Nothing could have prepared me for my return to Greensboro from Washington, DC following my mother’s passing. I was all of 19 years old. I didn’t have a job or a clue. There were lots of decisions to be made and I made many of them poorly. Family friends got me enrolled at A&T. I was very unfocused and overwhelmed by multiple levels of grief. Oh, I made so many mistakes. God forgive me for the errors I have committed in this world and grant me sustenance in the worlds to come. Amen.
I defaulted to the familiar and that may have been my greatest error. I reaffiliated with the Winston Salem Mosque. But truth be told, the mosque always had its own agenda. I leaned on relatives for moral support but they were dealing with their own stages of grief. I muddled through, missing deadlines and eventually dropping classes. This process repeated itself like a sine wave that oscillated through my life for the next two years. I had a variety of jobs, some of which overlapped. I was a page, then an associate at Greensboro Public Library. I was a third shift orderly at a nursing home, taking vitals and emptying bed pans. I worked as a short order cook at a trendy restaurant that refused to hire me as a waiter. They didn’t hire black waiters. I worked weekends as a Pinkerton security guard. I filled in at Joyce’s janitorial firm when she needed help. I worked some Saturdays at Brandon’s Uhuru Bookstore. I flipped burgers at the newest sensation in town, Wendy’s. I even found time to volunteer at Greensboro Urban Ministry. I changed my major back and forth between electrical engineering and biology, two, maybe three times. At length the system made me stop, though I thought it was just the right combination of majors. The jury is out as to whether I was out of my time or ahead of my time or both.
My second year I met a girl, Pat E., a senior who had spent her junior year abroad in East Africa, Tanzania to be exact. Pat had an apartment just off campus where we would meet and where she would regale me with stories of her travels in East Africa. She served me homemade soup that always warmed my heart. And she liked my poetry, such as it was, and I shared it with her as it was my only worldly possession at the time. It turned out she was the poetry editor of the college newspaper, though she didn’t tell me that when she encouraged me to submit my poems for the annual poetry issue. Very sweet lady. Went on to graduate school at UNC and though I visited her once at Chapel Hill, we lost track in the intervening years.
I started smoking a pipe. Silly me. Captain Black. Silly me. What the heck was I thinking? The hot smoke from the burning tobacco gave me sores in my mouth. I dropped that habit like a hot potato. I listened to jazz while I smoked. Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Milt Jackson, and Roy Ayres were my favorites.
My favorite course was an elective I took, Urban Transportation Concepts, a fascinating course that blended economics, sociology, business, urban planning and design. It was taught by a guy named Benjamin, a Jewish guy who said he was from the same family for whom Benjamin Parkway was named. That was a pretty big deal in Greensboro as Benjamin Parkway was a major thoroughfare. Now every time I watch a TaaS (Transportation As A Service) infomercial, and I watch them all, I think about the professor and the course. I was also quite fond of a course I took in the biology department, Botany. Very eclectic academic tastes. Later on I applied for the Transportation Institute. They had lots of scholarship money. But my application was rejected because my GPA was too low, even though its director was the wife of a friend. They made the right decision.
I went to Chicago for a summer research project financed by a North Carolina Fellows grant. Although I had a horrid GPA at the time, I went through the oral interviews and was admitted to the North Carolina Fellows program. Back then the NC Fellows was a cohort-based leadership development program with chapters at A&T, Davidson, East Carolina, and Chapel Hill. We also provided initial testing data for a new think-tank type operation in Greensboro, the Center for Creative Leadership, taking part in annual week-long retreats. Testing results indicated I was best suited for careers in banking and the military.
In Chicago I found a dingy room at a place called Hyde Park Arms. It was relatively inexpensive and right on public transportation lines. The research project I had proposed included first person interviews with leaders at three types of black organizations: a religious organization, the Nation of Islam; a political organization, Operation PUSH; and a business organization, Johnson Publications. Dr. Shabazz, my DC math tutor was there in Chicago and we had a nice reunion. My two first cousins on my father’s side, Billy and Robert Holt, were both there with their families, participants in the Great Migration. I believed I could make a home in the Windy City. I got an assembly line gig at Zenith Corporation.
(Side note: one Sunday at the mosque we were visited by none other than Rev. Jim Jones. He and Wallace Muhammad were planning to hold an inter-religious Spiritual Jubilee in a city park the following week. This was 1976 and Jones was gathering folks for his project in Guyana, later to be known as the Jonestown Massacre. He looked like a Native American, with white skin and slicked black hair. But he also may have been a white guy. After the whole Guyana thing went down nobody every talked much about the liaison.)
