Poem: I Saw Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice

(Artwork 8×10, “I saw fire and ice”; acrylic; Stephen Earley Jordan II)

I saw fire in your icy eyes;
My black-outs blinked bats
behind unmedicated styes
warranted unsolicited lies
made of a disguise of gold.
Justice never prevails
when a receptacle molds
you to feign the enjoyment of Hell.

 

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Where Has My Life Gone?

As my 40th year approaches, I look into the mirror and see how I’ve aged. I’m balding. But to cover that up I keep my head shaved. I have three new gray hairs on my chin. But I wear these with pride like a Boy’s Scout badge of honor. At times I forget my age.

I forget that I’m old enough to have a child that can vote. I forget that I’m old enough to be a grandparent. I forget all these things and more until I see my former classmates from high school posting pictures of their children and grandchildren on social media.

Where has my life gone?

I’m single. I’m a black male. I wasn’t designed to be married. It wasn’t in the cards to have children. Singlehood is in my cards–this is something I used to fight, but now I’m quite comfortable with it. I can’t imagine now, at 40, opening myself up to not being selfish and not thinking of myself first. Knowing that makes me a better person I feel. I’m constantly thinking of my previous struggles and can’t imagine if they were to pop up again in my life and if I had to feed another mouth or support a spouse. I don’t know how people do it. To me, it would cause an ounce more of stress at the end of the day knowing others depended on me.

I came into this world on January 20, 1977, the same day Jimmy Carter was inaugurated; and 40 years later, I’m given Donald Trump as a wonderful gift. I’ve been asking myself is this gift symbolic for what’s to come for the next 40 years in my life? I surely hope not as the previous 40 didn’t come easy, though I’ve been amazing at covering up the hurdles and making things look flawless.

I’m beginning to question the ultimate definition of success. And, to me, it’s coming up with individual goals and fulfilling them. Last year, I wanted to come up with a list of 40 items to complete before I turned 40. Quickly my friends and some family became skeptical. They told me that the list was something people wanted to accomplish in a lifetime–not one year before their 40th. I agreed. I put the list away and never looked at it again. But one thing stuck on my mind–I wanted to buy property. And I wanted to purchase it before my 40th.

One thing I learned during this timeframe was to keep individuals out of my personal business–where and how I wanted to spend my money was my decision. I didn’t need to seek approval. If I wanted to purchase property, the the property type or the location, too, was no one else’s decision nor should I seek approval from folks when they aren’t contributing financially to my goal or emotionally to my well being.

I accomplished that. I purchased. December 2016, one month before my 40th, I closed on a 3 bedroom condo–and the best thing about it is I purchased it in cash–zero debt. It feels good to have something like this and have zero debt toward it. This is what makes me feel accomplished–having zero debt, for starters; and working hard to save up the money to be able to do this.

But again, I ask where has my life gone? I don’t feel old and many say I look young for my age.

There are days when I think of when I initially moved from West Virginia to New York, summer of 2000–where I planned to stay with a friend, not knowing her house was a 24/7 drug delivery hub. I think about how my mother became extremely ill during this time period and I felt like I had nothing left to live for; and what made it worse was when I experienced the events of 9/11 and the aftermath of it—finding someone to confide in, to bond with, to discuss experiences of how I had to also walk through rubble of Ground Zero for 6 months after the fall of the towers, simply to get to work. I was young. I was in my early 20s and at times, I didn’t know if I would live until the next day.

I’m also reminded of the $30,000 of credit card fraud that happened against me–which ultimately framed my 20’s and 30’s. And, I’m also constantly reminded, and many times, bitter like a blackberry for a few minutes of how when my mother was sick, I felt like my confidant, the person who would have believed and helped me–could not; and all of the others I would have sought advice from never helped and believed I committed the $30k of debt myself. And, for that, I grew up. I had no safe haven.

When your safe haven is no longer safe, you must create a new one. Even if it’s a new family.

I was in my 20’s, living in New York, working from 9am-5pm at one job; and 7pm-3am at my second job, and barely making $35k a year. Luxuries didn’t exist. Life was simply complex. Life was lonely. Life was a struggle and I was forced to grow up and depend on myself to prove I was successful and I could do it. I sacrificed my happiness for many years just to prove I could be successful.  But I was working to live–that’s not what life is about. Struggles are necessary; struggles are real and individual; but one should not have to struggle just to live.

