poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

July 30, 2011

5 MORE POEMS: In Memory of David Blair (1967-2011)

I’ve had insomnia since learning about the sudden death of our friend David Blair,
singer-songwriter/musician/organizer/performer and National Poetry Slam Champion. Here are some of the poems that I’ve written as a result, Blair’s parting gift, I suppose. 

1.          Denial is Always the First Stage

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 1:00 PM 

for David Blair, 9/19/67 – 7/23/11

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh NNNOOOOO!!!!! This cannot be happening.This cannot be true.Tell me something different.Not this.I need to hear something different.How can this be true?Why is this happening?Why did you leave us so early?

Goddamnit, WHY?

I keep hoping that

Maybe this is a case of the game “Telephone” gone bad:

You know, I watched you lead that once as an icebreaker

To entice a giggling circle of youth to craft bodacious poems,

Enjoying the whisper of words and lies unfolded.

So, you know, this could just be “Telephone” gone bad, right?

Or maybe the static between the sobs on the other end of the phone

Muffled the real truth: that you are really alive.

Maybe Jenny and the five other Detroit Summer doulas who called

Didn’t mean to say that you died in your sleep, trying to escape the heat.

Maybe they really meant to say that you were just “vacationing”, oh, I don’t know—“in Sleeping Bear Dunes? To escape the heatwave of the D?  Yeah, that’s it. That sounds much better. (You know I had wanted to take you there one day, Snap a photo and title it “Blair on the Bear”. Maybe we can still do that. Together.)

Maybe I can just call you right now to see if you pick up.

Maybe just to be able to hear the tenor and bass of your voice.

Maybe this is all just a dream;

Maybe I should go back to sleep now and

Maybe you will call early in the morning, like you usually do.

Maybe the heat is just getting to me too.

Maybe I have really lost my hearing and am hallucinating.

Maybe you were really an undercover agent, just assigned to Detroit to infiltrate the Left.

Maybe the FBI decided to just give you a new identity. I would be perfectly fine with that.

Maybe if I wander to a remote state, like I don’t know — Kansas,

Maybe I can wave a magic wand or click my heels three times and find you there,

A spectacled professor teaching African American music at a community college, or

A bearded bartender at your own saloon,

Listening to other people’s stories and writing your own.

Maybe my island blood has spent too many years bleeding in the Mitten

To even think that the most unbelievable could be true.

I mean, how am I supposed to believe that you, the one person who was so full of life,

You, who survived Michigan winters with no electricity, reading poetry by flashlight,

You, who survived the assembly line at Cry-Slur and the streets of the D,

You, the bravest, hottest man I know—died, maybe from the goddamn HEAT?

Yeah, I said it.

That just makes no goddamn sense at all.

————


2.         The Last Time I Saw You: Questions for Uncle Blair

         © by Emily P. Lawsin

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 11PM 

for David Blair, 9/19/67 – 7/23/11

The last time I saw you,

We shared a typical Detroit summer day.

You walked in your slippers to meet us in the Cass Corridor,

Kissed me on the cheek, while slyly clicking a snapshot of my jeweled sandals,

Crooning, “Look at those shoooooooes,” and

Guessing correctly: another gift from my (other) gay brother.

We ate Mexicantown’s tres leches birthday cake together, in the three sisters’ garden,

Which, until a couple of years ago was attached to an abandoned

“Blair Hair Salon”, where I had always wished we had taken your photograph.

My five-year-old daughter sat, as she always did, bouncing in your lap,

At Kibibi’s backyard barbecue-turned-impromptu-open mic,

Where you, of course, were the unannounced featured artist,

And the five year old, for the first time ever, volunteered to be your opening act.

Your jaws dropped when she sang a Glee medley of

“Lean on Me”/”Don’t Stop Believing”, a cappella.

Well, why wouldn’t she, with you as her most influential and favorite “uncle”?

Then, when you performed your signature “Detroit, While I Was Away” poem,

As a gift to everyone in the backyard dust,

Hanging your arms like slam dunks in the sky,

We all wondered if you would notice the electrocuted squirrel right above you,

Completely thawed from its assailant snowstorm, and

Dangling from the electricity line that DTE still has not yet removed!

