It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – June Harris, Moms’ Mantra
We walked through a row of tall trees in LA’s Barnsdall Park to reach the clearing where S. Pearl Sharp had set up the altar for a ceremony to bless the book I’d written in my richest militant falsetto.
I asked her to design a ceremony to bless my extended solo exploring answers to a personal and cultural question: What IS a happy Black man? To be our guide, she chose Orland Bishop, whose work straddles the limitless All ‘n All as well as the day-to-day vicissitudes of Everything is Everything.
I wanted to go beyond marketing for this independently published book. I wanted to honor the rite of passage I’d faced when writing my essays. Ironically, I struggled to earn income to keep a house threatened by foreclosure. And I worked with Adenike on a call-and-response section of her master’s thesis to help us heal from the havoc wreaked by her former stepfather.
Standing in a circle around the altar, at the nexus of the spiritual and the bidnez, I experienced what Pearl called in her exquisite film a healing passage.
I wanted the ceremony to be tender and tied to the world. It was. I wanted the ceremony to gird me for the LIFE of the book, not just SALES of the book. It did.
I wanted the ceremony to quiet my inner editor, my never-satisfied inner critic, so I could confidently embrace the fragrance of the book. It did….
Uh, for the most part, lol! Definitely will need future ceremonies to quiet my quest for the perfect sentence! And the thoughts, ideas and construction in perfect musical synergy. See? My bad…!
Mainly, I wanted to stand together with powerful, poetic friends. Folk who’ve traveled with me for almost 30 years through the labyrinth of my life as son, father, Second Father, and grandfather; as lover; apprentice to wiser big brothers; as straight man crafting brotherhood with my gay Homeboy; as an orphan finding affirmation after my father’s death; even as survivor and symbol of deep healing that blossomed from my agonizing work confronting, surviving, and transcending Adenike’s violation by another Black man who once shook my hand and pledged ethical co-parenting.
“You want to sit down?”
It’s Juneteenth 2021. Day before Father’s Day. I’m on LA Metro’s Expo Line. It’s crowded. Homeboy’s duffel bag takes up an empty seat. I pause.
Do I want any part of CRAZY today?
Brotherman moves his duffel bag to his lap. I decide to accept his gesture.
“I’m paying attention,” he says almost whispering.
Is this individual talking to himself!
But he looks at me and we nod in that honorable Round the Way.
He’s signaling: I aint crazy. I want to talk.
“I aint sure what you mean.”
“….I know people look at me and think, ‘He aint shit!’
And nobody wants to sit next to him.
He sinks back into sotto voice. I accept that it’s my day to witness and participate. Basically I tell him, if he wants to talk, then speak up. I’ll listen but then he got to listen to me when I answer. He must agree, because he speaks so I can hear him.
“But today it’s payday on my new job as security guard.”
Our winding conversation lands finally on his life goal: get a crib and “get custody of my babies.” He pulls out his phone and shows me a photo of himself with 3 children he says are 8, 7 and 5. We ooh and aaahh.
“While you got your phone out, pull up my website.”
He does. He smiles. Intrigued. A happy Black man?
“Who you? What you do?”
I give the Metro summary, what consultants call the elevator pitch. But I aint pitching but one thing.
“When you work your plan until you get yourself together, you write me through my website and you say, ‘Hey Mr. Harris it’s CT who gave you a seat on the Metro. I got my shit together!’”
We stand up and exit at the final stop at 7th & Metro.
“And I promise I’ll write you back within 24 hours. I promise I’ll write you back in celebration!”
He walks left. I walk right. Straddling the limitless All ‘n All as well as the day-to-day vicissitudes of Everything is Everything.
So many of them … on the avenue of speechlessness …
Please come Great Voice” – Larry Neal
disciplined as a second-string infielder
poised to turn two in an exhibition game
umpired by prison inmates
leaping to avoid concussion of one-note meanings
barreling out of American history
whose child am I?
genuflecting to the reverb of Curtis Mayfield’s mantras in 3-minute anthems?
even spreading bubble gum to repave the avenue of speechlessness
whispering the Great Voice
so gentle a Christian aunt feels my love
I still get asked
how can you be an American man?
just nudging my volume past protocol
frightens the uninitiated
how can you be a Black man?
just frowning in concentration
intimidates Topps card collectors
Peter, you ain’t Black. You vegetarian!
is how Jessica put pestle into mortar after class one day
virtuoso grand daughter of the voice for integrity
converting agony of foremothers
chained within clauses of declarations
flinging alchemy & medicine from tectonics of puberty
vexing barometers of who can I be
throwing out inevitability at first base
by a mile with her brash jubilation
resolution in her exuberance
discerning comadre of my masculine independence
Final note: As part of our ceremony, Pearl gave us mini bottles to blow bubbles. Years later, at another ceremony at her home, Orland brought Pearl a bottle filled with natural spring water. As Curtis Mayfield, THE Militant Falsetto, sang (to Life itself?): I’m so proud!
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…Alright, I’m busted. I’m really not (just) a good brother. I’m a healer. There, I’ve said it. Said it in the sympathetic voice you can thank Black churches for. That voice you hear within the harmony that snatches a love song into a realm way beyond the charts. Full of understanding and hope, and any laughter is live and mutual and it ain’t in the background. This is the historical voice that’s energized even the most exasperated loved one to climb over the weariness because she believes in our goodness. I’m a healer. Not the elusive The Healer. Just one healer against manipulation and for inspiration. Believing Black men have the capacity to act and do right. Resting on our tradition of contribution above and beyond any definition that describes us only as reflections of male privilege. …” https://blackmanofhappiness.com/shop/