Monthly Archives: May 2014

I’m From the Hood Stupid What Type of Facts are Those

“If you grew up with holes in zapatos/

you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough”

-Jay Z

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.

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Since I Seen’t You

You’re ’bout the flyest thang that life could ever bring

Like fresh air to me the blood I bleed sent to me

And I want, wanna build with you

-“Since I Seen’t You” Anthony Hamilton

So momentarily, last night, I forgot why I write this blog. All week I’ve been teaching until four thirty, and then picking up my son from daycare. Normally we make it home around five; I check his diaper, feed him a snack, turn on Nick Jr., and begin going over class stuff. If I don’t have too much grading to do, I transform into gym attire: the plan is always to write until his mom gets home from work, at which point we go over our boy’s daily briefings. Once this conversation is completed, she’s off to the gym and I continue writing (during this time him and I will have spotty moments of conversation or we may sneak in a book or two—children books are so funny because I never know if I’m reading enough—I sit down to read to him as if it’s this intense commitment, pick up the book and begin to read—the book is magically over in three minutes—if literature books went this quick, I’d be the most well-read motherfucker in Mississippi).

Once she returns from the gym, I go to the gym (she feeds him dinner). Once I return from the gym, we eat dinner, put him to sleep, and then maybe squeeze in a really bad reality television show (I’m thinking Hip Hop Wives or The Real Housewives or The Real World—and yo, don’t hate on bad reality TV, I had an involved conversation with Anthony Bourdain about how wonderful these shows are and he happens to love them too, and he’s bad ass Anthony Bourdain, so there’s my unapologetic validation.). And once the reality show is over, the day is done. This routine has been on repeat all week. Wait, this routine has been on repeat for the past two weeks. (Damn, I’m thinking for some this routine is on repeat for ten, twelve, eighteen years).

My boy’s adjustment to daycare has been both hot and cold. Some days I pick him up and he’s despondent; as if he’d just ran a couple miles, wrestled ten two year olds, robbed a liquor store, and then meditated on top of the Himalayas. He’s different from the boy who’d stayed at home with me four days a week. On the other days he’s his normal self: tired but normal. And so I make bets with the baby gods on which boy they’ll deliver me. And ironically, in the midst of this adjustment (me teaching all day Mon-Fri and him adjusting to daycare), I’ve been holy-struck with the muse and new poems have been crawling out my body. And yes, I’ve been a crack head about it all: stalking my laptop like a fiend, running to it to type a line, a word, a comma, anything.

So last night was no different than the other week nights. We got home around five; I got his snack together, and then got into gym wear. His mom came home, we talked shit about the country bama’s at our son’s daycare (“how come they don’t do like basic shit, like let us know what he did all day, or when he ate, or the last time they changed him”), she went to the gym, I sat down to write this blog. And then something romantic happened. My son walked over to me just as I was about to start writing. He motioned me to pick him up, and so I sat him on my lap. He batted his little eye lashes at me—as if to flirt—as if to let me know he’s aware of my distractions, of the things that’s been holding my eye’s attention. I thought of those moments in romances when one partner screams to the other: “you haven’t looked at me in X amount of months” or “you look right through me but you don’t see me. And I want to be seen.” We smiled at each other as if he was inside my head during this revelation. I thought about this blog, the writing I was about to do, how I’d commit the next few hours to it. And then I felt dumb—you know—how the fuck am I about to write a fatherhood entry when right now I’m not present with him. And so I closed Sasha Fierce (the name of my laptop), and we dug into his toy box and emptied out its contents. And we wrestled and threw plastic balls. And I said fuck this blog and that gym. And all night we tore the house down.

munkbubbles2

 

 

You get to be a Hero

You get to be a savior, a hero of some sort. When my boy started daycare on Monday, I had no idea how all parties would suffer: me, his mom, the daycare workers, him. It was a melancholy and anxious thing: playing the sentimental violin at 6:30 in the morning. I sensed somewhere, deep in his gut, he knew what was going on; he knew something was different about this morning’s funk. We all trudged the tiny condo as if someone had died, or was going to die, or somehow something had changed: paced circles pretending to be busy, non-committal to eye contact. We packed the required essentials: toys, clothes, diapers, wipes, blankets. He was going to some other people. He was going to be with them all day. He was stepping into the big world. After today, he would continue stepping into the big world.

