Sunday, August 28, 2016

Kaepernick Wont Stand for the National Anthem, and Neither Will I



For as long as I have remembered the most difficult thing about going to sporting events, participating about sports in high school and even just listening to the Red Sox on the radio has been the Star Spangled Banner. In fact, I would say my relationship to that little piece of civil religion has followed me my whole life. When I was a very young child, I was getting ready for nap time when an announcement came over the intercom at our school saying that we should all stand for the national anthem, and I did. Then when the song ended, we were told to put our hands over our heart as the whole school did the pledge of allegiance, which I did not know, my parents had never taught me. After telling my father about this he sat me down and talked to me about what those things meant. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should not stand, nor put my hand on my heart and that I most certainly should not pledge my allegiance to a flag. He told me that he and my mother wanted our family’s allegiance to be to God, to our fellow humans and not to a force which actively warred against both. I asked him what allegiance was, and he told me that in essence my allegiance was my soul, to pledge my allegiance was to pledge how would I would spend my life, what I would support and what I would allow to give me direction. God seemed like a decent thing to give my allegiance to if for no other reason that God had never to that point told me to do anything and I am awful at following directions. So I carried on as my father had told me, not standing when we went to Wolfpack hockey games, nor at Rock Cat games, not when I was yelled at by my fourth grade teacher and physically dragged out of the classroom, not when I was sent to the principal’s office by my eighth grade social studies teacher and spent the remainder of the year sitting outside the classroom during the announcements, not when I got into an argument with my sophomore year history teacher over 1st amendment rights and was sent from the classroom yet again, not when my wrestling coach gave me extra laps and push ups for making the team look bad, not even when my baseball coach told me that if I wanted to play America’s pastime I better love America. I have been called everything from traitor to terrorist by my peers, my friends, my fellow church members, my coaches, my teachers and even my relatives. These experiences made choosing my college very easy, the college I ended up attending had sparked national controversy the year before by declaring it would no longer play the national anthem before sporting events, and for the first time I could attend soccer games without getting awkward stares and angry glares for being the only one seated while the star spangled banner was sung.


It was while studying religion at this college that i began to research civil religion and the more I learned, the more I came to understand not only my position but the position of those who had hated me, argued with me and been hurt by me for my non-compliance. In America (and in many countries) we worship our country. We lay down our lives for this country, we take lives for this country, we see our country as a light in the dark world, we believe our country is beyond reproach, everywhere around us is the message of how important our country is, how it represents freedom and justice and equality, and in that light of course I seem like a malcontent for not pledging myself to that. However the more I learned about civil religion the more I became scared of it. The yawning void between what America is, and what we are told it is, is where I have grown up, and is all I have known. I grew up in the North End of Hartford, experiencing the segregation that while not enforced by laws is none the less present. Hartford is so segregated that even though I was “as Irish as Paddy's pig” as my dad liked to say, and had the skin and complexion to match, I was frequently asked by folks in the neighborhood who didn’t know me if I was Puerto Rican. This is because a Puerto Rican person looking like me, made more sense than a white kid growing up in the North End. Everytime I hear the words “Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave,O'er the land of the free, And the home of the brave?” I cannot help but scoff because in my experience the American flag does not wave over a land that fits that description. Is this really the land of the free when we have more incarcerated citizens than China, than anyone? Are we the home of the brave when we have been cowering before narratives of hatred and racism so deep that on any given weekday around 5 PM you can watch as hundreds if not thousands of white workers flee from Hartford to return home to gated communities and suburbs? That my best friend will have people cross the street when they see him, follow him around in stores and generally fear him with no knowledge about him based on the color of his skin? That we callously accept that any male over the age of 18 in the Middle East can and will be categorized as an enemy combatant to be killed by drone attacks. We live very far from such a land.


