Tag Archives: poetry

One Night on San Carlos

25 Oct

One night on San Carlos

Listen now to the misshapen tall tale about how my five lettered name came to be. A Zulu horn player and his chanteuse troubadoured through the streets of San Fran and came upon our house to jam and graze through the grass.

Mama was fat with me and my rambunctiousness and no gift in hand, the African horn man looked in his bag for a name. He played her several melodies and staccatos, some somber and deep, others smooth and easy, like a drive down Pacific Coast Highway.

They must have rapped and jammed jazz and politics all night. You know how musician folk are, let alone two trumpeters, playing ego and sex in every lick like silk running over chords and dandelions while Mama and Mbulu side eyed and sucked teeth.

Soon the last song faded and fatigue lulled them to slumber, leaving the man from Johannesburg with one last offering. It was the best he had, full of Akibulan pride and history. It was green and natural, something about a flower he probably plucked calling on a memory of a spring afternoon.

Mama breathed it in, smiled graciously, and changed it to suit her best.

And so it is that Asani is rebellious in Swahili.

©Asani Charles

haiku

21 Sep

Then: stressed at work, slip

or fall to get paid leave. Now:

some shoot black men dead.

2016 AP Reading Poetry Reading

17 Jun

I am quite blessed and honored to serve as an AP Reader for College Board’s AP English Literature Exam now five summers in a row, and to celebrate our last reading in Louisville, Kentucky, I read two pieces from Love You Madly: Poetry about Jazz, edited by Lisa Alvarado. Here is one of the three pieces I wrote for Love You Madly Poetry, inspired by the legendary Hugh Masekela, who gave me a most perfect gift, my name.

Mahlalela (Lazy Bones)

There is no laziness in those bones.

Music is the symbiotic marriage of math and science

to passion and sound, birthing life, melody and drum

but no work of art is that simple.

Exile a man because he protests with a flugelhorn and prod him out at gun’s barrel,

amidst an ebullition of homestead and singeing flesh, and thwart him westward,

much like the fathers before him. He does not respond in kind,

but riffs on his clarion, “Mahlalela,” lazy bones, as Letta rubs their noses in it.

Rob a country of her griots and the callers will muster like Malcolm and MacDuff,

amassing millions, nations even, firing lyric and melody, chanting “Amandla!,[1]

while Makeba, Masekela, Mbulu and Semenya, turn the studio into the war room

and dismantle the Boer bear from distant waters rallying, “Idlozi livukile! Masibuyel’ emakhaya![2]

No lazy bones in this anthem and victory march song.

Its cadence proud and contagious, its timbre too bright and confident,

fully assured of the perfect, long suffering truth that neither life nor land

has been lost in vain,

and that freedom yet comes.
© Asani Charles

[1] Power

[2] The spirits of our ancestors have awakened! Let’s return home!

 

Sirius

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

On hearts and trinkets

14 Feb

One heart that beats for me

each day is far more

sweet, chocolate, velvet

courting, loving, knowing

and deserving of mine

than any other fashioned

out of paper and red dye.

 

I will meet this heart

in places warm and soft

cozy, comfortable, familiar

and giggle, maybe even chortle

at kindergarten jokes

and welcome what should be

awkward, but in love is real.

 

I will have ears to listen as I

also find audience in this heart.

I will give words that edify

and seek forgiveness when they sear.

I will remember tender small things

When aught sneaks in,

to begin again, rekindle, I pray.

 

And when fire is rekindled something

new always burns while the old

crumbles into ashes. So let bitterness wither,

remaining only old lovers with

new love, retrofit for new days,

two hearts, ever beating always

for each other —daily.

 

 

© Asani Charles 2/11/09

Lluvia & Lamentation

28 Aug

Lluvia & Lamentation

#RememberingKatrina because ten years ago the waters came bringing salt and tears. #LluviaAndLamentation #Katrina10