“If you grew up with holes in zapatos/
you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough”
In a few weeks we’ll head home to visit Milwaukee, and thankfully my son will have the opportunity to spend time with family he hasn’t been around since winter (Lord knows his grandparents are past due for a reunion—in fact, they may try and kidnap the poor boy). I’m often conflicted by the great things that have happened to me and us over the past year or so. While I’m extremely fortunate to live and prosper in Oxford, Mississippi, I often regret the potential for loneliness and detachment as it relates to my son; I can’t imagine growing up without cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family right down the street. My mother was one of nine, and everyone stayed in Milwaukee, so I was always surrounded by family. In fact, I remember hiding from cousins my age, or telling my mother to lie and say I was napping when I wasn’t—when I just wanted some quiet or personal time: when I wanted to dream a little. From about the time I was six until around ten, we lived in a duplex: my family occupied the downstairs unit, and my aunt’s family occupied the one upstairs. There was a back hallway that allowed us to freely walk in and out of each other’s spots. And yes, we utilized the hell out of it (“y’all got some cereal,” “want to go outside and throw rocks,” “let’s get a football game in quick”). While it became intrusive at times (I was a weird child who liked being alone—maybe still do), it fostered lifelong brotherhoods. Those cousins are my brothers.
My boy will not have this experience. And while there are tons of families who share this circumstance, it’s fresh for me. There’s always the opportunity for folks to visit us in Mississippi, but that’s an entirely different discussion. The folks in my family work to make ends meet. If these folks take time off, ends are not met. If ends are not met, well you know (thanks for coming to visit us, sorry you lost your crib and car).
Lately I’ve been seeing old evil Milwaukee reminders: violence, crime, murders. Milwaukee was just listed as a top ten most dangerous US city (http://lawstreetmedia.com/blogs/crime/10-dangerous-large/). The listing stated: “Milwaukee jumped 13 places this year to replace Buffalo N.Y. as the 10th most dangerous large city in 2012.” This phrasing sounds dumb as hell and suggests something positive occurred. Shouldn’t Milwaukee have dropped 13 places? Just last week an innocent little girl, Sierra Guyton, got caught in a cross fire. She was only ten (http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/news/11-year-old-shot-on-Milwaukees-north-side-260200611.html).
Growing up I knew the shadows that lurked throughout my city. In fact, some of these shadows were associates. Milwaukee will give you a sixth, seventh, and eighth sense. You grow to know the malevolent intentions of this face, that car, this eighty degree summer day. If you’re smart and brave enough, you’ll learn how to move, eat, and walk freely amidst it all. I’ve attended funerals and hospital beds containing young bodies’ disease free. I have loved and hated this place; luckily, this place has only loved me back. I’m often asked about political undertones in my writing or if I’m attempting to write “urban” based on the stories. I’ll quote Jay Z: “I’m from the hood stupid what type of facts are those.” When I try and write nature poems, the birds just don’t come (although I love any kind of good poem, nature or other—people who write about nature probably has spent some time in, well, nature—I haven’t). There are other more pressing voices that deemed me somehow special—ones who took a bullet on a stoop I’d left just five minutes prior. I know my role in the collective expression. I’m sure about the things I need and want to write.
(Back to Milwaukee in a few weeks) It’s different now being a visitor. It’s different being a father. I understand why my mother wouldn’t sleep nights I ran the streets: why my coming home was some cathartic experience for her. My son is almost two. And already I couldn’t imagine sleeping as he tore the streets in some near future. I wonder about these summers he’ll spend in Milwaukee: the things he’ll never learn about inner-city survival. Our family resides where they always have: in dangerous places—places where the dumbest shit occur. I wonder about my role in ensuring his safety—the things I can’t teach him—the things I can’t control. Earlier this week, I watched a comedian discuss her privileged upbringing and how it inhibited her (a black woman) ability to connect with classic black films (like Boyz in the Hood). “Why don’t they just move out of the hood” she cracked. And while I cracked up at that joke, I thought of certain family, I thought of my son and his summers, I thought of that precious baby Sierra Guyton.
I wonder if my boy will be like that comedian claimed to be: detached from inner-city realities—potentially detached from his own family—having lived a privileged country life. I’m not sure. I do know that after I’m done writing this post, I’ll go out for lunch. I’ll probably have a glass of wine with lunch and then wander a bookstore. I’ll pick my son up from daycare this afternoon and maybe we’ll stop by the park to run around a little bit. We’ll go home and sit outside—watch cars fly past the country highway. Not once will I lock my doors, or clench my fist, or make eye contact that suggests “I’m not the one,” or prepare to duck. Not once, I think.