Memorial Day in Manitowoc Wisconsin

Memorial Day in Manitowoc Wisconsin

I took an inhalation and like Bashō I traveled North 
Returning to native soil only to find my mother gone
Though unlike the hair in Bashō’s haiku
The silver strands caught in my mother’s hair brush 
Did feel as though they would melt in my fingers
She was Wisconsin strong 
And so was her hair
And it still smelled like her

I exhaled and traveled south to find my father gone
He had left to chase my mother’s ponytail into eternity
I inherited his sense of humor 
And wore a giant plastic wedge of cheese on my head
As I gave my father’s eulogy in a bright green sari 
His favorite color

Here I see my Mother 
Here I see my Father 
Here I see my brothers and sisters
And the line of my family reaching back through beginning-less time
We left coins on my parents tombstones 
Safe passage Mom and Dad for crossing both the rivers Styx and Lethe

My family takes so many photographs and movies
Among them 
Photographs of smiling children dancing on tombstones and graves sites
Like little Śivas and Kālīs
The older generations tell stories of posing in taffeta funeral dresses
Next to the caskets of the departed for stiffly posed pictures
Or cradling departed siblings in their arms to create final mementos

Photographs like these inspired my sister to become a photographer
And a Wisconsin State Treasure
But by the time Julie had died 
We had forgotten how to practice some of the old rituals
The rituals that had once allowed us to embrace Death like a lover

Now the younger generations call the old ways
“Wisconsin Death Trip”
Once we knew our rituals of life were true 
Because our rituals of death were true
Large gravestones baring the family name 
As certain as hand and footprints on a certificates of live birth

Here I see my Mother 
Here I see my Father 
Here I see my brothers and sisters
And the line of my family reaching back through beginning-less time
And when my time comes 
Leave coins for me, too
Two rivers to cross 
Same as it ever was

American Gothic
There they all lay in a Manitowoc cemetery 
My cradle named after Algonquian Demi-gods that rule nature
Though not death
The ancestors continuing to teach us
Even from the grave
Teach us about time 
And the folly of the vehement dreams and nightmares we choose to live
They are dust to dust
And they are the native soil 
On which I was nurtured 
And from which I drew my strength

Sing of Carl Sandburg and the Midwestern bread basket
Corn ripening and falling to the earth only to rise again
Become the popcorn my nieces and nephews eat while watching Disney movies
Become cows
Become milk
Become cheese
Become butter
And the bodies of the farmers that plant and replant crops generation after generation
Stalwart sunburned men, women, and children whose graves we pass 
On the way to our family plot
For the annual Memorial Day picnic

The cookies are made from molds taken from tombstone imprints
Children  merrily fight for particular flowers shapes
Or the letters that begin their given names
And the adults spill a little beer
Some because of clumsiness
And some on purpose

From time to time Memorial Day coincides with my oldest brother Phil’s birthday
And then there is birthday sheet cake too
It is cut into perfect squares and served on paper plates 
Waiting for the greedy tiny finger to take it 
From the top of the largest granite family headstone 

Sing of graveyards on Memorial Day and family picnics 
Celebrating the generations past and present 
Variations  on a singular theme
Experiencing a counterpoint in well kept bone orchards 
Proving that Omar Khayyam was right

Sing of Bashō’s cicada
And it’s song that showed no concern for imminent death
Like the children eating snicker-doodles, brownies and bars
That have been neatly packed in old shoeboxes saved for just such occasions
Carefully arranged in layers separated by wax paper

One day my breath will merge with the atmosphere 
Let me cover my body with this good rich earth 
Into which my ancestors have merged
In which they now rest
And on which the children are now playing
Their bodies too will someday become the loam that feeds America

Immortality is a song passed down from generation to generation 
Always changing 
And never changing
It can be heard in the lowing of cows waiting to be milked 
And in the sound of seed corn and wheat filling silos at harvest time

Life giving grain falling like rain

Let my body become this good earth too
The first of many who will follow me 
And in the midst of all who have preceded me
Let me remember all of my deeds 
Good and evil 
So that I can say
I have learned

Let me remember 
Let me remember 
Let me remember 

It momentarily died again to became me 
Now let me live again to become It all

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit: Cicada, by Hobun Kikuchi / Ukiyo-e)

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA

Mama told me a story

She said:
You are an ocean and I am a river that feeds you and makes you grow.

