A Review of Bernice McFadden’s “Sugar”


Title: Sugar: A Novel

Author: Bernice L. McFadden:

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: Dutton Adult (January 10, 2000)

Bernice McFadden’s first novel, Sugar, encapsulates the elements that exemplify the making of a classic. This is not to say that it was perfect, for that would be pretentious on my part, but it was arguably a guaranteed page turner that you hoped would last just a little while longer. As a debut, Sugar did not lack any of the many elements we have come to know and love about McFadden’s storytelling style or her imaginative, colorful, and captivating characters. But the tale, even with its twists, was simple – direct with less density than, let’s say, The Book of Harlan (one of my favorite novels). Stylistically, it was as vivid, engaging, and captivating —  unmistakably McFadden.

Set in Bigelow, Arkansas, Sugar takes the reader on a heartfelt journey through poetic pain and the lives of Sugar Lacey and Pearl Taylor (primarily), and a host of others (secondarily). Sugar’s deleterious childhood, overwhelmed by scars and filled with a level of isolation that steals her youth and ultimately her identity, contributes to the creating of the wayward woman she becomes.

Pearl, we learn early in the novel, struggles with her own isolation, but unlike Sugar’s, hers is involuntarily self-imposed, developed after the tragic and brutal murder of her daughter, Jude. This isolation is not so much about staying out of the company of others (she finds both companionship and solace in church), or even being an effective mother to her other children (Seth, her son, speaks on this point in a single but precise statement later in the book), as it is about withdrawing into herself. 

Pearl’s actions and personality scream depression but McFadden is careful not to label her, allowing the emotional wave we ride with Pearl to reveal, by layer, her quiet but obvious struggle. This internal conflict catapults Pearl into a place from which she cannot easily escape until Sugar crosses her path forming and firming an unusual friendship and, progressively, the voids they’ve carried are seemingly filled.

Sugar Lacey is bold, worldly, mysterious and irresistible. She is a woman equally desired and hated, caught, it seems, in a complex network of interconnected (and interlocking) elements, surviving the only way she knows how, by giving pleasure, yet seems to have relegated herself undeserving of joy. She is a vassal to the highest bidder, a beast of burden, a mannequin sans emotions, and as such she receives nothing but a womb filled with frustration. But despite her transgressions and unsavory nonchalance,  she has a heart longing, from the child she never was, for unconditional love.

Sugar reinvents Pearl, rebuilding the confidence she sorely lacked and the sexiness she secretly, seemingly, yearned for. She takes Pearl from mundane to magnificent, while Joe, Pearl’s husband who would object to this rebirth (and perhaps revelation) or so we are made to believe, is out of town (his reaction shortly after his return dismisses all assumptions, including Pearl’s). The elements of resurrection (the church is an important “character”) develop almost seamlessly throughout the book and the conflicts are broad but not alarming or distasteful; they are real and familiar.

Sugar, as a novel, is multitudinous — an impassioned vision, seething with hope and finishing with unexpected confessions, familiar brutality and wow factor discoveries. It would make for an amazing movie, an incredible television series or Broadway-worthy stage play (think The Color Purple). I was enveloped by Bernice McFadden’s voice, slowly consuming each chapter and resting a day before beginning the next.  I am that kid waiting for her upcoming creations with bated breath and wondrous anticipation. Read Sugar, and you’ll understand. I promise.




Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam War Refusal Will Be Documented In Mini Series

Source: Harry Benson / Getty In a time when every deceased legend is being immortalized by biopics and documentaries, it only makes sense that Muhammad Ali would get the same treatment. The boxer who passed in June 2016 is getting a Showtime scripted mini series titled The Ali Summit, about his refusal to participate in the Vietnam…

via Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam War Refusal Will Be Documented In Mini Series — HelloBeautiful

The Beast Side: REVIEW


Title: The Beast Side

Author: D. Watkins

Paperback: 208 pages

Publisher: Hot Books; Reprint edition (September 27, 2016)