But things got better for a while.

By the time I turned 30, I published my first book and I was able to quit my job and went on tour, speaking at colleges and touring with my books. And, again, while I was finally happy and fulfilling my dream as an author and public speaker, life got difficult again. Close relatives, individuals who are kin, but not raised with me–chose to misinterpret my art, my writings and send horrifying emails and phone calls to the venues, colleges and universities with defamatory and slanderous information for no reason at all except to cancel my book tours. I kept all those emails (written from their government email accounts) and had to threaten each of them. I kept them, printed them as a reminder to trust few. What they did was unacceptable and unforgivable. After all, how many young black men can say they were able to support themselves with their art? My dreams were being destroyed. And again, I had no one close to me to assist with these hurdles.

That was okay. I learned.

I learned that people try to destroy when they can not build. When this occurs, people are eager to attack you, rather than discuss. I also learned that family is not family; and family is not always a safe haven.

I never liked New York. But I was meant to be there. I was meant to experience life to ensure I would not be a naive adult.

It was meant for me to experience 9/11; it was meant for me to be robbed a few times; held at knife point; jobless; friendless; and a victim of fraud. It was meant for me to have roommates when I couldn’t afford my rent; it was meant for me to have my electricity turned off a few times. It was also meant for me to never tell anyone when I was hurting and struggling. All of these were in the cards for me and allowed me to be me. And it allowed me to learn.

 

 

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Post-Election Thoughts: The hate that hate produced

In 1992, a young Raptavist (Rapper / Activist) rose to stardom. She was unique. She was bold. She was daring. She was Sister Souljah. The uniqueness behind her approach was that she wasn’t just a rapper. She immediately got booked as a public speaker and was on every major talk show speaking about the state of affairs in the United States. She was purposefully abrasive when she told Blacks they need to stop being “compromising” or live in fear, while promoting positive messages about starting your own Black businesses; and she was equally as intolerant to the White counterparts who she insisted came from a privileged world in which she will never have access or able to reap the benefits of it and will always suppress people of color.

Though I was young. She inspired me.

The demise of her music career came too soon when ironically, Bill Clinton (out of all people) publicly waged a war on her and demanded that the music video channels (ie, MTV) stop playing her videos since she was so anti-white and allegedly called for Blacks to kill their White counterparts instead of each other.

Soon she faded from the public eye and spoke primarily at Universities regarding her fiction book series. She has always remained relevant in the Black community. She never truly went away.

I’ve always liked to refer to her as Prophetess Sister Souljah. She predicted this would happen–this presidential election, the hate and confusion pre-election brought to us. She predicted how if individuals in the United States didn’t get their shit together, then slavery would be back in effect. Though her lyrics were sort of a stretch, there was (and still) truth behind them. I don’t foresee slavery coming back into play, but the messages that were brought to the forefront during the past few months were messages of hate and intolerance; messages of despair. The messages we heard, the racial and sexist slurs uttered during the past few months were inappropriate. The fact that a sect in the White community truly, outspokenly saw zero qualms with uttering racial slurs on tv, post on social media, with their faces or names known is incomprehensible. The idea that these individuals came out of nowhere, but had their racial anxieties emerge and vocalized without a sense of fear or reprimand due to Trump’s blatant intolerant rhetoric exemplifies this particular privilege the media has been discussing for months. I mean, hell, I was reprimanded years ago for talking about “Black Santa” on facebook by my previous employer because it was “racially insensitive”, but someone can keep their job without reprimand for threatening particular ethnic groups. This is privilege. It’s also privilege to be Trump’s wife who can take nude lesbian photos, but not for Michelle Obama to wear a short sleeve dress. We remember how people responded to these equally and oppositely. And we know that, too is privilege.

But what most Americans truly did not realize was that the messages brought to surface by the Republican Party were truly un-American; and what folks didn’t realize was that this third-party candidate votes took away from America’s future.

America is not the strongest. America is not the bravest. America is not the smartest or most advanced. We lack common sense. We lack unity. Importantly, it has become a country that gives medals to all participants in a marathon instead of simply the winners. We’ve told our youth that it’s okay to be substandard and not qualified because “you can be the President of the United States”–this has proven truth–the best, brightest, most creative will never go as far as the wealthiest or perhaps, the whitest. Even with journalism, we are taught to write on a 3rd grade level so everyone can understand it. We live in a society where we are dumb. We are ignorant. And we want someone dumb and ignorant of the world to lead us. We want that because they are speaking on our level. Though Obama had 2 terms, he and his wife were too intelligent for the United States.

