braggadocio to let you know

braggadocio to let you know

 

This is a Drone not Drones poem

A making broth out of bones poem

A poem so fresh it probably never had a home phone

Peace summit at the Pizza Shack with Vice Lords, cops and Stones poem.

A Yanez verdict burning straight up systems overthrowing poem.

This shit’s self published and collected in its own tome.

This poem’s grown.

It groans, moans.

A bright light shone on all the places where you won’t roam.

Dig a little deeper and discover that this loam’s foam.

You’re thrown, holmes.

Your seed sewn.

Put your ear to the universe and listen to this poem’s ohm

Vibrating tectonic plates till we’ve all got our own thrones.



 

Get money, buy poetry

So, that's actually a sticker idea I'm toying with, but then I don't know if any of you guys actually exist and/or would buy one, so let me use this opportunity to also mention that Marco Poems, my debut chapbook/zine situation, is now available at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. This in addition to its availability at Minneapolis' Boneshaker Books, this website, or from me in person. If you would like to distribute via your own store, record label website, or fanned out on your band's merch table, please get in touch.

Big Sales Pitch and Sneak Peek Poem

I heard a podcast the other day talking about how the idea of sound might be somewhat unique to earth, that in space it might mean something very different, based on things like atmospheric pressure and a bunch of other science I barely understood. 

But it did make me think about how, when we try to communicate with The Others, we do things like sending gold records into space.

Sometimes I wonder if these blog posts are gold (silver?) records that I'm sending into space.

And while that may absolutely be the case, it is also possible that all the space records get intercepted. Maybe it's 2078, and despite every medical advancement, I have somehow perished, but somehow the internet has persisted, and you, dear reader, have discovered this site. 

First things first: congratulations.

It seems only fair that you should be recompensed for your efforts. I offer you, below, the poem "Hole in the Wall" from my inaugural chapbook. Please, if you don't already have a copy, get in touch with my estate and demand that they sell you a copy. Lord knows those bastards are probably making a mockery of my legacy.

The Hole in the Wall was a real place, located in what used to be called the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, but, through the miracle or realty is now known as the North Loop (because it is just north of downtown, presumably, but I can't for the life of me understand why it's a loop -- this is not Chicago). It was an actual hole in an actual wall along the railroad tracks that abut downtown and head west to Willmar and east to Somewhere Else. 

In its day, as I understand it,. the Hole in the Wall was a famous homeless camp for the sorts of made-classy-by-history railroad tramps that likely frequented the nearby skid row (itself a casualty of 1960s urban renewal). 

I got these stories as hand-me-downs when, at 18, I was working for the Salvation Army out of its Harbor Light shelter on a truck that delivered sandwiches to those homeless citizens who didn't want to come in to the shelter (and in those days, at least, I can't blame them -- it was chaotic there at best, and I didn't ever really feel too safe there). It was a hard spot to access by truck, as I recall, and so we didn't go there too often, and, on many occasions, struck out when we did.

But then we heard about a family who was staying there, and we visited them a handful of times, delivering sandwiches and whatever else we could. I don't remember much of those visits, except that there were kids, and a mom, and that everyone seemed generally on edge, furtive even. I can't blame them. 

Twenty years later I'm almost certain that the Hole in the Wall has been razed,.sealed off, or otherwise been made inaccessible by the construction of Target Field and the march of progress. It's a difficult internet search, too, for what was purportedly such a famous homeless camp, but the one link I did find features a guy I knew back in those days from another camp.

I should also acknowledge that the poem features another character from the streets, Thumper, who was a real person. Her real name (if she and/or my memory are to be believed) really was Diana, and if she's still out there somewhere and ever has occasion to do so, I hope she'll forgive me for taking liberties with her story here. I don't know if she ever camped at the Hole in the Wall. 

I also want to say that, while the paint huffing part is not fiction, Thumper was extremely kind, exuberantly so. It is not my attempt to demean her in any way, only to shine a light on realities that I think many of us would prefer forgetting.

Hole in the Wall

You meet all kinds of people on the streets —

One Thumper, nee Diana, flecked with gold,

The remnants from her favorite way to fly.

 

That week that Marco spent with her in camp,

Along the railroad tracks outside downtown,

A place those in the know just called “the Hole,”

 

was six days longer than he’d planned to stay.

The holidays had brought him low again,

to drugs, to sex, to life away from life.

 

A place has never been more aptly named;

a wall, a hole, a cellar long forgot,

a world apart, lived mostly in the dark.

 

They’d met at Harbor Lights in line to eat,

scored drugs from someone she knew at the desk

and walked the railroad line back to her “place.”

 

They’d both smoke crack and she’d huff paint all day,

and here and there they’d find the time to fuck,

and that’s how Marco spent his lowest week.

