Windless Night

The wind with all of her curves adds a tantalizing thrill to any night

She know how to move it, just how to make the night calm

But not tonight because tonight I’m the sky and yeah,

Sashaying with all of her curves, the wind may know the ways of the night

But only another sky, nightly and bold as I,

Knows how to calm me

Another windless night

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I wrote this poem in my first year of college; it was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance style of Richard Bruce Nugent. Trembling and apprehensive, I shared it at a poetry event in front of friends and strangers. I will never forget that night. The vulnerable space I exposed was greeted by kindred spirits and I was well on my way to become the poet-at-large for the campus GSA. How I’ve gone from such height to such doubt I’ll never know. Life seemed much more complete before the world tried to tell me who I should be.

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School Spirit

Walking around the concrete space was unsettling. The lights were dim; had they always been? Something about the grainy residue on the ground gave me the impression that there may’ve been a celebration; maybe the recent graduates. Congratulations to them. A curly-haired woman in black passes me on the steps which are concrete too. Without so much as a glance up from her phone, she made me wonder if one of us didn’t exist. We were the only two there, so there were no witnesses to attest or assure us of our existence. So as two phantasms, we ghosted–she, out; me, onward. Echoes in the distance unnerved me like voices from the past. Their words were indistinguishable but their laughter wasn’t. After handling my business, I left behind the now haunted building that should have been my alma mater.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Hey, my name’s Thomas, but everyone calls me Tom. Well, everyone except my grandfather who raised me. My parents died when I was too young to remember them. But enough of that sad story, I’m reminded enough of it everyday. I’m walking up to school and the last thing I need is Jed and his gaggle of goons to notice tears on top of everything else they seem to target on me. There’s my bifocals and how they make my blue eyes look like beady little marbles, my gangly body that seems all too thin to make it through the winter, and my stringy blonde hair that earned me the nickname “Scarecrow.”

Life is so hard for a geek like me but the funniest part is that this summer was the one where things were only about to get weirder. This was the summer that I found out that I had something weird about me that some would call magic. This was the summer that I incidentally saved the world, risked my very life, and got the girl…

Does this story sound familiar? Chances are if you grew up in a typical American school system, Tom’s story sounds like the makings of every coming-of-age book on the suggested reading list. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Tumblr have an aptly named trending topic “WeNeedDiverseBooks” which has become like a podium for those who want more diversity in not just children’s literature but all book genres in general. Faced with what seems to be a potential social movement, I cannot help but wonder: how far will this voice carry?

First of all, let me identify a little bit of myself: I am a racial and sexual minority who found home in the literary world since I was a young boy flipping through his father’s encyclopedias. Growing up, of course I read books just like Tom’s story. Fortunately, my parents exposed me to a different side of literature. My father, who personally met James Baldwin and looked up to him, spoke to me about the rich world of Afro-centric art. I grew up admiring ancient Egyptian culture, and in my teenaged years I developed a full-blown obsession with the Harlem Renaissance. My point in mentioning any of this is straight-forward: while I appreciate the sentiment of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, it is more than just a trend. For aware artists like me, diversity is life.

Some believe that art is an imitation of life. Well if that’s the case, I challenge you to walk outside of your home. Those streets are paved on ground once owned by Natives. A penetration of the Manifest Destiny brought roads. The traffic flow is controlled by a traffic light, an invention of a Black man’s design. Even on the level of nature, the swirling cotton-candy-like confection of the white and blue in our sky darkens to a violet and opal ocean filled with stars. The trees hold steadfast with glades of grass juxtaposing the clouds. Of course diversity is important! If this is news to anyone, I challenge you to continue your walk until you reach a garden. Behold the vibrancy of nature’s design.

In conclusion, the reality is this: it takes more than ideal gestures and good intentions to diversify literature. It takes writers to write the stories and readers to support them. If we want publishers to see that diversity can sell, we have to start by developing more than just an audience but a community. Make them see it. If we want change, we should start by becoming the change we want to see. So I’ll have fun and use the hashtag while it’s still trending, and afterwards I will continue showing my readers that the hero can be black and sometimes even gay. Hopefully this will be more than just a one-time thing.

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Spike Lake

Just beyond the edge of the woods was the notorious Spike Lake, the primary source of nourishment for the Red Village. It, along with every other body of water, became contaminated during the “big flux.” The terrible incident transformed the waters into a thick freakishly blue liquid with an alluringly sweet smell.

