Poem: The Voices in Your Head

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Homelessness is an issue I (and, I know, many of us) worry about and struggle with (what to do? how to do it?). The problem seems to intensify in direct proportion to the ever-increasing –and very deliberately designed– gap between the wealthiest and those with least.

On a day when we may actually have a vote steamrolled through all due process to further widen the gap, I’m honored to have my poem “The Voices in Your Head” appear in the People’s Tribune’s Poets United to End Homelessness issue (suitably old school that a digital copy is not currently available).

As someone who writes, and worries, more often than doing direct, meaningful, or substantive work, I’m more aware than most how little a poem contributes to the dialogue, and it certainly won’t provide shelter or sustenance. But I also am inspired by William Carlos Williams (a poet!), who wrote: It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

I share this, then, with a personal pledge to do more, and appreciate all I have and those I’m fortunate to share it with.

 

The Voices in Your Head

 

It didn’t used to be this way,
he sighs, static and unshaven.

It didn’t used to be like this,
she thinks. Don’t enable them,
her father used to say.

But where is his father, and
what would I say if my son
stood before me, neither policeman
nor president, but the deferred dream
of better intentions?

Hey brother, can you spare a life?

I don’t have any to spare, but
I’ll dig deeper and give ‘til
it hurts you more or less
than it hurts me.

It’s always been thus,
God might explain, but
He’s busy with a billion other
street corners, alleys, slums and
the newer tent cities He can
scarcely keep track of.

The earth itself is silent.
but what would it say:
All its stages a world
With so many passion plays?

So many dispirited shapes,
sleeping under overpasses,
bridges with graffiti singing
songs of pain and witness.

Huddled masses, created in their own
image, forever and ever.
World without end
Amen.

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“When I’m 64…”

Bob Marley was born February 6, 1945, which means he would be turning 64 today.

This summer in a series for Popmatters.com, I chose what I consider five reggae albums that are lesser known, but crucial for any self-respecting music fan’s collection. No Marley albums were chosen, partly because if anyone has a single reggae album, odds are it is a Bob Marley album (and big odds are that it’s Legend which, while crucial, only skims the very deep and dread waters).

 

Nevertheless, in one of the pieces here, I offer some thoughts on Marley and his import, on reggae in particular and music in general:

Big misconception about reggae music: it’s all happy, at the beach, drinking music. Biggest misconception about reggae music: it all sounds the same. Even Bob Marley (and it is both respectful and required to at least mention the great man’s name in any consequential discussion or reggae) had markedly different styles he embraced throughout his career, as his sound evolved from straightforward ska and rocksteady in the ‘60s to the full-fledged rastaman vibration everyone has heard on the radio—or at Happy Hour. Indeed, Marley serves as the most obvious case study for the distinctive sounds reggae has produced: anyone unfamiliar with songs not included on Legend, but curious to explore what else is out there, are encouraged to start with the crucial transition albums from the early ‘70s. You cannot go wrong with African Herbsman, the culmination of his brief but bountiful collaboration with Lee “Scratch” Perry. Or to appreciate the incomparable harmonizing of the original Wailers (Marley along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer), Catch A Fire and Burnin’ are indispensable cornerstones of any halfway serious reggae collection. And, above all, if it’s possible to single out one work that encapsulates Marley’s genius, Natty Dread is the alpha and the omega: not only is this his masterpiece, this one holds it own with any album, in any genre.

There are certain artists who are so beloved, so ubiquitous, that they are effectively–and ironically–taken for granted. Marley’s better known songs are so known and so satisfying they might make people fail to realize he created vital music for two full decades. Bob Marley is without dispute one of the seminal artistic figures of the 20th Century. More, he remains every bit as significant and essential today as he did yesterday. He will survive tomorrow and live long after we are all gone. Marely idureth for iver. Peace.

Today they say that we are free,
Only to be chained in poverty.
Good God, I think it’s illiteracy;
It’s only a machine that makes money.

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