Three Poems by Kent Alexander w/Images by Robert Frede Kenter

Vero Beach

He stood in the door – crowding its frame
His six children all over the faded yellow chair
as if they were ants indulging in candy
“Welcome to the land of the oppressed,” he said
his eyes twinkling like fireplace embers
“Maria, get your uncle something cold to drink,
Michael pull your pants up and go put on some shorts.”
He stepped aside, skin brown as a berry
“Black man,” he said as he clasped me in a familiar hug
“What the I want, my brudda?”

I had driven some three hours across the state
through desolate orange groves where the scent
of citrus was as pungent as sin. Through bracken-like
trees and small towns with names like Yahooville
A highway to promise and the American dream
sponsored by Chevrolet, Nissan, Dodge and Hyundai
A sun-drenched day as large lazy ravens circle above

Back in Vero Beach, squeals of joy erupted and then,
just as quickly, turned to screams, then back to laughter
“I’m telling on you” “You’re a tattletale and no one likes
a tattletale, do we, Marimba?” The question was moot
Since the game had changed already and, in its place
curiosity for the small digital camera I had suddenly
produced “Here’s your lemonade, Uncle Kent.
Did you miss me?”
Tall as my love for her and her siblings, Maria slipped
into the kitchen to check the filets of whiting that were
marinating in lemon and lime juice. Later, she would
toss each piece deftly into corn meal
before laying it in a pan for baking

Seated in the bedroom – a stationary fan moving air heavy as promises,
this man, flesh of my flesh, keeper of a part of my
heart unveiled his latest project, a struggle against a racist
school system that sought, through a misguided novel of Florida’s past,
to demean and belittle his oldest daughter.

He was livid and focused. Clippings and letters, drafts and
communications all spread out on the bed as if prizes in a war, which, in
many ways, they were

“Look here – this is the book they used in Maria’s class at school
The damn writer actually had the nerve to say at one point,
‘That stinks worst that a nigger’s sweat.’ Can you believe that?
Now I got the NAACP and the school board involved and we’re
going to keep this going until I get some kind of satisfaction.”

Later, after baked fish and countless group photos of children
and adults, we drove to a park where palm trees and pines
created quiet shade and, under my watchful eye, my brother and his
children played ball while the afternoon disappeared like sorrow in the
midst of love.

Looking For My Mother

This is an attempt to speak of emotional trauma,
of servitude,
of my own search for the difference
between “aggressive” and “fearless”
and life other than those
photographic moments frozen
on dull corkboards.
I submit
there are songs to sing,
endings to mark &
beginnings to unfurl.
I submit that
“Once upon a Time” is not the way many stories begin.
I submit that the moment in which we live
is going this way
versus that way.

I seldom forget why I am angry
I seldom forget why I weep
I never forget
how much can be lost
when something is at stake.
I never forget
why I am losing my mind

Chemical weapons, armed madness/psychic wounds, ethnic purges, class
war, collateral damage, drones, prisons for profit, militarized police forces,
Syria, New York City, corporations as people, profiled searches, and
lost Black lives.

Time confirms the toll of cancer
Time confirms why truck drivers grow old rapidly
Time confirms my bruises
whether I do or not
This is not rehearsed.
This is rehearsed.
This is a form of realism
This is something
carved out of nothing
this is not without a worldview.

I’m looking for my mother …
She went out to sea
I’m looking for my mother …
She’s feeding children from tuna cans
I’m looking for my mother …
She’s cradling the dead & the dying
I’m looking for my mother …
She’s hanging from a noose on a poplar tree
I’m looking for my mother …
Oh fuck, she’s been committed,
I’m looking for my mother …
She’s leading the condemned to freedom.
I’m looking for my mother …
She’s watering the weary in the Missouri heat
I’m looking for my mother …
She’s cradling the lifeless Roe vs Wade
I’m looking for my mother
She’s walking on glass shards that shimmer
like trout in the sun.

I’m looking for my mother
She has definitely left the building.

Blue Monk

It’s a blue day today. The sun won’t shine and the clouds
cover every inch of the slate gray sky. I know you can’t hear
me, but, then again, maybe you can since your piano is
underneath my every step, your accented rhythms dance
through my spirit as that sweet recognition of your slavery/freedom
illuminates my path and, all the while, those by-gone nights whisper
to me of your sadness, your genius, your aches and your dreams.

I meander down that long dusty highway. I traverse those dingy
alleys and lonely azure streets. My heart dips and swoons, applauding your
singular vision even as I sink deep into the
knowing that you were giving voice to our collective pain
and struggles. You are our Christ crucified – your piano the
cross that I now embrace aloud in not-so-silent prayer that my
sky might rend open, raining down your song so that beauty
and grace might awaken my own … April in Paris.

Sweet Jesus, my tender tortured brother, your notes climb down
in and out of those past inequities and those elongated moments of
euphonious majesty. Bounce me on the lap of your Blues, keep me
safe from the specter of my shame, since you knew glory even
as those fractious shadows mugged you time and time again.

Sweet blessed brother, you kept the beat while, outside, the kept
continued their taking. You danced around that piano and, in doing
so, entreated us to step lively … To step to our own rhythms that
would transport us out of bondage and into that place where time
holds nothing but a lazy shiny circle of grace.

It’s a blue day today. The sun won’t shine and the clouds cover
Every inch of the slate gray sky. But inside, I have your music,
your gift, your offering; your elegant if tattered genius.

photo by Rick Schatzberg

Kent Alexander @BluesEnBop writes: I facilitate anti-racism and workplace culture workshops. My work is rooted in my non-linear theater background. In my writing, I explore the use of voice, text, static and dynamic images – grounded in jazz and blues music – along with somatic practices to investigate issues of power and powerlessness, and how “otherness” manifests itself.

Images by Robert Frede Kenter @frede_kenter
1. Banner Art: “Pastel Beach” 2. “Bowery/ Collage ” 3. “River of Flowers (For Thelonious Monk at the Paris Airport, 1966)

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