I’ll Take You There – Beautiful Detours to Life, Life

“Peter you ain’t Black. You vegetarian….”

I still laugh at my former student’s hilarious comment!

She captured my textured individualities. With adolescent audacity, she reframed and re-envisioned me. She flooded me with joy.

No question she knew I was Black. During classes, she heard in my voice what poet Melvin E. Brown calls “plain scripture.” She witnessed the surging vernacular synergies flowing from my voice. She riffed on the demanding academic and intellectual standards I brought into her LA classroom from my upbringing in 1960s/1970s D.C.

Also, she saw me during lunch breaks scarfing avocado, Ritz crackers, and peanuts! She didn’t know that I’d changed my diet when I was not much older than she was, as a second-year student at Howard University.

I was converted at a speech by Dick Gregory, who pierced me with his humor. First, he welcomed the CIA agent he said was assigned to follow him. Later, he castigated Black folks’ diet and persuasively indicted factory farming. With the overnight righteousness of a convert, I swore off meat. My father, who used to serve me fried chicken hearts still sizzling from the frying pan, swore I had joined a cult!

Whose child am I?

Reality serrates. Enrages. Uglies. Deforms. Yet, open our eyes, click a button, move a molecule, ride the subway, and we can witness resistance, humanity, beauty, renewal.

Reminding me always that we can also manufacture another kind of consensus: We  won’t be afraid of the mysterious, our potential, our respiration.

My beloved Staples Singers promised to take me there, but they left it up to me to outline the geography of where.

And as a mature Mavis Staples sang, 99 and a half just won’t do, when we are working to transform our life-affirming vision into a society beyond chalk outlines.

life life

this season life life
this need life life
this season
this need
this crying season
this laughing need
this peter this man this fool
need this season need this need
need this life need this foolishness

when he cry human
when he he laugh human
morning out the pores
night between the hands
30-year-old vinyl echoes circulate his blood
daily stamina of beauty
recreate sound beyond instinct
this moment
poised with paradox in the back pocket of his humanity
years of gratitude dancing in the near sight eyes
need this season need this need
need this life need this foolishness

I’m thinking about ceremony, ritual, rites of passage to help me bless the ashes on my unfolding, to help me distill experience, to help me embrace life’s multiplication, dance to life’s calculus, hop-skotch the tectonics roiling me to my core. All my adult life, I’ve been thinking outside of the box. Now it’s time to think outside of the hexagram….

So check out my original plan after house sitting for two of my oldest friends. First, drive from the Bay Area to Sequoia National Park. Then stroll and recharge among the elders. But before I hit the interstate, while on a meandering drive, I happened upon Tilden Regional Park, just a short drive from El Cerrito, where I lived during the early 1980s. 

As I drove deeper into the park, I came upon a stand of – what what! – redwoods. Maybe not as old, nor as huge, as those in Sequoia National Park. But the beautiful detour had BECOME the trip.

And there I was. Walking among sensations and memories that told me, in a fragrant, visceral and spontaneous way, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Life Life  … my youth, my maturity … echoing, merging ….

… Black Man of Happiness On the Road …

Searching for grooved pavement ahead. Undeterred when pavement gives way to gone ground found. Fused with the velocity of unexpected joy. The force of joy binding past, present, future.

I ain’t Black. I am elemental!

Father and son ride the Metro Gold Line. Curly haired son looks up to his father, who is tattooed, whose brown skin is splotched with vitiligo.

Son says: You’re black.

Father laughs. I can’t believe you just told me that. What color are you?

Son leans up to his ear.

Orange, huh?

The boy smiles into my eyes. I grin back at them both. I step off the train.

People get ready there’s a train a coming!

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…I’m imagining a richer sphere for The Black Man of Happiness …. Before he demanded that I find language, he judged my constitution fit enough to play the Dozens with a Founding (Step) Father, to interrogate wind shear and whirlwind of my XY explorations on this American earth, and to peer into and beyond the constellation of conditionings and conventions governing African American manhood. He hummed in a fragrant whisper: “Treat yourself kindly!” He said speak up, be bold. He said dance, be startling. He said risk, be example. He said end the war within, be kaleidoscope. He said imagine, seek peace. Become the cat who can walk up behind a brother, who will know it is you, who will turn, look you in the eyes, laugh with you, offer his fist for dap. …” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop

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