The More Things Change… (Draft)

When I was a boy he overlooked the city
Twenty-eight feet of grotesque cartoon smile and piano key teeth
Nose just crooked enough to evoke stereotyped images of his heritage
And a skin tone better suited for a different type of “engine”
But I thought nothing of him at the time
As he sat perched high atop Cleveland Municipal Stadium
I was too young to take note of this
Modern day Sambo masquerading as a mascot
I simply knew him as Chief Wahoo
But then again, times were different in my youth
Sambo himself, was still deemed a children’s classic
Despite being identified fifty years prior as a conduit for bigotry
Reminding me that progress is more akin to molasses than water
It does not take the path of least resistance
It clings to resistance with sticky sedition
And this case would be no different

For here we are in the age of so-called tolerance and understanding
And Wahoo’s presence is as prevalent in Cleveland
As snow on Christmas morning
Caught up in a culture of tomahawk chops
Complete with arrowheads and feathered headdress
And a racial slur serving as a nickname in our nation’s capital
A cancerous social commentary camouflaged as “honor” and “tradition”
We’re talking the type of appropriation
That would leave Miley Cyrus twerking with envy
But by and large the public does not care
How ironic that of all the issues
On the proverbial sociopolitical “totem pole”
That this would hang on the lowest rung
And as testament to the times
A recent poll on showed
That the vast majority not only wanted
Wahoo in their midst
They took it a step further to state
he should be face of the franchise

And I wish I could say I was surprised
The age of communication
More like the age of isolation
And systematic classification
Where even historically oppressed groups
Can’t see past their own cause to realize
That we all have something worth fighting for
And I admit I often scoff when Southerners
Attempt to romanticize the Confederate flag
Claiming heritage and tradition
But for a brief moment I could almost understand
For at first it was difficult for me to grasp
That such a seemingly innocent image from my youth
Could be the cause of such hurt and heartache
for those indigenous to our homeland
But unlike the Confederate Flag
Which was removed atop from the State House
at the turn of the century
Chief Wahoo isn’t just an enduring image from my childhood
Rather, like a discombobulated traveler from another time
He is a part of my present
That belongs in the past


Alien (Draft)

I’ve never been very good with words

Sure, given a pad and a pen
I can sonnet them into a symphony
But under the doldrums of daily discourse
they only discharge dysfunction
More often than not my clasped tongue
has left me handcuffed and hamstrung

This is what it is to be alien
That is to say
Have a rare gift for alienating
Transforming friends into foes
With the simple lash of a tongue
Or some less-than-poetic prose
Fumbling at phrases
As if I’d found foreign soil beneath my tongue
Seeds of confusion sprouting with each syllable
The words never seem to come out the way I intend them to

So I’ve learned to choose my words
the way parents choose names for their children
Carefully. Thoughtfully.  Patiently.
Conceding that sometimes silence is the best statement

But I’ve never managed to stay silent for long

My hair trigger-tongue
Slicing beneath ribs
With a sniper’s efficiency

And while time has taught me
that it matters much less
What you say verses what you do
I’m still trying to get a grasp on words
before I graduate to actions

I asked them

How can I make amends?

They said the only path to redemption is honesty
And honestly

My tongue ought to come equipped with gloves
For it seems it’s best at pointing fingers
Like The Cleaner hired to cover my tracks
But still the evidence lingers
So I wrap myself in blankets of hypocrisy
For fear of facing the cold hard truth
There is no lonelier feeling than being misunderstood

To be alien is to be less than human

So I’ve created self-defense mechanisms
And leave tear stains on paper
So the ink bleeds
rather than my heart
I’ve been praying for a fresh start
Hoping one day they’ll realize
ET didn’t hack the speak & spell simply to phone home
He wanted to be understood
I just want to be understood
We all just want to be understood

The Best of Me (Work in Progress)

She is savior to outstretched hands
She is gifts
She is giving
She is the boundless beauty of Christmas morning
She is without self
She is skewered heart
Served up savory for your nourishment
She is 3 block walk back from ATM to ensure homeless man has supper
She is light in the absence of light

She is Blackhole Sun
She is goose down
She is comfort
She is comforter

I am charity case

I am thief
I am goose down comforter
stuffed in suitcase

I am work the system
System made to be taken advantage of
Work the system
I am colonization
Work the system

I am colonies
I am occupy
I am conquer
I am divide
I am the parting of thighs like seas
I am inevitability
I am inevitable
I am one small step for man
A flag on her moon
footprint in her sands
I am the shadow in the depths of her craters