The national anthem we know is part of our civil religion it is the hymn with which we worship the idea of our country, and the values it extols are indeed noble, however they paint an incomplete picture. The country being sung about when this song was written, did not include black and brown people amongst those who could call the nation home. In fact the only time that the song does refer to black/brown people is in the often unheard third verse: “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion, A home and a Country should leave us no more?Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave. O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” According to Jason Johnson a writer for The Root who wrote on the racism of our national anthem this past summer, the verse is about the attacking the slaves who fought on the side of the British. A couple centuries ago when this song was written, racism was being built up as a cornerstone of American culture, and the evidence is here in the lyrics, these men would not free, not in the land that is being described here.


All of this brings me to this morning, when I picked up the Hartford Courant hoping to read about the Red Sox and instead found an article by Jeff Jacobs called “Kaepernick's Act Heartfelt, But Divisive.” Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the anthem during NFL games has created a lot of op ed sports pieces about the role of nationalism in sports and vice versa, and Jacobs claims that Kaepernick is essentially, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, that what the song symbolizes is more powerful as a unifying force, and that Kaepernick’s decision is selfish and wrong footed. Luckily, Jacobs doesn’t assume he is the be all end all of the discussion and says “Maybe I'm missing something here, but Kaepernick missed that point. He went after the American symbol. He had to know he would alienate a huge segment of our society and create an instant backlash. In my mind, he went selfish, not selfless. Hey, look, at me! I'm not standing for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Right off the bat, that will inflame millions of Americans.” You’re right Jeff, you missed something. You missed the fact that this song was written at the same time that racist systems were being created that would destroy black and brown bodies and souls for centuries to come. Far from missing the point, Kaepernick is acknowledging that the anthem describes an America that is largely unavailable to black and brown Americans. The systems that enslaved Africans hundreds of years ago are not somehow separated from the systems that are allowing police to murder and assault black and brown Americans today. The narratives that white people created and recreated to perpetuate the destruction and enslavement black people are the same ones that white people are using to fight back a movement whose only point is to simply convince the country that the lives of innocent people should matter regardless of skin color. What Kaepernick is doing is simply saying that he can no longer worship at the altar of America, not while it soaked in the blood of black and brown bodies. I understand how awful this piece will sound to folks who are patriotic, folks who have put their lives on the line for the ideals of this country, who have made it part of their identity. Folks who have incorporated patriotism into their soul, as I have with my religion. My religion is also corrupted by power and wealth, my religion also has a long and terrible legacy of violence and destruction, and yet I live and pray by the ideals of my religion, and I know people who live and pray by the ideals of America. Those ideals however, should not and cannot prevent us from criticizing the legacies of our institutions, the violence of our institutions and work at repairing them.If we cannot examine them critically how will they ever live up to our ideals? Or maybe a better question: if we cannot examine ourselves critically, examine how our own biases and prejudices have helped perpetuate the violence in our institutions, how will we ever live up to our ideals?





Jason Johnson: "Star-Spangled Bigotry: The Hidden Racist History of the National Anthem"
http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2016/07/star-spangled-bigotry-the-hidden-racist-history-of-the-national-anthem/





Jeff Jacobs: “Kaepernick's Act Heartfelt, But Divisive.”
http://www.courant.com/sports/hc-jacobs-column-0828-20160827-story.html