If I’m an ocean now; then what will I be when I grow up, I asked?
That’s easy, she said, you’ll be a river that will feed an ocean just as I do.

Choose those that choose you.
Not every eye can see your coat of many colors
Nor can every ear hear your plaintive cries desiring belonging

Not all fingers can touch the wounded places and the scars
Nor offer the healing touch of consolation.
Not all skin folks are kin folks
And strong enemies contribute to ones growth, too.
Rivers lose their identities once they reach oceans.

Lose their identities 
And their contradictions.

Who is my mother and father asks the ocean?
Child of many streams
And many rainstorms
Where is your home 
And where will you lay your head?

What floodgates open because of intrepid questioning?
And, what Jerichonian walls crumble because of courageously blown conch shell horns?

Funeral Pyres blaze in India
Telling two stories
One ancient
And one new
Tell me who I am as I inhale deeply
As the dust of the dead mingles and enters my nostrils 
reminding me that I am a sleeping god.

Pandora’s curiosity brought forth both plague and hope.

Who is my family in all of this?
Like calls to like; but, can that call be answered?
All of this is mission; but, can it be accomplished?

My brothers and sisters have many names.
They ask questions as I do
And are not afraid of the answers that they receive.
By their curiosity my Family of Choice is known.

In Tibet they are called Vidyādhara because they want to know
And knowledge is their seat.

Among the Lakota they are called Heyoka — contrarians for whom night is day and day is night
And, Reality is only just when and if it can be questioned.

In India they are called Brahmins because they seek the truth.
This cannot be achieved merely through bloodlines and birth within a family.

Among Yoruba Orishas, my family calls on Shango
And the Wise Women in my family venerate Yemaya.

American Griots,
Fearlessly tell your stories and sing your songs
And teach the children to sing, too.

Sing the songs that Grandma sang in the kitchen
Or as she danced on the laundry with her blessed feet.

Sing work songs and war songs
That helped men survive chain gangs 
And oppressive assembly lines.

Sing bawdy songs and love songs 
That foment perilous rendezvous.

Sing new songs of Hope and learn to call on The Mothers once again.

How many more Mothers of Exiles can be named 
In this melting pot called America?
That hasn’t yet finished melting

Not even close.

But the Gods came here to these shores with the people who brought them
Listen for the answers that they whisper
Even though we vaguely call upon them 
With dimly remembered prayers.

Let your peace fall upon all of those who will listen to you and receive you
But if they shun you
Shake off the dust of your sandal on their threshhold
As a testament against them and their house
Then walk on.

All it takes to make stone soup is
A pot
A stone
a story
And the willingness of Families of Choice to bring the rest of the ingredients.
All seasonings and flavors blend in a stew.

And all oceans eventually become rivers that feed other oceans
Losing both their identity and their contradictions

I am just a ghost driving a mitochondrial DNA machine made of:
And Sperm

Why am I even afraid?

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum)

Five Haikus for Malcolm X

Five Haikus for Malcolm X

Let’s talk down to earth 
No celestial problems
Ballots or bullets.

Not scared of bullets
More frightened of the ballot
But no new gun laws

New Legislation
Forty-seven angry states
To limit the vote.

American fear
Shaped like a citizen’s hand
Holding a ballot 

Tell the whole story
No Malcolm X no Martin
The yin and the yang

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress / Parris Stancell / Camilo J. Vergara)

Elegy for George Floyd

Elegy for George Floyd

Take a deep breath and sally forth
When taking three steps beyond your front door
If the breath flows predominantly through one nostril
Then take your first step with the corresponding foot
Your luck might be better 
If you believe in the old teachings

Because a human Life can be taken because of a pack of menthols 
And a counterfeit $20 bill
In god we trust still printed on its ersatz face

Is big face paper and poisonous tobacco more valuable 
Than a Human Life?
A Black Life?

Inhale, exhale 
Breath in, breath out
The whole world is watching 
For a verdict.
How many camera angles does it take to get justice?

