Little Things

I remember a time when the first son cried when I left him.  He was really loud that one time when I dropped him with Auntie Maggie. Where was I going? It took forever to get there, listening to his cries in the car.

I thought those days were gone, especially since the second son was decidedly a mother’s son, if the first was a father’s son. Of course, both of them have gone back and forth about whose they are.

They are, in fact, their mother’s and their father’s. And this makes sense in the beautiful way big hearts with room to love deeply work. They work in ways beyond the mind, beyond explanation.

And hearing that my little one cries when I leave in the morning and hearing his voice on the phone when I’m minutes into my commute makes the entire day sound like a father’s joy.

Indie Arie sang, “it’s the little things.” And he hasn’t always cried. He won’t always cry. I hope I’ll always remember the few times he did.

When Someone Matters

One way to know that people matter to you is how long you keep them–in your head, in your heart, in your spirit–when they bother you, when they hurt you. It’s one thing to drop and run. It’s another thing to be tripped by the fact of their mattering.

If you drop and run too fast, who you thought mattered didn’t. If don’t quite cut and run, if you don’t bolt, and if you move slower out of connection, something else may be happening.

If your feet are clogged by the dry and wet grasses of disappointment, anguish, and sorrow, perhaps you were good at a little word called love.

If you think of your students long after the ringing bell; if you consider the comment made and how pained it made your listener; if you remember, hours later, that interaction and its biting chump into you, perhaps you have evidence that you have loved.

Perhaps what happened in those relationships actually matter. Maybe what you built, created, and cultivated made a difference. Grant it and grieve.

An Ode That Isn’t Exactly An Ode

I looked at you, the glossy, colorful ways you showed me what black beauty was.

I looked at the curves you featured. I took in the sumptuous reds on your lips and imprinted in my soul the kinky, curly, flat, puffy, drizzly, stringy, clipped, busy, avenues from your head.

I looked at smiling black men, fathers and uncles and brothers and teachers, people professing with their lives what it meant to make efforts, what it meant to pull it together, and what it meant to create for one’s own community counter-images which were truer, better, and accurate images.

You trained my gaze, expanded my vision, and showed me how to start my attraction, how to turn my sight, and how to see the bodies of women closer to me, men very near me, children around me, people whose faces would come to close to my nose, in conversation, around the table, at church, and on all my childhood playgrounds.

I sat struck and dumb and inspired to write because of images you created by showing up like a gift, directed to me, made for me, fashioned with me in mind, and in your every offering was an issue that made me imagine and reimagine how to be black and how to be man and how to be beautiful and how to be with other beautiful black people.

In you and saw what love and work looked like. I saw the sights of wonder. I saw the sights of accomplishment. In you was a body of work, a composed collection cracking my developing notions of the color that captured everything from cream to cacao and did so with hands and eyes and ears of appreciation for how good black looked.

Written on the latest public occasion to grieve a significant treasure all of us should remember well, Johnson Publishing, which is in its last stages as a necessary-but-dying institution.

Betting the Old Fashioned Way

My oldest son wasn’t going to win the bet we made and I knew it even as I crafted the challenge to him in the grocery line.

His hand was on a bag, a nicely packaged offering of sugar and fat and a list of things we couldn’t pronounce. Now, it helps to know that since he was his younger brother’s age, I’ve been teaching the boy how to conduct himself in a kitchen and a grocery store. He cooks with me. He has shopped with me. We’ve been to South side farms to see dirt and crops and farmers.

Aside from the fact that his memory is as poor as his pockets–he has no money and no memory–I’m banking on the faith that these lessons about meal preparation, taste, seasoning, contamination, and presentation are going somewhere.

Occasionally I test him. I ask, “What do you taste?” And his average gets better and better. The more I expose him, the better he gets. At least once way back in the day, he could use his taste buds and not his eyes to list the ingredients of a soup that I threw a dozen things in. And with 70% accuracy.

“If you can tell me how to make donuts, you can have it.”

The boy has not met a challenge that he hadn’t already met.

I tell him, in moments like these, “Use all your powers.”

“I’m going to ask Grandma,” he said.

“I don’t think my Mama has ever made donuts,” I said.

“It’s has to be like making cornbread.”

He went into the story that we laugh at about when Mama came over last year to show us how she makes her cornbread. It’s one of his ways of saying that he knows I can make cornbread but that Mama’s is better. The story is funny but that’s for another post.

I laughed and I decided at that moment where our Saturday afternoon would be. I whispered it to the littlest among us because he wouldn’t tell the secret. Then, we paid for our groceries and finished the first half of the day.

The second half included a visit to the Oriental Institute for my budding Egypt scholar. Then, I told them that we were getting dessert before dinner. I have learned to say these things upon knowing we would. We went to the place where we could buy the best donuts in Chicago, Old Fashioned Donuts. We stood across the street waiting for cars to pass, and I told them, “This is the place where you will eat the best donuts in our great city. And you’ll learn how they’re made.”

It was a really bad bet that I posed that morning. Going to Roseland and looking into that window while Mr. Bulloch worked his magic was everything. I didn’t forget the bet, but the boys did.

After all, I set the one up anyway. I wanted to take the boys to South Michigan, among that sea of South side wonder. I wanted to hear the older boy say, to the licking and smacking of the younger one, “This is the best donut in the city.”