XVI by Ronald Clark

Period 3… 

World History. I still do not like how much the truth is despised here. Nevertheless, my approach to broadening the horizons of those who find solitude in their inaccuracies - primarily my teacher - could be retooled. No use in constantly barking about what I find ails our education system, and the below-average intellect that runs amok within it, if I can never properly engage in conversation that might change a mind or two. 

Being intelligent is only fun when you’re winning.

I hold back my tongue from even mentally calling my teacher a minion. That sentiment alone has ridded any opportunity for possible respect to be created. She had no chance to reach me. I hated how she delivered her subject matter, what subject matter she was delivering and the people that she set out to satisfy in delivering said subject matter.

But today is a new day. You can still teach a young dog new tricks. Even if that young dog might be the most stubborn pup of them all. 

By the way, my World History teacher’s name is Mrs. Ward. I know I refrained from naming her earlier, but that was out of utter disdain for her face. Her face is fine with me now. I can stand to look at it, if only because I have convinced myself that it would be much easier to look at her than to continually find new ways to rotate my neck in a direction that does not include her in my eyeline.

Apparently, God does have a sense of humor. Today, the day I am attempting to change my attitude towards my teachers and to give them at least a chance at educating me further than I have already educated myself, Mrs. Ward decides that she wants to tackle the controversial topic of police brutality in America.

She sends a sly smirk my way but I do not budge. I actually decide that this would be a good time for me to raise my hand. 

Hand is up.

“Yes, Vinnie? What am I doing wrong, now?”

“I’m just curious as to your view of police brutality from the perspective of a white woman in America. Not even in a sarcastic way, just in case you may have jumped to that conclusion. I am truly interested in hearing the opinion of someone so far removed from the topic. By no choice of your own.”

My classmates’ glares go from me to Mrs. Ward. She is somewhat stunned at this opportunity that has befallen her and is slow to react. She is used to going back and forth with me to no end but this calm creature before her who actually seems interested in her viewpoint is a creature she is not yet used to interacting with. I’d hate to say that this is actually more fun than my usual tactics with her but…

“Well, Vinnie, first and foremost, I don’t think I should give my opinion about such a divisive subject in class.”

“But we want to hear what you think, Mrs. Ward. Use this as a chance to truly give us your perspective. I mean, the only white women we really interact with are those of you that decide to teach in the inner-city for whatever reason, so please do enlighten us. Does your jaw drop in anguish every time you see an unarmed black man shot down by the police? Do you see our faces in theirs? Or do you think that we have our own part in our constant demise at the hands of the police, as maybe, we do in the high school suspension rates among black and Latino children? You’re allowed to have an opinion, Mrs. Ward. This is America.”

“That will be later in your high school career when you take U.S. History. Let’s stick to World History, shall we?”

“So I’m guessing then we will be engaging in the conflict in apartheid South Africa, won’t we, Mrs. Ward?”

“Can you let me teach, Vinnie?”

“By all means, Mrs. Ward. I am all ears.”

I might have raised my hand to either ask or answer a question about 12 times that period. Mrs. Ward had to have gotten sick of me by the fourth one, but she knew that I could not be stopped. I am now both every teacher’s joy and fear, dream and nightmare. I am a smart kid who knows he is smart. And once I decide that I want to be a challenge instead of a nuisance, the entire student-teacher dynamic changes and I am now a teacher’s walking insecurity.

You cannot come into class unprepared anymore, Mrs. Ward.


“Yes, Mrs. Ward?”

She stops to carefully choose her words, yet, she chooses something so simple, but it still resonates: “Thank you.”

I just smile the same smile I have recycled the past three periods. This period was going to be my biggest challenge no matter what kind of changes I was looking to make. It didn’t go quite like I planned, but it was still an improvement.

I don’t want to kill her and she seems like she doesn’t want to kill me. I’ll chalk that up as a win.

Period 4…

Art. My HB pencil sketch of a black man in his late 20s being lynched in rural Mississippi with the heavens opening up as he takes his last breaths is hanging up on the wall. It’s like a white privilege shield for all to see.

Ms. Scott sees me. And it is immediate. 

“What changed?”

“The wind.”

“Makes perfect sense to me.”

Ms. Scott smiles at me. I smile back at her. She senses the difference in my smile. The calm, the love, the freedom, her eyes tell me this. She knows how to communicate with me. We speak like artists speak. It’s just what we do. If anyone understands who I am in this moment, it is Ms. Scott.

I head to my seat.


“Yes, Ms. Scott?”

“I have something I want to talk to you about.”


“Not yet. But soon.”

“Sounds good, Ms. Scott.”

Whenever Ms. Scott says she needs to speak to me about something, it either has to do with my mother, or art, or both. My two favorite subjects. This puts yet another smile on my face. I am starting to get used to this whole smiling thing.

I get up to open a window. Need a little wind in here.

Period 5…

Sign language. I participate with earnest. Engage in the silence. Learn a few new signs. Truly enjoy myself. Word has spread that I seem to be a different person. I keep getting leper’s stares. I’ll take it, though. I am enjoying this sense of unpredictability. As we well know, I take pleasure in the oddest of things.


One of our counselors. His name doesn’t matter. Speaks with our teacher. Conversation is fast. Conversation is necessary. I cannot keep my eyes off them. Or…


Our teacher signs to us the most beautiful phrase she has ever produced. ‘Class, we have a new student joining us. Please welcome…’ Our teacher does not have a sign for her name. I do not think one would be available to her even if she wanted to. There is no sign that could properly put into perspective the beautiful being before us.

“Jhene,” the being says.

No taller than 5-foot-1. One hundred pounds might be a stretch. Short haircut, Halle Berry circa 1991. Shy eyes. A baggy long sleeve shirt. Beat up jeans with organized holes in them. Dirty black and white Chuck Taylors. A bag with pins and stickers tossed about its outside, it touches her right knee as it hangs. Avril Lavigne splashed with melanin. Her lips full, but not wide. Her smile, effortless, but I might be guessing. I don’t think she has smiled yet. That might just be me.

She looks my direction. I cannot escape her eye contact. I am entranced by her piercing brown eyes. She flashes a slight smile, a strategic move. Her smile, is indeed, effortless. This beautiful girl before me is everything...

She has me.

Period 6…

I’m pretty sure I went to class. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. And I’m pretty sure… 


XV by Ronald Clark

My conversation with God pitted me against an upbringing filled with doubt, but knowing that God is open to such discussion, open to being vulnerable within Her own strength, open to entertaining my doubts, insecurities and rage, allows me the room to explore my spirituality without fear. 

So much of religion is based on the robotic nature of its followers, when the purest form of religious belief systems are that of the individual. The individual builds their own spiritual rapport with the deity of their choosing for one cannot make it to heaven on the wings of another. You are not saved by association. So looking to carbon copy one another’s spiritual journey is to do your beloved a disservice.

I now show the wind the utmost respect, for it represents my mother, in her newest form, and a God I am feverishly getting to know, even as I dissect Her actual existence. I do not think that I can continue to live the way in which I have been living, with acts of love only geared towards Walter. 

It was not as if I dispersed love all about when my mother was alive, but the distribution of the love given to her, from me, could be spread among the masses. That love could make its way into the lives and homes of so many, if only I could harness it and put it to good use. I refuse to keep this kind of love to myself. Selfishness is unbecoming. I do not want to be regarded in such a light. 

I seek change in this world. I truly do.

“You need to get back to your art thing.” 

Walter snaps me back into the present, with his own distinct form of simplicity. It always tickles me, and yet, he can be quite deep at times. 

“Are you a fan?” 

Walter looks at me with playful disdain.

“I don’t like any other art, or artists, I’ll just say that.”

“I’m touched.” 

“Touch your paintbrush. Lonely thing probably misses you. Hard to deal with that fast of a break up. When your normal isn’t normal anymore.” 

We sit in the silence of our dead mothers. It is a silence only we understand. But it is a silence nonetheless. 

“I destroyed my easel.”

“Then fix it.”

Our hands have long since stopped touching. It was, however, a moment in our friendship necessary for us to continue being friends. He has to understand that there are no boundaries to this. That my love knows no ceilings, or rooftops. I do not fear the stares or glances of those who do not seek love in all its forms.

I tend to seek out those who do not seem to be getting love in the places they yearn for the most. My mother, from my father. Walter, from his father. Relationships built in silence, or terror. I swim in the sadness of others, wash upon its shores, and save others from drowning. In the meantime, I never leave the water myself, always in position to save, or be saved. I am them, and they are I, so who better to know what is necessary to breathe. 

“I do miss how it feels in my hand.”

“Why destroy it in the first place?”

“Let’s just say it was a crime of passion.”

“I could see that.”

“Without my mother, it just doesn’t feel right.”

The wind blows. But this is different. It feels like it was summoned, as if I had called its name, and wanted it here at this very moment. Then I realize that I had called its name, for its name is no longer ‘wind’. Calling my mother’s name was all the wind needed to blow. She controls it now. It is her paintbrush. Who am I to surrender my own when my mother could find hers within the pain of her departure?


The wind again, shifts in a useful direction. It passes through my fingers with precision and grace. 


I, and the wind, hold hands. I, and my mother, hold hands. I feel where she would want me to go with my painting. I feel what is necessary for me to move forward with my work. I must not let it flounder in her absence. I must continue what we started. 


Destroying our canvas, our place of worship, was the action of a petulant child. I have consumed too much literature to behave as such.

How dare I?


I will rectify this situation.

“You meditating or something?” 

Walter has witnessed this trance of mine. It’s cute, he almost looks worried. Knowing I can go to this place, hold hands with this wind, breathe in an angel who has left this earthly vessel, is a knowledge I can take with me, to sustain me as I take these tainted steps into an uncertain future. 

“No meditation necessary. I just needed to have a conversation with my muse.”

“I won’t pretend to understand what that means. But did you at least get what you needed?”

“That I did, my dear friend. That I did.”

“Good. That’s all that matters. Let’s get out of here. Staying too long at the cemetery turns beauty into fear fast as hell.”

I smile at my friend. He is the one whose shoulder will be used the most in the coming days, months, years. I do not trust anyone else with my heart like I do Walter. He doesn’t even try. It comes naturally to him, at least, when it comes to me. He doesn’t have to think about it. When you love someone like Walter loves me, like I love Walter, thinking is a secondary consideration. It is an innate response to need. If, and when, he needs me, I am there. If, and when, I need him, he is there. 

Love like this is rare, among males. I will hold his hand but will not kiss him, nor do I want to. I do not think he wants to kiss me, either, but if he did, I would smile and engage him. If that is how he wants to express his love for me, so be it. We must not put love in a box for patriarchy to turn into an expression that lacks diversity. Romantic love should not be the pinnacle of expression. Familial love, friendship, and such, should be held in the same esteem, with no barriers to how that love is expressed. 

Our exit from the cemetery turns into a race home. I intermittently saunter and sprint, naturally faster than Walter. He tries to keep up, but to no avail. I humor him a bit, give him moments of possibility before crushing his hopes in the most loving of ways. This is nothing new to us. Walter is very aware of my capabilities and I feel him wondering why this friendship works. But he truly is my best friend. And I wouldn’t change him, or us, for the world. 

I am tired from running. The cemetery would seem like it was close by due to the vicinity of this and the latter sentence, but I promise, it was much further. Upon arrival onto our street, we run into an argument of sorts. An argument that Walter and I can help with.

“See, with Walter and Vinnie here, we can play two on two football with me at all-time quarterback.”

This is Pinto. A fat kid with a strong arm and short legs. He can’t play any other position other than all-time quarterback because him running a route would seemingly take us to the brink of extinction.

“It don’t matter to me. Whatever we do, whatever we play, I just know that I was sent here to save the day.”

This is Velcrow. A tall, lanky kid who rivals me as an athlete. I am faster, by a hair, but due to his height and athleticism, he is widely regarded as better. This challenge excites me. I do not like to come (in) second. But you knew that already...

