I was leaning out of the window at the Benjamin Franklin hotel in Philadelphia smoking a cigarette in a no smoking room when I looked down
I was on the fourteenth floor, with a clean shot at the exhaust fans on the roof below
I had that crazy thought that someone might come up behind me and tip me out of the window, then I had the even crazier thought that it would feel so good to just fly for a minute
Just to fly
That exhilarating moment when all of the cares and concerns in my day-to-day life would become insignificant
That moment, right before the inevitable regrets, when peace and contentment would be mine
I imagined my broken body in the crime scene death pose, like a flower arrangement gone awry.
I could let go
Have my freedom
I probably wouldn’t even hit the ground-
I would leave my body right before and just the flesh and bones of me would be broken
Down on the street, miniature people were on their way home from work
Couples meandered hand in hand
Pretty, well dressed women with brief cases and cell phones walked as if they were late for important meetings
Other lives were playing out all around me as I contemplated my mortality.
Why is everyone so worried about dying?
Once you’re dead, there’s nothing else to worry about.
No bills to pay, no painful, unanswered questions to haunt me
No wondering why I get so tangled up some times with the simplest things, like “who am I really?” and “what do I want from this life?”
No echo’s of the little girl I used to know who cried so many nights wondering what she had done wrong To make life hurt so much
I have to shut the window
The temptation is too great
I want to be a keepsake-
A pressed rose pedal
in a journal full of poetry, written secretly
by the faded woman
standing down there on the corner,
for the bus.
The Smell Of Katrina
I wish I could describe the smell to you.
It’s a smell you don’t ever forget, but it’s almost impossible to describe.
It was a combination of rotting meat, mold, algae and chemicals.
A wrong smell.
The air was wrong.
You could take your deepest breath and feel your chest fill up, but it wasn’t quite enough.
There was a heaviness about it.
A latent something that made you feel like you had to move fast,
walk quietly and as quickly as possible so you wouldn’t wake it up, so it wouldn’t begin to howl again
Lakeview was a tomb.
Everything encased in muck.
A big poison mud mask smeared over everything and dried to cracking.
Uptown looked like all of the houses got the same stomach virus and threw their guts up all over the street.
Like if the houses were visitors from out of town who went to their first Mardi Gras and didn’t know how to do it right;
-those tourists we all hate that drink to much and piss everywhere and act like fools just because they can.
Where to begin?
How do you clean up a mess like this?
If you planted a garden the seed wouldn’t sprout.
You couldn’t make anything grow in this wasteland.
Who will they get to live here?
Who’s stupid enough to come back and face the rot and the toxic waste that has seeped into our deepest roots?
It’s the little things that break me
One day goes then another
It will never be the same again
I heard it on the radio
When the Levee’s broke
And the water was rising
Sitting in a dark house
Much too sad for crying
Through the night
The calls kept coming
No one came
They helped each other
One man saved
It’s the little things that break me
One week goes then another
I was born here so was my father
They don’t know what we know
The fragile balance
That made us beautiful
Now it’s all exposed
And what we had
Is gone forever
Wrapped up in
One fool dancing-
With glasses clinking
Calling it a Mardi Gras
It’s the little things that break me
One month goes then another
We pick up broken pieces
Try to make them fit
They never do
But we pretend
Story of The Planting
What is this blood that flows through my veins?
Pieces of the puzzle
Stories of the planting
Seeds grown through struggle
Clinging fitfully in barren soil
To cast more seeds to grow
Trace me back to my beginnings
Finding Indians and Jews
Moors out of North Africa
Who won the wars in Ireland
Raping my Great Great Great Grandmother
Whose son’s son’s son
Came broken to a new land
To begin again, free from slavery
Trace me back
My mother’s people
Were driven from Hungary to a new world
To begin again with nothing-
But their lives
We lose the threads
Taking secrets to the grave
My father’s mother was ashamed of Indian blood
My mother’s mother didn’t tell her children
Of the ½ Jew hidden in their blood
But others knew and wouldn’t let them
Feel like they belonged
What is this blood that makes me who I am?
