I wrote this today at lunch after a baby shower for one of the workers here who's having a baby boy named Luka. I thought it was nice.
HIS NAME IS LUKA
He will be born
And join this big world
And be another one
Of God's little ones.
His name is Luka
And his mom beams
With pride for his dreams.
His tiny hands
Will one day
Be working hands.
His smile will one day
To summer and all seasons
The days tick away
For a baby born soon.
His name is Luka.
“Struggle everyday, and love the struggle”
Is what I would tell you one day.
In all that cacophony of
Playing with one toy resembling another,
You will remember a few isolated bits and pieces
Of what it was like to be a five year old
Always waiting for your mother’s helping hand and
Smiling at her turns, her dedicated turns.
And things always turn out alright
Is what you would tell us
If you knew how much we were struggling.
But we struggle to stay within our senses
And to feel sensitivity wave through.
We struggle to make a quiet dinner
When there’s nothing much to say
And then we wonder if the magic has left us.
We struggle to speak what’s on our mind
And what’s better left unsaid.
If I could tell you J, that wonders
Exist beyond you
Forever streaming along
Would you believe me,
Or would you tell me “Whadya talkin' 'bout?”
I’m saying that now is not always,
It’s just now
And it leaves us:
It leaves us thinking that
That we’re old, so old and
We should have enjoyed every second of being young and electric.
But now is gone, today is night, tomorrow comes
And there we all go streaming for exits, for anything
We can get our minds around to escape the now.
We are fools, sensitive fools in fact.
I want to just tell you things are alright,
And do those things that make you happy
Those things that make you jump with glee
And come to honorable, dutiful attention
When it’s your time to put a smile
On your mama’s face.
You probably have very little patience for our struggles.
You just want us to be quiet
And enjoy the melody of your laugh
The stillness of your focus
The quiet acceptance of what’s next for the day.
I’m writing you a letter
Because I want to give you all of life’s lessons
In one tiny handful
Even though I give them scant notice
When today comes cursing at me
Telling me to move and get out!
Cars keep coming and deadlines keep whirring.
One day, I will hold out my hand
For you to cross into safety
And you might look up and say
I think you had it all the way.
In loving memory of Mario and Antoinette Romero
The grass stretches gallantly. Mario walks through to the other side after a big, confusing blaze and above the twisted metal on Earth. The highways called him and he came to its beckoning call. Riding high, riding free like a bird flying and flapping into the beautiful blue sky. Doves were released from the hands of his loved ones on September 12th, 2013.
There’s a quiet sense that envelops the place like a quiet calm after a storm. It’s so empty here but not in a spooky way. It’s empty like it was meant to be a private meeting place. It was put together with care and love. It was a place emptied out for a reason: a place for Mario to come home to and see his little sister. Here, they meet for what seems like the first time ever. Here, they hug for what seems like the first time ever. Here, they sit and stare into each other’s eyes because they missed each other.
There’s Mario’s favorite music hanging over the air – in the background. He listens quietly and wonders what this is all about. All of his life, he fought when needed and now he has found peace forever. He feels his sister’s hand and it is really her hand: his own sister, his own flesh and blood. He remembers all of the comings and goings on Earth and how he told his little sister that blood runs thicker than water. She sits patiently trying to make sense of his bewildered look. He has the look of a man who was interrupted from his life’s mission of building a family of his own. Tonight, he is with his little sister, sitting around, talking like old times.
Antoinette had her look that she had – her hair down to her shoulders, her eyes brown and unwavering. Her attention was zeroed in on her brother’s gaze. He has only been in heaven for a couple of weeks now having been lost on September 4th, 2013. His mind is still caught on earthly things. He misses the food, the sounds, the laughter, the jokes, the drama, and the stories. Antoinette caresses his arm and explains that heaven is a place to regain your senses after the trauma of life and before going back to Earth. She said this ruefully of course.
