What He Say, Daddy?, What He Say?!

When we were boys, my brother and I had the run of Cypress Street in North Little Rock, Arkansas on oursl porchia Summer visits down home. We ate like kings and fished almost daily between stints of wrestling and throwing rocks at wasps nests and some, mean-as-hell, blue jays.

Early mornings broke thru a small window above the kitchen sink. It was always lined with the hard-skinned, green tomatoes from Madear’s garden below. Every morning, sipping cooled black coffee from Daddy S.L.’s saucer and crunching bites of beautifully browned toast, coated with runny egg and grits, there was little else to satisfy our boyhood needs.

I am certain that the early morning dew of Arkansas is medicinal. We never remembered our shoes and wore threadbare pajamas when walking Daddy S.L. to his blue and silver station wagon, but we were sorely protected from the 5:45a.m. chill. I think now that his smooth, baritone chuckle was our warmth as we skittered back into the kitchen to argue over the last sip of cold coffee and bites of breakfast left on his plate.  We would be curled asleep beneath the small, press board and vinyl table within minutes of his leaving…every morning.

He returned home at 3:30pm and walked in giant steps thru the curled up grandkids watching the black and white half hour of Lone Ranger and a local BOZO The Clown Show. We made it a good luck charm to touch the dirt dusted leg of his work pants as he swiped by. In the kitchen MaDear hard fried them palm-sized perch and boiled hot dogs and beans for the kid’s dinner. We heard them kiss.

Other afternoons he stuck his head thru the door and called for us to “come run with me”.  On those afternoons we headed down to the ballpark at Whitmore Circle to watch men play baseball. The best part of those “runs” were the Mexican tamale cart vendors who surely over delivered on those one dollar, corn husk wrapped bundles. But, the best thing  ever about those “runs” was a singing ball player, they called, “Big Cole”.

From the dugout Big Cole ran thru, what I imagined were, old songs; rifts of blues and names of women and men who had done him wrong. He was older than the players and rarely made it to the plate. I recall him swatting a slow lobbed ball over the Pitcher’s outstretched glove just once. He couldn’t “run slow”, the men teased Big Cole, and he slung the bat and settled back into the dugout. After awhile he began to hum, then riff on the idea of  finding a woman who could “wait til the bottle run dry”. “What He say, Daddy?” my bug-eyed query brought chuckles from the grown ups.

Again, Big Cole riffed on about Birmingham not being a ham at all! We oughta see the one up dat gals draws! And me, “What He say, Daddy? What HE SAY?” Soon, recounting stories of thunderous home runs were overshadowed by the salty tongue of Big Cole and a few others trying to jump into the rowdy workman’s calling.

Driving home, Daddy S.L. said that Big Cole was a “Caller” for the Gandy men who worked to straighten the tracks. The heavy loads of trees being harvested  from deep in the woods would damage the rail lines and could warp the creosoled drenched ties. He said the “Gandy Dancers” and work crews from the Penitentiary “throwed” them back in line. Big Cole sang to the men and got everybody on the same rhythm to make the job easier.

Daddy S.L. said that Big Cole hung around places and picked up stories to use in his songs. Later, in July, he drove me to the Little Rock Stock Yards and we parked near the junction where myriad train tracks snaked and fingered alongside the warehouses for delivery. We left the car windows down and a warm breeze had me nodding.

I awoke to a shadowy clanking of iron rods and deep laughter. A White man suddenly shouted, “Gwine up to de quarter head”, and men moved in unison toward a curved section of tracks. I sat up and leaned out the station wagon’s window just as the White man made a jerking arm motion and yelled out to the men.

On the hot breeze a long moan built quickly to a wailing, then nasally passage in Big Cole’s, familiar cadence.

Aahhh! Aaa-Ooohhh-Oh-Ohh-Oh

Aahh—Two lil’ gals was court’n Me

One was blind & One caint see

My Grandma put a switch to me

When I come home wit a kiss on me

Ol boys pull t’gether

Ol boys pull t’hether—HUH!

