Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

A Poem On Trayvon Martin’s Would-Be Birthday and the Day After the 15th Anniversary of the Killing of Amadou Diallo

21 shots

He never got to take

Surrounded by friends in a bar on his 21st birthday

That never came

Will never come

41 shots

He never got to take

His wallet out of his pocket

Before he was shot down with no

Courtesy

Professionalism

or Respect

And CPR couldn’t save him

From the neighborhood watch

That saw his hoodie

But missed his childhood

Feared his manhood

That he never got to see

Will never get to see

Did he ever get to eat his Skittles?

Was he munching on them on the way home?

Or did he decide to wait?

Wait!

Wait!

Don’t shoot!

It’s a wallet.

Not a gun

This is somebody’s son

Sabrina

Kiatou

Mother.

Mother of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world

If there is no justice,

Just iced tea.

What is it worth?

How much is the price of peace

Of mind?

Of knowing that you can walk home

Or stand in your lobby

Safely

Blackly.

Free from the stigma of being a former “Colored” boy

Who considers living life–to the fullest

When Trayvon’s rainbow Skittles

And everything in Amadou’s wallet weren’t enough?

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Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

The 12 Minutes (That Feel Like Days) of Dreaded Christmas Communication: A Holiday Internal Monologue

SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned

SMS: Text Messaging Gets Redesigned (Photo credit: pouwerkerk)

“Hey. Just calling to wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope you’re doing well, even though I’m sure you are. Call me back when you get a chance.”

I played the message back a few times, trying to get the lay of the land. “I hope you’re doing well, even though I’m sure you are.”  There was something about his tone. “If he’s so sure, why is he suddenly asking on this 358th day of the year during which I haven’t spoken to him on any of the other ones? Christmas miracles, I tell you.  “And better yet, what makes him so sure?”

Staring at the the miniature cassette icon that sits poised in the upper left-hand corner of my phone, I  carefully contemplate my next move.

“I could call back now and just get it over with.” The clanking of holiday china, play-by-play of the game, and unreasonably loud  familial political debates would mean that I’d probably have to keep the conversation short.

“I could call back later, but I don’t know what time I’ll be leaving here, and if later happens to be tomorrow, then that’s just dragging this out unnecessarily.”

“I’ll text him. That’s why God made text messages! Thank God for text messages!”

“Ehhh…but then if he called me and I text him back, that’s not right. That’s lopsided. It would have to be a text with a promise to call back later, and then this still gets drawn out…” I  always knew my belief in reciprocity would come back to bite me one day.

“I mean, technically, he already accomplished the purpose of the call. He wished me a Merry Christmas. That can stand on its own. Do I even have to call him back? He shouldn’t give a gift expecting that it be returned, right?  That’s not proper Christmas etiquette.”

“Boom. That’s my out right there. I win. Merry Christmas to me.”

But wait,  didn’t he ask me to call him back ?” I play back the message again. “Yup, he asked me.”

The cassette in the upper left-hand corner of my phone is taunting me now. It knows I can’t get rid of it. It’s saying, “Haha, I know you thought you ran things, but I run this! I am your cell phone, chick. Where would you be without me? I keep you connected…to everyone, whether you want to be or not.”

 

I tell it to shut up. I tell it that cassette tapes went out with Animaniacs and TGIF and that I don’t even know why it’s still being used as a voicemail symbol. I tell it that I can get rid of it, if I want to, all I have to do is delete the message.

But I can’t delete the message…

“It’s Christmas, right? What would Jesus do?”

So, of course, I decide that Jesus would call him back and wish him a Merry Christmas.

Conversation…conversation…conversation. “Say what?”

An epiphany.

“Now I remember why we only speak once a year.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Merry Christmas.”

 

 

 

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Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

Sappy Poem Alert: Dear Future Husband

Image Courtesy of Dreamstime.com

So, I started writing this poem on Valentine’s Day. Surprise, surprise. Since then I have repeatedly picked it up and put it down (probably because of my love/hate relationship with my own sappy poems), and I decided to finally finish it this weekend. Again, because I’m a performance poet, it’s really meant to be performed, but who knows when I’ll see an open mic again, so I thought I’d share it with you because people are always asking me to put more of my poems on my blog. *Warning* This poem is probably as sentimental as you will ever see me get with the work that I release into the blogosphere, so I hope you enjoy it.