The trees lined up endlessly like the mountains in Maine. The sky blazed and cooled like the sky on Earth. God didn't create man or woman exactly in God’s image – God created heaven in the image of the Earth. To make it peaceful, God cut out the pain, hostility and jealousy. He made heaven shine like the Chicago skyline.
The place has pristine rugs lined through its halls. It is a mansion with seemingly endless couches lined up in preparation of a big celebration. The music comes from another room and sounds so crisp like a live band is going through its sheets of notes and playing. The thought came to them: they left everything behind and no one could ever get to them again, anymore. In heaven, there are no stars, no money, no more stares, and sneers, and jeers, and doubters and enemies. In heaven, there are only families and kinship. In heaven, there are legends and myths that have been restored. In heaven, ransacked museums are restored. In heaven, war-torn countries are put back together. In heaven, the ideal is living, vibrant, and tangible. In heaven, Martin Luther King Jr. is not murdered by a wicked man. In heaven, the Devil came and went taking with it, the system, and its kin.
Mario talks to his sister about the last few years that he spent away from her on Earth. He paused in front of the mirror stretched above the fireplace. He looks at his sister intently not believing what he sees. She is alive, and beautiful, and happy, and pensive, and alive with laughter in her eyes, giggling. He asks her where she has been all this time. He asks her if she finally did the things she wanted to do. He asks her what she misses most about him. He asks why she left him all alone, for all of those years to be without his baby sister. She told him that it just happens – some unfortunate event strikes at an inopportune time and like a blink, we’re gone. She pointed out that some suffer for years without relief. She pointed out that not all are welcomed in this mansion. She pointed out that some questions never get answered like some prayers on Earth.
Mario watches his sister walk away from him to check something in the other room. There was movement around her. The clothes she wore had beautiful colors. Her hair was straight and well taken care of like she spent days preparing for Mario’s ascent to heaven. She did. She knew from his gravestone that he would die on September 4th, 2013 and so she prepared for his ascent. The mansion was tidy and taken care of. The candles were lit. The life was restored in her cheeks. She looked wonderful and happy for she knew that Mario would be back in her life.
Mario and Antoinette sit down by a fire and make small talk, exchanging pleasantries. He calls her that name he called her growing up. She looks on in awe at her handsome brother. They joke and talk and stop to take a breath after laughing so hard. They sob and console each other until the sun comes up. He talks about cutting hair and driving his motorcycle. She listens intently. She speaks and her voice cascades down the hallway stirring the heavens and waking the dead. Antoinette meets her brother in heaven, and the night is complete.
R.I.P. Insta, Detes, Jaut, Big Joe and all of the other soldiers we have lost in a revolution gone awry.
“All of my life, I wanted to talk to you to make this confession to you.” My name is Selim Bouhamidi, and in 1995 I was fifteen going on sixteen, a Junior in High School and I was “Purp 1”. Today, I am myself and no one can take that away from me. Yesterday, in 1991-1999, I was “Purp 1”, Graffiti Vandal. The following is the conversation I would have today with myself had it been possible in 1995 when I was 15. I was about 6’0”, handsome, thin, tall, and wore my hair short. I was silent. I spoke to no one unless I was approached. I knew my mission in life was big. I was not going to let some goon, some police officer, some idiot take that away from me. I am terribly shy and nervous in large crowds. I am 34 years old now planning Southern California Cities and helping build the infrastructure of our communities. When I was fifteen, I was filled with contempt and angst using that energy to write on other people’s property. I am saddened by it now but I was looking for space and a place that I could fit in. Graffiti was my way to build allies because life is a struggle when you are a poor immigrant, a loner, a manic-depressive. This is a story for all of those lost kids looking to make something of themselves. This is also a story about Cops and Robbers. I will present it to myself when I was a fifteen year old boy who grew up too fast because he had to.
“You know, Purp, you’re going to make it out of this”. “No one can hold you back but yourself”. “There is nothing wrong with seeming older than your age”. “Everyone knows you’re a goofball at heart”. “Remember this, Purp, the most important thing in this life is family”. “Remember that those who have done the most devastation are not any of your friends.” “They’re people who have the law on their side”. “Remember that”. “This is your story”. “Let it be told”.
“So you never met your grandparents so you look up to all these older folks living in this Trailer Park”. “There’s nothing wrong with that.” “So you got stopped by the Cops walking home from the mall really late. You wear baggy, sagging pants and you have an intense look.” “ So the lady stopped to help you out and got scared and left”. “Don’t get mad at the way that people look at you. Worry about yourself and finding peace and love”. “No one can be successful without struggle, Purp”.
“Believe me Purp, there will come a time when you could care less about Graff fame”. “It will sound like a joke to you but it isn’t”. “Purp, your life could only be led by one person and that's yourself so trust yourself”. “Self-esteem will come with experience and in due time”. “People enjoy being around you". "They do so because you’re laid back and not excitable”. “You stay quiet until someone hits upon a subject that you’re passionate about like Sports.” “That will remain with you”. “You are angry because you are timid and want to play Baseball". "It is your dream to be a pitcher: first on the Aztecs and one day on the Dodgers”. “There’s bigger and better things in life than Sports”. “Use this opportunity in the Graff scene to learn how to network because this will be a critical skill when you are older”. “You’ll see that the people that matter most could care less about how you look”.
“When you go about your tagging, you take it very seriously”. “One day you will be taken seriously”. “Today, you are fifteen years old, experiencing your first crushes and first close friendships”. “Believe me, Purp, one day you will find true love when you least expect it”. “I see that you have that mag and you enjoy the pieces, the tags and the throw-ups”. “You don’t have to hide it in that closet”. “Your house will never get raided because you’re not a bad guy”. “Sometimes, they raid taggers’ houses to confiscate illegal drugs and guns and to put an end to petty crimes". "It's called Broken Windows". “Some cops are like robbers though, you know, looking to repossess your stuff”. "You'll have it happen to you and you will get over it". “You’ll see that one day a Palm Desert Police Officer is going to look after you and guide you away from trouble in her own way”. “The police are painfully aware that you are fifteen and have temper issues and some disturbed influences”. “Just keep aspiring to be better, Purp”. “Soon you will find a magazine that will inspire you to write poetry". "You will also find one that will help you create your own geometrical style that will cause a stir in this local Graff scene”.
“So you say that you love the cool late nights with a backpack full of spray paint and a container full of fat caps. So you like the smell of paint fumes and the rush and exhilaration. So you can’t wait until the can is emptied out, with the marble rattling in the can and with paint dripping on your hands. So you like to cup that china marker in your hand and getting landmarks”. “So you like to explore Downtown Palm Springs alone with your mean streak looking for spots that are hard to get to and won’t get buffed”. “So you like to surprise your friends and bust out with a big tag on the window front.” “So you weep at night because you’re so afraid of the legal troubles you’re facing”. “Things work out, they always do”.
“Someday you will need to stop burying all those feelings inside yourself.” “That is your biggest problem”. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people even if you sometimes reveal too much”. “You’ll one day use your writing to resolve all of these conflicts you have felt”. “You always walk around with those headphones listening to Hip Hop and Jazz”. “Music will be your best ally in life”. “With the resources you might have been a musician”. “You love riding in your friend’s Gallant blasting the B.U.M.S and Nas while driving down the strip wishing that you will have a car of your own one day - just to ride”. “You’re tired of having to walk to the mall when Mom's car doesn't work”. “You’re tired of that swamp cooler that is very ineffective when it’s 118 outside”. “You’re tired of only having a few bucks in your pocket”. “You’ll see that your best memories will not involve money”. “Enjoy your youth and the friendships that you make today because when you’re working hard you’ll feel all alone”.
“Purp, do you understand that Graff is keeping you from exploding”. “Purp, do you understand that you’re building skills and you don’t even know it”. “Purp, people love to take advantage of others especially if they’re nice”. “Purp, you're nice but you have this tough background living in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area”. “That will never leave you”. “You made it out of there – Pacoima/Arleta are serious neighborhoods to have grown up in”. “Now, learn and enjoy the good moments and remember that you can’t change the bad things until you have the position to do so”.
“Purp, all that damage that you caused in your teens resulted in a few buckets of paint, the cost of replacing a few etched windows and mirrors, and an endless amount of grief for your loving parents”. “Purp, you have so much to offer to this world”. “You’ve seen the margins of Cities and found peace there where so many felt depravity and hurt”. “Those people you’ve seen on your missions come from broken places”. “Purp, it will one day be your job to repair these places”. “One day, you will see, it will all make sense”. “You will rest your eyes at night and see all the Pieces that you wanted to do come alive in the places that you build.” “You will one day put down your spray cans to pick up a pen and write Rap lyrics.” “You will put that pen down to work hard and find yourself out of poverty”. “You will get straight A’s from UCLA when some of your fellow students went through college in a daze and all hung-over”. “Remember that all that damage that Graffiti has caused are tiny in comparison to this story of Cops and Robbers”.
Cops largely protect the interests, rights and property of the moneyed: people who have something, or some position, some standing in society. In large part, cops do not represent the communities in which everyday folks live. I say this because otherwise we would have been able to prevent the drug madness, crime, and the killings of our young, innocent people. Cops are many times broken people as well, rescued from some war or some tragedy of their own. The Robbers in this case do not wear masks. They are executives at large Banks. They went to Ivy League schools and partied their lives away while getting promoted every year. They had golden parachutes and government bailouts. With the law on their side, they can cause communities to be devastated by unemployment mercilessly. With the law on their side, they can whip people into a frenzy like the Devil does his minions. This story about cops and robbers is an ongoing saga with a minutia of initials and money mystification that results in some people getting obscenely rich while other get devastatingly poor in the United States of America – the country that I love to no end. It is also the Country of big debt, big military, and privatization. It is the place where the Twin Towers can fall and Wall Street can continue to pump away doing what it does – keeping money in the hands of a few people. In 2008, the economy collapsed and the money scattered all over the place into the greedy hoofs of pigs while a young family can't afford milk, gas and bread.
"Purp, I would say, keep thinking about religion and God". "Remember that Jesus Christ was a rebel who was crucified: he was handled in his time and age like a serious criminal was. He was crucified on a cross while folks in society rallied around him pointing their finger disgustingly at just another criminal."
*Tagging is a costly issue because there are few legitimate places for graffiti to take place. Cities should have designated areas along the highway which are regulated by police for serious Graff Artists to do their work and to guide taggers to become better artists. I got into Graffiti because I wanted to be creative and loved the written word and script. I feel that this appreciation for script is being lost in our society. When we lose our cultural traditions and institutions because of laziness and apathy, who has really done the damage to our society.
Shakespeare would run out of paper. A 6-year old smiles forever in her photo - she will never turn 7 today. Sometimes a young lady can tell you everything. Sometimes an adult can tell you nothing but pain emptied out with a trigger click. Today, Tiana is gone with nothing but her story for others to say. Tiana has lived her whole life in 6 some odd years and now she says bye.
She says bye to Saturday mornings full of cartoons, to her friends' Birthday parties and Chuck E Cheese. She says goodbye to ice cream in Moreno Valley on a hot August day. She says goodbye to her hair being stretched and pulled to her parents' delight. She must have been learning how to read and never will she read another word because of senseless violence.
If you want a depressing task, try reading a child's obituary. If you want a painstaking chore, try tracing the steps of a killer. There are millions of steps to trace. It is sad to look at the faces of the young victims of homicide. And all because certain people choose to channel their energy through guns, fists, drugs, knives and anything blunt that will cause great bodily injury - poetry with hatred. Tiana Ricks died on a celebratory Saturday night in the Moreno Valley area on September 7th, 2013.
When is enough, enough? Mistakes with pens kill papers. Mistakes with guns kill 6-year old daughters. All we can do is sit there and stew. Violence will climb into another one's heart before I finish this sentence. Violence will climb into another one's mind with sad, tragic consequence. *Solutions are elusive and complex.
Tonight, everyone who loves Tiana must do their own thing and keep their mind away from the absence. The absence of a little girl giggling at something she finds funny, hilarious. Tonight, Tiana's parents will have to fill that void with grief emptying out like a broken faucet - gushing and gashed. She might have been an asset to society but tonight she's a lullaby liability - just gone. A pair of small shoes will forever be left unfilled.
The complicated truth is simple to say: violence begets violence. How many people will ask the police for help? How many people will the police interrogate? How many scared kids will turn tattle-tellers? How many people will live in disgrace because someone else was brought to justice? How many killers get caught? Most times, a killer is caught by the bullet of another killer. Please God! Please, God, find a home for Tiana and her little shoes.
*Cities require clearly articulated violence prevention strategies to be adopted in the City's charter, guidelines and policies. Policing and prisons are not always the solution. Policing many times only throws more goons into murder investigations but some bad people do get put away - so there is some good in that. There is a problem with the way power is played out in City Councils everywhere. Your local City Council is corruptible, corrupted but they are there and might be caring - might. I'm cynical about City politics and human beings in general as people unfortunately lust for power not peace. Politics is sadly the arena in life where nothing happens. Talk is nothing while bullets maim and kill. Vigilantes come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone is compelled by good and bad motives - everyone! There are people out there keeping violence at bay but they are non-traditional leaders. They're grandmothers, mailmen, liquor store owners. They are older brothers and sisters. I know for a fact that as bad as things are they would be a lot worst if there weren't people doing good work - pouring their heart and soul to see people choose peace over violence. City governments are out of touch with the communities they supposedly represent. We need to go out there and talk to people. But not many know how to bridge generational gaps effectively . People simply get divided and go into their little corners and sulk in their divisions like that's the only box in which they can possibly exist. I give credit to Jah Shams Abdul-Mumin and Maryanne Galindo from SANBI for helping me outline these ideas.
This weekend I'm happy to say that my beautiful Magpie is now my fiancee. I wrote this letter to her on January 9th, 2013. She is my world, my strength, my hope, my dreams, my love.
To my sweet love:
I feel that I've searched every corner, every depth for love, running in circles like a dog chasing its tail. I've tried to add the colors to that little patch of earth where I fit. I fit in this world with you and that's all I ever wanted. It has felt like a life mission that has been changed forever since I've met you. I now know love and my direction has since changed. I need to now nurture that love, to grow strong through our love. I feel that this love can take down the ceilings that we've been trapped by. My mind has wandered and wandered in search - a search throughout my existence for someone like you. And for once I'm not exhausted. I'm refreshed. I feel like what a marathon runner might feel after finally stopping at the end to take a breath soaking in the moment and the accomplishment. But what I've accomplished is a new beginning. I see our love as a series of new beginnings and not something that can grow old and wither away. Love, I believe, needs conflict for this to occur because a new reality begins once the old reality is patched up. I know that troubles will not always go away in the face of love. Love grows when these troubles are addressed, acknowledged and worked on. Of course this takes faith but faith is not clear-cut and dry - it grows sometimes out of doubts. All I can do is offer you my soul because in your hands I feel safe. I see the gentleness in your heart through the softness and calmness in your eyes. I watch with awe as your mouth curls into a smile, transforming your attentive and intense look into the carefree sweetness of youth and hope. I want to spend the rest of my life trying to describe your beauty. Every tomorrow brings me closer to you. Every day brings with it a new clue to the mystery of your beauty.
Thank you for the happiness you have given me.