We are a country that shames other countries for cutting off hands if you steal; but we give a 3-month jail sentence to a rapist. We are a country that considers religious headwraps as suppression of women, yet we praised a man’s behavior toward his gestures toward woman as “locker room talk”. We are a country that feels that terrorism is exclusive to those that live outside of the United States and of color, yet we don’t (as Sister Souljah said) acknowledge the fact that the United States has attempted to go to war with, set up military bases in every country where there are people with brown skin. I can’t fathom another country setting up a base in the United States without reprimand; but we think it’s okay if we do it. What we have done in our own country and to others is pure terrorism with privilege.

Now we are stuck with this mess when it could have been easily avoided. People didn’t vote; many voted for the wrong candidate; many were confused because they are simply ignorant to the world around them. Regardless, we are stuck with this mess and we must sit back and watch how the hate that hate produced unfolds.

 

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Grown Past You

Earlier this year, my life changed.

I left the company that gave me security and started to work for myself again. Again. I forgot I’m aging. I forgot how daring I used to be and the older I get, I like security. Yet my artistic side needs the freedom. I forgot how vulnerable we become when we go balls-to-the-wall and rely on either connections or our drive to simply progress. I used a combination of both and easily landed a handful of clients that would make my newly found marketing company profitable.

This transition also gave me a chance to reflect on my life and my purpose. I lost track of things. Of me. I forgot I enjoyed creating magic. I lost myself and forgot my purpose as I drove to an office every day and worked 60+ hours a week. Again, I forgot my goals and the essence of my existence. I forgot my identity.

When I moved to Puerto Rico from New York I lost something special–my ability to network with artists who believed in themselves and wanted to create art and collaborate, simply for the sake of creating art and respecting each other’s art while expecting merely recognition and gratitude in the fact that you are with someone of like-minds and created something magical and unique. I was determined to get back in touch with my artistry. Not only that, but I told myself that I wanted to collaborate with other artists.

I considered a few of my dedicated artist friends who are well-versed in their particular industry and decided that there were really two individuals that always inspired me in all of the items they created–Marlon Saunders and O’Neal Wyche.

Both come from different industries than I, yet they equally inspire me with their drive and unique approach. Above all, we have history. Not working together, but rather as Black men, living in NYC, creating our art while understanding and appreciating all artistic genres. I was the writer, the author, the spoken word artist with a marketing background–my talent (I’ve always felt) was being able to pull people together, understand everyone’s talents and create something remarkable while showcasing everyone. That’s the benefit of having a marketing background. You understand everyone’s skillsets and egos and you  learn how to marry them together.

Cage Dress by O'Neal Wyche

Cage Dress sketch by O’Neal Wyche

And as a singer, songwriter and vocal coach, Marlon understands the preciseness of music and its development and the simplicity of words. He also understands what appeals to an audience. O’Neal, on the other hand, a costume designer, understands precision as well yet the ability to manipulate reality in such a way that it becomes something wearable.

My initial idea was to create a storyline filled with race, class, and gender symbolism. But that evolved into something so much greater and something I wasn’t truly expecting. After I wrote the spoken word poem “Grown Past You”, I read it to and passed a written copy to Marlon–this is how we wanted it to work. I would write something, Marlon would become inspired and create music and secure vocals; then we would give the completed track to O’Neal,

Cage Dress final by O'Neal Wyche

Cage Dress final by O’Neal Wyche

who too, would be inspired and create costumes. As such, based on his costumes and the track, I would oversee the creative direction of the video.

It was a chain reaction of inspiration! It was fluid. Art is suppose to be that way. If it’s not fluid, then it comes across as contrived and people can sense that from afar.

I’ve never wanted to work with others on projects until recently. But you have to be strategic with whom you decide to work–a great idea can easily become a distraction. And not everyone should be privileged to go on artistic journeys with you. Life is like that–some people get left behind who don’t share the same idea or passion.

We ended up creating an experimental fashion/music video “Grown Past You” (below) that, in my opinion, shows the vulnerability of a female when attempting to escape an abusive (mental or physical) relationship. The written piece wasn’t necessarily about me. But after its completion, that ounce of vulnerability shined through and reflected the experiences I went through during my work transition. We have to open ourselves up for new opportunities, new chances. We have to escape, what we feel are bad situations; or situations that hold us back from what we truly want to achieve. What was once loved, probably was never loved–simply tolerated. We humans must understand that in order to flourish.