Plants and animals died in great numbers. It didn’t take very long before the land became void of them. The villagers saw the effect it held and were scared off from the lake. Some resorted to eating whatever was lying around though it was all dead. They soon joined the casualties as well. The toxic that lingered in the remains killed them too.

Spike Lake was the bane of their existence. Everyone was suffering from severe starvation and dehydration which claimed the lives of many. A few of the remaining survivors resorted to cannibalism. They traveled the fallen lands preying on occasional survivors including other cannibals.

The Red Village is nestled discretely in the thick of the woods and all of the rooftops are lower than the trees. This keeps them safe and hidden from any outside threats. They have always been ignorant to the condition of the world beyond their home. The population dwindled dangerously and there were very few survivors out there. Humans were an endangered species. In fact the Red Village was the biggest of all the survivalist camps with only twelve people.

The camp used to be bigger but many of them starved or dehydrated. A small group of foolish youth couldn’t resist the calls of temptation. They drank of the sweet poison and it eviscerated them in front of everyone’s bare eyes…no one dared to drink of it again.

A man and his mother sit on the edge of Spike Lake. Their bodies are worn thin from starvation and they can think of nothing more than to drink.

“I’m going to do it mother.” The man told his sickly mother.

“That’s fools talk John!” She rocked back and forth.

John sighed and then it was silent. The longer he held his gaze with the waters, the more he heard the voices in his head; the Whispers. Everyone told him to ignore when they urged him to give into temptation because doing so would obviously mean death.

A branch from the tree next to them broke off and fell into the “God-awful gunk” as John’s mother called it. It sent a small wave up onto the edge, drenching the two.

The mother automatically stood up and danced about in an attempt to dry herself of the gunk. John, on the other hand, couldn’t stand anymore. The Whispers were louder than ever and the water…delicious. Before he realized it he had thrown himself into the lake, completely taken over by his instincts.

John ignored his mother’s frantic calls and gorged himself of the sweet nectar. He cared not of what became of him for the future.

The waters softly caressed him and swirled about the planes of his body. He sunk lower into the lake and soon felt dry. His mind tossed and turned violently and he blacked out.

When he regained consciousness he was dry and laying on his back. He felt sharp objects digging into his skin. Drearily his eyes dredged open. The sunlight pained them as if he hadn’t seen in years. As they slowly adjusted he saw the silhouettes of what seemed to be seven people standing around him.

“He’s finally coming around. Thank God he drank the serum.” A man with glasses said as he shook a dirty bottle with freakishly blue water in it, Spike Water?

The small crowd stepped over to another person on John’s left. While they wrestled with the individual John was still in disillusion.

Where am I? John thought to himself. He sat up in place and looked around. No woods were visible as far as the eye could see, only an urban metropolis. This wasn’t the Red Village but someplace new.

Around him on the ground were the other villagers but they weren’t awake. In fact they seemed to be in a coma-like sleep. Big baskets of fruits, vegetables, meats, and bottled water were placed around the bodies. Have I died and I gone to heaven?

He tried to stand up and stumbled into the man with the glasses, almost knocking the bottle from his hand.

“Hey watch where you’re going! We’re trying to save lives here!”

He stood slumped over in place and his legs wobbled threateningly. Acclimation was in progress.

“Sorry…” he said weakly.

As John edged around the small group of saviors he caught a glimpse of their faces. They were the foolish youth who drank of Spike’s waters but they looked far from eviscerated. The damned kids looked better than John!

His eyes drifted down to the victim. It was his mother. The man with the glasses tried to force the mother to drink of the life-saving serum. She pursed her lips and clenched her teeth to block their attempts.

“You can’t tempt me! I’d rather succumb to the starving death clawing at my stomach than drink that God-awful gunk!” Tears rolled down her age-worn face.

“She hasn’t eaten in a very long time. She has to drink the serum now or else…”

John ripped the bottle from the man’s hand and dropped to his mother’s side. He shoved the bottle into her mouth as she opened it to speak again. She flailed her limbs in protest knocking the bottle from his hands. The serum spilled all over the street. She choked up what John did manage to get into her mouth and it ran down the sides of her mouth.

“Mom–” he started to sob violently. The little saviors surrounded John and held him back. He fought hard to break away from them as he was overtaken by tears.

He watched as she groaned out in pain. She writhed on the ground and saliva ran down the sides of her face. And the ghost left her frail frame.

