Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Monday, April 30, 2007

Poet Martin Espada: Representing East New York

On the last day of National Poetry month, I thought I’d feature a bit of poetry by Martín Espada, a famous writer that I don’t know much about but plan to investigate further. This Brooklyn-born poet is the winner of an American Book Award and teaches creative writing and Latino Poetry at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Espada grew up in a public housing development in East New York, Brooklyn. In an April 4 interview with poet E. Ethelbert Miller, Espada said that his days in the East New York projects significantly shaped his imagination.

He recalled what his childhood friend, Mari McQueen, now a Consumer Reports editor, once said: “Everyone who comes out of this place has a hard edge… We learned early in life that disrespect has serious consequences, up to and including death.”

Click here to read Espada’s provocative poem, “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits.”

I really love this short yet potent poem by Espada:

Advice to Young Poets

Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head

— from The Republic of Poetry, October 2006, W.W. Norton & Company

Friday, April 27, 2007

Anti-Violence Activist to Speak at Two Nashville Schools

A Detroit mother, Clementine Barfield, started the Save Our Sons and Daughters (SOSAD) program after two of her sons were shot in 1986. Sadly, Derek, the 16-year-old, did not survive the incident—both of Barfield’s sons were caught in a crossfire. SOSAD’s mission is to help victims of crime and prevent other young people from engaging in violent lifestyles. The organization operates a 24-hour hotline for the families of victims that need advice and support.

SOSAD also operates a youth leadership training program, which brings together young people and volunteer police officers, and conducts rallies to encourage youth to avoid trouble. The group actively lobbies local and national public officials to focus attention on crime and its innocent victims.

"When we talked to elementary schoolchildren, we found that 80 to 85 percent of them personally know someone who has been killed,” Barfield told Ebony magazine in 1999. “The majority, believe it or not, have had a grandparent killed,” she said. “If your reality is that you could die any day, then why is killing someone so farfetched?"

Barfield, who has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, the Justice Files, and other television programs will give a message titled, “How to Keep Your Child Safe from Drugs and Gangs" at W. A. Bass Middle School, 5200 Delaware Ave., in Nashville on Thursday, May 3, 5:30–8 p.m. She’ll speak about “Creating a Culture of Peace” on Thursday, May 10, 5:30–8 p.m. at Park Avenue Elementary School, 3703 Park Ave., in Nashville.

"We need to teach children peace," Barfield told the Harvard Public Health Review last month. Children have all kinds of words to describe violence, she said, "but when we ask them to describe peace, they have only a few words to describe that."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I Am That I AM: A Healing Affirmation

Someone told me or perhaps I've read somewhere that, many times, if you turn to a page in the Bible, the message will apply directly to your current life situation. I have experienced this not only with the Bible, but other spiritual books and other pieces of literature.

Most recently, I've experienced this phenomena as I turned to a page in a book called Alchemy of the Heart: How to Give and Receive More Love by Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Patricia R. Spadaro. I don't know much about these authors but the book jacket says that Prophet "has pioneered techniques in practical spirituality, including the creative power of sound for personal growth and world transformation." The information about Spadaro says that she has a "special interest in practical spirituality, gnosticism, and the mystical paths of the world's religions."

The section I turned to is called "Heart Perspectives" and talks about clearing the heart with prayers, affirmations, and visualization."

The authors write that you can use the affirmations that they suggest to "invoke the alchemy of violet flame to clear the painful memories of past experiences."

They can also help clear the subconscious, which accepts the [negative judgements of others]... The violet flame can resolve these patterns of consciousness and free us to be more of our real self.

Many affirmations use the name of God "I AM" to access spiritual power. "I AM" is short for "I AM THAT I AM," the name of God revealed to Moses when he saw the burning bush. "I AM THAT I AM" means simply but profoundly As above, so below. As God is in heaven, so God is on earth within me. Right where I stand, the power of God is. Thus, every time you say, "I AM ..." you are really affirming "God in me is ..."