“Y’all gonna pick the same bullshit teams y’all always do. Screw it, I’m winning anyway.”

This is Spencer. If you met him and Walter together, you would automatically think they were brothers. He has the same rugged exterior as Walter but lacks the heart beating in Walter’s chest. Spencer is all aggression, all the time. It’s hard to tell whether he actually likes us, or we actually like him, but nevertheless, he is one of us and as tough as they come.

Pinto. “Y’all know the deal. Spencer and Vinnie versus Velcrow and Walter.” 

Walter. “We never even said if we were playing or not.”

A long pause engulfs the group. Walter wouldn’t dare ruin the game with some excuse as to why him he and I were not going to participate. Velcrow laughs a high-pitched laugh.

Velcrow. “Thought so, bro. We don’t turn down football games around these parts. You know how we do.”

Pinto. “Let’s get it.”

Spencer. “I wasn’t playing earlier. An ass kickin’ is comin’.”

Velcrow. “You must have just met me the other day or something, bro. I don’t take losses. Not in my DNA, fam.”

Spencer gives me a long look. He knows I am a wild card, depending on my mood. I am the only one who can possibly give Velcrow a run for his money, if I so choose.

I choose…

Pinto. “Spencer and Vinnie, y’all get the ball first.”

Velcrow. “Don’t matter.”

Spencer and I head down to the other end of the street to await the kickoff. Pinto rears back and launches a perfect spiral to our end of the street. As it is in the air, Spencer looks at me. I look at him. He nods in my direction. I smile, my utter glee catching him off guard. 

I move under the ball and catch it. Spencer runs in front of me to block. Now, normally, I would want him to block Velcrow and let me just give Walter a quick move to break free. But I was in too good of a mood to not let Velcrow in on my shenanigans. I was going to take out all my joy on his knees and ankles. 

I run behind Spencer to set up his block on Walter. As Velcrow makes his move to tag me from the side, I put on the brakes, side step him, disrespect his ankles and explode up the sideline, leaving him wailing in the wind. I swear my mother must have held him up for a second because he hit that Matrix something vicious. My explosion up the sideline turned into an egotistical jog as everyone watched me score.

Pinto. “Yo, that was just foul, yo. Why you do him like that, Vinnie?”

Pinto laughs. Velcrow stares my way like, ‘Don’t worry, I got you.’ I hit him with a smirk. This is going to be fun. 

We switch sides of the street and Spencer can’t stop smiling. 

Spencer. “Next time you plan to embarrass Velcrow, at least let me watch.”


Pinto. “Bombs away!”

He launches another perfect spiral. Both Velcrow and Walter look to catch it, making them both hesitate. The ball hits the pavement and bounces onto the sidewalk, out of bounds.

Velcrow. “What the hell would make you think it was time for you to touch the rock?”

Walter. “I didn’t know if your ankles would be up for running after what Vinnie did to them." 

Pinto falls over laughing. This game is not going as planned for Velcrow. Embarrassment is not usually a hat he wears. But on this day, he is getting it from all angles.

Velcrow. “Just throw me the damn ball.”

Pinto slowly gets up. I could go home, watch an episode of Master of None and still get back in time for him to reach his feet.

Pinto. “Ready… Set… Go!”

Pinto backpedals like a quarterback who is actually being rushed, despite no one in that role at the moment. Walter runs a deep crossing pattern and Velcrow attempts to run a deep post. As Velcrow moves into the latter half of his route, Pinto seems to be eyeing the Walter-Spencer matchup. I see this and make the reckless decision to leave Velcrow. That dude is wide open. Pinto can’t see him, though. He has already made his decision that he is going to Walter.

The ball leaves Pinto’s hands, heads in Walter’s direction. Both Walter and Spencer see the ball, but they don’t see me. I sneak up on both of them and snatch the ball out of the air. Startled, they both watch as Pinto attempts to tag me. I give him a slow but filthy move as punishment for his mistakes. All I hear in the background is Velcrow whining about how wide open he was.

Velcrow. “Throw me the damn ball!” 

Pinto. “He was open, man. I swear he was.”

Velcrow. “If I have nine people on me, you still throw me the ball. I’m Velcrow!”

I just smile.

Velcrow. “What you smiling at?”

“All love. It’s not your fault that this is all you are.”

Velcrow gets in my face now. Typical.

Velcrow. “What you say to me?”

“If you took away football, who would you be?”

Velcrow. “Definitely not you. I got a better relationship with my daddy and he’s in jail.”

The game stops in its tracks. All eyes are on me. I hold it together the best I can. But I can’t lie, Velcrow’s words actually caused a bit of damage. 

Velcrow. “Oh you think we don’t know? We have always known. You walk around like you’re better than all of us. But them books ain’t saving you from the same fate the rest of us got. I ain’t gotta daddy. And your daddy don’t want to be here. I wouldn’t wanna raise you either. Too much damn work.”

Velcrow stays in my face, breath smells like The Underground Railroad. I have never really cared for this gentleman, but in order to find some level of competition in the athletic realm, we have always chosen to be on opposite teams in all sports simply for the challenge. We have never been on the same team. And we aren’t on the same team now.  

This easily could resort to violence. But I live a life of WWJBD: What Would James Baldwin Do? And Baldwin would not succumb to the adolescent urge to solve everything with fists. So I just take the football from Pinto. Punt it over a nearby house that none of us live in. Piss off everyone further. And head home smiling.

Walter smiles, too.

XIV by Ronald Clark

I breathe in deeply. Selective belief is no belief at all, but I am learning to accept a higher being of some sort governs what we humans do on a regular basis. This growing belief puts me in a better position to ask for things my spirit needs to survive, like conversing with my mother, or in this case, God. I need to know things that other humans cannot provide me answers to. And too often, the Bible, written by humans, does not take into consideration generational shifts, so it must be taken in with a heightened grain of salt for not everything in it would be tolerated in today’s world. Disagree? Tell your mother or sister that you cannot sit down in a chair they have sat down in during their period for biblical reasons and see what they say.

The air changes. Wind speeds up. Nostrils twinge. Then relax, when they realize the reason for the change is harmless, even if it’s harmed itself.

“Vinnie, you close your eyes a lot. Someone's gonna sneak up on you one day.”

Oh, Walter, how I love you so…

“Hello, my dear friend. I am guessing that you are here for a similar reason as I am?”

“Something like that. I only had to come here by myself before. Now that you’ve joined this messed up club, guess you’ll be here as much as I am. Maybe even more.”

“It’ll be more. But this is no competition. Sadness is sadness.”

“You’re right there.”

We pause for a second. The breeze moves from me to him.

“So this is where she’s at, huh?”

I solemnly nod.

“Your dad really went all out. I’m just glad we have a tombstone at all. Surprised it ain’t made out of beer bottle caps.”

“She was worthy of all the fixings my father’s coin could produce. He can produce things, he just cannot go beyond that.”

“My mother deserved better. From my dad. From me. She deserved a better life. I even would have been fine with her just having things.”

“You say that now, but when you become consumed with all that are things, you start to realize that most of your life is quite hollow. Things can be destroyed, lost or stolen. To be loved defeats all.”

“But who do you love, now?”

“Only you, Walter.”

I smile. It makes Walter uncomfortable. His lack of security in his own adolescent masculinity is always a button I tend to push. It entertains me that someone so rugged can be so uneasy when shown love by another male. Yet, he continues to come around me. I think I am only friends with his subconscious self. His conscious self sees me as a feminine entity that must be handled with caution. His conscious self is his father speaking his life into existence. Because of this, Walter must live a subconscious existence in order to survive. I am thankful for his decision.

I remember the first time I heard James Baldwin speak. I had already consumed the likes of Fire Next Time, Go Tell It On The Mountain and, the one that changed it all, Another Country. But I had never heard his voice. When I finally heard his voice, it surprised me. I was under the impression - at that time, I was 10 years old - that men of power possessed voices heavily influenced by their Adam’s Apple. Hearing Baldwin speak with such conviction, with a tone lacking much of the prowess those with strong Adam’s Apple influence possessed, was like tasting from forbidden fruit. It was yet another masculine stereotype destroyed. Baldwin was more of a man than many he encountered. Gay with an aura smothered in the divine feminine, he redefined what it meant to be a man for me while living in a household run by an emotionless slab of meat.

But I digress. Walter will speak now.

“Ain’t nothing to love here, man.”

“But that’s the beauty of it all. I love you, even when you don’t allow me to. It kind of defines love.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

“My mother never felt that kind of love.”

“My mother did.”

“Wish I could get a do-over.”

“We only get do-overs in games. And life, is no game at all.”

Walter gives me a look, so sullen, and sad. Eye contact is painful, at this time. It truly is. His eyes scream for help in a helpless world. His eyes, create an incessant need to hug him, hold him, protect him - at least in those of us with a heart. How Walter is treated is my gauge as to whether or not those around us have a heart. He needs more than most of us. If one can see that in him, then that person owns a heart I can believe in. But if one cannot see that in him, then that person owns a heart I cannot trust. Walter is my gauge for a cruel, cruel world. He is why my circle does not contain enough members to call itself a circle.

“I still don’t understand how we’re friends, Vinnie. I don’t think I ever will.”

“It’s pretty simple to me. You are my protection. I am the voice inside your head you’d actually consider listening to.”

I smile at Walter. Walter fights back water coming from his eyes. Humans call them tears. Walter refers to them as a nuisance. Nevertheless, they are present at this time, and I must say, they are a sight to behold. No physical suffering had to be endured in order to release these raindrops. Walter’s tears only knew struggle. They have never known freedom… until now.

I walk up to Walter. I stand by his side. I put my arm around him. He, of course, is hesitant to accept my warmth. I put my hand on his shoulder. This is possibly a little more in his love wheelhouse. I stay here a bit, allow him to feel my presence. To feel my being there, for him, for his mother, for my mother, for myself.

We are holding hands now…

How we got here, I do not know. He shivered violently when my hand touched his. The only hands of a male to touch him have never been with love. He has only met male hands in violent expressions of disdain and disgust. When a boy never feels the love of a man, he can never decipher his love for anyone else. Walter fears a man’s love. So, in this moment, I attempt to give him a boy’s love. It is not the same, but it will do for now.

I walk with him, hand in hand, out of the cemetery. I watch as his cloak of hyper-masculinity sheds its misogynistic skin one step at a time. This is the pinnacle of Walter’s development, of his work within bell hooks’ grasp, of his time spent being a friend to such an unorthodox creature as myself. To have a grungy white boy’s hand in mine is to show the world that its hate cannot hinder me. That taking my mother away from me will not siphon my joy. That I will look all of your stereotypes and destructive isms with a smirk and a high-heeled kick.

XIII by Ronald Clark

This easel is so unattractive. So much of its beauty has been eradicated within the constraints of memories I can no longer attempt to replicate. Each time I sat at that easel, whether with my mother or alone, it was a time filled with wonder. And glee. And happiness. And the unknown. Art provided an outlook for the supernatural to become normal. And now, it is just an empty space. An infuriatingly empty space.

Why was she taken from me?

Somehow, my hands wrap around the easel’s neck. I squeeze, wrinkle the sheets like the aftermath of unprotected sex with strange… from what I hear. Violence overwhelms me. I tear at its blank pages with unbecoming rage. Scream at the top of Mt. Everest lungs. Stomp on its remnants like Kirk Franklin’s motivation to make street gospel. Put my knees to its throat. Suffocate its ability to create magic like Johnson’s AIDS announcement. Punch its lines like police guards through the center of the Selma bridge during one of God’s darkest hours.

This easel, this easel represents a life no longer known, a person I no longer am. My tears sound like they’re being chopped and screwed. I see you, Rudy. My cries ring of slave hymnals only making sound to renounce the pain, the inevitable setting of a sun that only darkens our skin, provides light only when oppression is looking for us.

