Monday, January 25, 2016

Fiction Series: Free Verse: Part 10

To read all parts of this series, go HERE.

I could still feel the imprint of Damali’s kisses on my lips. I ran my fingers along them, closing my eyes momentarily, trying to bring back the moment. I sat in the park, with a journal and pen in hand.
      I tried to scribe about the onlookers; I wanted to write bits of Brooklyn into my work. I needed to apologize to my city for leaving it behind, by writing its beauty into immortality. As adamant as I was, about this, I couldn’t help but write about Damali.

What makes you so fly
You crawl under my skin, like
Summer sweat
And street lights
Got words that belong
In composition notebooks,
You hum my metropolis,
My world, so sweetly,
With your words
They should plaster the pages
On the brownstones,
So onlookers could remember we were here
            The park was filled with those without a care in the world: nannies, children, those with night jobs, those with trust funds and possibility. I’d taken the C-train and walked over to Ft. Greene Park, just to get out of my neighborhood. Hopefully, the change of scenery would inspire my pen.
            Two small boys, arms hanging from a jungle gym, in the distance laughed. Their sounds carried over into the area with benches and latched on to my memories.
            I often wondered what my son’s laugh was like. I pondered if he was pushed on a swing while his voice filled a park just like this one. I couldn’t help but imagine the wrong palms, pushing him higher and higher, palms that had no correlation with his own, palms that could never mimic his lifelines. When did he learn to swing on his own? How did his independence show up on his face? Were his eyes, like mine? Did he tell his "mother" or "father"…let go…when his feet became accustomed to bike pedals? Did he have a backyard? Did the grass end up in his hair? Did he run barefoot, wild, and free?
            I hoped that he was somewhere warm and loving. I prayed that he broke bread with a family that urged the smile from his lips, pushed his swing, held on to his tricycle and let go when he asked.