WK Freely, 2007

This was the first short story I ever wrote! Back when I was totally obsessed with adjectives and deathly afraid of commas! I could easily rewrite the tale, but it serves as a reminder of how art is best when raw. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it all those years ago.

December 32nd

There’s a certain life screaming out from the end of one year, as we go transitioning into the next. No amount of champagne could pull the rug from under me quick enough. I feel all too old in my skin, dismissing the need for resolutions. Am I all too bitter to accept the whimsy of committing, regardless of its futility? Should I resolve to exercise, eat less, or abstain only to relapse by Easter?

Adversely, what is there to cling to from last year? The last thing I want to seem, especially considering common stereotypes, is monolithic. The past ends with yesterday for a reason. You having read that a few seconds ago is a pass in time, too past.

I raise a glass to the special place between the future and the past. The last grain of sand suspended between December 31st and January 1st. Happy New Years.

“Decompress”

At school, after the first 7 weeks, I received an evaluation to gauge my hire ready potential. One would think I was quite the wiz: I received a 4.0 GPA, perfect attendance, and the highest rank possible on my professionalism. Before I could ring the bells in celebration, there was one specific growth area. My professors and my advisor both urged that I learn to “decompress.” They likened my reaction at receiving anything less than a 100% to a meltdown.

I’d be the worst kind of liar if I pretended not to know what they were talking about. But to my madness, there was method. By over-extending my standard of excellence, I explained, I set myself for high marks every time. The way I figure, if one shoots for the passing mark, they’ll barely pass each and every time. That’s fine and all but what about people like me?

Here I am 7 weeks later and sitting in front of me is my 14 week evaluation. Due to a stomach virus, I’d missed a couple of days and lost my perfect attendance. I still had my 4.0 but there were some not-so-hot remarks on my professionalism. Just 7 weeks ago I was told to decompress and now my professors and advisor were saying I’d loosened up a little too much. The cause: a new group that I study with on weekdays and drink with on weekends. All of our grades are high and we take them seriously. They, just like me, were accused of being a little too uptight. So we meshed.

With the highest grades in my class, I am still slated to be ready for hire (I start my new internship on January 27th). This evaluation seemed to be a great cause for personal reflection and where better to do so than here?

Of course I’ll reel it back a bit out of respect for my professors. But there is a valuable lesson to be learned here: go with the flow. Be you. I know it seems sick to suggest this after what would seem to be negative remarks but such criticism is both part of every evaluation and also life. I am maintaining my grades and developing a healthy social life. Laughter is good. Work is good. Part of my experience, apparently, is finding balance. I could write a blog detailing each turn along the way: how I felt disconnected with the work or the professor, or how I am acting out on unresolved repressed childhood traumas. I am no psychodynamic therapist and so I won’t. I will decompress, go with flow, and urge that you do the same.

Saffron Tie

Saffron Tie
Short Story
WK Freely

My tie—slim, saffron, and silk—felt cool against my sweaty palms. They’d gone red from my incessant adjusting, but I just couldn’t help myself! You see, I have a date atop the Golden Gate bridge and I’m running awfully late.

After a failed rummage for silver change at the toll booth, I break for hard cash. I tried to be inconspicuous as I eyed a neighboring driver who’s spiffy little pass left me feeling green with envy, but no worry! I have a date atop the Golden Gate bridge! Blue-collared guys such as myself avoided it at all costs anyway, and for this very reason. Once more, I adjust my saffron tie.

Each passing vermillion-orange steel bar sends my heart stammering. Irving Morrow had certainly been onto something when he rejected steel and carbon as primary colors. Even against the night, that handsome fireweed never fails to enkindle my soul. This time I reach for my saffron tie, and stroke it slowly as I think of her.

I pull over, climb out of the driver’s seat, and find her waiting: the black lady.

I tickle pink at seeing her ample frame. Lured to the edge by her jet black eyes and curls, I go there…and jump over. You see, my date was with the ravishing black lady Death. And with my gorgeous saffron tie whipping madly about my neck, I fly into her arms where I’ll stay forever.

Of Ghosts

“Are there such things as ghosts?” I asked of him. He took no moment to gather his thoughts, as if each answer were readily piqued at all times.

“I think the question you mean to ask is if Hell really does exist? And it does not. There is only peace in death. What men perceive as ghosts are merely molds of pained energy, taken on and rehearsed by Earth demons in their attempt to become human. To see a ‘ghost’ is a frightening thing for humans, or it should be. Because they possess many and have no regret in stealing bodies.”

