysis, just fancy for the cat
stole my tongue and fenced it on Craig’s List. Bottom line is, my left foot
searches for your warm calf at three in the morning. That means I love you and
a soft hand whisping the small of your back is “I’m sorry.”

Copyright Asani Charles


17 Apr

This morning $10 bought exactly 2.61 gallons of medium grade petroleum
For a 15 year-old Volvo requiring premium unleaded.
Am I pessimistically nostalgic or
has the land of the free
forgotten this public school teacher,
who packs a lunch so she can
drive 12 miles to teach
21 year olds in the 12th grade?

This month’s check was short $888.00.
$603 of that went to medical insurance for
a family of five,
including barely dental and
vivid dreams of vision.
Am I democratically bitter
or has the home of the brave required the same
of me in the emergency room?

This afternoon $10 will have to morph into $15 to buy exactly
2.61 gallons of medium grade petroleum
for a 15 year-old Volvo requiring premium unleaded.
Am I a soured killjoy or
has Old Glory spread herself thin,
fraying her hems, leaving me to
question bread for lavish fumes?
This question is not rhetorical.

Tomorrow afternoon federal lunch will cost urban teens $1.25,
while 12 miles away, their semi-lower-middle-class-foreclosed cousins
will pay $2.15 for the same chicken fingers and Salisbury steak.
Both groups will forego federal preservatives for Frito Lay.
Both groups will throw it all away.
Both groups will walk past the streaked glass windows and
ignore hunger for fashion. Now am I hypersensitive or has Jim Crow found new life in
“Separate but Equal”?

This evening George Bush decided that playing golf during a war
“just sends the wrong signal.” This of course, is reported five years into
a labyrinth luring 4,072 and still growing into
permanent places of sleep. Am I antiestablishment or
is all established honor to the highest office
shattered and shriveled amongst monosyllabic synonyms for
“hard” “rough” and “tough” job? November is coming, right? Or
are we waylaying democracy to solve the economy problem?

I need a ride to take my mind off the blush and bashful
pieces of mail sent from people who require my attention
but I can’t because tomorrow morning’s wage is already spent on
the $20 buying exactly 2.61 gallons of medium grade petroleum
for a 15 year-old Volvo requiring premium unleaded.
At least the 21 year old in the 12th grade will still be voting age.

Asani Charles

Indin Souljer Boy

16 Apr

With utmost respect and honor I thank those who give it all…

What’s he to do these days?
No jobs, no prospects,
Where, here? On the rez?
Where, there? In the city?
Might as well, cop a meal,
Nice suit and a bad haircut.

Might as well make grandma happy.
He can sit stoic in the frame
next to Grandpa’s and Red Cloud’s.
swap stories with daddy and uncle Jim,
“Iraq IS NOT the new Vietnam, cuz only half the country
supports Iraq. We had nobuddy.”

Yeah, and then he can gourd dance.
Standing there, proud to have served his country.
gallant and valiant, he’ll extend his hand to
gracious shawled mothers.
Might as well feel good about it.
Does he really need to know what he fought for?

After all, he’s a member of two nations
with two flags and two eagles, one revered, one defiled.
Isn’t it his duty to defend the not so green anymore land;
all that we have left, from new conquistadors?
Isn’t it his turn to pick a good day to die
In the name of broken promises?

Might as well right? After all,
they’ll sing songs for him,
bake cakes for him,
hang quilts for him
name mountains after him (just like Piestewa)

And then with his last good breath given in the best way,
won’t his sacrifice finally be right?

-Asani Charles
Copyright 2/7/2005

For Shane

15 Apr

I remember dancing in the rain
thinking that a redblack brown girl
in a mestizo neighborhood could swing
like Fred Astaire.
I’m sure they laughed from crowded windowsills
but I cared less, I was free under Lost Angels’
acid rain. I was eight then.

I remember craving rain at ten.
Mama played The Stones and a new
kinda blues was made,
‘neath rain, in the grooves of “Miss You,” in our
slow motion sways in the living room
of our El Sereno apartment.
I was ten then.

It went on like that for eight years.
And then the rain changed on me, shaking
my bones and rattling hidden insides. A
fear of living replaced Astaire and Jagger.
Showers couldn’t wash it all, something was
always left behind.
I was no longer new then.

Still, somehow, the water would come and
remind me of those gray mornings on Lowell.
I’d smile and try to keep my mind on the road
driving itself before me. Living was no longer fearful
but a familiar practice, caught amongst the
calls of duty, and
scary monsters under twin beds.

So today’s rain is particularly peculiar.
I’m not reminded of lemonade sales
for movie seats.
I’m not remembering mama lip-synching with
her British bloke.
I don’t even flinch at the lurching storms
of my early independence.

No, I’m reminded of you.
I hear you now, dancing
like clouds are your arena,
like thunder is your drum,
crafted by His hands
just for your scissor-like mocs
and flying bustles.

The lightning is your honor beat
bravado; sticks in the air as you
catch them on time.
The panting rain the atmos’
lulu to your aerobatics.
The brushing wind a swelling
whistle call for “one more!”

And of course the deafening tumbles
are necessary, how else will you
land with a big finish?
Hunh, no wonder you
test even the forces of nature,
bending them with a savvy grin
The choreographer’s always right.

What a pleasant find!
Thank you nephew, you summoned back the
theater of the rain. Now that little brother’s
gone to find you, you’ll never dance alone again.
Twin storm funnel clouds, coup sticks in tandem,
light up the purple Oklahoma sky.

© Asani Charles 8/7/08, 4/15/12