But even that couldn’t throw you off beat:

The depths of your Ebony Eyes have seen much worse tragedies.

Before Pat and Julia broke out the plastic bags of week-old fireworks

And host Shayla and pregnant Becca stoked S’mores in the fire pit,

You took an hour to kiss everyone bye like you always did,

With the five year old trying to anchor your leg,

And exited the party before sunset.

Your Reasons for Leaving: to have family Sunday dinner at Matt and Bev’s.

Their toddlers would be asking for you, their godfather, their “Uncle B”.

Had I known that would be the last time I saw you,

I would have agreed to more picture taking,

And clicked my own rare candid of your gap-tooth smile –

Which I told you is a sign of royalty.

Your humble self would laugh that off, then in all seriousness say,

“I don’t know if it’s a sign of royalty, or a sign that I get no royalties.”

Then share your bellowing laugh again.

Had I known that would be the last time I saw you,

In the purple and gold shimmer of Second Avenue,

I would have clenched you so much tighter and longer when we hugged goodbye,

And I would not have scolded the five year old to let go of you,

As she pulled on your hands and shirt tail, begging you to stay.

Now, just two weeks later, can you or someone please tell me:

How do I tell her the news about her favorite “Uncle” Blair?

What do I tell this child, the one who would always run to you,

Squealing your name, jumping up and down,

Even through a Crowded House, just for one of your big bear hugs?

What do I tell this little girl who adores you,

Who can sing all of your songs and poems by heart,

The brave soul who tiptoed to you on the border of one stage,

Passing you a block letter “E” colored with brown felt marker,

Just so you could tell her joke mid-set? (And you did: Do you want a brownie?)

Cue: thunderous applause.

This is the first-grader who only wants to hold

Your hand crossing these Motown streets,

Just so the two of you can sing Ease on Down the Road, together.

So I need to know:

How do I tell this child that you’re not going to be able to teach her

How to play guitar, what more, in a New York subway so she can pocket some change?

How do I tell her that we can’t have that sushi-making tea party we had planned with you?

How do I tell her that the idea for making Hurricane Popcorn while watching a

Passing Strange/The Wiz/Akeelah and the Bee movie marathon with you

Has to be cancelled, or changed?

How do I tell this child, who has never had stage fright because of you,

Who has danced at all of your shows,

Whose curled-up belly you kissed with your music, even before she was born,

How do I tell her — my heart and my soul — that

The next time we dance down the streets of Detroit,

It will never really be the same?

——-

3.            But I Loved Uncle Blair

© by Emily P. Lawsin

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For David Blair (9/19/67-7/23/11)

Today, we told our five-year-old daughter that you died.

She cried a flood of crocodile tears like I have never seen her cry before.

We cradled her like you would,

And she asked the same questions that we have: Why?

I bit my lip so hard so she wouldn’t see it quiver with tears, that it left a scar.

“But he was my favorite fake uncle”, she said,

Her own way of saying extended family.

“But I loved Uncle Blair because he always played with me,

He never got mad at me. Did he ever get mad at you, Mommy?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“How about you, Daddy?”

“Nope, he never got mad at me,” he said.

She did that hummingbird cry, rocking back and forth in our arms,

And we told her how she could remember you,

What we would do to celebrate your life:

“On Sunday, we’ll have a parade of poetry and music with all of your friends.

We are going to feel sad for a while, but that’s ok.

It’s ok to cry and let it all out.”

She repeated over and over, a scratch in a vinyl record:

“Uncle Blair died? We can never see him sing again?”

Oh yes, we can watch all of his videos and listen to his music.

We are really lucky that he gave us so many gifts of so many of his poems and so many of his songs

That we can play over and over again.

“But that’s not the same as seeing him in person.”

She ain’t never lied.

“Uncle Blair died. That makes me so sad,” she repeated more, her face crumbling.

