Monday Jul 22

Bonair AgardRoger Roger Bonair-Agard, a native of Trinidad & Tobago and Brooklyn, is author of tarnish & masquerade (Cypher Books, 2006), GULLY  (Cypher Books, 2010), Bury My Clothes (Haymarket Books, 2013)—which was long listed for the National Book Award and won the Society of Midland Authors award for poetry—and Where Brooklyn At?! (Willow Books/Aquarius Press, 2016). His poetry and prose have been published in Rattapallax, Louisville University Review, Union Station Magazine, Harvard Review Online, Gulf Coast, Academy of American Poets–Poem a Day, Drunken Boat, Poetry Magazine, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, and in several anthologies. Roger is Writer-in-Residence at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust, co-founder of NYC’s LouderARTS Project, and front man for the band Miyamoto is Black Enough. A Cave Canem fellow, Roger is creator and facilitator of The Baldwin Protocols: Reading Series, and the Baldwin Protocols, a series of arts-based interventions in the form of workshops, seminars and lectures which help students of color and first generation students traverse the potential pitfalls of life in Primarily White Institutions of higher learning. Roger has taught Creative Writing at every level, from Kindergarten to Research 1 Universities. He is Program Director and writes on Pedagogy and Curriculum design with Free Write Arts & Literacy at Cook County Juvenile Temporary.

Moving My Mother in
We're unpacking my mother's things
from her room here in Brooklyn: a drawer
of tax and immigration documents,
untouched linens, several tiny brown canisters
of prescription medicine, gloves, several paid
electricity bills, a library card, membership
to the YMCA. I start
putting things aside—a felt broad-brimmed
hat, with a red ribbon as hat band—i'm going
to have that replaced in brown leather—a blueprint
for renovations on the house in Cascade, a letter
from my father dated 1971. There is no turning away
from the detritus of mother's life. Half of it
here, half of it recently been asked by the Earth
to move and settle again. Trinidad sifts itself
down into the Richter scale 7 and houses
quietly strike up new agreements with their foundations.
I am in charge now. I know what she wants
would have wanted. I fumble with the tenses
of her living and leaving. This is the way
with death. My mother moves in
with us now, though not in the way
we had first planned. I drive her back
to Chicago, the way I got there, all crammed in
to a truck, everything distilled to a few
key items—a goldenrod bedspread I covered
with as a child, pictures of my own children
helping my mother mark the time in her elder
years, and now the notes she took for Nina's
naming ceremony—a word crossed out here
for a better option, an underlined phrase there—
the grammar of her hands' calligraphic slants,
so much patient detail, a lifetime of it parsed
to 5 numbered index cards. I remember
her that afternoon, in white I believe, sanctioning
the child's offering to the universe. This is one
of a few archetypal ways I see her—speaking,
controlled, strident, no word denied the full
throttle of its consonants. Mostly she shows up
like this; motif of one of the major arcana
of the belief and lived scripture of her days—
mother, warrior, teacher, speaker, jester,
lover, listener, thrower of parties and punches,
drinker and dancer of costumes, carnival Tuesday,
winged or caped, sequined and glittered, head-pieced
and standarded, and black and black and black.
There are drapes here for our bedrooms,
necklaces and earrings for me and the children,
exquisite sweaters and scarves. I cull a few pieces
for my woman, pull some aside for her granddaughters.
The two older ones have each chosen a clutch purse
which they play within the next room, their imaginations
lifting them into worlds they can see, think to arrive at,
that we won't approach.
Maino says she shows up from time to time.
She is concerned about the garden, so she stares
from the kitchen window out into it and so I know
what must be done.
Upstairs, a mirror in an empty bathroom
leaps off the wall, shatters. We sweep, pack
things into boxes and bags. Friends have brought
gifts for the last child too and so these evidences
of life we go with are meant to bookend the whole
business. In comes one, out goes another to begin
a new work in a new realm. My vision gets clearer.
Frames, trophies I've won, copies of books I've written—
I reclaim them to my mortal self. I work. I wait.

In the next room, my children dream
dreams I cannot fathom. I slow. I pack. I fold.
These things too my mother would have me hold.

Jeweled Son
(after Mother Knows by Aaron Fowler – mixed media)

My mother kept me close
     wore me like a medallion
     close to her heart
     or bosom
though I could not tell what
held me there—chain or noose.
All I know is I took her love
     and broke it off into sparkling shards
     I shared with the world,
     with any woman who'd let me mirror
     my momma the way my momma
abandoned any thought of her own
shelter, and spent her life
holding up       a looking glass
a split smile     nothing
her own cape a winding river of unsheathed swords
coming for her own—me, her own
son a chariot and a splinter of supersonic
rage, black pride, stained
glass – for her, never far
little to her name but her good good
works and her only jewel
a Son.