Friday, June 17, 2016

Icarus

Today, I heard the story of Icarus in a whole new way,
Today, his wings didn't break beneath the sun,
There was no heat melting wax, no feathers gently falling away,
There was nothing slow about the abrupt end of ascension.
This Icarus crashed against the barbed wire ceiling that hangs over this city,
his wings were torn to shreds, his fall reached a terminal velocity.
We are taught to blame Icarus,
We are taught to see Icarus as filled with braggadocio and  lacking in self control,
we refuse to see that he was only born with a buoyant soul,
Souls such as these long to scratch the sky,
To look down on the world with God at their shoulder, clouds at their toes
and heaven laid out before them.
And of course we fail them.
Barbwire ceilings do not occur naturally,
Our cities aren't meant to be inescapable, inhospitable 
they arent meant to put so many in the hospital,
in the ground,
and if you hear the faint sound,
sneakers scraping against celestial chain link,
stop for a moment and just think,
did you see him today?
did he just start to sink?
did he do a loop the loop,
start from his front stoop,
touch the sky with Kanye,
then hit the green house to hoop?
He wont get a filibuster, he's a forgone conclusion, 
and we pretend not to see his wounds and contusions,
Black's dont crack, dont bleed, dont feel pain,
will always be blamed, always be shamed 
and excuse me if this sounds like a refrain,
but if all lives matter,
why wont we talk about him?
Is it cause when Icarus has ebony wings,
that don't melt in the sun, but shine beneath the moon,
it's that much easier to close your eyes?
fall asleep as we whisper gentle lies,
it'd be harder if you could hear is brother cry,
his mother cry, my mother cried,\
I pray to God that an angels wings are made from more than wax,
That they can transcend barbed wire,
that they might carry Icarus higher,
than our world was ever going to let him fly. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Task Manager

With the emergence of the personal computer,
many of us have forgotten our savior,
the task manager. 
Three quick buttons to open up a program,
that shows you everything your computer is doing,
the things that are responding and those that arent,
and you are given the option 
to end the tasks.
End those parts that arent working right now
End those parts so that others can still function,
It was a fairly useful thing. 
Leaps in technology mean that nowadays it is fairly rare for your page to freeze
and if it does freeze, 
Google Chrome will kindly offer to kill it for you.
The following pages are unresponsive:
The lesson today
The notes you should be taking
The test in front of you
would you like to kill these pages?
No Google I cant kill the lesson,
I cannot kill the classes I am in
I cannot kill the way the color of the sky is particularly blue today,
I cannot kill the way that tree outside looks really good for climbing
I cannot kill the red jelly bean that somehow made its way to the middle of the freaking carpet.
I mean I guess I could go pick it up. 
but that might disrupt class.
Shit class, are we still taking an exam?

Some days I wish I had a task manager.
Some days I wish I could control alter and delete my disorder,
Some days I fantasize about having a brain that isnt made from loose yarn, and bad ideas
Some days I would trade every creative bone in my body to just sit through a class.
Some days I wish my mind would calm down
Some nights I wish sleep came easily
Sounds like insomnia,
Some nights I wish I could worry about one thing and not everything,
Sounds like anxiety,
Some nights I wish I could simply sit,
Without being besieged by a thousand obligations
Sounds like OCD
Sounds like things a lot worse than ADD
The disorder we made up to excuse bad behavior
See I have been called everything from sped to stupid
And while I know next to nothing about brain chemistry
I know the inside of my own skull well enough 
to see loose wiring and insufficient insulation
And sometimes the wires connect,
and a bunch of buzzfeed articles will tell you,
that the ADD brain is uniquely creative,
Sounds almost sincere,
just like every professor who said,
You're brain isn't quite right
Have you tried adderall
Have you tried adderall 
Have you tried adderall
Fine.
I'll try it.
Throw back a little bit of self control,
Swallow small blue responsibility,
and wait...
Pages loading...
Pages loading...
The page "personality" is unresponsive,
The page "friendly" is unresponsive
The page "extrovert"is unresponsive 
Would you like to kill these pages?
Too late you already have. 



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Notes for When My Child Falls in Love