Breath entering our dust and we become living souls
Hong Sau, Hong Sau, Hong Sau, Hong Sau, So ‘ham
21,600 times a day 
For 100 years
Or, until the day we die
And for every breath the heart Lub Dubs four times
How long can you effortlessly hold your breath?

8 minutes 46 seconds?
9 minutes 29 seconds?
Or until we are Genesis 7:22’ed?

Taking away what they could not give
George, You came  in like a Lion 
And went out like a lamb
To the slaughter 
Blue clad knee on a brown skinned neck
A perverse imitation of a vengeful god
Who was tired of all the rowdiness

A scapegoat baring all of our cultural sins
Lamb of god show us the sins of our world
Show us the of our world
Show us the sins of our world 
(I say beating my heart with my fist)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH take a deep breath
Ujjāyī — the breath of victory 
A baby’s first inhalation 
Before its first scream 
Before it can even know its  mother’s face 
Breath, stamp my story onto my spine 
And let me live it until it’s end!

Mother: first Guru and first lived embodied archetypical experience
Madonna and child
Being born 
Collecting the winds of the four cardinal directions 
Into the center of my being
My navel
Let crying out to you be my last earthly act, too, 
Whether I die with steel in my hand 
Or even under the knee of cowards 

Juxtapose the children baring the weight 
Of testifying on behalf of their Elder
Too young to appear in court 
But old enough to have witnessed atrocity
Breaths of sadness
Breaths of tears

And 46 other types of breathing that typify our human existence 
All snuffed out as 
Your breath left your dust, George.

The last exhalation and the breath of leaving
George, Let your breath merge with all breaths
All breaths that have ever been sighed into the atmosphere 

Merge with hurricanes wrecking trailer parks
And Santa Anna winds feeding California fires, 
Merge with the tornado so that the world will notice your passing

Let Ọya‘s arms embrace you so that your face can be seen in the storm clouds
Your voice be heard in the thundering
And your eyes be seen in lightning flashing.

Blend with the sirocco
prāṇa with its five divisions
And the air that feeds household and sacrificial fires

Merge with Shekhinah

Blend with caressive springtime winds inciting 
The Johnny Jump Ups
Crocus and cherry blossoms

Be the life of another 
And another
And another
A portion of you part of the first breath 
Of those newly born as you died

What is immortality if not this?

Be ¡presente! in the revolutionary voices of people crying out for justice
Who and what do they think they were trying to kill?
You would be seen see everywhere if people had hearts
Thousands of eyes
Thousands of heads arms and legs
And a spark from the light of one thousand suns.
Not other than that spark

But a blue clad knee controlled by cultural impurities saw you  as Other
Other than themselves 
Other than America
Other than one man one vote
Other than fully human
Beloved on sports fields 
And reviled on American city streets
Made menacing by your strength and size
A product of late 17th century plantation genetic engineering 
Frankenstein wasn’t the monster
He was the man who created the monster

But your promethean flame was not initially stolen
You were not a perverse imitation of life
And you weren’t a monster either
Your Flame stolen after the fact 
I take a spark of you and blow on it 
To bring a little light into this darkened world.

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit: Saatchi Art / Miguel Amortegui)

Swirl: For Women’s History Month

Swirl: For Women’s  History Month

Princess Café au Lait Barbie and Prince Ginger Ken couldn’t do what we have done
United two families 
The day we were married and our hands met
We were Black and White touching
All these years together
And I have never written you a poem

Too busy loving — I guess — to write about it

But as I watch Meghan and Harry walk the tight wire between 
despair and disillusionment
I marvel at what we have done with the love that we have brought into this world
Revolutionary hearts beating revolutionary rhythms
And our breath exhaling revolutionary words
Revelatory hearts surviving the “for better and for worse’
Inhaling inspiration from the events of the day
And our own lives

As fearless as veteran warriors
And as ardent as midwives bringing new life into this world
We are not a prince and a princess
We are a King and a Queen

Think new thoughts by not eating the foods of childhood
From food you get mind
Both our families amazed because we make our pancakes from a mixture of five flours
Adding both cinnamon and ginger powder to the batter
The alchemy of mixing foods 
And of mixing peoples
Let your table be an altar and all foods be sacramental 
Because if you know how to mix
The outcome is always astonishing