You see, it all sounds so damn dramatic, it all feels so damn permanent. As if he’s heading off to boarding school, or college, or war. And even though I knew my prized masculinity was being compromised, I couldn’t help but want to shove a cell phone in his bag, or adorn him with one of those “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” panic joints. What will he do when he panics in that joint: who will he call, who will rescue him or resuscitate his innocence. His mother balled like he soon would. We walked to the car, I strapped him in his seat and knew he’d be different when I saw him next—he’d be stripped of something.

For the next three hours, I prepped to teach my first poetry inter-session (an intense two week summer school course—three and a half hours a day—Monday through Friday) class, and while I did this, a reel of his morning interactions projected beside my head: images of him pissing his pants, eating filthy children’s books, being punched in the stomach. That damn reel played on repeat as I tried to organize course materials. That damn reel was a drive-in movie lot scene: one with you sitting next to the girl of your dreams, but you really want to see the movie, but know you need to be watching her, and so fuck it, you commit to both. I was committed to being present with him somehow. If the first day of intersession had to suffer, so be it. And if my students somehow felt like I’d failed them—I’d just have to reassure them, like seasoned parents reassured me about daycare, it’ll get better.

I take a lot of pride in teaching. Ironically, I love it just as much as writing. I try to keep life tensions outside the classroom (this is kind of corny but works for me—I’m thinking of over hyped athletes who akin athletic competition to war—“leave the wife and kids off the field” “be ready to die” “don’t bring your problems on the court”). Normally I teach with a clean conscious; Monday I didn’t. That damn reel stayed fixed like a bubble thought. I knew he had recess at one; I wondered if he sobbed alone in a corner (the way his mom said he did when she drove off). In fact, there was a sub-reel, one where he never left the corner: where he somehow was lost, left to perish in the corner of a Mississippi daycare. I’d be damned if my son perished in the corner of a Mississippi daycare. I wished I’d given him that panic button.

Here’s what they never tell you. That at four o’clock, once you’re free from work, you start to feel like a damn superhero. Somehow a cape crawls out your back, and anyone in the way is super-kicked in the chest. You walk to your car on a mission; as if you’re rescuing a comrade. You might even put on leather combat boots—I can’t be sure. But you certainly drive with intent; push your foreign sedan like it’s a Humvee, spit out frat boys and their skinny pickups. You scream out your window “hold on soldier, daddy’s on the way” and know he feels you. You roll up on that damn daycare like commando, and even smash your hood through its windows. You flip out the vehicle and crawl on your stomach, soldier style—until he sees you, until he looks with recognition, until his face says I knew you’d come, until you put your hands on him, until you both feel whole.

Pink Muscle Shirts and Snow Boots

They’re little people. It’s crazy when I think of it. Not that this was something I didn’t know before, but it’s different raising this little person: more of a partnership than I expected. Growing up, I remember people would always affirm, “oh, you get this from your mother,” or, “that comes from your father.” I remember wondering, what I got from myself; what parts of me are distinctly mine. I’ve been around parents who claimed their kids were simply born a certain way. I can recall how odd it sounded—that this baby was a born comedian, or visual artist, or even asshole. I have a friend who used to let his seven year old dress herself. And when she would appear in ballerina tights under a ruffled skirt all fused with snow boots and a pink muscle shirt in the middle of winter, I would query his thinking. Like, what the hell does she gain from looking crazy? He would always laugh and liken her to a little Andre 3000. I grew to love her style, but still viewed it as a kid with way too much freedom. I mean, what kid wouldn’t love to put some crazy shit on. Just like, what kid wouldn’t love to be let loose in a candy shop. What if she wanted her hair purple?

