NAJEEB W. HARB, b. AUGUST 4, 1974, d. MARCH 14, 1989

Najeeb pre-k.Najeeb seriousNajeeb

Najeeb

 

The last Sunday

I saw you,

you were so brilliant with light

I could not see your face.

You’d grown taller than me

and were clumsy in your new height

choosing to wear your denim jacket indoors.

Loving your new adolescence, excited by the prospect

of years of growth ahead:

Would you care for me in my old age?

Did I have the right to expect that,

being only an aunt?

Instead I should have held you until you broke away

and even as you broke away.

As it is I cannot remember if I

even touched you as you left

that last Sunday.

You were so brilliant with light

I could not see your face.

(from EXPERIMENTAL LOVE, 1993)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the record . . . Feminists Artists, Activists, and Academics: Crossing Black Geographies

ZOE_0059The crossing of black geographies is fierce work to be done. The “unconference” would not allow me to bracket myself. My depressive nature causes me to fear beginnings and to look forward to endings. Fear and anticipation bracket my imaginations. Never ‘in the moment,’ as it were. The “Unconference” imposed themselves and created these in-between, these interstitial intimacies, so that I could say every day in the words of one of our participants: Thrilled to be in Durban this morning at 2015 FAAA Crossing Black Geographies with a dynamic and frankly quite bad-ass delegation of South African and Black American feminists, artists, activists and academics.
Crossing black geographies is fierce work. I was not ready to leave. I had to return too quickly. And the intensity is only more distant, not less. The will and skill to document our proceedings were stunning. To say nothing of everyone’s brilliance, difference, and tenacity—as facilitators, presenters, and participants. I feel privileged to have crossed the sacred Atlantic Ocean and traveled through Jo’berg to Durban to be so perilously near the Indian Ocean—a different reverence. And honored to have crossed it with Fran White, a close friend, and to have been welcomed to the shores of Durban by consummate activist artist, Zanele Muholi.
Crossing black feminist geographies is fierce work. I find in my notes the fragment: Then Africa and the world will be a far, far better place. One of our artists, activists, or academics said this of the practice of black feminism, I can’t but think.
“FAAA Crossing Black Geographies 2015 set the gauge for a type of world change—with black feminists in diaspora at the center and at the margins. The dimensions of which are infinitude.

Cheryl Clarke
01/05/2016

Dean Paula Van Riper, Rutgers University (d. Aug. 2015)

Paula Van Riper. I just want to say this about Dean Paula Van Riper with whom I worked and who I knew in my years ‘by the banks.’

worked with her more closely as a Dean of Students of Livingston Campus, 2009-2013. Dean Van Riper was infinitely patient, knowledgeable, and KIND. I always went to her with complex questions about the impact on students’ academic life of any action I would advise. She was down to earth and down. I loved the whole Academic Affairs staff at Livingston, frankly.

Paula coulda been a stand-up comic in another life, she had such a great sense of humor and movement. And maybe she will be a comic. Let’s look for her in our journeys.

Also I loved her because she always called me “kid,” and I know I was older than Paula and most others in my cohort of administrators. But maybe she called everybody “kid.” And that’s okay too

My deepest sympathies to Paula’s colleagues at Livingston and all my Rutgers Facebook friends who knew Paula. RIP Paula Van Riper, you paid the price.

#All this for changing a lane

(I don’t EVEN want to be m.c.-ing another elegy here or rappin out these death similes or samplin these tried and tired tropes, or spittin these beat rhythms, rhymes, and repetitions.)

a fly black girl brown skin and open brown face was anything but bland — even in that mug shot and orange jumpsuit: on her way to life by way of Prairie View, (now joining the long list the most infamous) where unarmed black death thrives in cop custody if you’re changing lanes and smoking a cigarette at the same time but check it out: you’re a fly black girl, smoking a cigarette, brown skin and open brown face—even when ‘irritated’— being told by a smokey to dump your smoke brags ‘I will light you up’ and drags you from your car— sorta like lynching, except Sandy was in custody, though not convinced of its lawfulness. Black people get lynched over cigars, cigarettes, cigarillos, whistling, loud music, loud talk, back talk, praying, running, defective tail lights, toy guns, hoodies, and their own wallets. (Mamie Till knew all about lynching. She crowbarred Emmet’s casket open, and after spying the tell-tale signet ring, touched every part of what was left of ‘little man’s’ bloated body dredged up from Money, Mississippi. ) Don’t be black, coming from Chicago, and traveling South, you won’t stand the storm, if you are a sassy black teenager or a fly black girl, brown skin and open brown face smoking a cigarette, changing lanes and unused to taking low to nonsense —even fatal nonsense. Better to stay with the extreme temperatures of your Midwest Metropole than to cross the median in a Texas prairie or a Mississippi delta town. (America, don’t blame it all on your ‘Stars and Bars.’ Start with your ‘Stars and Stripes.’)

