April 18, 2021

Rayon Lennon

UNREST

to DMX, rap icon, 1970–2021

Yesterday they said
it would rain thunder
today, but the sun
sits pretty as a bride
in the uneventful
sky. The weatherman
says nothing is
certain, especially
tomorrow. You know
now if heaven is
real. It would
be a tragedy if
death is all there is.
Life is depression
with some stubborn
rays was the theme
of your songs. In death,
the New York Times
called you a soulful
but troubled
rapper. The Post
had you on its cover
next to a loveable
dead Prince. The headline
called you brilliant
but troubled again. One
paper notes
your 15–17 children,
your legacies. A Facebook
video shows you
in a radio interview
explaining how you
met crack at 14.
How your older
rap mentor tricked
you into smoking
crack-laced
weed. You want
to cry. You say
you can’t believe
someone would
introduce
such a monster
to a kid. You say
your rap mentor
was a gift and a curse.
He brought you to rap
and to crack. The guy
on the radio plays
“Slippin’,” your best
song, about growing
up in a fog of poverty,
abuse, crime
and juvenile detention
centers. “I learned to stand
without a helping
hand,” you growl.
“I’m slippin’, I’m fallin’,
I can’t get up.” I first heard
this song when I flew
to CT from Jamaica
at 13. My father treated
me like a stranger
and my stepmother
treated me like
a hurdle to her happiness.
I listened to you
in that song day
and night. How nights
you found comfort
in stray dogs in Yonkers
after your mom kicked you
out. I saw you in concert
once in a smoky
joint called Toad’s
Place. You were 2 hours
late. You started
out by praying for 5
minutes. Then you
rolled out hit after
hit. You stopped
in the heart of your set
to pray again for 20
minutes. I could feel
your tortured spirit.
I was on a bad date
with a woman
who hated my expensive
cologne. She even inched
closer to another
guy and wouldn’t let
me dance with her.
Finally a fan put up
a sign and you plucked
it from the crowd and read
it: “Even Jesus wants
to hear the hits, X.”
You barked out
songs about being
buried inside the cage
of a prison. You would
have made another
one about the headlines
today: cop stopped black
life after routine
traffic stop. There’s more
unrest. People jump
on cars and chant
for equality and justice.
The cop said
she mistakenly pulled
a gun instead
of a taser. People
are not sure how you
died. Some say
overdose. Some say
heart attack. Others
say both and a lifetime
of anguish. You once
rapped about your heart
that doesn’t bleed. I believed
you when you said:
“to live is to suffer
but to survive,
well, that’s to find meaning
in the suffering.”
The sun blooms
again. Too bad
you survived winters
to leave in spring.
A Benz rolls by
on beats, windows
cracked, your voice
escaping.

from Poets Respond
April 18, 2021

__________

Rayon Lennon: “The iconic rapper DMX recently died. His song ‘Slippin’’ saved my life every day during my teenage years. I was interested in how the mainstream media covered his death. His ‘troubled’ life was highlighted over his artistic achievements. I wanted to write a tribute that was in conversation with this complicated artist. How would DMX feel about the officer who admitted this week that she took a life because she mistakenly pulled her gun when she meant to pull her taser? DMX committed his life to sharing his life and perspective in order to build empathy between people.” (web)

 