I returned to Greensboro at the end of the summer to set my affairs in order for the move. I met Towanna and decided to stay in Greensboro. Three months later she left town.
I bucked down in my course work and made decent grades for a change. I discovered I had a taste and a talent for economics and statistics and changed my major yet another time. Through economics I got the co-op job with Farmer’s Home Administration.
Things started to settle out when I got the job in Reidsville with Farmer’s Home. I found myself with a stable address, an entry level opportunity in a solid profession, and a love interest with a local librarian. What more can a kid ask for at 22? But the bottoms of my feet were itching, an itch that Reidsville and even Greensboro couldn’t contain.
That was when I decided to enlist.
Poetry I wrote during the period.
Summa Cum Laude
“She delights the earth with her footsteps,
and in speaking, fulfills the desires of the deaf”
A flower, a synesthetic glow…
An inflorescent melody
(in search of combination)
That violates its meter
And disregards its rhythm
(as defined by classic standards)
To uphold its right to grow.
A pearl, a diamond, cast among swine…
Tomorrow is retrieved from the rubbish
And polished to a more brilliant luster.
A vessel, undefiled,
Well-built and well-prepared:-
To weather all the storms and blasts;
To sail the oceans, deep and vast;
To overcome the dark morass;
To persevere until the last;-
And with me, heaven, share.
the cactus bloomed.
The cactus bloomed –
we all had lost hope in the cactus.
no one was waiting for the cactus to bloom,
nobody expected anything out of the cactus,’
we all considered the cactus dead.
“a garden enclosed,
a spring shut up,
a fountain sealed…”
the rose of Sharon
the lily of the valley
the bright and morning star…
…is the blossom of a cactus.
From two to ten.
The size increases,
the depth deepens,
the strong grow stronger,
the weak go further off track.
We graduate to higher levels,
we assassinate ourselves
through our ignorance.
Through our ignorance,
through our arrogance,
through our willful
rejection of truth,
we reject our true inheritance.
As we oscillate-
like loose clothes pins,
from one end of the line
to the other,
we pause for a moment …
to reclaim what we’ve lost …
to reconsider what we’ve tossed aside…
to re-evaluate our status
as the fittest for survival.
Sonnet – Come Feast Your Eyes…(sonnet)
Come feast your eyes upon this mortal flesh-
This flesh that toiled and suffered on the earth,
And never once backed down from any task;
This frame that housed a spirit and a mind
That dared to live: a spirit that defied the sting of death;
A mind so exalted and sublime,
That it transcends the boundaries of time.
Come feast your eyes upon this mortal flesh-
This earthly form of dirt and dust and clay,
This vessel that once breathed the breath of life.
Look in the eyes and see into the soul:
The virtuous soul, the patient, faithful soul, the soul
At rest; the soul that found contentment in
Its prayer, and thereby freed itself from sin.
We celebrate existence
in the things we do each day.
In each step we take,
in the moves we make,
We celebrate existence
in our coming, to and fro.
In each game we play
as we go our way,
We celebrate existence
in our daily life routine.
The sun has blessed us
while so many have oppressed us,
So we celebrate.
We celebrate existence
as we stand before the world.
Let us manifest God’s glory!
Let us tell the untold story!
Let us celebrate!
Notes from Physics 221
external control is the objective,
the prerequisite of which
is knowledge of the workings
of the internal forces which
maintain the equilibrium of the body.
possession of this prerequisite
necessarily implies the attainment
of a proportionate depth of insight
with respect to that body
out of which one wishes to emerge.
separation from that body
enables one to view objectively,
judiciously, impartially the body,
to measure its dimensions,
define its properties,
derive its qualities,
understand its nature and origins.
the energy required
to thrust an internal body outward—
Why then should we be blinded
By the skin’s external hue?
Is supremacy of coloring
The sole reward we’re due?
Can this doctrine heal our sores?
Is it refuge for our grief?
Does it rectify injustice?
Can it bring us true relief?
Nay! But quality of intellect and
Purity of heart and uprightness
Of morals will sustain us…
If the goals we set are true.
Let us, thus, go forth, remake the world,
With truth and strong belief.
We, the students
We exist independent of the filth and
Moral corruption that plagues the modern world.
And although it may be stylish to do wrong,
We refuse to conform, we dare not allow ourselves
To be seduced by the appetites and desires
Whose control give us mastery over creation.
Our lifestyle is unique, we have our own
Ideas of freedom, our own motivating power,
Our own value system. Our behavior is not
Defined by modern psychology, our growth
Is not measured in height or weight, our
Mental power is not classified by IQ, SAT, or ACT scores.
