Poetry & Prose

For Miss Shirley LeFlore

For Miss Shirley LeFlore
(March 6, 1940-May 12, 2019)

By Kevin Powell

I want to say
thank you
Miss Shirley LeFlore
for being a supernatural word 
warrior who 
allowed your poet laureate tongue
to be baked and bronzed by
the smoke-y laughter of
sister-girl hair salons
and the ham-hocked hallelujahs
of ancient Black churches with
Black Jesus in their ancestral bones
just means you
done seen some things 
that you knew
as a little Black girl
resurrected there in the gumbo pot
of African soul they
baptized Saint Louis
that you were born
to witness 
the weary blues
of a people
who made high ways
from no ways
just means
you is fearless
Miss Shirley
you is mad cool
Miss Shirley
you is forever
Miss Shirley
like the sugary taste
of a ripened watermelon
busted open
the way 
your poetry
busted open
your womanhood and your Blackness
and your purple majesty
as the queen 
you were ordained to be
the way 
your momma and your grandmommas
were queens
the way
your daughters
are queens
the way
Black girl magic
is Miss Shirley LeFlore
swinging and bebopping
from World War 2
through the soul struts of Vietnam
and Civil Rights
to the boom baps of hip-hop
and orange monsters in the 
White House with crooked eyes
yes, the way
Ella Fitzgerald
Gwendolyn Brooks
Billie Holiday
Nina Simone
The wash lady
The numbers runner
and the school teacher were magical
‘cuz magicians dare, Miss Shirley
like you dared
you made a march to Washington
you made a commitment to poor people
and the arts and the telling of
“it”
like it is
because you dared to believe
that art was for the people
all people
your people
your beautiful lightredbeigebrownchocolatedarkblack
people
“I am the Black woman”
you said, Miss Shirley
and the people’s church said a-women a-men ashe
go on with your bad self, Miss Shirley LeFlore
teach us how poetry is 
Buddy Bolden cutting a rug
with the blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey
while Miles Davis and John Coltrane
blow segregated nightmares into the wind
move us, Miss Shirley
from Saint Louis to New York and back again
embrace the young poets of my generation and the young
poets of today’s generation like they are your equals
make me feel like you are one of my mommas
you Audre Lorde Sonia Sanchez Nikki Giovanni
Mari Evans Amina Baraka Camille Yarbrough Maryemma Graham
sister-girls who survived 
sick and tired of being sick and tired
to become, like that God they call her,
sacred healing women 
keepers of our culture
protectors of our sanity
believers in the spiritual voodoo 
we call freedom songs
Miss Shirley LeFlore is not
good enough for you any longer
you are now dancing with the ancestors
cool jerking and twisting your woman-child
around the sweaty nostrils of the sun
and you are now Saint Shirley
Shirley, yes, same name of my birth momma
you are
Black
you are
Beautiful
you are
Powerful
you are
Unapologetically free
a caregiver and a caretaker to the very end
I cried Saint Shirley when I was told
you left us
on Mother’s Day
but then I smiled
because Black women
like you
are the mothers
of this nation
are the mothers
of this universe
if there were no you
there would be no us
none of us
so take your bow
and your grand exit, Saint Shirley
I see you with your pressed and creased angel wings 
hovering over
Saint Louis
hovering over
America
hovering over
our sobbing hearts
reminding us
to kiss laughter daily
reminding us
that when we channel
rivers of women
we must drink slowly
from their eyes
we must swallow the juice from their tears
so that we can be
free
free
free
as you 
Saint Shirley
always were—


© Kevin Powell 2019


Kevin Powell is a poet, essayist, blogger, filmmaker, journalist, activist, public speaker, and author of 13 books, including his autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood


Golden Giant

Written by Chinese Poet Hongri Yuan

Translated by Yuanbing zhang

 

Who is sitting in the heavens and staring at me?

Who is sitting in the golden palace of tomorrow?

Who is smiling?

Golden staff in his hand

flashes a dazzling light.

Ah, the flashes of lightning-

interweave over my head...

I walked into the crystalline corridor of the time-

I want to open

the doors of gold.

Lines of words in the sun-

Singing to me in the sky-

I want to find

the volumes of gold poems

on the shores of the new century

to build the city of gold.

 

Laozi with rosy cheek and white hair-

Smiles at me in the clouds,

A phoenix dances trippingly

and carries with it, a book of gold.

 

Lines of mysterious words

made my eyes drunken,

countless giant figures

came towards me from the clouds.

 

Ages through seventy million years

emerged leisurely before my eyes,

the cities of gold

surrounded with crystalline gardens.

