Drops Like Rain

(Drops Like Rain audio)

In the rain
what will be remembered of your face
does not blur so easily

and I see so clearly

the wonderful, seasonal, leaf-brown shading of your eyes
piercing thru the large pane of shop glass
as you jump the space between awnings trying not to get wet

I see you remembering to smile   then scrunching your face when
an already couple bumps into you  and
just like that
you slide back into the weather and your hair drinks what drips
from the beast that has become this night’s sky

From this booth    I cannot save you
not even in my manliest imagination
not even in the best years of my  faster  boyhood
not even     not hardly      no way

so,
when you do not  fall into the drink
but instead bend at the knees and waist
and waggle your hips into a brake

the sound that comes from me    does not match my facade

Every  day
since first looking into the falling stream that was your face
watching helplessly    you
slipping and grinding and stopping yourself in the rain

the way you held on    stood pat     hung in there
never minding the fools behind with their outstretched, dry hands and apologies
instead,   shaking it off  and finding me in that deliberate, slow turn
of your drenched face   dry   inside  at a booth      then winking

it is hard to image how I will stop myself from falling for you
like fat drops of April rain

my fingers
down thru your head’s  drenched curls
across the wet waving line of your brow
racing in  swirls        over the bridge  of your nose
rimming silver slivers ’round your flared nostrils
before landing and lacing    and beading into the grace on your full lips

I am already learning to love the way that you hold your mouth
already slipping
already being pushed by wanting what these other couples have
are willing to race thru full streets
clearing pathways   and already full spaces beneath awnings
where some other not-yet-loved fool
is trying not
to get this wonderfully wet

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Jas. Mardis    4/2015
(14ioiws)

Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, a Pushcart Prize Winner for Poetry and Editor of KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora (UNT Press).

Sharing, Like It’s Going Out of Style

One year, when we were still a family living in the white frame house on Morrell Street in Dallas, Texas, we ate beans and rice or collard greens nearly every day. Later that year, while out for Christmas break, we got used to inviting some new kids in with us for dinner. Of course, we were used to the food by then, but it was the first time that I had heard and got a different understanding of the phrase, “Like they going out of style“.

There were five kids in our family and we dared not flinch when those words came across the sparse dinner table from my brother’s invited friend, a boy called “Meatball”. He was squat, dark-hued, round with a bushel of uncombed hair and gave off the suggested shape of a big, well, meat ball. His rather large family was new to a duplex further down the hill that was Morrell Street. Even in the colder months most of them spilled out onto the porch and yard during non-sleeping hours. Up and down that block all of our families were just making due, but even our construction-job injured Stepfather had encouraged us to invite and share with the kids whenever possible.

Meatball didn’t bother looking up from his fast moving spoon through a bowl of crumbled cornbread and black-eyed peas. Even though he had used the bathroom sink to clean up it was not hard to find patches of differing colored dirt streaking his scrawny, short sleeved arm and pointy elbow as he ate. We had already prayed, passed the cornbread and Kool-Aid. Now, we waited on a spoon of steaming collard greens from a big, worn pot that sat at one end of the table when he blurted up, “Ya’ll eat beans like they going out of style!”.

We just kept passing our plates from one person to the next and waited for them to return with a layered serving of meatless collard greens. Secretly, we all hoped for one of the bacon or salt jowl halves that seasoned the greens, but that succulent meat often landed on our Stepfather’s plate. Meatball did not pass his plate. He continued to feast on the certainty of his beans and dodged the long arms that reached, grabbed and ignored his sloppy chewing. With all the plates in place our Stepfather called to the little complainer, “Gimme yo’ plate, son“. A moment passed before my brother grabbed and handed off the boy’s crumb-littered plate. Meatball started chewing faster.

For the second time that day neither of us five flinched as Meatball’s plate of hot collards was passed back to him. Mixed into the feathery stack of greens were the two curling halves of thick sliced, red meat and water pearled bacon fat. Again, the pain mellowed bass of our Stepfather’s words wafted toward Meatball, “You reckon dat fatback might be in style, Meatboy?” His mispronunciation kicked a big laugh into the room and nearly everybody corrected him, “It’s MEAT BALL, Mr. Howard“. It was the first time since being injured and returning home from two months of traction in a hospital bed that he smiled big and laughed a full throated guffaw. The bacon slipped in and out of Meatball’s greasy lipped mouth and the room grew brighter with his  addictive and toothy grin.

