Picture of the month

Picture of the month
Life is circular

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The thunderous sound of drums could be heard beating in the distance as the
salty taste of blood drifted through Miloh’s mouth. Although his head was
pounding he could not help being drawn into the melody of bells chiming in
unison with a chorus of heavy voices. The Joyful noises were coming from a
group of women standing near a small church directly across the street from
his condominium. Their musical vibrations almost seemed to be oozing
Through the buildings crevices. He could feel every souls harmony as it
seeped through the form stone walls. Just their mere presence called to him
to join them but he could not move, and was becoming nauseated laying still
in bed.
In his disorientated state he tried to figure out what was happening to
his body but was distracted by the music which continued sweetly calling
him. It took him a few minutes of tossing about before he was able to gather
enough energy to push himself up from the bed and stumble towards an open
window, in the process he slammed his knee on the central air unit beneath it.
A large clot of blood shook loose from the hole in his mouth as he yelped.
The room was instantly filled with the stale smell of rotten blood, his first
reflex was to spit it out. Instead the heavy fumes from the funeral incense already permeating in the air caused him to gag and then inadvertently swallow while choking on the thick frankincense.
He had always disliked breathing the intensity of those fumes it took him back to a world he left behind long ago. He hadn’t spent much time in the church but his roots were firmly planted in Catholism. His mother had practiced it in her own way, the one thing your grandpa and I still Share is faith she used to say while clutching a hand full of rosary beads. Now standing by the window in the corner of his dark room he found himself trying not to remember the damp day in October that the aroma had released From the bowels of his memory . Yet the harder he tried to concentrate on the singing outside in the churches court yard the further he feLl into the bosoom
of those bittersweet memories. Even the trauma of having two wisdom Teeth
pulled couldn’t trump the pain he felt on that day, and so he listened more
intently to the chorus hoping to surpress an unforgettable event in his life.

Sweet Jesus take meee
Taaake me

Coming hoooome

Coming home

He found himself unable to stop staring at the choir of sisters decked out in gold robes with purple trim and for some reason he didn’t know he began watching their feet. A sacred pattering of assorted brown feet which stumped out a heavy rhythm while kissing the ground. Their bodies rocked from side to side and then swayed north and south. As they moved their heels sprang back as if landing on cotton and when they moved forward a dozen pairs of matching tan sandals marched gracefully down the street. Sheer energy danced from their heads to their toes, the spirit was everywhere in the processions rhythmic movements through sorrow and joy. As he leaned against the curtains peering out through just a slit in the middle his eye made contact with a little girl. No more than seven or eight he thought as a familiar pang exploded in his heart. Pulling the drapes open as wide as they could go the two pairs of eyes met, not able to turn away they looked at each other for a moment but it felt like hours. There were no words exchanged but in only a few moments volumes of emotions passed between two troubled spirits windows, just one lonely gaze meeting another. They were two souls experiencing the same loss but dealing with it in different stages of life. Finally able to look away he observed her fingers griping a larger hand attached to a body that was out of view to him from his basement level view.
The line of mourners moved on and the child with the empty gaze faded down the street with them. He wondered for a minute, how did he know the kid had lost someone too. Shaking his head he thought aloud “the eyes, they tell to much”.
A quick glance at the clock on the wall revealed the hour to be nine forty seven it was time to get his own day started. He closed the curtains walked to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and then showered. While shaving he watched his image standing in the mirror and began to break down. His mind started falling amongst petrified pictures from the closet of his memory, until he was slowly sucked into the worst day of his life again.