 

and its noon

or its midnight

or its thursday

and with every inhale

every droplet of perspiration

beading

pregnant on the brow

and thumper pregnant too

the immateriality of time made manifest

beneath warehouse district streets

tasting the darkness marco is green

stealing the last of the holiday decorations

from his souls interior

and little cindy lou who

cheek smudged with dirt

books in her hand

coming or going from school

through the hole in the wall

and marco didnt know there were kids

he didnt know who was there

in the haze of no light

forms in the dark

rodents and humans and ghosts of each

mythological conflations of the two

he didnt know and then he did

and what the fuck and hes green and

the contents of his stomach present

themselves at the girls feet and

marco is out

out

out

out of the hole and

running

sweating

running

freezing

at the river

at the trestle

and almost over

almost over

almost over

marcos lowest week is almost over

 

Out Now! Marco Poems Chapbook

I'm so pleased to announce the publication of Marco Poems, a chapbook almost two years in the making. Click on the "Buy Poetry" link above to purchase your copy directly from me. $6 gets you what I think is a beautiful little book, 8.5 x 5.5", signed and numbered just this evening by yours truly. This has been a labor of love, and while the DIY aspect has made my brain ache at various points along the way, I'm thrilled with the end result. 

UPDATE 5/13/2016

Hey friends, it's been a while.

A few quick items:

1) You can preorder your copy of Rad Families: A Celebration from PM Press, a fantastic radical Bay Area publishing house whose entire catalog is worth perusing. I'm honored to be included.

2) I have a finished manuscript, tentatively titled Marco Poems, a mini-chapbook with about fifteen pages worth of writing. The hope is to collaborate with some artist friends and self-publish something really beautiful that you can hold in your hands. If you'd like to contribute a giant (or even medium) bag of money to that end, I'll allow it. In the meantime I'm shopping it around to publishing houses, but that length is kind of weird, so we'll see. If you are a publishing house and you want to take a chance on this project, get in touch.

3) Some of you will remember that I'm a teacher. As the school year winds down, and summer looms, the time available for me to give to creative pursuits begins to increase somewhat, which is to say, watch this space for more art.

No More Locked Doors: Jamar Clark Was My Student

Jamar Clark

Image courtesy Ted Hall Photography

 

Note: For the sake of confidentiality, I’ve omitted some of the names of the subjects of this piece, including only what has already been reported elsewhere. Additionally, this piece originally appeared at the Minnesota Writing Project's Urban Sites Network Blog, which I help operate.

While I love teaching, there is, at times, an emotional weight that comes with it that I couldn’t even begin to try to describe to those outside of the profession. These last days of 2015 have produced grisly news headlines whose subjects intersected with my life as a direct result of me being an educator: this one murdered by police, that one beaten and hospitalized by his students, another charged with murder and aggravated robbery; the latest additions to a pile of similar headlines that have touched me over the years.

I began my career in education in the spring of 2005 working as a paraprofessional at Harrison Education Center, a federal setting IV facility for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (E/BD). I was 27, a student at Metropolitan State University’s Urban Teacher Program, and eager to get my foot in the door in a public school.

I was also in completely over my head.

I figured I could handle the E/BD part — I was coming from a day program for adults with developmental disabilities where human bites were a hazard of the job — but this place was absolute mayhem.

The administrative style could best be described as laissez-faire, ill-advised under the best of circumstances.

These were not the best of circumstances.

A word about E/BD for the uninitiated, and please note, there is an awful lot of my own opinion seeping in here: E/BD is solely an educational disability, which is to say that you could receive the label of E/BD from a school but not be diagnosed with any sort of other real and actual medical disability. Ostensibly, the idea is that your inability to regulate your emotions (and subsequently your behavior) is a barrier to the education of yourself and/or your peers. It can look a lot of different ways, does often accompany actual disorders (Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a big one), is far more subjective than many would like to admit, and is, as a result,given disproportionately to African-American males.

As for the settings, setting IV means 100% of a student’s day is spent in special education, so a federal setting IV high school for students with an E/BD designation means a lot of locked doors, and a lot of students who were deemed unable to make it in a more mainstream setting.

It was, as I said, chaos.

I learned a lot, mostly about gangs, about how to and how not to talk to students when they are escalated, and about injustice. Sadly, the students weren’t learning anything. The worksheet was king, particularly the word find. I vowed in those years never to assign a word find for any reason. (So far, so good.)

The next year the head of special education for Minneapolis Public Schools took the school over. He restored order, relative to what it had been, and insisted that teachers actually teach. Things were better, functional even, though I’m pretty sure no one was ever asked to write a paper in the time that I was there.

