Threnody for a Leap Year: An American Story


Before 2020 even arrives
I claim for all to hear that it will be an auspicious year
One for the books
This is my modern habit
Claim it and it becomes truth
Or as the proponents of this idea say
It’s already truth and just awaiting your agreement
Clever that one
Whenever I am at the end of my tether
I cling to clever mystical ideas
One-One-Twenty-Twenty
A milestone birthday
I am now the same age as the year I was born
And a leap year to boot
A virtual bonanza of numerological magic
Too luscious not to play with
Life has felt stifled for so long
I make ridiculous claims
Not even certain I believe
But more than willing to be loud
A coming move
A new town
Resuscitation
Breathing room to be artful
To recover health and spirit
Say it loud and the world is yours
An unapologetic child’s belief in magic
Where not much else matters but my own contentment


And then an entire planet folds in on itself
A dying star in the midst of my own brilliant intersection of stars
I find myself positing with spit that the only use for a Klan hood
Is to operate as a medical mask
Keep your damn ‘Rona to yourself, Jed!
A snark not nearly so cutting once I read of
A man in San Diego who did just that
For years I felt alien to my own race
A terrible affliction
Today I thrust fist into air and shout about Black Lives
Can’t NOT see my siblings’ necks under that knee
Blood seeping from tear ducts like plastic Jesus tchotchkes
On the corner for $1.89 but you can always bargain
The threat of extinction nearer than the sun bleeding through
Raggy human-stained ozone threads
When the phalanx of law enforcement swarms protestors
And I watch from the safety of my flat screen
And am more fixated on social distancing than the power of protest
My brain seizes the way a computer freezes and needs a moment to untangle
When death comes and keeps coming
A party crasher breaking the furniture and pissing on the carpets
When the pulverized bones of Black Lives
By lynch mobs and those enlisted To Protect and To Serve
Are blown by a restless wind
And the powder gusts and gathers
As airborne as this virus
Dusting like topsoil the heads of a system committed to its status quo
Because we’ve led with privilege and hubris
A ghost town will be erected in the place where
Equitable society tried in futility to exist


And as pandemic-age babies are born
From mothers who risk safety to be in hospitals
And fathers not even allowed in delivery rooms
Into the collective terror of a country now pariah to the rest of the world
They will possess the ancestral coding to one day thrust
Arms wide and take hold this earth
Wresting it from a generation that did not deserve it
Wild hearts that will make whole again soil and sky and oxygen and humanity
They will claim it audaciously
An unapologetic child’s belief in magic


I skim back over the words of this hope
But can’t find its pulse without losing breath
And the very thought feels an insult to the memory of
George and Eric and Elijah
I gear up    strap on    and start my way through an untilled jungle
Ready to be one in the revolution
Even leaning in just a bit for the rending of thorns against bare arms
The lighting of the match

2020
Auspicious indeed
May I never turn back




Author Note: The year isn’t even over, yet I’ve been compelled to write a thought anyway; not so much a year-end review, as I’ve tended to do in the past, but a nagging expression that needed to find some paper quick. 2020 was/is a Leap Year. From a numerological standpoint, Leap Day, February 29, is known in many spiritual communities as being one of awakening and spiritual enlightenment. My own awakening is still in the yawning and stretching stage, but a shift has most definitely occurred. My very last public singing performance (I do/did this for a living) was on Leap Day, before the world went and got itself into a bit of a pandemic. And — perhaps poetically — I sang the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the Metropolitan Master Chorale. The whole year so far feels nearly impossible to express what I find painful and inexpressible. But poetry is healing. And healing, poetry.

Six Murals and a Book Shelf

On September 5, 2020, six Black Lives Matter street murals were painted on six streets across the breadth of Kansas City, Missouri, to raise crucial awareness of the newest upsurge in police brutality and racially motivated violence against people of color in the U.S. Six murals, designed by six Black artists. Art and activism beautifully intersecting. Sponsored by KC Art on the Block, the Troost Market Collective, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, and the City of Kansas City, MO, this multi-location happening was an inspiring community call-to-action. Here is what I was able to capture of this magnificent event. It was, at times, searing, loving, powerful, and sobering.

I recently moved from Los Angeles to Kansas City, the first move of this kind that I’ve ever made. My love affair with my new town seems to be unfolding one magnificent petal at a time, as the specter of Covid still lurks, and, yes, it was a very strange time to make such a move. And because of that, is it EVER taking its sweet, skillful time to unfold for me. Even showing me just how unskillful I can sometimes be. Life lessons. Firm but gentle. A loving parent.

So, for just a moment, keep my Black Lives Matter trek from last week in mind, as I tell you this other story.

Years ago, I read a very fun article about the “Most Unique Buildings In the Country.” One of those buildings featured in the article was a public library (honestly, years later, I couldn’t remember which city this was in; I just powerfully remembered the building). This library was built (or perhaps painted) like a giant book shelf of literary classics. To Kill a Mockingbird. Fahrenheit 451. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Huckleberry Finn. Dickens, Kafka, Zora Neale Hurston, Lao Tzu, Langston Hughes, etc. A unique work of art. I always swore I’d visit this building one day.

Let’s now go back to last weekend, September 5th. When I got home from this incredible day, this incredible intersection of art and activism, I was excited to get all my photos and video files uploaded into my computer, so I could make the little docu-short above. I was moved to share this experience with others. I’m not a filmmaker, but I do love making little shorts with my phone and some editing software.

As I was going through all the footage, there came a moment when I suddenly saw THE BUILDING. In my footage. Right there in front of the very first Black Lives Matter mural I visited that day. I gasped audibly. And experienced one of those moments I always deeply cherish; being filled with absolute wonder at gifts randomly given. But I was also just as eye-rolling and critical of my own stunning unconsciousness.

I had been standing right in front of the damned thing, but was SO focused and singular on what I was there to see that I never even looked up to notice this landmark building literally towering over me, creating symbolic shade on this art installment, and me. Nor had I had any remembrance from years before that Kansas City had been where this landmark was.

I have never slapped my forehead so proverbially hard in my life. For years now (especially as a writer), I have prided myself on being a keen observer. Well, as they say: “If it was a snake….”

So, that has got to win some kind of award for DUH Story of the Year.

At least I now get the pleasure, the utter honor, to re-frame my new city in my brain as not only being host to these extraordinary events and being a part of the solution instead of the problem, but it is also the home of my favorite landmark building, and is only ten minutes from where I live. I am truly blessed!

That is, if I can remember to keep my eyes open, and my tank full.

Oh yeah, and Black Lives Matter.

Peace.

An Old Black Man Someday (A Call For Peace)

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There is so much to say.  And I have been largely silent on the subject, in this social media playground.  Because others are more articulate.  The world is full of articulate polemics on the subject.  An entire movement – Black Lives Matter – has been necessitated.  This strange epidemic.   It is.  An epidemic.  And for much of the world, it is somewhat of an abstract.  But think of someone’s son.  Someone’s father.  Someone’s brother.  Think of them as children growing up.   Think of where (and why) we have turned a very wrong corner, after ALL of the vital work of the civil rights movement, of history! and the enlightenment of men that has continually tried to be fostered and fought for.

I added the following stanza to a song I wrote 15 years ago, because there is a new dynamic now:

In matters global to familial, my solemn heart doth daily pray;
Let not endangered be the old black man someday.

Endangered.  Think of that word.   That threat.   That awesome haunt of prophecy.

In the wake of this epidemic that seems to be our nation’s startling reality, my 15-year-old song rings now with a sobering irony.  It was originally written about my brother Mike, spun from, and into, a pastoral, nostalgic, childhood idyllic.

Today it chills.

I feel so strange about this offering, because as artists we always want to reflect the times, but what this reflects hurts me to my core.  I have three brothers in total, all young men still.  I just want them to live to be old men someday.  That they happen to be black . . .

 
 

An Old Black Man Someday

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.