Poetry & Prose

Compatible Voices
I heard his voice across the room, although I could not see him over the cubicle. I’d recognize his voice anywhere and I was sure he had come to see me no matter what reason he gave for being here. We had been flirting over the phone for months. I was the credit manager for his store, so he called several times during the week, sometimes several times in a day. He had the sexiest baritone voice I had ever heard. He could have been a radio or TV announcer; his tones were so rich with a little bit of a western accent. He claimed to be from Ohio just like me, but he had sort of a Johnny Cash cowboy sound.
We talked mostly business, but we also managed to pull out a little personal information along the way. His favorite food was Italian; he like spy movies, and he liked hard rock music mixed with a little R and B. I liked Italian and Mexican food, mystery movies and books, and an eclectic choice of music from many genres. Our greetings had become terms of endearment. He called me his sweet lady and I called him Soldier Boy since he had served four years in the army. (“How’s my Sweet Lady, today?” “Just fine Soldier Boy, I’ve been waiting for you to call.”)
Knowing he was actually in the building gave my stomach a flutter. I couldn’t wait to finally meet him, to see if we were really compatible. Maybe he’d ask me out. My imagination was doing double duty. Suppose he was fat like Santa Claus, or barely twenty-one, or shorter than me by more than a foot. What could you really tell about a person by their voice alone? I had no idea what to expect. We rarely talked about our appearance, not even clothes or hair color. I wondered if he had any expectations. Did he like long hair? Skinny women? Older women? All I knew for sure is that we had some kind of chemistry over the phone, and it was hot. I certainly wanted to know more about him.
His voice was getting closer. A frizzle rain over my skin. Apparently, my supervisor was giving him a tour. I heard some introductions and some explanations of equipment. Man, his voice was spectacular; every word had its own special intonation like the lyrics of a song; while my supervisor’s voice was quite monotone. I was praying my phone would ring. It would be just my luck to be tied up with a call when he finally arrived at my station. I wanted to spend some time with him, maybe even take my break with him in our coffee room for a little privacy.
“Hey, I’d like to meet my credit manager while I’m here,” I heard him say, “I mean if that possible. It would be nice to put a face with the voice.”
“Sure, Jim. I was thinking alone the same lines. In fact, you can give her the deal you brought in, and she can get it set up for you,” my supervisor replied.
“Great! Point the way!
“Trish is in the last cubicle on the left next to the windows. See that blue lampshade sticking up over there, that’s where you’ll find her. I’ll catch up with you on your way out.”
“Alright, thanks.”
I suddenly realized I was holding my breath. I hoped my mascara wasn’t smudge and my hair was in place. I whipped out my lipstick and applied a fresh coat. Then I took out a legal pad and tried to look like I was working on something and not just sitting there waiting for him. Suddenly, he was there speaking to me; he stuck his head around the edge of the cubicle.
“Hey Sweet Lady, you got a minute for you Solder Boy?” His voice rumbled through my heart. I looked into his clear blue eyes and smiled. I’m sure all my teeth were showing. Unfortunately, he was no longer smiling. I pushed myself to point to the guest chair at the side of my desk and began speaking.
“Hey, back at you!” I said, “How is business and how are you?”
“Uhmm, good. Everything is good.” His voice had lost that mellow tone and his smile seemed forced. What’s wrong I thought to myself?
“It’s really great to finally meet you,” I said, “now I have a face to go with that marvelous voice of yours. Please have a seat.” He seemed unaware that he had not sat down although he had moved toward the chair. “I understand you have a deal for me to process,” I pushed forward to fill the quiet and to overcome the staring. When all else fails return to business I thought. He sat in the guest chair and laid a file on my desk without saying anything.
“You are a beautiful girl,” he announced into the awkward silence as I thumbed through the file.
“But . . .” I responded, “I’m not what you expected I presume.” I don’t know if he heard the sadness in my voice. In actuality, he wasn’t what I expected either, but I had been ready to move pass that. I was still interested.
He was losing is hair and had a small bald circle at the top of his head. He looked to be in his mid to late thirties and was approximately five foot nine. I was only twenty-six, but I had dated several men that were older than that. One was ten years older than I, so age wasn’t a deterrent just a little surprising because he sounded so much younger on the phone. Plus we had a lot of things in common based on our phone conversations.
“Cat, got your tongue, Jeff?” I asked, “Why don’t you just tell me and get it over with. I’m a beautiful girl, but…”
“But I didn’t expect . . . I mean I never thought you’d be . . .” He licked his lips and picked up my paperweight and turned it around in his hands a few times.
“Go on. I’m a big girl; I can handle it!” Unfortunately, I had already figured it out, and I was so disappointed.
“By your voice, I never guessed you’d be Black,” it spilled out of his mouth like hot soup.
“You’re saying, I didn’t sound black?”
“Yeah, I mean you speak so proper and you enunciate so clearly.”
“I see.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I love the way you speak. Your voice is lovely.”
“I just don’t sound black.” I said dryly.
“Right!” His eyes were pleading for understanding on my part, but I couldn’t oblige.
“Of course, you wouldn’t have flirted with a black woman.” It wasn’t exactly a question.
“Well, I . . . I don’t know.” He said with a crinkle between his brows.
“Well, no worries,” I declared. “It’s not as if I would have gone on a date with you anyway.”
“Because I’m white, right?” He breathed a sigh of relief.
“No, because you are married.” I saw the ring on his finger when he was playing with the paperweight.
“Oh.” “And being friends is out of the question too,” I continued.
“Because you’re insulted.” He said somberly.
“No, because you are racist. You believe in stereotypes propagated by ignorance. All Black people don’t sound uneducated; many do and can speak standardized English like their white counterparts.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was just surprised is all. I’m not a racist. I have some black friends.” He tried to defend himself.
“All your Black friends talk Black, I suppose.” I said, purposely using incorrect English.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”
“Fine,” I cut him off, “there’s no need to apologize. You didn’t hurt my feelings. I am simply disappointed. You are not at all what I expected.”
“No, younger, single, open-minded, progressive, and honest, even with yourself.”
“Oh.” He sat in stunned silence as I began enter the numbers from the file into the system.
“Let’s finish our business here, Mr. Potts,” I announced, breaking the ice that had formed between us.
“Okay, Trish,” he hesitated, “Should I call you something else?”
“Trish is fine.” I said, not bothering to look up. After that day I never heard Jeff Potts voice again, and for some reason I missed it.