Join us this morning for Poets Respond Live! Click here to watch …

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July 9, 2020

Rayon Lennon

HOW TO DATE DURING THE PANDEMIC

Meet at a rapid
Result testing
Site. Wait for the verdict
In separate moaning
Cars in a blooming
Parking lot while smoothing
Out each other’s anxiety
Over the phone. If you’re both
Positive, hug her like she is
Your wife. If you are
Positive, and she’s not,
Cry and tell her
Not to worry. You have a super
Immune system even
Though diabetes loves
Your family. If you’re both
Negative, grin and hop out
Of the car. Don’t tear
Away your mask. You haven’t
Graced a barbershop
In months and your beard
Looks like an unruly
Jamaican hill. When she drags
Her mask off, you notice
She sports a hint
Of whisker. Her smile doesn’t
Shine like her bruised gold
Chain. You note her
Beyoncé figure. She’s rocking
A blinding red sun
Dress though it’s not sunny
Yet. Tell her red is
Your color. Instead of flowers,
Give her a bottle of hand
Sanitizer you made from
The gallon you have
At home. Drive
In separate
Cars to a seedy
Beach boardwalk.
Walk with the sun
As it dies on foul
Water. If she’s a nurse,
Don’t bring up
Death or your mom
In Canada who’s a nurse
And gets tested twice
A day. You know nurses
In Connecticut don’t
Get tested once
A month. Say something
Romantic, like, “Look
At those ducks on the water.
I’ve been coming here
For years and I’ve never
Seen them without each other.”
She will say, “That’s what
I’m dying for.” Say, “Me too.”
Watch the sky fail
To hang on to its colors.
She’ll ask you if you live
Alone and you’ll say yes
Even though you have
A 400-pound roommate who
Doesn’t leave his room
And seems to only want
To use the restroom when
You’re in it darkening
Your beard. Everything
She says now boils down
To whether you will come over
Or whether she can come
Over. It’s clear she hasn’t
Had sex in forever.
She tells you she hasn’t
Had sex in forever
While sliding her
Fist down her hip. It turns you
On but you remember
Someone saying the test
Is 85 percent accurate.
Birds sing or cry.
She takes your hand
As you move out on
A pier. You want to run.
You do not run. The water
Punches the shore.
She says life is even shorter
Now and we need
To do whatever we want
To do before the world
Crashes. She laughs
A laugh with fear
And the thrill of fear in it.
She says she’s not warm,
And puts her tropical arms
Around you. Also, she peels
Off your mask and puts
Her lips on you. You come
Alive, like someone’s
Blessing you
With CPR. Give in,
To something
More than death.

from Poets Respond
July 9, 2020

__________

Rayon Lennon: “Coronavirus continues to destroy relationships, and make it nearly impossible to date this summer.” (web)

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June 2, 2020

Rayon Lennon

ANY LIGHT

A low sound
Missiles towards me
But doesn’t rip
My head off. I turn, jump
And shout like a castaway
Hailing a rare ship.
Apparently another golfer
On the breast of a hill
Had lost sight
Of me out in the heart
Of the pine-framed
Valley fairway.
He doesn’t blast
Another one. I wait
For him, watching wind
Smack leaves. I regard
Him, a white 20-
Something-year-old sporting
An otherworldly smirk
And a gray golf bag full
Of mirror-clean
Clubs. I stand back
To ward off possible
Killer Covid.
He drinks
Poland water, this kid,
And says he only saw
Me after he launched
His murderous shot. I look
At his yellow ball half-
Buried in the bunker
Growing old with new
Twilight. I’m in Sunday
Tiger red, I point out.
“That’s a color
Anyone would recognize
In any light.” He backs up
And concedes he saw me
After all. But hadn’t believed
His strength could reach
Me. “Believe it,” I tell him.
And wish him health, this kid
Who might grow up to be
A judge or a cop. The wind kicks
The flagstick. I hit my ball
To 7 feet. I kneel to read
The left-to-right putt. I stay down
A while, looking up
Into the empty bowl
Of sky, thinking
About that officer
In Minnesota who knelt
This way like a twisted
Prayer, on a black
Man’s neck until
Death entered
And consumed him
Even as he pled for more
Life. I rise. Light
Bloodies the trees.
I hit the putt and it swerves
And dies on the lip.

from Poets Respond
June 2, 2020

__________

Rayon Lennon: “In golf, the ultimate sin is to hit a shot while another player—playing a hole ahead—is close enough to be hit by the ball. This happened to me this week; I was struck by how cavalier the offending player seemed to be about the incident as though he had hit the shot in my direction because I were invisible to him. And so when I knelt to read the putt, it brought up prayer and George Floyd’s cruel death by a policeman’s knee.” (web)

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February 2, 2020

Rayon Lennon

KOBE

You take off, a helicopter
Grinding through hilly
Cali fog, like intricate NBA
Playoff defenses, the pilot god
Losing control as you coach
Your daughter’s fear away,
Knowing your world
Can’t possibly crash now,
But lost, lost in white,
Thinking of surviving
Like the ending
Of a game, where
You, immortal, Mamba,
Pour in one free throw
And maybe miss another,
The ball booming back
To you, the last resort
To win after willing
Your team back from double
Digits and you fly
In for the hammer dunk
But the shot clock dies,
The way the copter
Kisses the rim of a dumb hill,
Flames, your life
Flowering a valley.

from Poets Respond
February 2, 2020

__________

Rayon Lennon: “Kobe, his daughter and others perished in a helicopter accident this week. I needed to process such a tragic ending while connecting it to Kobe’s competitiveness. Kobe was a superhero on the basketball court. He worked hard to master the game. He believed in himself and in turn made us believe in ourselves and the power of the human spirit. I think Kobe believed he would make it out of the fog, because his life was so much about winning. It was tough to see images of flames; so I changed those flames to flowers.” (web)

