I noticed the signs first. Then I noticed the Poet Donald Green.
His signs were scattered all over the Broadway Lafayette Subway station. Small, large, black & white and in color they all carried a variation on the same message. New York Times published poet sells his poems.
They signs made me pause, then I saw the man and I stopped.
It takes a lot to make a subway rider stop. Especially when it’s 10 o’clock on a freezing night during the coldest month of this century, and the subway rider is a tired Bronx expatriate living in New Jersey with at least an hour more to go in his journey home. Something about the man made me turn back and approach him. Whether it was the kinship of a fellow writer trying to get someone to read his words, or something deeper I couldn’t tell you.
The Poet looked tired. I imagined he’d been standing in the same spot for hours and the day was taking its toll. His eyes were closed and as I approached, he swayed slightly on his feet, trying to keep awake. I began to speak but as I drew closer, his eyes popped open.
Honestly, he looked homeless. His outfit was a mishmash of pieces. Long dark coat over what looked to be several layers, combined with a large winter hat tilted slightly askew, and a loud New York Rangers scarf. His hands were dirty and his nails long and unkempt. The Poet’s smile was bright and sincere despite his bad teeth and filtered as it was through a scraggly beard. For a second I rethought my decisions, and then the Poet spoke.
The first time I heard Maya Angelou speak, I was a teenager and knew nothing of poetry besides dirty limericks and Dr. Seuss. Then, our literature teacher rolled in the AV cart and put in a tape of Maya Angelou reading her poems. I remember being entranced, not so much by the poems, but by the beautiful running water that was her voice. She began slowly, then the words would lift then go back down again. She lengthened words that were born short and so her sentences seemed to go on forever, beautifully.
And so it was with the Poet. He closed his eyes when he spoke and he raised his hands and moved them in time with hiswords. His voice belied his appearance; it had a culture about it, a class. Born in Harlem, but raised in the Ivy Leagues. And his words, like Ms. Angelou’s were like clean water over rocks.
We stood in the subway station as trains came and went and New Yorkers passed us by, on the way home, or out and about for the night. We spoke of writing and its challenges, he told me of his early life, his encounter with the late E. Lynn Harris and other literary greats. We spoke as two Black men who try to reach others with words. My purchase of two of his books earned me my own poem and I watched as the Poet wrote it with a Sharpie, reciting it as he did.
“…you find your way
and grace our world with luminous novels
and God takes care of the rest…”
When he was done we shook hands and he thanked me profusely for the ten dollars I had spent but honestly, I know I got the better part of the deal.
I saw an interview with Mike Tyson recently where he spoke honestly about his feelings after the 2009 death of his young daughter. At one point the Champ abruptly says to his interviewer “You have to go. You understand right? Thank you.”
And with that he rose and left the room.
The interviewer caught up with him and asked a weeping Mike if he was okay, at which point he said one of the saddest things I have ever heard.
“I gotta grow up…its tough…I have to be a man and stop crying…”
No you don’t Mike your little girl is gone. Cry all you want.
Forward to 10:40 to hear Mike’s thoughts process after his daughter’s passing.
Tomorrow will mark one year since twenty-six babies and six adults were massacred in Newtown, CT while doing the most routine thing possible, being in school. I’ll admit, I had zero intentions of writing anything about it, like most of America I’ve been trying to forget it.
A year ago I sat in a client’s office working, wondering about Christmas, if my brother and his family were flying in from Arizona, should I try to hit the mall after work to get some gifts for the family and wondering how bad the Holland Tunnel traffic was. Then, I got a text, opened my web browser and everything changed.
I felt horrible, and like the President, had tears in my eyes when I thought of it. After the Newtown massacre I couldn’t stop thinking about how it must feel like to hug and kiss your baby in the morning and then later realize that that was the last hug, the last kiss. I was sorrowful but it didn’t hit home, not really. Then, I saw an interview with a Newtown father who, just that morning made plans with his little boy to decorate their tree the next day. There are no words to convey the depth of loss and pain in that man’s face. I wanted to get up and walk across the room and get the remote and change the channel then watch something mindless or do something mindless or eat something to distract myself from internalizing his pain but I couldn’t move. Then, when the interview was done, I cried for that dad and twenty-five other families that would never spend another day with their loved ones.
That’s when it hit home for me. After that I couldn’t sleep for days. I silently panicked every time I dropped my daughter off at school. To this day, even a year later I put my hand on my daughter’s head every single day she leaves for school and pray for her safe return home.
God, please protect her, I pray. Or, God, thank you for protecting her, I pray. Or, God, if someone has to go please take me. Please.
As I write this my chest is tight and my eyes burn and the panicked feeling that I felt whenever she left for school is coming back.
I wish I could write eloquently about gun control and gun violence and the need for better health care for the mentally ill. I’ve done the research and tried to put the ideas together but I just can’t. All I think about are babies here one second, gone the next, dying in terror at the whims of a madman. I think that despite babies being killed almost nothing has been done about guns in this country. Then I get angry and I have to calm down and pray, along with just about every other parent in America, that a madman with weapons and a grudge never walks through the door.
Yesterday was a pretty busy day. I woke up early, fought the traffic to New York, then ran from downtown to midtown to SoHo to Brooklyn. Then, I fought the traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge then the Holland Tunnel, arrived home, fed my daughter, took her to dance class then back home again then put her to bed.
Not a great day, but not a bad one either, just busy.
