The Fringe Grabber

The place reeked of hard luck, bad people, and sob stories.

I was in that place, trying to gather up the scraps of what was left of my soul.

************

   There was nowhere for me to be, and no one to care if I got there.

   I was sitting on the sidewalk watching the news van unpack some gear.

   The reporter was a walking mannequin of bleached blonde and silicone, pretty in the plastic way such people were.

   I heard her say, “These homeless people are on the fringe of society,” as the cameraman boldly took a shot of me on my urban perch.

   At least now I knew where I was in relation to the rest of the world.

   On the fringe.  In my mind it was a wet, flapping, fringe growing more slippery the tighter I tried to hold on with a hand full of frostbite, arthritis, and gods-knew-what-else.

   I wanted to make her beg.

   Beg for what?

   Her life? Not a killer.

   For me to stop? Not a rapist.

   To make her cum? Not a billionaire.

   Maybe food. Yeah. Beg for scraps in a trash-strewn alley scented with alcoholic urine, and take some half-eaten pastry at the top of the trash for dessert.

                           

                                                ************

The Homeless: brought out for the holidays like decorations, and tucked neatly away again after New Year’s.

But I digress. That was long ago, but she was that pretty, that annoying, and the phrase just stuck with me: “…fringe of society.”

I was still holding on to that fringe, but I didn’t know why.

Below me was nothing but blackness, full of peace and quiet.

Poe used another phrase that stuck with me: ‘…surcease from sorrow.’

All I had to do was let go, but I was no quitter, either.

You don’t qualify.

  The apartment was rented.

  I don’t have any money, bro.

  Get outta here, perv.

  Fuck off, monster.

  And the ubiquitous Get a job.

The funny thing is, part of the reason I didn’t give up was pride.

What would it take to actually kill me? I’ve certainly become strong.

  Surcease of sorrow/ the sun will come out tomorrow. Not a good mashup, but it’s what I held onto for now.

“Kevin Gilliam?”

Ah, at last, summoned before the throne of Her Majesty Civil Servant, the Millionth.

But this voice was different; it didn’t have that world weary tone, and it was actually pleasant.

I rose like Leviathan out of the mud.

The young Lady of the Pleasant Voice favored me with a smile.

Ah, she’s new, and yet believes in what she’s doing. Be kind, and don’t shatter her dreams of making a difference.

   “Good morning, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Good morning.”

“Follow me, please?”

I followed.

We walked through a Land of Cubicles, strewn with soulless drones vainly trying to stem the tide of hopeless refuse, to reach down and boost up the fringe grabbers like me.

They probably all started out like this young lady here, full of determination and hope, with a noble sense of purpose.

Tilting at windmills…

“Sit down, please, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Alright,” I sat.

She settled herself in, tapping the folder full of papers on the desk to straighten out the edges, put it down, and extended her hand across the desk.

“I’m Tina. Nice to meet you.”

I was so surprised I gave her my name too though she already knew it.

She laughed, but I sensed it was at the moment, not me.

“Sorry.” I found myself smiling.

“Don’t be. Nice to meet you, Kevin.

I found myself beginning to relax as we released hands.

“What happened to Althea?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, but she got sick and had to resign. She didn’t know how long she was going to need, or …if she was coming back.”

I was sad, but not really surprised. Althea hadn’t been the same in a long time, and I knew what I was looking at after awhile.

“Sooo, they gave me her case file, and you’re in it.” She turned to her computer and fired it up, then went back into the folder.

As it booted, I said “She’d been talking about retiring for awhile anyway. I hope she’s okay.”

Tina gave me a small smile. She had a nice one.

“Last I heard, she was fighting it all the way.”

“Good for her. So you’re gonna help me now?”

“I’m going to do my best.” The computer blipped and the dark monitor lit up, an electronic Cyclops with a blind eye full of wisdom it didn’t understand.

“Alrighty, let’s see…”

She tapped some keys, read a bit, tapped some more.

I slouched in the chair and looked down at my hands.

Tina was young, vibrant, and beautiful; I didn’t want to be a creep like I’d been with the reporter.

I was going to miss Althea; she made me laugh in spite of my circumstances. She never found me anything, but I always left feeling better for a little while.

“—were a professor?”

I looked up. “What?”

“You were a professor.”

“Yes. You had my file…”

“No sir, well, yes, but I got your file so I could get your name; I didn’t get the chance to read it yet. I didn’t see this information.”

“Oh.”

We fell into a silence as she read through what I taught, and what happened.

The silence held a mild tension, stretching into awkward, when she seemed to make a decision; she turned her chair facing me.

“I may have something for you.”

I stopped fidgeting. “I’m listening.”

“I’m still in school, taking night classes, and I need help.”