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July 3, 2019

Rayon Lennon

RED BRICK TOWN

I roll to Ohio
To find my sister
Who exists
In a red brick town
As flat as her affect.
In the condo, her three
Kids pool around her. I wave
To them as the stranger
I am. They don’t wave
Back, two teenage
Girls, one tall as Naomi
Campbell, the other
About half white; and one
Boy who is in love
With breaking the law. “Nice
To see you,” I say. “I’m sorry,”
Sis says. “What
Do you want?”
I say, “To see you.”
She sends the kids
Out to spend time
With water guns
Or their boyfriends.
“Sit down,” she says.
I don’t. The blue leather
Couch looms
Ominous as the hurricane
Heart of the Caribbean
Sea. “I hear
You’re a therapist,”
She begins. I nod.
“And you’re a nurse,”
I say. She’s in a light
Bluish outfit. “Did you
Figure out that
You’re gay yet?” she smiles.
“Don’t be childish,”
I let out. She says,
“You won’t find
Pity here.”
The carpet looks
Like an overused golf
Course. I pray her therapist
Told her she’s borderline.
She grins. The heat in the living
Room inches toward
Insufferable. “Life’s not
Been easy,” I say
Now. “We got here
The hard way. We are
Barrel children, after all.”
She nods. She looks
Like depression. I remember
Her constantly trying
To die as a kid
In Jamaica, threatening
To run out in front
Of a truck or jumping
Off the stone wall
Into the speeding brown
Sludge of the gully during
A storm. All after dad
Left us for America.
Her face is brittle
From too many slaps
And punches from
Men who loved her.
She’s fatter after
Too many babies
And too much greasy
Food. Scars from a recent
House fire litter her arms
And legs. Here stands
The damaged gal
Who used to pummel
Me until my nose streamed
Red. The sun
Wants to burn through
A window. “I remember
The first time
You called me
A whore,” she says.
“I was 12. You were 7.”
It was after church
On a Sunday in front
Of our old house
In Jamaica. “It made
Me want to die.
My own brother
Calling me trash.
I know I hurt you
Too. I hit you
For no reason.
I let you fall off
The bed and knock
Your head on the concrete
Floor. I couldn’t
Catch you. We couldn’t
Afford a crib. And mom’s
Bed was too high.
You were always
Smart but never
Quite right. I’m
Sorry. You could’ve
Been a supernova
Genius. I myself
Wasn’t the same after
Dad left.” Cars scream
In the distance. “It’s okay.
You’re a queen,
Sis,” I insist. She says,
“Thanks. But don’t
Lie. I’m sick
Too. I couldn’t stop
That freak older
Boy from fucking
With you under a bridge
When you were too
Young to know what
Was going on.”
The kids do sound
Like a war outside.
I say, “You didn’t
Know until I told
You afterwards,
And while you closed
The windows for
The oncoming
Rain, you cried.
That meant a lot
To me.” I hug her for
Perhaps the first
Time and say, “I love
You.” She stops
Breathing, and her
Body steels up.
“You don’t mean
That,” she says. “I
Love you,” I say
Again as the kids
Push open the door.

from Rattle #63, Spring 2019

__________

Rayon Lennon: “My work operates in that magical gray area between poetry and fiction. For this poem, I wanted to dramatize a number of the reasons behind the recent outrage over children being separated from their parents at the border. In the news, the focus has been placed on children and how being separated from their families adversely affects them—while their parents hunt for the American dream. You don’t have to pick a side on this issue to empathize with the children. This poem widens the scope on the issue—by exploring what happens generally when parents leave their children behind to pursue the American dream. My father left Jamaica when I was born to work on apple farms in Connecticut. His departure decimated the family. He overstayed his visa and did not return to Jamaica for several years (he returned briefly after becoming a U.S. resident; he and my mother eventually divorced because of the long separation). I was six and my sister was around eleven years old when our father left for good. She changed the day he left and has never been the same. My relationship with her suffered because of this. This poem—an imagined journey to see my sister—attempts to address and repair the harm done. I think I’ve only hugged my sister once. It was the day after my wedding. It still shocks me how shocked she was when I pulled her in for a long hug. It made me sad then to think about all the love that didn’t exist between us.” (web)