“So you mean to tell me that there is no Hell, but there are demons? So where do they come from?”

“Where else? If there is only peace there and you here than the answer is obvious: they are of Earth and have always been. There is no purgatory in which they reside either. And so they walk among us, learning all they can about the little things that humans spend their lives to have. Fame. Money. Sex. Flesh. So that they become curious. And so they seek to have your bodies for their own.”

“Is there a God?”

“He does not call himself ‘God’ and even I have not seen Him. Even still, one would have to be absolutely mad to ignore all of the world’s intricacies. There is some rhythm and pattern to breath and the life of things.”

“So God, and Earth, and Demons are real?”

“As are Angels,” he added.

“But no ‘Hell?'”

“Why is it so hard for you to accept that there are all of these things and no ‘Hell?'”

“Because that would mean that the wicked are wicked and die happy. The same happiness promised to our martyrs and saints, that they’ve given their whole lives for. That isn’t fair.”

“Mortals know not of Her eternal love. The best that She can give is peace. Peace for the wicked is silence. They are tortured mad and need only rest.”

“She? So God is a woman?”

“No. These finite, human, Germanic terms of ‘he’ and ‘she’ are quite annoying. So I often interchange.”

“Okay, so silence is given to the wicked?”

“To answer your next question and to stifle your concern, yes. The righteous see Heaven. Which means that Earth, by your own definition, truly is Hell.”

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The Conversation

“How are you doing in school?” I asked.
“Good. I could show you?” He offered and with a nod, I sweep the rest of my pile into the dust pan and walk over to sit next to the young boy of 13. Not truly knowing what to expect, he pulls up his school’s domain where the grades are recorded. The highest grade is a C. The only other two are low F’s.
As I try to figure why he seemed so eager to show me these averages, he glides into the course curriculum and points out 3 assignments graded out at 100%, and a low B.
I watch in careful silence, not knowing how to approach him with my concern. He is my partner’s youngest brother after all and I don’t want to be misconstrued or mistaken. The last thing I need is to offend anyone.
“Do you know what an average is?” I ask gingerly and of course he shakes his head no.
“You add together all of your grades, and divide that number by how many ever grades you added. Make sense?”
This time he nods yes.
“Okay, these missed assignments here all received a zero. Since there are-,” I proceed to count. “So many zeros, it takes away from the few good grades you earned. They are literally reversing your hard work. Why aren’t you doing them?”
“It’s hard.”
“Then ask for help. Start with your teacher and people in your class who get it. And if that doesn’t work, ask your family. And if they’re busy, call me. You call to come hang out all of the time, we could help you understand it like that,” I said with a snap.
“But I like to come home and play the game.”
Just the prior night, my partner and I had stood with the boy in a line for two hours to put toward his new xbox. A cycle. I assumed the best of his grades and the best of my partner checking them.
“Why not study half the night and play your game the other half?” Was my first suggestion. Another came after. And another. But the boy couldn’t seem to care any less. In fact, he contested that his grades were good. After several fruitless attempts, I invited him to take a walk with me.
“Let me tell you a story,” I offered him once we were out on the sidewalk. The temperature was mild and the sky boisterously blue, flushed with full clouds, and suspended perfectly above the autumn trees.
“My older brother was caught up in a gang and ran the streets. Around this time I was about your age, and my family lived in New Mexico. We had to leave though, because a rival gang tried to kill him by shooting up a car he was driving late one night. He was a high school drop out and couldn’t get a decent job–so he often times chose not to try. What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“Make video games,” he grumbled.
“That’s a cool job. What company do you want to work for?”
“Game Stop.”
“Well, Game Stop sells the games but they don’t make them. I’ll use Disney as an example. Say you go looking for a job with them, they’re going to ask for two things: one, your high school diploma; two, your college degree. You start high school in two years, so you have enough time to learn how to study and get good grades.”
He still seemed distant.
“What if I told you that people give you money for good grades after high school? Has anyone ever told you that?”
He shook his head no.
“We’ll it’s true. Then you can pay for college and go get a career, make a lot of money. You like money right?”
He nods. Then comes an awkward silence, so I go in once more.
“My brother kept on the path of the streets. And five years ago he got shot. The bullets hit his spine. Now he’s paralyzed. My cousin who had been shot as well wasn’t as lucky; he died.”
A subtle smile breaks across his face. The smell of his humor for violence stunk up the air around us. But I didn’t give up.
“My little cousin, when she was twelve, was out front her home double-dutching when she got shot. Liver failure, kidney failure–your age. So many people in my family were destroyed by gun violence. That’s the risk out here on the street.”
His smile remained, stoking a warm anger in me. I could almost taste venom on my tongue as it lashed against the back of my teeth, my jaw locked to restrain it.
“There’s nothing out here in the streets. Even people like Jay-Z, who used to sell drugs, fought to get out of the streets. Now he focuses on his music to provide for himself and his family.”
Nothing. No response. No movement. No change.
“So what do you think?”
“About what?”
“My story?”
He shrugs, his smile growing.
“You don’t care?”
Meeting my eyes, he nods.
Disbelief.
“If she wasn’t out there…” He starts, and then shrugs again. The motion alone like a bug in my eye.
“So you think it’s her fault?”
“It’s their fault,” he corrects me. By this time we had come back to the apartment. He walks over to the laptop and pulls up clips of his favorite video game, filled with sexually suggestive themes, gun violence, and gang mentality.
I go off to the room, mourning the loss of those I once knew who were quite the same. I pray in the room that the boy finds his way. I am no fortune teller and I keep hope that he makes it. I’m sure some would say that I’m overreacting. But as I witness this boy, as I have for the last three years, I only see all of the graphic music he listens to with no intervention. I only see him springing for games he’s too young to own and so his “cool” aunts and uncles supply to keep him quiet. I see his fascination for hood movies he’s too young to understand.
Such provocative themes must be met with opposition. Kids must know the consequences of their actions, the importance of receiving an education, and the dangers of being out in the street. The only destruction in these mediums comes from ignorance. Those who aren’t knowledgeable enough to separate these things from reality become desensitized to the risk.
Anyone can make it, even from seedier backgrounds. But they need a healthy spectrum of understanding to visualize their options. If one grows up only seeing one thing, that is their vision entire. Curiosity usually sparks from exposure to something one knows nothing about initially, and the subjects of his current curiosities are in all the wrong things.
No amount of Lauryn Hill, Frank Ocean, or Jay-Z I try listening to as a salve can stop my hands from shaking. Our community is a powerful one and I know it. But nothing hurts me more than witnessing our youth so lost in what the media expects of them that they can’t see it. The exposure is all too soon and damaging to the ideals of family, love, and community. I have nothing but love in my heart and want to share it. I want to break this cycle. I want to make a change. Even if it means being scoffed at or being seen as soft–I know he will look up one day when it matters and he’ll remember the things I’ve said. I will drive and push through, even if it takes one conversation at a time.

