This recent poem by the late Wanda Coleman appeared in the October 2013 edition of Asymptote. It is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the relationship between bodies, earth, power, and time. We share in the mourning of Coleman’s passing this weekend and reflect on her poetry’s contributions to discourses of urbanism and the right to the city:
Tremors & Tempests (A Poetic Dialog)
will the earth move beneath our feet?
Feel it. It is the boulevard singing its tar & concrete:
destruction. It moves and unloads spewing sewage
A father returns home after spending a day looking for work.
He comes in/sits heavy at the dining room table
the labor he needs hasn’t been invented. He turns out his
pockets for cigarettes and keys. Even the beer is warm
Three boys kick an old man in the face for fun.
There go the idle boyz with a man’s blood on their boots.
Hard leather and harder heads. Dare the cops. Dare
the politicians. Dare and damn them
A mother tells her child she wishes he was never born.
Her wish comes true and he vanishes on the whisk
of a broom, returns to the ether/that purgatory
where the Christs of tomorrow writhe & weep
The police keep shooting until the Black man falls.
Lunging forward he reaches for her arms as she
sweetly twists his kinks into tight rounds against his
scalp like the coins of the ancient realm once theirs
A politician leaves his mistress to fool the public.
She was lazy with her body, held it back except
to make a statement or a child. The conversation grew
tiresome. The same story his mother told his dad…
The poor in Haiti are still poor.
I made a black doll with wide white eyes
I made a black doll with lips like rivers
I made a black doll that smiled buttons and buckeyes
The bomb maker writes poetry in his spare time.
The mattress is three inches deep, covered in
pale olive green plastic. The pillow reveals no dreams.
The doors latching echo the corridors/the years. Sonnets
for Mrs. Thumb and her four wiggly daughters.
Bessie Smith never wore blue when she sang.
I’m a yellow bird baby, shake my feathers in the sun
I’m a yellow bird baby, gots shiny feathers blazin’ sun
When I strut my burning plumage
That rooster-tooter up and run
What time is it in Tel Aviv?
Lord of the thrones of heaven, ancient creator
of all Gods, maker of all that is above and below,
release this oppressed one from poor judgments
and debts. Bless me with thy wisdom, thy mercy.
Open my eyes to the true joy of your word Deliverer
I’m tired of race porn.
Feel it. It is the night singings of co-minglings
and conceptions. It moves and unloads a universe
No one talks to anyone anymore, the phones are all busy.
An electric-toothbrush colonialism capable of X-number of
strokes per minute has three brushing modes; can
operate up to two weeks on a single brainwashing.
Fidel blows out the candles on another birthday cake.
The world’s variety is waning as global chains
cloak the tastes of the millions who hunger for
two patties, melted cheese and pickles on a bun.
Barry Bonds is sitting behind Rosa Parks.
John Brown’s truth doth also molder…
Me-K is looking for a publisher.
Easy-to-use application personalizes snapshots preserving
them in laminated, leather-bound books, calendars, and cards
My urine keeps getting darker, I must be passing.
Twenty-two cents, and a pack of mints
a rubber band and a paper clip.
Pass the bourbon and give it a kiss.
Neruda once told me my love poems were too sad for words.
I love you as the desert wind loves the west
the river of my desire running to the sea of yours.
I love you as the long needle pines love the wind
brushed about in the violent breeze to hug the earth.
Ours is the violence of brown and red flesh
as we push through each other to reach to touch…
Ours is the violence of the poor
to have and have and have until the having stops.
I do not love you more each day—no more than
any other day, nor do I love you less
nor does my darkness enter your lightness without
the pain of passing thru an eternity of fire,
but in you I rest
to love you as the figeaters swoop by daylight
as the red-tailed hawk swoops the open sky
In Iraq several school children discover toys of mass destruction.
spit balls and chalk flying mark those God-awful
days when White kindergarten teachers wouldn’t
touch me for beating my heart and hopes raw
The Buddha has no Facebook page, just an iPhone.
The embryo of an idea was kept inside a soul. The mouth of
the body inhabited by the soul was the exact size of the embryo. The
idea hatched inside the soul and was fed through the body. Gradually
the idea began to grow. Came the time when the idea had fully
matured and had become equal to the size of the soul. Then, without
breaking the soul or the body, how can the idea be given to the world?
Did DuBois teach Toomer mindfulness?
Who silences what he does not want to hear?
Who poisons the water that he need not drink?
Who persists that his lies are not lies but truths?
Who obliterates what he does not want to see?
Who expels in ecstasy as he slays.
After Obama was no longer president some of us walked down to the ocean to look for slave ships.
Lordy Lordy I keep so busy ain’t got time to cry
Cause when I’m givin’ my all to save my all
Ain’t got time to cry
Bustin’ ‘n’ bumpin’ to stay on board the train
to Glory Land, and if you believe the train’s gonna make it
Stand up and give me yo’ hand!
Lordy Lordy I keep so busy ain’t got time to die
Cause I’m givin’ my all to serve my dreams
Ain’t got time—no lie
Lincoln was a man of secrets and deep pockets.
Abe’s truth doth lie a moldering…
Edison invented the darkness so we could sleep.
Hushabye we paid that bill to keep
The light if the lightkeeper will
Hushabye we paid the money man
To turn on the light so we can see
The blessed light of Calvary
The rain is falling outside my window as I close the door.
Slam bam and rumble. Slam bam and rumble.
Whoosh’n’ spin and whoosh again. Slam bam rumble
My father worked in the post-office before there were Black stamps.
all the greatness missing from the American Roll Call.
June Jordan once reminded me not to forget about the laughter.
knee slappin’ hand clappin’ back spankin’
grin-splittin’ cain’t stand up cain’t be sittin’
Hootin’ and a pootin’ got the felloutcha shootin’
There is nothing left outside to breathe except air.
Inside true souls exude a sweet perfume
that draws the putrid lie to its deserved doom.
The earth no longer shares, it trembles; be careful when you love.
Our lives are labyrinths in which we crawl
toward an ever-receding light through thickets of
thorns tormented by the deafening thump of our pulse.
Our lives are labyrinths…