She is light

She is giver
She is life
She is mother
Giver of life
She is change
She is magic

I am smoke
She is mirror
I am denial
She is mirror
I am spit in the face of truth
She is mirror

I am anger
I am anger
I am acceptance

I am work in progress

She giver of life
Mother of happiness
I changing
I metamorphosis

I pitter-patter
I heart beat
I father
I heart beat
Djembe thumping
I heart beat
I resurrection
I heart beat
I three block walk back from ATM  to ensure homeless man has supper

I human
I better
I human
I better

She, savior to outstretched hands

I am man
I am human
I must do better

A Declaration…

We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal
…except when they’re not
What goes up, must come down
Unless it’s become too big to fail
A rose by any other name
Would smell as sweet
Until you call it kike, chink, spic…
We hold these truths to be self-evident
There is no prerequisite for evidence
The proof is in the pigment

We will happily white-out your transgressions
After all, that’s what a good editor does
Revisionist history
I’m not comfortable with your blackness
Would you mind toning it down?
That may seem a peculiar choice of words
But when you’re out of toner, you see
All you’re left with is a white page
I call it my comfort zone

So, could you make that hair a little straighter?
Those corn-rows remind me of bars on a jail cell
I’m claustrophobic, would you mind giving me my space?
Just enough so I can lock the door or run
Clutch my purse a little tighter
Give me time to alert the authorities

We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal
Some are just a little more equal than others
That may sound like an oxymoron
But moron is my middle name
And I snort oxycontin while you hit your crack pipe
But it’s okay
I’ve got a prescription

Forgive my lack of sympathy for your addiction
I prefer a little racism in my penal code
I’ll trump your dope deal with manslaughter
And race you back home
What message can I give to your children?
It’s gonna be awhile
Third strikes aren’t just for pitchers
But what would you know?
Black people stopped playing baseball years ago
That’s why there’s no salary cap
If you wish to relocate to my tax bracket
I’m afraid you’ll have to bleach your bloodlines
And what’s with this term “white privilege?”
That implies that it’s optional

Forgive me if I’m getting a little aggravated
by this line of questioning
The masses worship at the doors of my vault
Who are you to question a God?
That’s why we put in God we trust on our money
It’s actually one in the same
E pluribus unum
Out of many, one
…percent dictate your livelihood
There’s more than enough to go around
But the thing about circles…
You always end up right back where you started
You think I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul
But Paul goes by Chin-Lee now
We wrote off Peter’s share as a charitable contribution

We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal
Except when they’re not

Copyright © 2013 Christopher Shawn Barker

Dear Mama (Draft)

Dear Mama,

I’m sorry I’ve been so selfish
Like the CIA hunting terrorists on a government watch list
Since birth I’ve been looking out for number One
I’ve taken people’s kindness like credit cards
Funding my false sense of security
But this house of cards of a heart
is on the verge of collapse
I am a needleless compass
Searching the stars for some sense of direction
Can you forgive me mama?
Can you forget that I made your illness
more about my needs than your own?
That I had the audacity to ask you to meet
the latest lady in my life
The same day you found out yours was nearing it’s end
That I asked you to dress yourself in hospitality
At a time when most would prefer to
crawl under the covers and hide
I don’t know how I could have been so thoughtless

Dear Mama,

I’m sorry for being such a coward
I should have been there in the hospital
But seeing you there
Would have been like seeing Superman without his cape
And I couldn’t handle any more letdowns
I should have demanded answers from the white-coats
But I was dizzy at sea
And I’ve never been much for open water
I’m sorry I lacked the legs to stand up for you
I’m sorry I ran from my emotions
Like I’ve been running from accountability
I’m sorry I wasn’t stronger

Dear Mama,

I’m sorry I was so careless
I meant to call you that night to thank you
for the thoughtful  gift you gave me
Knowing gratitude was the wind on which
you let your spirit sail
But I tend to forget anything
The doesn’t start with “I”
And end in “me”
And it haunts me to think a simple phone call
May have prevented
A premature ending
I don’t consider myself a holy man
But I pray for second chances
So I hope my scribe
Is legible in heaven
I’m sorry there wasn’t more of you in me

Dear Mama,

You wrote me a letter from beyond the grave
Saying “Sorry for being such a wounded bird”
But wounded birds can’t fly
And I’ve seen you fly mama
Carried my inspiration on wings
Beyond the bars of social stigma
There wasn’t anything I couldn’t be
But all I chose to be was absent
And although you never met your granddaughter
You have my word
I’ll be a better father
Than I ever was a son
This isn’t a poem
It’s a eulogy
For the second I turn this page
I’m  burying the past
And planting roses on it’s tombstone
Like you mama
I will be born again