It would be a few more months of beans and greens and visits from Meatball and others hoping for the fatback on their plates, but never from us five.  Big laughs came slowly back into the white house at 1423 Morrell after the “meat boy” meal. There was new job with less pain and risk of injury for our slow moving Mr. Howard. Around the same time there was Christmas and five thunderous, overflowing, cellophane covered fruit baskets with hard, awkward nuts and candy canes with a single wrapped present. It all got shared on our screened-in porch, along with other toys from up and down Morrell Street…and the echoing, baritone laughter from just inside the door.

Jas. C. Mardis is a Poet, Quilter and Storyteller. He is a 2014 Inductee into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Photo credit:   Rosskam, Edwin, 1903-,  Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection 1938

My Friend is in The Creek

I ran thru the high, face-cutting slits of wild grasses and weeds, slipping and tumbling, then picking myself up and running further up the slanted embankment of the unintentional rock quarry behind the Rockwell Paper Company. The June, Texas sun bore down on my head like a swooping bird and hammered my already thrumming blood against the inside of my eleven year old head. I knew then that if I ever felt that thrum-hammer again in my life it would be at the end of my life. This time, it was marking the coming end of Edward Muse’s life.

I climbed to my feet again, knowing that blood was pushing up from my left calf and coating my leg and white Converse sneakers. I knew that my face was grass whipped and that pebbles of gravel would be falling off of my short afro as I pushed and jerked my aching and shocked body toward the open dock of the paper distributor. I knew that I would be out breath when I tried to yell for help across the open field of wild earth and hot summer air. I knew as well that below me, in the creek, Edward was trying not to scream and trade air for water in his lungs.

On the dock, a Black man was sliding the forklift into the rack that held a tower of paper wrapped in green and white covered stacks. I saw him see me rising up and stumbling forward. I saw him lock his focus directly on me and open his mouth in the start of a yell. I saw his eyes grow wide as he slammed levers and braked the machine. I saw him pointing the way for others to follow. I saw him see me start to cry and point the way back to Edward.

When he was near me the Black man shouted, “Who hurt you, boy?!” and he searched the direction of my outstretched arm for who was following. “My friend is in the creek! My friend is in the CREEK! I shouted…”an I can’t swim!” . He straightened and yelled, “In the Creek” to the new men emerging from the darkness of the loading dock and another Black man shed his tool belt and burst toward us with amazing quickness. I was pulled to my feet and carried under the man’s arm and heard him saying, “Show me, son! Show me where he went in. Its okay! Show Me, son!” The other man passed us in thundering, sure-footed stomps. He was a huge man and I swear, even now, all these years later, that the grasses parted and the ground seemed go sturdy itself for his rampage to the creek below. Moments later I was dropped to the ground as both men shouted, “I see him! He just went down again!” and “Damn, dere he go, Frank!”

I got to my feet and fell down two times before getting to the edge of broken concrete slabs that Edward and I had crossed earlier, just before the creek water swallowed him whole. The big man was hanging from a broken rebar with his body lowered into the creek where Edward was submerged. The water was as clear as glass and I could see Edward’s eyes bugged and alternately squinting in a painful expression. He had grabbed onto the big man’s work clothes and the man held Edward’s forearm and was pulling, but he wasn’t emerging. The first man stood confused, then suddenly dove into the creek toward Edward. This section of the water swallowed him, too and I could not see his entire body once he passed Edward. The big man’s face turned toward me and I could see that he had begun to weep and tire from the struggle of holding the rebar and that his strength was waning.

Suddenly, the strain in the big man’s face released and he yanked so hard on Edward’s arm that the boy thrust out of the water with a burst of yelps, coughs and spews of creek water. The big man pulled Edward into his chest and yelled for me to “Grab him, boy!” At the same time the other man emerged from the hole that had swallowed him with a cough and spewing of water. He bobbed back into the water for a moment then flung himself to the nearest concrete slab with more broken rebar and caught himself before submerging again. Gripped in his free hand was Edward’s blue jeans. Men from the dock suddenly emerged from all over the area with ropes and one carried a box with a red cross on the cover. I was pulled aside and two men grabbed Edward’s shirt and pulled him further onto the slabs and safety. Other men pulled the big man free of the re bar and hauled him from the creek water. He smiled a huge and hopeful glance at Edward and asked the new men, “Did he make it?” Then, looking quickly at me he said, “We got him, son. He’s alright! He’s alright!”

Edward coughed and vomited the creek water for almost ten minutes as the men around him slapped their big hands on his back and stood him erect between them. His legs were bleached of color and dangled from his drooping white BVDs and shook uncontrollably. One leg seemed to seize up and he cried out between vomiting the creek water and fell against the men holding him up. “That’s jus’ ya blood coming back to ya legs, son. Stomp ya feet!”, a man said. Another man agreed.

