Botlahle, 11-year old South African Poet

poet-botlhaleBotlahle is the pride Of South Africa, and should be an inspiration to us all, particularly the children.

She has certainly inspired me. Thought I’d share this with you guys…


Here’s a little poem she wrote about her hero, Nelson Mandele.


botlahleWow, right?

She fills me with hope and optimism about the future.

Definitely the kind of fuel my patronus needs.

Thank you for sharing your gifts with us, Botlahle!


The Church of Wonder pt.4

cont. from pt 3

The NYC Transit Police have a place (I can’t recall where for the life of me but it may have been in Hoyt & Schemerhorn station in downtown Brooklyn) where they take fare evaders during sweeps so that they can check to see if any among their catch of the day qualify as the assholes needed to make Operation Turnstile Jumping Assholes a success.  This is where they took me and these other guys by van.

They were hoping to catch felons in this wide net they’d cast. I’d gotten caught in the net, like a dolphin in the tuna hunt. Often those dolphins die, which was about the feeling I was skirting around minus my freedom for the first time, in a van with steel mesh wiring on the windows. A rolling mechanical net.

My record was as clean as a cop’s new shield during his first week of being  a detective, so that wasn’t my biggest concern. What had me quaking in my boots was the bag of weed in my pocket and the idea of my mother getting a call about me being “detained” by New York’s Finest.

There were about ten of us in the van, mostly black and a handful of Latinos. I’d heard a couple of different accents, definitely a Jamaican and possibly a Panamanian…I don’t know, all-in-all probably about the same ratio as you’d find in most inner city neighborhoods in NY.

The guy beside me must have smelled by apprehension through my L’air du Indifference and said, “don’t sweat it, yo!”

I pretended not to be able to hear him over the van’s engine while I glanced around at the faces of my co-assholes to see if his reassurances raised any eyebrows among this mostly seasoned looking bunch of detainees.

It had.

Thank god for handcuffs, I remember thinking.

“All they gonna do is take your prints and send them shits to Albany. If you…”

“You talking to me?” I asked, turning on him with an expression I hope translated  into ‘do I look like I need to be shown the ropes?” But all I was thinking at the moment was, ‘Prints??? Fingerprints???’

“No offense bruh,” this guy, black as tar, half homeless looking and smelling,  said. “Just trying to help you out. ”

Though his face told me he couldn’t care less if I were the Atlanta Child Killer or not, his voice was sincere.

When we arrived at the holding facility, the 10 of us were marched from the van down into and through the station (where we were a spectacle for passengers) into the transit facility where we were photographed and fingerprinted.

Spofford Juvenile Center

“Am I under arrest?” I asked the female cop doing the photo shoot, the first fairly friendly face I’d seen since I’d been in custody.

She looked up from her task and, looking through me, speaking with a Robocop voice, barked “just be still,” and returned to her viewfinder. She must’ve seen a hundred kids like me a day, and she couldn’t be opening her heart to whatever good she might spot in them…that would have made her job torturous, I’m sure. Thus, the Robocop routine, I figured.

Didn’t make me feel any better, though.

I knew I was a juvenile and there wasn’t much they could do. But, I’d also heard horror stories about juvenile jails like Spofford, infamous for being as spiteful as the adult variety.

I was sweating. Huge beads of it rolling icily down my back collecting in my boxers.

I knew some guys who’d gone to Spofford, of course. They were mischievous when they’d left. But, when they came back they always had this steely eyed look like most of co-assholes wore. Like my brothers wore, too. That, I can take anything you throw at me, you fucks- You can’t break me! look.

Shit, I’d been broken since the moment that cop had said to me in the station, “today just ain’t your day, is it?”

To their credit, the cops were mad gentle with us…at least compared to the image the NYPD had. They were all “ok fellas, follow me,” and “ok gentlemen, we’re gonna do this the easy way, so let’s make this as painless as possible,” and stuff like that. No kicks, or pokes with clubs or plungers up the ass or anything like that.

One cop, a black one, who worked in the station, was the worst one, really. He kept a look on his face like he hated his job and he thought we were scum. He wasn’t Robocop. He was more like a high school security guard who’d had his application and lifelong dream of joining the Force rejected due to some petty crime he’d committed when he was my age or younger, and had held a grudge ever since, mad at the world for a mistake he’d made of his own volition.

