Not Fade Away

 

His name was Ujima. And he was something beautiful. My first thoughts of him sat somewhere between heartache and jubilee. Had our fates not been decided, and the world been a bit kinder- he’d have been a known face. There was light in that smile, enough to charm millions and lead them off into somewhere dangerous, or maybe some place magical. It would be known everywhere because of how it held you and made you believe. I saw him sitting there and I believed- I believed enough to dream up big promises for us- like hope and forever. But I couldn’t believe in truth enough to save him so I made weightless promises on that autumn bench.

“My friends call me ‘Jima’ for short even though it’s just one letter off.” He smiled. “I let it go- folks is all over the place these days and as long as they calling me ‘friend’ im pretty much cool with whatever. I used to stay in these projects before my ma kicked me out.”

“She kicked you out?! Boy how old is you?”

“I’ll be 17 in two months, maybe. October coming in two months right?”

“How long you been out here?”

“This bench or just outside, period?” he teased. “close to a year.” And then after a violent cough. “She put me out close to a year ago. It was round my birthday. I remember not really celebrating it.”

I couldn’t tell the difference between his weak laughing and the wheezing that was coming from his throat. A more genuine laugh came about after clearing what was caught in there, but I couldn’t tell what he found funny. Something in it was dark and made me think he was amused by his own misery. The smile confused it and then he shook. I took a moment to exhale worry, compose my thoughts and decide what was in proceeding with this boy.

The breeze was becoming cool. That summer had started with us begging for rain and a month later I felt like Noah, beseeched with forty days and forty nights- a flood was damn near upon us. I had been sick twice- took an awful amount of time to get well and the thought was coming in that this boy may have not had the chance to recover from the storms had he really been on the street.

“How long you been on this bench?”

“ . . . long enough. I figured she’d see me and let me in if she saw me here.”

“Your mother?”

“Yea she stay up there.” He lifted a thin arm to the air and pointed at one of the windows on the tenth floor of the building in front of us. The Sursum Corda projects stood like a monument of times spent screaming and better left forgotten about. I was ten when my family moved in there and was eighteen when I managed to escape. By that time the security guards had begun to rob residents and the bodies in the laundry room were appearing more and more by the day. The halls were a foul green and the whole building brought an awful chill to the most sanctified. The walls were almost giving in on themselves and the memory of crack pipes threatened to overshadow any good. I didn’t want to think of what depths he grew in while he stayed there.

But it was in his eyes- every disappointment- every day spent running up the walls was present. The lines that outlined his frail face seemed to be trails where tears had continuously moved, like rivers and he began to look more tired to me.

“She kicked me out when I got sick. She said she didn’t have anything for me- that the world had spit on me and used me like a whore and that whatever son she had died in the streets. She didn’t want to know me anymore.” He began to himself. “She was screaming and crying at the same time.- speaking in some voice that id never heard before and when I didn’t move she picked up a knife- called me a ‘sad creature’.”

 

He choked on his own sadness and began to cough again- his small body shaking all over. The boy’s whole body looked in pain and he doubled over, resting his head on my lap. I removed my coat and wrapped it around him- partially to keep him warm and partially to try to ease him into any kind of comfort. He was in several places of pain. Around us the breeze began to kick up all the filth people had left. The leaves danced and all of it made a bizarre symphony. It all moved around us, occasionally crashing violently against skin- reminding us of what the world was.

“I thought you was a John at first.” He laughed, this time looking at me and not down at the shifting garbage.

“You get that a lot in this park?”

“ . . . enough to eat.”

“Does she see you sometimes?”

“Yeah. That’s part of the reason I do it here. She looks long enough to see me walk off with them and then she goes back into her world to do whatever will make her comfortable, I suppose.” He stopped to cough and wipe his face.

“I want her to see me.” That sweet voice now hardening under the weight of anger- like coal pressed- becoming a diamond of hard bitterness. “I want her to see what kind of faggot I am, let the bitch be really ashamed. I’m dying anyway.” his gaze now cold and focused on the window. He was looking for her.

“She kicked you out cause you were gay?”

“Nah, I have AIDS. You listening, pa? I would’ve liked to take a moment to understand all of what was being dropped on me more fully but he continued, despite his own tears. “They all saw. The whole Corda- saw the faggot get chased into the courtyard.”