From behind me a group of men helped the first Black man to compose himself and asked about Edward’s blue jeans. “Man, them crazy snapping turtles jus about had his ass! Two of ‘em, big as hubcaps was pulling on his jeans and taking him to the bottom! They was gonna have a feast in that hole!”, the Black man replied. “Damn, Frank! Two of ‘em?!, the gathered men responded and looked at the soaked jeans that he held out to them.

A gurgling and plop sounded from the creek and everybody turned to see one of Edward’s tennis shoes come to the top of the water. It was in the mouth of a huge turtle. Behind the turtle’s huge head, his shell floated up under the swimming clawed feet that were the size of a grown man’s hands. The shoe was then submerged and the man, called Frank, headed over to Edward with the soaked pants.

Back up the incline and resting on the dock with the men, one of them brought Edward a dry, one piece uniform to change into. Another man shared his lunch thermos of hot soup and a sandwich as everybody waited to see if Edward was going to be okay. The man called Frank sat beside me as I watched Edward getting all the attention and food. He spoke quietly to me and asked, “You gon be okay, little man? You know you saved ya friend’s life today, right?” I looked up at him, not knowing what to say back. Frank said, “It cost you something, too. I know ya scared about errthang, but ya friend gon be alright in a minute. The Boss man wanted to call the Police about what happened, but we got him offa that notion. But, y’all don’t need to come back ‘roun the creek again. Okay?” I was scared at the mention of the boss and the Police, but Frank patted me on the shoulder and I managed to mumble, “No Sir. We ain’t never looking for crawfish in the creek no mo”. Frank laughed at that and said, “Son, ain’t never been no crawfish in that run off hole”.

Looking down at my lap, Frank then stood and went to a bank of lockers against the dock wall and returned holding another of the one piece uniforms. “I imagine you don’t want to be walking home with that smelly creek water on the front of ya pants.” he said and handed me the clothes with a smile and a wink.

I Suppose It Is Time

I suppose that it is time for such a thing to happen. The world has not completely stopped, just taken a sabbatical during the pandemic and virus recovery attempts. Along the way a lot of people have perished. Many of them from the virus and many others in the normal course of life’s medical tragedies that seem suddenly less than immediate, but just as certain as, well, taxes.

Photography with wood window and curtains--night lit view--Copyright JasMardis

I am in the vein of reality where mortality is upon me in a way that brings it all truly home. My spirit demands a sudden accounting of things as I read of the death of a former lover. Approaching my sixtieth birthday in July, an age that my Father did not reach successfully, I am pondering the absence of a woman with whom I once lay generously and passionately for hours and days without beginning or end. Her smile and warmth and coming alongside me in general conversations of daily being and faith explorations gave me a toe hold on the person that I am today. We once turned the morning into awakening with ravenous hungers and physical bonding before surrendering to the start of day. Even now, her body long gone from me; married and surrendering to a spouse; she gives me pleasure and expectation, as I page thru the mornings with others.

Gone. Dead. Passed. Deceased. Succumbed.

She called me not long before her death and asked if I still wanted a particular thing that we once found in a resale shop. It was right there; in her hand; rusted and seized up, as useless as the one we found over fifteen years ago on a lunch side trip. Next to the BBQ place, across a slanted parking lot with a slow-cranking, red and white sign and $30 box springs out front, the wide store windows burped with metal shelves and promise. We left the foil-wrapped food on the car seat and browsed for what she called, “another man’s trash”. Two aisles into our browsing she yelled out to me, “Got IT!” and ran to me with a Smith-Corona manual typewriter. “Fix it up and write me poetry. All for the low-low price of $10 …and rust dust on both our clothes and the back seat of my car.

Later that day, with the office abuzz with some manner of team building, maybe a baby or wedding shower that overtook the conference room, she called me with a request. “Can you come to my office? Well, actually. Can you meet me in the stairwell while this party is going on?” I headed straight over and rode the elevator up to the floor below her office and entered the stairwell for the meet up. She asked if I had written anything yet on the seized up device from lunch. “Nope”. She lifted her navy and white polka-dotted dress and I read, MUSE, written in White-Out on her thighs.

That’s where we found ourselves frequently for much of the next year. Getting caught by stair runners and pretending to share a quick smoke, before the days of twenty-five feet from the building entrance smoking areas. Soon enough the novelty of sneaking off ran its course and our lives succumbed to other relationships and marriages and our growing kids from previous relationships. But, still, she called, all those years later with a familiar tone across the phone lines. “I found another one. You want it? I can send it to you…or you can come get it (laugh). She wasn’t close. Our kids were making kids. That office building has long since started securing the stairwell with digital codes. I couldn’t take off in the middle of the day. I held onto the MUSE through numerous relationships. There were years to add to that story.

Social Media came around and phones changed into cameras and messages could be secreted to anyone at anytime. In the middle of the night I received her breasts and a recording about how much they would be missed. “But, you can remember them like this”. A little while later, months later, she asked for my body’s picture. Later still, she asked if I remembered the White Out; unlit cigarettes and the guy who watched from the next floor up.

In the mail one weekend was a manilla envelope. Inside a sandwich bag was littered with slivers and squares of nylon, silk and cotton fabric that had been sprayed with perfume and had a Victoria’s Secret tag taped to the outside. No return address needed. There were twenty-two pieces: it had been twenty-two years since we last touched. I did not reach back to confirm or celebrate or figure out a flight to nowhere. I put the whole thing in my side table and waited out the unavoidable.

I really do hate Social Media and the insensitive nature of calling out the dead. Memorials of life started populating my timeline within the next few weeks. I guess nobody knows that you are leaving behind lovers when laying hold of your image and videos of your voice…laughter…wedding…graying into a sexy grandma. There is no reason to consider who kissed the dead or found them in delight…read their thighs…felt their breath and bite and exhale.

The ways of the World do not consider your becoming years or fathom a guess at the worth and waning melody of finding yourself suddenly mortal. Unlike a parent or relative; elderly or neighborhood or College roommate’s passing, the first time you lose a lover is a sobering affair. Your bodies are forever linked with shared muscle and fluid exchanges. There is grace and homecoming ending forevermore. And, there is an upturned calendar, hourglass and ticking…ticking…and time running toward you, now. Suddenly, it is possible that you, too, could breathe no more into the memory of someone special.

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.Jas Mardis is a 2014 Texas Literary Hall of Fame inductee and a Fabric and Pyrography Artist .

Final Natl-Poetry-Month Poem: How Sweet It Is… (audio and text)

Audio: How Sweet It Is

How Sweet It Is…

I want to sing
not just that hand moving vocalizing from American Idol tryouts
but sing in a way that makes men    wait to go pee

when the alarm has gone off   and it’s me on the radio
and the morning is still cold on the other side of his woman
and she is barely making a sound
but her mouth is a smile
and her hips are exposed from beneath and around her gown

and I’m chiming something from The Originals

and I don’t even care that it’s four-part harmony
’cause damn    he’s looking over across her curves and sweetness
and remembering a few nights ago   that should have been last night, too

and she’s curling her shoulders into the full light of day  breaking across into the room

and her leg straightens   and the gown   just gives up

and there is something rising in the air on the sun’s rays and in the mist of dust
and there are all kinds of “yes” in the way that she opens her eyes to him

and the covers and pillows    fall into line

and there is nothing to be said with words
not even that line about “gonna be late for work”
because I’m on the radio

and what they HEAR when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR”
is “I’ve been missing you since yesterday night”

and what they FEEL when I sing: “WHEN YOUR LIPS ARE KISSING MINE”
is, “Yeah”

and what they KNOW when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR THE BELLS, DARLING”
is, “All I need is five minutes to show you”

and what they DO when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR THE BELLS RINGING IN YOUR EARS, BABY”
is ask, “Can we turn that up a little bit, then?”

…”OH, I’LL NEVER HEAR THE BELLS….OH, I’LL NEVER HEAR THE BELLS…
NO, I’LL NEVER HER THE BELLS WITHOUT….YOU, BABY”

How sweet it must be    to sing

Jas. Mardis (04/2015)
National Poetry Month 2015

**Click here to see The Originals sing their hit song properly

Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, Multiple National Association of Black Journalist GRIOT Awards for Radio Commentary and  a Pushcart Prize Winner for Poetry. He is Editor of KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora (UNT Press). For booking information of poetry or The Family Story Project workshops–j.mardis@verizon.net or just send a reply from this page.

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.

I Don’t Want It All Back

“What I Miss?”

I don’t want it all back
   just that one morning 
      when I put my phone on the bumper
    and you wore that orange shirt dress
       and shook your head 
     at the idea that everything was going to 
                        work out
          that the angle was right 
     not to cut off our heads
          not to slip off the bumper 
       when the ten second timer hit
     not to have a hundred shots of sky
       on nights like this
         in the middle of the moon
      when the phone has six thousand pics
    and only one 
 of big hair   an ebony hue  an orange blur
       and endless
            endless 
                blue sky
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. (Oh, well…)

Jas. Mardis