Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse

It wasn’t the first time I’d spotted him here. The arrogance in his step was an indicator that this had always been his neighborhood. If that weren't enough, you could also tell by the way the crowd embraced him. As he stepped off the stage, gentleman and women alike grabbed his hands in adoration. The owner patted his shoulder, as he walked through the aisles and the barista made it her business to give him a complimentary coffee. He had them all under some spell. 

Everyone except for me.

I was steadily approaching the six-month anniversary of coming home from school. Nothing was familiar about my Brooklyn. Coffee shops and quaint restaurants appeared where bodegas and Laundromats used to be. The stoops filled with hyper brown children and elderly women were now bursting with hipster gatherings and young professionals. The only thing familiar about my nook of Brooklyn was “Free Verse.”

Free Verse was a bookstore and coffee shop located in an isolated brownstone on Fulton Avenue. You could tell it was once a part of a row of houses, but businesses replaced its family. Mr. Mills owned the entire residence: the first floor was the bookstore, the second was the café, and the third is where everyone presumed he lived. For as long as I lived there, he’s always allowed the community in, through open mics, book clubs, children’s birthday parties, and so much more. 

Mr. Mills was a small, stout, and handsome man. All the single ladies tried to get his attention. Rumor had it that he and his wife, who was now with our lord and savior, started the store. Her picture was placed discreetly throughout both floors, a symbol of love and care, and I could tell that he didn’t plan on remarrying.

Mr. Mills and the poet that just got off stage stood in a corner conversing. If you didn’t know that Mr. Mills never had children, you would think this man was his son by the way he kept pulling him into an embrace. I’d begun to eavesdrop.

“We don’t see you enough, Damali. You’ve got to make it your business to stop by more often,” Mr. Mills said.

            “I know Mills. I know. I’ve been trying to make it my business, at least once a month.”

            Damali wasn’t a frequent performer, on open mic night, but he was right, he did show up about once a month. Whenever he got to the mic, folks that usually whispered throughout poems were suddenly quiet. It was as if they knew that what he was about to perform would be incredible. The first time he’d gone up, he’d been wearing a simple black tee and jeans with a Raiders fitted. His brown hands clasped together, and he bopped his head in preparation as if he was listening to a song. I rolled my eyes, waiting to hear another rapper who’d slow down his violent rhymes and call them poetry.

            He wrapped his fingers around the microphone and coughed before he began:

I’m sorry

How suddenly

You forget

What a real man is

And if you

Trying to remember

Listen to this

He’s prone to hit
Another man quick
If he dare disrespect
Whatever lies neath’
Your neck

There to honor and protect
Capable of mental
And yesssss physical sex
But one without the other
Forget that…. 
Let’s not get all poetic about it

It’s wack

He’s daddy on Monday

When you lose tears

Cuz’ life ain’t fair

He’s mommy on Tuesday

When he greases your scalp
Parts your hair

He’s brother on Wednesday
As you sit and play NBA live
Not denying him
But alongside with him

He’s Grandma on Thursday
When kisses
And strong chest replace bosom
Cuz’ you need somewhere to rest

He’s sister on Friday
When you need to talk
About all your mess

And on the weekend
He’s you
A part of
The passion
You share

Run his fingertips through your hair

No need for pretending

He already knows the real you

Always tempted to kiss you

Never dismiss you

Everything you say

Is of the utmost


He’ll linger on your every word
Like eyes on a Sunday sunrise

You are a prize 

If you want Monday through Friday

Treat him like a man

Not a child

Don’t hold out

If he ain’t got none in a while

Don’t sweat the small things
Give him time to prepare

House, children, rings

No man ignores the inevitable 

Men remember these things….

Like you’ll remember the beginning of this

I’m sorry

How suddenly

You forget

What a real man is

And if you
Trying to remember

Listen to this

Let him love you
Like you’re the pulse in his wrist
The lifeline, by which you live

Believe me

When it’s all said and done

I bet it’ll be worth it.

Damali descended the stage steps, as the crowd became a gradual uproar. 
After a poet speaks, there’s almost always a second of silence. It’s when the poem seeps into the audience’s skin, only to be broken by the first clap. It’s within this interval that Damali’s familiarity wrapped around my heart. It’s within the first echo of applause that I tried to shake whatever I was feeling, off of my skin.
It's been a few months since that first poem. I’m sure that whatever it struck within me was wearing off. I grabbed my bag and jacket and headed outside to catch a cab. While calling on a Uber that I knew I'd regret later, it was weighing on my pockets but extremely convenient, I recognized a familiar face leaving the restaurant, two doors down.
Malaki Mitchell was the office hottie. I worked at a publishing house, where he was an editor. I was an assistant editor to one of his colleagues, but I felt like a glorified intern. Between running out for lattes and dry cleaning, his face made the days bearable. He finally started to walk past Free Verse, when I caught his eye.
“Jai? Hey. What are you doing out here, this late?”
I smiled, “Don’t worry, I won’t be late for work.”
He laughed. His perfect teeth jutted, from his Hershey lips and his skin seemed to pour from the navy blue suit he was wearing. He held a to-go bag, in his right hand. I pointed to it.
He held it up, “Yeah. They make really great chicken alfredo. I live right around the corner.”
“Oh, wow. I grew up here. I live in Crown Heights now; it was too expensive to come back.”
He cringed, “Well, hope I wasn’t part of the wave that pushed you out.”
I smiled uncomfortably.
“Totally kidding. I’ll see you in the morning, though. Have a good night.”
He grabbed my shoulder, in farewell, and despite his offhand comment, I swooned a little. Yeah, he was my boss. But a girl could dream, right?
I looked down at the app and realized that I didn’t call on a Uber. Yeesh. I’d have to wait twenty more minutes, for my ride to show up. I pressed send and sat on the steps of the building. I was about to take out a book, when someone sat next to me.
            “You like the stockbroker type, huh?”
            I looked over my shoulder, it was Damali, “What are you talking about?”
            “Your little friend you were out here talking to.”
            “Oh. No, he’s just someone I work with.”
            I sucked my teeth, “Listen. You should be minding your own business.”
He stood up from his seat and the street light hit his face. It was chiseled to perfection, reminiscent of his poetry.
            “I’m just making conversation. You should mind that attitude.”
            I fell silent, hoping it would get him to go away.
            He spoke again, “I wanted to say that I’m sorry about your dad. He was a good man.”
            He had my attention, “You knew my father?”
            “I loved your dad like he was my own.”
            My cab pulled up as I turned to Damali, to ask him more questions.
            He smiled, “It’s getting late. Catch that cab. You’ll see me around.”


You can find Erica's books, here.



Neca said...

I LOVE this! You always manage to pull me in with your stories. It's like I'm watching a movie whenever I read them.

Neca said...

I LOVE this! You always manage to pull me in with your stories. It's like I'm watching a movie whenever I read them.

riva. said...

@Neca Thank you so much! I really appreciate the love!

@a_metaphor said...

This ended way to soon!!! Wonderful piece Riv!