Thursday, September 27, 2007

First Hours in Johannesburg

Johannesburg, South Africa

I've never been on a plane so long in my life. I've been in South Africa for a grand total of 3 hours now and I'm just now beginning to get some feeling back in my lower half.

Though long, I think about the comforts we were afforded--beverages whenever we wanted, meals with small desserts that I didn't eat, blankets, pillows. They did everything to make the journey most comfortable.

I can't help but put this journey in another perspective: a slave ship. I peered out the window at the sea and clouds below and thought how? How did we survive that, those conditions, that length of time? I really couldn't stop thinking of all we've been through so that I can be on that plane, turning down chocolate mousse.

My heart is flopping around in my chest like a fish out of water, just being here. I was greeted outside customs with a sign that said my name, a brotha named Teba. We already have really good camraderie. I can tell he's an educator. With each mile we drive, he's teaching me something about Jo'burg and other parts of Africa. What a resource!

It's dark, but nothing right now looks unfamiliar, except that the driver's side is on the right, just like Trinidad. Leave it up to America to get things backwards! . There are BMW's and Toyotas. Everything is in English. Johannesburg is very developed from what I see: the buildings, the vehicles, the roads--it looks no different from driving in the Midwest in the dark. Here's the beautiful thing: all the people walking the streets are my people. This is a Black nation and how it feels to be in a Black nation.

I'm at the hotel. This place isn't f-ing around. There's an apple in each room, they say. I will be sure to ask what the significance of that is. The rooms are decorative and charming. Just for good measure, I took a bubble bath, something I haven't done in years.

My face is all over Johannesburg, they say, on flyers. Teba showed me one and I was so touched. It's me all right, laughing at a now-African sky.

Tomorrow I have to be up early for a radio interview. Then a TV show later on tomorrow afternoon. And then I perform. They're keeping us busy. I"m grateful for this evening to relax and rest. I am loving it, though I can't wait for the sun to shine on Johannesburg. Can't wait to sink my teeth into this place.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Memory

Walking with Amina

Baraka in the blueback

cold. She tugs

a cigarette from the open

mouth of her purse

and lights it.

She mentions she didn't

sip a cigarette until

she was quite thirty,

never stopped.

I am amazed.

I am 26, have never

sucked that slim death

and pride myself

out of the woods.

Why did you start?

She points

to Amiri, shuffling

a few yards ahead

of us, fumbling

for his own pack,

and answers.

That mother

fucker right there.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Just In Time

For the past few days I've been struggling with a hurricane of a cold, the worst storm to hit the shores of my blood in years. The storm is over now, and my mind and body are making sense of the wreckage.

I started feeling the cold coming down around the time I was anxiously waiting to hear back about whether my friend Kenneth would live or die. Even after I recieved the good news on Thursday afternoon, I kept feeling sicker and sicker, even while I rejoiced over e-mail, a few phone calls.

I saw many of my friends Thursday night at Martin Espada's 50th birthday celebration at the Bowery Poetry Club, just hours I found out my friend would live. I loved being there with my friends, who I haven't seen in some time, how withdrawn I've been. I did not rejoice outwardly
about my friend's life being spared. I celebrated inside. I found myself smiling clandestinely for no reason but that. I found myself touching the people I love, more than usual. I looked for stars in the New York night sky harder than usual. I couldn't see any.

I really believe this cold has been my body telling me to slow down. It hit me so hard I had no choice but to listen. I didn't go to work Friday and didn't leave the apartment, though I recieved a visit from my dear friend 13, who I really needed to reconnect with, dear heart. We spoke for hours, even though it really did a number on my throat. I didn't leave the apartment on Saturday either. Cancelled my plans with Aracelis. Saturday really sucked. At points I felt I couldn't breathe in deep without a dry cough that wracked my entire body.

It's something to be sick and alone. I am far away from most my family and my roommate went
galivanting with her friends to Connecticut, her guitar slung across her back. I think no matter how old you are when you are ill, there's a small need to have somone there to take care of you. And on the other hand, you don't want anyone around to see you miserable like that. I felt both of these things at once. I think this is the feeling that drives men to want to finally get married.

On the phone yesterday, Aracelis suggested that I chew garlic. The thought of that made me cringe. I threw some crushed garlic in a pot of rum and honey and watched it boil, poured it into a mug. Just the smell of the thing made me cringe but damn did it clear my sinuses. I tried to sip the concotion and boy was it unpleasant. My tastebuds were screaming at me: what the hell are you doing to us??? I chewed as much garlic as I could stand and within half hour I felt a vast improvement, after 2 solid days of feeling this way. It's the kind of improvement that tells you that it couldn't be anything but that garlic. Thanks for the tip, Ara.

I've felt more peaceful yesterday and today than I've felt in some months, I now realize. From being sick, I've had no choice but to be quiet, contemplative. Talking hurt. Laughing hurt even more, and that's usually a large part of how I relate to people. In my quietude, I realized wow, I'm going through a lot of changes. That's what these quiet times tell me most, that I'm changing, right under my own nose. That can only be a good thing.

This weekend couldn't be totally leisurely. I have the first draft of a book due on September 4, a guillotine swift deadline, considering I accepted the offer not three weeks ago. I recently got a book deal with Scholastic, writing a picture book about a famous singer. It's a great opportunity for me as an artist because I've never written in this genre before and it will give me wonderful exposure in this arena when the book drops. I want to write more of these books. Also, I wasn't familiar with this singer, though many, many people are. I'm just late, clearly. I've also been given total creative freedom by the editor, who hand picked me to do this project. An editor that lets you blow your afro out and run free? What more can a writer ask for?

As of Friday I only had a few lines down and the scope of the book was nebulous but I was too sick to be creative. Yesterday (Saturday) I sucked it up and started and made some progress. Today, the book has taken a strong shape in my mind and I surge forward. There is no stopping me now.

I'm not pressuring myself too much to have it all finished by Tuesday, however. I'm very good at putting pressure on myself. I take refuge in the fact that I may not have this project finished right on time, but trust I'll have it finished just in time.