cento of sorts

those mammals: a cento or sorts
dancing feet paws or stout raked hooves
blush and split for us as revival, as revealed
must crawl or be propelled or be brushed to their
seeming sleeping struck squash stuck poise to the side of the road
where a long time ago we had to grieve for them:
weep for them: pity them
but now my strange human duty makes me keep going even if I know I swiped right down the middle of the white stripe from head to tail of a greedy badger hovering at the perforated median–its two halves creeping each to its opposite sides to lie flat fur first to
the proximity of sky
the violence of spring
the lilac’s knowledge
where the deer lives and dies whining
and finally in silent prayerful fetal pose at the edge
while only birds near escape collision except for the occasional wild fowl foraging in twilight at the edge of a pasture of heifers facing some rural route, or the corpulent crow that won’t leave the fresh meat to the hawk on its way back to disembowel the hen it scored in the first place
and it doesn’t screech the broke-glass catastrophes of voice the starlings have
as it back flips upon impact onto the strip of fresh asphalt
its bloody blue-black plume detaching onto the edge of my driver’s side windshield.
“A cento of sorts.” Lines from Jake Adam York “Small Birds of Sound” Murmuration of Starlings; Bertha Rogers “IV. March,” Even The Hemlock; Marilyn Hacker “Letter on June 15″ from Winter Numbers; Eavan Boland, “Elegy for My Mother in Which She Barely Appears;” Cheryl Clarke, “Jazz poem for Morristown NJ;” Harmony Holiday, “Motown Philly Back Again;” Gerald Stern, “Writing Like a Jew.”

June 6

-Today I honor my Mother’s 99th birthday on

6/6/16 to 8/18/04:

‘Damn—katrina! damn katrina? damn, katrina.

i’m glad my mother died two years before this mess or she mighta been one of those old old women trapped by the water as it swole up to the

3rd

4th

5th floor

& she couldn’t git out & she drown-ded remembering her salad days on the high dive.

as it was she died of congestive heart failure, a drowning of another sort.

she went down hard, cursing us all for not rescuing her

from the end.’

(from “high dive,” a poem by Cheryl, 2011)

-And also my Father’s Army service at the U.S. Invasion of Normandy on 6/6/44, as he drove a supply truck to arrive at the front on 6/7/44:

‘he was prematurely gray, even as he left for the war in 1941—the only unmarried son. His mother could not leave work before he had to get his bus for camp. To compensate sent her close girl friend to catch up to him with fried chicken on the backseat and drive him. His precocious niece sucked her thumb crying, ‘unka, unka,’ and even my Mother’s two waif-like children, living across the street with their mean grandmother, begged him from the sidewalk to come back before dusk, as he bent the block to Liverpool and the Luftwaffe. Drove a supply truck with stripped out brakes, arriving on Normandy Beach 6/7/44. (‘A job only a nigger would be given,’ recounted in sardonic retrospect.)

In his ‘service uniform’ he returned in ’45 in time to meet his mother strolling from work up that fabled block of 4-story row houses her family had owned since Reconstruction. As always, she’d changed from her green and white char dress to her flowered street clothes and hose for the walk home. She ran to him, casting down her pocketbook

and

even her shopping bag

of soiled articles.

(from the poem “Block Elder” by Cheryl Clarke, 2011)

JAMES S. _POPSI_ CLARAKE - 04[1]unnamed[2]

Words in honor of our dead: Memorial Day, 2015

The Negro Soldiers

These truly are the Brave,

These men who cast aside

Old memories, to walk the bloodstained pave

Of sacrifice, joining the solemn tide

That moves away, to suffer and to die

For Freedom—when their own is yet denied!

Roscoe C. Jamison

1922 (THE BOOK OF AMERICAN NEGRO POETRY)

Are They Gone?

are they gone?

the strange sweet days

the pockmark jaw

of manliness

the moonlight caught

in the could-be lovely eyes

are they gone?

Donald Woods

(1957-1992)

1993 (SOJOURNER: BLACK AND GAY VOICES IN THE AGE OF AIDS)

Choirs

Three choirs sang at your service . . .

. . . boys in robes

And polished fingernails.

Your first lover preached,

And it was like Saturday night.

Three choirs sang.

None very good without

You

Jewelle Gomez

2008 (TO BE LEFT WITH THE BODY)

Elegy for Clement Alexander Price

(1944-2014)

Fugitive beloved,

Irradiating our belabored city,

whose cracked streets give you splendid passage,

leaving us desolate

here

in this

drear space

of infinite sorrow.