 

 

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Analyzing Becky With the Good Hair

“Oh, my, God. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big.
She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like, out there, I mean— gross. Look!
She’s just so… black!” 

–Sir Mix-A-Lot, “Baby Got Back”

In 1992, Sir-Mix-A-Lot came to the scene with hit “Baby Got Back”, instantaneously paying homage to the beautiful round booties on my sistahs with his tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended) type of humorous lyrics accented with rump-shaking beats. But before we were introduced to these lyrics, the rippling bass hypnotized as if to summon a tribe of ebony thickness to a twerkfest at Freaknik, we hear a stereotypical voice of a White girl, speaking to her other White friend, ‘Becky’ in disgust of how the voluptuous booties were probably a symbol of the Black girl being a whore. Though quite blatant with its approach, this stereotype of Black and White women, alike, was not necessarily the first moment a ‘Becky’ was introduced to us.  However, little did we know that this fictitious ‘Becky’ would become famous.

One of the first introductions of a ‘Becky’ appeared in 1847 with William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair novel.  Beautifully written novel, we discover character Becky Sharp who becomes the typical rags to riches success by using her, what may be perceived to be, temptress ways to work her way up the social status ranks. As a former orphan, this White woman truly created the phrase “hustle and flow” before it was even a thing simply as a survival mechanism. After the release of this novel, many individuals in the corporate world (mainly white affluent men) used the character Becky Sharp as a go-to term when referring to White women who they felt “slept their way to the top” instead of earning a salary and job position simply due to qualifications.

Years after the Sir Mix-A-Lot’s track was released, the term ‘Becky’ was brought back to surface, but mainly in Black communities (supposedly with the help of Rapper Plies) as an inside joke that no one outside of the community would even understand unless you explained it to them. It was our secret. Our joke. Our, somewhat sexist way of portraying women (Black and White). I suggest it was  sexist simply because during this time when a Black male referred to receiving oral sex, he would say he received a ‘Becky’. The reason the term ‘Becky’ was used instead of ‘head’ or ‘blowjob’ is because of the old racial stereotype that Black women do not like to give oral sex. As such, when a man would say he received a ‘Becky’, this not only suggested that he received oral sex, but also that it was from an eager and willing White woman. Thus a subtle way of saying the white woman was on her knees to work her way to the top to gain a status, like Becky Sharp.

Becky became the white version of the Laquisha and the Tyrone. Becky became the stereotypical, generic name for a White girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and not the brightest lightbulb around, who would do anything to get ahead. And many individuals never thought any of this would be damaging.

In her blog post, “An Apology to Every (White) Girl Named Becky” (Oct 23, 2013), Dara Tafakari states that, ‘Using “Becky” really gets sticky once you venture into rap. Rapper Plies performs a popular song called “Becky.” One guess on who he’s talking about. Plies is single-handedly responsible for coining the phrase “Give me that Becky,” and turning a name into slang for fellatio. Nothing is formed in a vacuum. His euphemism is built on the false line of thought among black men that white women readily give fellatio.’

The problem here lies in the fact that music is catchy and most often, if it’s the right musician, words and phrases will catch on; and catch on for all of the wrong reasons.

With the release of Beyonce’s “Lemonade”, fans and the media attempt to discover the validity of the words behind the lyrics in each of the songs. We are left questioning if the lyrics, supposedly written by Bey herself , are a reflection of the ups and downs of her marriage or if its simply a powerful message to women, in general. As the short film continues and takes the viewers/listeners on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and we see Serena Williams as twerking for Jesus while we douse ourselves with holy water to cool us down, Beyonce repeats, “Better call Becky with the good hair. . . ” The reason this is a groundbreaking moment is not because of the term ‘Becky’ itself. It’s merely because Beyonce is so mainstream and crosses into various groups of people, unlike the Vanity Fair novel, and the Plies or Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s rap songs. In short, more people are listening and watching than ever before.

On April 27, 2016 Dylan Dreyer Weather Anchor for Today Show stated on air that she thought ‘Becky’ was really the girl’s name Beyonce was referring to. She didn’t realize it was a code for someone else (perhaps even White); she didn’t realize that if push came to shove, she too would be called ‘Becky’.  It’s always been code. Black Americans have always spoke in code. What I find interesting is that the media is focusing on the name ‘Becky’ and not the term ‘good hair’. As such we must focus on both terms here to indicate that Black Americans are told that if our hair is worn in a natural style (without straighteners or extensions) we are told that the style is low quality or a distraction and simply not good. While Beyonce mentions ‘Becky with the good hair’, she’s referring to another female (probably White), but definitely someone who does not have a coarse Afro-centric hairstyle as portrayed by the many Black women in the video. She’s referring to a woman who because of something as simple and symbolic as hair, comes across as if she’s better than those around her. When considering the term ‘Becky’ though, perhaps Beyonce was referring to a specific woman who may have slept with her husband. Or, perhaps she’s speaking generically. Perhaps again, the representation of ‘Becky’ in this song is a way of telling her husband ‘if you are not satisfied with me, call some random White girl like Becky Sharp willing to do anything to get ahead.’

I’m very short of calling the term ‘Becky’ a racist term, but rather a term that is gender insensitive derived from a common, generic name. It could have been any name or a made up anagram like The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). In the attempts of people to speak in code, attempt to have humor, or simply be cruel–these terms will continue and all of us will eventually (if we haven’t already) fall victim of one whether we truly know it or not.

 

 

 

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A Reflection: Manufacturing Poetry

I knew I couldn’t do it. But I tried. I tried my damnedest too.

April was considered to be National Poetry Writing Month with the goal of writing one poem per day. I couldn’t do this.

During this past month I realized that I was writing mostly poorly crafted poems simply to fulfill a task. It reminded me of the brainstorming sessions in college when I was studying writing and a professor would tell me I had 30 minutes to write a poem about a specific topic. I couldn’t do this.

That’s not what poetry is about. Poetry has never been about manufacturing words for the simple sake of completing an assignment or fulfilling the need of someone who requested it. For me, poetry was something special and private and derived from a small spark of hope that I could live to see another day. I never shared poetry until I knew that I had massaged the words long enough that it dripped like butter from one’s mouth when uttered; that my words, whether one or seven syllables, would flow from a palm like salt water–leaving a slight residue behind.

When I started April’s goal, I had already convinced myself that I would not complete it successfully. I knew that I couldn’t write a poem on-demand, let alone write 30 of them in a month. Poetry is cathartic for me–it helps me cope with uncomfortable things; poetry preserves my sanity and extinguishes the fires in which my demons thrive. Poetry has always been there when I didn’t feel it was appropriate to say what needed to be said. Poetry was dedicated to me. It still is.

But what this past month did give me was a moment to write and to practice and to reflect. During this time I forgot how much I loved poetry because poetry has been around longer than friends and lovers and has always consoled me when I needed. I forgot that to write poetry you needed to practice on a regular basis–the ability to manipulate words and tell tales isn’t something everyone can do, though many do claim writing (primarily poetry) is something easy and that they can do. The arts is not easy despite the constant claim. If everyone could create art, then it wouldn’t be art. So I’m thankful for this past month.

During the past few weeks, I have created a few poems I’ll call “skeleton poems”; poetry with some great bones that I can add some meat to, give them heart and a soul, and eventually breathe life into and then share again once I feel things are truly in place.

I always tell my peers that we make time for the people and things we truly want to make time for. Anything less is simply an excuse. I spent the past few years writing short stories and neglected my poetry writing. But it feels good to be back. It’s like welcoming an old friend back into your life, but you need to catch-up first and fix any of the rough spots before you can move forward.

This has been an awakening. I can’t manufacture quality poems on a daily basis as this assignment required. But my efforts were there. Above all, I always like a good challenge and it sparked my interests to dedicate myself more so to the poetry than I have in the past.

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Cumulonimbus (18 of 30)

(dedicated to Prince Roger Nelson)

I could give 23 reasons
why I long for one-night stands
and the purple sky exonerates
as the world is malevolent,
scattering a dandelion far-off
from the ground in which it grew,
latching onto soil and rooftops,
hope and inspiration;
becoming a delicate, unique being
becoming something amazing
becoming a relevant little thing
waiting for precise temperatures,
with the right clouds
sacrificing its purple rain
to saturate a soul,
Enough sun to evolve
as the doves cry no more.

[This is #18 of 30 poems written by Stephen Earley Jordan II  for a National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). The object is to write one poem per day.]

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