“D. Watkins is a very sharp young talent who transformed himself from a dealer on the streets to an adjunct professor, and most important, to a leading voice of his generation who is determined to see justice for the black community. The Beast Side is raw, intelligent, and at times humorous—and a necessary narrative in these challenging times!” —Michael Eric Dyson, author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
The jarring, sometimes depressing, often enlightening narrative that encompasses the 208 pages of “The Beast Side” is one of a troubled  America (through the eyes of Baltimore), left to grapple with unresolved and newly developed issues. We are touched by the narrative; all of us, whether Black, White, Native American, Latino,  Asian, or a combination thereof. We are this narrative; the outline that provided a perfect landscape for D. Watkins to masterfully and horrifically connect the dots.
More than I can personally recall, we have become wholly desensitized to the cruel and barbaric nature of our burgeoning society. We have learned to turn a blind eye to a reality that is continually festering and rearing an ugliness many are simply hoping would, one day, fade away,  perhaps into the same abyss as Beowulf’s monster, Grendel; and return reborn, renewed, hopeful. We have become an ensemble of wishers and waiters, certain that if we wait and wish long enough a brighter day is just over the horizon, while we wallow in the muck of a suffocating darkness. We are the old man and the depth of his misery:
It was like the misery felt by an old man
who has lived to see his son’s body
swing on the gallows. He begins to keen
and weep for his boy, watching the raven
gloat where he hangs: he can be of no help.
The wisdom of age is worthless to him
 Morning after morning,  he wakes to remember
that his child has gone; he has no interest
in living on until another heir
is born in the hall… –Beowulf
D. Watkins delivers this message, effortlessly. Revealing that the hell that strikes consternation in the hearts of many is pulchritudinous to others and that we are now living in a poorly composed polyphony. The truly brutal truth that we, of every race, do not want to admit exists. He invites us to peer through a peephole that reveals an almost unconscionable reality: that people do live in the imperfections of a world that they did not create but were relegated to reside inside of until madness or death took them to the edge of and over that horizon. He reminds us that the levels of unfeelingness is not only alive but is procreating and regenerating into unidentifiable high-tolerance formations that eat at our flesh and gnaw, ad infinitum, on our skeletal remains.
In the opening passages, Watkins writes:
“… I participated in a peaceful protest near downtown Baltimore. My fellow protesters and I were standing in solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, over the murder of Mike Brown — an innocent African-American teen, who was on his way to college when he was cut down by a policeman’s bullets. It felt good to unite with so many different people for the same cause — a diverse group with handmade signs and a shared sense of outrage. But even as we shouted for justice, I knew it wasn’t enough from my experiences in rallying for the Jena Six and Trayvon Martin. I do have an immense amount of respect for protestors, marchers, and organizers — but in the end, after all that chanting, marching, and lying down in traffic, Darren Wilson, the cop, who murdered Brown, still went free, and cops in America still feel comfortable killing innocent black people.”
Watkins writes from where his bucket was cast; delivering unapologetic prose that undeniably was intended (at least, I hope) to make as many people as uncomfortable as possible. If this was not his purpose, it perhaps should have been; he does it magnificently.  He is a Baltimorean, a Native,  from the (B)Eastside of this apoplectic metropolis, wearing the city like a pair of comfortable shoes. Watkins’ voice is the voice of the many children and residents I have heard speaking their complex language during the 23 years that I have resided in Baltimore. It is a voice that roars without echo. Throughout the book, Watkins takes us on a journey through the gritty, and often dismal straits of a beautiful wonderland. It is easy to become enveloped by the stories and easier to embrace the cast of characters that invisibly occupy seventy percent of the crowded Charm City streets. His childhood friends, money making comrades, food providing saints and blood-thirsty enemies, give color and illumination to what could easily become defined as a symphony of urban sorrow.
The Beast Side is a reminder, a wake-up call, a prosaic tour of a world we know so well, and others view in awe. It awakens the selectively blind to the countless injustices that have become our miserable expectation. It explains why we cannot lay aside our warrior selves; preparing our sword, our words, our hearts, and our souls for what our 400 years of intuitive DNA reveal to us.The battle continues. The war of race, face and inequality rages on. The emergence of another enemy, lurking in waiting, in the shadows for their opportunity to leap, is absolute. The difference is that the 18th-century mentalities are not yet aware that they are fighting against a 21ST CENTURY ARMY.
D. Watkins has composed a thinkers book in The Beast Side. There is the desire to pause, in contemplation and reflection after each chapter. And like the calm after a Tsunami, or the annihilation of Grendel by a chirping bird’s song,  Watkins ends with:
Yes, it was the image of a Black man in the White House that maybe has made it a little easier for us to make our way through the day, or at least to get a ride. But Uber has probably changed the racial dynamic in the cab industry more than Obama has. Because of Uber, cabs can’t afford to discriminate against me any longer. The cab industry had no choice but to change.
America needs a game-changing Uber shift in the political arena–a massive influx of minority activists, politicians, educators, and history makers. One Black man cannot bring about that change, but an army of people committed to making opportunity available for everybody can and will.
Yeah… it’s that simple.

Don’t Start None…Won’t Be None.



If you’ve read my previously blog (Fear Factor: Election 2016), you already know that I am not a political stalwart, but I am an American citizen, and if I were to wager a guess, I am descendent of at least 300 years of America. This is simply a guess, but one which I will claim until proven otherwise. It is for this reason that I let the vitriolic rhetoric that is and was being spewed simply roll off. It is also the reason that I find it impossible to fear any single (or collective) man who calls himself this country’s  political leader.