At “HUH!” the men shuttered, stomped, whipped their iron rods in a hard, short burst and I saw the track jut to the left.

He did it twice more before the White man gestured with his hand and the men halted. On the wind, that carried dry and hot back to the station wagon window, was laughter. Behind the guffaws came a question. “You couldn’t hide dem gal’s kisses, Cole?!”

Daddy S.L. shook his head, chuckled and started up the family car.

This story first appeared in the blog, Three Days In The City. All copyrights reserved.

Jas. Mardis is an awarded Poet, Radio Commentator, Editor and Fabric Artist. He is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Between Then & Again…

(audio: Then And Again)

between seeing you
between having a moment of your smiling
and the absence of you
between the early afternoon sun on your face
and the memory of wanting to keep you longer than one meal

between then and again
the same again of wanting and waiting
the same again of hoping and having
the same again of knowing and wanting to know more

between  all the stops and starts of doubting
between every ounce and measure of experience
between each one of my days and nights of aloneness
and the heavier weight of choosing rightly who to kiss  twice     first

between every moment that chases me toward the   again
I am awash and dumbstruck by the moment of  THEN

I remember every step that I’ve taken in your presence
and every time that you turned toward me
every flash of recognition in your eyes
each of your tentative smiles   each parting of your lips
the opening and closing of your mouth  to greet me  and to send me on my way

I had thought of you before   from a collection of distances
thought of you married    thought of you otherwise taken and claimed and loved
thought twice of you younger   twice your dynamic  in that youthfulness

I had checked and held my breath in your presence

checked for those awkward, low whistles that the body creates around breathing

checked on my taking in and letting out

checked out those risings and fallings of your small chest

checked on the way your stomach fills to a tightness then yields to the belted waist of your black dress when you chuckle

checked off all of the reasons to leave you in the distance

THEN

checked off all the reasons to close that distance

Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame. He is an awarded Poet and Fabric Artist living in Dallas,TX

Crown

For my birthday I’m revealing a new series of fabric and leather works. “Just A Crown” celebrates AfricanAmerican women and their inherent/invisible/invincible royalty.

This is a series of 40 images with young and seasoned Sistahs wearing crowns created for days, eras, seasons and a few of the emotions deserving of an elevation.

A store is on the way…stay tuned

New Exhibition Alert: Opens July 6

Title of exhibition: Migratory
Location of exhibition: Bath House Cultural Center
521 E. Lawther Dr.  Dallas, Texas 75218 •
White Rock Lake

Dates of exhibition: July 6-August 2, 2019migratory1

I have been invited to participate in this exhibition on Migration in the world. I have created a leather burning and fabric art piece titled, “Sweetie, Get To Harlem, NOW!”

img_4154There are two leather pyrography works featured on this piece and features a lace-cut work tablecloth and quilted, star pattern patchwork. The images on this piece features two characters from a familiar migration story. The man has fled the South for a chance at Harlem, New York and Adam Clayton Powell’s upward Negro progress. His letter home has announced a new longshoreman’s job and Harlem apartment room is read over a wagon wheel mailboximg_4257 by his spouse. It tells of Father Divine and his religious movement to feed, house and train migrants and Harlem-ites, alike. Get here, Now! The Statue of Liberty skirts the bottom of the piece as an anchoring symbol of the promises awaiting all who would dare to hope on the backbone of a new place. Beside her is a tenement building with rows of metal trash cans lining a street paved with gold. On the other side is a recreated advertisement of Adam Clayton Powell’s “8,000 Mile Cross Country Tour: The Negro On the Home Front” from The People’s Voice Newspaper.

Gandy Dancers & Shouters

Okay, I think I’ve gotten these Gandy Dancer shouters & chant leaders out of my system. It ain’t over until the big man hollers! I’ll give a shout-out to Artist Tyrone Geter and his recent exhibition at the Denton Arts Council. I think about my subjects quite differently after that show. (Now, if only torn leather pieces fit together and overlapped like Geter’s paper ).