I sat up straight and rolled my chair back a bit, hoping this wasn’t going to take a bad turn.

“Help with what?”

“My research and term papers.”

“How is that going to help me?”

“I’d pay you, Mr. Gilliam.”

“What do you mean, Tina…?” My stomach sank.

She laughed and shook her head at my expression.

“With money, Mr. Gilliam. I’d pay you to help me with my papers.”

My face heated. “Oh! Oh, well, I… Tina, I don’t have a bank account anymore.”

“I can help you with that too. Mr. Gilliam, I’d even refer you to my friends, if this works out.”

She gave another small, somewhat embarrassed laugh and rolled her eyes.

“We all need help. I don’t know if you want to teach anymore, but if you’re willing, will you do it?”

“Won’t you get in trouble?”

She sat back, smiling. “I handle the paperwork. If I can’t, I’ll call Althea to find out who can. I won’t do anything to jeopardize you or me. We can set it up as a tutoring service. You’d be self-employed, Mr. Gilliam.”

Her chair came toward me again, her eyes hopeful, her voice quiet.

“What do you say?”

Things got blurry, and at first I wasn’t sure why…
“Mr. Gilliam? Oh!  Mr. Gilliam?” Smiling, she handed me a tissue. “Mr. Gilliam, please don’t cry.”

In my mind I wrapped the wet fringe around my fingers. It was a start.

Surcease from sorrow…

 

I of the Storm

Within, you see,

is where the tumult resides.

It does not break its bond

to the outside world,

cracking the enamel of

my tremulous smile.

Trust is hard.

Love is harder.

Faith makes it possible,

but still I must

choose to believe.

And that,

oh that,

my dear, trembling

heart,

I will never do again.

All My Everything

There’s reason to go on, they say.

Just take it slow and day by day.

But see, I know I’ve lost my way.

And no, my friend, it’s not okay.

Good intentions, noble hearts.

No avail, my life’s in parts.

Some are missing, some are old.

Tarnished is the burnished gold.

With a rueful smile I see

There’s no getting back to me.

So with what remains, I’ll go,

Hat in hand, a so-and-so.

What’s that, friend?

You’ll say a prayer?

Does my heart good

that you care.

Thank you for that.

Leaving now.

God don’t answer

why or how.

Still, I won’t say no.

You pray.

Say it as I

walk away.

Love you too friend,

don’t you cry.

Don’t think I’ll be back

to try

starting over,

learning new.

Time is short,

and days are few.

Gonna watch the sun go set.

Come with me, and pray, and let us

share that moment,

knowing why .

And when the sun sets.

So will I.

 

In the Black

And these, my hopes,

now come to stillness,

spent in small and looping

hopeless, frothing eddies,

broken on stones

upon this lifeless shore.

 

The angels weep on me.

Their sobs are thunder.

They snap their saddened sodden wings

to the rhythm of

my racing, raging heart

and sear the sky

with lightning.

 

And out there, my dreams…

There! Floating on the rising tide,

are sailing far and fast,

eluding me forever

with full-wind sails,

but a

cracking mast….

They do not know.

Let them drown adrift,

as my sorrow

in my cups.

 

For now, though despairing in black,

beneath black clouds,

by black water, in black mood,

I yet await

the shining sun,

and

the turning tide.

 

 

 

Do the Bones of Men Remember?

Do the

bones of men

remember days

of brave and

daring deeds?

Do they long for

love and battle

when they rode their

noble steeds?

Do they mourn

the silent rhythm

of a strong and

beating heart?

Do they miss the

lilt of melody

and master works

of art?

Do they once recall

the clamor and the clanging

of their toil?

And the scent of

perfumed women

and the seasons

and the soil?

Do the

bones of men

remember night

and moon and sea

and star?

Do they contemplate

the faulted flesh that made them

what they are?

Do the bones remember

holding onto children, home

and wife?

Do the bones remember

anything at all of

loving life?

When we return to dust

I pray our bones will only sleep,

instead of dreaming

of the things of life

we couldn’t keep.

 

A Night in Battered Armor

I see you

Black Woman

in the armor

we forced you

to wear,

so you could

fight

when you would

Love

 

I see you

Black Woman

a sad and weary

patience

in your eyes

waiting for

the next

bone-wearying

Battle,

challengers

coming from

everywhere at once

 

I see you

Black Woman

your smile and laughter

as distant a memory

as the hills

that

surround you.

 

I see you

Black Woman

the song

in your heart

now the moans

of winds across

a desolate, bleak,

and wretched

landscape

 

I see you

Black Woman

looking across

the widening chasm

as your champion

turns to become

your opponent

 

I see you

Black Woman

wiping

the tears

from your armor

lest the salt

dull its shine

as it rusts

your soul

 

I see you

Black Woman

standing alone

in your own

cold shadow

dreading

but

living

to fight

another day.