The Bequeathal

To you my children,
I leave you the color blue.
Not a sultry azure, but true royal blue –
Blue as streams of water reflecting the morning sky,
The blue of the heavens coming to embrace the sea,
Yes, blue –
Blue of the dark shadows against the driven snow
To comfort you and bring you peace in the murky tide
Of grief and the stormy grays of your days ahead –
Embrace my Blue as I have embraced you
Allowing it to sooth your soul
And penetrate the places that nobody ever touches
To you I leave my blue.

To you my faithful friend,
I leave you the color purple.
The color of royalty for your sweet loyalty,
Purple rich as cool satin fabric against parched skin,
Eggplant purple growing in the garden of life
Near the path where love begins
Yes, purple –
Purple to warm your heart as our memories ascend,
To places where friendship and love will never end,
Enjoy each purple moment, relax and take it in
For it embodies a companion’s heart and all the joy it clutches
To you I leave my purple.

To you my wayward offspring,
I leave the color white
The absence of color like lightening searing through the night,
White as the foamy spray upon the splashing sea,
White so bright and glossy it burns the scales from your heart
And leaves no more room for misguided mischief
That has torn our family apart.
Yes white –
White undeniable like the paper on which I write
To remove the sinewy shadows from colorless truth
And expose that which beckons and lures you from the light
Until a caring someone can recoup our losses
And help you do what’s right
I leave you white.