“Get your sorry asses in there!” he snarled, pointing at the tank. “And I dare one of you little faggots to get out of line…I fucking double dare you!”

There were benches, wooden and none too clean, and the floor. I grabbed a spot on the bench…near the gate to the room.

I sat there trying not to make eye contact with anyone and not to think about Spofford or Riker’s Island, or any such places. To have two older brothers who knew the system inside out,  I was a really a dumb shit. I mean, I’m sure I’d been told how to conduct myself by them but I always listened to their stories of being in my current predicament like they were adventures I’d never experience out of a combination of sheer will, intelligence and fear. Never as life lessons. Never as words to take heed to. I was of the mind that as long as I kept my ass away from crime crime (and smoking weed, jumping turnstiles and the occasional pilfered item from a Bodega was the extent of my proactive criminal mindedness) I’d never end up in the places and entanglements they habitually found themselves in and painstakingly detailed for my entertainment.

I thought I was better than them in that regard. Smarter. They’d come to feel the same way, too, ironically.

That day, however, I realized I wasn’t better, nor smarter. Just luckier, perhaps.

Had my luck run its course? Was it time for me to go to the place that sent Sean, my neighbor, back to us in mental ruin? The place from which my friend Marvin had returned with the new name, Shaborn, a new set of steely eyes, and a new agenda: rob anyone except people who knew where he lived.

I was in hell. Hope was draining from me like foamy spit from the mouth of the guy seated on the bench across from me, apparently an epileptic.

“Yo, somebody better get in here! This cat’s having a fit!” the guy seated beside him yelled.

Big black and hateful strolled over from his desk like it was his day off and said, “which one of you motherfuckers is trying me?”

“Ain’t nobody trying you man! Look!”

The black cop took a glance at the convulsing man of 30 or so and shouted over to another cop, “I think we might need a paramedic.”

And then he walked away. Just another day on the job, another stroll in the park. The paramedics came quickly and took the guy away.

Watching them haul the epileptic away on a stretcher didn’t help my gloom at all, and I felt tears welling.


I don’t know why I cry so easy. Sappy movies,  sappy songs, sappy books, poetry, even weddings or funerals for people I don’t even know, sometimes. All can have me sniffling. And, man, was I in the wrong place to be showing that kind of sensitivity.

I put my head down (but kept my ears on ultra-alert) to hide my face just in case my ducts opened up despite me.

I could hear two of the guys chatting it up in not so hushed tones about their criminal enterprises. Real assholes! I mean, the chance of the room being bugged was low but not out of consideration. Another guy was snoring…who could sleep at a time like this? Two of the spanish guys, I think they were Puerto Rican, were kicking it to one another in Spanish. I could make out some of the words, like Mamasita and Punta, so I knew what they were talking about.

Then, I heard something else, far off, maybe down a hallway or coming from an office. Something familiar. My heart recognized it immediately- that drum solo- before my ears did. Then, expectantly, I heard the Zulu language, the language I had listened to so intensely as a child. Ngiculela…I knew Spanish would follow… Es una historia.

My lips were moving, lip-syncing the words. Hell, my soul was moving, soul-syncing Stevie!

I kept my head down and my eyes closed, though, cause I knew Stevie had set my tears free.

…to be continued




The Church of Wonder pt.2

continued from part 1

After wearing out Isn’t she lovely for a couple of days (sometimes I wonder if I’m OCD unawares) I let something happen.

I let Wonder happen.

At the end of Isn’t she lovely the next song actually abruptly begins. I kept having to yank the turntable’s arm up at the end of Isn’t she… and place the needle back at the groove at the beginning of the song (risking scratching the record every time…my- my- my how times have changed).

This time around, however, I just let it play.

The next song on the album almost made me forget all about Isn’t she lovely. To this day, Isn’t she lovely, though the biggest hit on the album, is actually my least favorite song of them all. And I do mean all, cuz we’re talking about a double album PLUS two 2-sided 45s.  I had never seen anything like it before and haven’t since. It’s like he had so much he wanted to share and so little wax on which to put it.