And just when I thought I would have to do something desperate

Like let her eat all of the candy in the whole wide world — despite her four cavities —

Or buy out the whole toy store down the street – including the display window doused by her drool —

Just to make her feel better,

This brilliant child, who you have nurtured as an artist since she drew murals in my belly,

Asked with her Ebony Eyes: “Can I have a picture of Uncle Blair? One, just by himself?”

As always, your divine intervention saved us.

Do you want one of the two of you together?

“Yeah! That too. I want to color it, make it look special so I don’t forget him.”

We printed two photos that she chose from the treasure chest of your albums.

She cut them out, shaping slowly around your halo.

She folded two origami paper cups like flower pots

And placed one picture inside each like planting a seed.

She drew rainbow colored petals and wrote:

“One of my favorite uncles, Uncle Blair. I’m sad that he died.  😦  “

Then we glued a purple origami crane to its sky and a red, white, and blue kite to the front;

She drew a ribbon of bows to anchor it near your heart.

It is, by far, the most beautiful piece of art she that has ever made.

————-


4.         Spelling B Haiku

          (c) by Emily P. Lawsin

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

“how do you spell ‘died’ ?”

our five-year-old asked us, clenched

crayon in bent fist.

  

5.    In My Child’s Dreams

Thursday, July 28, 2011, 10:45 AM

for David Blair (9/19/67 – 7/23/11)

this morning, daughter

woke up saying she saw you

play music in dreams.

you did not say her

name or talk to her, just sang.

the other day, we

met a native owl

who said when dream bird spirits

speak your name, it is

your time to depart

this earth, soaring high above.

So thank you, brown bear,

For never naming

Names in your dream songs of love.

Rest in Peace, my friend.
 

 ———————————————————-

To read my other poem Dear Blair that I posted yesterday, see: https://divadiba.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/dearblair/  

*  *  *   

 For information on Funeral Services and how to Donate to the Memorial Fund for David Blair, please see:  www.dblair.org  

Please donate to the fund. Every bit helps. Thank you.  

* * * 

www.emilylawsin.com

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December 29, 2008

GIVING: History for the Next Generation

Last Thursday was my first Christmas without my mom; she passed away last June at the age of 81. Finances are tight for us this year, not only because of the unexpected hospital and funeral expenses, but also because of our temporary move to the metro Boston area, where the cost of living is three times as much as Detroit. So our Christmas list this year was much shorter than previous years, with us trying to give more meaningful gifts.

Tula picks satsumasInstead of spending the holidays in snowy Seattle or Massachusetts, we’re spending them with my in-laws in Los Angeles, where they grow fruits and vegetables in their tiny backyard. When our toddler saw the tangerine tree in the back, she said, “Wow, satsumas!” and couldn’t wait to pick them fresh from the abundant dwarf tree. As I watched Anak pick the fruit, I remembered how when I was her age, my mom used to go down to Uwajimaya’s in Seattle’s Chinatown and buy crates of satsumas as Christmas gifts for her friends. My brother was allergic to them, so I didn’t really get their appeal.  Tula puts satsumas in boxThen I moved to Boston and saw them selling for four bucks a pound! And those aren’t juicy or organic like Grandma and Grandpa’s! Anak picked about 50 of the satsumas straight from their tree; we washed them off and wrapped them up to give to neighbors and friends. With every juicy, tart bite, I keep thinking how much my mother would have loved for me to ship her a crate too.

Dr. Joan May T. Cordova

Dr. Joan May T. Cordova

Satsumas also remind me of my sistahfriend Dr. Joan May T. Cordova, who often wears the satsuma scent.  She is the President of our Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and writes a FANHS blog HERE. Today is her birthday, so I kept wondering what I should send her, since she always buys pasalubong/gifts for the whole barrio. “Should we send her satsumas?” Anak asked. Nah, she has plenty of that. Then I was reminded of the appeal letter Joanie sent last week, the first one FANHS has ever issued in its 25-year history:

http://fanhsis25.blogspot.com/2008/12/support-fanhs-for-next-generation.html

Emma Lawsin, 1953

Emma Lawsin, 1953

When I got married, Joanie gave us a 10 Year Membership to FANHS (like she does for many others). When my mother died, Joanie was the first to ask to what organization friends should make remembrances. My mother was the longest-serving council member of the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc, and belonged to almost every Filipino organization in the city, so it would be difficult to specify just one. Joanie never lets me forget how, when a FANHS delegation flew from Seattle to Manila for a conference, my mother sent a bag of store-bought cookies for everyone to snack on; although I was initially bothered by their weight, during our layover, we were grateful for those cookies because we didn’t have anything else to eat. As a World War II survivor, my mother was frugal, but she always made sure we had plenty of food. And although she never had a chance to earn a college degree, my mother valued education and believed in the importance of knowing and sharing our roots. She may not have understood all that I do in terms of teaching and preserving Filipino American history, but she supported it in the simple ways that she could: through stories and food.

FANHS 810 18th Ave, Room 100

FANHS is housed in 3 old classrooms here, at 810 18th Ave

When my mother died, I had to write the eulogy, but did not have any of my material, so I went to the FANHS National Pinoy Archives in the old, converted Immaculate School in Seattle’s Central District. The archive barely fits in two rooms: one is an old classroom and the other is in the basement. When I was a teenager on the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) Drill Team, this same basement was where we learned Kulintang (ancient gong music), practiced Arnis/Eskrima (the Filipino martial art), and heard aswang/ghost stories. The National Office of FANHS is upstairs, in what was once, 25 years ago, the FYA Trophy Room, where we had “brown room” meetings and cultural classes. Twenty-five years before that, it was probably my cousin’s classroom. The FYA offices are gone, but FANHS remains. Now cardboard file boxes pile high to the ceiling, with sepia exhibit photos peeling the paint from the century-old walls. A snooty university archivist once asked me if the FANHS office and archives, with its thousands of valuable photos, interview tapes, and material artifacts, had “climate control”. I chuckled and said, “I think there’s a dial that controls the radiator.” Of course, that radiator is covered with papers too.

Fred & Dorothy Cordova

Drs. Fred & Dorothy Cordova

Joanie’s aunt, Dorothy Laigo Cordova, founded FANHS in 1982 and has served as its unsalaried, volunteer Executive Director since then. Auntie Dorothy’s husband, Uncle Fred Cordova, a retired newsman, is the FANHS archivist. When I arrived at the FANHS office (two days after my mother had passed), Auntie Dorothy shared a bowl of curry and rice she had made the night before. Downstairs, Uncle Fred had already pulled my mother’s files for me to see. They had material I didn’t even know existed: a speech my mom had written, a faded newspaper article on her parents’ arrival from the Philippines, a party invitation she had someone make. I still needed more, so I found her sister’s file, some of her organizations’ files, plus a book where part of her oral history is published.

I felt so grateful to have this sanctuary of information, where I could research and write, and still feel at home: the memory of kulintang beats and childhood ghosts dancing in my ears. Before I left the FANHS archives, I whispered a prayer, hoping that when Anak is older, she can touch, read, hear, and smell all of this too. But prayers don’t pay the rising rent (even if Uncle Fred is now an ordained Catholic Deacon)!

Remembering our pledge to give meaningful gifts, I wrote our check to FANHS and put it in the mail today, just in time to honor Joanie’s birthday, my mother’s memory, AND get our tax-deduction (since FANHS is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization). My mother would have wanted that, plus the satsumas, of course.

*  *  *

Please GIVE a gift of history and support FANHS for the next generation:

Click HERE to Download FANHS Donation Form.

And Mail Donations Payable To:

FANHS

810  18th Ave. Room 100

Seattle, WA 98122

UPDATE 2012: You can now donate online [in annual or monthly recurring donations] via PayPal or using a major credit card on the redesigned FANHS Website.

All donations are tax-deductible: http://fanhs-national.org/filam/donate/

* * *

 

Maraming Salamat!

© by Emily P. Lawsin, FANHS Trustee

December 29, 2008 in Los Angeles, CA

Click HERE for my full bio: www.emilylawsin.com


Click HERE to Read My Previous Post: POEM: FOR CORKY PASQUIL’S BIRTHDAY

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