I sit with my knees on what remains of the sacred in a backwards prayer. My easel is no longer. Crushed under the weight of a boy who defends himself with defense mechanisms created out of defense of an unknown enemy. I need an escape from this agony, from this realization that all that has provided me with outlet after outlet is severed, in this moment, at this time. But, somehow, I cannot let what has already happened dictate what will happen next. I know, I have seemingly lived my entire existence based on the past and the past has dictated my every step into the future. I must escape its grasp. I must relinquish its hold. And the only way to do such a thing is one final visit to the past. Don’t judge me. This is going somewhere.

Hello, mother…

I knew I would land here. At the feet of my mother’s grave, breathing deeply in a wind she now controls. Flowers fresh as her spirit holds them at an angle, shouldering all she left behind.

Her tombstone sits atop the earth. Her picture engraved in marble, my father spared no expense. It is one thing I give him credit for, though, his reasoning for doing so is still unknown to me. Love? Quite possibly. Image? Quite likely. Nevertheless, I am thankful that my mother was buried in a magical way, in a magical space, where our bond can meet in space, and time, at the edge of life and death. I know she is among the living, for thou art dead, as I am, among the dead, for thou art alive. We inch towards one another, the other striving for what the other already has left.

The wind, calm in its breeze, settles in around me. I am engulfed, one with it, and it soothes me. I take in a deep breath, breathe out as if it is for the first time. My heart palpitates in a familiar rhythm. I know this space, I know this air, I know this life, for only one can create such a thing in the dead of silence.

Hello, mother…

I came here to speak to you. I have settled into a dark space. I do not like it here. You were the only one who could take me out of my doldrums and place me back into reality. Without you here, I look like a reckless kid with nowhere to place my rage. I am taking out my anger on the innocent, those who are attempting to fill the void you left in their own way, but I am not accepting of their applications. I rip their energy to shreds, discarding the pieces until they no longer have the will to fight. I do not want to do this any longer, mother. But I am afraid of being hurt. I am afraid of connecting with anyone who may leave me behind. Our bond was not strong enough to save you and that worries me, mother. If our bond was not strong enough, what bond will be? Nothing compares to us, and yet, God severed us. She claims to only put on us what we can bear but how can I bear this? How can I set our love aside to allow someone else into my distorted view of this life? I have so many questions, mother. Can you - please - show me the light?

I am still within the breeze, ears open to the possibility of conversation. I am patient, at this time. A weakness of mine in the real world but this place is one of magic. One where bodies lie to rest, and humans come to make sure they remain that way. Our society has a fascination with vampires and zombies and the undead because we yearn for the possibility of seeing our loved ones on this earth, once again, in any capacity. It is one of the most selfish aspects of humanity. We argue with God about decisions She makes when all of us are a decision She has to make. Some of us come earlier than expected. Some of us last longer than we should. Either way, we all reach the point of decision, and we never come back from what it is that God decides. Her legendary sense of humor shows itself most readily in this way. I find myself chuckling from time to time at just how foolish we are to be upset with an inevitability. God could tell us our day of reckoning at the very beginning, if She wanted. But She wanted us to live a life of reckless abandon, one not governed by the time Her decision had to come to pass. It would be wrong of a loving God to take that freedom from us. And this God everyone speaks of is a loving one, no?

Yes, I am a loving God. And I am loving having your mother here among the angels where she belongs…

To God: What does it feel like to be me?

I am not you. But you are me. And I represent the only being capable of reaching the heights of love you and your mother have reached.

To God: Why did you take her from me?

I am a jealous God. I wanted that kind of love all to myself.

To God: You didn’t think to ask if I’d share?

I know you better than you know yourself, young man. Do you honestly think you would have shared?

To God: I see your point. But why produce the level of pain in me my mother’s death produced? What is the endgame of erasing her from this earthly existence?

You are stronger than you think, Vinnie. In order for you to recognize that strength, I had to remove the security blanket you were taking too long to grow out of.

To God: That’s bullshit.

It is that anger that must be corralled or you will choke on the bile of your own grief. Your mother is safe. Your mother is where she should be. But she cannot rest peacefully until she knows that you are going to be alright. And I do not know what to tell her.

To God: What happened to being all knowing?

You all are made in my image. My image is flawed, just as you are.

To God: That explains the whole white Jesus thing.

It does.

To God: You don’t speak to me like I think you should.

I speak to you every day. You just struggle recognizing my presence. But you will soon understand just how much I am in your life.

To God: Thank you for her. She was the ultimate gift.

There are more gifts on the way...

XII by Ronald Clark

Silence is such a powerful language. I speak it fluently. Answers to questions do not always need to be expressed verbally. I can answer with my lips in a smile, smirk, frown. The slouch in my back, pace of my walk, body language. But my favorite is my eyes. My eyes answer questions in ways no other part of me can. It is truly unfortunate that my teachers are not as fluent in this language as I am. Their jobs depend on verbal responses from their students. They seek a sense of accomplishment. They need to know they are reaching their pupils. Hearing words is their means of doing so. Such an incorrect analysis. 

Period 1…

Starting a day with a math class is supposedly a detriment to a student’s education. I look at it differently. Starting my day with a math class gives me an excuse to not interact with anyone else the rest of the day. I simply blame it on a long recovery time from the painstakingly stagnant, conceptually inept consumption of math concepts that lack practical application.

Oh. And I am stupid amounts of good at it. That’s probably what annoys me the most.

Ms. Williams worries about me. It is even worse on this day. She thinks I am incapable of being in her classroom with my mother no longer on this earth. She would be wrong. For my mother is still here, with me, at all times. Her inability to fathom such a connection is not my worry in this moment.


She waddles to where I sit as I attempt to get the rest that I could not attain the night before. She taps me on my shoulder, her pudgy fingers push down into my skin with each tap.

Tap, tap, tap…

My head raises, such methodical prowess I possess. The class, in my grasp as Ms. Williams comes to the conclusion that awakening me from my slumber is more important than engaging the riff raff she has assembled in chairs befitting the back problems lingering in our not-too-distant futures.


My eyes open to the stares of my peers. They all fear me in their own way. Some for my intelligence, which, let’s face it, dwarfs theirs into such immense darkness that it causes one to question even their completely correct answers. Some for my attire as it sends them nervous energy screaming with unpredictability. What could I do next? The irony of it all is that I do not really do anything at school. That is what scares them. Inactivity to mediocre human beings shrieks of mental frailty for I choose to refrain from joining them on their journey to the eastern shores of nothingness.   


“Ms. Williams, please, just say what you need to say so I can get back to counting my sheep. They are frightened without me and I must care for them like they were my own.”

“You count someone else’s sheep when you sleep?”

“I mean, don’t you?”

Have you ever trolled someone in mid-conversation? No? Witness its glory.

“I don’t think so.”

“I do not own sheep so how could I possibly count my own if I do not own them? Would that not defeat the purpose of defining the word ‘own’ within this context?”

Ms. Williams does not know how to handle such a riddle from such an adolescent man. I continue to play.

“Or is the intellect dripping from such a riddle too intricate of an ask for someone who simply deals with numbers all day in order to refrain from critical thinking?”

Ms. Williams is in a permanent state of pause. I should know since I put her there. I take one look at the whiteboard.

5(2x + 6) = -4(-5 – 2x) + 3x … Why does she insist on providing me with literally no challenge?


I rest my head back on the desk where it belongs.

“That is correct.”

I know it is, or else I would not have said it.

I am sorry. I was a bit hard on Ms. Williams. I do not mean to devalue her ability to teach. I have just spent so much time learning on my own that time in classroom settings is almost disrespectful to my relationship with Baldwin.

“The paradox of education is precisely this; that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated” - James Baldwin

And, of course, it takes away from my nap time. I sleep more now without my mother’s bosom to rest my head. Rest and sleep are not the same thing. Sleep now is only an escape from the residual pain of her absence in the flesh.

Period 2…

English. A safe haven, of sorts. Math has already rendered me mute for the remainder of my day but being unable to speak has never prevented the greats from performing at the highest of levels.

Ms. Chasity: “Pen a poem. No parameters. As we begin our poetry unit, I want to see where you stand in relation to your ability to put together a poem using whatever literary devices you may remember from your past classes. Is that ok with you?

Class: “Yes, Ms. Chasity!”

I’m clearly not a part of this chorus but the assignment itself intrigues me. I decide to oblige Ms. Chasity. I guess I can write a little something...

“To be 14 years old and conscious is to be in a constant presence of inferiority/So ahead of my time I could sedate my tongue and still be the loudest intellect in this lucid dream/They say age is nothing but a number/To me, it’s more like a slip knot dancing with a 12 foot poplar tree/I’m swinging while standing on both feet/My afterthoughts defy gravity/The only asphyxiation that has made my acquaintance comes from a man I’ve known my whole life but never truly met/Looks like the only option I have left is to let my skin breathe ruby raptures/It’s a self-inflicted symphony I have yet to harmonize but every instrument I’ve ever held in my hands has become an essential element/I am alchemist/Bending bass and woodwind to my will/I expect nothing short of samurai when 22-by-43 millimeter stainless steel become the bow to my string instrument flesh…”

Eh. I think it is okay but not my best work. The jaws rendered motionless in my wake would beg to differ but difference is what I live for, strive more, want more. But it was just a poem. You would think Langston Hughes was sitting in this back-problem-inducing chair by my side, whispering poetic excellence in my ears, but no, it was all me. And I will not apologize, though, I am keenly aware that no apology would be necessary anyway. Preemptive strikes are a fave activity of mine.

Ms. Chasity: “Your work never ceases to amaze me, Vinnie. You truly are a special young man.”

If only my father felt the same… 

Period 3…

World History. This place elicits my wrath more than any other class. Why? Because it is allergic to the truth. It vomits inaccuracies with drunken precision. It saddens me, sickens me, just how much our Eurocentric education model has warped the minds of teachers into thinking their knowledge base is All-Knowing. So I speak up - often. Get into spats with higher education minions about what they deem to be the truth.

Sometimes, I just enter class early, ask what today’s lesson is about, and if I come to the conclusion that it will be falsified information, I ask to be excused to the library for some independent study. If my “teacher” - she gets no name - thinks I should stay in class to defend my perspective, I either devise a way to get kicked out of class or remain to engage her in psychological warfare. The latter is my usual, the former occurs as residual to a previous night’s shame wrapped around my father’s neck.

“Christopher Columbus discovered America.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Yes, he did.”

“No, he didn’t. How do you discover land already occupied by a group of people?”

“He is the one -”

“Exactly. You can’t. And he was lost anyway. He called Native Americans, Indians. He was a directionally challenged drunk who probably had a disease.”

“Step outside, Vinnie.”

Now, this is not currently happening. That was just a rehashing of something that may, or may not, have happened already. I will let you come to your own conclusion as to whether I would have said something like that. Should not take you long.

At this moment, I do not have the energy to fight. I do not want to be bothered with this inferior distributor of incorrect information.

Five minutes left in class…


We make eye contact. I do not utilize my vocal chords.


They still do not seem to be working.

“Vinnie? I know you hear me.”

I raise my hand.

“Why are you raising your hand when I am the one calling on you?”

I take my raised hand to my lips, pointer finger touches. My audience - or classmates, depending on your view - gasps. The international symbol for ‘be quiet’ has just been unleashed from the lips of an adolescent to the bruised ego of an improperly educated educator.

It feels so good to hear the orgasmic release of my ‘shhhh…’ I am sexy in this moment, at least, I think so.

Her white privilege sings a song of despair. I know the tune well. This is not her first audition.

“Get out of my classroom!”

The bell rings. I shrug. And, ironically, execute exactly what she has asked of me. Only with a slight change - I head to fourth period. She will tell her husband about this L she just took during their pillow talk on their unfluffed pillows purchased with her paltry teacher salary and his guitar-playing corner boy tips. No, I do not know if she is dating or married to a guitar-playing corner boy. But she just seems like she would be dating or married to a guitar-playing corner boy. So…

Period 4...

Ms. Scott. Far behind my mother, she is my favorite woman. She brings out the best in me. She had a chance by simply being my art teacher, but she took it and ran with it. She supports me in every way. Being here, in her presence, I welcome this.

“I know you have been away for awhile, Vinnie. Again, my condolences. Were you able to procure anything from your immense talent for us to lay our eyes on?”

Ms. Scott lays her eyes on me. I appreciate her for simple things. Like, using words such as ‘procure’ and ‘immense’ when speaking with me. That is a sign of respecting my intelligence instead of running from it like the rest of my uneducated educators.

I take a rolled up piece of paper out of my backpack. I take off the rubberband and unroll it. I spread it out across the table, unveiling my piece.

Ms. Scott gasps.

I smile.

In front of her lies an HB pencil sketch of a black man in his late 20s being lynched in rural Mississippi and the heavens opening up as he takes his last breaths. Hence, the gasp.

“The detail… I don’t know what to say.”

I don’t have anything to say either. Art speaks its own language. Why draw if you’re going to need to explain yourself?


And I drew it when I was 11 years old. Birthday present to an elderly black man who went to my church - he died of a heart attack before I could give it to him.

And I cried under the weight of that realization.

And its vibrancy almost killed Ms. Scott.


Period 5...

Sign language. I like this class. I get a grade for saying the least, while communicating the most. Needless to say, I have an A.

Period 6

Physical Education. I do not play a sport. I do have physical education with all of the athletes, however. This scheduling quirk has to do with my playground legend.

Yes, I am a playground legend. I know. All my gifts are becoming annoying. Think of it this way: How can a child with seemingly so many gifts and abilities still not have the ability to make his father see him? Yeah. Now, who’s annoyed?

“Line up!”

Mr. Curtis wants all of the boys to prove their manhood by racing one another for 100 yards. My hands can’t seem to leave my pockets. My care level is slightly above non-existent.

We line up. My pockets still house my hands.

“Ready! Set! Go!”

My peers take off.


My peers are upset. I might know why.

“Man, Vinnie. Just race, dude. That’s all Coach Curtis wants.”

“Is it?”

I make eye contact with Mr. Curtis. He looks sad. This is a new look for him. As the school year has progressed he has gone from anger to sadness in my lack of participation. I have my reasons. The main one being - wait - I will get to that soon. I have decided to line up properly.

“Ready! Set! Go!”

My peers and I take off running. My peers collectively decide to run slower than me, or, at least, that is what it seems like as I, in my usual all black ensemble, create space 10 yards long between myself and their dreams.

Oh. Now I remember the main reason why I don’t participate - I embarrass easily. Oh no, not me. I don’t embarrass easily. Let me rephrase. I embarrass my peers easily. Sorry. I misspoke. The trail of egos trailing behind me at the end of this race is about 12 students long.

Mr. Curtis: “We need you!”

I need my mother. And Walter. And a version of my father I can love. No one else.

My hands return to my pockets as we transition to flag football. One of the girls puts my flag around my waist. I smirk, which is taken as some form of ‘thank you’.

I am considered a neighborhood wild card. Here, I am in the mood to provide an example.

I stand at one end of the field. We are the receiving team. I was picked last. I am accidentally on this team. I am not wanted.

The ball gets kicked off. It bounces on the ground, over the head of our team captain and heads in my direction. I stare at the ball at it careens wildly towards me, my hands never leave my pockets.

That’s a lie.

My hands leave my pockets, to catch this crazy football as it flies towards my face. I catch it. Mr. Curtis’ interest grows. I smile.

First victim gets the Reggie Bush.

Second victim gets some Gale Sayers.

Third victim gets some Dante Hall.

Fourth victim gets some LeSean McCoy.

Fifth victim gets some Barry Sanders.

For those of you not following, I have buckled the knees of five of my classmates as they attempt to snatch my flag from my waist. No one has touched me. And no one touches me. I just touch down. Touchdown.

I drop the ball. Metaphorically, drop the mic. Girls bite their lips in my direction. I am attractive to them. This angers my peers. But they can’t do anything about it, with, you know, their knees being in shambles and whatnot.

I am the best football player at my school and I do not play on the team. I think this might be the best thing about me.

School is out…

I walk home. I walk home faster. I run home. I run home faster. Backpack bounces up and down on my back. The tears start to flow before I reach my door, fly from my face like suicide raindrops.

I sprint through my front door, enter my room, toss my backpack on my bed.

I scream.

Cry. Laugh. Cry. Laugh.

Scream. Scream. Scream.

My peers do not deserve this. My teachers do not deserve this. Their slights towards me are stories I have told myself. Nothing they have done requires me to respond to them in the manner in which I do. But…

I am allowed to say whatever I want until someone explains to me why my mother is not here anymore! Explain this to me! Someone! Please?! Please… please… please… explain this to me…


XI by Ronald Clark

I could not lie. I shall not lie. Lying would be wrong. Lying would be inappropriate. The truth is all that is necessary, in the here and now. So I speak only of my truth. For I, too, have thought about it. I thought about it, too. I thought about it, I have. I have thought about it.

I wonder what it would be like to kill Walter’s father…

“I already know how I would do it.”

He plays with the box cutter in his hands like a child prodigy at the seat of his piano. His fingers sing a song of routine, the eagerness familiar. They have done this dance before. The fire kisses the cutter, moisture engages its shine. It sure is beautiful.

“I would want him at his happiest, ya know? I would want him happy as hell. I’d want him – gleeful. Gay, in the good way. It would have to include his beers. His television. Probably a football game. He would laugh. He would be so damn comfortable. Then… I would end his smile. One smooth cut would do it. But not well enough that he would die without knowing it was me who did it. He would get his chance to look me in the eye. I would give that to him. It would be the last thing he would get from me.”

I look my dear friend in his eye. Or, at least, I attempt to. But he will not engage me. To watch him deep in thought, surrounding the worst and best thing he could ever do for himself, somehow increases our connection. He is letting me watch him. He does not have to allow me in this space. I guess it is simply repayment for all the time he has spent in my own.

“Such a well-thought out entrance into the prison pipeline.”

“So worth it.”

“Would it be?”

“You mean to tell me that you haven’t thought about offing your pops? Bullshit.”

“Destruction can come in so many forms. Death is only one of many choices to pick from. To each their own.”

Walter licks his box cutter, tastes every nook and cranny of its potential.

“Tastes like forever.”

“So poetic of you.”

“This is the only poetry I would write.”

Walter allows the fire to kiss his box cutter one last time before placing it back in his pocket. Walter’s hands, a steadying force. We look at each other. My curiosity beckons for more. But I will leave it alone for now. For now, I will be here as a sounding board for my friend, as he has been for me time and time again.

We walk away from the heat. Take steps towards the familiar angst that will find us in our homes. Being outside, being with each other, provides us an escape we truly treasure. I view him through a different light now. As the fire burns behind our backs, Walter takes his first steps into his new role. I do not know how much more his shoulder can handle. I have brought him so much of my pain when his is already so palpable. It might be selfish of me. But Walter always presents himself as someone incapable of letting pain get to him. Pain is just part of life.

Pain is life.

This walk is so familiar. It is second nature. Naturally, we do not use our words. Just steps in the right direction. I peak into the windows of the various homes on our street. I do not see anything of substance but I still picture these families, their operations, their quirks, their pain. Pain is no assumption in this case. Pain is everywhere. I assume.

Pain is life.

I smile at this notion, this realization. There is no real reason to be lonely within pain. No one person is feeling something that has not been felt before, that is not being felt right now. There is no emotion, no pain, singularly built for one person. We share pain. We take our own pieces of it but its essence is connected to all others who have witnessed or felt the same. Tears are recycled, passed on to the next generation to be used all over again. Our ancestors laugh when we place our pain within the realm of independence.

Front of my home. Its walls encapsulating my escape, and my destination. Walter stands at the top of his driveway. I do the same with mine. We stand there, breathing in sync. It takes a moment of preparation to return to the place of your torment. It takes everything in me not to rush Walter, tear his box cutter out of his pocket, and off his father. To alleviate Walter of his torment, provide him with a place to rest his head for the remainder of his time in this world, the offer is written in stone. But I have a father, too. Or at least, there is a man in my home auditioning for the role. It is not going well.

Walter and I make eye contact for the last time, each at the door of our home. One final breath. Entrance. Doors closed. We will not know what the other needs until tomorrow. This is friendship.

X by Ronald Clark

Hate takes more energy than love does. One must care in order to hate. To hate is simply to love in the opposite direction. It is love’s ricochet. We would not know what love is if not for hate. I would say vice versa, but I disagree with that notion. As humans, we would still know hate, even in the absence of love. Darkness came before the light. We have always known the darkness. The same cannot be said for the light. The light is a guest of darkness. And it has long overstayed its welcome.

Darkness looks back at me with the same cluelessness as it did during light’s origination. He renamed himself in recent years. Thomas is what it is calling itself nowadays. And this is the most attention he has given me since my mother forced him to be a father. It did not last as long as she would have liked. She took her duty to the next level. Originally, she forced darkness into fatherhood with the promise that she would be around to help. She broke the promise recently. Took her last breath without warning. Leaving darkness and light alone to reconcile their function in each other’s worlds. At the very least, we must find a way to get back to dusk and dawn. Staying in the midnight and noon hours will leave us forever separated, perpetually missing opportunities to reconnect with each other, to meet in the middle, to mix darkness with the light.

I am aware of how much darkness fills my light. I am half-darkness after all. I have lived at dawn for years now. Dragged my feet towards the light as darkness continued to pull at my waist. It was not a pull of jealousy. It was a pull of interference. A recognition that preventing me from seeing the light would leave me in purgatory, void of darkness or light. I would be nothing. A neverending story.

Thomas has not stopped staring at me. I question whether I should seek his love. I fear for my psyche, what my emotional health would look like in his lathered in lotion yet calloused hands. I morph into lines on printed paper. Material on his desk at work. A creation to be studied, read over and over again. His overtime hours in the flesh. A pro bono assignment. All work, and no return. A project with no deadline. An issue with no clear resolution. A representation of his loss of control. My humanity dissipates. A son, no longer. Person is the past. Project is the future.


The limo stops. Darkness, or Thomas, remains. Tilts his head to the right. Rotates it back to his left. Back centered. Raises his chin. Fixes his coat. Slowly, exits the vehicle. I sit in what remains of his shadow. The door closes behind him with just enough to leave a lasting impression.

“Where to, young man?”

Limo driver, hush. I am trying to think. Never struggled with gathering my thoughts like this. Last time, maybe, five years old? I have to be coming up on a decade of knowing exactly what I want.

Nothing has changed…

I have nowhere to take my emotions. My shield is becoming one with the earth we buried her in. I could dig her up, hoard her remains until I no longer need its nutrients. But, no. That would be unbecoming. I just… I do not know where to go from here.

Return to the darkness before the darkness returns to you…

“It is getting dark outside, young man. What would you like to do?”

“Just take me down the street, thank you.”

Gas given. Wheels rolling. We embark on such a necessary journey. So short in distance, long in relevance.

“Here, please.”

We stop.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Be careful, young man.”

“I will.”

“And… sorry for your loss.”

“I appreciate the sentiment.”

I exit facing the houses. As the limo departs, I turn towards the canyon behind me. And to my left is Walter. I smile. He holds a change of clothes for me.

“I thought you might need these.”

“You would be right.”

He hands me my garb. Black short sleeve button-down collared shirt. Black loose-fitting slacks. Black socks. Black sneakers. Black laces. Black baseball cap, no logo. Only thing that stays the same are my boxer-briefs. But you didn’t need to know that.

I keep an extra outfit at Walter’s house. The runaway ensemble.

I remove what will never again grace my skin. White short sleeve button-down collared shirt. White loose-fitting slacks. White socks. White sneakers. White laces. White baseball cap, no logo.