The next song was called Joy inside my tears

See, when you let Wonder happen, something wonderful happens.

After that experience, I decided to start from the beginning of Album 1 side A and listen through in the order Stevie had lined them up.

It took maybe three months for me to learn every word of every song…but, at that time, I found myself returning over and over to one song. A song called Summer Soft.

Summer Soft, was the first piece of music ever that inspired me to pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and write down a thought.

Say what? That’s right! Stevie taught me how to write.

This was not a “children’s song” per se. But, it was the simplistic profundity of a child’s mind encountering the awesome power of nature.

I was 10 years old, mind you, and I understood this song the way a child might understand Mother Goose, only this made those Mother Goose stories pale in comparison. Stevie wasn’t piously condescending to me, like an adult speaking in a child’s language so that we can grasp his message. He was singing his heart, and mine. The feelings I had when I would sit in the window wondering what nature had in store.

Bear Mountain

Like if a picnic excursion to Bear Mountain or some other State park was planned, I’d sit in the window that morning and try to pray the clouds looming overhead away with visions of a basket filled with friend chicken and potato salad, coolers of Kool-Aid and lemonade, frisbee football, hiking and swimming. All of which would be postponed if inclement weather ensued.

I wrote such a poem (with rhymes) at that time, my first, about a cancelled picnic and the resulting disappointment later exacerbated by the sun’s return some time before noon that day. I don’t remember the exact words of this poem or the others I wrote and collected in little black composition notebooks, but I remember that in many of them I had anthropomorphized various aspects of nature and acts of God. And Stevie’s message: that change, though painful at times, is the most natural and awesome thing this Higher Power has set in place, that what may appear to be pranks at first glance are really part of some great revolutionary design you’re not meant to so much understand as to be awed by and respectful of even in your ignorance. And, even when it makes a  fool out of you, know that it’s not done out of spite by an aloof deity, but out of a mysteriously cyclical and abiding love evidenced in all things natural, or as Prince (another messenger with a similar though sexier message) would later say, “Elephants and Flowers.”

This message  inspired most of these poems. My first fledgling steps towards my eventual agnosticism.

I would sit and listen to Summer Soft over and over until I fell into a kind of spiritual trance with a Stevie Wonder soundtrack. With no church to speak of, Songs in the Key of Life became a sort of Gospel to me. It was Stevie saying, from the pulpit, “I know how confused you feel, young brother. Here are the answers to the questions you don’t even know how to ask, yet. And if you ever have any other question, holler at me. I got your back! I’m here for you. Just trust in me, and I’ll never lead you astray.”

Years later, though, in my teens, of my own volition, I drifted astray, away from Stevie and his I just called to say I love you tripe; which sounded disgustingly close to Louie Armstrong’s, What a wonderful world nonsense. (I mentioned before what I thought of Armstrong) Yeah, I see trees of green and red roses, too, but I also see people I know strung out on crack mugging their own grandmothers, and I see blood trails on the sidewalks on a daily basis. What’s so wonderful about that? What’s that you say? You just


called to say you love me??? I come to you for answers and that’s all you’ve got to say? You love me??? Well, Stevie, you know what you can do with your love, right?

Yeah, I had made my exodus from the Church of Wonder. Reluctantly,but I did. The time was ripe for rebellion and atheism, and I went all out. Stevie had gone establishment, I’d concluded. Too much love…not enough sex. Too much peace, not enough noise.

I became a member of the Nation of Gods & Earths, a Five-Percenter, and for years I protested I was God. The ultimate fuck you to everything Stevie stood for. I never listened to Stevie, anymore, unless it was some pop tune of his, some song that affirmed my decision to part ways with the man. I was never a Christian so I had no church to rail against, like most Gods. In my heart I was preaching against the truth I’d learned from the Songs in the Key of Life.

But, even at that time, when I’d find myself alone and exploring the honest depths of my personal beliefs, I knew that I retained a faith in not so much Stevie, or in some mysterious Christian God, but in that Higher Power. A Creator.

THE Creator.

I was an agnostic posing as an atheist.

And one day it so happened, I really needed a higher power.

I was in deep shit!

click here for pt.3