There’s a candy wrapper and an unused match
on the bathroom floor. A covert picnic,
abandoned. I’ve come here to press my face
against the cool white tile. Summer is ruthless
today in its death throes. Where hurricanes can’t
touch land, the earth quakes. Where the flood water
doesn’t rush in, the earth burns. How
should I reinvent myself in the this exodus
from one season into the next? This liminal space
where even the mirror is a blank uncertainty.
I travel with less baggage these days, casting
ballast off like sin. Even my bones
grow lighter. I should be densely built
for the long winter; I am the dry ligaments
of a skeletal wing. A thing of parchment,
exhalation, the cellular memory of flight.
The best beer I ever drank was a Sol tallboy
from a styrofoam cooler in a neighborhood park
in Merida. It was Carnival in Mexico
but that particular block party could have been simply
someone’s birthday. Still, a teenage boy
sold me the can, ice cold, almost
frozen. There was a parade that day — floats
for hours blasting pop music. Drag queens
in tall wigs and short skirts threw kisses
like candy. You wouldn’t think there’d be
so many queens in Mexico, or maybe it’s no
surprise. And ordinary, too, how the police Continue reading
What is the responsibility of venue bookers, music promoters, club owners, and festival organizers to create a platform for artists of color? It’s a tricky conversation to introduce, because there are so many issues — ticket sales, popularity, potential tokenism — but I think it’s more important to have the conversation than to be graceful about it.
Photo by Jorge Salgado from this year’s Neon Desert Festival
So I’ll start here: Asheville, where I live, is a predominantly white town with a nationally recognized music scene and a high per-capita number of excellent concert halls and listening rooms. But peruse the lineup of at least three of the most popular venues in town and you’re lucky to find one person-of-color-led act in any given month. I recently browsed the calendar for one such music hall that lists no artists of color from September through December. Continue reading
A retelling of an Asian rabbit myth, excerpted from a longer poetry cycle on which I’m working.
1830s-era French natural history print
Black-naped hare, meadow creature, keeps his language
secret. No one around here speaks rabbit. When the beggar
asked for alms, the monkey gathered fruit, the otter brought fish
and the jackel stole a pot of milk. The rabbit only knew
how to harvest grass, so it threw itself on the cooking fire.
But the beggar transformed himself into Sakra, ruler of the Devas
and rewarded the rabbit for his selflessness by placing him
on the moon. It was better than death by immolation,
but it was far away, and cold at night, and there was no grass
at all. And no one spoke rabbit there, either.
Image from endangeredpolarbear.com
A writer who I don’t know but follow on Twitter posted this William Faulkner quote today: “The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart.” And my first thought was, “Wait, is that right?”
I like quotes from writers and quotes about writing, but the thing about quotes is they sound like edicts when, in fact, they’re just the musings of creative people who, like the rest of us, are making it up as they go. Continue reading
There’s a house on Kimberly Avenue. There are many houses, but this one in particular is the kind of house that exudes style and dignity and the kind of manicured calm that comes from proximity to wealth. The whole street is like that — wide and well-maintained with grand old shade trees casting cool green over sidewalk and tended lawn.
No one is ever tending this particular lawn. Landscaping crews piloting tractor-sized mowers are for the nouveau riche; the truly wealthy have yards maintained by elves who show up, soundlessly, after midnight, and pluck every clover and sorrel by hand so nothing remains but a uniform blanket of St. Augustine sod. Continue reading
I learned something this week: There are no artists of color performing at the upcoming Riddle Festival, an annual event celebrating Lesley Riddle. What you need to know here is that Riddle was an African-American musician from Burnsville who greatly influenced the Carter Family. So think about that for a minute: The first family of country music has a black musician to thank.
Lesley “Esley” Riddle, right, with guitarist Brownie McGhee.
This is not the only story where mountain, Appalachian, country, folk and roots music — much of which seems so of the domain of white folks — is actually closely tied to and even originating from the creative efforts of people of color. But because the white narrative has long been the dominant narrative, people of color tend to be diminished or overlooked or left out altogether. Or not invited to participate in a festival commemorating a person who looks like them and represents the history, hopes, talents, and ingenuity of their community.
I don’t think the organizers behind Riddle Fest intended any harm or slight, but I do think these kind of oversights pile up, one on top of the next, until we really can’t see past them anymore. Words like “appropriation” get bandied about — for good reason — but I see a greater harm. Yes, when white musicians record and profit from the songs of unrecognized musicians of color, it’s plagiarism and Continue reading