Often, spiraling signifies going down slow.

Singing my baby done gone at a microphone wobbling in the middle of quicksand!

All senses. All skin. Touch discerned only through pain receptors!

Spiraling until we become Blues Song Incarnate!

In the glow of sweeter wisdom, I want to embrace spiraling as a new kind of corkscrew.

Spiraling in all directions in search of richer sensations, in search of full-bodied opportunities.

Irradiating toward peak experiences that singe me with excitement. That leave me illuminated with insight. That move me from a state of grace into a state of ecstasy.

All senses. All skin. Touch discerned only through pleasure receptors.

Neuropathways that sizzle into being with a child’s brazen aha!

Intriguing angles swelling into view tinged with surprise and invitation.

In the glow of sweeter wisdom, I spiraled into my artist residency at the Nicholson Project from April 18th – June 26th, 2023, in Washington, D.C., my hometown. I embraced personal history in imaginative and intimate ways as I worked from the live/workspace on Nicholson Street, in hopes that my work would contribute to the project’s mission exploring “positive roles that art and design can play in strengthening the community” of Anacostia, where I grew up.

Southeast D.C. spirals through my cultural DNA. I was a toddler on Howard Road, an adolescent in Parklands. My parents bought their only house on 5th Street in Congress Heights. I graduated from Ballou. My first apartment was off Naylor Road. I danced at festivals in Anacostia Park. EU’s Sugar Bear was my classmate. Chuck Brown played my HS dances. When I visit fam, I take in the vista from the hill outside the Panorama Room. In my American Book Award collection, The Black Man of Happiness, I recall speaking at my father’s funeral: “I see the faces of people who know what it mean to say, ‘I’m from D.C. I’m from Southeast,’” — “dinner tables always big enough for the child of a neighbor who had to work late or who just didn’t have it all together.” My poem “Local Music” says: “thank god I grew up where bridges named after frederick douglass & duke ellington!” For my book SongAgain, MacArthur Fellow Terrance Hayes called me “one of our original gangsters for truth, love and poetry.” That imprinting came from my OG’s — “grown ass, working-class, men and women” — during my formative years in SE.

During my Nicholson Residency, I continued and deepened my reading on happiness including recent books, articles, and digital media on positive psychology; continued my search for LEGACY photos at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Moorland–Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, among other collections; refined drafts of essays/poetry for a book I’m writing on Black male tenderness called Baby Talk: Speak a Little Tenderness; formatted community engagement programs in which discussion/creative prompts are tied to “Mandalas of My Life,” my video commissioned by LA County Museum of Art exploring 44 years of devoted fatherhood; and conversated with my sister and two oldest brothers, including Glenn Harris, award-winning broadcaster and humanitarian whose long career in D.C. broadcasting landed him in the Washington, D.C. SPORTS HALL OF FAME, the SILVER CIRCLE of The National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the National Association of Black Journalist’s SAM LACY PIONEER AWARD.

For a D.C. Native Son born, bred and educated from public schools to Howard University, The Nicholson residency afforded consecrated time to continue my growth within the inspiring context of my old neighborhood. Though too much of African American history has focused rightfully, and righteously, on trauma and pain, I was reinvigorated by work embracing an almost paradoxical assertion by Sissela Bok in her book Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (2011).” [Page 6]:

“The study of happiness never was a luxury to be postponed until more serene, peaceful times.… It is precisely in times of high danger and turmoil that concerns about happiness are voiced most strikingly and seen as most indispensable. From earliest times, views of human happiness have been set forth against the background of suffering, poverty, disease, and the inevitability of death. …” [Page 5]

But all deep thought aside, you know what was at the top of my official Residency to-do list?

Re-up for a library card from the D.C. Public Library’s Anacostia Branch on Good Hope Road, where as a child my mother actually took me for my first library card!

On day one, I borrowed books of poetry and nonfiction that reflected my eclectic spiraling, including the anthology Words of Protest, Words of Freedom:  Poetry of the American Civil Rights Movement and Era, edited by Jeffrey Lamar Coleman; The Mother of All Questions, by Rebecca Solnit; Dying of Whiteness, by Johnathan M. Metzl; The Invention of the White Race, by Theodore W. Allen; and The Firebrand and the First Lady: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, by Patricia Bell-Scott.

And my second official duty?

Purchase my Metro SmarTrip card since I didn’t have a car during my residency.

While I struggled to figure out how to work the imposing fare machine, Brother Robert slid into my peripheral vision offering to help. I was wary and not really down for the interruption, but I flowed with him. After 5 unsuccessful tries to buy my card, I told brother I was going to ask the uniformed staff for help.

Brother Robert was indignant.

“You messing up my commitment!”

“Your commitment!?”

“To help people.”

“You did help me—or you tried to help me!”

“No I didn’t. You still aint got your card!”

I said no problem, Brother Robert. Take this two dollars and let the man in the kiosk earn his pay. The dude behind the kiosk explained the steps to me, which led to me buying my card.

When I went upstairs to catch the bus back to the Nicholson Project, I saw Brother Robert and explained the mistake we made. At first he was dismissive but then I said, ‘Naw, hold up now, let me break this down for you, so next time you can really help someone.’

