Showing posts from 2008
ArizonaTempe is a landscape as far away from Somerville, Massachusetts, as Saturn is from Mars, the spacious desert vs. the rocky hills and ocean, the cacti that take centuries to grow vs. the layers of fall New England foliage.Each arm of the cactus is some major accomplishment that goes unnoticed by most eyes.Then there are the stunning moments, such as when a desert owl drops into a downward glide from the inner portion of the top of a tree, one moment an unseen hooting in the evening, and then the noiseless swish of some of the most perfectly placed feathers in the world of the birds, a favorite world of mine.Meeting Norman Dubie was as much a mecca for me as seeing Twin Buttes, a pair of hills that are sacred Indian ground and which sit next to a very old cemetery, both of which are behind the Fiesta hotel, where I spent a week while in Arizona visiting friends and relaxing.When I met Norman for the first time after knowing of him for thirty years, he explained the significance o…
First Place for Stillness
The starter's gun went off, and there we were, battling to see who could stand still in the deepest way.  My competitors could not resist moving, so there I was.  I took the gold for being motionless.  I would not have won this race for standing still, for being in the moment there on the track in Beijing's Olympic Bird's Nest, had it not been for the Fulbright.  Unlike some other awards, it's the one that keeps giving.

It was 2002.  I had been named a Fulbright scholar at National Taiwan University.  A bit confused about the layout of the city, I did what a man raised in cities will do.  I sat on the curb there in Taipei just outside my apartment building and studied the neighborhhood, listened to the sounds of the cows across the street in the university's agricultural school, watched the taxi drivers drinking and hanging out, smelled the new smells, all in a place on the other side of the world from home.

My Chinese was minimal at the time…
The Hand of the Poet


It is early Thursday night. The first day of the conference has gone nicely, and I am walking along in Beijing with Kwame Dawes. We ease along as we do when we talk, little by little, a slow motion kind of ambling that is as much southern and Caribbean as anything else. The shops are mostly closed, although the night is young. I have been here before, but it is Kwame’s first time, and for him it has personal significance. His father came here in a delegation from Ghana long before the opening of China. In presenting his paper, “Babylon by Bus,” he spoke of his father.

We get to an upraised section of the next sidewalk and two people are approaching. It is 食指 Shi Zhi, the poet, and his wife. We poets have just had a wonderful festival reading that included poets from the Beijing area. Shi Zhi is a very special poet, a living monument for the contemporary Chinese lyric. …
Back to China

October 14, 2008
Beijing 北京

Beijing is a big city, not unlike big cities everywhere. The structures of these places are the buildings we build, and they are also the structures of our attempts to stay connected with each other, to know and to be with one another, to understand. On Monday, I landed in Mainland China for the third time. It is Tuesday evening here in Beijing’s Jinhua Hotel as… I write.

I was invited to the World Literature Conference at Beijing Normal University and the Fulbright 31st Anniversary Conference at Days Inn in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. Once my friends in the literary community here heard that I was coming, my itinerary filled so that I will be quite busy on this trip and happily so.

My friend Bei Ta made temporary arrangements for me through his friend Nan Feng, a businessman. At the airport I was met by Nan Feng’s secretary and a driver. They took my bags and walked with me to the car. The airport has been redesi…
Driving While Southern
August 5, 2008

In Secaucus, I look carefully over the rims of entrance and exit ramps, none of which seem to lead anywhere, as each turn seems to hold the promise of some monster from the blog. The whiz of things seems to sting the air, make it an uninhabitable place where you cannot breathe. It is part of the mythology of New Jersey, that the only part of the state is that visible from the turnpike, the capitol of which is the layering of upright pipes that line the landscape like muted priests, solemn and overwrought with knowledge of the earth. In Secaucus, I get a severe test of my ability to drive, to take to the curves and feel the car’s center of gravity roll into the grave of the curve so that I know when to apply the brakes and how to keep my focus on the present moment of things, that steady American meditation of driving, knowing the car and the road as the only thing happening when there are countless stories around you, unfolding in bewildering ex…
The Main Buildings of the Baltimore Procter & Gamble Plant Now A Day Care Center

The Wire Insider
Part III The Last of Three Commentaries on The Wire
Industrial Me

July 5, 2008
The street on which my family lived was a major route to a place we called “The Point,” a short version of Sparrows Point, location of the Bethlehem Steel Company plant that was at one time the largest steel plant in the world. My father and uncles came to work there during and after WWII, when steel was needed for the war. There were about thirty thousand people, mostly men, working in the mills in the late sixties. I took a job in the 42” Skin Pass section of the tin mill, on the cold side of the plant as opposed to the hot side where they handled molten steel in places like the coke oven, where some of my uncles worked. My father worked in the pipe mill on the cold side for thirty-six years.

I was there for one year beginning in 1970, when I dropped out of the University of Maryland at College Park after…
Wire Insider Part II
Chinese Connection

Afaa Michael Weaver
The Plum Flower Dance

HBO’s The Wire is done. I am adding the second of my three postscripts to the show. This second postscript speaks to the Asian, more specifically the Chinese presence in Baltimore.

The gentleman in the photograph is Shiye Huang Chien-liang, my teacher and the 64th generation grandmaster of the Tien Shan Pai system of Chinese martial arts. Shiye Huang has lived and taught in Baltimore for more than 25 years. In the Owings Mills section of the city he owns and directs the U.S. Kuoshu Academy. The word “Shiye” means teacher and advisor.

As one of Shiye Huang’s disciples, I travel to Baltimore for my studies and sometimes study privately with him. When I get there early enough I head in to change my clothes after bowing to him in the traditional way. While going through his mail he will look up and ask if I want some tea. I am always excited to ha…
Wire Insider, Part One
The Big Boys

Afaa M. Weaver, author
The Plum Flower Dance

East Baltimore Muse has its home in East Baltimore, which is part of the setting for the HBO Series The Wire. The Wire is an excellent program that is very true to the scene it depicts, the daily struggles of the black poor in the city where America’s national anthem was written. I thought it might be good to go back in time for this blog entry, back to the time of rhythm and blues, when black life had another kind of rhythm…I was born in Baltimore and know every corner of the East side and much of the West side of The Wire.

Baltimore has a heroin problem, and it has a problem with urban violence that seems pretty stubborn. The real heroes in this struggle are people like my three sisters who work in agencies related to mental and physical health. The heroes are also friends and family members who have beat the odds and live lives of recovery. We have lost some folks to the life, as we call it, and we…