Dear Future Husband

Dear Future Husband,

Nestled within the crescent-moon cradle of God that trails me with no footprint

I scan the night sky for a glimpse of you, to no avail.

Star-gazing is a useless pastime in the life of city-slicker.

A brazen task, best left to the extremely patient, and I’ve never been one of them.

Still the thought of you is the lullaby that sings my heart to sleep

So, I talk to you in my dreams in anticipation of your descent into reality.

Warning you of your fate, while you still have time to prepare for me

Future Husband,

I am a wordsmith.

At any given moment I will vocalize the many creases of my mind like fast balls into the catcher’s mitt of your ear canal

You will hear me

But don’t be deafened by my artful amplification of empty syllables

Lectures are the love letters I’m too emotional to compose

The truth lies in the space between the words I write on the page that folds into the smile I flash for society’s cameras

My inscriptions may be indecipherable to the outside world

But you will know my heart-writing

Please take the time to read it.

Future Husband,

I am a sappy, weirdo nerd.

Hold my hand as we block the aisles at Barnes and Noble trading books like whispered secrets meant for our ears only.

I will know we are forever when you can choose titles for me.

FYI, I read the news in the wee hours of the morning

There will be times when you awake in the middle of the night to the sound of me crying, smudging the print of The New York Times as I reflect on the state of humanity

Dry my eyes and promise we’ll discuss it in the morning.

Future Husband,

I am an ambitious perfectionist

So I apologize in advance for my schedule

Know that my restlessness is not a commentary on your manhood

It is a manifestation of my womanhood–respect it.

Never mistake my ambition for ambivalence

I am always in search of more

Striving to make you proud to tell the world that I am yours

Future Husband,

I am insecure

Spent most of my life avoiding the runway life

Uncomfortable with my own stride, even as I strived to live my life in flight

Hoping that maybe if they saw me soar, they’d forget about my broken wings

And I could be fly by choice, if not by commercial design

Because although I know my beauty goes beyond the surface

I also know the value of appearances

And most days I’m not sure I can keep up

But because I know you came from where God lives

Hopefully, you’ll love me regardless of my physical flaws, lack of fashion sense and acne scars

Future Husband,

I pray that you are strong enough to be weak

Big enough to never need to make another feel small

Rich enough to pour yourself into the service of others in gratitude

Selfish enough to share yourself with me completely

Humble enough to be proud

Proud enough to seek and accept help

Confident enough to laugh at yourself

And grounded enough to soar

But most of all, I hope to be all of these things and more to you…

Sincerely,

Your Future Wife

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Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

Dying to Write: A Poem In Recognition of the Price of Speech

Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com

I performed this piece called “Dying to Write” at an event last week. After the show one of the audience members told me how much she appreciated it and asked if it would be possible for her to read it somewhere, like on my blog. I have just recently started featuring my creative writing on my blog, and I have yet to post any of my poems, so I guess this one will be the first.

The piece was inspired by this article by Eliza Griswold which appeared in The New York Times Magazine a while back about women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to write poetry, particularly the story of one young girl who committed suicide. As a young woman, and given my own background in spoken word, I was particularly moved by the article and what it revealed to me about the value of both free speech and women’s rights. 

I was reluctant to post the poem because I’m usually wary about analyzing and interpreting global news items through my strictly “Westernized” and “Americanized” lens. So, with that in mind, I will say that this poem is my individual reaction and fictional re-conceptualization of one article. The poem is not based on tons of research, and I don’t claim to be an expert on Afghan women’s rights or foreign policy. It is simply my creative response to what I read. It is intended to be a tribute to women who risk a lot more than just vulnerability in order to express themselves. It is written in the style of The Diary of Anne Frank, one of my favorite books which also reminds me of the importance of young women’s voices.

Dying to Write

8.1.11

Dear Diary,

I have to be more careful.

Brother noticed an ink stain on my hands during dinner this evening.

Mama glared at me and then looked away.

Papa waited for an explanation.