            I couldn’t help but think of the ocean when I thought of Kal-El. Even with all this concrete, brick, and stone around me. I listened closely to the rush of a nearby, broken fire hydrant. It mimicked the rush of the ocean, outside, as I was told to push, to let go. I held him briefly, as I watched his eyes flicker. He wanted to look at me. I couldn't stop looking at him. Before he could wail, before he could cry out for his mother, they pulled him from my arms. 
brown boy
who belongs to me
who belongs home
I hope you know beaded curtain,
Box spring,
Beat box,
I hope you know where you're from
My anxiety started to build. It’d been a while since I had an attack. They started in college, after my parent’s death, and I’d learned to control them with therapy. A feeling of panic rose from my stomach to my chest and my heart thumped like it needed a door to open. I closed my eyes and silently prayed it wouldn’t show. I could bring myself back to reality, be reaffirming my surroundings. I grabbed the rails of the bench, ran my fingers along my jacket, and pulled my nails across the cover of my journal.
I was here in the park.
I was here, writing my truth.
I was in the middle of Fort Greene, watching remnants of my childhood and newcomers interact.
I was only steps away, from where shattered pieces of my upbringing lay.
The anxiety started to rise again. My tactics were not working. I lifted myself from the bench and began to walk towards the exit, hoping no one could see my breath escaping rapidly.
“Jai, is everything alright?”
The voice resounded, behind me. It was deep and filled with concern. It traced my earlobe, calming me at once.
Malaki walked towards me, on the pathway out of the park. I couldn’t tell if my anxiety subsided due to his presence or if my fear of him seeing me unraveled prevailed. He was a walking dream. The type of man I imagined my mother slipping into her prayers and palms. He was secure, genuine, intelligent, and courteous. He wanted to know how he could help, in what ways he could make me better. He probably assumed that I was better, that I was his equivalent. He was wrong. I was the opposite, a multitude of sad stories and muddled anxieties. What did he see, in me?
“Is everything okay?”
I furrowed my brow, hoping I could convince him of usual stress. He could see right through me.
“Talk to me. I’ve been worried about you.”
I imagined him watching me from afar, seeing my sudden departure from the park, following me while I tried to find air,  “I’m okay. I’m just working through some things.”
“I usually come here to get work done. It’s a change of scenery. I noticed…”
“I was just leaving to go home and get some writing done.”
“Can I make you a cup of coffee? You can get some work done, in my office. I live right across the street, you can see the park from the window.”
Malaki was intuitive. He’d been checking in on me at work, bringing me coffee on my most tiring days, smiling when I needed reaffirming that I was doing okay. Could he see my sorrow, from where he stood?
I thought of the night before. I envisioned Damali’s arms around my neck and his thumb in the small of my back. His touch was a ghost, standing between my diminishing affection of Malaki. Malaki stepped forward and held my hand, I’d waited too long to respond, “It’s okay, we can talk when we get inside.”
I was standing in Malaki’s living room. It was standard bachelor pad d├ęcor: leather sofa, flat screen, and white walls. He had huge bay windows, installed in the front of his condo that I was sure used to be the site of a brownstone.
“When did you say this was built, again?”
“2012. I bought it and I rent a room downstairs to a friend of mine. It was a steal. It was first company bonus and I needed to make sure I invested in something other than New York City rent.”
            It bothered me that I couldn’t remember what used to be here. My old neighborhood was becoming a figment of my imagination. I watched the same kids I’d been watching earlier, run around the playground. I could no longer hear their laughter; it was replaced by the sound of Malaki’s coffeemaker and the sound of spoons against porcelain.
            I nodded my head. I refused milk and stated that I liked my coffee black. Malaki smirked and raised an eyebrow, as if to infer something.
            Everything spilled.
            We talked until the wee hours of the morning.
            Malaki was easy to talk to. He was a true listener, interjecting only to prove that he was still listening. I told him about growing up here, my eroded relationship with my father, my parent’s sudden death, and the box that sat in the middle of my studio apartment. He stopped me, only to make more coffee and then he’d tell me to go on.
            My notions were on display and he stopped to admire each and every one.
            How did that make you feel?
            Do you still think about it?
            What’s next?
          We talked about almost everything. The one thing I'd failed to mention was Kal-El: the bud that flowered in my womb and was plucked before it blossomed. Malaki excused himself to go to the bathroom. I stood up, from the sofa I was sitting on, and stared out of the window into the now dark grounds of the park. Pitch: like my apartment with Damali beside me, bereft of light after our bodies found their way to one another. Amongst the inky shadows and the occasional sound of a passing car, I told him of my long lost love: a child too new to understand his meaning. Damali, too, listened and kissed my forehead. He sunk into my confession and sighed heavily, "You're stronger than you give yourself credit for." 
           Malaki came back from the bathroom and mumbled something about covers and a guest room. I turned to him, trying to figure out why I could not give him the same words I gave to Damali. 
               "I think I should leave. It's been good talking to you. Thanks, for everything."
               I left Malaki's home, refusing his offer to walk me to the train, waiting for the sable sky to swallow me whole, for my anxiety to rise.
Nothing came. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Guest Fiction Series: Vinnie, Part 7

For a few months, will be taking four guest authors #fromblogtobook. Each week you'll be able to read a new installment from unique aspiring authors. This tale is from R. Preston Clark. Enjoy!

                                                                    (Read all parts here.)

Such a blessed closet. So much black. So much beauty. Today calls for something different. A white short sleeve button-down collared shirt. White loose-fitting slacks. White socks. White sneakers. White laces. White baseball cap, no logo. Laid out on my bed. Attire so fitting for a viewing.

You are assuming that my mother is an angel, so the attire is appropriate. That is incorrect. White is depression. White is the prison-industrial complex. White is the school-to-prison pipeline. White is the destruction of human rights. White is oppression. White is slavery. White is racism. White is death. Are you shocked? Are you surprised? How could I place white in such light? Imagine how black must feel.
This shirt fits perfectly. One sleeve at a time. Five buttons. So do these slacks. One leg at a time. Zipper. One button. Comfortable socks. One foot at a time. Sneakers snug. One foot at a time. Laces clean. Double knots. Both sides. Baseball cap fitted. Perfect imagery.

My soul is splintered into thousands of pieces and not even the best surgeon with the most steady of hands and a surgical team of the best in all of their select fields could put it back together again not without the voice of my mother guiding them putting them in the right position to properly assemble a soul only she knows up close…
Run on sentence, run on…

Sentenced to an earthly existence sans my mother. Dressed in exactly the message I want to portray. I just hope people can understand my word choice, my style choice. Not trying to make some grand statement. People only question you when you go against the Euro-centric norm. Baldwin would be so proud of me in this moment.
“What are you wearing?”

