clean as a bone

“You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone.”

We are not far removed from the 30th anniversary of the death of writer James Baldwin, who died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France on December 1, 1987. Last night, I completed The Fire Next Time, his 1963 release that contains two essays: “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” and “Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind.” I have read nearly every novel and collection of essays by Baldwin, but with the exception of Go Tell it on the Mountain, have not revisited his words in nearly 40 years.

As I read The Fire Next Time, Baldwin’s voice, and the intelligence, emotion and spirituality behind it were not just familiar, but as intrinsic as my breathing. It was remarkable in that it was as if the passage of time between readings had never occurred; I had been so profoundly transformed by his writing that I shared his sense of self awareness, rhythm, logic and even sentence structure, in my own crude approximation of his genius.

With that, I was hard pressed to recite a famous Baldwin quote; this post’s title and opening line will need to serve that purpose. I have always marveled at Baldwin’s literary dexterity, but with this most recent reading, realized that his vocabulary is relatively simple and straightforward. What I did recall accurately was his mastery of complex sentence structure which is rivaled only by the resulting catharsis upon reading them.

Blackness informed his writing, but never defined it. Baldwin’s blackness was not a handicap, it was not something he had to overcome or rise above through his intelligence; his greatness was in his blackness. His words challenge without being confrontational or condescending. Revelation is from the inside out; there is no peeling back of layers, which implies useless elements to be discarded. Nothing is wasted. Think of a time-lapse photo of a flower blooming; that is Baldwin’s writing.

While not religious, the drama, renewal and healing power of love expressed in religious thought are at the core of Baldwin’s value system. He demands purity in the expression of truth, in laying one’s soul bare. In this sense, he is much like John the Baptist, unafraid of the spiritual wilderness, leading by example, but also warning that the current path leads to destruction.

James-Baldwin-à-Paris

“If we–and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others–do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”

The Fire Next Time, 1963

“And a really cohesive society, one of the attributes, perhaps, of what is taken to be a “healthy” culture, has, generally, and, I suspect, necessarily, a much lower level of tolerance for the maverick, the dissenter, the man who steals the fire, than have societies in which, the common ground of belief having all but vanished, each man, in awful and brutal isolation, is for himself, to flower or to perish.”

Nobody Knows My Name

If I am to make a single resolution for the new year, it will be to reacquaint myself with my muse and reread every one of his brilliant works. For my children, a Christmas wish: write me one sentence, “as clean as a bone,” on any subject you wish, that mirrors the structure of this 115-word gem from The Fire Next Time:

“This past, the Negro’s past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that it often turned against him and his own, and made all love, all trust, all joy impossible—this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful.”

 

Had My Phil – An Easter Story

Yeah, I know Easter was months ago…

He who took a bite out of the Big Apple, worshiped at the alter of a false god, the idol of Jordan, proclaimed “The Greatest of All Time,” he who conspired with the serpent, the Black Mamba, and the powerful giant Shaquille, hath been laid low. It was Thee who professed of the sanctity of an unholy trinity, praying  in the Egyptian house of worship, clinging to pyramids and triangles. Thy temple has been leveled by the army of Melo and Zingas! He who is unwilling to march in step with one’s troops is destined not to lead, but to serve.

desert

“Zeke, my Zeke, why have you forsaken me?”

James cried out in agony. His desperate call was returned with silence, save for the sound of four and twenty million dollars slowly draining from his account. He had been betrayed by the gangly, multi-ringed Judas who had promised salvation, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” but instead delivered high round draft picks and talent to his enemies.

He exhaled; why was it so difficult to breath? It was more than he could bear after carrying the weight alone. He opened his belt and unbuttoned the top of his trousers.

“Sigh! That’s a little better. I shouldn’t have ordered the cheesecake after finishing the prime rib.” Jimmy shifted his weight and looked out his office window. The bread and Merlot weren’t sitting well with him either.  He had shared his table while delivering the difficult words to his disciples.

Anthony, who was called Melo, was one of the twelve. He had witnessed the broken covenant, first between himself and Philip, and now, the final betrayal of James by Philip. If only he had honored the wishes of his beloved SaLaLaome who had called for the head of Philip. Instead, he himself had succumbed to temptation, his pride leading to isolation, adultery and missed baseline jumpers.