 

I see you

Black Woman

Beautiful

 

Our Future

Looking into

the distance

her eyes

contain

the vision

of herself

 

On stage

in front of

thousands

 

But now

the working through

the struggles

and failures

 

the pain

and the waxing

desire to quit

and leave it all

behind

 

Until tomorrow

when the

echoes of

thundering applause

and the phantom scent

of

bundles of flowers

 

And the

smiles and tears

the fruit of her

labor of love

will generate

 

will one day

no longer

be only

echoes

and phantoms

 

So, my people,

 

Let us strive

Together

toward the reality

of our dreams

Lifting not only

our voices

but our

Souls

 

 

 

Aren’t You Tired?

Hatred

takes

time and energy

 

Hatred

wears away

the good in us

by gradual degrees

of erosion until

you no longer

realize

you’re empty

inside

 

Hatred is

tiring to

perpetuate

 

Hatred is

tiresome to

its victims

and targets

 

Hatred

is based

on

private preferences

in a

public world.

 

 

Let us be done with

Hatred

and be about

the business

of rebuilding

the land

we now share

and each other

 

We will never

purge evil

as long as we

practice it

look the other way

when it occurs

take pictures of it

say “Glad it’s not me.

and

convince ourselves

‘it will never change

because we can’t change.”

 

Why not?

 

A Moment of Weakness, A Lifetime of Pain

Your life upended,

just wanting to feel good

for a moment,

 

The serpent slithered down

and flicked your ear with

a silver tongue

 

Betrayed, you were

hung up

strung out

and dying slow

 

The jester bested

the king

 

And the pain of your need

dimmed the light of your soul

 

You’d say anything

Do anything

Kill anyone

 

And now

the programs sprout

like mushrooms

pretty with disease

nutritious with bacteria

 

And you live in

cold and wretched

shadows

 

in cold and wretched

places

 

with a cold and wretched

heart.

 

and cold and wretched

voices in your head.

 

I would reach out to you,

but you won’t put your hand out,

except to pull a weapon on me

and have me supply your

demon’s need

 

Sometimes I just gave it to you,

because I knew you once

and recognized your shell.

 

I can’t return home,

And you can’t leave.

 

Is this goodbye?

 

I wish we knew

I wish it wasn’t

I hope it isn’t

 

but as we idolize

the parasite

that infested you

as he drives his Escalade,

his rims spinning as he goes

nowhere, a reflection

of both of you,

 

I can only look in from

the outside,

and say

I’m sorry

our

friendship

our

brotherhood

could not make you

feel good enough about

you

 

I still hold out hope,

my brother, that one day

through your nightmares

a dream will come instead,

and

you too, will remember

the man you

used to be

 

I’m standing in the light

calling

waiting for your

crawling shadow

to pass the dirty window

 

I’ll still be here

when you answer,

if you answer,

but

it’s up to you now…

Still On Tryal

Author’s Note: This photo was taken at the Slave Museum. As the little girl’s mother was explaining what happened, she hugged the statue and said, “Everything’s going to be okay.” This is a poem that reflects that faith…

 

 

They sure tried:

 

To strip us culturally

To bend us spiritually

To break us physically

To give us second best

To question our humanity

To question our intelligence

 

They sure tried:

 

To stop us from voting

To stop us from organizing

To stop us from demanding

To stop us from marching

To stop us from praying

To stop us from fighting

To stop us from protesting

To stop us from singing

 

They sure tried:

 

To deny us access

To reduce our numbers

To convince us we don’t belong

To tell us we had nothing

they didn’t give us

To stop us from voting

To erase us from history

 

They sure tried:

 

To tell us to get over

the very history they

imposed

on us

 

They sure tried:

 

To tell us we’re violent

Ignorant

Beastly

Savage

Sexual predators

Dopefiends

Whores

and Pimps

and

Criminals

 

They sure tried:

 

To keep us illiterate

To keep us afraid

To keep us unaware

To keep us drunk

To keep us in vice

To keep us down

 

They sure tried:

 

To keep us enslaved

 

We tried too:

 

To be patient

To be non-violent

To suffer

To fight through the system

To die on our feet

 

But we got tired of trying

because they mistook

patience

for weakness

 

So we said

No,

and we said

No longer

And we said

No more

And we said

Our lives matter

 

And now they try

to say it’s our fault

they have to kill us.

 

And now, in 2016…

We find that

the

Tryal

is far from over

 

But if we stand

and work

and build

and teach

and love

TOGETHER

the verdict

is

Victory.