During that time I met Jamar Clark. He must have been about sixteen, and while he did at times display an explosive temper, he was mostly quiet, with a mischievous sense of humor. As these things go, I only remember a handful of things about him really well: 1) I remember his face. He had an incredibly expressive face. A quick google image search of his name yields a lot of images that aren’t him, but the ones that are display a range of disparate emotions. 2) I remember he had a slight speech impediment. Or at least I think he did. 3) At the very least he would adopt this kind of funny voice when we’d get to one of Harrison’s many locked doors, saying “No more locked doors.” It’s loaded with meaning now, but at the time it was a funny quote from Next Friday (I had to look that up just now). 4) I remember sitting in the computer lab with Jamar and some other students. I was at the computer to the left of Jamar, who was so jazzed about the upcoming release of Li’l Wayne’s Tha Carter II. There was an innocence in how giddy he was that makes everything that happened since all the more tragic.

Or maybe it’s everything that happened before. Others have written better than I could about the conflicting forces pulling Jamar in different directions, using safe and unexamined phrases like “troubled past,” and that’s fine, but what are the forces outside of oneself that cause one to end up at a high school where no one is assigned any papers? Or, if we take that as our starting point, if we’re really honest with ourselves, what kind of outcomes do we expect for someone coming out of such a system?

Or, to really put all of my cards on the table, given the value that we as a society have (or have not) placed on this one life through our education system alone, whywouldn’t I expect that he would be murdered by police*?

And the news cycle continues, and it isn’t long before a former colleague from another district is sent to the hospital after trying to break up a fight in the cafeteria. People ask me, “what’s going on over there?” and I opine, letting myself get fired up about how district policies that lack restorative practices create an unsafe environment for everyone. “The thing is,” I attempt, “I feel as badly for those kids as I do for that teacher.” They look at me aghast. “How do you get to a point where that’s okay? Where did we fail?” They don’t know. Neither do I.

And then another headline. Another former student, this time part of a violent crime spree one fall night that included credit card theft, home invasion, and murder. I remember this student well, too. His hands trembled and he had long fingernails. His attendance was terrible. He may have been on house arrest at one point and worn an electronic monitoring device on his ankle. I remember watching him flirt with a girl in the gym, calling her “Shawty,” smiling wryly. Better than his nickname, I suppose: “Poopy.” I remember we had to watch him closely in the gym, something to do with his heart.

I read a statement in the newspaper that he had given to the police when charged, stating that “only intended to do robberies and that he was upset that people were getting killed,” and I guess I believe it. I also believe that it doesn’t matter, that his fate is sealed, and maybe was long before that night.

And the thing I absolutely don’t know how to explain to non-educators in my life is that, in truth, I have no idea what to do with any of this, but I move on because I have to. I write this post. I think about how I’ll supplement Native Son when I begin teaching it next month to include a challenge of privilege and a pedagogy of resistance. And I hope like hell that the news will give me a little peace, because I have plenty more Jamar Clarks I’m worried about.

*I want to acknowledge that it took me the better part of a week for my feelings to coalesce around this issue. Having written angry poetry in the wake of Treyvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Sandra Bland’s extrajudicial killings, I would have thought I’d know exactly how I felt if something like this happened in my city, to someone I knew. But I waffled. I offer that because our human reactions to things like this — things I suppose none of us should have to deal with — are very complex. The politics of proximity, I guess. The other day a friend referred to Jamar saying “sounds like he was a piece of work,” and I bristled, explaining that I’m too close to the situation to say that. But like so many of us, she was trying to make sense of the senseless, and that’s where she ended up. It’s complex.

GUEST POETS!

I'm teaching summer school and (per the above poem "Middelschmerz") we've been looking at issues of police brutality and race. We started out by reading some poems from a poetry workshop that took place in Baltimore (poems by Afiya Ervin, Brandi Randolph and Kyemah Clark  found at www.blackwordsmatter.org). We analyzed those and then the kids wrote their own poems, which were in turn peer reviewed and revised. 

Because it's summer school we have limited technology available; I put my email address on the board and implored the kids to share with me if they felt so moved so that I could share them here, explaining how compartmentalized we all get as adults and how fortunate I feel to be exposed to their multiple perspectives every day. There are many more beautiful poems that didn't make it into my inbox, but what I did recieve is below. It's worth noting that, because of the rich diversity of the environment I'm in, there is a diversity of ability where the English language is concerned. As you read, you'll see what I mean, and obivously these are students, not professional poets. Even so, the sentiment is moving and beautiful and deserves our gaze:

Untitled
Jasmine McBride

I just don't understand..
Is it because our skin color is labelled as the same color of an officers gun that we are forced to interact?
Or are you upset that we are children of the sun, and our melanin bursts, sparkles, and pops until the sun finally sets
My skin is a warm color, brown sugar, radiance, pure divine!
You wanted to be an enemy, your skin white like snow, the heat from my skin, voice and presence will melt you quicker than a gun could ever shoot on your best day, because I am warmth! you hate my kind
Maybe it's because my lips are projected for BIGGER, POWERFUL words, that your ears ache when heard
Hit me, beat me, torture me, I'll still yell the truth with a broken jaw, with words of slurs!
Don't get my anger mistaken for racism, I believe in equality, why can't you?
This will stop, we will make SURE of it, you can't turn every "black" face, blue
And lastly, you should know there are more of us being born stronger, every time you kill one, another warrior is coming through!
Calling war now that we're prepared, is the last thing you should do.

Untitled
Tayler King

The love we've worked so hard for is gone
the love we protested and boycotted for
for a brief moment the worlds of black
and white were in almost perfect harmony
as we once thought it would be
what is the meaning of these actions
why must you treat us this way
why must you resort to these methods
when we've done nothing to provoke you
my brothers and sisters do not feel safe
they are the deer chased by the hunter because
of who we are sometimes we lie in bed and
wonder will I still be alive in 24 hours.

these acts of violence you say we committed
these unspeakable acts from those who say
they're here to protect us yet we hide from you
the crime is you drawing your weapon not my race
you thought because i'm black i've done something
all i did was be my black Self

THESE ARE OUR VOICES

Untitled
Damylia Stuckey

I'm tired of hearing about shooting and killings

From the ones who serve and protect
It hurts to know that my brother has to watch his back
While walking down the street
He's not a threat

My people are dropping left and right like flies
Open season on African Americans is what my country knows
My heart cries just knowing that this is justified

My prayers are angels being sent to the victims families
The families that's still asking why

A question that everyone wants to know

Still slave under the apartment "hope"
Omar Ghada

I hopeful the world is not gonna end like this, it's going to change one day. I hope one day we have the social justice accept our folder open. I hope one day the oil and water gonna change to like salt and water.

I wish black live a long like Mississippi River, not short like deer in the jungle.

The moon played hide and seek with the clouds. What happen if you walk on the street at dark night, and you don't have the flash light and the sometimes lighting for you, but sometimes goes behind the clouds. The police like a moon.

Oreo and milk are two very different things, twisted linked dunked mission accomplishments. Oreos under the milk until the bubbles stop. Nowadays they wouldn't be not surprise if they on the news for murder. 

Chained Kings
Savion Benton

It was way before our time so we would never understand, they use to walk around freely with crowns placed upon their heads they had each other they shared a kingdom with one another. No enemies they all wer Brothers.

they there came a time when the Aliens came to the Kingdom in boats tied them up with ropes that's the day we became restricted from our freedom but they don't know, they like is this a joke can you come untie this rope the Aliens are taking souls and all the kings are being dethroned

they sailed ship on a a boat and made the Kings into lost souls, so generations after that there never was an aftermath, so if we give you present time you would see it's in our nature on how we act. there was a Black man he was a college graduate with a family on top of that he was on his way home from work and being attacked and just because he was Black all he heard was put your hands behind your Back. Chained Kings.

MITTELSCHMERZ

MITTELSCHMERZ

twenty percent of women
can feel themselves ovulate

which is basically magic

lately I’ve been
trying to sit silent
in the white dawn
to see what I can feel

something must be rearranging
at some systemic level
within my brain
everytime I witness
brutality immortalized
in our digital age

I sit silent to see
what I can feel
but I get distracted by traffic
and chickadees

80 percent of women, then
feel nothing, but prepare
to birth
something

maybe there are eggs
moving in my brain

my son was born
twenty years after rodney king’s
terrible night

the first video

a beautiful spark on
the anniversary of an explosion
and burning blocks

I was fourteen
white
suburban
impatient even then
“why is this still happening?”

i thought
my parents’ generation
had sorted it all out
had grappled
had reckoned
had had it out with this shit

i talk to my students
about samuel dubose
eric garner
freddie gray
sandra bland
trayvon martin

et fucking cetera

a litany in language arts
we get loud
write verse
try to birth something new
maybe we can
grapple
reckon
maybe we can

maybe they can
feel it


 

WAIT ONE MORE THING

Writing about things you don't know how to write about yields a weird non-form sometimes, and kind of accidentally reads like a June of '44 song:

WAIT ONE MORE THING

Wait one more thing. I know class is over but before I send you into the weekend just this one thing: I don’t have it in my lesson plan, there’s no standard for this, but just please sit. Just this one more thing: Spring brings weird weather sometimes. You know that, I suppose, but listen: The house next to Khaing Thin and Kyaw Kyaw’s house went up when a branch went down on some electrical lines. The wind blew the flames their way, and wait — one more thing: It’s not in the syllabus: a story about refugees starting over again. Ashes still smoldering early Easter morning. Not far away, Samirria was arguing with the father of their baby girl. She was going to cook Easter dinner, their first as a family, but for this argument. Wait. You need to hear this: The argument went too far. What should I have said to Samirria on her way out the door? What unwritten lesson about young men and emotions and violence? Somewhere in another classroom he missed a lesson about young men and emotions and violence and not shooting your lover in the face. And I learned about it all on Monday morning, ten minutes before standing in the hallway, doling out fake smiles and “how was your breaks.”

So wait, just one minute more,

please fill out this survey,

tell me what to do.



 

REVISIONS

REVISIONS

I.               First Contact

Setting seasickness aside, there’s something sinister
in ships appearing on the shore.

II.             Battles

THE QUESTION THAT IS LIKE THE NAME YHWH:

Don’t we all at least tell ourselves
we’d fight to defend our homes?

If need be, I mean?

Blood and black dirt a civilizing force.

III.           Frontier

Before the service stations
hippy enclaves
truckers and their speed and driving
cattle,
before the Mormons,
before the west,

a place teeming with mammals,
reptiles,
and always,
always the cumulonimbus,
except on days when the bright burning
mirage of the sun seemed so constant
as to suggest that things would always
remain
thusly.

IV.            Modern Era

In a city I hadn’t seen in a minute
I saw an AIM tattoo on an arm that argued
with a confused cop.

Did the cities come on ships?

A documentary I saw a few months before:
a standoff in the prairie
on ground propped up with bodies
from a standoff in the prairie.

Nothing’s better now
but the prairie soil is fatigued
with standoffs
and suicides.

V.              Still Docked

Wrapped up in settler skin
I peer out the window of my mortgage.
My grass has gone to clover
right up to the cedar
fence I had put in.

The other way, a pond.
I squint to see a time before

                                    houses
                                    roads

                                    drainage ditches.

I squint to articulate
problem and its solution:
how to keep the ships
off of the shore.

 

 

 

MARCO ON THE BEATITUDES

Note: I've been working on a series of poems about a character named Marco. He's maybe kind of autobiographical but also kind of a composite of a handful of real life characters I've encountered over my years. At any rate, of the three Marco poems I've created so far, I like this one the least, which means you get to read it here. I'm trying, against my every impulse, to be better about keeping things back, since the reality is that so very many journals require things to be previously unpublished, and even consider the most modestest vanity blog to be publshing.

MARCO ON THE BEATITUDES

Marco hops off the eleven
and immediately onto Matthew 5.
Glassy-eyed, grinning, and with
“No Gods, No Masters” backpatch,
engages three elderly evangelists
in front of Giant Laundromat.

Asked about it later, he’ll explain
something about having sold a deed for a lot
but retaining a blueprint to build.

“I hang on to the framework.”

He’s got, it has to be said,
Something of a holy fervor,
Righteous zeal;

The crux: Swords into plowshares
versus highways and byways,
Paul as a megalomaniac,
Preaching versus protest
“against war and profiteering!”

At the end, he’s really ramped up,
High on coffee, a handful of speed,
And the smell of his own shit.

His voice almost takes on
A certain something southern,
Like he’s out shilling for
a tent revival he is hosting,

Instead of flyering
for a punk show.

 

Vern's Elegy

Vern’s Elegy

Increasingly I walk in your shadow,
Your voice imprinted on me like a brand.
Eighteen years have passed—then I was callow—
Enough to watch a boy become a man.

I wake as you did, long before the light
The timbre of your voice is my north star
In guiding scholars to their greatest heights
But now I cannot wonder where you are.

The distance from your ashes to the urn,
The space between, let’s measure it in years.
If teachers still have lessons left to learn
Will they be taught by opposites of seers?

All this to say, I’m teaching now, a gift
I’ve opened from you, one you meant to give?
Speculation’s all I’m left with. I wish
I could have found and thanked you while you lived.

Though shrewd folks sit and labor over wills
The dead don’t choose the ways they are revered
With every drop of coffee that I spill
I honor all the brown stains on your beard.

 

There Are No Bad People

I’d like to someday understand violence. It is, at its core, an illogical, chaotic force, but also one as old as humanity itself. I look upon the examples of non-violent heroes such as Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, among others, and I’m inspired. On the other hand, as a rather emotional human with a Y chromosome, I’m familiar with the aggressive tendencies that come along with testosterone. I see it in my toddler son as he winds up to hit me while upset. Years ago a friend, transitioning from female to male, recounted how unnervingly aggressive the testosterone made him feel. Like most of us, I would much prefer a world without violence, and find its inescapability guiling.

At the turn of the most recent century, I lived in a home in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood. The neighborhood was blighted, to say the least. A pimp named Yellow lived two doors down, and it was unclear what else was going on in that house. Even so, my roommates and I were all fairly idealistic, all under twenty-five, and somehow established a détente with Yellow. I mostly felt safe walking around that neighborhood at any time of the night or day.