Did the Country Fall for a Short Sale?

I do understand that the idea behind a democracy is to quell chaos, institute order, and provide citizens a respectable quality of life. But that democratic method of thinking, as ideal as it is, has quickly become archaic and, whether we admit it or not, is virtually unheard by a new breed of ‘free-thinkers.’ As odd as it may be to conceive, considering the outcome of the last presidential election, these same ‘free-thinkers’ helped in electing the nation’s first Black president with margins so wide, one would think that the demons of racism and social/lifestyle discrimination had fallen into an irretrievable abyss. Barack Obama not only smashed the wall of political normalcy but he smashed the structures surrounding it. But eight years later, all of that changed.

Over the course of fifty plus years, the harbinger has been making the call that the fights for the eradication of separatist ideologies will be met by forces not yet known.

Enters, Donald Trump…

1) “(John McCain is) not a war hero…. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.

2) “I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?” – Trump’s comment about paralyzed commentator Charles Krauthammer

3) “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” after talking about a poll showing Ben Carson was beating him in Iowa

4) “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture….When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness. I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed.”

5) “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” – Trump overestimates the number of people cheering after 911 by thousands and stuck with it even though he knew what he said wasn’t true

6) “(Obama) doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”

7) “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”

8) “I am embracing the issue, and I’m proud of the issue. I think somebody has to embrace it because, frankly, the people that are – and I don’t like the name ‘birther,’ because I think it’s very unfair and I think it’s very derogatory to a lot of very good people that happen to think that there’s a possibility that this man was not born in this country, and by the way, if that were true, you know it’s very interesting, if that were true, it’d be the greatest scam in the history of this country.”

9) “You know, when (Ben Carson) says he went after his mother and wanted to hit her in the head with a hammer. That bothers me. I mean, that’s pretty bad. I’m not saying anything other than pathological is a severe disease. And he said he’s pathological, somebody said he has pathological disease. It’s in the book that he’s got a pathological temper. That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”

10) “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, (Carly Fiorina’s) a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

11) “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.

12) “You could see there was blood coming out of (Megyn Kelly’s) eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.”

13) “Beautiful, famous, successful, married – I’ve had them all, secretly, the world’s biggest names, but unlike Geraldo, I don’t talk about it.” – From Trump’s “Think Big and Kick Ass.”

14) “I don’t think Ivanka would do that [pose for Playboy], although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

15) “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

Source: John Hawkins– Townhall.com. January 19, 2016

“You Don’t Want No Problem With Me!”

— Chance the Rapper


And Still We Rise…


Along this journey — along this pathetic road– there were far too many ill-tempered words said and many more incomprehensible matters televised, and I know, with distinct certainty, that this country, at least for that period had suffered a massive divide.  The country is bleeding, but we have become immune; victims of a trauma we no longer feel. But the unfortunate reality is that this country has always been divided by the color of skin, accent, religion, gender, or philosophy.  We hold these truths to be self-evident….


Without lamenting on and reliving a well known, yet poorly documented, history, we (people of color, especially African-Americans) have overcome a multitude of social and emotional atrocities, proving that we have the veracity to defeat that which so desperately wishes to defeat us. Fear, to some degree, has been our constant; not because we are afraid, but because there exists a shroud of impenetrable mystery.

In the life of any African-American, every day, exacerbated by the profound and inexplicable reoccurring of racially inspired incidents, to immeasurable degrees, marks a painful reminder that life isn’t always fair. Thankfully, this does not deter us. We remain resilient, despite the media coverage finding only those stories that show brown faces committing heinous crimes, furthering the misconception and wholly mistaken ideology that all people with brown/black complexions are inherently demonic. Indeed this inaccurate image left a lasting impression. So, here we are… in a country that is confused and conflicted.

On that November night, when the country and the world stared blankly at television screens and emotions went awry, a cloud of bulbous darkness extinguished the light that had shone for many years prior. In that moment, as another ‘blue’ state plunged into a deepening ‘red’ ocean,  the images of the Bushs didn’t seem so bad. But the country had spoken, and the nightmare was no longer simply in a dream, and those who abhorred the thought of a Trumpian government were now forced to accept what was touted as absolute. Cheers and chants rang throughout the states and social and mass media volleyed for outrageousness. Neither won… Trump did, and he promised one unspoken thing; four years of unequaled chaos. Supporters chanted and cheered.

Still, to fear what he or his cronies can or will [try to] do is relatively unwarranted. It is not about hope or prayer or some supernatural phenomenon, but it is about the door that has been reopened to reveal that this country is and is not what we thought. For older generations, this marks another chapter in the”Business as Usual” book, as they are well prepared for what we are to face as a nation. The young, new to this pathetic maze, are relying on answers that are generated through “Big Brother” but are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder, stressing that their genetic structure still harbors 300-year-old wounds or historical recall. They have proven that they will not be moved.