We cooked mountains of vegetables from a Wisconsin garden  
And used more onion and garlic then either of our families had ever eaten at one time
Food cooked in houses that didn’t know 
The smell of clarified butter dancing with cumin and coriander
Brown and gold touching 
We watched our food disappear 

Everyone always asks for the recipes
But the alchemy of mixing is hard to learn 
And requires both artistry and skill

You have to cook the way you live
But Meghan and Harry didn’t cook their own food
And they planned for the wedding day but not for the marriage

Start the day with conversations and endless cups of chai
The only ritual we do daily, regularly, and sincerely 
Fresh ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, mint and black tea
Everyone always asks for the recipe
But the alchemy of mixing is hard to learn 
And requires both artistry and skill

Smash the cake into my face at the wedding party
Or, the women in my family will think you weak
You took me at my word 
Your Lucille Ball to my Desi Arnaz
Devils food cake covering my face as my Mothers laughed 
Punctuating their guffaws with
“Oh no she didn’t!”

They called you “Teena Marie” when you pierced your nose 
To commemorate your mother’s death
And my sister called you sister
Our revelatory hearts — again — surviving the better and worse

Maybe Meghan should have smashed cake into Harry’s face
You have to make space for yourself 
If you want to live unconventionally

So Swirl
Swirl down through the Middle Passage
And slavery
Swirl through “HAVE ME MANDINGO!”
Through Birth of a Nation and the Klan
Swirl through JIm Crow
The Civil Rights Movement
And marches on Washington
Swirl through Blaxploitation Movies 
Through Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman
Through Baps, Bohos, and Buppies
Swirl through  Obama 
and through Kamala
Swirl through Black Lives Matter
Swirl through the Zoom age replacing words on the printed page

Marriage IS a political statement

Swirl Helen Pitts and Fredrick Douglas;
Jessie Walmisley and  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor;
Etta Terry Duryea and Jack Johnson 

Swirl Louisa Matthews and Louis George Gregory;
Josephine Baker and Jean Lion;
Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama 
You were Meghan and Harry before Meghan and Harry 
Were a gleam in their parents eyes

Swirl Pearl Bailey and Louie Bellson;
Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving — and thank you;

Swirl Grace Lee Boggs and and James Boggs;
Swirl Billy Porter and Adam Smith;
Swirl George Takei and Brad Altman Takei;

Swirl for the Wakandas that have already been and are yet to come
Love in Black and White
Love in Lavender
Rainbow Love
Black Love
Brown Love
And all The  loves that now dare to speak their names

This is for Hettie Cohen and her husband Leroi Jones before he became Amiri Baraka 
For Lena Horne and Lennie Hayton
Diana Ross, Robert Ellis Silberstein, and Arne Næess: 
Two scoops for Miss Ross!

And all of the other swirl couples too numerous to mention
Which is the point.

Walk seven times around the sacred fire with me and make a promise with each circumambulation
For earth, water, fire, air and space.
For self-actualization 
and for transcendence

Wed on the day winter becomes spring 
On a Venus’ day
And at the hour of the unconquerable
Our friends asked what the attire would be 
And we said:
Come as you will be for the rest of our lives 
And the lifetimes to come
Everyone always asks for the recipe
But the alchemy of mixing is hard to learn 
And requires both artistry and skill

Keep thinking:
It can be stopped at the boarder
Or with gated communities
It can be lynched out of existence
It can be gerrymandered
Or put into interment camps 
Or stifled by anti-miscegenation laws 
With 7 states still requiring racial disclosures on marriage certificates 

No one is coming to get you
We are you!

Red hair and creamy skin are genetically recessive 
Which is why they asked how dark the children would be
Meghan and Harry — a reversed living Bridgerton

That the answers to our questions and concerns lie on a the path less traveled 
Is — perhaps — the greatest fear of people who think 
That salt, black pepper, and sugar 
Are the only spices there are.


By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry

(Image Credit: Sol Lewitt: “Swirl Platter”)

Magical Brown Bags that Never Emptied

Magical Brown Bags that Never Emptied

Let me sing to you about magical, brown, road lunch bags that never seemed to empty.