I told him it was dirt.

Must find some of brother’s pencils.

 Paper is a mirror–the lid over my voicebox.

8.2.11

Dear Diary,

I saw him today when I went to hang the clothes out on the line.

Only Mama was home.

I pretended I was having trouble reaching so he could come to assist me.

He asked how old I was and I told him: “I am a peach plucked in March: ripe before my time.”

He smiled.

I did too, but I was not being coy.

It is true.

It is only a lid, not a seal.

8.6.11

Dear Diary,

I’m sorry I have not written in a couple of days.

Brother has been taking my pencils and using them for school.

By the time I find them, the points are all dull.

I hate dull points.

I want to write everything SHARP!

Like I feel it.

Only I’m not supposed to feel.

Whenever I remember that, I read this record, so I can forget it again.

In my voicebox, treasures are hidden. Some people are unworthy of treasure, and others can’t recognize its worth.

8.7.11

Dear Diary,

They tell me that I am to marry my cousin soon.

I want to tell them that I don’t love him, but the lid over my voicebox is not to be removed.

Nor does it matter

Papa already suspects that I’ve been getting too advanced.

He says my words are not like me

But he is wrong

My words are me.

They are the real me, the screws that loosen the lid on my voicebox.

Some want my treasure for themselves, but I keep it for me. And for you, diary.

I may shut my voicebox, but never my mind or my heart.

8.8.11

Dear Diary,

I saw him again today.

He must have heard that I am to be married because he did not smile at me.

He did not even look my way.                                        

My voicebox is silent. My heart is loud. Can’t he hear it?

Dear Diary,

You are missing.

Where are you?

I must collect my thoughts on scraps of paper to keep from going crazy with fear that you have been found.

Papa already says my words are not like me.

What happens when he finds out what I am really like?

My voicebox has been stolen, my treasures pillaged. Who will protect me from my voice?

8.9.11

Dear Diary,

You were on my bed when I returned this evening.

I know Papa has discovered you because I am not allowed to leave the house anymore, not even to hang the clothes on the line.

The wedding is fast approaching and then he will not have to worry about me anymore.

He need not worry.

I will protect me from my voice. I will protect them.

8.10.11

Dear Diary,

I saw him today.

I had to say goodbye.

I snuck out of the house while mama was napping.

He congratulated me on my coming wedding.

“You are a peach plucked in March: ripe before your time, and before I could pick you,” he whispered.

I have poked a hole in my voicebox to match the one in my heart. They are both leaking their contents onto this page.

I hope that I have finally put my pencil to a use that Papa will approve of.

 I will protect me from my voice. I will protect them. My silence will save us all.

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Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

Raking: A Short Story Part 3 (The Finale)

I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I sprinted back up the steps and into the house. Inside, Uncle Emmanuel’s body was now against the wall on the kitchen floor with a white bed sheet over him. My mother was sitting in a chair opposite my grandmother holding grandma’s shaking hands inside hers. Grandma was looking down at the big red blood-stain in her lap where Uncle Emmanuel had been. My mother was talking to her, but my grandmother was not responding. If she heard what my mother was saying or if she knew that she was there, she gave no indication.

I stood in the entryway to the kitchen. “Ma,” I said, the shock from my discovery still noticeable in my voice.

“What?” she said turning her head to look back at me. “What happened? Did Prince hear us? Is he ok?”

“He’s still out in the yard,” I answered.

“Didn’t I tell you to take him to the store?” she commanded. “I need him out of here.”

“He wouldn’t go,” I explained.

“Wouldn’t go?”

“Ma,” I tried to tell her the rest of the story, but she interrupted me.

“He needs to leave.” “I have to call the police, and I don’t want him here when they come.”

As though my mother had just pumped her chest with a defibrillator, my grandmother suddenly joined us in the moment. “Police?” she said. “Why do we need the police?”

“Mommy…” my mother started to explain, but this time grandma cut her off.

“Did Prince get in trouble again?” she asked. “I told that boy to go rake the leaves. He don’t listen to a word I say” she complained. Suddenly, she sprang up from her seat and went towards the hall closet. My mother and I followed her. She flung open the door and began pushing things to the far sides of the closet.