Kaiso began to consider love. He had loved
before but now he began to understand
that it could be a house to live in, a spacious
one with a small pleasant entrance—a blue door
with a hibiscus bouquet, and a smell of something
always cooking coming from inside.
But now he knew it would open, or descend
or expand, into something cavernous and pleasantly
dark. He understood the beauty and complication of shadows.
Kaiso had been deeply in love before
and he could cite verse and chapter on each woman—
the small scar behind the knees of one, the perfect
toes of another—her black, slate-smooth belly,
the laughter and scandalous love-making
of a third. Kaiso had been lucky
to be loved so thoroughly and in such a tumult.

Those versions of love were like the easy wonder
of houses of straw and stick before the wolves came,
and the wolves were bound to come. Kaiso
knew now that love had to have rooms and several
moods of light. Love had to be vast so there could be places
for revelry and theater, and secluded rooms
where no one else would enter, books on the shelves
and one's personal comforts made palpable
in the smoke and deep bass that lived in its walls.
Love had a business to protect the one who loved
the ones who were being loved, Kaiso mused.
It had to feed, and sleep, and pleasure the tenant.
Love had to be ready to make war and weather
the storms inside and outside the audacious lover.
He began to prepare for himself just such a home
with no idea about who might come to inhabit it
alongside him.

Morning Glory déjà vu in East Garfield Park
I come home. The morning glory which was rioting
when I left, now chilling in the cut—nothing more
than a gaudy bush making mas on the fence. I whistle
at my baby and she rocks side to side, squeals, shows
all four teeth, claps. Her mother throws a sidelong
glance, smiles. I imagine she remembering my similar
song up at her kitchen window almost four years ago,
just past the baddest lyrics I ever drop on a sister.
The lyrics was bad because they was true, and true
in a way that I was seeing inside me further than i'd ever
seen before. There were seas there, and all manner
of ability at flight. Right there, inside me
rocks and steel, fires raging and brilliant flames waiting
to be lit. I'd had lyrics before that was true. I imagined
that to be my hallmark, but they was never bold like this,
never so sure that everything inside would remain and be
true even if the lyrics didn't work, which is to say
if she didn't say yeah, I like your tune. I want to
add a beat to it. I feel you see a song and storm
in me that maybe you don't fraid.
So it start up, though it really start up earlier
in the talking, in the mascamp of our scars
where the seas and storms and fires and blood
in both of us was so deep we could see the colors
in the layers of dermis—fibroblast and macrophage
epithelium to scab, callous and cartilage—purples
and oranges and we knew we were beautiful.
It's hard to say when the child start whistling back—
how soon or how hard she was calling that we threw
caution the direction of every sweet fuck to get to her.
So many things we wanted to do—still want—
still so much bodhi to plant, flowers, this year
the morning glory move from the fence to the yard
itself and we bury some roses in the front yard
to answer back the call that brought her here.
Squirrels ate the tomatoes, but fuck that, we planting
again—pepper this time, kale and squash. We eating
dasheen and calabassa, plantain and ochroe.
We want to be country-people again
because after everything maybe that is what
is ordained. We could see far, and the seas and storms
are real, but to read the signs and ignore the crossroad
is thing to make Esu laugh and threaten to come back
just now. We might only be cutting track for gouti
to run.
Put the girl on the ground and she toddles over
to the djembe, beats, and beats again. Her face
is aflame the whole time. The tone is a ringing
satisfaction, especially when she make noise
at the same time from her throat. This summer
she will walk and throttle the edge of nights
before she sleeps. No one can see as far into us
as she can. Sometimes I try to look into her
and i'm not sure I want to hear the whole
story. There are flowers and dark beasts
in there, an upstream river moving to the center
of each of our darkest continents. Did I say
me and her mother courted each other
tequila and gin? Rum and mezcal? Whiskey
and the most pungent foods? There is a lava
in the child. Sometimes she is quiet
and looks back at me—stills the rocking
lets me see into the dark cave-lakes
of her eyes. I can't hold the gaze
as long as she.
            Once, a boy, I jumped from the tops
of caves into black lakes such as these. This is what
déjà vu is built for, the metaphor of diving
as a child into a symbol of your own future.
Who knew i'd face a fear such as that again
in the center of someone from whom I cannot,
must not turn away. This is what the flowers
in my grandmother's yard meant then too—
buttercup, jump-up-and-kiss-me, hibiscus
and ixora. They flowered regardless. We never tended
them, but there they were—all the time
it seems. This is the déjà vu future
children who house our pasts and futures in gazes
we can't escape. Amen and Ase this gratitude
this opportunity for it—perennials who stay
coming back, who won't let you escape
who won't let you avert your gaze.