Of James Brown silencing the riots in the streets
Of an attorney general who actually reconsidered his initial strident positions

Of AM radio
And Black radio stations nationwide 
Always found at the very top and bottom of the car radio dial

Of Nina Simone singing songs I wouldn’t understand until right now

Of a time when Kentucky fried chicken was one of the only restaurants that would serve everybody on the road
And they were only found in the South
(although the Colonel definitely stole the recipe) 

Of a time when there were only two McDonald locations in our area

And families went to Drive in movie theaters 
Sometimes hiding the little ones in the back under blankets.

We found ways to live and love through anything and everything

I wanted to write a love poem today

About when we — my sister and I — were little 
And we had to travel down South 
By car 
By train
Or, by The Greyhound Bus 
as Southern people use to say

We always made special “Trip Food”.

Grandma used to make us huge bag lunches. 
You don’t need a Green Book when you’ve got a bag lunch
She always packed them in huge brown paper grocery store bags
And this is where “saving the paper bags” comes from

Black people have always recycled

Before a big trip, Grandma would fry several chickens and put them into doubled brown paper bags
Along with loaves of gummy Wonder Bread in wax paper

Mom always liked the wings

My little sister would go crazy if she didn’t get the drumstick
But this was cured when it was discovered — quite by accident
That she was a huge fan of the sliced ham and cheese sandwiches
Neatly wrapped in wax paper bags
And suddenly, I could eat as many drumsticks as I wanted

People ask me why I don’t write other types of poems
Poems about ecstasy 
Or transcendence
Or peace

But that is all I write about

The ecstasy of naming daemons 
The transcendence of crystallizing my thoughts
And the peace that allows me to stare at the face of Gorgans again and again
Without turning into stone

I can write love poems, too

This is a love poem to Sonia Sanchez who asked me to find my fire and send it into the future

To Nina Simone singing God, God, God, with Nubian passion

To Gil Scott Heron who said we’ve got to do something to save the children
This is a love song to my and my sister’s yester-selves
I say that 
The inner child can never be healed 
But only hugged
And this is the best I can do

To big Southern women who urged us to “Stay together children“
And the laundry dancers in galvanized steel tubs 
Who always made sure that we were clean.

This is a love poem
As they all are.

But most importantly this is a poem dedicated to greasy brown paper bags 
with huge oily spots in them 
that always seemed full 
And everything that they symbolized

The comfortable freedom of bounty in an uncomfortable world

This is to the generations to come. 
You won’t have to eat lunches out of brown bags
But you can still learn from this love song



(Photo Credit: N. Jay Jaffee, “Strange Fruit” / The Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Hot and Spicy Extra Crispy

Hot and Spicy Extra Crispy

This is how the world ends
Not with a whisper but with a bang!

Of a gavel on the Supreme Court 
Or in a grand jury judgement for the killers of 
Breonna Taylor

With gas Guns in state designated Anarchy zones
Were Americans protest peacefully — and otherwise for justice
With the slamming of the doors of 
Bed Bath and Beyond
Because apparently even e-commerce can’t  support
Brick and mortar capitalism during a plague
With apologies to Emeril Legasse
The world is suddenly getting too hot and spicy
And the fires are making everything extra crispy.

Amy Coney Barrett,
What Black Clad Aunt 
Her moment come at last 
Slouches towards the Supreme Court bench
Moving us closer to Gilead.

(Image Credit: ABC News)

Dedicated to Imperfect Heroes Because the Villains Aren’t Perfect Either

Dedicated to Imperfect Heroes Because the Villains Aren’t Perfect Either

The paradox is that we have to use imperfect tools to perfect an imperfect world

I don’t mind imperfect heroes; because the villains aren’t perfect either

It’s all a work in progress as we progress

And maybe that is what is perfect

Teach me, preach me
Just so you can leech me
Dis’ me, stress me
Now you want to test me

Chain me, cane me
Belittle and defame me
Sick me, cure me
Socially endure me

All he tried to tell us is

Imperfect heroes and imperfect villains
Imperfect justice
extrajudicial killings
Get your hands dirty and roll up your sleeves