1. Do not be afraid, this is going to be freaking awesome.
2. It's ok to be afraid, there will be times when this seems like anything but awesome.
3. I guess what I am saying is don't be worried about the aches in your chest and tears in your eyes, they are a beauty that humanity has been obsessed with for centuries. We might even figure out what it all means eventually, but probably not.
4. The first time you chip off a piece of your heart to give away, the person you give it to might not understand what they are holding onto, give that piece anyways and dont even worry about it, I will have packed pieces of my heart in your backpack, your lunch box and eyes so that you are never running low.
5. When you do meet that person that makes your heart speed up, your hands sweat, and your tongue twist itself into a pretzel of all of the things you want to say, some of the things you should say and a whole lotta nonsense, you will be overwhelmed and that's fine, let yourself get lost in the feeling like a wave crashing over you, let it carry you safely to shore, let it pull you out to sea, you are in the midst of something irresistible, and sometimes it is nice to be carried.
6. For the record, should you be pulled under the water, should your lungs become flooded and the light start to fade, I will be standing there, I will pull you up to oxygen and safety, to sunlight and stability, but if you are anything like me you will immediately plunge yourself into the ocean again because that is the type of person that our family produces.
7. When it all goes to shit, which happens with surprising frequency I will be there for caloric therapy, and romantic comedies and books and poetry and all of the coping mechanisms that I have used, and you will probably want to sulk and be alone and that's cool too, but dont be surprised when every meal we have is based around comfort food.
8. Should I find out that you have been anything less than careful and considerate with someone else's heart, I will teach you a lesson you never forget, opening up the boxes of damaged pieces of my heart that will have probably collected dust in the attic. I will show you the bruises and breaks that accrue over time, and dont always stop hurting, you will watch your father cry and you will know that you have got to be careful with things that are precious.
9. Don't forget that you are precious, that you are to be handled with care, that you are chaos and cosmos, that no one but you will ever get to decide your limits, that your hand could snatch stars from the sky and fix them to your ears that you might hear the songs the universe is playing, that your eyes will run clear like a river and that your soul is unblemished by malice and beloved by a God who gave you to me with a complete list of all of the ingredients she included, and instructions to light a fire in your chest to share with the world.
10. the first time you decide to write a love poem, promise me you'll show it to me first so that I can tell God you caught the fire she requested and that you are ready to share the world. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Matriarch

My mother is a tree with roots, branches and leaves.
My mother's roots break concrete and dig deep into our city,
they find life water past the sewers,
Yea, my mother finds love,
 and goes through a lot of shit to do so.
My mother's roots are as Irish as potatoes and whiskey,
as Irish as wooden spoon swords and oat meal,
as Irish as fire and poetry,
and she fed me through those roots.
My mother's roots raised me not to lift hands in anger,
My mother's roots love the earth that surrounds them,
My mother's roots weather storms and cataclysms,
My mother's roots are stubborn,
My mother's roots do not give up,
My mother's roots find hope in the darkness.

My mother is a tree with roots, branches and leaves.
My mother's branches reach out into the sky,
seeking to catch falling angels before they hit the ground.
My mother's branches spread out to entangle other trees,
creating cradles in the forest.
My mothers branches dip low,
almost touching the ground,
so that they might be climbed by kids searching for heaven.
My mother's branches are shelter from the summer,
My mother's branches are worship and prayer,
My mother's branches protect me,
My mothers branches are a home when I dont deserve one,
My mother's branches do not accept excuses,
My mother's branches are strong enough to hold up a world.
My mother's branches never forget, but always forgive.

My mother is a tree with roots, branches and leaves.
My mother's leaves do not fall, they float.
The orange touch of autumn is not feared or loathed
See my mother teaches her leaves that for everything there is a season,
but in that admission she sees no reason
to ever accept anything less than justice and love,
My mother loves her leaves like they will never leave her,
My mother's leaves will eventually leave her
My mother's leaves will never be left by her,
My mother's leaves are lifted to be fed by sunshine and freedom,
My mother's leaves catch the wind at just the right angle,
so that they might hear it whisper of beauty and change,
My mother's leaves are unlike that of any other tree,
My mother's leaves love the ground beneath them,
as if from the moment they first tasted air,
they knew that the world was limited and precious,
as if they had been taught about grace and hope and courage,
as if they had grown on a tree,
that loved unconditionally.




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Praying to Pecola


In November of 2011 my sister gave birth,
Three months before her due date,
Lily came into the world,
And she was perfect.
We cradled her,
We whispered in her ear
We sheltered her
We held her close against our chests
We loved her.