Displaced and then
Displaced and then
Disguised and hidden
Cut to fit
How badly do we need the thread?
Or can we cut it
I was just a kid. A runaway. I had jumped out of the truck because the man was going to rape me. I got hurt a little, but I got up and ran towards the woods while I looked back at his taillights to see what he’d do.
He turned around his pick up truck in the middle of the highway- he went a bit before he stopped though. I guess he couldn’t make up his mind.
I made for the trees, then I got real still. He came back driving slow with the window down, looking closely at the side of the road. I didn’t wanna breathe. I prayed to be invisible. I prayed for him to forget. I prayed for him to get tired of looking. To remember he had someplace else to be. Like home to his wife, who probably had dinner on the table waiting for him.
He seemed so angry. I thought he would most likely kill me if he found me.
After a while he gunned it up and drove away. I didn’t trust him though. I thought it was a trick to get me to come back out on the road.
I was in rural Texas on a two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere- a run away from a juvenile institution.
No one would ever know what happened to me, and my last hours would hurt.
After a while, I realized I’d better get going. I’d stay to the side of the road for a few miles, just in case. When morning came- if morning came- I couldn’t be close to where I jumped out or he might get me on his way to work.
Hunched down, I started heading north, keeping one eye on the road and trying to watch where I put my feet in the dark.
I was still convinced he was coming back.
-And I had this feeling I was being watched.
I couldn’t shake it. That skin creeping feeling, when you just know someone is watching you.
panic was building again. What a sucky night.
I think I broke my collarbone and a drunk cowboy wants to kill me. I’m crawling in a ditch and now someone is out there somewhere watching me, and I’m too afraid to look around and face the truth.
Then I heard something. Oh well. If I’ve got to die, I might as well look it in the eye and end the torture of not knowing.
Maybe I’d get eaten by wolves, which would be better than getting fucked by a drunk Texas cowboy.
I was laying on the tall grass in the ditch, out of breath from the combination of fear, a blinding pain in my right shoulder, and the exertions of my stealthy progress.
Then I turned my head and looked. At least forty eyes were calmly gazing right at me, only a few feet away, right on the other side of the fence.
I got up and started moving again. They moved with me.
When I stopped, they stopped.
“Go away! I shouted - “He’ll know I’m here if you follow me like this.” No response. They chewed aimlessly and meditated the small human female crawling along, determined to keep me company.
After what seemed like hours, I reached the end of their fence and they had to stop. They piled up into the corner, watching my retreating back.
Then I stopped. I turned, looking at them, and sat down. I was alone in the universe, except for those cows. They had become my companions, my family.
I lay down on the ground right there and went to sleep.
In the morning they were gone.
When Bwana came to town
He jogged around our village
He took a look around
He did not come to pillage
He talked at great length
To a “blind man” at the Mango tree
About the sad plight of our village
But he did not speak our language
When Bwana came to town
He brought his woman with him
Wearing strange and tattered clothing
And we feel for Bwana deeply
They must be so poor in their village
The woman dress and smell so strangely
And all of Bwana’s people
Become sickly when the rains come
Bwana plays games with our children
They like the one called “garden party”
Because Bwana always feeds them
Before he makes them hear his music
He likes talk with our children
The young do have much wisdom
But Bwana shuns our village elders
And in truth is much avoided
As I learned from my elders
We must be patient with the Bwanas
They are only here a short time
And like our children- must be humored
Soon Bwana will be gone
And we will sit beneath the Mango tree
The “Blind Man” will come back
And sing us songs about our history
He is our village minstrel
And gives to us much wisdom
Bwana thought him “blind” and “homeless”
We did not correct him
Ran my Stockings
Broke a nail
Try to get through
One more day
Need a break
Some kind of way
Just like the
Afraid to check
Used to have
A good life
Now I am a
Yea I know
It’s hot in here
If you’re not floating
Have a beer
Filled with rocks
Can't get a
With this hand
It's time to fold
They've got cable
All I got is
Used to run
Now you look
Take a number
Next in cue
Thanks for waiting
Who are you?