I fell asleep early but my sleep was restless. Finally, something woke me up at around 11:00pm and I couldn’t go back to sleep until around 2:00am.
I don’t know why. I searched my mind for the source of my restlessness but couldn’t find anything. Nothing overwhelming was going on, just the usual. Thinking about work, about the things I wrote that day and what I wanted to write the next day, the design of my new website and where I was going to find the Elf on a Shelf my daughter was sure was going to magically show up in her bedroom the next day. A lot of things to be sure but nothing overwhelming or anything I was particularly worried about.
Finally, exhausted, I fell asleep until my alarm woke me up. I was hoping I’d wake up sans that restless feeling but there it was, like an apparition that you feel but only see out of the corner of your eye.
I shuffled into my daughter’s room to wake her up for school. She was curled into an S under the beautiful pink blanket her mother crocheted for her when she was only a bunch of cells dividing in the womb. It took a minute but she finally woke up, stood up on her bed and threw her arms around me.
Every single day, I say the same thing to my daughter in the morning. It’s the first thing I said to her minutes after she was born. “I’m so happy to see you today.”
This morning my daughter beat me to it. She must have somehow sensed I had this restlessness inside me because she said “Hi Daddy, I’m so happy to see you today.”
Doesn’t seem like much, does it? But, like magic, the spirit of restlessness was gone. Whatever discontent I was feeling was no match for a seven year-olds sincere love and appreciation for her dad.
“I’m happy to see you today honey,” I said. I meant it.
A lot has been happening lately. Things that were lost are found again and some things I thought were permanent are slowly fading. Luckily, some things will never fade and I am finding that these are things I must hold onto and cherish. I watched a Sermon by Joel Osteen the other day called Remembering the Good. Part of what he said was that sometimes we get down, not playing the good times in our minds but the bad. That’s my plan, to remember the good, so that when next the spirit of restlessness visits me, as it visits us all, I won’t fight it. I’ll invite it in and hang out with it for a while, remembering the good. Then, after a while I’ll show it the door and move on as we all must.
I haven’t spoken with my father much lately. A few weeks ago we spoke about the past. I chose to tell him how I saw things. He chose to not talk to me anymore.
That’s the risk you run when you share your truth.
The other day, stressed and tired, I snapped at my daughter. She didn’t deserve it and a few minutes later I sat next to her on the floor and apologized. Without a moment’s hesitation my sweet, wonderful child threw her arms around her flawed and imperfect father and said, “it’s okay Dad, I forgive you.
Then she ran to get her backpack to get the picture that she’d drawn for me, and we talked about the good times we had in the summer.
It took a six year old to teach her father about forgiveness.
Still, I haven’t made the call I know I should make. Maybe my truth is the truth and making the call would be tantamount to denying it. Maybe, there’s a part of me that knows that I should have kept my mouth shut and allowed my father to have his reality, and not knock down the walls he’s built around the truth. Maybe I’m sick and tired of being the one expected to make the peace.
So, what will happen if history repeats itself? How will it feel if I am on the receiving end of the quiet anger from my grown child who’s too tired, too stressed and too damn weary to give much of a damn what her old man thinks? I hope that I’ll have the strength to admit my failures. I hope something of the little girl who threw her arms around her dad remains and that she can forgive me once again.
I hope she remembers that I took her to the beach, and that we went to Coney Island and we had fun.
Once upon a time, my dad took me to the beach. He took me to Coney Island. We had fun too.
One minute I’m staring up at the ceiling, listening to the creaks and shudders of a house settling down for the night and wishing, hoping praying that just for once I could fall asleep like a normal person, then the next I’m in a frantic dreamland fun house occupied by every bogeyman I’ve ever been afraid of. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about loss, so my dreams are saturated with sad goodbyes that translate, when I wake up, into a fog of emotion that should burn away in the sunlight but never does. The worst ones involve my daughter and her walking away to a far-away building. She enters and some hazy form is just inside the doorway, someone I feel I should know but don’t. She embraces him/her then shuts the door without looking back. She is gone, and I know without anyone telling me that I won’t ever see her again.
Maybe it’s the season. Maybe it’s me coming to terms with things I should have a long time ago. Or maybe, as a friend told me, I’m mourning, finally.
“Daddy,” she said. “It’s the song we danced to at the father-daughter dance. Remember, at the recital?”
I did remember. The father-daughter dance is usually the last number at her dance recitals and last year the song was Dance with Cinderella, the kind of song about a father and daughter I might have made fun of in another life. Now that I am a father, with a daughter, the song about a dad watching his little girl grow up and get married gets me every single time. During rehearsals the song played over and over and over, and over and over a roomful of men, tough resilient men, men of all races and ages linked by the common thread of our love of our little girls, wiped their eyes and pretended not to see the emotion welling in one another as we danced with our beautiful daughters.
I felt the emotion again and began to think about the dream I had the night before and how the song fit perfectly into my fears of losing what I loved. Then…
“Dance with me Daddy.”
I stood up and tried to remember the steps and for the next three minutes we danced, me trying not to step on her feet, she trying to get in as many twirls and spins as one gorgeous six-year old ballerina could in so short a time. When the song was over we danced some more to another song, then another, then another.
It wasn’t until later, after I’d kissed her good night, that I realized I’d missed the point of the song, of my dreams, of life. Stop worrying about what may come and enjoy what is. I wasted time agonizing about the future when the present is here to be lived. I still don’t know what my dreams meant, or why I was having them but now it doesn’t seem as important.
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone…