Category: Uncategorized

Neighborhood Watch 

 

It was raining like hell

 

When they cuffed me 

I told the cops

It was simple

 

An eye for an eye 

Leaves the whole world blind 

Just like Lady Justice 

Except that I have a smile 

Not a smirk

On my face 

 

See, Trayvon carried skittles 

But I packed heat 

When I followed George

From his house 

Until he idled 

At the drive through  

 

It’s hard to leave a Krispy Kreme 

Once you’ve seen the Hot light  

And it’s even harder 

After I’ve dropped my whole clip 

Into your chest 

 

I told the cops 

It was simple

Lady Justice is blind

But I can see clearly 

 

The rain is gone 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2017

 

 

If you’d like to hear this poem performed, please check out our podcast.

http://whodeannypod.libsyn.com/may-poetry-pod

 

 

Justified Use of Force (for Botham)

 

 

Every year there are

Untold more of us

An Amadou Diallo, Botham Jean,

Eric Garner, Tamir Rice or me

 

Then a loud clamor

Our broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

That no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Most just wait for the noise to stop

So the questions

Can disappear once again

 

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

Almost Autumn

 

 

Mom’s sick 

And the baby’s just been born

These are the days when life matters most

 

We ignore all the trees that failed to bloom

In front of the houses that hold

Not close enough 


Little bitty families of great big people

And there’s so much ‘just in case’

In every day we spend

And spend and spend

 

© Gayle Force Press 2006

 

Little Plastic Soldiers




The little plastic soldiers
Don’t wear helmets
Or fatigues anymore
Their garments are burkas
Tunics or veils as
Sandaled feet pace
In wait and sand
Those muddied boots
Thrown away


These little plastic soldiers
Have homes and lives
Until we choose
To privilege our newer
Grown ups toys
Since (as everyone knows)
Our SUVs are worth much more
Than the little plastic soldiers
Who have to die
For 30 dollars a barrel

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

© Gayle Force Press 2003

The Opposite of Jack

 

The opposite of Jack

is a happy fellow 

you know

 

The kind of guy who smiles 

in the midst of the rain storm

the kind of guy 

who always opens the door

and waits

 

The opposite of Jack 

is someone loving

a hard worker 

who hates his job

 

The opposite of jack

is a fun house mirror

in a small town

that’s never seen a circus

 

  

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

MeatSaladSurprise, a poem

MeatSaladSurprise

 

Beto’s favorite word

is a meatsaladsurprise

Too thick for its guise

of healthfulness,

slightly indigestible

 

See, this is America

The land of the free

who refuse to be brave

 

Because comfort trumps conviction

and clarity yields

an automatic timeout

 

 

We’ll keep wading through disasters

on our raft

of thoughts and prayers

 

Convinced that if we’re

just polite enough

someone else will save us

 

 

From ourselves

 

 

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

 

 

Thank God for Ferguson

My US History classes are doing significant work on Thomas Jefferson right now. Thinking so much about Jefferson and his complexities keeps bringing Charlottesville to mind. That led me to dig into the archives for this reflection on Ferguson. We keep seeing. When do we start changing?

FDO- 9.21. 2017

 

There’s a massive difference between being seen and being invisible. That’s why I’m glad Ferguson has become not just a place but a thing. Ferguson is now qualitatively different than every other incidence of police brutality. Mike Brown’s murder was the catalyst for something bigger and potentially transformative.

 

In the past couple weeks the whole world has begun to see what Black people have experienced for decades; the use of state power to intimidate and suppress populations. The police are the clearest example but much of the infrastructure of our society has done the same thing for centuries. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ invaluable article ‘The Case for Reparations’ provides the clearest explanation of the mechanisms behind this reality.

 

Ferguson demonstrates that the police do not always work on behalf of the citizens. In fact, for many in law enforcement, people of color are presumed to be an enemy force. This reality has been astonishing to many Americans but entirely unsurprising to people of color. Very few people of color can really be shocked when we hear the story of Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Ezell Ford or Tamir Rice.

 

What separates Ferguson from previous police violence is that the public response has been handled in such an absurd fashion. Everyone should be appalled at the way the police have brutalized and intimidated citizens who have not done anything wrong. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s the scale and openness in Ferguson that has garnered such attention. However, the idea that this style of policing is new or limited to a single police force is ludicrous. There’s already been some amazing reportage on this.

 

The biggest difference between the public recognition level of Rodney King (an instantly recognizable name for most Americans older than 35) and Sean Bell (who?) ….. is not that King lived but that we saw happened to him. It’s not the outcome of these situations that creates public recognition, it’s the coverage of the situation. Even in the murder of Mike Brown, the authorities have attempted to create a counter narrative that reduces the level of blame for Darren Wilson. Since we didn’t see Brown being shot, we don’t know precisely what happened.

 

Fortunately, we do know what the response to the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson has been. Those images will linger because they are chilling and astonishing and might well be repeated in dozens of communities across America. The overwhelming militarization of the police makes the visuals more stark and citizen fear more understandable. That clarity matters. Ferguson is likely to provide the most important visuals of 2014 in America. We are Mike Brown and we are Afghanistan and we are Iraq and we are not far enough from being Pakistan or Guantanamo.

