Safe Arms

“I am one man that do love his children” …. 

His voice rang across generations and blazed up from the page I was reading in Herbert G. Gutman’s bookThe Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1720-1925

Writing to his wife, who’d been sold from him before the Civil War, the unnamed brother asked: 

“Send me some of the children’s hair in a separate paper with their names on the paper …. You know how I am about my children. You know I am one man that do love my children ….”

I had already been thinking about being emotionally safe and literally safe in someone’s arms, because I was celebrating the 2022 Juneteenth publication of Safe Arms: 20 love and erotic poems (w/an Ooh Baby Baby moan), by FlowerSong Press of McAllen, Texas, with Spanish Translations and cover design by Chilean American Francisco Letelier

Juneteenth also brought the on-line premiere of my new video meditation on the safe arms of fatherhood, “Mandalas of My Life,” commissioned by Alicia Vogl Saenz, Manager of the LA County Museum of Art’s Family Programs Education & Public Programs.

Then on July 5 I crooned happy birthday to my way-grown daughter Adenike, who was laughing at my off-key mangling of the famous melody! 

Shoot, I even literally walked up on an excerpt of one of my poems about fatherhood that was painted on a utility box in Glendale, CA, at the corner of Wilson and Maryland Streets!

I was walking in rhythm, in the words of the Blackbyrds classic song ….

Such pulsating loveliness … was utterly shredded when I learned the sad news that my Second Son had died. Gregory Silver was the biological son of my second wife. We shared our lives during the 1980s into the early 90s. I’m proud that as a grown man Gregory introduced me as his Second Father. 

Though Greg and I weren’t in regular contact, we usually swapped messages on his birthday in February. Greg was a good man who spent many years taking care of his father Horace Silver as his dad’s health deteriorated. His mother informed me that Greg’s wishes were to be cremated and his ashes scattered in a small private ceremony. 

How to feel through this unwanted rite of passage? What is the protocol for calling Greg’s mother from whom I’ve been divorced for almost 30 years? How to even express my grief within the field of his mother’s profound mourning?  Why risk the profound discomfort of trying to help comfort Greg’s mother?  

She needed safe arms that I could no longer offer. I hungered for safe arms that she could no longer offer. 

Yet I made the call. She answered. For 10 minutes, we claimed eternity on behalf of a marvelous young man. Not family. Not together. But there … present … together.

Keep your eyes on life! 

It will teach you to hum the lullaby – soothingwordlessaffirming, even funky – that the baby in us need to hear …    

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…  Coda #2: February 2013. It’s 32 years after I moved cross country to live with him and his Moms. I notice the flashing light on my telephone. I’ve got a voicemail. I dial up the code and listen: I hear Greg’s familiar staccato. He’s laughing. Voice verging on falsetto. Good humor floods me. I’m smiling before I listen to the actual message. Parents of grown children live for these magical check-ins, these unexpected life lines, these reminders that our kids consider us eligible for an unscripted moment of their time. The message in full:

“Peter what’s happening man. It’s Greg. Just shouting you out. I bought the Essential Earth Wind & Fire. I had bought my father this BluRay of Earth Wind & Fire, which inspired me to buy their greatest hits…. And I was like, damn, I can’t listen to this music without thinking of you, every morning, playing that in the morning, on your way to work, or on my way to school. I was like, this is the Soundtrack of Our Lives! Had to shout you out, man! Hope all is well. I love you. I’ll talk to you soon. Take care.” Several times, I press 1 to replay the message. With each listen, the years melt away. I feel like the grown up I always wanted to be for him. The grown up he proudly calls his Second Father. I want y’all to clap your hands this evening .…”

3 thoughts on “Safe Arms”

  1. A heartfelt homage to a son. These line resonates with me: “I’m smiling before I listen to the actual message. Parents of grown children live for these magical check-ins, these unexpected life lines, these reminders that our kids consider us eligible for an unscripted moment of their time.”

  2. “… that the baby in us need to hear”——Man, you packed this reflection with all the feels!!
    Can you hear me clapping?


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