 

A sky of sapphire

sent out a colorful miraculous brightness,

onto green hills of jasper,

dragons and phoenixes were flying

 

Exquisite pagoda-

with majestical palace of gold,

the airy pavilions and pagodas

stood within the purple-red clouds

 

Laughing girls

riding the colorful husbands and wives,

propitious clouds

sprinkling the colorful flowers.

 

I opened the door to a golden palace,

saw the rows of scrolls of gold,

a giant who had the haloes all over his body-

there was a golden sun over his head.

 

Smiling, he picked up the books of gold

recited the sacred verses-

Intoxicated with the miraculous wonderful words

I was enveloped with purple-gold flames.

 

A golden lotus

bloomed beneath my feet,

lifted up my body,

wafting it up out of the golden palace

 

The red clouds

drifted by my side,

in the far distance I saw

another golden paradise

 

the leisurely bells

calling to me.

There- countless giants

roamed in a golden garden,

 

with skies of ruby,

rounds of sun

like the golden lotus

blooming in the sky,

 

intoxicating fragrances of flowers

like sweet good wine,

golden trees

laden with the dazzling diamonds,

 

wonderful flowers

in bloom for a thousand years,

this land of gold

inlaid with the gems.

 

The pavilions of gold were

strewn at random, clustered in multitude.

Someone was playing chess

Someone was chatting...

 

Quaint clothes

colossal statures

miraculous eyes-

happy and comfortable.

 

White cranes

flying in the sky,

husbands and wives

crowing leisurely.

 

Beside an old man I approached

as if he were waiting for me

in this golden pavilion.

He opened an ancient sword casket-

 

A glittering ancient sword

engraved with abstruse words and expressions,

which were clear and transparent, like lightning,

dimly glowed with purplish-red patterns.

 

He told me a metaphysical epic:

The sword came from nine billions years ago,

made from hundreds of millions of suns.

It was a sacred sword of the sun-

 

It could pierce the rocks of time,

open layer after layer of skies,

let the sacred fires forge the heaven and the earth

into golden paradises.

 

The old man's eyes were deep, archaic, difficult to discern-

Dimly showing the joyful flames.

He let me take this sword

to fly towards a new golden paradise:

 

The huge golden lotus floated leisurely-

I flew among the skies, for a thousand miles.

Huge pyramids

loomed impressively in front of my eyes

 

Mountainous figures of giants

walked about in front of the pyramid,

the huge pyramids of gold

far taller than the mountains.

 

The giant trees of gold

like a forest

stood in the sky

laden with the stars.

 

The multi-colored propitious clouds

were like a colossal bird

in a silvery sky,

crowing joyfully.

I came to the front of a pyramid-

a door was opening wide for me,

a group of blond giants

sat with smiles in the grand palace.

 

An old and great holy man

recited in monotone.

The temple was painted with the magical symbols

and giant portraits of Gods.

 

The palace was full of silvery white light

blooming with magnificent flowers,

a peal of wonderful mellifluous bells

that made one suddenly forget all time.

 

I heard an immemorial verse

that was written hundreds of millions of years past,

relating countless eras of giants,

the creation of the holy kingdoms of heaven.

 

Their wisdom was sacred and great

knowing, omniscently, the past and the future of the universe.

They flew freely among the skies

landed on the millions of planets in the universe.

 

They altered time per one’s pleasure,

encompassed other powers, such as-

turning stone into gold,

making gold bloom into flowers.

 

They were like the bulbous sun,

which could erupt with sacred flames

let all things blaze in raging flames..

Manifest imagination into reality..

 

They landed on planets

establishing golden paradises

and with their magical, cryptic wisdom

built platinum cities.

 

I saw the splendid words

spied from the volume of gold

and the magical wonderful halos

rotating like colorful lightning in the sky.

 

I came to another wonderful planet,

saw a massive monumental edifice of platinum,

the whole city, an intricate work of art

emanating, softly, a brilliant white light.

 

A huge round square

encased unearthly works.

Giants of great stature

came and went leisurely in the street.

 

They wore spartan, common clothing

covering their bodies,

all with smiles upon their faces,

both men and women looked beautiful.  

 

They spoke a wonderful language

intriguing and pleasant as welcome music.

Some of them travelled by spaceship

flying around silently in the sky.

 

I walked into a towering edifice of platinum-

saw a magnificent hall,

its platinum walls were inlaid with gems,

among which was a row of unusual instruments.

 

Their eyes were like bright springs

and they wore multi-colored clothes.

Some were operating the instruments.

Some were talking softly among themselves.

 

I saw a fascinating picture, a simulacrum that

drew giant planets,

arranged cities on those planets,

with crystal gardens.