My black is nicely lied down on the sidewalk in front of the canyon. My white is tossed to the ground in a pile of forgotten. In complete disregard of my surroundings, stripped down to my undergarments, I dress in what is my reality. I must not forget the place where I found Baldwin. The place where I tackled intellectual immaturity.

“You got it?”

“You know I do.”

“I can always count on you, Walter.”

“Hey, I’m only here for the fireworks.”

Walter reveals the slabs of wood. Plays with his lighter in his hand, his teeth foreshadow the brightness of the near future. I cannot help but to smile right back at him.

We carry the wood down into the canyon. Our past still where we left it. We place our future where the past has sat since last summer. We do not visit here as often as we once did, but when we do, it is as if we never left. We both understand when we need to return. Like today. This is much needed.

“Lighter or dropper?”

“I’ll drop.”

“Good. I wasn’t allowing you near the flame anyway.”

Walter hands me my white clothes. He initiates the flame. It smothers the wood in its heat. Smoke enters the air, floats ever so slowly towards my mother’s current conversation with God.

“Drop ‘em.”

I place each white garment into the flame one by one. The flame grows, its light glistening off the teeth of Walter, who enjoys this. He likes fire. It is the one time being explosive is a good thing for him.

The fire scarfs down the garments, inherits their stories with grammar-Nazi perfectionism. 

“Sit down with me, my dear friend.”

“You’re so gay --“

He looks to me. He knows I disapprove. I do not force him to read bell hooks for no reason.

“I’m sorry. My masculinity does not define me.”

“That’s better.”

“I hate it when you make me be smart.”

“Intelligence is not ugly. It is the most attractive thing a person can exude without seeing it.”

“Wouldn’t that be love?”

“An inquiry?”

“Dude, I’m already trying to backtrack and figure out what the hell ‘exude’ meant. Now you hit me with inquiry?”

“No apologies.”


We breathe in the unhealthy toxins produced by our makeshift fire as if it is fresh air.

“So sorry for your loss, bro.”

“I’m sorry for my loss, too. And thank you. For being there.”

“Ain’t nothing soft about losing --“

And there it is. The mask removes itself from Walter’s unyielding exterior. This is the only place he feels vulnerable. And I am the only one invited to such a locale.

“I know you miss her.”

“It never goes away, man. It never does. As much as you shake your head back and forth. As much as you cry. As much as you throw your fists into a wall. As much as you want to kill… It never goes away, man. I will die without a mother. That is the only thing I know to be true.”

A black boy painter with James Baldwin tattooed to the brain and a white boy with tattooed scars on his skin sit amongst the flames. Friendship further connected by their joint disconnections from the only people they have ever known to truly love them – besides each other. I am thankful to be a part of this duo, of this bond, of the unexplainable. It is all we know now. It is all we want to know.

Walter puts his hand in his front pocket. Dives in with purpose. Yanks out a small, shiny object. The fire attacks it, shines light until it glistens in the night shine.

A box cutter. I cannot help but stare, for I have my own. But I assume that my reasons for ownership are different than Walter’s.

“I wonder what it would be like to kill my father.”

I assume correctly.

IX by Ronald Clark

It must pain him to sit back here without the distraction of driving. Without the immediate excuse of needing to watch the road that prevents him from making eye contact with his single fatherhood. Our limo driver took that away from him. Rid him of his ever-so-useful excuse. Now he must make eye contact with the one thing he has never attempted to understand.

I stare at his face. The muscular ridges of his jawline. His cautiously furrowed brow. His flared nostrils. His stern chin. All attributes he held back from me. He could not imagine giving me something that was so integral to what made him him. What gave him the ability to walk into any room and garner the respect of all those that entered, all those that stayed. His expressions were that of a man who beat pain into submission, hurdled obstacles with grace and dignity, who did not put his failures in the laps of others, rather he just refused to fail at all. Made it easier that way.

He is fighting an unnatural feeling now. That feeling of failure. He failed as a husband. A protector. A lover. He is failing as a father, though the latter is not a psychological locale he will rest in just yet. It is still up to me to invite him to his inevitability. Do not worry. I am working on it.

“Are we almost there?”

Nothing. I knew this would happen but I still felt the need to question him in some way, even if it was of the small talk ilk. At least he could never say I did not try. I try. I have tried.

“Do you know why they call it a repast? Seems like a word with a lot of meaning behind it. Traditional. Historical, even.”

He looks left. He looks right. He looks down. He looks around. He never looks at his son.

“I’m hungry.”

That inhale-exhale was earth-shattering…

“Shut up. Just – shut your mouth. I do not want to hear you. I do not want to see you. I do not want to breathe you. I want to rid you of the half of you that is me so I can stop blaming myself for who you have become. For you are my fault – at least in part.”

He looks at me now, with a sacred disdain only used for a certain kind of hatred. Derived from a place of love. One cannot hate something as strongly as something they once loved. That thin line is through and through. I do not return his eye contact. I wanted it only a moment’s prior but it is now unnecessary. He said what he said. I heard every word, every enunciation, every syllable.

The limo slows to a stop.

“Your answer.”

He opens the door. Sunlight floods the interior, burns where he once sat. I sit there for a second, wait for the heat to evaporate my father’s scorn. The seconds become minutes as the palpability of such an emotion proves itself steady. It will not dissipate by simply being patient. It will not fold simply by my own sheer will. It will need to be destroyed, brought to its knees before ever considering an attempt at its rebirth.

But first, I must exit.

Sunlight bounces off my pearly white garb, blinds onlookers as their black skin and attire absorbs every ounce of heat it can. They starve for what already nourishes me.

I enter the facility that holds all the remaining funeral goers as they await to partake in the repast. In normal surroundings, I would question the necessity to eat food following the burial of a loved one, but funerals are selfish occasions anyway. They are for the living. The loved one is dead and gone. Sometimes for over a week of time. The grieving has begun well before we take the time to bury someone. Yet, we still gather together to celebrate a life. It is done only to be seen. We want others to know just how much we cared. How much devastation we are enduring. It is odd, in the least. It is scary, at the most. It is tradition, in the end.

Eyes find me. I have not forgotten what just transpired at the burial. I am aware of what I have done. Glares pierce my every step. I will not be alone again as long as we continue the celebration of my mother’s life. I will be a target. This I accept.

I take my place in line. A few elders motion me to the front of the line. Tradition states that the family of the deceased eat first. I listen to tradition. My plate reflects all that is black about this occasion. Chicken. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Ham. Green beans. Collard greens. Buttered roll. A plate of celebration. It was supposed to replace the sadness of the day with the small talk of the hour. Here, at the repast, I was supposed to engage my fellow mourners in conversation that either further mourned my mother, or completely forgot she died in the first place. Either way, I was supposed to slowly start putting a smile on my face. My mourning ends with this meal. That is the only reason I could come up with for me to be eating right now.

Oh, and tradition.

I take a seat one spot down from my father. This was an odd selection on my part but necessary. I stare at my plate. Everything looks delicious. If only I were hungry. Only thing I starve for is understanding. Why was I still here and mother was gone? Why was I left here to deal with my father on my own? Why was this food in my face like it was going to satisfy any level of my grief?

Anger builds in me at a steady pace. Confusion chokes my sanity. I cannot eat this. I move my food back and forth. It mixes together into a farm boy’s slop. Its aesthetic ruined.

“Anger builds in me at a steady pace. Confusion chokes my sanity. I cannot eat this. I move my food back and forth. It mixes together into a farm boy’s slop. Its aesthetic ruined.”

Eyes never left me. More eyes join in. My father moves his food around as if he did not hear me. He heard me. He listened. Intently. And what he heard was worrisome. But I doubt he is worried about the proper thing.

I must not partake in this conclusion of my grief. I must not. My grief is not over. Your grief might be over. Their grief might be over. But my grief is not over. You cannot tell me to eat this!

“I must not partake in this conclusion of my grief. I must not. My grief is not over. Your grief might be over. Their grief might be over. But my grief is not over. You cannot tell me to eat this!”

I realize I am standing. I have been standing for some time now. My mind and mouth no longer singular entities.

My plate. In my hand. Launched at the wall. Its remnants splatter amongst the shock of my action. I was not shocked at my actions. Nor was I surprised at the rising stench of my father’s fury piercing my nostrils, his loathing soaked in his inability to pass me off to another person.

My mother is dead…

I am his problem now. This much is true.

VIII by Ronald Clark

It smells like brimstone. Hell swims in my nostrils, explodes onto my tongue, and spits out venom. I do not want to stain the pews of this church. It would be unbecoming.

I stand here, with Walter behind me, in the middle aisle of a church I have not entered in five years. It stopped being a place of frequent visits when my mother realized her husband was not going to love her as Christ loved the church. He loved her as Christ loved his cross – you hang in there out of love and destiny, but you will die here.

My mother did not die here. And yet, days later, we must revisit her death as this fresh occurrence. Something to sink our grieving hearts into. And by all of us, I mean me. My grief is the only one that matters. Unless these others are willing to reach my level – the level of a son losing his best friend, confidant, security and place of rest – then no, you may not claim grief. Not now. Not in my vicinity.

Walter stands by my side now. I do not know when he arrived there, but he is there, like he always is. Funny how someone with seemingly no redeeming qualities can be such an outlet at a time when I am burying my mind’s focal point.

“Dude, this sucks.”

“Yes, that it does.”

“I’m sorry, man.”

“Just something else we have in common now.”

“I didn’t want that.”

“And yet…”

Time refuses to sit still…

The sanctuary is three-quarters full. Friends. Co-workers. Family members. Strangers. Each with their own reason for being here at this time. I just wish they would stop consoling me. Words can do nothing at this time. None of these others were there on my level while my mother was alive so how can they join me in grief? They could not join me in love so how can they join me in grief?

My eyes water. I hate this emotion. I hate that I cannot control it. It is the only way my body knows how to express itself. I wish there were another way. But there is not. I will spend the rest of my life trying to find another way.

I do not hear any of the words rendered during the service. I am sure they are nice. I sit here between my father, and his politically correct grief, and my friend, Walter, whose attire is just as renegade as my own.

The naked eye would deem my attire angelic. This beautiful black boy draped in light. But how these others look at me is what this color, this light, this white, deserves. Stared at in disgust, stared at with disdain, lost in this flood of black and grey. This light seems out of place in this darkness.

My skin crawls. The fake in the air stifles. I find myself watching as these others find it in their hearts to mourn. Their backstories each scream of negligence; showing their faces here now is just a means of clearing a conscience.

Oh, it’s my turn…

I find myself being called to the microphone. The expectation is for me to say something about my mother. Seems like a simple enough task.

I step to the microphone and turn to the crowd. Draped in my socially incorrect garb, it is difficult to ascertain exactly why the others stare. Nevertheless, they all expect words to leave my mouth. For them to receive some level of understanding, of the one relationship my mother had that no one else could quite understand. This bond was something unseen before.

But even as paragraph length stacks of sentences with Baldwin-isms flanking every precisely put together turn of phrase crafted with a seamless literary quality barricade themselves behind one another expecting to be released into the awaiting ears of the others – I cannot speak.

There are no words. I am incapable of expressing myself in this moment. So I stare into the audience, pick out one by one those that intrigue my eyesight. All the while hi-jacking the attention of all of those in attendance.

I’m so sorry… that I’m not sorry…

Angst fills a row with a divorced man on one end and a divorced woman on the other. It is palpable, the angst. It is clear that the angst is between them specifically. The angst is theirs. They know the angst all too well. It chokes their breaths as they attempt to mourn, but they cannot decide whether they are mourning my mother, or mourning the death that birthed the angst. Too bad they cannot go back and do it again. Too bad they would not know that they should try again anyway.

My mother tried to help them…

He has beaten her. Over and over. She stays still. Over and over. She refuses to move from beneath his iron fist to shelter. He uses her face as a launching pad for his insecurities. He marks his territory with black and blue bruises encapsulating the loathing of his mother, in her lack of a father. She never knew what the love of a man entailed. So she suffers a sick retribution for mistakes she never made.