One by one they were taken down, bodies limp, their spirit drained. Fisher, Rambis, Noah, even the Rose could not mask the putrid stench of failure. The garden, this Mecca, would bear no fruit. Iscariot, the traitor, bereft of basketball wisdom had laid waste a once powerful kingdom. James had been blinded by the gold of the multi-ringed false prophet.

He remembered the words, “Before the cock crows, thou shalt deny me thrice.” This prophecy was realized as a 3-year record of 80-166, including the catastrophic 17-65 season in 2014-2015 A.D.. It was more than James could bear. He lowered his head and wept.

His tears became rain, then thunder, until behold, there was a great earthquake. The massive boulder that had obstructed his garden was thrown aside. James raised his eyes and beheld an image of hope. His countenance was like lightning and his raiment was of many colors.

clyde

“Isiah, is that you?” James’ vision was blurred by tears.

“Nah Jimmy, it’s me Clyde.”

“Clyde? Am I dead?”

“No man, just your team’s playoff chances. But, I’m here to tell you something…”

“What is it?” James face was as open and innocent as a child’s.

“Go forth quickly and tell your disciples, He is risen.”

Once again, James called out to his savior, “Isiah…Isiah?”

“What’s wrong with you Jimmy. I’m talkin’ about the Man?” Clyde slowly unrolled  an ancient scroll. “These are the sacred words He hath passed through the chain of prophets. I will share them with thee now.”

Bounding and Astounding

Dancing and Prancing

Dishing and Swishing

Huffing and Stuffing

Hustling and Bustling

Movin’ and Grovin’

Out-muscling and Out-hustling

Posting and Toasting

Shaking and Baking

Slicing and Dicing

Spinning and Winning

Styling and Profiling

Swooping and Hooping

Wheeling and Dealing

“Follow and honor these tenets, and you will enter the kingdom.” Clyde rolled up the scroll. “Simple as that Jimmy. Spread the word. I’ll be watching you.”

James rose to his feet and wiped away years of tears, sand, and eye snot.

“Don’t worry Clyde, I won’t let them down this time.”

With that, hope was restored to the faithful. What would free agency bring? Did we dare dream of unseating the rule of the State of Gold?

If Summer league comes, can Fall be far behind?

tombstone

 

Stick Figure Jesus

Five year old on her knees

eyes closed to her world

hands clasped, or cupping air

in prayer

to the God of Man

fish

Five year old at her desk

draws a stick figure Jesus

smiling sun with a face

beside puffy white clouds

veiling heaven

fish

Religion, Religare

Green-eyed, earth bound

assassin of the spirit

False security of thy balustrade

Imprisons my soul

fish

The young woman prays

As it was, so it shall ever be

Five years old on her knees

Eyes closed and averted

from judgment

fish

“Bless me father, for I have sinned,”

I have killed the Buddha

served sour milk to Ganesh

I’ve eaten swine on the Sabbath

and worn white after Labor Day

fish

Five years old at her desk

Defined by adolescent artistry

and faith

draws a stick figure Jesus

for her daughters and sons

Philin’ In – Act Four

The saga of James Dolan, Phil Jackson and Isiah Thomas will bring new meaning to the phrase Triangle Offense.

Jimmy’s thoughts drifted back to the beach. Isiah was standing to his left, facing the minister who stood under a bough of roses formed into a heart shaped arch. The minister was speaking directly to Jimmy.

“James, have you prepared your vows?”

“Actually, I had planned to write my own, but decided that a song by my hero Eric Clapton perfectly expresses my feelings.”

With that, Jimmy lifted his guitar from its stand next to the alter and played the opening riffs to Change The World. As he started singing, the crowd was startled by his odd high-pitched falsetto.

“‘If I could reach the stars
Pull one down for you,
Shine it on my heart
So you could see the truth:
That this love inside
Is everything it seems.
But for now I find
It’s only in my dreams.

And I can change the world,
I will be the sunlight in your universe.
You would think my love was really something good,
Baby if I could change the world.

If I could be king,
Even for a day,
I’d take you as my queen;
I’d have it no other way.
And our love would rule
This kingdom we had made.
’til then I’d be a fool,
Wishing for the day…

That I can change the world,
I would be the sunlight in your universe.
You would think my love was really something good,
Baby if I could change the world.'”

