Tag Archives: National Poetry Month


5 Apr

Watery waves above seared asphalt,

I wonder how long we’re to bare this

inferno, this burden. How did we get here?


Summers of long ago were built for mindless

laughter, and the splashing of dirty tiny feet.

We ventured out at 8 am and surveyed the wild

hills behind us, be they made of concrete or granite.

Under the paramount of 80 degree palm trees

We dined on the likes of Pop Rocks, Coke, pickles and

America’s Best, Project Kool-Aid. Why did we leave?


Roads warped and lawns parched, we huddle now

in vacant spaces, too hot to touch, leemealone. The

tile is cool and the AC struggles to hum, but for how long?


One August I fell in love with Leonard. That was me,

hair feathered and free, body stuffed in a flat tank top

and daisy dukes. I only watered the grass every day at

2 o’clock; the time he came home from hoopin’ at the park.

He was enamored with my 12 year-old frame I’m certain.


Four grandmas fell in thirty days due to century heat

beating their ages. Budget cuts closed one city pool but

dilapidated, who’d walk barefoot to its watering hole anyway?


June ’91 sparked the summer of free beginnings.

Boyz N the Hood made Crenshaw a tourist spot and

we were okay with it; we were 20, dreams aplenty, and

days of the week spawned one long water filled weekend.

Newly on the verge of making count, we believed we

were invincible. In a year we’d elect a sax-playing President.


104° in Dallas and kids remain house hostages ransacking our nerves.

Senators ransom both college funds and Grandmas’ prescriptions.

My how we’ve changed over this 21st Century Summer.


©Asani Charles 8/1/2011


April’s Roundy

1 Apr

March to November moves clockwise to the

prairie songs of eight cowboy-hatted men.

Dancers circle about in a kaleidoscope of hues,

bells and sparkly rhinestones.  Among this

concert of colors, one girl, wearing her grandma’s

simple jingle dress, closes her eyes on honor beats,

dancing church as the tin cones make medicine.

She thinks no one sees her.


Every Saturday he dons his father’s roach and single bustle,

moving counter clockwise because that is tradition.

He dances for grandpa who cannot. He never takes a

number because the drum is not a lottery.

His vest doesn’t glisten so he rarely catches the judges’ eye.

Still a handful of young hopefuls watch his

every step, coup and stop.

He thinks no one sees him.


When the round dance sings it way between

contest and cake walk, they make their way,

slide stepping with the head lady, slide stepping

with the head man. Then like kismet, at the eclipse

of the men and women’s lines, she notices his old-style

bead work with the fat, chubby beads in muted colors.

He marvels at her lone braid and scarlet scarf

en lieu of a fan. He wonders what her family name is.


© Asani Charles 4/2/13

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