Human (Written Jan 2012, posted by request)

There was a preacher in the 60’s
His father was alleged to be a Klansman
But he was cut from a different mold
He worked tirelessly to integrate churches
Set up stings to catch restaurants
that refused to serve minorities
When Swastikas were found painted
on the homes of two black families
He personally walked the streets
Comforting African-Americans
And encouraging white families not to move
Counted among his supporters were
Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Harvey Milk
And Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton
To this day…
He is best know for facilitating the mass suicide
of over 900 people in Jonestown, Guyana

There was another preacher in the 60’s
He was well known to be an adulterer
So much so that at the time of his passing
His widow requested records of FBI surveillance to be sealed
To prevent the tarnishing of his image
He shared the company of three women on the day that he died…
He is best remembered
For his civil rights work
Nobel Peace Prize
The national holiday named in his honor
And his speech entitles “I Have a Dream”

I had a friend
When I got the keys to my loft
He was the first one in my apartment
Even before I had furniture
When I bought my first home
He and his wife were present for the housewarming
When my girl and had no place to go for Thanksgiving
He invited us to his mother’s home
He spent his spare time
Working to provide a platform for aspiring artists
Who had yet to find an audience…
He now stands accused of the murder of his wife

As human beings
We are neither our best nor our worst actions
We are complex creatures
Angels with crooked halos
Teetering on a tight-rope
Two steps from heaven
And one fatal sin from falling into the infinite abyss
A see of stone-casters
Living in glass-walled suburban developments
With entrances adorned by Pearly Gates
Preaching righteousness through the intercom
When maybe…
Just maybe it isn’t the devil we’re afraid of letting inside
But rather mirror-toting messengers
Sent from heaven
To give us a glimpse of ourselves
Do you like what you see?
If you can’t answer yes to that question my friends
Fear not, there’s still hope
For today is the first day of the rest of your lives
So let it be your life’s mission
To make each day better than the last
You may not be able to control your legacy
But you can control your destiny

Copyright © 2012 Christopher Shawn Barker

The Power to Choose (30/30 #12 NaPoWriMo)

I’ve never been a fan of re-writes
Never been one to conduct my editing inside the walls of a clinic
This is the script God gave me
A real-life Choose Your Own Adventure 
Once chosen
There is no going back to the beginning
No skipping ahead to ensure the outcome is favorable 
This is the path that lies before me
One full of infinite possibilities 
It’s unfortunate that as humans our minds can’t grasp the concept 
It’s so much more convenient when things are black and white
Call me colorblind
For it seems I only see varying shades of grey
I don’t know where this road leads
If it’s full of pot-holes
Or if a pot of gold awaits at the end of the rainbow
Only time will tell if I chose the correct path 
Suffice it to say
I’m still praying for a happy ending

Two Pet Haikus (30/30 #’s 10 & 11 NaPoWriMo)

Why do cats insist
that all doors remain open?
To have the option

If I were a dog
I’d eat everything except
my dog food as well

When the Levee Breaks (30/30 #9 NaPoWriMo)

This morning I filed for disability
It pains me to say
I suffer from a chronic condition
I’ve been self-diagnosed
With verbal dysentery
More commonly known as
Prolific diarrhea of the mouth
I can’t turn it off
Not even a mouthful of Kaopectate
Could shut me up
If one opens mouth enough times
One will eventually say something stupid
Habitual filet of sole lingering on tongue
I try to remind myself I have two ears
And one mouth
So I may listen twice as much as I speak
But based on that logic
I ought to have three d….. nevermind
I’m getting off track
Point being…
I did it again




The Isolation Booth (30/30 #8 NaPoWriMo)

Suddenly opaque
My breath obscures
Fingers pressed firmly against the glass
Their trace appears and vanishes just as quickly
Gazing comatose
I know they see me
Looking outward among the cubicles
Extreme dysfunction

I travel down a corridor
And yet the glass follows
Taunting me
I arrive upon a row of windowed offices
Beacons of light beckoning
Surely this must be where wisdom lies
I enter only to be disheartened
Finding nothing but hollow vessels
Extreme dysfunction

I set forth in search of the wheel
Having left no stone unturned
I concede it must not exist
I commence to it’s construction
A passerby questions
Why I am in the business of reinvention
I ask that they direct me to the prototype
They appear bewildered by the request

I pound my fist against the glass
Each gasp sucked into a vacuum
Oxygen depleting
I am forced to accept
The futility of my struggle
I shout but the world is deaf to my cries
The shell kisses my skull
Splatter-painting the glass a crimson hue