Just a little
You should call
I’m too far
Or they’ll be
You’ll pay a
If you’re not
Didn’t wanna –
Then I gotta
Don’t you dare
Miss a beat
to Help me
To bust a groove
Then I gotta
Put it in
A glass jar
After the Party
I feel like a tired balloon
Floating near the ground
A piece of dirty string-
Getting lost in all the trash
That’s left from the parade
Inappropriate, and out of context now
Don’t you hate the way it feels when
You’re the last one at the party?
When the lights come up
It’s not as pretty as you thought
All the scuff marks show-
And the duct tape is exposed
And there’s a dead bug in the punch
You didn’t see before
Like a flattened piece of cotton candy-
It only tastes delicious when it’s fluffy
And everyone sounds perfect
Singing in the shower
Like all those things
You wished you would have said
Instead of standing like a dummy
While the moment passed
We’re always so afraid we’re gonna miss it-
And we do
Fighting for the plastic beads and candy
And all the good stuffs just around the corner
At some great event that hasn’t happened -
Their hearts are connected to the machine.
Clipped on, then the long, coiled, plastic umbilical attached to the identifier,
A bar code to a file
Recording how much life
has been given away,
I see a frail, blue veined hand,
reaching up to press the feeder button;
The spinning stops-
With a gripping, hopeless hunger
The shaking hand is raised again
The corporation will make her a part of the special club
A purple heart for those-
You buy in
with the blood of your hard work, and lose yourself
In the hypnotic ringing
of the bells and music
watching the spinning
of the screen-
Disconnected from your life,
and all of the dreams-
I found another marble in the garden today
I’ve been collecting them from everywhere
And each one that I find speaks stories to me
Of chubby little child hands-
off on great adventures
I found another marble today
but it’s not sticky anymore
From candy bars and
Dirty little pockets full of treasure
I’ve been collecting them
I used to play with marbles
Back when days were golden
And everything was possible
From another time when magic could occur
And you could scare yourself to death
with just imagining
You could lose your breath
And run home so fast that
you could drop some special things along the way
I found a marble today
That makes 21
Coz’ I dropped one while counting them
It ran away to hide where all the others go
That place where chubby little child hands get so dirty
And ‘until dinner time’ can be enough time
To win the war and kill the dragon-
-or dig a hole to China
-Or find the secret treasure you’ve been looking for.
I'm a little bird
living in your hand
I have wings
but I don't fly
I like to stay
I'm a little bird
I used to migrate
North and South
but now I like to live
the seasons close to you
I'm your little bird
you feed me love- I thrive
as seasons pass
I grow stronger
I'll sing songs
and flutter round
I get afraid
might be the cat
come to eat me
but your not-
and I'm so glad that
I'm your little bird.
I wish I could remember his name. We were kids together- kind of.
I met him at one of the institutions I was sent to when I was a child. This one was in Texas. Victoria Texas. My mother had worked hard to get me Exceptional Children’s Act funding so that the Federal government could subsidize me and step up the quality of my incarceration a notch or two. I was supposed to be very smart.
This was a private institution and there was a lot of land around it and horses you couldn’t ride. Maybe somebody else could- I know the people who watched us did.
The building I lived in had a big area in front of it- like a quad and we would walk across it to go to meals. If you weren’t in trouble you could sit with the boys during meals and socialize. I don’t know where they stayed.
I guess it was a kind of boarding school for messed up kids- most of them with money and then there were people like me, who were wards of the State. I came from Louisiana.
This kid was a friend of mine and I really liked him. He was smart and he was really angry, like me. I was proud of him, because when things weren’t right- and they weren’t- he would get pissed off and say something. He would get in trouble, but he didn’t care. Neither did I.
I was always getting sent to solitary confinement, and having extra work, and being sent outside to pick up five hundred cigarette butts and sometimes they would give me piles of medication- thorazine, and valium, and god knows what else.
I hated being drugged, but took a Zen attitude to everything I was subjected to. I wasn’t going to give them the pleasure of knowing they’d gotten to me, so what ever it was, I would pretend there was nothing in the world I would rather do and oftentimes I would thank them for the punishments, which they found very baffling.