I keep for myself all the silver and gold.
Silver shining silhouettes of sweet smelling infants in my arms
Trinkets of conversations with toddlers and teens,
Velvet lined boxes of senior wisdom are still my charms,
Golden moments of affectionate love in the arms of my guy,
Untold wealth of memories and days gone by
And yet they sing the savory song of living before you die
Silver and Gold
Silver and Gold –
My soul’s safekeeping of sweet treasures
From friend and foe – Yes, silver and gold!
I keep for my self.

It Is Not Enough!
It’s not enough that I’m a seer, a prophet, a saint
All you see is an old black mother too proud and free
Saying what she pleases when there is a need
For frankness and grit and political release
Of tensions that freeze out the joy of existence
With hatred and disgust for every man’s belief.

It’s not enough that I’m a poet, a preacher, a reader of thoughts
All you hear is an ancient grandma too set in her ways
Telling young people to rise and claim their legacy
Paid for through degradation, sweat, and tears up the broken
Ladder of dreams, hopes, and fears that the day
Would never come for her people
To be free to demonstrate their dreams.

It’s not enough that I’m an elder, a master, an arbitrator of truth
All you feel is fear, and uncomfortable foreboding that you missed
The opportunity to sit at the knee of folk like me and learn
Who you truly are – your purpose is to stand for more
Than the superficial fads of the land. You too are called
To plant more, live more, and give more for the culture to stand
For something worthy of remembrance.

It’s not enough that you look at me and wonder . . .
It’s time for you
To look at yourself
And proclaim –
I am!

The Voices

Do you hear them . . . the songs, the moans, the humming
Of our ancestors who could find no words for the misery, the hurt,
And the pain of constantly hoping for change;
Continuously praying for an unseen future for their children
And for their children’s children?
Do you hear them?

Can you hear the whispers to the Almighty Creator
That your great grandmother prayed?
Her only desire – to see her man-child strive, succeed,
And steady his grip on the old field plow –
For the crops to bring in enough money
To sustain the family for one more year
Can you hear her?

Listen! To the wails of long gone generations
As they arrived on the streets of northern land’s – Urban ghettos;
Shouting victoriously that the blight of the southern sun was left behind.
Trading cotton, peanuts, and corn fields for the dank concrete floors
Of factories and mills. Only to find that work in the North
Was from sunup to sundown and domestic task masters
Sounded much the same as the foremen of plantations/share crop owners.
Listen to the mixed cries of hopelessness and joy!

Can you hear the voices deep inside your chest
Pounding with sorrow over such little gain?
Grandmothers and fathers still crying, still moaning, still praying
And humming songs without words because the big house of their dreams
Turned out to be slang for the prisons that hold their sons
And their sons’ – sons who remain on death row
Waiting for appeals that will never produce freedom.
Can you hear them?
Voices still praying, still hoping, still claiming,
“There’s a brighter day ahead!” When another generation will rise up
To take their rightful place as men and women in this insane system
Of haves and have nots. Still calling, still crying for equality
In a bureaucracy where animal lives matter more than humans and
Dollars have voices too, do you hear it?

I hear them . . . speaking in my heart, not in my head,
And I see them in the eyes of my children and their children
Seeking solace in the non-reality of video games
While self-medicating on legal drugs and alcohol, trying to escape
The substandard education that lies in textbooks without their history.
I hear it in the rap and rhyme, the croon and flow of music-makers
Who still speak of the Promised Land.
I still hear the mixed cries and voices!

The voices . . . my legacy, a perpetual cry for courage,
For tenacity, for equal opportunity; for royalty to return to their majesty
And propel our nation forward into the vision of a dream no longer deferred,
But one that will blossom into our posterity; a heritage,
Achieving the possible and becoming the prophets for the new hope
And the real truth of the next generation that encompasses all people.
The voices of one generation to another.
Listen! Hear them!