Visualize violet-colored flames within your heart softening and then melting away any hardness of heart-transforming anger into compassion, bitterness into sweetness, anxiety into peace. You can recite any affirmation once, three times or as many times as you want ..."

I've already added this one to my list of affirmations, meditations, and prayers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cheryl and Pamela: Props in My Distress

One of my favorite novels is So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, a Senegalese writer who died in 1981. I read the book, which was originally written in French, while taking an African Literature class at Hunter College in the early 90s. The book has continued to feed and uplift me since I was introduced to it.

The main character, Ramatoulaye, finds strength and independence after her husband dies. In the aftermath, she communicates her anger at both her husband and the customs that allow polygamy in her long letter to her lifelong friend Aissatou.

In times of stress and turmoil in my life, I have consistently been able to turn to my good friend Cheryl in Los Angeles. She is always there with a kind ear, loving heart, and good advice. I hope I’ve been able to support her as much as she’s uplifted me. Recently, my sister-in-law Pamela has also become a wonderful sounding board. She’s been supportive and wise. Pamela and Cheryl have been two of my most steady “props in my distress.” I don’t know what I would do without them during this awful season in my life.

Here’s an excerpt from So Long a Letter. If you’re a female friend or relative of mine, look forward to receiving a copy of this book from me some time in the future.

Dear Aissatou,

I have received your letter. By way of reply, I am beginning this diary, my prop in my distress. Our long association has taught me that confiding in others allays pain.

Your presence in my life is by no means fortuitous. Our grandmothers in their compounds were separated by a fence and would exchange messages daily. Our mothers used to argue over who would look after our uncles and aunts. As for us, we wore out wrappers and sandals on the same stony road to the koranic school; we buried our milk teeth in the same holes and begged our fairy godmothers to restore them to us, more splendid than before.

If over the years, and passing through the realities of life, dreams die, I still keep intact my memories, the salt of remembrance.

I conjure you up. The past is reborn, along with its procession of emotions. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of feeling: heat and dazzlement, the wood fires, the sharp green mango, bitten into in turns, a delicacy in our greedy mouths. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of images: drops of sweat beading your mother’s ochre-coloured face as she emerges from the kitchen; the procession of young wet girls chattering on their way back from the springs.

We walked the same paths from adolescence to maturity, where the past begets the present.

My friend, my friend, my friend. I call on you three times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dear God, Help Me to Hear

Dear God,

I've spent a lot of time trying to understand him (even now), but I don't think he spent much time trying to understand me (and probably never will).

I've heard this all before, coming from my own mouth. Please help me to really hear it this time.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Learning from the Tibetans

Since I heard about the horrific plight of the mild and peaceful people of Tibet many years ago, I have felt great compassion and kinship with the tragic circumstances that these human beings have had to endure.

In the wake of the invasion of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader, and around 80,000 Tibetans fled into exile in India. In the years after, Tibet's remarkable culture, and its inhabitants, have been systematically persecuted. The flow of Tibetans fleeing Chinese oppression continues to this day, principally through Nepal into India.

Human rights conditions in Tibet remain dismal. Under the Chinese occupation, the Tibetan people are denied most rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including the rights to self-determination, freedom of speech, assembly, movement, expression and travel.

China's consistent use of excessive military force to stifle dissent has resulted in widespread human rights abuses including multiple cases of arbitrary arrests, political imprisonment, torture and execution.

(Source: International Campaign for Tibet)

Of course I don’t know what it feels like to be a refugee, but I do know what it feels like to want to seek exile. I have lived in several cities in my lifetime and not always because that’s what I really wanted to do. So like the Tibetans, I have been nomadic. At times, I have felt almost forced to be a nomad, even when I didn’t want to be. Perhaps this is my kinship with the people of Tibet. Also, the Buddhist philosophy, which deeply values the cultivation of compassion for self and others, has deeply affected me. It’s a journey that I’ve found, lost, and picked back up along the way.