Why are we afraid? We aren’t! Our feet are planted; our roots are deep. We are America!

Election 2016:Fear Factor


Okay, let’s be honest. Politically speaking, this country is , for all intents and purposes, screwed. Now, allow me to explain.


To begin, I am not a hardcore political enthusiast. You will not find me arguing with flannel attired F-150’s about Hillary, Trump, or the state of an ever-changing America. But I follow the effects of politics and its impact on my day to day existence and how decisions made will affect the country, as a whole, in the long term. In a rush that continues to mystify me,  the political process changed exponentially, eighteen months ago, when a murder of Republicans crowded upon stages across the country, stoic and robotic,  bidding for the chance to become POTUS. The lies were magnanimous; promises that would never come to fruition were argued with the passion of a kindergartener whose cookie was eaten  by another four year old. Leading the charge was Donald Trump and no one took him seriously, welcoming, in fact, the crass, rude comedy he brought to the rote bullshit interactions that for decades defined political debates. But his face was plastered everywhere. He had become omnipresent, even in our sleep and in an instant, I, and a great part of the nation were consumed by fear, knowing that regardless of the November 8, 2016 outcome, we were certain of one thing: we were soon to become the victims of a JACKED and divided country.

So, here we are,  at the post position of the Presidential Election, and by the time I complete this essay Donald Trump, as POTUS elect and Pence as V-POTUS elect and Melania as FLOTUS confused,  will  be joined, possibly, by a chosen menagerie of unique characters. It has been a horrific journey and it is just beginning. The American people have revealed the crack in their armor and decided that divisive methods, finger pointing, unsubstantiated blame, fear-mongering, the denigration of Original People ( this includes our Mexican brothers and sisters) and the anti-Arab ( it was translated Moslem, but it wasn’t about religion, it was about appearance) sentiment, were more enticing than the policies that would unite and better the country.

Since that fateful day in November the nation, formerly know as the United States, has been lost in an emotional tailspin. With few exceptions, scores of Americans remain, to this very second,  glued to the news and social media (a very unreliable source) to follow what can only be regarded as “the unravelling of an empire.” Translations of pre-election rhetoric continues to be spewed, heightening a separation of races and common beliefs between people who at once shared coffee and non-political chatter. Within a week of the election foolish young Americans, fueled with a tainted and ignorant mythology, took to the streets and airs waves with right wing banter that died a century ago; assuming, I guess, that the same intimidations that caused  my forefathers to shutter in fear and run in panic, still applied. To them I say…Dude… new day… new time.

There is much to say, but honestly, the thickening of the air doesn’t need to be starched any further. We will move through this time, look back in months or years to come, and say what has always been said…’never again.’ But that statement will not be true, and we know it. There will come another time, another Trump with a different mask, and another manipulative, hypnotic force preying on sullen and disenfranchised souls, because there always is, and there always will be. Our job is to stay aware, keep our wits, build that wall around our hearts and souls, and know that even the worst of storms, although when in the middle of it, appears to be endless, never lasts forever.

God Bless you and God Bless these UNITED States.


When the Glitter’s Gone

When the Glitter’s Gone

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

-Amiri Baraka


THE LETTER: The Beginning

Dear Rita,

I know we never thought our situation  would end up this way, but life, as always, has proven a mystery; unpredictable and  undefinable. This isn’t easy for me. The passing of time has not effectively erased the pain that we’ve inflicted. Only in the movies are there predictable happy endings.   I know I will never heal from this situation, and for that, I apologize, despite the pain, because I know you will never heal either. It is for this reason that I am writing;  to try to begin the process; to fill a void that was formed; to admit the callous endeavors that were enacted because we wanted to see one another suffer. I, perhaps, am writing to myself more than to you, I guess. I needed to reflect and reveal, or confront and acknowledge, my role in everything that happened.

I remember our happy; how we were “pillars of love” when we began this voyage. The air was sweetly perfumed, scented with Lilac and Frankincense,  and breezes blew cool on sweltering days. I remember how you made everything so new, how your friends, coyly side-eyeing me, smiled in my presence because you smiled more than they have ever seen you smile; more than they, perhaps, ever have. But in my absence they’d pull you aside and ask:

“How can you be with a man like that? Girl, y’all don’t even look right together, I mean, he’s so dark and big. Ugh, he looks like he’d crush your little ass. And what he drivin’? A Honda? Damn girl, you drivin’ a Mercedes. I just don’t see it.”

We weren’t young but we were far from antiquated. The patina of time had not yet discolored our bronze glow.  Maturity was our platform, our undeniable kingdom.  Youth fled several years earlier, taking away those immature issues, uninspired mistakes, and childish innuendoes, but we were young enough to enjoy tomorrow and old enough appreciate  our past. We pledged depth and eternity; those impossible possibilities that were so fantastically unrealistic there was no other option but to come true. It was because we believed in dreams where we hadn’t believed nor dreamed before. We were virtually iconic, allegedly, the poster people for the look of love, and because we were, people, friends, openly wished for our downfall.

After a couple of months, your people became my people. They were cool but cautious; measuring me with that joker-ish sarcastically painted grin on their MAC plastered faces.  I was guarded, cautious, and unsure but certain that their designer mentalities and mixed social ignorance would not fit my conservatively artistic ideas of reality. My intuition was in the red zone. But, I accepted them because, on the surface, and for the most part, they accepted me. Eventually, when I began to feed the bank account,  I gained their respect, I became them, dressing in clothing I could hardly afford and driving cars with massive notes and foreign names. Eventually and unfortunately, they got to know me better and had mistaken my kindness for weakness. They were offered that one opportunity to find that out.

Then there were my friends. They were international, free, artistic. Our bond was  made from fire and steel,  Jupiter Rays, and  tsunamis formed from puddles of rain. They were beautiful, energetic and creative. They smelled of May showers and a cask of Cabernet. They were the embodiment of God as I understood God to be. There, within my cadre, were cover models and visionaries, exotic and undefinable; questionable enigmas who people feared but were drawn to, irresistibly. Together, my friends and I spewed elemental and complex stanzas, and poetic energy that warmed our souls until it turned into love. They were dapper and shabby, brilliantly confident and wholly insecure. With them,  thunder quieted  and lightning tamed. My friends… essentially so full of life and equally so damned to episodes of suicidal ideation. They were naturally everything your friends (my new friends) sought to be.

Perhaps against my better judgment and because I was crazy for you, I (reluctantly) dismissed those many amazing friends. They were sure that I had partnered with my artistic equivalent, but that rarely happens. Opposites, I thought, were the stuff that inspired greater creative endeavors. It was, from the beginning, painfully clear that you didn’t want them to be in your shallow circle. Their nose rings, long unkempt locks, spiritual auras, and freedom were too much to comprehend. You said you didn’t trust them, that they all seemed weird, aloof, sneaky and judgmental. But let’s be honest, we know who judged.

Do you remember the night we were driving back from Upper Marlboro? We were invited to a get-together and we were still vibing on the good time we had, continuing to laugh, thirty minutes later at the antics of the host. We talked about how important our friends were, spoke of the blessings they brought. I spoke of mine, glorifying in the good times we shared from New York to the shores of West Africa. Perhaps I had become more animated than was necessary. I talked about the beauty that seemed to be at every corner in Paris; how the air was always cool and just the scents from rue to rue identified where you were. I spoke with passion.  And that did it; you withdrew. Silence filled the rest of the ride after that. You stormed into the house and I could feel the tension in my soul. I prepared. Finally,  you gave a devastating ultimatum. You said it would either be you and I or me and them, that I could not have both. You said you didn’t want me to ever communicate with those friends again. I angrily submitted. They were my past.

Especially hard was when you told me to “get rid of” Elaine. You didn’t know her, you didn’t want to know her, but it was Elaine who saved my life when I was living in Harlem, I told you that. I minimized my bravado, telling my story from the heart.  I told you Elaine and I met in Paris and she quickly took to me. She took me into her home and her life  when I wandered through Parisian streets and cared for me when sickness wrecked my body. I don’t know why you saw her as such a threat, she wasn’t my lover, just someone who loved me. You said that sort of relationship was impossible.

She was almost my mother’s age and maybe that had something to do with it. When I left Paris and settled in Harlem Elaine came for a month-long visit, to conduct business and rekindle relationships separated by the Atlantic’s depth.  She introduced me to spirituality, friends who were larger than the Empire State and stressed to me, in tears from some unknown place, how I must always be important  to me. With her, my wandering spirit was given rest, and unconditional love replaced towering silos of pain. She was my sister, my rock, and my emotional guide during that period when I became lost on my journey to finding myself. She told me to be careful but to pursue you because I deserved happiness. If she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be me.

These were my chosen friends.


Looking further back, before we ventured into the big houses, fancy whips, and massive parties, the bliss was different. It was easier when we had so much less. For us, those struggling days were exquisite. The lessons we learned could never be measured. It was sobering. It was an indescribable libation; a nectar of the gods, soberingly intoxicating I guess.  I know that sounds dramatic, but I think many would agree. Having less was when we saw how rich we really were. Having less was the only time that we truly had so much.

We struggled; ate kielbasa, pierogies, and frozen yogurt until it poured from our pores. We laughed at nothing and bathed in the light of darkness. We looked forward to rainy days and snowy nights, and dinner by candle light or just the chance to lose ourselves in that place where no one else was allowed. Those were lean times but we provided what we could to one another because we were all we had and we had no choice even when there were countless choices.