I want to say his name was Robert, but I’m not sure. I would go for long stretches where I didn’t get to go to meals and I was always exited when I was allowed. If he was free at the same time we would sit together and talk. I wrote poems about the shitty food:
All the time
Made me undernourished
I shoulda sued ‘em
But how could I prove
The diet I was placed upon
Affected my mind?
And we theorized about what kind of horrible crap they were putting in the pot because they knew we had to eat it. Huge piles of Macaroni and Cheese glumping into this mass of oily orange/ yellow- like an idea of something that could be good, but wasn’t.
My rebellious twelve year old spirit would make up poems like this and recite them until I’d pissed someone off and I’d get dragged away- Other’s would applaud. I had a reputation for being hard core and pretty wild.
Everyone else was much older than me. They were between the ages of fifteen and seventeen- considered ‘adolescents”. I was still technically a “Child” although no one could really figure out where to put me. I didn’t fit with children, but I wasn’t really old enough to be where I was. The courts had decided to place me in a facility for older kids thinking they would have a better shot of containing me. -
Robert and I felt that we were at war. Our jailors were the enemy, society was the enemy. Our parents were absolutely the enemy. More so for him than me- his parents actually paid full price to put him there. I couldn’t believe it. He had “Anger management issues” and his wealthy parents sent him off to get it ‘Fixed”.
Oh, they fixed him all right. I hadn’t seen him for a while- I think I had broken out and then gotten caught and put into solitary confinement on my return, but I was free to go to lunch at last. Every body warned me that he’d been gone for a while and came back different.
He was all messed up.
They’d been giving him a series of shock treatments. He was happy to see me, but had a hard time putting his words together- I could see it in his eyes though- he was still there. It was so wrong that it made me crazy. I wanted to destroy the whole world. How could people do this to human beings? I lost it- it seemed like there was no one in the world to protect us from our families and the ‘professionals” they trusted.
“There was nothing wrong with him! Are you people insane?” I shouted -. I don’t remember what my punishment was, but I know they stepped up the Thorazine. I had gotten passed the affects of drugs by that time. It was all relative. Everything was crazy, everyone was crazy, and no one could be trusted.
After his series of shock treatments was over, he slowly got back to normal. I have to tell you, this was a smart, good-looking, 16 year old boy whose parents should have been really proud of him. It makes me cry, even now after all of the years that have passed to think about some of the things that have been done to children with no protection.
Eventually, he started mouthing off again- having “Episodes” where he displayed “uncontrollable anger” I was told, and he was taken away. I thought he’d been sent somewhere else. I had my own nightmares to deal with. We had a lesbian counselor who was molesting girls and several other unpleasant daily traumas to survive. I just thought my friend had gone away. Maybe he was free.
Then one day I was at lunch and I saw a horrible sight. My friend’s body was going through the line at lunch, with an attendant, but his face was all wrong. His spirit was gone. He was in pajamas with a new, red scar. They had given him a frontal Lobotomy. It was over. He was gone.
I didn’t say a word. I felt a cold, clear stillness in my heart. This was a casualty of war. A brave soldier who had fallen in defense of freedom. I wanted to stand for him out of respect, but I didn’t. I ate my food and went back to my dorm and quietly planned my next escape. When I broke out that next time I made sure I didn’t get caught.
©Leslie Blackshear Smith
If you could wrap time
On a little gold chain
Pick it out with color
Give it a new name
Like “Seven” or “Blue”
Would it be nice to you?
Down my walls
And cracks a whip-
And holds a chair
Like a ringmaster-
In a tent somewhere
If you could wrap time
Inside a small box-
And hold it inside-
With twenty-seven locks
Then let it shake
And let it scream
While you run
to catch your dream
Would it be mad-
When it got out-
And make you pay the check
Before the lights go out?
Down my walls
And then I wonder
Where it goes
When I’m not looking-
It stirs the pot-
When I’m not cooking
It cleans my clock
And kicks my ass
And when I blink-
I miss it pass