For Aretha Franklin, RIP

She was a soul serenader. A Dr. Feelgood injecting us with massive amounts of try a little tenderness. She was a daydreaming Jumping Jack Flash. Always one step ahead on the freeway of love. When cruising Spanish Harlem, she’d move like a spirit in the dark. People get ready, she’d wail. Always gotta look out for who’s zooming who. If we stand together a change is gonna come. So release the weight. Escape the chain of fools. Go find yourself a do right woman, or a do right man, she’d proclaim. All it takes is a body rockin’ steady. That and a whole lotta R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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Blank Paper Maze

As you stare down the blank piece of paper, you’ll witness monsters, demons, dreams stuffed tightly into a bottle. The creatures will charge at you. Take your pen, slay them. Then release the dreams from the bottle. Some will immediately ghost away like smoke. Others will guide you steadily through the blank paper maze’s every twist and turn. As you follow those dreams, write your thoughts along the walls. Let the words flow. Once you’ve reached the labyrinth’s dark center, take your pen, release a few drops of your blood. If you’re feeling extremely tortured, leave your heart. Once done, follow the words you’ve written back along the now non-blank walls. Let the words lead you out into life’s brightness.

Homes Other Than the Mouths of Hungry Wolves

At some point we’ve all experienced rejection—with love, our jobs, good fortune. Black cats stalk us. Storm clouds become our shadows. Other days, our better angels sing our names on high and we’re no longer the wrong number but the right answer. Our flesh and bones are always seeking homes other than the mouths of hungry wolves. Our hearts, always looking to escape the butcher block of twisted fate. While graveyards, junkyards, and madhouses will be stuffed to capacity, we’re always searching for something more. To boldly face life’s firing squad, then walk away smiling. An adagio of blessings stuffed in our pockets.

Early Morning City Symphony

All across the city, people are working night shifts— bakers, hospital staff, dockworkers. Others are slowly waking— teachers, office workers, restless babies and parents. Others, still tangled in sheets and lavish dreams, sleep. Collectively, it’s a symphony of sighs and cries, prayers and curses, snores and barked orders. A distant yard dog howls. A homeless man huddled in a cardboard encampment hums a mournful tune. Early morning birds dot phone lines, beaks ajar, ready to burble day’s new song. Everyone, everything has its sound and place in the city.

The Wonders of Modern Medicine

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m the miracle drug; the pill that cures everything. I offer thicker hair, fuller lips. Can pay your bills, clean your toilet. I eliminate impotency, snoring, and boring houseguests. I reduce wrinkles, blemishes. Bring an end to climate change, gun violence, and racial injustices. I’m the medication that allows you to chat with relative ease about everything from the weather to the theory of relativity. My chemical composition contains stem cells from superheroes and supermodels. Money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. Place me on your tongue, down me with water. And if you have any difficulties swallowing pills, not to worry. I’m the pill for that problem, too.

Traffic and Torture, Cars and Cruelty

Consider all the city streets that people drive, and all the streets where others die. Some of us drive more than others die, but many die as horrifically as others drive. For every car on the road there are at least four or five different ways to die—terrorist attacks, stabbings, drug overdose, physical abuse, and road rage. Traffic and torture, cars and cruelty. It’s either lights out, or getting stuck at a light, waiting for it to change from red to green. Waiting for the blood in the streets to clean up its act. Waiting for insanity to finally get a job at the DMV, offer equanimity its license.

In the Moment Madness

Now that Mother Liberty is filing for divorce from the White House, the Constitution can freely begin dating conspiracy theorists or rewrite itself as a sequel to Mein Kampf. Now that peace of mind has been made a big ticket item, I can barely afford a bed of nails for my patience. Now that my confidence has gone on a crash diet, my uncertainty can finally fit into size 0 jeans. Now that LA is threatening to remove Trump’s star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, maybe they can offer the space to Obama or Elizabeth Warren. Now that I own a coffin constructed from parentheses, I can at least rest assured I’ll spend eternity as a semi relevant sidenote.

An Addendum to the Clouds’ Suicide Note

Outside, the effects of climate change make once fluffy clouds look more like a grim suicide note scribed across the sky. Inside, my bookshelf holds novels, poetry, a kalimba made from a tin can, and a sage bundle. My two-year-old daughter grabs the bundle and a book. She holds the sage to her nose; her eyes smile in delight. Years from now, when reading, she’ll recall that smell of sage and the words in her book will sparkle, float off the page. She’ll look out the window. For a moment, the clouds in the sky will rewrite their grim note to include the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.

Behind Eyes Like Ours

There’ll be days when it feels life has orphaned us and we’ve been abandoned beyond time’s reach. When a white flag of surrender threatens to be our flesh, and we’re left to die the slow suicide of loneliness. I can’t explain how satellites send our messages to one another, or how to calculate the light years between stars. I do know that there’ll be days when we must work like hell to save dying optimism from the grave it has dug for itself. When we must battle with every breath to find a way back into the blood and bones of meaning. Through it all, we must hold our heads high, looking towards the future. Behind eyes like ours there are all sorts of dreams.

North Star Third Eye

Days when lunatics rip wings off butterflies, when beauty is grounded, and madmen ride doomsday sidesaddle. Days when violence, treachery, and bigotry are the unholy trinity. When intuition’s GPS is on the fritz, leaving us in blind alleyways–bugged, mugged, drugged. Here’s to a shot of blackbird whiskey to sing away the blues. A North Star for a third eye to guide us brightly home. Here’s to realizing that nowhere can be everywhere when witnessing the world through soul-colored glasses.