I wrapped my arm around him more deliberately. It seemed to be the closest thing I could do to healing the boy.

“Is this ok?” I asked.

He smiled towards me. “They don’t usually ask about touching . . . I should be asking you that. You sure you want to be seen holding a whore?”

“I grew up here too. I don’t stunt none of what these folk might have to say or think. If it is anything fowl then its cause they are too small themselves to have any humanity. That’s the conclusion I came to a while back.”

“Yeah? You got out of the Corda? Why you come back?”

“My sister and her kids stay here. I come to visit them.”

I felt Jima sink a bit deeper. My lap was becoming more wet- tears, sweat and spit. I thought about this gem I found an about how the world had thrown him out before he had had a chance to find light and really shine. He was left to be forgotten and I thought about how easily that could have been me or my nephews who stayed in this nightmare. The ceiling was built low above us off of expectations not had and we all sand blue notes to one another through the thin Corda walls. This place ain’t one where Black boys can spread they-selves. Act like this. walk like this. fuck harder. cry over there. . .

I wanted to tell him about my leaving and how that felt. That freedom was somewhere. I found my place, a man to love on real hard and a life to fight for, but I couldn’t find a way to place that words that didn’t sound too cruel or insulting. He needed comfort, not mockery.

“Ujima”

He shook awake and it was then that I realized how deeply I feel into my own thoughts. He coughed for minutes in place of answering so I continued. “Im sorry that this has not been fair for you. I wish it had.” Now my face was wet. “I want to help.”

“Its alright pa, im guessing that the time I have left to kick it isn’t much. Them folk over at the clinic wanted me to start popping these pills and have all this shit done. That’s too many needles and too much stress for me. I figure, now is a good time to be out. Not many people will miss me, maybe just you.”

I sank into myself. I’d never heard someone come to this much ease with their undoing. It felt odd and mostly sad.

“I’m not going to let you just fade away.” He laughed again which brought on more coughing. His body was becoming heavier- he was going.

“I’m serious, you’re important.”

“To who?” a small mumble.

“To me.” And I heard a small moan. Like a part of him was touched- that small part that was still fighting for consciousness and he shifted his head towards me so that we could slightly see one another. When he coughed this time there was a little blood on my coat. A couple of men near us bawled up their faces and remarked something heavy to one another. They knew he was a trick. And were probably disgusted by both my kindness and his illness

“Maybe you can make me important to her again.” He sighed turning his gaze to the tenth floor. There was a small figure in the window- as small as the space in her heart musta been.

Ujima shook violently and barked more blood- almost purposefully. He was trying to speak. His mother looked on. I laid him gently on the bench and stood to see her more clearly. I searched for what felt like forever- I searched her face for any emotion- coming to find what I hoped to be remorse.

“COME DOWN HERE! BE WITH YOUR SON! HE’S DYING!” I screamed. I could hear the coughing escalate behind me and all that was in me said go back to the boy. “COME ON!” I repeated. The figure n the window disappeared behind blinds and curtains. And I was still- part of me wishing she was tripping over herself to get down those ten damn flights. The darker part of me knew that this wasn’t true- that she like our other on lookers had forever turned her head. Some others observed- most too paralyzed to act or too stuck under the weight of what this moment meant.

I went back to Ujima and held him, let him rest in my lap. Not much else was said, save a few sweet words.

“Maybe faggots is sad creatures. We get born this way and is forced to make something good with it- or try. And that don’t happen for everybody. I spent a lot of time trying to cry all of it out- force it away so I could be a different kind. And I spent a lot of time trying to find somebody who was gonna love and help me become worthy of things. But that ain’t nothing.” He smiled a shaky smile and then. “nothing at all. I ain’t learn much or do much cause I was stuck.”

I cried again, desperately trying to wipe the water from my tears off of his face.

“We ain’t sad, Ujima. We might be stuck but we ain’t got to be sad.” Those were the only words formed with enough honesty that could escape me. He smiled . . . barely, but still . . .

it was beautiful.

I held him until they took what was left out of my hands- throwing it into one of those bags and I thought on how that shroud wasn’t anywhere as magnificent as he. I thought on the shell I found on that bench- used, cried through, beaten, fragile, honest, joyful, and beautiful. I thought on it becoming apart of the earth and fading away into that embrace years after years from now- like we all will, returning to the place we got such wrappings from and I went to a bar. I called my man and cried to him. He came and we had a drink and a dance for Ujima and it was some sad kind of beautiful.

 

Blue Prelude I: Part of a Nervous Condition

Sup readers and believers.

Over the past couple of months I have been working on a longer story. One that is broken into three acts. I want to challenge my ability to tell narratives by playing with perspective and how a tale can be told. “Blue Prelude” is the story of the last day in the life of “Raymond” a Black man, trapped beneath the weights of patriarchy, society and race. Each act of the story follows a different section of the day and is told in a different way and from a different perspective. Please, enjoy (and share if the spirit moves you.) Also let me know what ya’ll think. Without further rambling from me. . . here is “Blue Prelude I: Part of a Nervous Condition.”

_________________________________________________________________________

Blue Prelude I : Part of a Nervous Condition. 

I had known he was awake long before there was movement, long before his shoulders made that inevitable turn towards the peeking sun. Lovers learn secrets and patterns about one another’s bodies. Raymond’s body spoke in sounds- low moans in low valleys and light whistles in the peaks. There was a low moan as he stirred into consciousness.

“How long you been woke?” he mumbled- pulling my body into him and burying his face in my chest. The light had not yet begun to dance about, creating shapes and shade, so I still couldn’t see his face. Tension, thick as smoke hang in the air. I freed myself from the embrace, rolling towards the shards of sun coming through the blinds.

“Ray, how long you been here?”

“. . .sometime after the ‘nigga get out’ and ‘I want you to stay.’ I was confused but I thought it was cool when you let me come to bed and pulled me in all close, like you do.”

I turned back to look at him and there was that smile. I saw it, even in darkness. He pinched my nipple.

“We need to talk.”

“fuck!” then, after collapsing on the mattress. “Gene, I thought we were done with this shit.”

“This shit?! You sit up here and use my love like a door mat, put my heart in the sole of your shoe and walked all over with it.”

“Its gotta be all that because I didn’t say ‘hi’ to you?”

“Yes!”

He held himself still, as if he were taking all the feeling in for the first time. My love was a strong man and silence usually meant that he had been stomped. I continued.

“How are we supposed to call this a ‘relationship’ when you can’t even stand the sight of me in the daytime?”

He sat still. Every few seconds a thought would come to him, but none seemed satisfactory enough to speak aloud.

“What do you want from me?”

“A ‘partna’. A ‘homies’. Ain’t that how you was talking in the beginning? You wanted to find a dude to kick it with. I didn’t know you just wanted someplace to drop your nut and leave.”

“Come on, bruh. . .”

“Nah, it’s the truth. You come over, we smoke, we fuck, we talk a little and you cut. Every time.” I sat straight up- the pieces of light now growing. “You don’t even know want your boys to know you know me at all. You just want a nigga to fuck when you want to get your dick wet.”

“Gene. . . I . . .”

“what?!” There was a familiar lump in my throat threatening to hold words hostage. My eyes were becoming wet. He stood up. I caught his slow walk to the bathroom from the corner of my eye- I needed to smoke. My fingers found the joint on the nightstand. Morning was doing her outside work from what I could hear. Small birds and big people crashed about. I inhaled and heard a deep sigh followed by the sound of piss come from the bathroom. Exhaled. Sun light and the small, floating, bits came I more fully. I saw Raymond as he was the day before- on the corner with two brothers.

Something moved inside of me, almost made me fall. The secrets of men are kept behind muscles and the telling of them usually instigates violence, but you cannot tell your heart to wait- to not beat at his sight. Approaching the boys heard one call me a ‘faggot’, the other laughed and Raymond made an uneasy smile. They had all known I was gay since high school. And I had known their secrets too- I had known the dungeons they entered and the darkness they sat in while they hunted for eager boys, desperate for love. I looked over to Ray- flashed a small smile, and waited . My pace felt slower. He backed away, clearing my path down the street. They laughed.

“That faggie you blood.” One said to Raymond. I couldn’t see his response. My back was to them by this point.