We generate the energy we need to move and grow,
We have our own power source in ourselves.
courteous but insincere –
as she wishes you peace
and good tidings
and God’s blessings.
polite but uncaring –
as she curtsies, daintily,
and smiles broadly,
and reaches for your hand.
seductive but coldhearted –
as she blows soft words into your ear,
then breathes deeply
and touches the small of your back.
courteous but insincere –
as she wishers you peace,
and good tidings,
and God’s blessings.
They don’t sound like you
When she read my poems, she said,
They don’t sound like you.”
I said, “Neither do I.”
As the letters connect from right to left,
the shrapnel of my mind
connects into a continuous function,
into a pattern plainly visible,
then from this pattern,
we venture out to new frontiers
Written at the Hyde Park Public Library (Southside Chicago)
with no conscious direction,
one often manages to stumble upon
and to discover something
the unrestricted, un-academic
search for truth bears fruit
and rewards the seeker with
what is a poem? if not
an expression of or a need for
something not satisfied by prose and
other genres of literature as
classified by those who classify.
with image-creating power,
one can develop new forms, evolve
new arts, fashion new worlds,
and deliver people from their darkness.
arise and be free
with your image-creating power.
stretch your imagination and
transform it to reality and
then you will be free.
our imagination is our most
priceless asset. With imagination
we can reupholster all of creation.
image-making power changes
illusion and converts confusion
into true reality. Consider
what you want to be and
call on all your senses, understand
the angels and use them to restore…
And our minds are so well developed…
and we know all the reasons
why such-and-such phenomenon exists
with full bosoms
and well-developed bottoms
and immaculately charming faces,
smelling so sweetly –
like an early spring morning.
and so common-place,
that their beauty loses its fascination,
and becomes just another piece
of post-Renaissance art.
No poem can aptly describe
Nor even metaphorically allude to
The satisfaction your smiles (words) bring
No music harmonious and soft,
Though it issue from the chambers of heaven
(alt. being sung by heavenly choirs
alt. when issuing from heavenly chambers)
can fill me with such peace of mind
as the lullabies you sing…
no wine, no weed, no opiate,
though pleasing to the senses,
con so uplift the forlorn soul
and reignite the flame grown cold
as when of you I dream.
Come in, come in…
Let the smoke invade your mind
and nod your head to the rhythm
of electronic disco music
Sit down, sit down…
Join us in a game…
of cards, or chess,
or death by double-elimination.
Have a cup of coffee
or a can of beer
or a shot of whiskey
or a pull of reefer.
The cosmos is mathematical
and methodical and
exciting and fun, and
Notes from English 100
A wistful word,
A note of apprehension:
Of eager reception…
Of the earnest enthusiasm
That accompanies the dawn…
Of the burning desire
That flourishes at noon…
Of the silent longing
That dies at dusk…
And renews itself,
And replenishes itself,
And rekindles itself again and again…
As it travels towards
Perfection of expression.
self-protection was my intention –
to steer myself clear of
those things that cause me pain.
but sometimes pain is necessary
for growth, for development,
for maturation. And sometimes,
painful things cannot be avoided…
so love me, love me as if
there will be no tomorrow,
no future trace of memory or pain…
love me as if we’ll never know
separation: eternal, incessant love…
and when comes time
for my departure, love me
unforgettably, unregrettably, as if
time itself had no meaning, and
make me know with certainty that
our love will stand the test of time.
Alchemy (Notes from Chemistry)
scattered all about,
in random motion
looking for the best nucleus
to revolve around.
as the electrons collide,
mix and split,
only to light
from a pure source.
Reeling backwards –
Trying to patch up holes,
Repair broken hearts,
Tighten leaking seams.
Pausing momentarily –
Running out of steam.
Flying forward –
Fueled by our dreams.
Notes from Botany 140
“More and more in living as growing young men and women and grown men and women and men and women in their middle living, more and more there comes to be in them differences in loving repeating in different kinds of men and women, there comes to be in some more and in some less loving repeating. Loving repeating in some is a going on always in them of earthly being, in some it is the way to completed understanding. Loving repeating then in some is their natural way of complete being.” – Gertrude Stein, “Loving Repeating”
weak connections and denying
life to those that can’t survive.
giving rise to every feature,
showing bias to no creature,
but preserving in its nature
its desires and its drive.
energizing all creation,
changing forms without cessation,
seeking just that combination
that will make its species thrive.
a precious gift
a priceless gift
we translate sunlight
into peace and love
into truth and happiness
a spiritual compound
giving us the capacity
to convert filth in the atmosphere
into food for the mind
into energy for the spirit
into nourishment for the soul.
a blessing from on high,
bright and brilliant as the sun,
dark and rich like fertile soil,
everlasting and supreme.