Walking through the Graveyard

Walking through the graveyard carefully
Marching around the granite stones
Knowing my spirit is not alone
Because memories walk with me
Up and down each row.

Marble stones so cold and smooth
Warmly reminding me of the loved ones
Who have gone to the unknown home
Beyond this temporal globe
Of possible dreams turned reality.

Reading each name and number of years
Reliving the voices now gone
In the night air the epitaph too short
To cover the lives hard lived until death
Lives so entrenched with mine.

Family plots aligned and adorned
For generations whose dreams live on
Their voices and plans a composite
In our heads guiding us forward
To claim territories for which they bled.

These hallowed grounds continue to speak
Of generational lives lived simple and sweet
Posterity and heredity leaving its mark
For the living ones to take up the line
Of the hymns that kept them going.

Walking through the graveyard
I feel loved and so free
For these are my ancestors
Watching over me and
Making me complete.

The Nursing Home

Her silvery dome glistened under the light, and her eyes shimmered gray and bright.
Unanswered questions lingered in the air while she wondered who had left her there –
Alone amongst strangers in an unknown place; did anyone notice the puzzle on her face?
Why couldn’t she remember who these people were or hear them speak above a murmur?
Was she really loosing her mind or was something else out of place in this present time?

“Don’t worry,” they said, “You’re quite okay.” But she certainly didn’t feel that way.
She wanted her mom or maybe her dad, anyone from home would have made her heart glad. If she could find her keys she would get up and leave and bid these people a fond farewell – before they could bring her to one of their cells.

Yesterday, they had tied her down and turned out the light leaving her mind in such a fright. Why would anyone want to do such a thing? All these things were just plain mean. She was so tired and confused by every sight and sound; nothing familiar was lying around. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone; all she wanted to do was get home? Somehow she had to get away, but no one would listen to a word she had to say.

“You are at home!” the young lady said, “And in a few minutes I’ll put you to bed!”
To bed, to bed! The words echoed loud; could this be all that they allowed?
When did she eat, where were her clothes? This was not the life she had chose.
Silent tears rolled down her face when she couldn’t figure out how to get out of this place.

She was a victim but there had been no crime, only nature to blame for this downtime.
Her mind has been stolen day by day, and her strength was failing along the way.
The dreaded disease had no mercy at all; it took everything, the great and the small
Until nothing was left but the outer shell and this sad story I’m trying to tell.
Alzheimer’s disease is so cruel, it leaves the setting but destroys the jewel.

Surface Knowledge

So you think you know me because you heard some title.
Titles are one dimensional, they can’t define me.
Reverend, Mother, Sister, Girl – they don’t begin to show you my world.
Who I am, who I might be; you can only find out if you get to know me.
I have ridges, creases and folds so deep, you could never know me in just one week.
My lineage, some history, even my ancestry can’t truly reveal the essence of me.
There are things about me that you can’t see;
I am not who you want me to be.
It’s certain, you just don’t know me.

The only child of an unwed mom won’t explain where I’m coming from.
Bullied until I learned to fight exposes nothing of my real blight.
Molested, raped and broken down built myself back up from the ground.
Sex, alcohol, took some pills; thank God I was never overtaken by these ills
Militant, tenacious, determined to succeed so some other black women could follow my lead
High school graduate, college and degrees; you still don’t know me because of these.
There are things about me that you can’t see;
I am not who you want me to be.
It’s certain, you don’t know me.

You are Not Invisible

You are not invisible although you think you are.
To me you are a bright shining star.
You have talents the world has never seen,
So remember you’re on the winning team.
You are not invisible because I see you.

No one can pass every test,
So just keep striving to do your best.
You are sensitive, serious, and smart,
And carry so much love in your heart.
You are not invisible because I see you.

So when you’re in your tiny room
Feeling ignored and full of gloom
Just remember you’re not alone
You are the champion that sets the tone.
You are visible . . . I see you!

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