My mother consoled her…

Muscular arms across his chest. He needs no seat. Just the vestibule. His jawline screams of past battles, both with himself and his demons. But he has won now. He has taken his innumerable mistakes in his youth and transformed them into a ministry, guiding young men of today away from the drugs, sex and violence that consumed his once frail psyche. I welcome his presence here, despite being unaware of his why.

My mother respected him…

An elderly woman sits solemnly, Baptist church-goer hat adorns her petite head. Her eyes, fixated on me. That matters not. All that matters is that she has been here before, too many times, yet this, is still, her first time.

My mother honored her…

A civil rights activist who brought me non-fiction upon non-fiction books to add to my colossal collection of literature. She saw something in me. She saw herself. I welcome her presence here.

My mother adored her…

A young girl, innocence drips from her eyes as everything that reaches them is new. She stares at her mother, engulfs the image of her scowl, her inability to feel, and packs it, only to be used later when her attitude blossoms and she needs a reference point for her immediate demolition of souls. She had to get it from somewhere. That somewhere is here.

My mother prayed for her…

I burst from my post at the microphone and back into the pew. The crowd incapable of gathering the proper response to such awkward emotion. I am an emotional embarrassment of riches as I struggle to find my place among the two men in my life.

Tears dart down my cheeks. My father to my right. My Walter to my left.

I rest to the left…

My father, rigid. He sees nothing. Blind to emotional dexterity. His natural inclinations muffle the silent cries of parental instinct. He does not recognize his child in need. He will, though. One day… if it’s the last thing I do…



I stand at this, at this microphone. Make eye contact with a hoard of strange spectators gathered for sport. My stomach gurgles, pushes through my esophagus, creates a bile word vomit to land on the laps of those who dare to watch me speak. I do not apologize for such things. The taste, one of decadent souls and rotten relationships.

I speak.

“’No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time’… James Baldwin.”

The crowd hushed.

“’Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up’… James Baldwin.”

Does no one understand this grief of mine?

“’Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within… James Baldwin.’”

Their eyes feel so violent against my skin.

“’It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive… James Baldwin.’”

Tears in my eyes. So necessary. As is my anger. My voice betrays me, crackles in the pool of pain in my throat.

“’To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time… James Baldwin.’”

Each time I say Baldwin’s name, more and more of me is released into the air. I am relegated to a sounding board, a young man whose voice is no longer his own.

“’You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do it to yourself… James Baldwin!’”

They are scared now. They should be. They do not know how to handle my emotion. So they sit still. Soak in my breakdown with a sponge-like quality.

“’Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them!’ James Baldwin!”

Screeching. Shrieking. Howling. Face flushed.

My mother is dead…

My father stands up. Fixes his suit jacket. Turns to his minions first. Half smiles. Walks in my direction. He matters not.

“’The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in!’ James Baldwin!”

My father attempts to grab me, wraps his arms around my waist. This is the closest thing to a hug he has ever given me…

I fight him at every step, my voice incapable of being muzzled. I feel like Samson when he got his strength back that one final time. No one could stop him. No one will stop me.

“’The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose!’ James Baldwin! ‘The future is like heaven, everyone exalts it, but no one wants to go there now!’ James Baldwin!”

Within our struggle, my father finds my ear and coarsely whispers into it.

“You have effectively ruined your mother’s burial service. You have effectively ruined everything. You are effective. You are defective.”

“’People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned!’ James Baldwin!”

Defective… defective… defective…

VII by Ronald Clark

Such a blessed closet. So much black. So much beauty. Today calls for something different. A white short sleeve button-down collared shirt. White loose-fitting slacks. White socks. White sneakers. White laces. White baseball cap, no logo. Laid out on my bed. Attire so fitting for a viewing.

You are assuming that my mother is an angel, so the attire is appropriate. That is incorrect. White is depression. White is the prison-industrial complex. White is the school-to-prison pipeline. White is the destruction of human rights. White is oppression. White is slavery. White is racism. White is death. Are you shocked? Are you surprised? How could I place white in such light? Imagine how black must feel.

This shirt fits perfectly. One sleeve at a time. Five buttons. So do these slacks. One leg at a time. Zipper. One button. Comfortable socks. One foot at a time. Sneakers snug. One foot a time. Laces clean. Double knots. Both sides. Baseball cap fitted. Perfect imagery.

My soul is splintered into thousands of pieces and not even the best surgeon with the most steady of hands and a surgical team of the best in all of their select fields could put it back together again not without the voice of my mother guiding them putting them in the right position to properly assemble a soul only she knows up close…

Run on sentence, run on…

Sentenced to an earthly existence sans my mother. Dressed in exactly the message I want to portray. I just hope people can understand my word choice, my style choice. Not trying to make some grand statement. People only question you when you go against the Eurocentric norm. Baldwin would be so proud of me in this moment.

“What are you wearing?”

My father wears tradition on his back like his slave first and last name were tailored for his lips. Black suit. Grey tie. Black shoes. Grey socks. Perfectly shaven. A crisp gentleman. Baldwin would put my father in such a properly structured sentence, dropping him to his knees in Uncle Tom anguish. Oh, the whole armor of God is on me today and she is just as fed up as I am.

“She would want you to be appropriate at this time. We are about to bury her. You look silly. You do not look like my son.”

I stare at this oddity of a man. This traitor of gene pools. What does his son look like? I look like my mother’s son, possibly the greatest visual representation I could foster. His approval is not necessary in this moment. Neither is his presence. Neither is mine. My feet start moving. Somehow I end up out the door. Walking up the hill from our house. Someone calls my name.

“Vinnie? Vinnie?!”

Sounds like my father. Does not sound like my dad. My legs make my decision for me. One step at a time. No need for directions, this is natural progression. I am supposed to go this way, in this way. Time to walk in my truth. I will be saying goodbye to my mother’s body soon. There is no way to prepare yourself for such an occasion, only time.

Footsteps behind me. Louder. Running – with a purpose. I do not want to turn my head around. I do not want to see my father in his house slave’s Sunday’s best. The footsteps slow, replaced by heavy breathing.

I hope it is my father…

“Look at me.”

I know this voice. It is one of friendship, of knowing when to show up, of being there, of providing a shoulder, of walking in my truth. I turn around to engage.

“My dear friend.”

“You walk too damn fast.”

“You’re just out of shape, sir.”

“You need to learn slang.”


“Why you ruin everything?”

I smile. This burst of youthful exuberance comes at a time when my thoughts only surround that of the adult realm. I am dealing with things beyond my emotional scope. Am I intelligent enough to understand? Absolutely. But despite my academic prowess, I still cannot add more years of experience to my current 14. No book can substitute experience. I have experienced other worlds through my favorite writers’ viewpoints but that is all that I can claim. To be a kid, on occasion, is a necessary reminder to slow down.

“You thinking about something overly deep, ain’t you?”

This white boy makes me laugh.

“How can you tell?”

“You make facial expressions the rest of us don’t know how to. Like you’ve been here before or something. When it happens, I have to fight the urge to slap the hell out of you.”

“Fight the good fight.”

“I hate you.”

“I miss you too, Walter.”

He wears a beat up white T-shirt, dirty blue jeans, busted sneakers and battle scars. He looks like he auditioned for The Sandlot or Stand By Me. A stereotypical rugged white boy, attractive to some, a threat to others. His experiences differ from mine. It is written in his outfit, on his skin. In his eyes. His tongue paints a different picture but his eyes, pain’s locale.

“Where are you headed?”

Drop my eyes. Raise them again. Slightly smile. But I would not call it a smile. That would be disrespectful to happiness. Walter puts his arm around me.

“I’m going, too.”

“You are?”

“I am now.”

We walk. Nobody talks. Only about a mile remains in this trek. A car has not pulled up yet to reveal my father. It is a detail of this trip I thought would be added. He let me leave his house, on the way to his deceased wife’s viewing, by myself. I may not be dressed like his son, but he is not dressed like my dad. He is forever my father. Biological necessity. Financial security. He fills a need, but does not satisfy mine.

VI by Ronald Clark

Poor paintbrush. It feels so out of place. It wobbles, within an almost violent ricochet between my fingers. Quivers under the vibration of my shaky hand. The paint touches the surface of the formerly blank page, lacks all the precision it once possessed. I sit on my stool, decked out in the only attire I know now. Black short sleeve button-down collared shirt. Black loose-fitting slacks. Black socks. Black sneakers. Black laces. Black baseball cap, no logo.

I have sat in front of this easel, paintbrush in hand, attempting to find my muse. My hands have faltered. My creativity has waned. I stare at my walls. Paintings splattered across every inch.

The one of the last time we went to the beach. Perfect blue sky. Clear blue water. I can still hear the sea rushing onto the sand only to rescind its flawed offer at God’s command.

And the one of her sleeping that caught her by surprise. Not that I did it, but that I painted it from memory. Such detail derived from wanting to protect her while she slept, serving as her sole means of survival.

And the one of her standing, I on my knees, with my ear to her pregnant stomach, only I was the one she was pregnant with. A reminder as to where I am from, and where I have landed, and who is responsible for both locales. I am listening to our connection being formed over the course of nine months, a connection no umbilical cord could ever sever…

And the one…

And the one…

And the one…

My mother is dead…

The paintbrush shakes violently in my hand. I barely control it enough to place it in the cup of water, but not before splashing a mix of paint and water onto any nearby item – including my shirt. I quickly take it off, toss it into the dirty clothes hamper and open my closet door. The closet is black. Not in color but in literalities. I had to look that word up but apparently it is one.

Nine short sleeve button-down collared shirts. Nine black loose-fitting slacks. Nineteen pairs of black socks. Another pair of black sneakers. A backup pair of laces. An extra black baseball cap, no logo. Black boxers. But you don’t need to know that.

I grab one of the short sleeve button-down collared shirts. I put it on. It fits. No surprise there. My clothes are the only things that fit. Nothing else – fits. A 14-year-old motherless black male with an absent, overly ambitious father and nowhere healthy to vent his frustrations. This is not a combination for someone that – fits.

Where I fit was taken from me. I no longer have her bosom to rest my weary head. I can no longer listen to her breathe to soothe my angst. My heartbeat is out of sync without the synchronization of hers next to mine. I always knew I was alive simply because she was. What kind of son would I be to continue to live without her? How selfish would I be? She must be angry with me. The audacity to try to keep going. I go back and forth every day about whether or not I should just join her now, get it over with. But I have never been one for personal bodily harm…

My mother is dead…

My knees buckle under me. I collapse to the floor. Sprawled out, uncoordinated, pound on the carpet. Tears flood my face. Inaudibly, at first. I hold back any sound for as long as possible. Only sound heard is the heavy whisper of my fists hitting the carpet. I cannot stop crying. I try to turn off my memories. They clog my vision, carry me to a place where all I can do is surrender. Surrender to her death, and the emptiness it has caused.

My fight against inaudibility is officially a losing one. I cannot hold back any longer. I whimper. I wail. I bawl. I bellow. I scream… I mourn. Hours have passed since she left this earth. Her funeral is on the horizon. No one will recognize me. This level of emotion makes one unrecognizable. Look into my eyes and fall into a darkness only fit for those who have lost the loves of their lives.

Only thing I knew how to do was be her son. My paintbrush even knows she is gone. It has lost its ability to function properly, used to working under the guidance of my mother. It is sort of funny, I feel the same way. I have been unable to function properly without the guidance of my mother. She was the only one who could direct my tears in a different direction. I possess a certain level of strong sensitivity my mother could navigate to make sure I was in the proper emotional state. Without her, my emotional dexterity is off kilter.

It is quieting down. Whimpers stop. Wails halt. Bawls subside. Bellows silenced. Screams calm down… but mourning…

My mother is dead…

I lie on the floor. Face down. Arms sprawled out above my head. Breaths deep, and fluid, like someone who is patiently waiting for something better to come along…

I hear another heartbeat. I feel another cadence of breath. There is someone else in here. I slowly roll over to witness the sight of my father standing in my doorway. He just stares at me, my tear-stained cheeks announcing what has already transpired.