Eventually I moved to Chicago and got married. My wife and I lived in Pilsen, a neighborhood groaning from the early stages of gentrification. Still fearless, I walked with impunity, my biggest concern the role my white skin might be playing (or seem to be playing) in the shifting of the traditionally Chicano neighborhood (“but my wife is half-Mexican!” I imagined myself explaining).

Parking in Chicago can be an interesting experience. Beginning at our apartment, I would drive in concentric circles, taking the closest parking spot I could find, often blocks away. Such was the case late one night when I was coming home from work. I quickly discerned that I had positioned myself between some gang members (possibly the very same who lived in our building) and the police from whom they fled. I wondered what would happen if one group started shooting.

Eventually a variety of factors brought us back to Minneapolis, where we rented an apartment in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, just south of East Phillips. I remember taking long walks into the Powderhorn neighborhood years before, marveling at how much safer and more stable it seemed, how much more beautiful and well-maintained the houses were. Powderhorn had been the dream, and now we were there.

One night we were returning DVDs to the Hosmer library. It was a warm autumn night, maybe ten o’clock or so, a time we often walked the neighborhood to talk about our dreams and aspirations.

Chalk it up to the nice weather, but things seemed kind of electric that evening. That’s a difficult thing to explain. I’ve worked in public education for ten years, and know that things often feel electric in a building right before a big incident like a fight. It’s maybe a skill that is cultivated over time, like a dog that can be trained to recognize a seizure before it starts. Mine was not yet cultivated.

On the way there we passed by two kids, one on a bike and one on foot, making their way somewhat aimlessly through the neighborhood. At one point they stopped to ask if we had a light. We didn’t, and I didn’t think anything of it.

On the way back, those same kids appeared again, and however uncultivated my senses may have been, I could tell that something wasn’t quite right. Even so, we were closing in on our block, and so felt pretty safe.

Once on our street, I heard, “on your left.” It was The Kid On The Bike. I moved over just in time to receive a punch to the jaw that knocked me down. Before I could figure out what was happening, The Other Kid ran up, talking to his friend about the “burner” (gun) under his shirt. They demanded my wallet, which I freely gave. For my troubles, I was punched again, in the exact same spot, and they were gone. We were about three quarters of a block from home.

It’s worth noting that my wife, threatening as ever in a cute sundress and just under five feet (a point she’ll contest), talked all kinds of shit during the entire altercation. Luckily, she was completely ignored.

We called the police, received one of the blue cards that they give to victims of crimes, and waited. In the end, nothing happened.

Except for this little wrinkle: I was working as a paraprofessional at the time at a school for students with severe emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD). I worked as a bus aide, too, riding to and from school with the students. I had moved since then, but the route was the same I’d had before, and mostly hit the same neighborhood.

One day about a year later, driving down Chicago Avenue, I noticed just how familiar the kid sitting across the aisle looked, and I put it together. He had been The Kid On The Bike, which meant that he had also been younger than I’d realized. Even so, his two punches had been enough to knock me off my feet, twice (seasoned fighter that I am), giving me a permanent dimple where previously there’d been none.

We dug around for the little blue card and contacted the police. A few days later we were informed that the county attorney had decided not to explore the matter further, citing just how much change can take place in an adolescent’s life over the course of a year. I understood the liberal thinking, but wondered if the county attorney knew that this same child was in a Federal Setting IV E/BD facility.

The cops came by the apartment anyway and gave my wife an array of mug shots to choose from. It wouldn’t be binding, they explained, but wanted her to choose anyway “for shits and giggles.” She correctly chose the kid who was my student, a kid she’d only seen a year prior on the night of the mugging.

I can’t understate the lessons I began to learn about myself and about human nature. The night of the mugging, after we ran home, my initial inclination was to get in the car and chase the kids down. The particular fantasy I was entertaining at the time, my brain flooded with adrenaline, was to open the door as I drove past and take them out with it. Sort of an update on jousting, I guess.

Once I realized who The Kid was, I had other violent revenge fantasies. These were none too complicated, but involved finding a small room in the school, locking The Kid in it, and beating the shit out of him.

But my moral compass, if trembling somewhat, hadn’t been knocked completely askew by his punches, and in the end my violent revenge fantasies remained just that. In fact, I didn’t let on that I had been his victim or knew anything about his extracurricular activities. For all I knew he robbed people all the time, and I was one of many anonymous victims (I’ve since discovered this to be true, as he’s been in and out of jail since for similar offenses).

Besides, I began to learn other lessons. For example, The Kid was kind of likeable, and I wasn’t really prepared for that. I’d be unlocking a classroom door or something, and he’d say “you dropped your pocket.” I’d look down and he’d be flashing a wry smile (it’s only now, in typing these words, that I recognize what I’m certain is the unintentional irony connecting pocket-dropping with wallet-surrendering).

