Books

Countee Cullen

Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

Explore the life and work of the Poet Laureate of the Harlem Renaissance.
Available August 15th.

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Excerpts

a small sample of my work

Table of Contents



Poetry
Previously Published
Jim Harrison (3) 1
To Yesenin 2
Short Stories
Previously Published
My Church 3

1

Letter to Jim Harrison (3)

I’ve always hated the snow. Michigan boy, why am I where you
should be? We’ve cut ourselves off from lifelines, undid the rope,
strand by strand, and watched Yesenin’s body collapse like
the way my suitcase slammed shut after I first locked
my bedroom and kissed the decorated door
goodbye with my finger tips. You grunt and I understand that we
have to take the body out to the lobby. You grab him at the legs
not wincing at the smell of his soiled pants and I am too weak to
pick up his pinky. I look for where Yesenin got the blood to write
his last words. Did he cut his finger? His chest? Or stab into his
---pants,
the real heart of men? You start to drag his body without me, his
---head
slightly bouncing Yes. And I think of all the questions that might
---have answered.>
We push his body down the stairs and gravity works like it did the
---night he tied his
noose. In the lobby we replace the rope with a chain and hang
---Yesenin from a chandelier
to illuminate for all, that final question.









Published by The Live Poets Society of New Jersey

2

To Yesenin

Our gut has been writing poems to you.
Yesenin, if you are the heart, then
I must be the hands, following orders to
twist the knot and check the grip, for you
taught me not to ignore your calls for
rope.

Resting with flowers, made
to look as though you were sleeping,
but we know how alive you were,
kicking your legs in that fanciful dance.
You should have been left
hanging.

Your face, in the coffin, a stifled cry.
Heart, if you are crying now, hope is there,
for Harrison and I will join you. For now
our body, our saga, begun with a rope,
is twisting slowly, our feet
barely—









Published in Catch Literary Magazine

3

My Church

The old church bell rang softly from the hill on which it stood surrounded by a cul-de-sac of trees. Sparrows flew through plain blue skies under the sun, swooping down over the small pond separated from the roadside by pea green grass. The blades bent over from squalls of wind made by my battery powered car passing by. The Church had been around since my childhood and was the only constant growing up, everything else around it changed. Even my family home was broken down, but not the Church. The old log cabin look still pertained and looked beautiful, naturally decaying and moving along with the earth’s cycle. The lighting was done through big windows facing the sunny side of the hill, I never remembered a time where the church was too dim. It seemed like a thousand lights were inside even though there was no electricity in the building. It was small, with one room making up the entire spot. I used to go there in my youth every Sunday. But now it almost seems impossible with the work schedule I hold, Sundays are used for house hold tasks and catching up. Though I’d rather have taken the dirt road up to the top of the hill than go into the jaws of a vice of mankind.

Right in front of me the jungle of human development towered forcefully, beating down nature, making sure the pines stood in line. It was a big pile of grey formed on top of the vegetation, diminishing the perfection of innate earth.

My daughter Sylvia and I were on our Sunday afternoon shopping trip at the mini-mart only corners away from the concrete-less church grounds. We entered the gravel parking lot from the left

4

port into the gasoline-fumed area. The air reeked of civilization and their cigarettes. I disabled the child safety locks and allowed Sylvia to get out the car. She stood silently with her hands gripping her skirt and a wide-eyed look on her five year old face. I locked the car and offered her my hand. She clenched it and we walked across the street. We looked both ways first of course.

The doors opened to let out a gust of air as we walked in. I took a cart and led the way, pushing the cold steel contraption in front of us. Mothers and fathers walked up and down the aisles. Their children noisily followed to ask for sweets: sugar induced gums, chocolates, cookies, fruit flavored snacks instead of real ones, and lollypops with swirls of different flavors all packed into one cavity inviting treat.

Their kids ran around, grabbing everything off the shelves as if we were in Willy Wonka’s factory, throwing it into the burdened arms of their parents.

Then more parents and their candy-crazed kids piled into the building, and hurried to get their shopping done so they could go back to their spring cleaning. All the detergents and substances they used would probably kill spring. I read that in a book.

Candy was not something I personally endorsed, but Sylvia was allowed to have a few pieces every now and then. I didn’t want her beautiful teeth to fall out from cavities. Unlike those other children, Sylvia wouldn’t run and grab what she could. She would simply keep her thumb in her mouth and wave her hand to get my attention. If I thought her choice was appropriate, then we would

5

walk together and take it from the shelf. She looked at the lollipop stand, no doubt artificial flavors and sweeteners filled it. That lollipop would be poison to feed a healthy child. Then there was the possibility of it cracking in her mouth and choking her, but I doubt that ever happens. I frowned at her and shook my head No.

Her eyes grew wet; I raised my eyebrow and lowered my chin to let her know I meant what I said. I pulled her away from the stand and she stumbled after me.

The mart was too chilly for a five year old; luckily I was prepared with a jacket for Sylvia. I asked her to put it on. She removed her thumb from her mouth with a pop and stiffly complied. I zipped it up and she wriggled her collar. I didn’t loosen the turtle neck zip. Her throat was very sensitive. I smoothed out the wrinkles of the jacket. Then her hand returned to her mouth.

I detest wrinkles. It gives a bad impression. Sylvia’s hair was put in two neat and tight ponytails that morning, her pink dress ironed twice and her white stockings eluded lint. It was as if they were brand new and not a year old. We had to be very careful with our belongings those days because Dan, my husband, and I had been having financial problems for a couple of years. Though I never let Sylvia know. In her world everything was peaceful. As if humans never came and brought all the tribulations we as adults face today.

Just ahead of me was my friend Gloria; she was a Spanish teacher at the public high school in the city and lived only blocks away from us in the suburbs. She was there with her son Manuel. He

6

was six years old, with chocolate brown hair, tan complexion, big cheesy grin, dark mischievous eyes, and arms full of candy that he dumped into his mother’s basket. I should have noticed that sooner than I did, it already told me all I needed to know about him.

Gloria and I decided to shop together. Manuel walked beside his mother and I still held Sylvia’s hand. We talked about the way teenagers acted up in her classes and the problems of the county’s education system. I liked talking to Gloria, the conversation was always interesting. She told me about a boy and his girlfriend, how he impregnated her and actually decided to stay with her to get married. She was so proud of that student. I thought he was stupid to not use protection in the first place, if he was thinking of having sex in the first place. Where were his parent’s I’d like to know? You should always tell your children, as teens, the downside of extramarital sex.

Manuel kept walking in and out of the group. He’d grab cereals, candy, cookies, ice creams and then have to return them if Gloria said no. Sometimes he jumped a step for no reason, fell behind, and then ran to catch up. He’d interrupt the conversation to say something obnoxious, like how he found a dead bug under his desk at school and no one picked it up for three days, and then smile and walk off. All the while Sylvia watched and studied him from the corner of her eyes, her thumb still in her mouth.

He could tell that his actions did not elude Sylvia; he took in a deep breath puffing out his chest and moved around to get next to her swiftly. He spoke, tell me your name. He noticed her glances even before I did and welcomed them. He poked her constantly and

7

she’d just ignore it. Her docile state must have intrigued him. She wouldn’t cry or whine like other girls and she wouldn’t poke back like boys. She didn’t do anything. He decided to be nice; after all he was getting nowhere acting tough.

He stopped poking at her and grinned. He started talking to her, though at the time though I was enthralled by a story from Gloria about a drug raid at her school and his voice only entered my ears for random, harmless phrases like I’m six years old. Sylvia must have looked at me for guidance but I wasn’t there to help her with this child’s habits. She continued her silence. Manuel insisted talking to her, trying to show her his importance by bragging about the fights he’d won in school. Her manner of looking straight ahead, blushing, and biting harder on her thumb did not discourage him, because if he stopped talking for a second, she would look at him again.

He asked her things like, what’s your name, and, how old are you. At that point I noticed their talk even more, but I didn’t see any damage in it. Gloria’s school had so many problems; we never talked about the nature surrounding it because there were none.

I kept walking with Gloria, shopping and chatting. Sylvia’s reaction to Manuel must have changed earlier, because Sylvia’s grip on my hand softened. That startled me. Gloria commented on the interaction between our children. She said they were like a racecar and a sweet deer. I could only picture the headlights shine on my deer’s face before that reckless boy crashes in to her and ruins her.

Gloria knew before I did that a friendship was forming between the

8

two. Sylvia was smiling behind her hand, sucking on her thumb less intensely. Though we weren’t planning their wedding already, it was like the charm of watching two kids in a park. Except this was the mini-mart by the church only a slight way from home by car. My hand was always in the scenery attached to Sylvia’s. I tucked invisible hairs behind my ear. Sylvia didn’t look at my signal. I was watching her but she only saw Manuel. I kept going harder nearly scraping the side of my face for her to take notice, but it was to no effect.

Gloria knew well before I did. Gloria knew more than I did. Gloria could have probably already told what was happening when Sylvia took her thumb out her mouth, the pop echoing in my ear as she wiped the slobber on her skirt and reached out to Manuel, looking only at him when she slipped from my grasp and took his hand. They walked off to the end of the aisle and then stopped. Sylvia looked back at me, smiled sweetly, and loosened her jacket zip to face the cold.

Manuel and my daughter disappeared to the candy aisle and Gloria wasn’t worried at all. She chuckled to herself while one of my hands felt cold and the other kept fiddling with my ear. My Sylvia walked off to devour everything she could and probably get sick and all Gloria thought was how cute they were. We walked to the cashier together even though I wanted to run and grab hold of my daughter before it was too late.

Sylvia reappeared. She walked straight towards me and dropped a swirl lollypop in the pushing-cart. I paid for everything; my hands couldn’t lift out that lollypop of iron and it traveled home

9

with us on the backseat, in its own bag, next to Sylvia. I couldn’t believe what happened.

That day they were closing down the church for good. The Mini-mart won and the church grounds were sold off. We saw the contractors standing in a group looking over blue prints while the priest watched heavy hearted. Sylvia sat in the back seat smiling and laughing, swinging her legs and looking out the window. She had a play date with Manuel next weekend. Manuel lived in Gloria’s world, his school was near the high school, he was a loud and boisterous youth, he was lively and enthusiastic, and Sylvia was learning that from him.

My hands gripped the steering wheel, squeezing it to feel a pulse emit. I commanded, ordered, requested, pleaded, begged- there was nothing. It was rubber covered metal, cold and dead like everything else that grew, changed, and left me behind.













Second Place, Fresh Literary Magazine Fiction Contest 2008

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