 

I opened a crystal door-

noticed a group of men and women, who were happily,

singing softly,

with glittering books of gold in their hands.

 

Arrangements of flowers and glasses filled of golden wine

sat on the huge round table.

Golden walls were sparkling

carved with all kinds of wonderful images.

 

I saw a demure girl,

with sparkling golden halo above her head,

adorned in a lengthy purple-gold dress

peerless in its quality.

 

Pages- were marked with cryptic glyphs

or lines of ancient magic words or symbols,

each of their books were made of gold

inexplicably constructed in golden crystal.

 

I understood their euphonious songs-

They were singing the sacred love

They were singing great ancestors

They were recounting the civilization of the universe

 

Gardens filled their city, everywhere,

surrounded with the sweet rivers.

The whole earth was a piece of jade,

the clay, a translucent layer of golden sands.

 

I saw enormous bright, white spheres

suspended high above the city,

emanating outwards a dazzling light-

illuminating the skies and earth- bright as the crystal

 

The towering, great buildings stood in great numbers

As if carved by a singular piece of platinum.

Doves and colorful birds

were flying among the heavens.

 

A mono-train was

flying swiftly through the sky,

the streets were illuminated in bright white,

and any moving vehicle could not have been seen.

 

These people’s bodies were unusually strong.

Playing a wonderful game-

they piled up the pieces of great stones

arranging into grotesque works.

 

Similar to giant eyes

and ancient totems,

there were strange birds

covered with lightning feathers.

I saw a couple of tall lovers-

aviators, riding in their spaceship.

Their eyes were quiet and bright,

colorful halo around their bodies.

 

This wonderful space was gyrating leisurely

like a huge, resplendent crystal.

I said goodbye to the unusual city,

towards a space of golden light.

 

The cities flashed in the sky.

I flew over the layers of the sky again

and I saw a new-fangled world:

the multi-colored city of crystal.

 

The high towers were exquisitely carved

displaying multi-colored pearls,

layers of its eave painted with dragon and phoenix,

hung with singing golden bells.

 

The earth was a crystal garden,

the palaces were limpid and crystal,    

huge mountains were like a transparent gems

lined with the golden trees.

 

I saw the tall giants-

who wore their purple clothes,

with heads of round suns,

bodies enshrined with halos.

 

They sat up in the main halls 

singing a mellifluous song.

Some were roaming leisurely in the garden.

Some were summoning the birds in the sky.

 

The crystalline airy pavilions and pagodas

were beset with jewels and agates,

a huge jewel on the spire,

shining golden lights.

 

I saw a holy giant

sitting in the middle of a main hall

the purple-gold flame, flashed around his body,

which filled with the whole majestic main hall.

 

Full-bodied fragrance filled the hall

like a cup of refreshing wine.

Solemn expression was merciful and joyful,

a huge book was in his hand.

 

The hall was full of men and women

listening quietly to the psalms of the saints,

the lotuses were floating in the sky

where the smiling giants sat.

 

The golden light poured down from the sky

bathing the whole of this crystal kingdom.

The jewels above the giant towers-

the golden suns.

 

The golden walls of a golden tower

were carved with the lines of golden words I had glimpsed-

hovering around the dragons and phoenixes,

as if they were intonating the inspiring poems.

 

The smiling giants in the sky-

With wide halo flashing around their bodies,

were each dignified and tranquil,

floating in the golden translucent sky.

 

I flew over this crystal kingdom,

saw a vast golden mountain in the distance

sending out the brilliant lights in the sky

where the propitious clouds were blossoming.

 

This was a golden giant

sitting in the golden translucent sky

his body composed of thousands of millions of constellations

the golden sun rotating on his forehead.

 

He lit up the whole marvellous universe-

the kingdoms of heaven shone in the sky.

Here there was no the sky nor earth,

lights of pure gold emanated in every direction.

 

The smiling giants were sitting

on the gold-engraved pavilions.

The pavilions levitated in the translucent sky

shining the layers of purple-gold light.

 

A scene of multi-colored translucent mountains,

propitious clouds floating in the heavens,

large wonderful flowers blooming in the mountain peaks,

trees of pure light.

 

A river flowed from the sky

and with river bottom reflecting a layer of golden sand.

There were strange and beautiful birds and beasts

some like aerial phantoms.

 

This was a world of light.

Everything was made of light.

The divine light formed all things

and the golden paradises.

 

The golden giant-

shines the kingdoms of heaven within his body.

The cities of gold-

brilliant and fascinating in his bones.

 

I observed lines, words of incredible profundity

arranged into a huge book in the sky.

It seemed as if they were the bright stars

constituting a wonderous drawing.