My father wears tradition on his back like his slave first and last name were tailored for his lips. Black suit. Grey tie. Black shoes. Grey socks. Perfectly shaven. A crisp gentleman. Baldwin would put my father in such a properly structured sentence, dropping him to his knees in Uncle Tom anguish. Oh, the whole armor of God is on me today and she is just as fed up as I am.
“She would want you to be appropriate at this time. We are about to bury her. You look silly. You do not look like my son.”

I stare at this oddity of a man. This traitor of gene pools. What does his son look like? I look like my mother’s son, possibly the greatest visual representation I could foster. His approval is not necessary in this moment. Neither is his presence. Neither is mine. My feet start moving. Somehow I end up out the door. Walking up the hill from our house. Someone calls my name.
“Vinnie? Vinnie?!”

Sounds like my father. Does not sound like my dad. My legs make my decision for me. One step at a time. No need for directions, this is natural progression. I am supposed to go this way, in this way. Time to walk in my truth. I will be saying goodbye to my mother’s body soon. There is no way to prepare yourself for such an occasion, only time.
Footsteps behind me. Louder. Running – with a purpose. I do not want to turn my head around. I do not want to see my father in his house slave’s Sunday’s best. The footsteps slow, replaced by heavy breathing.

I hope it is my father…
“Look at me.”

I know this voice. It is one of friendship, of knowing when to show up, of being there, of providing a shoulder, of walking in my truth. I turn around to engage.

“My dear friend.”
“You walk too damn fast.”

“You’re just out of shape, sir.”

“You need to learn slang.”

“Why you ruin everything?”
I smile. This burst of youthful exuberance comes at a time when my thoughts only surround that of the adult realm. I am dealing with things beyond my emotional scope. Am I intelligent enough to understand? Absolutely. But despite my academic prowess, I still cannot add more years of experience to my current 14. No book can substitute experience. I have experienced other worlds through my favorite writers’ viewpoints but that is all that I can claim. To be a kid, on occasion, is a necessary reminder to slow down.

“You thinking about something overly deep, ain’t you?”
This white boy makes me laugh.
“How can you tell?”

“You make facial expressions the rest of us don’t know how to. Like you’ve been here before or something. When it happens, I have to fight the urge to slap the hell out of you.”

“Fight the good fight.”
“I hate you.”

“I miss you too, Walter.”
He wears a beat up white T-shirt, dirty blue jeans, busted sneakers and battle scars. He looks like he auditioned for The Sandlot or Stand By Me. A stereotypical rugged white boy, attractive to some, a threat to others. His experiences differ from mine. It is written in his outfit, on his skin. In his eyes. His tongue paints a different picture but his eyes, pain’s locale.

“Where are you headed?”
Drop my eyes. Raise them again. Slightly smile. But I would not call it a smile. That would be disrespectful to happiness. Walter puts his arm around me.

“I’m going, too.”
“You are?”

“I am now.”
We walk. Nobody talks. Only about a mile remains in this trek. A car has not pulled up yet to reveal my father. It is a detail of this trip I thought would be added. He let me leave his house, on the way to his deceased wife’s viewing, by myself. I may not be dressed like his son, but he is not dressed like my dad. He is forever my father. Biological necessity. Financial security. He fills a need, but does not satisfy mine.

R. Preston Clark is an educator, screenwriter, poet and open mic host with too much to say in too many ways.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fiction Series: Free Verse: Part 9

Read all parts of this series, HERE. 


It suddenly crossed my mind that I hadn’t eaten, after spending an entire day in front of the computer. I was working on a book of poetry. I’d started it my freshman year, slipping pieces of paper and napkins I’d scribble on, in a portfolio. It wasn’t until having coffee with a fellow writer, notes protruding from the folder, that it was suggested that I start to compile them for a book.

The process was a daunting one, filled with doubt, perfectionism, and the urge to erase things. I tried to be new Jai, in my words. I wanted to write poems, as if I’d only been living since I left for college. Unfortunately, my mind conjured everything familiar. Bodegas, melanin, and Brooklyn’s beautiful decay slipped from my pen continuously.

I pushed the gate that enclosed my apartment building’s steps, open. Fall was winding down and the chill wind indicated that winter was on its heels. There was a fish fry place a few blocks away. I knew I’d regret the calories later, but longed to feel the comfort of grease and fullness.

