“You’re jealous of God!” That’s what the voice inside his head told him to say to me. Of course its a lie. Why would I be jealous of a sick man who is not God but is constantly being told that he is by the demons that hang out in his mind? Exactly. However the tormented still need to be fed. I made rice so that we would at least agree on something. He had two helpings of boiled hope on a plate. It doesn’t matter if my brother remembers that it was made by me. What does matter is that he survived today’s attempt on his life. If he was God i’d blame him for his insanity but that is not the case. Madness doesn’t need a disclaimer. Nor does pain. Nor does love. Nor does charity. Nor does mercy. We do what we can and sometimes what we must. And in between we eat what is cooked. Unceremoniously. Circumstance usually stays for dinner. God has a plate too.
I had a mug of coffee this morning. Much too large. Drank to my tongue’s content. Sweetless. I lost my charger yesterday and a dog bit my brother in the place where the nail went through Christ. No lie. It dawned on me. That’s just the noise though. It scatters like fragmented thoughts.
Its day 3 and passing over the amalgamated sweat stains of the years behind is like passing through the blood. Collected. Calm waters. Passing through the cup of storms. I’m not bitter. But like the cup of sugar free coffee, I drank to fulfill a ritual of my being alive. The sweetest taste is hope. And while the bread is without yeast it has all the flavour and colour of all the life I see before me. Glory is the path of pain and ressurection. Death lives in the middle. Stalking life. Salty. “Choose me. I want you to choose me”. And it begs to be noticed where life once stood erect and love bowed on bended knees. Like the mourning. It claims a temporary victory in an eternal contest and unlike its feathered cousin, it loses its way. Its only way. Once the fear of death is conquered, the fear of life is less potent. Love arises where death has no surprises.
Today is a wedding ceremony. A marriage of possibilities. My cousin has exchanged vows and time will study and tell what it has seen, heard and known under God. Black life like black bodies have long been a surrealistic feast for the voyeuristic eyes of fetishists and fantasists. Joseph Conrad could not open his eyes even behind the safety of his pen, to straddle his imaginative reconstructions of the monolithic burden bearers in the heart of darkness situated in the continent of his mind’s perception.
Baldwin generously invested the deformed and fragmented faces of exotica with the unusual idea that they were worthy of being depicted as fully human, even in a foreign land. The continent is not a country. And a country in this context is not a geographical destination. The poetry of Baldwin is not merely the words sentenced to a page but rather the lives affirmed by his words dancing to the tune past the margins of hate and redeemed by love. In his writings love is the great pacifier even when it sets fire to our expectations and challenges our notions of who is worthy of grace, and the horrors that transgress the invisible inhabitants who are generational custodians of a manifested multifaceted curse with wings.
Barry Jenkins painted the poetry of James Baldwin beautifully in ‘If Beale Street Cold Talk’. Next week lovers around the world will serenade each other with cards, gifts and kisses flavoured with wine and chocolates. Babies will be conceived. Lies will be ever more creative. Truths with be earnest and unsparing. Death will still be in business. Card or no card. Life will go on. Love in its bittersweetness covers the multitude and will endure the fall out. A torn page is the pity that a chapter can afford to lose.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
– James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
Picture a world uncaptured that doesn’t own you, but pays no more and no less than what it owes you. A world without music. A world without light. And picture a boy with a shyness that transforms before your eyes into the magic realism of a world of your own imagination. Paint it with tears. Paint it with the sweat of toil that labors feet that know the joy married to pain, in repetition. Paint it with the blood of experience which betrays our imagination. Paint it with the love of song and dance that flies on the light of a smile returning home from the miracle of being born in the weathered land that is ours to tear up and reimagine. Not a song. Just a chord that strikes once or twice in time.
Some years ago, I spent a considerable amount of pounds to get my hands on a first pressing of this record. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I would splash out for Aretha rarities. I spent beyond my means on many occasions for Aretha records, and I didn’t regret it because I loved her. Its a perculiar thing to say, because my relationship with her was strictly through her music. But I know why I loved her and always will. It goes without saying that she was set apart when she emerged into mainstream consciousness. She was of a tribe and community but yet she was different. Unique. Singular in her genius. She was the Mount Olympus of popular music singers in what is sometimes referred to as the Rock era. Her sound was and is both ancient and future, so the era which she is associated with, could not hold her captive.
I have been reading two books about Aretha in recent months. One is about her album, Amazing Grace, and the other is about the warts and all of her life. I put down one of them and stuck a pile of books on top. I’m slowly advancing through the other. I recognise people in Aretha. People that I love but who will forever remain something of a mystery. There is no book that can be written that will quell the intrigue or reveal her more precisely than her voice and rendering of songs. Lady Soul and her voice belong to the mystery and the wonder of faith in the divine. God gifted we often say. Death is a mystery as is life. And so is love. And so is God. When Job cried out in indignation, he was confronted by that mystery. So it is love and God, the mystery of mysteries that I hear when I listen beyond the pain and pleasure of death and life in her voice. Life affirmed. Resurrected from death. The pleasure coiled around the pain. The sensuality of life. The fragility. The indomitability of the spirit that hollers. The soul that bleeds. Loud. She resembles my mother in a lot of those late 60s to mid 70s images captured by publicity departments and press. Old photographs are things of wonder. And my mother’s face in her youth is as beautiful, vibrant and full of possibilities as Aretha’s voice. All that history is interwoven with all that future, which we can only live to know. Aretha Now. That was not just an album title. Taking heed of a moment on a journey that is still ahead. With hope in God.