Last night I met an actual Tibetan exile. He is the husband of a newfound friend and a brilliant, warm, and wise person. This Tibetan refugee escaped that country when he was 12 and lived in India and Israel before coming to the United States. How lucky my daughter and I are to have met this friend and her husband. I can’t imagine the trauma that such a life brings. As I go through my own personal trauma presently, I’m in awe and inspired by such a strong and beautiful spirit who has been able to brave such a long and painful disconnect from his family and homeland. (I can closely relate to the disconnection from family and loved ones.)

Back in the late 90s, I used to have two bright red and yellow stickers on the back of my 1981 yellow Volvo that said “Free Tibet.” Amnesty International sent the stickers to me after I had become of member of that organization. I have since sold that car and last night was presented with a “Free Tibet” sticker again from the hands of a Tibetan. I hope this is a sign that more peace and compassion is on its way back into my life—-I so need more of those things in my life right now. Please let this be a sign. From my mouth to God’s ears.

"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." --His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

Friday, April 13, 2007

No Sign of You

by Alicia Benjamin-Samuels

For a year and a half — virtually.
No sign of your mind or your soul
in our midst.
Neglected by you.
We are.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Way of a Lover

by Alicia Benjamin

Listen and the ancestors will tell you what you need to know.

“To love, beloved, is like walking in a rainstorm. You may want to run, but you will still get wet, mwana. Be resolved to feel, from the beginning. A great soaking can be satisfying.

It will not help to think about capturing your love in a round about way—attack with immediacy. Once you have spotted the one you desire, swoop down on him like a hawk—grasping its most precious prey. Swiftly seize your love with glorious passion and delicious intent.

One thing should not become two, binti. Faithfulness is the way of a true lover. Yes, death will shake and traumatize your heart—But even as a soul unfolds and breathes the last bits of this hidden place, love will not perish. Eternally, love will embrace.”

This poem was inspired by my ancestors, Jim Jarmusch’s film, “Ghost Dog” and the book, Hagakure, a compilation of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s philosophies.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ungenocide (Like Jesus)

Ungenocide (Like Jesus)
by Alicia Benjamin

Let’s dream
About a man
In Northern Uganda,
Or somewhere in Iraq, who might
Stretch out his body and
Take the shots to
The heart.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bennie Benjamin was a Man!

Here is my grandfather’s biography, written by his son (my dad), Bobby Benjamin.

My name is Bennie Benjamin. I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be a man. If you want to compare me with anybody in this world, compare me with John Henry, the “Steel Driving Man.”

I was born in Sardis, South Carolina. My father, Peter and my mother, Isabella owned a big house that set on several acres of land. Some said the property looked like a plantation. My parents taught me and my brother and sisters to work hard “having something” like them.

The third grade was as far as I got in school. It was through the help of my dear mother that I learned to read, write, and “figure.” I owe it to my dear mother (God bless her soul), that no one could ever cheat me. Mr. Carriway, the man I was sharecropping with tried to do just that. I worked hard, year after year, and was further and further in debt with Mr. Carriway. One year I had to tell my wife Lizzie that we had cleared just $300. That is the reason I left South Carolina and moved north. I was not worried about making it because God had blessed me with a strong, powerful body like John Henry. First, I went to Quantico, Virginia then Washington, D.C., got work in both places and was soon laid off. I decided to write my wife’s brother, Fulton McElveen, who lived in Norwood, North Carolina. I asked Mac to look out for me a place to move my family. Mac answered right away and said Andy Horne was willing to sell me five acres of land with a house on it for $500. Mac loaned me $50 for a down payment.

Believing as I always did in “having something,” I applied for a job right away. I was hired in the “Pot Room,” at an Aluminum Plant in Badin, North Carolina. I also did a little farming on the side. I added a room to my house and bought a nice 1939 green Pontiac. I think people in the community was a little jealous of me because someone was overheard to say, “How can Bennie get so much and have a house full of children?” They did not know the power of hard work!

When I die, let my epitaph read these simple words:

BB Benjamin was a MAN!
May he rest in peace.