He listened as I broke it down. He paused then broke out smiling.

“Awight awight I got it now! We just missed one step!”

We dapped and I got on the 32 bus, and rolled on back to the live/work space on Nicholson Street.

MASCON anyone!?
I read of that word in Stephen Henderson’s book Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech & Black Music As Poetic References.

“…Henderson too has that delightful critical propensity for creative definition,” wrote Barry Beckham in a book review in the April 1, 1973 issue of the NY Times. “He introduces the term “mascon” for the “massive concentration of black experiential energy”—meaning, if I read him correctly, linguistic and musical expressions carrying enormous emotional and psychological significance for blacks while defying understanding by outsiders…”  

Aint nothing more electrifying to me than genuine, intimate exchange of ‘mascon’ in real time. 

Thanks Brother Robert for spiraling with me!

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…. I hugged my father for the first time as a political act. As a new father myself at 22, I struggled to find a setting for my temperament. To channel my fears that smart, successful parenting was beyond me. Just out of college, I also felt reined in, flamed out, domesticated, and unable to exercise all I’d learned from professors, students and Howard’s atmosphere of intellectual and social justice struggle against how American power had been used against Black folks. I was a newbie in Baltimore cultural and political circles. Nationalism and Pan Africanism and passion for political backtalk were demanding that I stand for big public ideas and positions. Every young poet wailed like Coltrane. Strung together syllables like Bird. I was changing diapers. Burping Ketema, trying to get him to stop crying (fighting urges to pop him upside his infant head) when his Moms went to exercise classes. I was washing dishes, washing clothes, trying to write, knowing, of course, that responsbile fatherhood was critical to ‘the struggle,’ but sensing I owed more, that more was demanded of me. I felt alone, isolated. The revolutionary missed his daddy. I got out the car in front of the family home on 5th Street. Daddy got up from his seat on the porch swing and eased down the few steps. We met on the concrete walkway that separated the small square of lawn and strip of rose bushes he tended. I hugged him like I usually did, but didn’t let go or just pound his back. I held on for way longer than he thought was proper out front of the house he and Moms had bought in 71 after years of apartment living. He didn’t try and unclench, but he stood there like rigor mortis had set in. Hugging Pops full out had come to me while I washed dishes one night. I was lip synching Lionel Richie on “This Is Your Life,” from The Commodores’ Caught in the Act LP. What’s the point of being publicly political, if your politics separated you from your blessings, the blessings that had kept you fed, clothed, safe, and motivated to go to college. Family, flawed and frustrating and human, was definitely a blessing. As was whatever music fed you! No doubt, growing up meant foraging and forging ideas different from those of your home/womb space. But accrue, boy, I thought, don’t disavow, like an Educated Fool! I’d heard that term from the elders in my extended family and they said it like there was nothing worse a person could ever be. I sure didn’t want to be no educated fool! I decided that hugging my father beyond protocol was the most powerful way to remind my Pops that we still shared the same last name and the easiest way to begin closing our own Inspiration Gap. From that first hug, until he died, every time we greeted each other I hugged him full out. Every time we departed, I hugged him full out. We went from that stiff first hug to damn near slow dragging as we learned how to commune through our embraces. I felt that anything I did in public would be hollow, if I didn’t consolidate all my skills as a virtuoso communicator (and middle child of two big brothers and two younger sisters), and use this gesture as a way to make new music with this man who’d never attended high school, who drank too much, who passed on his values through accrual, not disavowal.…” https://blackmanofhappiness.com/shop/

7 thoughts on “Spiraling”

  1. Brother PJH –

    “He introduces the term “mascon” for the “massive concentration of black experiential energy”—meaning, if I read him correctly, linguistic and musical expressions carrying enormous emotional and psychological significance for blacks while defying understanding by outsiders…” Whoah … duhyamm … “massive concentration of black experiential energy”

    What a stream of energy to recognize, acknowledge, name (the sheer power of naming) and BE in … to embody that sacred force.

    Hearing you talk about D.C./SouthEast … called forth Chicago, Southside … Hyde Park. That vibe, that land, those times … what deep experiences – Perhaps this is planting a seed for me to share it, write about it.

    And the excerpt about your Pops … whew … sigh … long exhale. Thank you for writing and representing brother.

    I see you.



  2. Haha. I am in the midst of writing a poem called Spiral. So fitting to come across this post. The corkscrew. The energy in more than downdraft mode. The music more than minor key blues. The swell of memory into presence, recollection into action, lostness into connection. Thank you for the kick, as always, to go deeper than where I know I would’ve otherwise gone with this particular poem. Rumor is you’ll be at Anansi tonight. Hope to see you there!

  3. Love the reflections, enjoyed the journey returning to home base. Sounds like another few books on the way and we look forward to travelling with you!

  4. Peter, thank you, thank you for once again filling us with sheer joy when troubles are all around us in these difficult times. I loved the story of Robert at the train station, of your DC roots and revisiting them, of the big, authentic, firm embrace of your dad. You emanate joy and humanity in all your writing but especially in this blog. More strength, endurance, and virtuosity to you, Peter, always and forever.


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