“Why are you crying?”

“Why aren’t you?”

He continues to look at me, study me. He looks at me like he has never seen me before, as if I could not be his son. Not this emotional child, unable to function without his mother on this earth.

“Wipe your tears. It’s unbecoming. It’s not what a Smith man would do.”

And he just… walks away. Walks away without once thinking about how many pieces of me he has broken and left in the middle of my bedroom floor. His exit brings the sound in my room back to the simplicity of my solo breaths. The calm pains me. His calm pains me. I do not think he has shed a tear since that first night. Since the night she left us to our own accord.

Silence, deafening. I have to do something about it. Screams are past their prime. I just need something for me at this point. There is only one place to go at this stage. A place filled with darkness. Darkness painted in red, ashy knuckles in between its crevices. Dripped and dropped in puddles of blood. Dents in walls, too familiar to fight back.

I stand up. Slow, methodical, with a purpose. Dust off my slacks. A little bit off my shirt. Prepare. Face flushed within the calm of my conscious decision to harm myself. Have not went to this place since my mother ---

My mother is dead…

My hand pounds against the wall. Slow at first. Paced, even. Slowly, the pain I feel is the pain I feel. The melanin in my brown-skinned hand fights the screeching red as it gushes with newfound energy down scared knuckles and stretched out fingers. A new dent created. A new attack on myself. A new journey to self-destruction.

I decide to use my father’s bathroom to clean up the steady stream of blood flowing from my hand. I rinse it off, put together makeshift bandages, wrap them around my hand. It is well-done, if I say so myself.

I make eye contact with my father, as he watches me tend to my wounds, my pain.

“How much is that going to cost me?”

How much are sons going for nowadays?

V by Ronald Clark

The devil cannot stop scratching my throat. His talons sink deep into whatever flesh is available. He must be a man. There is no argument. There is plenty of argument as to whether God is man or woman. I lean towards the latter. But there is no argument as to whether the devil is man or woman. He is man, through and through. And I cannot get the pain of his claws that ravage every inch of my voice from defining who I am in this moment.

I cannot scream any longer. The pain is too definite, too sure. All that leaves my mouth is a crackle, like an elderly man whose bones submit to their history with each painful step. My face stained with streaks of moisture humans call crying. My eyes committed suicide hours ago. Tear ducts fell apart as the last images of my facial rivers posed for their final pictures. I am unaware of the presence of a photographer. I am unaware of whether or not I have been in this room alone, with her, all this time. It is a blur I do not wish to catch up to, converse with, learn from.

I have scared the nurses. They have not attempted to move me for some time now. In the beginning, they reacted with the knowledge that this was a simple mother and son relationship. They were sadly mistaken. This was an aggressive love affair severed at the most inappropriate time. This was where my scream started. This is when the devil looked to escape my throat. Clawing at my wind pipe as nothing but silence was able to leave my mouth, yet, the pain on my face was enough to shatter any ear drum in the vicinity.

My face wrinkled. My brow furrowed. My lips chapped. Slobber dripped. Spit caked in the corners of my mouth. Eyes watered to the point of dehydration. The veins in my neck protruded. But no sound. No sound could be released. The devil had won, which was ironic, since the devil is the angel of music, you would think he would want to hear the agony a severed love could produce. Nevertheless, he relegated me to unmitigated silence. One of the lost pains.

I am numb. The strength I possessed earlier is unavailable. My heart palpitates at a rate of concern. My hands quiver, like violence is in the air.

The door slams open.

My father steps in. His eyes land on the permanently resting body of his now-deceased wife. This image dwarfs all thoughts but one at a time. The first, he is now a widower. The second, he is now a single father. A man who lives to be in complete control now has none. It only took him four hours to arrive at this point…

“What… what happened?”

From somewhere, I found that strength I once had. The devil released me from his grasp. The crackle cracked under the pressure. I could scream again.

And the power of its echo through my body buoyed me in the direction of my father, flailing into his chest, swinging with no realistic target in sight.

“You happened! You happened! It was you!”

I screamed with the power of 300 children whose mothers have spent eternity negotiating with God if they had any chance of returning to this earthly vessel.

“I didn’t do anything, son. I didn’t…”

He was unaware of the truth in that statement. His wife felt such a disconnection to him on a spiritual and emotional level she hid from him for nine months that she was fighting breast cancer. For nine months he walked in and out of their bedroom unknowingly watching as his wife was slowly passing away.

I did not notice or know that she was dying either. But our connection was based in her making sure I only saw the good in everything. She even tried to get me to see my father with a different eye, a different view point. I was successful with everyone but him. I now wish I had been just as unsuccessful with her. Maybe I would have seen the pain she was in, the suffering she was going through. The blessing and the curse of black women – their strength. You can lean on them for as long as necessary, but when it comes time for them to lean elsewhere, they hesitate with the marksmanship of an abused child who finally pulls a gun out on their father.

“How could you not know?!”

“I didn’t know. She never said anything. How could I –“

“You should have known!”

I stood next to her in this moment. I stood next to my mother, cold, lifeless, posing for a portrait only a sick freak would ever snap as a memory. 

“Can I grieve, please?!”

“Sure. I already had a four-hour head start.”

I leave. Slam the door behind me. Act like a stereotypical teenager in an increasingly typical scenario. Or, at least, I have convinced myself of this over the past four hours as a disgusting coping mechanism.

The door behind me would not allow me to go further. I return to the door only moments after exiting. I peer through the small window, set my sights on my father. He wobbles to my mother’s bedside, noticeably shakes. His knees buckle. He lands in the same position in which he proposed. He stares up at his wife, my mother. Tears attack his cheeks at an unimaginable rate.

Never seen my father like this…

He paces back and forth. Distraught. Sick. I feel bodies behind me. Nurses hover. I turn to face them. I breathe deeply. They breathe deeply. We stare. They feel the pain on my face. It resonates. They stagger backwards a bit. They are worried, not wanting to upset the delicate balance of service and grief. They study my face to see if anything has changed in my stance from earlier in the day. It hasn’t.

It has.

They notice my slight change in demeanor, rush through the alleviated tension into my mother’s room, where they find my father, drenched in a puddle of his own tears, shirt unbuttoned, untucked, unlike anything I have ever witnessed.

Never seen my father like this…

I follow behind the nurses who finally begin the process of removing my mother from her machines, from her room, from this world, from us. My father fights this process. I wrap my arms around him from behind. He tries to escape my grasp. We fall to the floor. He screams at the top of his lungs as my mother is taken out of her room.

It is always difficult… to witness someone thoroughly recognize… that they are too late to do anything… about something they could have…

IV by Ronald Clark

If my father fell in the forest, with no one around, would the sound he made include his only son’s name?

Mom loves the sound of me reading. I do not know what it is about hearing my voice reciting the words of another, but it soothes her. Maybe it is just the idea of my returning the favor from my time spent in her womb. The warmest place I have ever laid my head. My sensory memory is one of my greatest strengths, as I sift through daily reminders of a past my young mind can often forget. I am not meant to remember, and yet still, I do.

I lay my head on her stomach as I feel her falling asleep underneath. Her breaths lift my head ever so slightly, rhythmic in nature. I am where I belong. I drift back and forth in the consciousness of my younger self, for now, I reside within murky waters. I am neither child nor adult. But the choice to be one or the other needs to occur at some point. I actually prefer the vacillation between the two. It suits my propensity to go from James Baldwin’s protégé to needy adolescent. Oh, you didn’t think I realized I was needy, huh? But are my needs really all that difficult to ascertain? I don’t think so. I never will.

I never will…

I will never leave her bosom. I will rest my head here for eternity. This place is where I belong. I belong here, with her, just not in this place. This place is dark, dreary, ugly. It pisses me off that I cannot use my immense vocabulary to describe it. That portion of the words at my disposal are surrounded in beauty.

Surrounded in her.

But this place erases all of those intellectual options. Its simplicity is its strength. Each room filled with its own insecurities. Too many people entering. Too much commotion. But commotion connotes life. So as annoying as it can be, it is ever so necessary. Knowing and understanding that life is prominent within these walls keep tears from falling down weathered cheeks.

Tamir Rice’s family was not given a chance to sit with him within similar walls. Amadou Diallo’s family was not given a chance to sit with him within similar walls. Sean Bell’s family was not given a chance to sit with him within similar walls. Oscar Grant’s family was not given a chance to sit with him within similar walls. Sandra Bland’s family was not given a chance to sit with her within similar walls.

Never got a chance to say goodbye to a loved one. Never got to properly choose their final words. Never got to leave a legacy not drowned in anger. Their families walk around with memories of them with smiles on their faces. Rice played with toys. Diallo worked hard to find a suitable life for him in the States. Bell was prime to marry his best friend, a woman prepared to share her life with him forever. Grant cherished his fatherhood. Bland’s voice rose above the tragic state of her people with her activism – until her voice was quieted against her will.

All this death. All of this life in the past tense. Just breathe, mom.

Still wish you would have told me earlier so you did not have to go through this by yourself. I, your son, would have provided you with my underused shoulder to rest on, cry on, scream on. I know you sat in your bedroom, alone, time and again, and even on days when my father was there, he was unaware of your internal struggle. How do you love so loyally without it being returned in earnest?

It is ugly between these walls. It is painful between these walls. It is unfortunate between these walls. It is… inevitable between these walls. To be naïve of such things would damage my ability to handle it even more. The images, tears falling down the cheeks of people of all ages, screams raging through the hallways, knees buckling at the news. The news is rarely positive. This is not a place of survival. This is the place you go to come to grips with your mortality. The flesh is a depressing realization. To many, it is a slow grind towards the end. To others, it is a sprint, smacking right into a wall with no room to maneuver around it. It would be there no matter what.

I read too much.

When you consider yourself to be a connoisseur of Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Tim O’Brien, Langston Hughes and, of course, Baldwin, the mind becomes a place of rapid development, almost out of control growth. If this were a freeway, I would be arrested for speeding. Fourteen years is plenty of time to slap together an immaculate intellect, just have to spend the time cultivating it.

My father is not here. He is elsewhere, probably gaining financial stability, or something else that matters not. His presence is not necessary here anyway.

I wish he was here.

My head has not left her bosom. Her breaths are steady. But these walls continue to strangle, second by second, minute by minute, reminding us of the fleeting nature of this location. If my father were here, he would be able to tell you his final words. I do not think he would have anything profound to say. Something along the lines of him doing everything he could to provide for you and me. 

“Mom? Mom? Mom?! Mom?! Mom??!! Mom??!!...”

Her bosom, no longer a safe haven for my resting head. Its ability to lift me up removed forever.

“Mom??!! Somebody! Anybody! Help!”

My father just fell in the forest, and his final words did not include his only son’s name…

I hate hospitals.

III by Ronald Clark

Oh, he’s just not going to talk to me, huh? Oh, he thinks it’s okay to just ignore me, huh? Oh, he thinks… he thinks… he thinks…


Finally out of the confines of that car. Able to breathe in all of my insanity within these walls, my favorite walls, the walls of my bedroom. I rest all of my secrets in these walls. My blood stains its cracks, ripples like the Red Sea throughout its crevices, only to bubble over when its route seemingly ends. It gurgles at the edge of the carpet, screams at the sight of cleaning supplies only I provide. It wants to sit there, as a reminder to the pain that I go through whenever my father is the focal point of my innermost thoughts.

I try to remove him. Really I do. I try to focus on the wonderful woman who gave birth to me. The goddess who walks the hallways of this home with a grace and dignity only the queens she ascended from can attest to. I love my mother with everything I am.

I loathe my father with everything I am.

There he is again. Invading my glimpses of happiness with his unrelenting vile.


(I drive my hand into the wall)


(I do it again)


(I do it again)


(I do it again)


I love my father with everything I am.