But I promised you that …

*I will build you a castle with a tower so high
It reaches the moon
I’ll gather melodies from birdies that fly
And compose you a tune
I’ll give you lovin’ warm as Mama’s oven
And if that don’t do
Then I’ll try something new

And in our self-made universe, when our paychecks grew, it was revealed that those who smiled in our faces were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to put a sickle in our spine. For years we opened our home and our hearts. We fed them, gave them money and material, shoulders to cry on and faith when their faith waned. They followed us before the invention of social media, singing our praises and worshipping our names. They were relentless. We couldn’t avoid, evade, or tunnel away from them. These were lessons learned the hard way, years later, when our economics changed and times, again,  got unexpectedly  hard. We stood at the edge of the cliff with our hands extended as they threatened to jump and they withdrew when we hung from our fingertips from that same cliff.  Then, like snow under a searing sun, they were gone.

“I’ve been fucked over, left for dead, dissed and forgotten
Luck ran out, they hoped that I’d be gone, stiff and rotten
Y’all just piss on me, shit on me, spit on my grave (uh)
Talk about me, laugh behind my back but in my face
Y’all some “well wishers, ” friendly acting, envy hiding snakes
With your hands out for my money, man, how much can I take?”    Ether–NAS

Unfortunately, I learned before you did. I am still learning. Today I wonder, where are they now?

And my spirit sang…

I will take you away with me as far as I can
To Venus or Mars
There we will love with your hand in my hand
You’ll be queen of the stars
And every day we can play on the Milky Way
And if that don’t do
Then I’ll try something new

We discovered and appreciated the unequaled beauty of long walks down North Charles Street, toward the Inner Harbor, along the path where men held hands and cross-culture couples secretly kissed under awnings that protected from rain, sun, and the moon’s full beams; pass the bookshops, restaurants,  and storefront museums. We noticed the fragility of people, saw the abject hunger for life, liberty, and the pursuit if happiness in their eyes, shared our few pennies with those who had considerably less and tasted the sweetness of a city that conjured up fear and sorrow in the hearts and souls of those who lived outside its borders. I won’t say we loved Baltimore, but it was here that we found bliss. Baltimore, with its many imperfections, loved us as best it could, keeping us close to its full, yet virulent, bosom. Remember that?

And my heart said…

I will bring you a flower from the floor of the sea
To wear in your hair
I’ll do anything and everything to keep you happy
To show you that I care
I’ll pretend I’m jealous of all the fellas
And if that don’t do
Then I’ll try something new

I am filled with an indescribable level of reflection as these words pour, perhaps meaninglessly, on to this page. They leave me panting. This emotional marathon has become my Katrina.  As much as I try to avoid negative thoughts I am overcome by them. After our first two years together you changed. Maybe I changed.  I noticed that you were suddenly continually preoccupied. Your time was spent on phone calls and girl’s nights out. I trusted you, I really did,  but my loneliness had no place to hide. I know I showed it.

I wanted and needed you to see me; the inner me. I needed a nod that you recognized my transparency.  I needed to quell the discomforts.  Suddenly, with no prompting, the previous life you assumed I had, became your compulsive disorder. You were obsessed, without just cause. I tried to convince you that every woman that said hello was not a previous lover, although many were. I stopped writing and performing poetry because you felt that each line was about you or every image was my memory of a former tryst, and indeed they were. I tried to explain that it was often just poetry — that some of the shit just came into my head, but you weren’t convinced, so I let it go. Against God’s will, I let it go.

And my soul cried…

I’ll take the stars and count ’em and move a mountain
And if that don’t do I’ll try something new

I lost my voice with you. I lost my words and pieces of my soul because there were so many unexplained moments when you didn’t talk to me and I frustratingly blamed myself even if I did nothing to bring about the silence. But I loved you deeply. I loved you more than I loved myself.  I think I can safely say that we both were drowning in our love for one another. We suffocated and at the time I didn’t know that the actions we projected had an actual name. When I found out what we were doing, it frightened me. Although I wanted to deny it, the facts were undeniably true. I think I can safely say that we both were drowning in what we perceived as our unequivocal love for one another. We nearly died but believed that love, alone, was powerful enough to keep us. We loved until we were empty. It was painfully beautiful. It seems like a lifetime ago. Perhaps it was simply another life. I didn’t know it was wrong.

My lips whispered…

I’ll tell the moon above it’s you that I love
If it don’t do I’ll try something new*


When you told me you were pregnant, I paraded around more proud than I had ever been. My already broad chest became considerably broader. It was the most magical gift anyone could ever give; parts of us creating a single magnificent life. I became a silver back that day. I knew that my job description had changed completely. I went from boyfriend to husband, to father. We both were floating. But unfortunately what floats sometimes falls although I wasn’t expecting the fall, nor was I reaching to have it occur. You know, it seemed that we were often walking a tightrope of which each of us held the ends.

Then things abruptly changed.

See part II. Coming soon….

*”I’ll Try Something New” — Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Writing My Wrongs: A Review

Title: Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison

Published: March 8, 2016

Author: Shaka Senghor

288 Pages

writing my wrongs


Outside of welfare’s thin wooden doors, secured by a thousand insecure locks, the sound of semi-automatic weapons resonate like a morbid call and response. The cadence had become so familiar that neighborhoods cowered fearfully when nothing except the echo of silence or the solitude of quiet were heard. This is their home. They may never know life beyond those borders.

Detroit, this is Baltimore.

The people who made this block a community are tired.”Once upon a time this neighborhood housed hope and dreams,” said Maurice Fraiser, an elderly man sitting on the yellow painted stone steps in the front of his aging row house. His eyes sagged with sadness. “…was a wonderful place to live. A wonderful place.”

Tired are they whose streets are littered with shell casings, glowing like fireflies beneath flickering blue lights or illuminating like shards of gold and shattered glass. Tired are we of the sound of  same melancholy rhythm by the monotonous symphony, played generation after generation. The marauders wore masks. How sorrowful it has indeed become that we know these maleficent marauders so well.

Detroit, this is Bal’rut.

“This country is a monstrosity, and it gives birth to monstrosities,” a lady standing next to me on a Baltimore street corner said. Her thick ‘hon’ accent pasty and cold, as she eyed the matter taking place about seventy-five yards away. A steady wind blew her gray-streaked brown hair into her face several times which she frustratingly twisted into a chignon and tucked within itself. A temporary solution.

A young man, in his late teens or early twenties, sat on the asphalt near the slightly ajar rear door of a squad car. It was mid-March and unseasonably chilly, yet man-boy wore a dingy red tee-shirt with ornate lettering plastered across it. Four officers stood intimidatingly above him at the ready. His thin arms relaxed, cuffed behind him.When he was lifted from his sitting position his jeans sagged nearly to his thighs, exposing ballooning madras printed boxers. Strategically, although cuffed, he pulled them to his waist. His face was solemn but not fearful.

If he pulled his pants up on his ass, combed his hair, and dressed more appropriately, he wouldn’t be in this mess, another woman, older than the first, clucked. Her tone beset the ideology of the unspoken. “It’s a damn shame... a damn shame and waste,” she mumbled.

What happened wasn’t clear. Why this kid was being restrained like a sacrificial goat was unknown. I thought: What is it that ever happens, and is it ever clear?

A few feet from where the man-boy sat, a single sneaker lay on its side; a Jordan. It resembled a dying animal. A single sneaker: One-hundred and ten retail dollars worth of leather and design. It wasn’t the captive’s. Apparently, the owner fled or … something. The multi-million dollar silhouette of MJ extending the stiff arm and basketball image toward the gutter was a symbolic omen; a pitiful reminder of what held value  — an illusory stretch toward make-believe.The half-Jordan was certain to die before nightfall. Maybe man boy’s jacket was somewhere dying as well.  

“To put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid with brands for our bodies.” — Jesse Williams, BET Awards 2016

 Several people gathered. Others slowed their pace hoping to get a closer look at the vassal in the red tee-shirt before he went to auction, but the Goliath-sized officers, intent on keeping the peace, denied full access.

In chains, all of the faces were brown.

America has become the quintessential breeding ground for the infectious incarceration of Black men. INFECTIOUS! The images [of Black men and Black boys], perpetuated by countless years of unconscionable brainwashing, media propaganda, daily sitcoms, “reality television,” and fear, has become such staunch and monumental truth in the eyes of the masses, that the “bestial” caricatures are not only believed but, sadly,  expected.

 “Was he black?” they mumble.

“Wha’chu think?!” they reply.

Worse still is that stereotype, with little understanding, becomes culture.

Black men were, and perhaps still are, considered (if you believe the dictates of a broken, one-dimensional, and seductive society) only one of two possible beings: Imprisoned or Not Yet Caught. But truthfully, there were reasons that the darkness loomed over the community, and psychologists, sociologists, religious figures, and others spewed theoretical rhetoric in attempts to explain the cause we already and always knew. Those who wanted to know only needed to ask. 

 Thanks to Shaka Senghor, everyone who possesses the ability to recognize the words that aren’t written in his often seething memoir, will also know.

shaka senghor

The Review: Writing My Wrongs

Shaka Senghor’s memoir, Writing My Wrongs, exemplifies an emotional exposeé, riddled with confessions that enlighten the audience and gives a human face to the incarcerated. What I was expecting was another book of distorted and dehumanizing criminology, basking in some super-imposed and caustically tainted surreal world. The thing is, I got that and much, much more than I imagined. I got an understanding.

The book is straight forward, no smoke and mirrors, optical illusions, or sleight of hand. There is no need for advanced degrees or unabridged dictionaries. Needed is an open mind, and the desire to delve into the place that is misunderstood. Senghor writes from the heart; from a place that he didn’t know existed, and because of that discovery, the sincerity pours from every page.

Senghor writes:

“I stared at the battle-scarred image in front of me and knew I needed to begin the long, tedious process of making peace with my past. I opened up deep wounds that had been stuffed with the gauze of anger and self-hatred. I forgave all of the people who had teased me in my childhood, making fun of my jack-o’-lantern-sized head by calling me Pumpkin. I forgave everyone who had made fun of my gap-toothed smile. I ran my hand through my long dreadlocks and forgave everyone who ever called me nappy-headed, making me feel insecure about the crown my Creator had bestowed upon me. The words from my past ricocheted around in my mind like errant bullets, hurting no less now than they had back then.” 

Senghor’s tale is a familiar one; more familiar, perhaps, if you’re a part of the PoC planet. Familiar, even if you have never lived on that planet. It is inherent;  spiritual — transcending caste, gender, and often race. We just understand it better than most. His introduction reveals that there’s a depth to the mentality of the convicted, a depth he knew long before the was behind bars….

“I opened up deep wounds that had been stuffed with the gauze of anger and self-hatred.”

He was the victim, since birth, of suspicion, profiling and humanity; viewed as sub-human and questioned so vehemently that he eventually questioned himself. The beauty is that Senghor did not sweeten the story; he told it, from the guts and grime of his grim reality. He gave the reader, while walking them through chambers of secrets, the gore, and the glorified details, but accepted responsibility for his actions; holding himself accountable while seeking something greater than himself.  And because he was so viewed, he opted to fulfill the illusion.

Shaka Senghor explains where and how his psychological odyssey began; of how his mother kicked him out of their home, how he solicited money from strangers to eat and laid his head wherever his head was allowed to lay. He besieged us with a profile of how desperate measures and the need to be a part of some greater ensemble leads to unimaginable outcomes. The reader is made cognizant of matters that draw the path to desperation. Was he always desperate? I cannot say that he was, nor can it be accurately surmised if the lifestyle he chose was fulfilling some greater void. Perhaps, the transformation from pauper to low-level prince provided him a false sense of prosperity and worthiness. But, he equally tells of the functionality and normality of his childhood home. He states that the arguments between his mother and father were, perhaps, no different than those in any other household, until his parent decided to separate.

When he finally explained that he would be moving to a place in Highland Park that coming weekend, all kinds of thoughts began flowing through my young mind — thoughts about my father and all that he meant to our household. I thought about the holidays and how he would organize us kids to put up the Christmas tree. I thought about how he would give us an allowance every other Saturday so that we could go skating at Royal Skateland. I thought about the sound of him pulling into the driveway each night at approximately 11:45 p.m. when he got off work.

I was scared. It was as though everything that symbolized family and stability had been sucked out of the room.

Fear was a lingering theme, an irrefutable manta. Senghor was afraid, even when he showed no fear (murder, solitary confinement, and parole review boards).  He was afraid of being a better student, a better son, a better father, and a better man. Issues that festered in his community settled in his head and  left him figuratively “sitting shoe-less on the curb with officers standing at the ready” (my words). He wanted what everyone else wanted, yet circumstances of his own creation disallowed him the opportunity.

It was the murder he committed that seemed to be his free-fall spiral of change. As a convicted murderer, the confinement was real. The long prison sentence would have only two outcomes: Constructive or Destructive. He initially took the more common road, but the practice was not worth the punishment. So, he changed course;  he discovered books, discovered words,  rediscovered himself, and began to write. Fear redirected his path, strongly dictated his destiny, allowed him to succeed in prison, made him invisible and ultimately made him a writer. Fear saved his life.

Shaka Senghor made many people (those who have read his book and those who have listened to his lectures) realize that there exists a human being beneath the orange, yellow, green, gray, or black and white striped jumpsuits. He needed to forgive and be forgiven, to love and be deeply loved in return. Indeed hardened men abound behind bars, but emotions are often more powerful than circumstance. When all seemed lost he found forgiveness and a “ride-or-die” love. Emotions carried him through.

Read Writing the Wrongs. Get entangled in  its complex web and enlighten yourself with what might otherwise be dark. It is a redemption song; a symphony of hope, and, even if it doesn’t perfectly fit in your idea of “good literature,” worth excavating for its many hidden treasures.



If You Forget Me

poet Pablo NerudaShare on Twitter

If You Forget Me

– Poem by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.