“Hey James, I need you to sign off on this. Are you on board with the trade for Rose?” Jackson was shaking Dolan with one hand while he waved a paper and pen in the other.

“Rose?” Dolan looked puzzled, but continued, “Yeah, rose is good. I like rose,” he agreed as he signed, then handed the paper back to Jackson.

“Great! Then it’s settled.” Jackson rolled up the paper and stuffed it into his pants pocket. “One more thing…let me run this by you for the press conference.”

“OK?”

A mischievous smile spread across Jackson’s face. “What’s the difference between the New York Mets and the Titanic?”

“Phil…I don’t see what this has to do with…,” Dolan tried to interject.

“The Titanic hit an iceberg before sinking, and the Mets can’t hit anything.” Spittle flew out of Jackson’s mouth as he cackled at his punch line. “That should deflect the focus from our personnel moves.”

“I’m glad somebody’s having a good time,” the owner shrugged.

Jimmy delicately held a single rose as he stood facing Isiah. The minister was nearly finished.

“If anyone objects to this union, or feels threatened by the expression of heterosexual man love, speak now, before the NBA February 18th trade deadline, or forever hold your peace.”

A bright-eyed woman with dark, short cropped hair, pushed aside the crowd.

“What’s going on here? Who agreed to this? Have you all lost your minds?” She addressed the minister directly, “You better end this right now before I get everybody arrested.”

“I beg your pardon, Ma’am,” the minister responded defensively. “Same sex marriage is legal in this state.”

“I’m not talking about that, you fools…” Isiah realized what was happening and bowed his head sheepishly. The woman was Lynn Kendall, Isiah’s beleaguered wife of over thirty years.

“Isiah is already married to me! Let’s go Zeke!” Isiah obediently followed behind his wife as Jimmy fought back tears. First Anucha Browne Sanders and her trumped up accusations of sexual harassment against Isiah, and now this. Another strong-willed woman ruining his chance at happiness.

“‘Baby if I could change the world…,'” Jimmy slowly retraced his steps across the beach as he dreamed, along with millions of Knicks fans, of what might have been.

Philin’ In – Act Three

The saga of James Dolan, Phil Jackson and Isiah Thomas will bring new meaning to the phrase Triangle Offense.

Jimmy walked along the beach, making his way to the makeshift alter. This was the happiest day of his life. As he turned the corner, emerging from the row of sea roses, he spotted his beloved.

“Jim…James! I thought about what we discussed the other day and maybe Kurt Rambis is not the answer.” Phil Action Jackson towered over Dolan like a gaunt, enormous bird, as he roused him from his daydream.

“What is it Phil?” he asked, unable to conceal his annoyance. “What was the question?”

“About who should coach the Knicks?”

“So, you’ve finally decided to coach the team yourself?” Jackson now had Dolan’s attention.

“No way Jimbo! I already told you, that would be ridiculous. How about this?” Jackson’s huge hands framed the air marquee in the space between them, “Jeff…” he paused for effect, “Horn-a-cek.”

Dolan glared at Jackson.

“Well, what do you think?”

“Phil, you’re really testing my patience. As it is, I’m still paying Derek Fisher. What happened, you couldn’t find one of the Van Gundy brothers?” he asked mockingly. “Maybe we should call Isiah. His record at Florida International wasn’t a total disaster.”

Although Thomas’s record over three seasons at FIU was 26-65 and he never won more than 11 games in a single season, measured against the benchmark that is the New York Knicks organization under the leadership of Jackson, Dolan’s assessment was not totally off base.

“I already called Isiah’s agent, and was told he’s auditioning for a summer theatre production of Othello.”

“Isiah’s auditioning for the part of Othello?”

“No, Desdemona,” Jackson informed him as Dolan slowly nodded.

“I guess that makes sense. It is Shakespeare.” An idea slowly coalesced in Jimmy’s mind as an opportunity presented itself.

“Is the part of Othello still available?” “‘Put out the light, and then put out the light.'”

Jackson, who had already lost interest, turned on his heel and left the owner alone with his thoughts. Jackson lamented, “Why can’t you be more like Jerry Reinsdorf?”

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