There is a dent in the wall where my hand likes to punch. If he paid attention at all, he would question why such a thing is in my room. But how can you question what you do not know? He would view it as some sort of teenage angst. I respond this way because I have raging hormones and out-of-control emotions. Funny thing is that I am in complete and utter control. I know why I do these things. I know why I must bleed from my knuckles. I know why I must feel pain. I know why the outer edges of my hands must be rough and rugged, despite my pension for painting.

I am provided with an adrenaline rush that is lacking due to his absence in my heart.

I love my father with everything I am.

My door opens as I pace back and forth. I pause to look who it is. And it is a goddess, checking in on me.

“Oh, Vinnie… not again…”

She wraps me in her arms, nestles me against her bosom and I am a child once again.

“You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

Her tone says otherwise. Her tone tells me to scream at the top of my lungs until my deaf father hears my cries tearing through my adolescence with the fury of a 1000 men at war with themselves.

“I worry about you, son. Why must you punish yourself for something that he does?”

“I just want him to see me.”

“He sees you, just maybe not in the way that you would like.”

“Are you defending him?”

“I just want you to focus on the things he does do for you.”

Roof over my head. Cash in my pocket. Money for food. Gas. Electric… I don’t see love anywhere on this list.

“What he does isn’t enough. What I need you cannot purchase.”

“And what is that?”

I lift my head from her bosom.

“You already know. You give it to me every day.”

My mother smiles. It is warm and understanding. Our connection is one that my father and I will never reach. Yet, I continue to leave my arms outstretched. Hoping. Praying. Well, maybe not praying since that prayer is routinely sent back with a notice that reads, ‘Your father doesn’t seem to be responding.’ Neither is my Father. 

My mother, on the other hand, is the only reason I am still here. She fills my lungs with the oxygen necessary to continue with the melancholy existence of a 14-year-old boy who is too smart, too advanced for those that surround the academic arena. All I need are my books, my paintbrush, some paint and my mother. This is what sustains me, enables me to continue to blossom into a successful human being – with daddy issues.

I love my father with everything I am.

My mother looks my hand over. My right hand is noticeably more damaged than my left. I paint with my left so I am less likely to punch the wall with that hand. I am angry and disappointed, not stupid.

She smiles her heavenly smile. There is not a lot of strength behind her smile. Her beauty is evident. It is oddly painful to watch her smile. Yet, I cannot refrain from wanting to see her smile. There is just something about her smile…

She guides me towards my easel. There is a blank page sitting there, waiting. She puts the paintbrush in my hand, dabs the tip in paint. It is her favorite color – viridian green. I always keep a full cup of it for occasions like this. Moments when she reminds me of why I picked up a paintbrush in the first place. Our strokes are seamless, the imagery abstract. I save my abstract art for her. I have to be clearer with the average audience. But between us? Abstract is as concrete a language as any other. It is us in plain English. We know what it says. We know what it wants to say.

I love my mother with everything I am.

I loathe my father with everything I am.

She massages my hand. Her hands are soft, an extension of her calming demeanor. I love this woman. I do not know what I would do without her…

But I have to learn.

…to love my father with everything I am. 

II by Ronald Clark

“You’re late.”

A layered regurgitation of past events continually infiltrating the present. James Baldwin’s sentence structure still resonates in my mind at this time, so do not mind that last sentence. I felt an urge to scream within an intellectual cage. Baldwin always seems to fit in those times.

I did not actually say ‘You’re late’. My mother may have. Either way it would have been a waste of breath.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

The lack of understanding behind this statement still baffles me. Ever known someone whose presence never necessarily meant they were there? My father has perfected this craft. He has molded his fatherhood into trying to convince my mother and I that what he is able to do is enough.

“Just show me what you need to show me.”

The painting does not even look the same at this point. All its vibrancy evaporated upon realization that the most important eyes to be laid upon it were not going to be laid upon it at all. It gave up on attempting to be at its best. It gave up on attempting to be loved and adored, showcased for the rest of the world to see. It has given up. It has looked up to me, taken its cue from me, so none of this comes as a shock, now does it?

“Oh, that’s nice. You like this painting stuff, huh?”

The belittling of all that I am. If there was ever anything this man was successful at, it was this.

My mother is the one who put the paintbrush in my hand. A black woman whose essence is everything our ancestors would have wanted her to be. Something like a goddess on earth, mocking us with her constant ability to be more than human within the restraints of that humanity. I, her son, simply want to provide her with the warmth and love necessary for a being such as her to continue to function.

So I paint. She smiles. I paint some more. Her joy is evident. She takes my hand in hers, guides my paintbrush in regal strokes, the paint listening to her every direction at a level I have not reached yet. This is our time together. The time in which my life is the most colorful, most full of life.

Yet, the darkness his shadow is able to provide can swallow even her sunshine, even within a flashback to a beautifully designed memory such as this one. But we must leave this place now, and return to my father’s shadow. It is not done covering the present with its unwavering swirl of parental ineptitude.

“So, when is this thing over?”

My mother looks in my direction. She wonders the same thing I wonder. Will I respond?


“It was over before you arrived. It’s been over for some time now. But I guess a thank you is required in this situation since you wasted gas to get here.”

“I did. And you’re welcome.”

I imagined another conversation taking place in this moment. I really did. But my imagination is responsible for the vast majority of fond memories that include my father. I have to create a position for him within my memories in order for him to have any substantial impact. His gravestone will read ‘In Loving Memory?’

I am sure he held me in his arms at times when I was a baby. I am sure he tossed a ball around with me when I could barely run. I am sure he did – something. But the more I independently operated, the more he felt the need to not be a parent anymore. I will never understand the trigger in fathers to back off.

Do not ever stop loving me!

Excuse me. My throat hurts. That scream clawed at my vocal chords. Whenever I see him, I scream this. I scream this over and over again. He does not hear me. He does not listen to words. But I have not found the proper actions necessary to get him to recognize his glaring flaws. He cannot see my necessities. He cannot see my needs. But what is most painful is differentiating between cannot and will not. Maybe cannot can be forgiven. Maybe. But will not? Will not? Naw, I ain’t having that.

Do not ever stop loving me!

I can get so consumed by this, all of it. To the point that I no longer notice the words being stated around me.

By classmates.

“I have only ever seen his dad on, like, maybe, three occasions. He don’t be around like I would want my daddy to be.”

By Ms. Washington.

“There is so much potential here for something beautiful. Vinnie is calling for him, but Thomas refuses to listen to his cries.”

So many things you could have told me/to save me the trouble of letting my mistakes show me/I feel like you barely know me…

I should not have similarities to the character in the first verse of J Cole’s Breakdown.

I cried when I first heard it. I cried like a baby. I broke down. I had no choice in the matter. My father is right here, in the flesh, and I have an emotional reaction to a young man’s story about not knowing his father at all. I know his name. I know his occupation. I know his bank account number. I know what he feels is necessary. But I know nothing of his wiring. I know nothing of why he is the way he is. I know nothing of why he cannot love me the way I want to love him. For love is a two-way street, and despite how much love I have to give, I cannot give it all unless he returns the favor. And it should not be a favor at all due to the father-and-son correlation.

I just want to go home and dream. Dream of that day when I leave this earth, knuckles stained in red from battling a violent swarm of insecurities. He will be there then. He is always there when I die. He is always there to see me through my final breath. I want him to savor the opportunity to share oxygen with me. Only to never grasp it in time.

I truly hope that comes to fruition. My scars would be so worthwhile then.

I by Ronald Clark

Where is he?

Clusters of adults sprinkle irrelevant conversations into one another’s ears. I hear the lackadaisical tone in their high-pitched voices, all surrounding the elegant grace of my mother, Annette, her glazed brown skin shines even within the cloud of breath that engulfs her. The sheer volume of words trickling into her ears, I know it is nothing she wants to hear.

Where is he?

He was supposed to be here by now. My principal, Ms. Georgia Washington, taps her foot against the hardwood floor, snacks on bite-size edibles as the time she wastes becomes more and more of a concern. My art teacher, Ms. Brenda Scott, scurries back and forth from outside to in, caters to the many parents and students who patiently wait on the person I seem to wait for every day. They do not know patience quite like I do.

Everyone waits for him. Ms. Washington. Ms. Scott. My classmates wait for him like they did when I was in kindergarten. Or was that third grade? Or fifth grade? Or seventh grade? Or all grades? They all run together like dysfunctional sentences, I cannot even differentiate anymore. My mother waits for him.

I wait for him.

I am always waiting for him.

My mother runs interference. Puts words in the ears of those who matter as to why I cannot seem to move at this moment. My lip quivers but it is simply involuntary. My hands shake but that is natural, is it not? Natural despite the abilities I possess with the same hands I cannot seem to control at this moment, in these moments.

My mother really tries. Not tries as in effort. But tries to calculate how many times we have been in this position. How many times she has nursed multiple conversations with people as they continue to wait for something she nor I seem to ever be able to produce.

My father, Thomas Smith.

I, his 14-year-old son, Vinnie, kiss my scarred knuckles. Reflex screams to punch a wall but I refuse to let anything more than a little sweat, a quiver and a shake be seen by judgmental eyes. I cannot be the only one in this room who has dealt with the inability of a parent to show up.

I hear words spoken – from the mouth of Principal Washington.

“He is simply brilliant.”

My art teacher, Ms. Scott.

“I have never seen a skillset like his at that age. I am astonished every time he presents something new. I almost want to have a class with just me and him. I might learn something myself.”

A classmate whose name I do not remember despite us knowing each other since kindergarten.


All of their eyes seem to be open. They see it. But why can’t he? Why can’t he ever just, see it? It, literally being my newest painting. It, figuratively being the emptiness of what outsiders would see as a father and a son. I only see a man and a boy.

And so I stand here, in a familiar position. Alone, with only you to blame for my melancholy exterior and my mother here to wash away the residual effects of your absence.

I hear my mother’s voice.

“It isn’t always like this. He just works a lot. He’s an ambitious man, what can I say?”

I can say a few things, but words are why we are here in the first place. Need more actions. More detailed responses. My vocabulary – influenced and affected by two hours of reading every day – is still not sufficient enough to properly describe my feelings towards my father. Words just do not do it enough justice. It must be shown. It must be witnessed. It must be everything my father is not – present.

I take a deep breath, turn and lock eyes with my mother. She nods a nod I have seen an innumerable amount of times. She knows I must continue without him. I know I do, too. Does not take away from this aching urge to add more red to the color scheme of my knuckles.

In the front of the class with a half-smile on my face, I present my painting.

“It isn’t much really. A collection of colors and thoughts intertwined with this growing perception that today’s child is not raised with the same values as past generations. And I believe that to be true, mainly because two parents who actually know they are parents is always better than one real and one fake parent, not coming to an agreement on how they should raise the only thing they have created together that is any good – their child.”

Principal Washington dares to respond.

“I don’t know whether to clap or give you a hug.”

“Neither would suffice. But I can’t prevent you from having a human reaction to such an unhealthy situation.”

The room is still. I can hear my mother’s heartbeat. Ours are synchronized. I spend so much time with my head to her bosom that I memorized her palpitations then trained my own to follow. This could be fact or conjecture but either way it speaks to you, does it not? To synchronize two heartbeats is to recognize your inability to function without knowing that their blood continues to run through them.

But back to this room. This room that vacillates between silence and intrigue. My classmates shake their heads – not of disbelief for that would insinuate that they have beliefs – but in a sheer act of not knowing what to do with me and my non-traditional self. They cannot turn away from me but they cannot understand me either. I would not want them to.

I just want him to.

Clap. Clap. Bravo. A congratulations of sort for those that are here and that can see.

I just want him to.

My mother’s voice.

“I guess that’s it, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Another voice. This one deeper, with a familiar twinge of remorse.

My father’s voice.

“Did I miss anything?”

His son’s response.

“Wash, rinse and repeat… the answer to that question from the last time you asked.”

You see, Pops is always on time.