“Mommy, what are you looking for?” my mother asked her.

“All those leaves piling up in my yard,” grandma murmured, still barely cognizant of mine and mother’s presence. “I can’t stand it. All that time I spent tending to them plants and trees and they just shed, just like I ain’t even did nothing,” she continued.

I tried to pull my mother to the side to explain to her what had happened outside.

“What is it?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of my grandmother who was still rummaging frantically through the closet and mumbling to herself.

“There’s a knife with blood on it at the bottom of Prince’s leaf pile,” I told her.

“What?” she turned to look me in the eyes now.

“I think…” I couldn’t finish my sentence as I looked back at her.

My mother looked back at my grandmother, who had gotten down on her hands and knees and was now throwing things out of the closet in an effort to improve her search. Neither of us knew what she was looking for, but I had a feeling that it did not want to be found. Suddenly, my grandmother turned to look at me like she had known that I was there all along.

“Honey, what do they call them things?” she asked me. “You know how my mind gets when I’m trying to remember the names for things.

“What do they call what, grandma?” I asked her. “What’s it used for?”

“You know, to gather up all them leaves better so it won’t take me so long and they stay in one spot?”

Then, I realized what she was looking for. “A rake?” I suggested.

“That’s it,” she said. “ It figures that they’d call it just like what it does, huh?” she laughed. “I know I have one of them around here somewhere, but I can never find it when I need it. If that boy hasn’t raked the leaves yet like I told him to, I’m gonna have to do it for him. I’m gonna need one of those, so I don’t have to stay out there forever because I’m tired.”

“He’s raking, grandma,” I assured her.

In the meantime, my mother had gone out into the yard where Prince was. He was still standing in the same spot where I had left him, staring straight ahead at the street. She had seen the knife at the bottom of the leaf pile, and she stood just in front of the cement edge that blocked off the garden with a look on her face that I had not seen since her own father’s funeral. She wanted to give Prince a hug, but she wasn’t sure how he would respond.

“He wouldn’t leave,” he said to her, not taking his eyes off of the street and barely raising his voice to an audible level, “and she wouldn’t make him,” he explained.

With tears streaming down her face like rain droplets against a car window, my mother went over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “I know,” she sighed. “I know.”

At that moment, my grandmother stormed down the front steps with a sense of urgency that I hadn’t seen in her since the time my older cousin removed his handball from the garden without informing her and accidentally stepped on one of her tulips. She rushed over to where my mother and Prince were standing and snatched the broom from his hands.

“I thought I told you to rake these leaves!” she yelled. “Why don’t you ever listen?” She began moving the broom around the yard like a hockey player with a puck and no goal in sight.

“Mommy,” my mother tried to snap her out of it, once she recovered from her momentary shock, but my grandmother was focused. Prince watched her in silence and surprise.

“These dead leaves are everywhere!” she shouted. “It seems like the second I clean them up, more fall.” She was beating the pavement with the broom now, as if the leaves were roaches that she was trying to kill. Broom bristles flew everywhere.

“Mommy, stop it!” my mother cried, as she went over to her to try and take the broom from away.

“Leave me alone!” “I’m trying to clean!” She wriggled her hand away from my mother’s and held her firm grip on the broom. My mother doubled back a little bit, taken aback by my eighty-year-old grandmother’s strength. “All I ever done was tend to these plants…” she was crying now.

“I know, mommy,” my mother approached her again. This time she succeeded in gently getting the broom out of her grasp. “But you can’t fix it all; you can’t save us.”

“No!” she screamed, flailing her arms as my mother tried to hug her. “I told him to rake these leaves. He don’t listen. He just like his daddy.” Grandma fell to her knees now. My mother  dropped the broom and joined her, crying. Prince stood in the same spot looking at them both as a tear rolled down his cheek.

After a few moments, I went back into the house and got one of those big black trash bags from the storage container where my grandmother always kept them. I brought the bag down the stairs, picked the broom up from where it lay on the ground beside my mother and grandmother, and pushed the pile of leaves that Prince had gathered into the bag. When I was finished, I discarded the broom in the same bag. Then, I set the bag in the corner of the patch of grass just outside the front gate for sanitation to come and collect it. I stood on the outside of the gate looking at the scene inside as the L Train rolled past and the wind shook some more leaves loose from the trees.