She had milk chocolate skin,
Dark eyes that dared defiance,
And a smile that was entirely too old
for someone who arrived three months early.

In the three years that have passed since then,
She has been inundated by adjectives:
She has been called sweet.
She has been called precious.
She has been called beautiful.
We shower her with love,
and dread the day she leaves the house.

We fear the day that she enters the world,
We fear the day she gets called ugly for the first time
We can see the word on her lips as she echoes it
Her mouth unsure,
Like tasting a flavor it has not yet encountered
Not a spice, salt or sugar,
Something that tastes wholly different
Unlike anything she has ever been exposed to
The taste of cruelty.

We dread the day she holds up a white doll
That she will no doubt be handed
By some well meaning charitable white person
And asks, “Why doesn’t she look like me?”
We dread the day those eyes,
That once held an unquestionable authority,
Glaze over in tears and confusion,
And wonder if maybe
Their hue is anything less than perfect.

We know this will one day happen
We have heard from prophets like Angelou and Morrison
The stories of an era in which racism
Was worn on sleeves and hoods
Before we hid it away,
Before we buried an empty coffin called it dead
Before we named ourselves post racial
And pretended the scars our society sliced into humanity
Had faded into unmarred flesh.

They haven’t.
They are less scars than they are scabs
Wounds waiting within our kids
To be torn open
To spill scarlet once more
To become infected avulsions
The broken results of our children trying to pull out
Beauty standards they had no role in creating
Rotten teeth ideals that both bite and bleed

We have inundated her with adjectives,
In the hopes of using all the space in her heart
Leaving no room for slurs and slander
Leaving no room for hate and anger
Because she is ours and we have claimed her

We will not have her pray for relief from white Jesus
Will not have her weep for blue eyes
We will pray for intercession,
From Pecola, From Claudia, From Frieda
From Rosa, From Coretta, From Alice,
That God would reach down,
With hands as dark as coffee,
And cradle Lily to her breast,
Kiss her like cocoa butter,
Until she loves every inch of herself,

As much as we do.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Prayer for Heavy Handed Boys

My sister told me I had heavy hands.
and it wasn't always my fault
But even play fights were prone to bruising,
and still I am sometimes afraid of my hands.
So I pray at the start of every day:

Lord grant me the strength,
that these fingers would stretch instead of clench
that these hands would swing not like clubs
but like chariots,
dipping down for a soul that could lead me home.

Oh great carpenter forgive me,
for every blasphemous profanity
that might escape my lips
at the countless blisters, burns and bruises,
born of a thousand projects
forgive me also,
for those which will not be completed
and keep in my hands the dull desire to create.

God make it so that the calluses
that I will no doubt collect
will always be the roughest thing about these hands
that even in play, these hands would catch
kids who leap into the air
testing gravity
daring it to slip up for even a moment.

Oh Mother of God,
make that these hands could be cradles
that they could shelter that which is most precious
that I could give, if even for just a moment
a small modicum of safety.

Please God,
Let Arthritis riddle my knuckles,
let them become knotted,
let my hands be warped into caricatures,
let them be purposeless with pain,
let them contort themselves beyond recognition,
let them fail to do all that which hands do,
Lord, let them do all this,
before they do what is sometimes too easy for them,
let my hands fall useless at my sides,
before they ever seek to cleave flesh from bone,
before they ever draw blood from its holy sanctuary.
Let my hands never be extensions of violence, God.

I pray by all my favorite saints and sinners,
that my hands would embody the creative forces of life
Lord let pens and pencils form familiar indents in my hands,
let it be, so that stories and stanzas flow freely
carving valleys into plain pages
let a river of of writing pour forth from these hands,
let ink and graphite stain my my finger tips,
let flowers of unintentional beauty encroach upon these digits
and let me love them for it.

At all times God
let me hear the faintest whisper,
the sound of my big sister,
reminding me to be careful with these heavy hands.