I took another pull from the joint. Kids were going to school. I could hear the younger ones going off- not yet met with the pain that comes with age. Raymond emerged from the bathroom. His face looked heavier than before. After a moment of sight and silence he came over to the bed and put his hand on my leg.

“I love you.”

“You’re lying. You can’t love someone you don’t know.”

I know you. I know what you like: all that old sad music that yo mama plays, Chinese food, reading Nikki Giovanni. I know you like me.” He was moving his hand towards my growing sex. “I know you boy.”

“No.” I said, closing my legs. I shifted away from towards the window. Anger pushed forth more violently: a raging bull. “You know your dick and what it wants and how it feels. You know that you got someone on a string that you can pla with whenever you’re in the mood to. And maybe that’s my fault and maybe. . .” tears. “. . . maybe I need to change that.”

“Cause you not happy.”

“I’m not.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I want for us not to just be about joints and fucking. If you love me or care about me, I would want for us to be more to each other. I want a real relationship from you.”

“And you know that’s something I can’t give you, bruh. You know how niggas are how they trip. You want to find me laid out behind some store?”

“You don’t know how they’ll act. . .”

“I know what they like. I be with them all day. Stop telling me what things is like.”

Those words came out more violently than the others. His body tensed up and shook with anger all over. Usually the anger of men scared me. It conjured up thoughts of my father’s one- sided hands coming down on my face. This was different, Raymond shook with anger but there was also some sadness in there. His eyes became wet and began to speak to me and I saw him-probably for the first time.

“You act like I’m always trying to do you wrong, bruh but i’m not. I’m still here, not like whatever other nigga you had that came through, bust and left. I’m still here cause I love you. You got me and I want that. I want to tough you and be here with you and talk and fuck. I want to be with you, Gene. But you got to understand, we both men and that means something.”

“It means people are going to be ignorant. . .”

“It means e still got to survive in reality. This playin’ house ain’t cool with everybody and I don’t want shit happening to us.”

He paused, like he had found some thought and was turning it over before passing it on. He continued in a low tone- only looking up to me occasionally.

“I remember the sound of glass crashing, screaming and bodies hitting the floor. My father told us to stay in bed. Niggas was always being ghost’d or disappeared on my block. Always fighting. One boy got a problem with someone else he’d squad up and handle it. I remember a cat named Gary. He was a punk. Used to dress as tight and as bright as possible. And always mouthin’ off. One day Gary went  on this dboy named Vincent. I guess Gary was fed up with Vincent making fun of him and decided to step to. The whole block was probably watching when Gary switched over to Vincent and said ‘Listen I may enjoy taking some other man’s penis in me but I am nobody’s punk or faggot. Please know that’ Vincent laughed and ordered Gary out of the yard. When Gary didn’t move told one of his homies to get Gary out. Gary, without a second thought, spouted ‘ I’m the punk?! You the one too scared to stand to me and talk, bitch!’ Vincent struck thunder out of him. For a minute I thought someone took all the air out of the world. There stood Vincent like a tyrant- surveying over all the upturned tongues of his spectators and there lay Gary- made a mockery of. After sometime, Gary got up and ran from the yard. That night, in all the crashing, I heard Gary scream. It was a different scream- one people make in places of hopelessness. I heard him scream and beg to be left alone.”

Raymond was still- inside and out. I could tell that releasing that was exhausting for him. Part of me wanted to reach for him but decided against it. There was still too much anger between us.

“The next day my father took us to see Gary’s body. He wanted us to see ‘the dead faggot’. Gene, it was terrible. He was like a pile of pieces. His face was stretched out and the blood . . . there was blood everywhere. There were people everywhere, some crying, some laughing. My father spit in the direction of Gary’s body and we left. Gary stayed there for three hours, cooking in the sun, before the city came to get him off the ground.”

The blinds barely hid light anymore. Raymond was standing in the middle of the room- his entire face was soaked. I went to stand in front of him. My hand found his and I laid the joint in it.  His eyes were sad, big and lonely. Raymond had gone somewhere that I couldn’t follow.

“This here is about survival. I love you, Gene. I mean that like nothing else, but I also got to live. And for me that means some things are not for everybody to know.”

“Take a hit.”

He took a strong pull from the joint. I watched him be with himself for a moment- like the memories continued in waves, each more vibrant than the previous. By the time Raymond too his second hit, we were both sitting on the edge of the mattress.

“Maybe we don’t need to do this anymore, Gene. If you ain’t happy then I don’t want to keep doing this . . . neither one of us is happy.”

It was quiet. I was searching for a way to continue. Raymond’s emotion bleeding out took me by surprise.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. . . I’m sorry you saw that. Our parents don’t always do the right things. They working with what they got. I guess we got to figure out how to move through those memories.”

“C’mon bruh, don’t tell me how to feel. You always doing that.”

I sank.

“Im sorry, I just thought that . . .”

“Just let me talk sometimes. It feels like I cant do that.”

My hand found a place to rest on his lower back. I could feel my lover rocking in pain- in some place off where thoughts hold and keep you. He was bound to them. “Ray. . .” I spoke with no intention of creating an end to that sentence. The high made time move slower. The silence was becoming paramount.

“Raymond, I love you.” My eyes were wet already. “Shit. More than I should sometimes and it’s hard. It’s hard to love somebody that don’t exist. I can’t call you when I want, I can’t tell people that you make me smile, I can’t even hug you if I see you on the street. That hurts.”

He blinked. Let that sit within himself, then. “Why you care so much about that, bruh?”

“Cause this relationship cannot start and end in this room. Its like sweeping leaves on a windy day. Its pointless.”

He shook my hand off. “Whatchu mean?”

“I feel trapped. Same as you do in your skin- that’s how I feel in this relationship.”

Something inside me shook. He didn’t want to try and I was reaching that point where the sympathy you hold for a lover begins to fall away. Raymond sat bare- no pretense, false names or apologies and for the first time I truthfully didn’t want to deal with it. I had spent months waiting in a haze waiting for him to wake up and become apart of the fiction in my head. But he wouldn’t- he couldn’t. He took another pull from the joint and stood up. Fabric made small sweeps and a belt buckle smacked the floor- he was packing his things.

Ray made small steps, each one heavy with some intention. I felt him cast looks my way but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. He walked over to pass the smoke and fell down on the bed beside me. I inhaled. Ray looked down. I felt bad for noticing how attractive he was. He’d always been beautiful. Before we knew one another, I had always thought about him- admired his deep skin, and strong jaw- the way the thickness of his brows gave his face life and how his full lips looked turned up in laughter. Whenever I would pass him on the street, I slowed down to listen- trying to catch enough of his voice to replay in my head later. As I laid back, looking at the ceiling, I felt his head lay on my stomach.

A year ago we were at a bus stop. I saw him coming across the street towards me and prepared myself for some kind of violence. For a while, he just stood at the stop, looking at me every once and a while. I felt his looks. They put me at ease cause I knew nothing harmful was coming- they felt hungry, like he wanted to devour me.

“Aye, um . . . aight this might be weird but I been watching you. I see you walking up and down the block with Marlon and them cats. And I uh. . .” he looked around real quick. “I think you look nice and like you got something going on that I might want to be apart of.”

“yea?”

“Like you want to do more than be around here for the rest of you life. I’m trying to get like that and uh . . .” He smacked his teeth in frustration. Words were hard for him. “you wanna hang out sometime? Maybe get something to eat?”

“Nigga?! What I look like, some faggot or something?!” I backed away. Raymond came as close to turning white as I believe he could. I laughed. “I’m playing.” He was still winded but chuckled. We laughed to each other till it became too obvious what we were doing. Raymond watched himself and backed up.
“What’s your name?”

“Raymond, what’s yours pa?”

“I’m Eugene. Nice to meet you Ray.”

There was a smile and a pause, neither of us knew how to continue.

“I was thinking, your bus might be coming soon but id like to see you again, can I do that?”

“I don’t know, that pick up line was a little. . .”

“C’mon bruh, I’m trying to see you.”

“Tell you what. Imma give you my number and you can call me tonight.”

“For real?” It was cute how happy he allowed himself to become. It usually didn’t happen with men. We learn to e hard and stay that way- occasionally letting out a little trembling- longing for more than that quiet that held us. I remember seeing his smile as the bus pulled off.

He called me later and we kinda talked. We paused a lot, trying to figure out what to say. He was new and I was scared. Holding a phone, heavier than any I had held before, rocking back and forth, I listened in close. Between small contained giggles he told me how he’d always seen me and wanted to talk to me. I couldn’t talk so much. The things I wanted to say stayed put in my stomach like weights was tied to them. So I just listened. Raymond went on about me, and trying to get into school, and other things. After about an hour he had to go. I tried very hard to play the game and seem unimpressed- I think that made his nervous ramblings go even longer but he made a mark. I was left swelling in my room.

“What’s going on in there, pa?”

I was back- Raymond now standing to pull his pants up.

“I was thinking about you and me at the bus stop that first day you talked to me.”

He smiled to himself, then openly.

“Don’t do that, we’re trying to break up, remember.”

Laughter. Then.

“Come here.” He’d said it soft and low on purpose. And then he was holding me, his eyes searching in mine. He let out a sigh.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t want to feel like this with you. I love you.”

“I love you too, Eugene. I want you to be happy. I want to make you happy as much as I can. Whatever that means.”

I looked at him. I felt his hands tremble as I held them. Something in me stirred but Raymond continued before I could speak it. “I’m done making you unhappy. So what do you need me to do? We cool? We gonna keep singing together or are we done? I wanna be cool with what you need.”

“I gotta be honest, Ray. I want you real bad. I want to be around you in all kinds of ways- not just when we fucking each other. And I think you do too, you’re just not in that space. And you shouldn’t feel bad about that. . .”

Tears were coming. My voice cracked and Raymond squeezed my hands a little tighter. I realized that I hadn’t been looking at him either. I saw his hands, over mine and then I found him. He was strong. His eyes still searching in mine- holding me- allowing me to continue.

“It just is what it is and we should be honest with that.”

He nodded, eyes still focused on men and then leaned in and kissed me on the lips. It was gentle, the same way he was the first time we kissed. And he squeezed my hands again, letting go as he backed up.

“ok, pa”

He talked more as he gathered his stuff. Kept assuring me that he was fine, occasionally he would pause, pain caught in his voice, and our eyes would meet and we would exhale together and nod.

The sun sat square on my back when he left- giving me a little warmth. I laughed nervously.

“see you at the bus stop.”

He didn’t really respond, just mumbled something that sounded like “yea” and stepped outside the door. He stopped, and leaned in to hug me. I hesitated for a second. There were eyes upon us and he, for once, couldn’t care less. I felt a wet kiss on my cheek.

“Se you round, Eugene.”

And he walked off. I watched his figure bounce down the hall, letting his wetness sit on my face. I thought I saw him look back once but it could’ve just been what I wanted to see. I said goodbye to him one more time, went back inside, and started to roll another joint.

end of act one. 

“Spit John and Me”

‎”spit john” works down on san pablo twirlin’ store signs for his aunt pam every saturday. i met him there, smilin’ and such. dancing in his skin. I wanted to blow him a kiss but didn’t know how that might sit with the thousands of lookin’ eyes on that street. So I sent a nod and a smile and he blew a kiss. there was no better delight than what I just had on a saturday on san pablo.

he been on me for weeks about riding by his job. Tellin’ me that he wants to see me, feel my presence. And I get scared of all the folks that’ll watch us. And I get scared cause it means that me and john would be “out” in public. And I get scared cause men get hurt behind those things but john- he don’t care. he’d tell them soon enough to kiss his Black ass. “They just jealous they can’t sing the way we do. But fuck em’ If anyone was to come up to me and say anything about anything id knock em dead. simple as that.” he says to me and I believe. When it’s me and him away from the stories, I hear, I believe him.

So, he blows me kisses in public and reaches for my hand. He doesn’t believe in flowers cause thats all too corny but he will bring me fruit. And I write poems about him. Sometimes sharing sometimes not. Feeling like I did years ago when I was young. Today the sun is shinning for us- begging to be taken and wrapped around our earthly selves like a loving blanket. And my thoughts find him every off and on and I smile to myself. Not because he “makes my life” or anything grand like that but because our relations make me happy. I have a man that makes me smile on occasion. How wonderful is that?