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Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

Raking: A Short Story Part 2

“Give me your key!” I told Prince.

“Yes, yes,” my mother agreed, as she continued to ring the doorbell and call my grandmother and uncle.

She was worried, and I knew exactly what she was thinking.

“This boy done took my mother’s money again, gone out on a mission somewhere and left her alone, now something’s happened to her,” she mumbled to herself franticly as she paced back and forth on the front stoop with her cell phone pressed to her ear.

“I don’t have it,” Prince said, referring to his house key.

“I keep telling her not to let that boy back in her house….” my mother continued.

“Was grandma feeling ok today, Prince?” “Did you see your father today?”

“I don’t know,” he said. The wind was beginning to pick up again, and he clamped the broom down hard over the pile of leaves to prevent them from scattering.

“She didn’t want to listen…he’s her precious baby boy,” my mother mumbled, still pacing, calling, knocking, and ringing. “Her baby boy done made her have a heart attack in there or something…”

“Don’t say that,” I said. Suddenly, an idea came to me. I decided to try turning the knob on the door. Sure enough, the door was open, and without taking time to marvel at our previous futility, we rushed inside. Prince continued raking and didn’t even look up.

“Ma!!!” my mother screamed so loud that she overcame the passing L Train. “Where are you?” She rushed straight ahead into the living room and looked around worriedly.

Following several paces behind her into the house, I turned to look in the kitchen and screamed.

“What is it?” my mother asked, rushing to join me.

My grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table cradling my Uncle Emmanuel in her lap in a pose reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta. She looked down at him, speaking softly as his head hung just over the edge of her arm. Her arm was extended as far as it could be away from the wooden chair in which she sat so that about half of his torso fit into her lap while his legs hung well over her knees and laid across the tile floor most of the remainder of the distance to the kitchen wall. Uncle Emmanuel looked as though he had just come back from a job, followed by a mission.

He wore an old pair of white Nike’s with dirty shoelaces, stone-washed jeans, and a black t-shirt with the word “Brooklyn” scribbled diagonally across the front of the shirt. He appeared to have a stab wound of some sort. The shirt was covered in blood with a hole in between the two “o’s” from which the blood appeared to have come. His body was still and limp, and a pool of blood had collected at my grandmother’s feet.

“Mommy!” my mother screamed in horror. “What happened?”

            “Manny, I’m praying for you just like I always have my grandmother spoke to him, completely unaware of mine or my mother’s presence. “I prayed that the Lord would give you the strength to get right and stay that way…even though you wouldn’t pray for yourself.”

“Ma…” my mother whispered, walking closer to her. Still there was no response. Grandma continued to talk to him.

“ You always said you didn’t need God ‘cause you was God…you was the Sun,” she remembered. “Sun don’t shine always, I told you…ask them trees out there going bare.”

I tried glancing around the room to avoid looking at the scene in front of me.

“What you gonna do when the Sun don’t shine?” I always asked you, my grandmother continued. “I’ll pray for you in case you need Him then.”

“Go make sure that Prince doesn’t come back inside,” my mother said to me. “Take him to the corner store or something, ok?” She handed me a twenty dollar bill.

I looked quickly back at my grandmother and Uncle Emmanuel before going back outside. She was still cradling him and talking to him. When I looked out into the yard, I didn’t see Prince. Suddenly, I realized that in our haste to get inside the house my mother and I had left the door wide open. I worried that Prince might have heard the commotion and gotten upset. I stepped back out onto the stoop and closed the door behind me.

“Prince!” I ran down the steps and into the yard. “Prince!”

He didn’t answer me. A few seconds later I found him standing just near the crack in the cement that separated my grandmother’s red yard from her next door neighbor’s beige one. He was bent down behind the side of Uncle Emmanuel’s car and the broom was underneath it. I stood next to him and watched him attempt to pull the broom out from under the car.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Trying to get the leaves,” he said.