Love is a mountaineer on stilts. No flips. No tricks. No short cuts. Battle hardened. A general and an infantry with the fortitude and frost bitten resilience to march the marathon of bow tied conundrums. And if it rises up like revolutions that combust in the fire of trials made of eternal fears and custodial sentences for the passion behind bars that bend around malleable hands, to hold the heavy length of derision, softly, it rises down like death in the doorway of presumption.
In hands that see as clear as touch, the vision is felt like a fire that cools the head that burns the heart. The why dies before the question is ever asked. The despairing can not make sense of these hands.
White of eyes. Framed in the frame. Blood brother of brutality’s murder rhymes slips off the tip of his tongue and civilisation is lost.
Undigested malady, hoist me on the shoulder of your affection. I do not exhale a priceless thought. You are not reading me. A page has yet to turn, like a neck to see if you are looking back at the beauty which momentarily passed you by. Like life. Like an idea, swift uppercut and pasted on your heart. I have lived your sighs. The marks on the bitten end of your chapters are mine. Dog eared. Black of lies. Yellow on top. I am writing you into me.
They mispoke my name once and again. I am besides those whose eyes can not see clearly enough to fly. Beside pages of pain or painted refrain of ages gone slow, to be born again. The oldest child is the mirror of the man who denies himself the peace of reason and souls burn on the wavelength of insanity. Words out of order. A semblance of order. A reason not forthcoming. The questions of why. The long endings that do not end on goodbyes. Is that true?
True say we say it means something but it is not true to say that we know the answers to the questions of why the white of eyes and black of lies behave the way they do. Greys integrate well with blue beards, if you let them live amongst the masses that breed on unstroked chins. Up is down and down is out but who is counting up the hairs on chins that have not been stroked and greased with questions in bed with questions that plague your head of aches? And the red noise of information which feast on your white of eyes? So green, so low down, so dependant on the drug of knowing. And what do we know? Who are we? What are we? Why are we? A mystery to ourselves. To each other. Yellow on black. Or of it.
Godmother of reality and her children suffer, blows of reckoning, headshots, eyes reddened, and unrecognised as the hugs of Joe. Snatched at death. Woe the tides that come to sweep laughter off the shores of John Doe, lamentable dreamers of our digital days, nightless and wide screened. Wide as fear stretches intrusively into the safe space. Enchanted tears roll back the years of sleep.
Coming at your side like sweet nothings I’m in your ear hiding what I thought were feet at the ready for dancing when I felt it move like I once remembered.
Heart’s a rolling stone but love is quite a mover and she rocked us back and down, higher down, the way we pushed up on that wall of time, crushing a moment we were gifted.
Is it the sky that colours the thought that my eyes speak when you look into me? I didn’t try to hide your questions in there. We just got stuck on the tangled high wire of hearts we dared to cross on foot. No fear. Just fools. Just us.
I wore your favourite smile today. It only cost me a tear before the train arrived to put me back on track. Love races the many miles of memories behind a kiss. I had hoped to return it to her sacred place. Sometimes we hold on too long and awake to find that the dream does not always follow us into the morning. And yet the Sky remains as young and dear to me as that devil in green. Or was it blue? And I as old as the grey bearded child I always was.
Spring departs like the kisses that dressed you down to play grown up games with fisted fears. The visceral image collapses as your heart attacks the mirage we were. I had to write this twice. Say something sweet and spit on it. Then put a foot on it and twist. Fast and hard. That’s how words work. Quick as the sinking sanded song we wobble on in chordination. I had to tie my hands behind my back so that it wouldn’t cheat the eyes that nourished our hopes. Living the lie was almost too good to be true. Work the hips, grind the wrist into action, wreck the moment, burst the balloon, and pop the lock of your bubble headed majesty. Oh we play hard ball with twisted tongues, daring the heart to watch the flight of our shooting Star as it explodes inside our cocoon. I almost caught her watching me lose her to my fantasies. The kink in my armour, comes undone. I almost found me watching her lose us in her astonishment that I could love all the things that made her loathsome in her own eyes. I only loved her soul because I couldn’t afford the possibility of everything wrapped around it. So I lusted after her flesh to make a man out of me. I bit into the fruit of her neck, carefully so as not to tear open her sacred honey coloured skin which illuminated the Temple of her Spirit, to mark her as mine. And I watched her marvel at the pleasure it induced which became ointment for the pain. She dared me into the whirlwind of wreckless abandoned and I surrendered to my nature’s intent. I watched her watch herself knowing it couldn’t last the storm to come. Those secrets between the high fiveing thighs were not the children we had hoped for, but they were ours to burn on the altar of love, for better or worse.