I walked down the block and took in the night sky, bereft of the stars that I’d become accustomed to in the south, and listened to Brooklyn whirr. I lived on the cusp of Bedstuy and Bushwick; a housing projects across the streets and fast-food still abundant. I picked a portion of Brooklyn that hadn’t been altered yet. Partially, for the cheaper rent; another for the rawness of it. As horrible as some of my memories were, I couldn’t deny that Brooklyn was suffocating. There was an air of audacity; an abundance of folks who dismissed concern with the impudence of conquerors.

I watched faces bereft of melanin, scurry from trains, not acknowledging a world that's been born on the concrete they stepped on. They awaited a time, in the coziness of renovated homes, when they would no longer fear what was happening outside of their window.

I often feared that I was considered one of them. I could not tell if it was this anxiety, my genuineness, or my upbringing in “The Fort” that made me greet the brothers on the corner. Usually engaged in conversation about pop culture or block gossip, they’d nod and concede my existence.

“Good evening, ma.”

I smiled back.

I was not one of them. I was not one of those that scurry; those that deemed others invisible. At least, I didn’t think I was.

I had to think of it this way: If it were an abundance of us, wealth included, would the city move to change the environment? Would sirens wail louder? Would help arrive faster? Would the cracks in the sidewalks suddenly disappear? Would potholes come with cautionary signs? Would trees sprout overnight?

I didn’t think so.

On the walk I thought of Damali., His demeanor reminded me of the borough I grew up in. I was still annoyed that he’d only just mentioned that he had my parents’ items stored somewhere. He had several instances to tell me.

As I neared my destination, I paused. Would I have been willing to receive Damali’s news, when I first met him? I was a ticking bomb, diffused by the right tone, touch, and time. He seemed to have that effect on me. But did he know?

Before I opened the door of the restaurant, my hand found its way into my pocket for my phone and dialed his number. It was his voice that woke me up from my trance, “Hey, Jai?”
I’d only seen him twenty-four hours ago. His voice sounded worried. He probably wanted to know whether I’d looked through the box’s contents if I was ready to talk.

“Hey, are you hungry?”

I wasn’t ready to talk. I wasn’t prepared to confront the past and be the person I thought I left behind.

“I am. I was about to cook something. Did you want to come by?”

I didn’t want to take him up om his offer. I wanted to be in control.

“No. I was about to grab something from this fish fry spot, near my house. Come over. I’ll grab you something, too.”
Damali snickered, he sensed my need to sway things, “Okay, Jai. Text me your address. I’ll be over in a few.”

“What did you mean by ‘you’ll break my heart’?”

Damali and I finished eating our dinner and we were seated on the futon in my studio that in a few hours would fold out to become my bed. I thought about this, as Damali put away the garbage. He walked away, to the kitchen area, his back bulging from the shirt he wore. We’d been close to each other before, but never in such a solitary place. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I jumped at the sound of the forks hitting the marble sink. Everything seemed intensified, when he was around. He came back over to the futon and sat on its other side.

“I meant exactly what I said.”

“Why do you think I’m interested in you, that way?”

“Oh. In that way? So you’re interested in some way?”

I gulped and buried myself beneath throw pillows, “Don’t flatter yourself, Damali.”

“Your father was like my own.”

What did my dad have to do with this moment? I hadn’t felt this way, about anyone, even Malaki, in a long time. This was not the time nor the place to discuss the bond between him and Michael Merendez.


Damali moved over. He was sitting right next to me. He placed his hand on my knee, as he spoke, “I need you to understand that I would not be sitting here if it wasn’t for Michael.”


January 13, 1997

Today I saw, D, again. That's not his real name. He refuses to tell me who he is. He says he doesn’t know if I’m a “snitch” yet.