I stood there staring at him. This was the most diligent that I had ever seen him be at anything in his entire life. Prince hated chores. He hated doing anything that he did not want to do, which usually included everything except playing video games or surfing the Internet.

Prince was only a teenage boy, but he didn’t see his father as a man. Uncle Emmanuel was never clean long enough to gain Prince’s respect, and it was clear that Prince didn’t view Uncle Emmanuel’s addiction as an excuse for his instability. They had fights and arguments all the time. He also resented the way that my grandmother always catered to my Uncle Emmanuel, but everyone knew that she took her job as a gardener very seriously. Even though her leaves changed colors, she was never willing to let them fall.

“What can Uncle Manny do to make things right with you?” I asked him once.

“Get a job,” he replied.

So, as he stood there trying to get leaves out from underneath his father’s car, I wondered how he was going to take the news of his death.

“Take a break,” I said. “Come to the store with me.”

“I have to finish raking,” he said, finally retrieving the broom, with a few less bristles and no leaves, out from underneath the  car.

“Seriously?” “You’d rather rake then come to the store with me?”

“Grandma said,” he explained.

“Since when does that mean anything to you?” I thought.

“It’s ok. She won’t mind,” I said instead.

“You’re in college,” he snapped. “You don’t need me to walk you to the store.”

He returned to his leaf pile with the broom and pushed the pile back into the center of the yard. I looked back in the direction of the front door and wondered what my mother was doing with grandma and Uncle Manny. The wind picked up again, and a few more leaves fell from the tree just outside my grandmother’s gate and made their way into the front yard. Prince ran to catch them and add them to his pile before they got away. The broom lost a few more bristles in the chase.

He made his way back over to the leaf pile, and I looked towards the ground, following his movement with my eyes. As he tapped the broom against the top of the pile in an effort to remove some of the leaves that had gotten stuck, some leaves at the bottom of the pile drifted away and I noticed something metal with a pointy red tip sticking out from underneath.  I realized that it was a knife and I looked up at Prince; he was looking back at me. He looked down at the knife sticking out from the bottom of the leaf pile and then back at me. Clenching the top of the broom tighter in his hands, he stood still over the leaf pile and gazed straight ahead towards the street.

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Self-Mutilation (Creative Expressions)

Raking: A Short Story Part 1

So, I thought I’d try something a little bit different and introduce my readers to another aspect of my writing. If you’ve read my bio, you know that I’m a poet, but I like to think that I write a little bit of everything: poems, articles, scripts, short stories. So…introducing a new category for the blog: “Self-Mutilations,” for my own art and creative works, in whatever form they may take. One of my favorite fellow writer-of-all-trades is Erica Buddington. If you’ve never been to her site before, (www.rivaflowz.com), check it out. It’s awesome. Anyway, she does an amazing job of mixing the many genres in which she writes, so I thought I’d give it a try. The following is an excerpt from a short story I wrote called “Raking.” I submitted it to a few places, but it was never picked up, so that’s what blogs are for! It’s a long piece (a long-short lol) so I thought I’d give you a taste. If you like it, I may post the rest of it in several parts. Let me know what you think!

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As we pulled up to the house, he was raking leaves with a broom in the front yard. He gripped the broom so tightly with both hands that the veins running downward from his knuckles bulged out from underneath his skin. The top of the broom’s plastic yellow handle had become bent like a child’s bitten straw.

“Oh Lord,” I said, as my mother parked the car in front of the house, “He doesn’t look happy.”

“At least he’s doing some house work,” she said. “It’s about time mommy got one of the men in that house to help her out. She does everything else for them.”

“True.”  “I feel sorry for the broom though,” I laughed.

We got out of the car and swung open the black wrought-iron gate.

“Hey, Prince,” I called to him as I entered the yard and started up the red-painted pathway that led to my grandmother’s front stoop. I didn’t bother to wait for a reply before proceeding to climb the steps.  I was used to Prince’s sullen attitude. He had a unique talent for using as few words as possible to respond to whatever communication he received from us, especially the responses that he felt were implied.

“Hey” was definitely one of those implied responses. Whether he returned it or not, he knew that the moment could and would continue normally, as if I had said nothing at all. It was almost like saying “how are you” to someone that you knew as you passed them on the street. No one really listened for a response. They just assumed that you said “fine”, and if you didn’t, by the time they realized it, they were already two blocks away. As a result of this tradition of ready-made implied responses, many New York City youth had given up a verbal greeting for their acquaintances altogether and had simply replaced it with a head nod.

When neither a response nor a head nod came from Prince, my mother, who could care less about New York City youth culture and who was well-documented in her disgust for my fourteen-year-old cousin’s lack of manners and respect, immediately sought to regulate the situation. Pushing the gate closed behind her with a force that was just shy of a slam but full of no-nonsense “I-don’t-have-time-for-your-attitude-today” seriousness, she turned to face my cousin before approaching the steps leading up to the house.

“Hello,” she said, staring at him indignantly, as he dragged a handful of brownish-orange leaves underneath the tattered bristles of the broom.

Prince looked sheepishly in my mother’s direction, while continuing with his task. He began taking wider strokes with the broom in an attempt to gather more leaves at once. He was more than aware that his implied response would not suffice for my mother’s “hello.” My “hey” was one thing, but her “hello” was something entirely different.

“Hi,” he replied, in between broom strokes without looking directly at her.

Still staring at him, she continued. “Did you speak to your cousin?”

“Me?” he asked, trying to remove tangled dead leaves that were stuck in the bristles of the broom.

My mother turned her head to look in both directions on the Brooklyn street. The block was quiet. I had grown up with most of the children who lived there. We were all college-aged now, and no one could be found jumping rope in the front yard of the nearly-attached houses or riding their bicycles just outside their front gates.  It was a cloudy Saturday morning, and people were probably either still in bed or out early running their weekend errands. Aside from the scraping of the broom against the pavement, the only sound came from the rumble of the L Train when it passed by. No one else was in sight.

“Who else am I talking to?” she snapped. “Yes, you.”

He paused in his sweeping, adjusted his all-black Yankee cap, glanced in my direction at the top of the stoop, then he looked back down at the pile of leaves that was accumulating at his feet. “I didn’t hear her,” he said.

“But you saw her?” she returned.

I sighed heavily at the top of the stoop. It was getting chilly outside, and I didn’t feel like being the unwilling subject of another one of Prince’s etiquette lessons.

“Ma, really, it’s ok,” I tried to help him out.

She put her hand up to signal that this was not about me. I leaned against the banister and waited for her to finish with her lesson.

“Well?” she demanded, still waiting for Prince.

“Sorry,” he offered, pulling his green hood over his head as the wind began to pick up. His pile of leaves scattered again in the wind, and he beat the broom against the pavement more fiercely in aggravation.

“Umm-hmmm,” she answered, turning away from him at last and beginning to walk towards the stoop. “Why are you raking leaves with a broom anyway?” she asked.

He looked down at the broom in his hand as if he were considering for the first time that it might not be the most appropriate instrument for the completion of his task. “It’s what grandma always uses,” he shrugged.

“This is true,” I added. I pictured her wrinkled brown hands clutching the broom almost like a cane as she moved it along the yard attempting to get all the dead leaves in one spot.

“All these dead leaves messing up my garden,” she would say.

My grandmother’s “garden” was a narrow row that ran vertically down the length of the left side of the yard. It was just wide enough for me to stand in, and when we were younger, whenever one of us kids would accidentally throw our ball or anything in there while playing outside, she would have a fit if we went in there to retrieve it. We always had to inform her of our dilemma, and she would come outside and get whatever we had lost herself so that we wouldn’t step on her plants. The row was separated from the rest of the front walkway that led up to the house by a shell-shaped cement edge that was painted red like the rest of the walkway. She had filled the row up with soil and planted flowers and shrubs there for as long as I could remember. There were always tulips in the spring, and there was a “Christmas tree,” as I called it, that was there year-round, which she liked to decorate in the winter. She had another tree in the plot of grass outside of the gate just in front of her house that also counted as part of her garden.

Growing up, I remember thinking that her love of gardening was evidence of her South Carolina roots. She refused to let the space limitations of urban life keep her from using the land in the way that she saw fit. She watered and tended to the plants faithfully, especially when my cousins and I were younger. It was because of her that my proud city-slicker self knew or even cared about the difference between a tulip and a daisy. Those plants, like us, were her creations, and she was going to tend to them no matter what.

“Grandma, it’s autumn. Your plants are going to die soon anyway. It’s getting colder,” I would say, as I watched her stick the broom underneath her flowers and shrubs and then move it back to her pile in the center of the yard.

“That don’t mean I want leaves all in them. Look at my pretty tree going bare, just losing its leaves,” she would say sadly as she gathered them up.

I would always tell her that they would come back in the spring.

“Not these leaves,” she would say, looking at the pile again. “These same leaves will never come back.”

That’s the interesting thing about autumn. It’s that season of the year when the Sun cuts Mother Nature’s umbilical cord. I remember thinking of those conversations with my grandmother and being fascinated by the process when I learned about it later on in science class at school. As it gets closer to winter, the sun shines less and plant leaves aren’t able to use sunlight to make enough chlorophyll, that stuff that makes leaves green. Since their chlorophyll supply is limited, the leaves change colors, and they cannot make as much food during the process of photosynthesis, and eventually, they die. The same process takes place for most plants in autumn.

Even though everyone always talks about the objectivity of science, this process always sounded like the story of a struggling family to me. Mother Nature is no longer able to provide for her children due to limited resources and ever-decreasing contributions from the Sun. As a result, her children suffer, and eventually, they fall. Autumn is the only season that has a nickname. Any matriarch understands the pain of having to watch her children suffer, especially when there is nothing that she can do to stop it. So grandma did the next best thing; she tried to clean up afterwards. Until that moment, I had never thought to ask her why she didn’t just use a rake.

My mother met me at the top of the stoop, and I turned to ring my grandmother’s doorbell.

“Why is the door closed if she knows that Prince is out here?” I thought to myself. Another one of my grandmother’s mama bear tendencies was to never shut her door unless all of us grandchildren were inside. It didn’t matter if we were simply raking the front yard. She would watch us out of the kitchen window and leave the door open and unlocked in case we needed to use the bathroom or to run inside quickly in case of any emergency. It was like a rite of passage when she finally allowed my friends and I to play outside of the gate. Even then we were only allowed to play in front of the three to four houses in either direction of her kitchen-window view, and we had to come back inside the gate by the time it got dark outside.

Apparently, my mother noticed the closed door too. “Is your grandmother inside?” she asked Prince, who had managed to get most of the leaves back in a pile again.

“Uh-huh,” he said, without looking up.

I looked at my mother. “Maybe she got cold and wanted to keep the heat in the house,” she said.

“Wouldn’t she just turn one of the stove burners on?” I asked.

To anyone else these practices might have been strange, but they were the type of activities that we expected from my grandmother: turning one of the front burners on when it got cold but not cold enough to turn the heat on yet, raking the leaves with a broom, but not closing the door while one of her grandchildren was still outside.

We rang the doorbell and waited. After about a minute, when she had not answered the door and we had not heard her yell that she was coming, we knocked on the outside door.

“Is the bell working?” I asked Prince.

He shrugged his shoulders and pushed the pile of leaves to the other side of the yard in the direction of the house next door.

As we continued to wait for my grandmother to answer the door, my mother pulled out her cell phone and called the house. No one answered the phone at my grandmother’s house, and my mother began to panic. Next, she called my Uncle Emmanuel, who lived with my grandmother.

“Is your father home?” she called to Prince in a heightened tone as she waited for Uncle Emmanuel to pick up. She didn’t want Prince to know that she was worried, but she wanted to get inside. Prince pushed the pile of leaves back to the other side of the yard.

“Prince!” she yelled.

“Huh?” he responded from midway across the yard, as though he had just snapped out of a daydream.

“Is Uncle Manny here?” I repeated.

He stared at me blankly. My mother was losing her patience.

“Boy!” she screamed at him. “What is wrong with you? Is your father home? Why isn’t anyone answering the door?”

“I don’t know,” he said, and continued to push the pile of leaves. Neither my mother nor I knew which of her three questions he was answering, and we did not have time to find out.

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