Imperfect drugs are making perfect junkies
On my back a family of monkeys
Pandemic has us all down on our knees

If Michael Jackson were livin’
He wouldn’t believe
shite Trumps not giving

Shoot me; tase me
Boy, you just amaze me
Fool me; school me
Choke me ‘til I drool, me

Slap me; zap me
better double tap me
Jail me; bail me
Michael tried to tell me

All he tried to tell us is

Lies and deceptions
Not misconceptions
Selling missiles while we defund the schooling
When a mantis prays it’s not piety

There are no bootstraps, and there are no boots
Food lines longer; don’t ask just shoot
No safety net for our society

If Gil were stil among us
He’d write a song for peace and justice

Thunder lightning
Give me COVID-19
Rain me hail me
Brother can you tell me

Spurn me burn me
Now we’re finally learning
Zone-less homeless
Boy they really owned us

All he tried to tell us is

What did he know; and, when did he know it?
If you are angry then burn, vote, and show it!
This system ain’t gonna change itself.

My heroes dead; my enemies are rulin’
This country needs a drastic retooling
I have two fist and only just one heart

If Prince were still embodied
He’d purple hex this Orange John Gotti

Climate crisis; blame it all on Isis
Gangster, Prankster
Legalize The Dank, Sir

Burning forest
Is there still hope for us
Sap glove; bullet
Got a trigger; pull it

All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is

(Image Credit: Rewire / Annette Bernhardt)

This is Real America: for Jacob Blake and Everybody Else, Too

Julia Jackson, Jacob Blake’s mother

This is Real America: for Jacob Blake and Everybody Else, Too

This is real America.

When they kill us in the streets we march and burn and get arrested.
I guess they want us to act like Georgians
And meekly go to the grave without complaint.

Or wait like Floridian teachers for a judge to agree with them that
The same children who give each other 
pink eye
head lice
And the traditional herd diseases
Will just as easily spread COVID-19
Without a concrete plan.

The answer must be given in the form of a question:
What are diseases caused by human proximity?

We are using our children as lab rats to see what happens
When they cluster together five times a week
And then go home to Ma and Pa 
And Nana and Big Papa

What happens when you push that button?
And which company’s “bug juice” will work first and best?

I had a friend ask me how I was doing during these times
You know as a Black person
And I said:

You mean during this time of political upheaval
During a pandemic
In the face of denial as the American bodies pile up (for various reasons)
And ubiquitous cameras capture the savagery of American life

You mean during a time when
context is still needed because the camera 
And the piles of bodies 
Can lie
And not give the whole story

You mean at a time when America is fighting for its soul
During a presidential election year 
With hearings going on about blatant voter suppression 
Through a manipulated Post Office
And the closing of poling locations in “certain communities”

You mean when leather clad bike hoards cause a super-spreader event
In America’s heartland 
‘Cause ya know we all love a good party 
Especially one straight out of a Stephen King novel
Or a George Romero Zombie Apocalypse movie

You mean at a time when college students have been told they were invincible
And they believe it
So they party like it’s 1999
And everyone goes home sick

It’s only a flesh wound
Rub it
You’ll be alright

Like the Martians of an H.G. Wells story 
All of our technological terror 
Is being humbled by the smallest of things 
The infinite humiliated by the infinitesimal 

A family in Wisconsin clusters together and prays for peace
Prayers from two religious traditions
And asks the question 
Why is my son’s spine shattered 
And why was he shot seven times 

An emasculating extrajudicial judgement in front of his three sons 
They say it will take a miracle for Jacob Blake to ever walk again
Repeating over and over again
This is real America 
How dare we hate what we are, his mother says

You mean at this time when things are so obviously bad that 
It causes you to pause and to offer an earnest existential inquiry?

Oh I’m just fine, I said.
And you’re fine, too.



Rose Petals on a bridge.

Where is the voice of “our” President?

Watching “the last crossing”

With 21st century technology 

Under conditions similar to a medieval pandemic

In death John Lewis is still crossing the Edmond Pettus Bridge 

And so must we all.

(Photo Credit 1: (Photo Credit 2: WLRN)