Mills watched as the boy swept the stairs, in front of the shop. Autumn approached slowly, the leaves cascading onto the welcome mat. The day came to a close, while the purple and blue of the sky swirled into the night. The boy was doing well: He showed up to work on time, greeted customers with a smile, and cleaned up before he left. When Mr. Mills placed a “now hiring” sign in the front window, he hadn’t expected a boy of that age would ever be his most faithful employee.
Mills stood at the end of the block, with Michael, smiling at the boy’s vigor.
“I think he’d do well, in your program.”
“I know. I saw him a few months back, sleeping on a bench. He ran away from me. I’ve been looking for him, ever since.”
“Well, he won’t run now. He and I get along. I’ll call him over, here.”
A few months ago, while Mills was counting his profits for the day, police cars littered the block in a matter of moments. Despite the slow integration, crime was a steady reminder that few things had changed. They pummeled on every door of the neighborhood, looking for a young man. They wouldn’t disclose the crime, only his description. At the very moment, the police turned away from his door, Mills heard rustling between his shelves.
“Who’s there?”
The reply was the quick pitter-patter of small feet, and suddenly a small child almost ran past him. Mills grabbed his dirtied collar and stared at the little boy, who couldn’t have been older than nine, raising his fists and feet in protest. He lifted the boy and sat him on the counter while he spit and cursed violently.
“Let me go!”
Mills blocked his path of escape with his body and looked over the brown boy whose legs dangled from his store counter. His clothes were too big for his body, draped over his skeleton like figure. A blotch of red ran down his arm, and Michael recognized it as dried blood, against his brown skin.
“Are you hurt?”
He was quiet, now that he realized he had nowhere to go and would probably be trapped until the police arrived for him.
“What’s your name?”
“Why does it matter? Call the cops back here and let them take me.”
“How did you get in here?,” Mills asked.
“Front door. You were in the back, and those dumb ass chimes are finally gone.”
Mills laughed at the boy’s last utterance, “What are you hiding from?”
Mills stared into the small boys’ eyes. His voice, too big for his body, was clearly that of someone who’d seen far more than they should be allowed. There was a small commotion outside. The police officers cuffed suspects and pushed them into their squad cars. Mills and the little boy stood on the steps and watched alongside the rest of the neighborhood. The small boy began to cry. Mills knelt down and handed the boy his pocket square.
“You want to tell me what happened now?”
“I don’t wish to tell on my brother. I don’t know anything.”
“Who wants you to tell on your brother?”
“Everybody. I ain’t no snitch! I don’t know where he’s at, anyway.”
“What did he do?”
“I don’t know. My mother ain’t home. They’re all over our place. I can’t go back there.”
An ambulance passed through, bereft of sirens. A woman, still in her pajamas, arrived for the boy and grabbed him tightly. Mills sat back and looked on in wonder, saddened by the lack of shock on her face. Her hair was strewn, eyes were wet, and alcohol was lingering on her breath.

She pulled on the boy’s arm, annoyed that she couldn’t find him, “Only one I got left.”


“Mr. Mills gave me a job. I didn’t keep it for very long, because after I had met your father, I wanted to work for him. It took months to convince him, but I eventually got small responsibilities that lead to larger ones at the community center.”
“I guess that’s why you’re so good at what you do now.”
Damali smiled, “Indeed.”
“I have a confession.”
“I’m listening…”
“I didn’t open the box, yet.”
“I figured that. You haven’t talked about it.”
“I’m not ready.”
“I don’t think we’re ever ready, but life is deciding to confront our worst fears.”
“What if you’re safer not confronting them at all?”
Damali put his arms around my shoulders. My heart was no longer beating fast; it had stopped. I could not feel it in my chest. It seemed to have jumped out and found its way somewhere else.
I spoke again, “I haven’t opened it yet because I’m still angry at my father. I know it sounds ridiculous. How could you be mad at someone that isn’t alive? How do you mend things with a ghost?”
“Jai, were things so horrible that you can’t forgive him, even in the grave?”
Damali was blinded. He’d known my father as a leader in the community, a leader. He would never understand the lies, the cover-up, the shatter that my family became.
“Damali, I didn’t even know about you. What does that say about our relationship?”
“I’ve always seen it as his way of protecting you.”
I looked down at the floor and followed the lines of the wooden panels to the box, which still sat in the corner I’d kicked it into, “Or isolating me.”
“I’d like to think that I knew your dad pretty well. His office at the center was filled with pictures of you. He told us stories about your triumphs. He used your stanzas, as bookmarks. He read us things you were working on and begged us never to repeat it. We all aspired for him to love us the way he loved you.”
Damali’s words were new to me. They bounced off of my ears and wrapped warmth all around me. My father, Michael Merendez, bragged about me. He read my work when I wasn’t looking. He loved me.
Damali’s arm seemed to tighten, around my shoulder, “I told you. He was the father I never had.”
I didn’t want to talk about him anymore. I took my next thought, stared at the box, and mentally tucked it there for safe keeping.
“Does that mean you see me as a sister?”
Damali wore the same expression he wore the day we stood in the cafe; he wanted to push me away, but there was something in his warrior eyes that wouldn’t allow him to, “No, I don’t. That’s why I’m going to kiss you.”

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