The Realization

Back in school. In a paid internship. Why am I not happy?

For the last three years I worked retail with one goal: getting back into school. I found out about this accelerated IT program sponsored by an accredited community college that gives its students a biweekly educational stipend, and so I went for it. Three months of a rigorous admissions process and I was in. 

I like it. It’s college. But I get paid. Only 140 people were admitted into this path so it’s a small pool of the college’s community. I take a business communications class, two computer science courses, and a life skills course. So what’s wrong with me? I got exactly what I wanted, right?

Strangely enough, this isn’t my first time feeling this way in the face of new opportunities. Every job I’ve ever had I’ve seen growth and opportunities. Just a few months ago in my previous position, I was the youngest member of the sales leadership team; a human resources supervisor. And yet I still felt incomplete. The district manager sent me on additional assignments across the area, where I functioned as a store manager for months at a time. Even that wasn’t enough. Not even with all of the follow-up calls I receive till this day offering me higher positions, pay, and benefits.

There is no need in suspense: the truth is simple. I am a writer and us writers are sick in the fucking head.

I feel like writing is the only thing I can get right. As I face new challenges in the career field, it is by my sheer communication skills that I excel. I read the company’s policies, codes, and operations in one breath all while memorizing concepts. Now, consider that the majority of people in our culture do not read. Both factors considered, I appear to be exalted higher than those who didn’t take the time to do just that: read. The only problem is that it requires little to no passion. I can do it because of my comprehension and work ethic but do I necessarily want to? Often times that answer turns out to be “no,” but I’ll have already invested large amounts of time and energy into the position.

Lately I’ve done the coffee tango, reading in between classes and writing some. And then I remembered my blog. How I wanted to find that community. Hell, why not ramble? And if I find something interesting to help the next man, share it. Or if I read a great post that flags me into a new positive direction, than so be it.