BEHIND THE POEM: On January 2, 2019, I attended a “Write In; Read Out” hosted by the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio. The event featured a 4-hour writing session in the Sulzer Library followed by a 2-hour reading of participants’ work at a local pub. The Writer’s Studio projected wrting prompts and offered suggestions on way to play with language. However, I was inspired by the disco ball on the ceiling (pictured above). The following is one of the pieces I wrote.

Dangling motionless above the silence,

A disco ball hangs in the library.

A vacuum cleaner whines its defiance

to patrons focused and sedentary.

While discos have long since gone out of style,

Their glass-covered balls liven up a space

Whenever they’re spun in the light. Meanwhile

The disco ball screams that it’s out of place.

A room full of writers working on scripts.

All that’s heard is faint scratching from ink pens,

keyboard clicks, page turnings, and zippers zips.

Brought together as colleagues if not friends.

Some people nod and smile to be polite.

This place seems too quiet for me to write.


Messenger: St. Louis woman did 20 days in jail for speeding; now rural Missouri judge wants her for 6 more months.

Yet another case

Of mass incarceration

Targeting black folk.


She was: caught speeding,

Did her time, and paid her fines.

But that’s not enough.


The deal was bogus.


Breathing while black
Breathing fresh air polluted by hate
Hate is suffocating
Hate of non-white skin
Skin is only skin deep
Skin should not determine privilege
Privilege bestowed upon the white
Privilege denied to the black
Black America is a lost colony
Black America is still America
America the united states of
America the beautiful
Beautiful people
Beautiful conceptually speaking
Speaking to the base
Speaking in English that is broken
Broken like truths held self-evident
Broken like promises of freedom
Freedom denied
Freedom of speech
Speech is costly
Speech is wasted
Wasted like education
Wasted like victims of being black
Black America is a lost colony
Black America is still America
America the united states of
America the beautiful
Beautiful minds give birth to
Beautiful dreams
Dreams of paid debts
Dreams we wake up and forget
Forget black history never taught
Forget to keep breathing
Breathing while black
Breathing fresh air polluted by hate
Hate destroys
Hate consumes like fires
Fires that rage after droughts
Fires next time Baldwin wrote about
About race
About face
Face the music we try not to hear
Face the nation has a bad track record with colored people
People with vaginas people with penises who love people with penises
People perpetually persecuted through prison pipelines for being black
Black America is still America
Black America is American

TODDLER BODY SEARCHES (for the women, children and families of the Reunification Rides)

Children are the “collateral damage”

when their mothers are incarcerated.

Grandparents are often left to manage

Little people to whom they’re related

The separation anxiety,

Angry misbehavior, and confused rage

Would test even a saint’s sobriety

Trying to explain why mom’s in a cage!

Legal aid, circle keepers, and churches

Try to mitigate familial schisms.

Toddlers subjected to body searches

To visit their mommies inside prisons.

Thankfully, Reunification Rides

Help families cope while moms are inside.

PASSIVE MICRO-AGGRESSION, IMPLICIT BIAS & KARMA (a short true “_______ while being black” story)

A woman puts her laptop and coat on the next table, looks right past me, and asks the white woman on the other side of me to watch her stuff! Karma is funny. The white woman left moments after she went to stand in line! I smiled at her when she returned, and saw the vacant seat next to me.

MANDATED MARGINALIZATION (a sonnet on the collateral damages of mass incarceration)

Once arrested, arraigned, tried, convicted

And incarcerated, to “pay their debt.”

Though their time’s been served, they’re still restricted.

They’ve walked out of prison- but ain’t “free” yet!

Their liberty comes with consequences.

They are stalked by their pasts like Jean Valjean.

Uncaged birds with clipped wings perch on fences.

The debt they thought they paid still lingers on.

For “second-class citizens” in the hood

This mandated marginalization,

Supposedly for the “greater good,”

Pigeon-holes them into isolation.

Barriers such as these, let’s not pretend

Will more than likely make them re-offend.