From the Bottom of My Heart

Feliz Navidad played over and over on the demon turntable in my head on a sticky hot August evening – I couldn’t recall just where I’d heard it last, nor why it was stuck so unmercifully on repeat, except to suppose that perhaps it was a safety device my brain had rigged up to drown out the relentless thoughts of her – you know, trading in one form of pointless unyielding torture for another. The train barked out each lonely stop and round and round I went in both mind and muscle, soul and sinew, in undying circles like the silly refrain of Spanish trying in vain to occupy her proper space in my head.

James “Jimmy” Aiken Sr (1953-2005)

james aiken sr.

The creek, it seems, swallowed him up.

He and the river were well known to one another, and as it had been with his father (my great-grand-), they had a long and comfortable arrangement. He respected her, honored her, and she shared with him her gifts and peace and splendor. It’s hard to say whether the deal was somehow broken, or whether this was all part of the bargain. He did his part, and perhaps when it was time to go, he left at her hand. I can’t pretend to know the covenant they came to. All I know is that the creek swallowed him up.

The past few days I’ve avoided the tears, fought them back from rolling down my face like sea island thunderstorms. From time to time I can sense them welling up only to be choked back again by my Taurean unwillingness to give in. I am bound and determined not to deal with my emotions, and I shall not until I am good and goddamn ready. I cannot, regardless, because someone has to stand as the bulwark between chaos and order, between the calm of Thursday morning and the unremitting monsoon of this weekend.

This weekend when the sky fell and only stopped long enough to give us his body back.

I would write more, but the words would do him no justice.

Rest in peace, Uncle Jimmy.

mojo workin’

We were warriors then, and our tribe was strong like the river.

I’m feeling myself, as it were, feeling the power within exposing itself slowly to the desolation awaiting it in the cold and heartless world.

I’m alive, for once it seems, purely and individually, alive with possibility and anticipation. Alive with arrogance. Alive with fear and alive with fury. I inhale today and spit out tomorrow. And rest assured, you motherfuckers, you’d best not fuck with me.

Fear and loathing being too often aligned, from revelation to cliche, though in their way they describe this moment perfectly, pregnant with potential. At the crossroads of righteous hatred and uncertainty, where old women with cork burnt blackface ride the metropolitan transit systems accompanied by duct tape infested coleman coolers, amid abandoned flip-flops waiting for attention perched between the escalators. Here I am. Look at me.

Something about the southern soul sings out for the surreal. We adorn our days with it and during out late evenings it crunches loudly underfoot. We indulge its wild abandon as one must a petulant monarch. The surreal, as the name itself suggests, lives just beneath our reality – but it is the southerner who lives out this underworld amongst the waking hours. Our embrace of that nether region parallels our understanding of evil and scum and rottenness buried deep within the cold hearts of our neighbors – the bastards, the frauds, the motherfuckers living just across the lawn. We hate minutiae as much as the goddamn Nazis. People who stand too closely, folks who tell the facts and not the story, and those who take unwelcome liberties in their salutations, for those we reserve the Ninth Circle of Hell – the sonofabitch called me by my first name, I shoulda done him in right then and there with a salad fork. And goddamn it, he should have. The essential thing, the beast of it all is that we are right. We are right in our utter disgust of all things improper, and absolutely correct to distrust those we wave to everyday as the very essence of evil. Because the truth at the heart is that words have power, and no one, NO ONE, is to be trusted. Things are not as they seem. If nothing else, believe this.

We are warriors still.

everything in italics is Hunter S. Thompson. the rest is me.

What I Believe.

I believe you can tell everything you need to know about someone based on what type of music and movies and books they like. I believe in America. I believe in myself, almost without question. I believe in a thing called love, in spite of the women I’ve loved. I believe that nobody is perfect, especially me. I believe in the all-encompassing power of art. I believe hip hop will never die. I believe that not all white people are evil. I believe that not all black people are good. I believe too many white people are oblivious to the evil they do. I believe too many black people are unaware of the good they are capable of. I believe Usher did Chilli wrong, then profited from it. I believe love is a motherfucker.

I believe Zuma is the work of Satan. I believe I am addicted to it. I believe OJ is innocent of murder. I believe I chose those specific words very carefully for a reason. I believe Kobe probably is guilty. I also believe he sabotaged my beloved Lakers for his own personal selfishness. I believe this is no way to live. I believe in the innate equality of all mankind. I believe something is seriously wrong with this guy in my class. I believe “The Big Lebowski” is an accurate way to judge if someone is my type or not. I believe Brooklyn’s the borough.

I believe in life. I believe in choice. I definitely believe in contraception. And on that note, I believe Trojans and Durex are far superior to Lifestyles, which will never again touch my wang. I believe I just used the word wang. I believe the Democrats take black folks for granted. I still believe the Republicans are in league with the Antichrist. I believe that leaves us all in limbo. I believe the best Bond was Connery, in a landslide. I believe in the wholesome sweet goodness of White Russians. I believe Janet is just as crazy as Michael, but I likewise believe Jermaine might be the biggest lunatic of them all. I believe Halle Berry is TOTALLY out of line.

I believe law school students tend towards obnoxious, argumentative, arrogant, Type A, asshole personalities. I believe I tend towards the same, minus the Type A thing. I believe Jay Z is overrated. I believe I need help. I believe intellectual property law is one of the most significant venues for civil rights in the 21st century. I believe Westlaw is better than LexisNexis. I believe you already know what I think about your opinion. I believe in kissing as the best and first form of foreplay, and that kissing will tell you almost everything you need to know about how someone is as a lover. I believe Bush stole this election too, on the hush. Clearly, I believe in conspiracies.

I believe in National League baseball and NFC football. I believe in the superiority of the full and half Windsor over the four-in-hand. I believe Rick James is more than a catchphrase and the song “Super Freak.” I believe bitches can’t be trusted, but I also believe this is a gender neutral statement. I believe in karma. I believe in poetry and porn. I believe in creative expression, in whatever form it might take. I believe fucking is a form of creative expression. I believe in the beauty of blackness. I believe in spending money wisely, regardless of whether I act on that belief with any consistency.

I believe in free wi-fi, free education, and free health care for all. I believe the greatest verse in hip-hop history is Nas’s from “Verbal Intercourse.” I believe the four greatest male singers in the history of R&B are Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, although I believe there’s an argument to be made for my boy Donny Hathaway. I believe I am ready to settle down. I believe my heart is still hurting. I believe Sprint is out to get me. I believe I have the worst luck in human history when it comes to automobiles. I believe I am ready to leave DC.

I believe The Brothers Karamazov, Go Tell It On the Mountain, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are 3 of the greatest books in human existence. I believe I am racially, culturally, and gender biased. And homophobic. I believe its important to be honest about this. I actually believe in being honest in as many situations as possible. I believe in principle over personal desires. I believe the ’85 Bears are the greatest team in the history of professional sports. I believe Ditka is the personal emissary of the Lord. I believe I am going to hell in a hand basket for that last statement. I believe I am addicted to IM, Gmail, and Myspace. I sho nuff believe in the Dirty South.

Oh, and I believe you can kiss my ass.

on the occasion of my sister’s wedding.

Love is passion, true, and love is dynamic, dramatic, feral and free, but love also is gentle stillness, serenity and calm in the face of misfortune.

Love is sharing. Love is consideration, giving till there is nothing left to give, but also is love selfish, greedy, domineering, demanding of full attention, faith, and faithfulness. Love is desire and need, patience and sacrifice.

Few of us have not known the hard dull edge of a day when love has done us wrong, and fewer still are unaware of the saccharine bliss of when we’ve become full up in our hearts for someone for the first time – when we’ve become overwhelmed by the possibilities presented in a new relationship and the possibilities newly present in ourselves.

We must have both sides of the coin, both halves of the whole. In love, we require both storm and stillness. And in the storm we find our surrender to the power of an emotion, of a concept greater than ourselves. In the stillness we find our surrender to a person dearer to us than ourselves. In both, we place the outcome in hands other than our own, we relinquish total control. We trust in the power of our feeling and our faith, because the essence of it all, the roots of love, are found, through both fury and tranquility, in trust.

In youth, in newness, with exploration, love is tempest and torrent.
In time, with age and understanding, love is serenity and sacrifice.

These are the two disparate and unified facets of love, divided only by experience. And it is at the threshold between them that these two find themselves poised.

I’d like to end with this Sicilian proverb:

Matrimoni e viscuvati, di lu celu su mannati,


Weddings and spiritual matters are heaven sent.

This is surely such a union. Sent from heaven and a blessing to us all. Thank you.

(I wrote this for my little sister’s wedding yesterday)

water no get enemy

It’s hard to find the words with which to begin. Words, I’m afraid, scarcely hold the information required to tell his story. Here we go, though, whatever my lack of eloquence.

I have known few men or women in my life I can say I truly respected. There have been many I liked well enough, and of course, many more whom I thoroughly detested – but precious few, loved or otherwise, about which it can be said I respected them.

This was such a man.

I sat, uncomfortable, shifting fore and aft in the pew, looking around at the beautiful sea of black faces surrounding me. Some I recognized from my undergraduate days on the second floor of Childer’s, some I only knew from books or the occasional PBS documentary, and more still were unknown to me completely. Still, all these were somehow familiar to me – as a long lost cousin’s high cheek bones and oblong head and bulbous nose fit ever so well in the long progression from one’s great grandfather, grandfather, and uncles; we all belonged that day, all one family, in mourning and celebration of a great man now gone.

He was a man for whom “category” and “boundary” were terms as useless as monopoly money – and confronting him with either would have been equally futile. He was, as eloquently as I can put it, unfuckingstoppable. A giant juggernaut of the art world. It was his way, or would stomp you into the highway. Ribald, regal, real; passionate and playful; confrontational, curious, and courageous; kind, giving, honest, and ALIVE. It was in this fashion that he led a movement of artists from the Chicago hinterlands to the motherland. As one artist from Nigeria put it, “Because of him, we came to America, to find Africa.” Co-creator of the “Wall of Respect,” co-founder of AfriCOBRA, leading light of the Black Arts Movement, Dean of the Howard University College of Fine Arts, and all around bad ass muthafucka.

He tried to teach us how to fight with unrepentant fury.
And how to paint even harder.

We said our goodbyes…cheered for him and cried for ourselves. We laughed at Jameelah’s jokes. Donald Byrd played. Haki Madhubuti read. And all the while, I tried to make sense of him, to fit his absence into my new reality. only just now did I finally give up on all that bullshit. He hasn’t left us at all. He is us. If only as we one day wish to be.

Here is to our mighty emperor of blackness. I hope you are giving them hell up in heaven. These sorry ass words could not do you justice.

Dr. Jeff R. Donaldson
December 15, 1932 – February 29, 2004