 

There was a golden pavilion in the sky

guarded with behemoth dragons and phoenixes.

An old man with a whisk

waved to me and smiled in the pavilion,

 

I seem to be attracted by some sort of magic-

leisurely came to his side.

He told me the golden giant

was namely my great ancestor

 

This was an eternal palace-

There's no concept of time here.

Holy light- was exactly the God.

What I witnessed was better than the heavens.

 

He pointed to the huge book in the sky

told me that it was the mystery of the universe.

The book contained magical wisdom,

created the countless worlds of gold.

 

He pointed to a pagoda in the sky,

told me that it was the temple of words.

The light turned into the sacred words,

and the words created the time of gold.

 

He held up a very large pearl

in which flashed the pictures (and all images).

He told me that it was the future time-

the embodiment of all the wonderful worlds.

 

He told me that it was another universe.

Still desiring to go to these paradises,

he gave me the magical pearl,

to let it be my future guide.

 

I said goodbye to the old holy man,

set afoot onto a new road towards the heavens again.

I sat in a golden pavilion-

lightly flew to the distant outer space...

Broughton Dr & Hillsborough St

by Patricia Ndombe

When I am hungry or sleepy,

I sit high in a building that towers

above a bustling, blinding street.

I watch other human beings walk

in and out of restaurants with locked arms. They have

plastic bags full of steamy take-out ripping onto the streets.

The rising steam is pregnant with egg roll, and vegetable taunts me

through thick glass. My stomach is more clamorous than

commute and chatter and it cries silently. I won’t listen anyway.

Neon vibes flashing red, yellow, and green float below me,

reminding me that I won’t be the only one who’s awake the

rest of the night.

I try to distract myself by counting the number of

cracks on each block of sidewalk, or I

pick at the smudges on my window.

I trace my finger over the bags of my throbbing eyes.

At least they are smiling.

My friends each have warm, stitched comforters to hug them tonight.

I must be either powerful enough or delusional enough to

see an ant stumble over fresh french fries on worn asphalt,

as if the ant had its own mountains to climb too.



Captive

Maybe we all have a bit of Stockholm syndrome
The culture that has kept us captive
Is the one we emulate
Aspire to
Protect
Bleach skin
Straighten hair
Adopt their ideology
Strip dialect from tongues
Made mild of spices
To appeal to their taste buds
Fell in line
Even the ones we think speak change are a tinge too light
The safe kind
The ones that appeal to the masses
Knowing well who “they” are
They’re the ones that own your information
Own your freedom
Own your history
That’s why many pages left unpublished of an ancestors truth and troubles
Hurts and triumphs
To protect the image of the image we protect
Cycles of protection
Leave room for no reflection
Staring into false mirrors
Of stories altered
From the grace they faltered
See we can be blended as they please
Ripe for the picking
Time after time
We have been walking in straight lines for centuries
Fell in line
To gas chambers
To guillotines
To unemployment lines
To cultural genocide
When a white teen can mock the song
Of an elder
Glimpses of the past made present
Same story
Same players.
See on paper,
My name wreaks of rice and beans
Of Boricua beaches
I know what they think upon eyes meeting
I know some must be thinking
Yea you’re white yourself
Only seeing European ancestors
Like them
Forgetting my name
Forgetting the mixed blood flowing in my hands 
Perhaps I’m using this platform
This perceived privilege at best
Just so I can attest
These lines are thin
The thin lines between explorer and native
I guess I’m a testament to just how thin
Just how thin that line is
Between ignorance and embrace
Between the past and future
Between love and hate

Dear Poem

fantasy-3471234_960_720.jpg

I want you to reach inside my chest, grab my heart

and squeeze it

until it shouts

so loudly, people turn to stare at me. I want you to dive

from the top ledge of my brain, somersaulting into the blue sea below

while Mozart

plays piano

and a million ballerinas dance and twirl under the crashing waves.

I want you to look me straight in the eyes and whisper the words

even a scarecrow

could believe.

I want you to lie to me in a calm voice and send me on a wild ride

through the heavens and forests, through the core of the earth,

into the third

ring of Saturn

until every known fact becomes a unique and colorful feather.

Sana'a Sunrise

unsolicited cocktails arrive by deliberate airmail

puffing new mushrooms in the landscape

 

little ones dead before they are dead

between the rock and the

            alluvial plain

 

fingers like tapas in random perch

            on granule and boulder

 

hair and face arched upward

mouths open for silence.

 

blood dotted, like painter’s pallet and

            sausage guts

offered to ant farms housed on desert pads

 

how many more will fall before

I die in dust

older than before there was an Arab