If The Kid, who had visited an act of violence upon me that permanently altered my face and sense of safety, was funny and likeable, what did that mean about human nature? 

I don’t claim to be a sage, but I think I have arrived at an answer all the same: there aren’t bad people, or good people, but people who make choices, who do things. Maybe some people make better choices and do better things, on measure, than others, but are those people uniformly good? Of course not, and neither is anyone else uniformly bad.

That makes logical sense, but to really live as though you believe it can really fuck with whatever convenient categorization you’ve previously utilized.

Anyway, there was another lesson, this time about revenge, or consequences, or justice. I’m still not entirely sure. One day we were pulling up to The Kid’s house. I’m not sure if the bus driver had been irregular in her pick up times or what, but The Kid’s mom was at the door in a brightly patterned mumu, shouting something about how if The Kid missed one more day of school he’d have to go to jail.

This was to be my second bus epiphany: I realized that, no matter what had happened previously or did happen in the future, The Kid’s life sucked, plain and simple, especially when compared with mine. I tried to tell myself that this was my revenge, that here was justice, but I can’t get there. I maybe find something like peace in the ability to move past the incident, but the circumstances of The Kid’s life, then and now, continue to sadden me.

I’d like someday to understand violence. I doubt I’ll ever get there. In ten years as an educator, I’ve seen students beaten by each other and by police. I’ve had students who committed murder and students who died by gunfire. I don’t understand violence, but I do have The Kid to thank for my understanding of human nature. I hope that I can use that lesson to disrupt cycles of violence.

 

On Lives Mattering: Erasing Privilege

Our country has awakened, recently, to the tensions between communities of color and the police who work in those same communities. Certainly many Americans, particularly Americans of color, have been aware of these tensions for some time. I remember hearing about Amadou Diallo getting shot 19 times in 1999 by four NYPD officers who fired a total of 41 bullets at the unarmed Black man. That's as far back as my memory for this sort of thing stretches; I humbly acknowledge that for others, pigment and circumstance have necessitated a longer memory. Diallo got some national attention, and even a Bruce Springsteen song about the killing, but in the end the officers were acquitted and we all went on with our lives. There have been other killings of unarmed minorities by police in the years since, some of which have garnered more attention than others. Oscar Grant was unarmed and lying on the ground when he was shot in the back and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer. Grant got a film; the officer got involuntary manslaughter.

Still, though, many of us hadn't woken up. Trayvon Martin's death was even more high profile, though if you're paying close attention and disinclined to agree with the path I'm cutting, you'll likely point out that he wasn't killed by law enforcement. Fair enough. Even so,  George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain, and, it seems clear enough now, used his position of authority in order to wield power over the unarmed African-American teen.

If the details were different, the trend is the same, and reveals some troubling attitudes buried deep in the American consciousness about how we feel about young Black men.

And many of us still slept.

Around the same time we began to hear criticism of the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk program, a consitutionally murky protocol that disproportionately affects Blacks and Latinos. This seemed to capture our attention for a while, then fade in to the background somewhat as other news items garnered the spotlight.

Among those: Eric Garner and Mike Brown. The killings of these two unarmed Black men by police (and the non-indictment decisions that followed) woke us up as a country. There were protests, there were riots, athletes wearing shirts that said "I can't breathe" (Garner's last words while being choked to death by police), and social media campaings.

The most notable of these is #blacklivesmatter, a simple hashtag that captured the country's attention.

Unfortunately, when the spotlight came on and woke us all up, many of us weren't ready, and had a hard time seeing clearly.

Enter #alllivesmattter, a reactionary hashtag that seems to suggest that we live in a post-racial utopia with a Black president and everything, and so should get over the notion that any of us is different than the other. In some cases it seems to be an attempt to drown out voices crying out for racial justice, in other cases it seems perhaps a genuine belief that we're all living the same reality. Some demonstrate a limited understanding of the law (and cast minorities as criminals).

Implicit in #alllivesmatter is the notion that anyone was saying that it's not the case, or that #blacklivesmatter is actually suggesting somehow that #blacklivesmattermore. This is false.

What's not false, and what is absolutely critical context for this whole discussion, is a ProPublica analysis of police killings from October, 2o14, which states the following:

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

21 times greater. To say #alllivesmatter, then, is to attempt to erase the privilege that whites enjoy, one in which, by and large, we get to worry about being killed by the police 21 times less than African-Americans.

That's completely staggering. We are not, then, all the same. Those who try to suggest that we are and that we are all living the same experiences are not, I'd venture to guess, familiar with very many Black people.

Since #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter took hold in the collective consciousness, we experienced another tragedy. A mentally ill Ismaayil Brinsley shot and killed NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. They were ambushed and murdered in their car, a brutal killing, like so many others, that should raise questions about our country's attitudes towards guns and mental health.