 

America is still intensely separated when it comes to race but that often has little to do with where you live, what you like or how you spend your time. Instead, that divide is usually about understanding and experience; the lenses through which you view the world. Those lenses often aren’t chosen by any of us individually; they are usually provided for us. None of us choose what America will expect of us or how America will respond to us.

 

It’s very hard to say this and I need to be clear that I’m deeply grateful that Mike Brown is the only person to have died at the hands of the police in Ferguson. But I am very happy that White America has the chance to see more of the realities of being a person of color in the USA. Now comes the hard part.

 

 

 

More Love for Venus

More Love for Venus

During the 2015 US Open, I posted a simple request: Can we show some love for Venus Williams?

 

Now that she’s made her way to the Wimbledon semifinals and solidly into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, I want to ask again for a renewed appreciation of a legendary, perhaps iconic American athlete.

 

In case you’ve forgotten, Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. She’s won seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals and revolutionized tennis with her unprecedented combination of power, speed and athleticism in much the same way Martina Navratilova once did.

 

The primary difference between those two is that Martina’s great rival was her foil, not her sister. The epic battles between Martina and Chris Evert elevated both players. The numerous finals Venus lost to her little sister, Serena Williams, seem to have added to Serena’s ledger of greatness but diminished Venus. In that earlier post, I dug just a bit into the why of the Serena domination, but suffice it to say that Venus’ seven Grand Slam wins underrepresent her excellence. They also only scratch the surface of her historic importance.

 

Now that more eyes are on her again, let’s take a moment to recognize Venus Williams for her trailblazing brilliance.

 

Let’s go, Venus!

 

 

 

When Tomorrow Comes #2

 

I'm seeing integration

expressed in the million different ways

that define America

in the 21st century

 

Neighbors standing across a fence

my almostkindabuddy

prodding the little girl in his arms to smile

while speaking to me

 

Sharing stories of dogs and kids,

potholes and the weather

The small, simple recognitions of community

That are welcome prophecies of transformation

Fleeting, powerful moments of joy and recognition

begging for sustainability and sanction

 

Oh, if only our churches

and clubs and families

would do the unthinkable, could somehow do

the impossible, next generation inevitable

hard work of embrace

 

Ah, the sweet embrace that’s waiting

To be given and claimed

By untold millions

And my own White son,

still learning to be a man

and fully human

  

Needing to be told over and over

You are not alone

because Michael Jackson was right

and you, my child and most precious creation

  

are the hope and future of our people,

of all the people

whose hard earned righteousness

will lead us,

must lead us, to the glorious shore

of a future

authentically prophesied

with love and deepest understanding

 

Mijo, you ARE the Dream

I only wish I could explain it,

without crying

 

I'm still worried you might confuse my tears

with sadness though really

its all joy

 

So much joy

for the man you will be

and the life you will live

 

My sweat mingles with those unavoidable tears

And my laughter and my envy

and my love and my joy for you

because I wish I could live to know it

 

Still, I am free enough for now

 

In the sacred vestment of love

I am blessed to be the poet

Celebrating the poetry

 

And I thank you for becoming a poem

Of the future

Even more than a prophecy

The clear vision of today

You will help to create

And manifest with your life

And your vision

And every tomorrow

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2015 

 

 

Ferguson and Jake

 

Today, I'm glad my son is White.

 

That’s a phrase I never thought I’d write. In part, that’s because I identify so much with Black culture and Black history. It’s also in part because, as a Black man, raising a White boy is extremely complicated.

 

Please understand, life at home is as simple as can be expected with a teenager. I’m incredibly fortunate that Jake is a wonderful young man. But life out in the world is filled with constant reminders that our family is jarring to others.

 

We’re jarring to servers who felt they needed to ask ‘everything on one check?’ even when Jake was in elementary school. We’re jarring at the bank when the teller needs ‘help from a manager’ to authorize Jake cashing a birthday check from a grandparent. We’ve been jarring at the mall, convenience store, park or any of the other dozen times I wondered if someone were ready to put out an Amber alert, fearing for Jake’s safety because he was with me. We were jarring the time I got pulled over and very aggressively harassed because a cop saw Jake sitting in my backseat while we drove through a White neighborhood.  Jake’s Whiteness has been a consistent hassle.

 

In one important respect though, Jake’s Whiteness has been a real blessing: I've never given him THE TALK. Of course we've had the sex talk because I’m the responsible dad of a teen. But we've never had the cop talk. Some of you know about the cop talk. That’s the one when young people of color learn the dos and don’ts of interacting with the police. They learn what kinds of behaviors to change, which places should be avoided and what poses to assume. My son doesn’t need to know any of that. If anything, I would say that Jake is wary of the police because of how they've treated me but he doesn't live in any real fear of the cops. And I'm so glad he doesn't have to.

 

Jake will get the automatic benefit of the doubt when it comes to cops. That reality makes a huge difference in my life and the last few days in Ferguson has made that more clear than ever. His inherent (wait for it…) White privilege means that when I'm worried for my son’s safety it's about driving or alcohol or sex. At root, I worry about Jake having a problem based on something of his own doing, having trouble because of a choice he makes. I worry just because he’s my kid.  

 

But I don’t have to worry about Jake being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong skin. I don’t have to worry that he’ll be Mike Brown or Amadou Diallo or Ezell Ford or Eric Garner or Sean Bell or any of the murdered others. I don’t have to worry that someone with a badge might decide to kill my son.

 

Today, I'm glad my son is White.

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2014