'Heartache blew through the air as the wind swirled around an empty tune of loss. Over in a dark corner shaded by stressed out maple trees a mahagany colored casket crept as it was lowered in to the ground.The only people around to witness this were nine year old Miloh Plaino, the undertaker, and all the souls condemned to wait out eternity in the shabby Mount Olive cemetery. The one acre plot of land had long become over grown with weeds and malt liquor bottles. Only a few neighbors who cared knew it had once been the burial place of all the upper class blacks who were fortunate enough not to be clumped in the black commentary down the street. The more money one had the closer your final resting place was to Gods house the old folk always said. To those who didn’t know it was perceived as an eye soar located between the corners of South and West street. It Stood hidden against the facades of Leons pigs pen bbq shop on the left and the vacant leviwitz shoe store. The only place in town blacks could put their foot in a shoe and not have to buy it during the sixties. Most of the head stones had disappeared it seemed every head stone placed before 1960 had long since turned over and retreated in to the earth joining the departed. The markers that came after that were luckier, they were mostly ground plates now masked by years of garbage from chicken wing boxes to cigarette packages.
Little Miloh didn’t pay attention to all those distractions though. His eyes were firmly planted on his shoes, shinny black loafers being covered with falling snowflakes that were more icy than flaky. His vision was blurred by tears that wouldn’t fall. Instead they clung to the corners of his eyes and when full he wiped them away. It was another way he tortured himself just because, he felt he deserved it. Finally a drop fell on those little sized five shoes, defeated he looked up at the funeral director who’s hand was extended. Grabbing the just a few finger on the hand in a gentle lock the old man lead Miloh towards the edge of the world, the hole in the earth where he Instinctively threw the rose he was holding dearly down in to the pit, part of him fell in with it. A lightness filled his body as the flower landed squarely on the casket without so much as a sound.'

Miloh forced the images to stop by leaving the bathroom and grabbing his jacket before heading out the door. He didn’t stop to greet the elderly woman who walked her shaggy dog everyday near the end of the parking garage nor did he speak to the parking attendant who watched as he hurried away in the classic black and gold TransAm. His trip would take him pass the very place he had avoided for years but he was heeding to a bigger calling than his own demons. Summer school was starting and as a teacher he really wanted to inspire some young minds to reach for greatness and if he had to work at Mount Olive Academy named for the church that once stood on the land then so be it he would. He whipped pass a mail truck as he pulled in to the faculty lot finding a space in the back of the building that looked straight out towards his memories. A faded shoe could still been seen on the side of the brick wall that housed levitwitz. He turned and walked briskly towards the entrance of the building but was stopped by the postal carrier, a tall slender dark brown skinned man.
“Hey reds what’s going on man, it‘s been to long” the voice said. No one had called him that since childhood. He could never hide anywhere with his rosy brown complexion and reddish hair. He had always been lovingly named after his carrot top and coloring.

“Marcus it’s good to see you man” as they hugged like long lost brothers.

“I heard you still lived out west somewhere, what brought you back” he said sitting his mailbag on the seat.

“Actually I moved back to teach, I guess I missed the place”

“Well I know I missed your band coming through town. Your grandfather might have been the top jazz trumpeter around these parts but your Latin beats with all that mambo stuff was alright with me. I heard you were touring with Tito Santigo for a while too”

“Yeah, I was but as much as I love music, I love to teach even more so.
I came back to help guide these young brothers to a better future . I learned a good deal in Chitown but this will always be my home”

“Well good luck, these young gangster want to be’s out here need somebody but you know me I’m southern. Spare the rod man. you hear me!”
They both laughed He had enjoyed seeing Ricky again every one he knew back in the day had moved away or died and not by natural causes, that made what he was about to venture into more important.

“It’s been to long and you know ain’t nobody left over this side of town but some knuckled heads”. Marcus looked down the street and continued “ I remember we had some good times way back when, you remember getting those Easter loafers up in there and old man Saul giving us those large crunchy pretzel sticks rolled in a ton of salt afterwards.”

“Yeah we really looked forward to that. You used to dog out some shoes on those raggedy skates of yours” he joked. “Oh I see talk about my metal skates without the ball bearing uh” they both broke out in laughter again then Marcus became serious for a minute.

“Well things are different now, not much of anything in this area, their trying to rebuild and this school is supposed to be the anchor. I’m just working on this part of town because no one wanted this route and I took it because at least I know the area. I’ve got a wife and three kids so I wasn’t going to be picky and lose out. What about you, married?” Marcus questioned.

“No I’m still looking, guess I’m like pops the music was my mistress for a long time and then one day I woke up and decided to expand my passion so to speak. I always wanted to give back at least I bit of what I was blessed enough to have been taught.” he smiled

“I see, your looking to nabbed one of those teachers or maybe students mamas” Marcus raised an eye but Miloh shot back.
“You haven’t changed in all these years man, still thinking like a reformed player” he had a boyish grin on his face.

“Of course” Marcus grinned back “ no flies on me man”.

Miloh looked at his watch, it was eleven thirty. “It sure was good to see you we need to keep in touch. Now that you know where I work maybe we can catch up a little more sometime”.

“Sounds like a plan to me, I’ll be around too you know I won’t be giving up these benefits.” They shook hands and Miloh made his way into the school.

Walking pass the principle office he hurried up the stairs and into a small room filled with instruments. He had a Masters degree in history, but a good deal of his life had been spent studying music. His grandfather was a living legend and anyone that was someone and a few unknown innovators had sat in their living room in Chicago and jammed at some point. He didn’t need to study music in college he had lived the lessons. He took the job as music teacher for summer school to ease his transition into teaching. Hoping to be picked up fulltime at least before he made next years touring schedule.
He placed his briefcase on a chair in the front row and began to walk around and inspect all of the instruments. The rain in his soul was starting again and so he let the rest of his memories flood back. He reminded himself it wouldn’t be a good sight to be seen choking up in front of the class for no apparent reason so in his few moments alone he would get it over with. The view from his classroom faced the cemetery and he refused to fall apart by looking out the window across the way while lecturing.
He began to let himself drift back in time once again.

'A stern hand on Milohs’ shoulder was followed by a “lets go young man”. Constance Phillips the Hospice supervisor had agreed to take Miloh in until relatives could be notified. She hadn’t stepped foot on the grounds of the cemetery in twenty years and was all to happy the service was over. She briskly walked through the gates and toward the two as she was not one to linger in places like cemetaries or churches. Having received word the night before his grandfather was going to take him in, her pushy demeanor took over as she began to hurry the child. The last thing they wanted to do was be late arriving at the train station where Ms Marlene the boys grandfathers new wife was waiting she thought. He didn’t remember the ride, only seeing his new grandmother for the first time.She was a welcome sight after spending
the week with his mothers ex lover Connie,who was not into kids but she was saved.Her decision to remain strong in faith and leave the lesbian lifestyle devastated his mother who was deeply religous herself.However they had remained cordial enough that she was entrusted with Miloh's care in his mothers waning days at the hospice.He could still feel Ms Connie gently nudging him from behind as his
grand mother called out to him.

“Come on Miloh your going on a trian ride, I’m sure you like trains most
little boys do. Did anyone ever tell you your grandfather was a Pullman

“I thought he played in the navy band, that’s what mom said” Miloh
watched as she smiled, his eyes settled on the small creases that formed in the
corner of her mouth. She reminded him of his mother, they shared the same
honey complexion and same soft brown eyes.

“He worked for the railroad after he got out the navy. Your gramps loved to
travel, he sure did see a good deal of the country on those cars and he was so
handsome in his uniform. I met him in Chicago while visiting my sister, he invited me to come hear him at a local club. I used to watch the bands play at the Sphinx all the time but your gramps he was something special.” she smiled at the memories.

“My mom said granddad worked hard and never made enough money. He didn’t
have time to see his own family because of his job and when he did he wasn’t
nice. How did you have time to see him.” There was silence for a moment as
Marlene thought just how to answer the question. She decided to ignore it and
hurried the child onto the train. Chicago was going to be their new home now
and once Herbert came back off the road he could explain it all. She certainly
wasn’t going to tell the child about her on and off affair with his married
grandfather. He had asked her if she would allow Miloh to come live with
them, so it was his job to do all the explaining. Not that she minded, although
nervous the idea of having a child to raise thrilled her. She had tried so many
years ago to conceive and now found it strange that at the ripe age of fifty
nine she would finally get a child.
Her mind flashed back to counseling sessions that followed the pain of a lovers betrayal and her bodies rejection of an offspring.She could still see Herbert crying, heaving actually moaning out in a way she had never seen. His hurt felt more painful than hers at the time, even though she blamed him for not being there with her through the crisis she could not deny he was hurting too. Now they both had the chance to start again and raise his grandchild as their own.
Herbert had never been around long enough to be a father to his daughter and he wanted to right that wrong by way of his grandson. Life in the military had taken him to many places and he enjoyed the comradorary he felt amongst the some of the best jazz musicians of the time. The Navy’s all black band helped him form lasting relationships with men who later would become world famous it had it’s price though. His job made him a familiar stranger at home something he did not know quite how to fix but Maxine did. They would do this together and the right way, she had insisted they get married and he had agreed. His only regret was his first wife had passed five years earlier and had never gotten me meet the kid. Miloh discovered that part of the story from over hearing more than a few phone conversations.

Snapping back to the present he heard the sound of feet moving through the hall and he was ready. A group of various shape and sizes of twelve year olds
Came walking through the door.
“My name is Mr. Plaino, welcome to the summer school bridge program you’re here because you either don’t like school and are being punished or more than likely your parents wanted you to have a head start on the demands of this academy by participating in this program. Either way I’ve got you for six weeks and when I finish with you……..” He stopped in mid sentence. A young man with a long lanky body sat slumped in his seat tapping on a hand drum he scooped up from the desk beside him.
“What is your name young man” his eyes focused on the slumping child.

“It’s crucial” he answered back.

“Well I know that’s not your given name so why don’t we start over. What’s your name young man” he spoke sternly.

“It’s Toussaint” he muttered

“ So you were named after Francois Toussaint the Haitian revolutionary.

“How’d you know that dude” he shifted upright.

“Because dude I make it my business to study history.” He walked over to
stand by the kid and began speaking again.

“Since you have an interest in music you are going to have no problems
passing this course right.” the young man shook his head.

“Ok than we will begin with young Toussaint here” he picked up a larger djembe and place it in front of the boy.

“Son all you need to know is in the notes of a jazz melody, the history of our
people is locked within the tunes. Now look at your drum, run your hand
around it’s curves, every human being enters this world through the womb of
a woman. As a man you don’t have a biological womb but this drum is the way you give birth to your ideas, this is your womb. Do you feel it’s power,
it is a the entryway from which your emotions meet the world. In ancient
times it was used as a messenger service from one village to the next. The
same applies today except now your message is about unifying the soul with the creativity that comes from the mind. All your friends are listening to it’s beat but what they don’t know their hearing is the rhythm of life. The first music you heard was the heart beat of a black woman and as you grow it is she who will always hold a special place in the core of you. So it is not the song being played on this instrument that captures the imagination of your audience but the familiar calling of their first home, the womb.
Music allows you to feel every emotion, fear and comfort, joy and sadness they all live in an exhilarating range of keys for a reason. In order to truly be the great musician you aspire to be you must find center. Your going to have to learn how to control the energy that flows from a place deep within you. You have to know when and how much and then interrupt the best way to send those meaning to your audience and it all has to feel natural not contrived, just as important your energy must flow through a cycle .
Our people arrived on these shores before Columbus we were navigators and tradesmen but when we came back the second time they had taken our freedom, we had lost our drums. They thought that if the way we could communicated with each other without anyone else understanding died so would are spirits and we would become a broken people. Despite their best efforts they could not kill our voices and so we honed them, our vocal cords became instruments and we thrived here by keeping alive history in our oral tradition. From Mexico to Cuba, down through Panama and over to Brazil we reinvented what we were forced to leave behind. Our music became varied as we sought to tell new stories of love, heartache, freedom, and joy. Boy don’t be fooled by rap and hip hop it’s not new, it’s an extension of what we brought here. The dances and the lyrics are now turning inward and are being ruled by the dollar not by culture. Make no mistake though without a struggle and a strong community there could be no rap or spoken word artist speaking their dysfunctional truths. Rhyming about your sad life and doing wrong is not therapy for the healthy. Trying to use the dirty money you made sending out messages to the world that our women are not worth valuing or that we are somehow unable to be productive law abiding citizens is an even greater evil.No tragedy is to hard to overcome, let nothing stop your dreams from becoming reality. A desire is nothing more than a lazy mans dream, it’s a want, it stays inside his heart but he isn’t willing to fulfill it. Now a goal is something he will set to bring that seed planted in his mind to fruitation. I want you all to understand the difference.” He turned towards the class and continued.

“The main ingredient to success is hard work not slacking or defaming others. If you give me the effort and do the task your assigned you will not fail this class. Every failure is a stepping stone placed before you to build on and succeed, believe that and you’ll always be a winner. Before you leave this room today I want every one of you to commit to bettering yourselves on an academic and personal level. I don’t want you to tell me I want you to show me. When you walk through these doors Monday morning this is going to be your poetry slam, you are going to need the fine skills of composing, knowledge of history and the ability to articulate what you’ve learned. All you would be rappers in here I’m challenging you to tell me a story without profanity, tell me something about the world beyond where you live that interest you, tell me about you, minus what other people have branded you as. That young mister crucial is what this class is about and what it will take to pass.”
He then allowed for thirty minutes of question and answers so that the class
could get to know each other before bringing it all to a close.

“I will see you all next week minus the baggy pants.”
The young man who called himself crucial walked away still trying to be hard but as he exited through the doors of the classroom Miloh noticed the hood swagger had turned into just a little more of an average walk, it was a slight variance but it was a start. Seventh grade was not the easiest level to teach. It was in fact he thought to himself preteens with raging hormones and twenty year old looking bodies sitting disinterest in history class while waiting for the bell to ring. Though some of their voices had already started to deepen and mostly all had developed “smart” mouths it was where he had always longed to be. These kids needed to see a man, a black man, college educated, not flashing bling but still successful. He didn’t doubt they would think his beautifully restored 1980’s TransAm was pimped out. He already knew that being a jazz musician with a record contract who had already traveled the world would make him “the man“. He was going to use those things to show The young men that being well rounded wasn’t a white thing.

If they were smart enough to teach themselves music and dance forms and compose lyrics they were sharp enough to apply that same energy to lessons in the classroom. He would tell them the story of a little boy who lost his mother at eight and proceeded to lived a self imposed lonely life after being raised by his grandparents and how that shorty had grown into a positive man.
He was rich because he was blessed to be a positive role model giving back.
All these years he ran from the grief of losing a mother his first love.
She was the one woman he loved deeply who had left him in so much pain. The one person in the world who opened up the door and showed him what real strength was. In her last words she left him a lesson for living
“ Son be the kind of man that makes himself accountable for all his actions,a good man is a honorable one”. she said

He was now doing what she had done teaching, they shared so many of the same loves and he felt closer to her for it. A few minutes after the class had filed out he was still sitting on the stool in the front of the small band room and clasping a small djembe. He tried to think back on his life but he was interrupted by three figures who were approaching from the back of the class, the search committee. How he thought had he forgotten they were back there during the entire class analyzing his worthiness to make the job permanent for the up coming school year.
Getting a gig at one of the local public schools would be no problem. Yet it was this one he wanted so badly, this was an all male school, full of a mixture of poor kids from the hood and those from better families out in suburbia. It was a throw back to the days when the black community lived together regardless of their economic level. The schools mission was to embrace the diversity by blending the best and brightest with those struggling in hopes of helping both.
Their motto read, “understanding a better village can only be made by every resident working together for a common goal” but the message etched in concrete on the over head walkway as you entered the building read
“I am my brothers keeper”.
Each young man in the school which was comprised of seventh through twelfth grade was expected to strive for this goal, and he wanted to share in it as a mentor the name given to all teachers at the academy. Now he braced himself not knowing what their reaction to his teaching style would be.
Mr. Plaino the strong voice of principle Marcell Winters echoed toward him. “I’m proud to offer you the position of history mentor here. These young men need a role model like you. Of course this won’t become official until the board meeting on Wednesday.”
The second older and distinguished voice added “ Miloh I have been a jazz lover for more years than you’ve been alive. I have never heard such an analogy as you made today. You not only taught those kids something, you schooled me and that is not easy.” His words meant a great deal to Miloh because this man, Charles Morgan had learned to play jazz trumpet from his grandfather . He was also a classmate of his mothers and donated the land for the school. The third member of the trio Mrs Ariel Billingsley who was a member of the schools board only gave him a smile before saying
“we are thrilled to have you” and walking off.
As he watched them leave a familiar tingle gripped his heart, he knew then his mother had never left him and he had grown to be the man she had hoped. He also knew it wasn’t her dream, it was his reality and nothing more seemed right but to stop running. He began to have thoughts of a family of his own. He picked up his briefcase, it was time to take a drive around his new old hometown. The winter road trip was off, his students needed him more.

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