Instead it spawned #bluelivesmatter and #policelivesmatter, and here's why that's incredibly offensive.

Again, setting aside fringe elements like Brinsley, in the main, no one is suggesting that police lives don't matter, least of all me. In fact, my brother-in-law credits a police officer with saving his life by busting him for dealing drugs, an event that directly led to his own sobriety and pursuing a career as a chemical dependency counselor. Police do heroic work and face great dangers. They are not infallible, as we've seen, but their lives do, in fact, matter.

Here's the problem. Social media users, seeking to advocate for law enforcement, could have come up with any number of clever hashtags to do so. To advocate for police at this very moment, however, using the very language that, let's be honest, communites that have been oppressed by police are using to advocate for themselves, is insulting. It is tantamount to the kind of cultural appropriation that minorities in this country have faced since its inception. It is, in fact, like saying #policelivesmattermore.

And do they? NYPD officers turned their backs on mayor Bill de Blasio at Rafael Ramos' funeral, a reaction, no doubt, to de Blasio's criticisms of the NYPD's history of police brutality. The action seems to suggest that, perhaps, the two officers would have been alive had de Blasio been quiet (in the face of racist violence). Ultimately, they turned their backs on Ramos' grieving family, as well.

What's more, they have obfuscated the issue. To ask police to stop killing unarmed Black men is not the same as being anti-cop. To say that #blacklivesmatter is not to say that white people don't matter, or police, or anything else, but rather that we need to figure out a way to work together to create a society in which we do not have a racial predictability about which group is most likely to be killed by the police.

Those of us who, by virtue of our skin color, enjoy unearned privilege in this society need to put off guilt and shame and defensive posturing and instead examine and own our privilege, and in fact use it to create a more equitable world than the one we were handed.

UPDATE December 2014

I intentionally avoid using this blog for conventional blog posts. There's enough of that on the internet, and my goal in maintaining a blog is to have something of a presence for my more real-deal literary pursuits. Even so, it seems some updating is in order. In August I wrote an update indicating that I was residing not in my hometown of Minneapolis, but in my wife's hometown of Santa Ana, California. I remember writing that post I tried to be careful not to tip my hand too far; rereading it now I see I didn't do that great a job of hiding my unhappiness. Scrolling further, the poetry that came out of that time gave further hints ("Jilting" was me vowing to return a Minneapolis I left stranded at the altar -- I'm that important, while "On the Realization of Dreams" was about just that -- holding the reality of a life in California up to the dream of it, and also about how tragedy can feed a dream).

So we're back in Minneapolis, and for a variety of reasons, none of which really make enough sense on their own, but which taken together were like a tractor beam from somewhere deep below Minnehaha Creek. It's a period of adjustment, to say the least, both in terms of housing and employment, financials and long commutes and, frankly, the guilty feeling that comes from snatching a toddler out from under his extended family. We had that feeling in California, too, and it's clearly a situation for which there are no easy answers. But this is home, and despite everything, it makes so much sense to be here.

I was going to say that it feels so wonderful to be here, but it isn't, for the most part, elation, it's more a constant comfort, or rather, the absence of longing. It's knowing where the bathrooms are at First Avenue, or ordering a drink from someone at Muddy Waters I used to work the Monday afternoon shift with at Extreme Noise fifteen years prior. All sort of dumb stuff, but nice all the same. Turns out I was too old to start over, and I know it now.

In the meantime, though, the world is still a mess. I just watched a room full of students pledge allegiance to a country whose Central Intelligence Agency apparently thought rectal feeding was a thing that made sense/was humane/might produce some good intel. Further, it seems we are a country who thinks that white cops killing unarmed black men is completely inactionable. I believe in beauty and goodness and hope, but sometimes it's difficult to imagine.

And I know, too, that it's complicated. To quote the always brilliant Propagandhi:

"And yes, I recognize the irony.  The system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds.  That's exactly why privileged fucks like me  Should feel obliged to whine and kick and scream.  Yeah, until everyone has everything they need."

So that's the update on my whereabouts and general feelings about the state of things.

I also have some writing news, which is maybe why you tune in. I'm thrilled to announce that my essay "On Infertility" will be in the final issue of Rad Dad Magazine. Their online presence is a little tricky to negotiate, but I believe that the tenacious among you can order your copy here, though it may take some clicking.

I find it tough, for whatever reason, to commit to serious writing during the schoolyear (did you already know that I'm a teacher?), and so don't produce a lot in the way of poetry or essays during these months, though I do have a lot of ideas ruminating in my head. I do, however, continue to write about music at my other web location, the Shuffler. I hope you'll consider clicking on over there as well.

As always, thanks for reading.