Andre3000

It’s a slippery thing to decide how much freedom to give our babies. My son, a year and half, is already showing idiosyncrasies that leave me rubbing my chin. For example, the kid consumes all of his damn books. And I don’t mean he reads them—this fool eats them. And I know this has nothing to do with a personality trait or maybe it does. But I had to mention it because just now, as I’m writing this, he walked in the room with a cardboard piece dangling from his mouth like a cigarette. Anyway. He’s always been extremely cautious. Unlike any child I’ve seen. I know this is why it took him so long to walk. He was too scared of falling. And maybe this is something he’s inherited from me or his mother—the woman who doesn’t fly without “happy pills” and a vodka tonic. Or maybe, he gets this from his grandfather—the man who locks himself in the house when not working, his years as a cop convincing him the world is evil and lawless. Wherever it comes from, I don’t like it. I don’t like when there’s something to be explored but he’s too cautious to investigate. Just the other week, during a festival, a group of kids his age played like it was The Last Recess. I put my boy down to join them. He watched from the sidelines. I nudged him. He watched.

Munk3000

Perhaps someday this will work in our favor: when he’s too afraid to touch the fast girl, or drive too fast. I do, however, think of all the things I missed being afraid of the unknown. I even remember my cousins and I were chased by a dog when we were kids, and I got caught—not because I was the slowest—but because I was too square to run in diagonals, too square to step on the neighbor’s lawn. So I ran in right angles, from walkway to sidewalk, sidewalk to the dog’s arms. I was sweet and he knew it.

My son likes to ram his head into the wall for fun. Again, not sure this is a personality trait. Well, it’s nothing like being musically inclined. Oh, but he can dance. And I’m not just saying that because he’s mine (well, we all say we’re not just saying that because they’re ours—I remember my boy telling me his nine year old was the next coming of Isiah Thomas. And he promised he wasn’t just saying that because it was his son. And I went to see his son play. And nope, he wasn’t the next coming of nothing but his non-hooping dad). I digress. My boy has rhythm for days (I really mean it). And so I wonder if he’ll be some kind of dancer. Or maybe, this will be a phase: mom, dad, y’all remember when I used to dance. You mean, before you could remember?

I encourage him to be his unique self. I try. I try to keep the word “no” locked in my throat; I try and allow him access to the ledge, to even fall from it sometimes. The internal conflict of my job as protector and soul enabler becomes contentious often. How can I say I love him and watch him fall like this? How can I encourage him to value his free will and not let him fall like this? This is why we’re here, right? To explore as much of ourselves as we can: to wear tap shoes, with overalls, with a hoodie, with gold chains, with gold teeth, with tattoos, and a helmet, and…

 

As I Walk Away

Munkatthefrontdoor

I walk to the window and watch you? and light a reefer as I watch you? and I die as I watch you disappear in the dark streets to whistle and smile at the johns

– “As you Leave me” Etheridge Knight

 

Leaving is an impossible thing. I don’t recall the first time, well, that’s a lie; I remember exactly the first time he was left with someone who wasn’t his parents. A colleague had been generous enough to sit, and she and her two adorable daughters watched our boy while we hot tub time machined into our early twenties, throwing shots back like college kids. And I won’t get into the fun of manning a baby with a hangover, but I’ve had better experiences. Then, he was too new to watch us walk away, to eye us down, to whine and moan as we abandoned him.

It can’t help but feel like walking away from a lover: there’s the flirtation with leaving, the coming back, the foot out the door, the “baby I love you so much.” I get to leave him on Wednesdays. The nanny comes, we go over the mornings details, and I walk away; or at least, I try walking away. And fifteen minutes before she arrives, I know he feels it coming on, I know he’s thinking “daddy, why are you putting on fancy shoes, you about to go to church?” Or maybe he’s thinking “daddy, that shirt don’t go with that belt, don’t go with those shoes.” What I do know is when the door opens, and the nanny walks in, he starts to countdown my walking away.

Most times he’s not interested in his favorite songs. He doesn’t want to hear about the hardheaded spider needing to move on from the damn waterspout. The wheels on the bus flatten suddenly. In fact, he looks at me with this look: this how could you, this, I thought you would never. And I don’t know how to respond, how to look back. I try telling him, “daddy gotta get this pap’a,” or, “baby need new shoes.” He doesn’t care. He doesn’t get it. Often I become a character in an Etheridge Knight poem. He wails as I exit the front door. I lean on the door and light a cigarette. We listen to each other’s quiet dying. We know we’ll dance this way again.