Give him back to us!

Cheryl Clarke

2015 (Unpublished)

Death Poem

You could say

I’m a fan,

A cheerleader

Clothed in a varsity cassock

Two skulls for pompoms.

I’m always impressed with your victories

And hate it when people

Cheat you.

Steven G. Fullwood

2008 (TO BE LEFT WITH THE BODY)

I’ll Be Somewhere Listening for My Name

I may not be around to celebrate with you the publication of gay literary history. But I’ll be somewhere listening for my name.

If I don’t make it to Tea Dance in Provincetown or the Pines, I’ll be somewhere listening for my name.

You, then, are charged . . . by the broadness of your vision, to remember us.

Melvin Dixon

(1950-1992)

1993 (SOJOURNER: BLACK AND GAY VOICES IN THE AGE OF AIDS)

All Souls Day

Half-masked we skip out onto the street

laughing at our little triumph

pretending we have no history

no sordidness

no deaths

and maiming

have never known the little girl

who got a block of wood

forced in her smallmouth for crying.

Cheryl Clarke

1993 (EXPERIMENTAL LOVE)

Before and After

Sean’s half-shut eye is a weight on his already-heavy head. He would not say that he was waiting for this moment. But when it comes—a shudder that feels like death washes across his body as he waits for the elevator that never arrives—he is ready.

A. Naomi Jackson

2008 (TO BE LEFT WITH THE BODY)

Elegy for a Best Friend

she died at the age I was last year

my God, how could that be

she left me mud cloth from Mali yellow tail shiraz

before she leave she teach me to holla from meh navel string up

chile let dem words rise cook life

till de pot nearly full girl

Cheryl Boyce-Taylor

2011/12 (SUNDAY POEMS)

May 16 is the Birthdate of Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) and Betty Carter (1929-1998)

Adult Black Culture is Betty Carter singing ‘Moonlight in Vermont’

betty-carter1

Adult black culture: You need a password to get in. Then you need to practice it—a long time. Not about melody. Diddle, liddle, dlay, lo-do, dlay, laydle-lay-lo-lo. Not about      words or hearing or seeing but sounds, listening, and witnessing.

i.

The challenges that make adult black culture keep coming back: picking cotton, suckling a newborn, and ducking the lash all at the same time.

ii.

With parents at the Howard Theater to see Miles after Kind of Blue. A historic treat. Betty Carter was on that show too. The ‘warm-up’ act, you might say (Miles did not like ‘chicks’ up in front singing). Don’t remember Miles but I do remember ‘Miss Bee Bop’ in knee length fitted satin dress—left side aqua, right side lime—with corresponding shoes and straps that would not stay on her shoulders. Scatting, addressing the microphone, and pulling up her straps—simultaneously. Passwords, practice, melody, and words accentuated and wrung to listening and witnessing. Diddle, liddle, dlay, lo-do, dlay, laydle-lay-lo-lo. Whatever mistakes her dressmaker made with those straps in 1959 did not deter her from performing the live ‘theater of music.’

iii.

All those ballads extolling heterosexuality: ‘I don’t know where my man is . . .’ ‘His lips are so sweet . . .’ don’t mean a thing—diddle, liddle, lo-do, dlay, laydle-lo-lo.

iv.

You can stash all your girlfriends into hotel rooms for after the late show—diddle, liddle, lo-do, dlay, laydle-lo-lo—over private stock cognac in the towns you are performing the theater of music—diddle, liddle, lo-do, dlay, laydle-lo-lo.

Still her rendition of ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ in 1955 is quintessential adult black culture like no one before or since.

‘ I-cee

feen-ger

waves,’

yes.

 

Charles T. Payne (1936-1999)

This year, 2015, Mothers Day falls on my brother’s birth date.  I would like to remember him on this date.  He was a troublesome Taurus. But he was in my life.

 

My brother needs at least

a poem

queer small swimmer painter pianist

coulda been a winner

in another time

another father or

a mother (my mother too)

who had not been acquitted of homicide

and still later remarried

and expected you to get a job in the government

whatever else you did with

your prodigious gifts.

you chose air force. error.

discharged and trained as a draftsman. dried your soul.

29 years at the pentagon, witnessed in ‘59 the loss to fire of the ‘secret data.’ not a day without vodka.

died from its ravages

queer small swimmer painter pianist

with your military so-long-salute somewhere in virginia.

your butch colleague

her uncomfortable skirt and wooden shoes

–a heart-wringing eulogy.

two of our sisters offer more oblique praise. the

other two of us suppress our funereal corniness.

mother hid her blindness behind her usual glamour.

for the second time I met your daughter, painter and singer, dying of lupus, holding your flag to her breast. her own daughter shipping to afghanistan in august.