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April 2, 2019

Rayon Lennon

I, STUTTER

Dear King,
I am tired of thinking
About racism the way
I am tired of worrying
About no sun past
Dying the way I am tired
Of thinking about
Being fluent as a freeway
Even though I’ve stuttered
Since I was green in
A Jamaican countryside
Unaware I was even
Black the way
Now how snow
Lights up New
Haven the way
I’m cold as darkness
Shadowing a shrinking
Man crossing
A street in clapping
Steel boots the way true love
Has eluded me like real
Death the way
A white woman
In a black club once held
Me like hot coffee
And sipped from my
Mouth like she could turn
Me to wine the way
Afrobeat turned
Old hip hop to new
School punk rap to raw
Dancehall to crickets when
I stuttered a joke
In her ear and fear grew
Her eyes and she shrieked thinking
I had said something
Ugly to her when
I had said let’s go home
Later and love each other
But she might have shrieked
At the word home
Because home is life,
My friend, and you gave
Yours for ours, like the Bible
Says but didn’t the way
A Jamaican club
Can be America the way
The beat bounces off
The walls in between
Loneliness the way
Everybody’s body is
One tally once the music
Injects spirits the way
Once on a date a fire
Jamaican woman rejected
Me like my mother country
For being too Jamerican
The way a white man twice
Asked me to tell him
My story during
An interview for clinical
Labor at a detention
Center and I said
I stutter but
Didn’t say my angst
Came in a slave
Ship and I’m still
Silent but crying out
Because I want
My planet
To want me
The way I want my life
To be fluent as heaven
The way our devil
President’s in love
With golf the way I am
Because it’s therapy
And paradise
The way my present
Boss can rifle out
An email demanding more
Work in less time
Because my time
Was bought and sold the way
I want to respond
But don’t because
My boss has a boss
Who has a boss who has
A president who has a god
Who knows my thoughts
And yours and knows
We don’t reply because
All lives stutter the way
Death keeps tapping
At our door because
We can’t buy back
Time the way we are
Sick again from
Spring landing
With another police
Killing the way I wake
Up from a perfect world
Each day.

from Poets Respond
April 2, 2019

__________

Rayon Lennon : “In general, I don’t support Trump, but I recently read a Facebook post by a smart friend criticizing Trump for golfing too much. I started to golf two years ago and I am addicted to the peace it brings me, and I told myself that, if I were president, I would be golfing all the time too. So, sigh, I understand why Trump golfs a lot. At least that’s one thing I have in common with him. I was shocked to find myself defending Trump and my friend was too. I think it got me thinking about things we aren’t allowed to say, and it got me thinking about my life-long stutter and all the things I didn’t use to say because I stutter. All the things I say in poems now.” (web)

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April 18, 2018

Rayon Lennon

HEARD

I am still
Alive so
I move out
Of my doc’s
Cave-like office
And let the sun
Sip tears
From my
Pooling eyes.
I learned
I am
Dying
But all this
Psychic
Pain is nothing
If death will
Erase it.
I am still
Alive so I
Buy Jamaican
Food at
A Jamaican
Restaurant
And savor
The muddy
Sauce
Of the brown
Stew while
Ogling
The sunny
Jamaican
Cashier who
Looks me
Dead in
The eye
And tells
Me love
Is not dead
But on life
Support.
I say
I learned
I am dying
And she laughs
And says good
One. I laugh
Too to keep
The unknown
At bay. Cuddled
Dogs whine
Like babies
To me. I will
Never have babies.
I let that sink
Deep and forget
It. Though
I can’t.
I’m still alive
As I move by
A park teeming
With laughing
Children. The sun
Finds comfort
In a crib of trees.
And suddenly fall
Shines with greater
Focus, wind-carried
Orphaned leaves
Serenade streets.
I like to think
I’m dreaming
But the horn
From a sick car
Brings up
Reality. A young
Woman of about
20 models by.
She doesn’t even
Acknowledge me
And I imagine
That’s how death
Is—a gorgeous
Woman oozing
By without seeing
Me. She’s decked
In super tight
Whitish yoga pants.
Her ass bouncing
Like a basket-
Ball, her hair knocking
On her ass like
A good dribbler. I get
Hard and it makes
Me sad to think
I haven’t made
Love to enough
Angel-faced women
And now I’m on
The edge of leaving
Earth. I may
Attend a brothel,
I chuckle, that’s heaven.
I suddenly believe
In Heaven, a place
Of no worries, but not
Hell, a cruel
Fairytale.
I am still
Alive so I
Hoop it up
With some
Kids. My jump-
Shot is still
Alive and I rain
Threes. The kids
Tackle me
But I cannot
Be stopped
Like death.
At home,
An ancient
Apartment on
Edgewood Ave.,
I make love
To myself
Imagining
Coming
Like leaving this
Pretty awful
World.
Someone once
Said death
Is the ultimate
Orgasm. I am still
Alive so I shower
Slowly, allowing
The massaging
Water to cure
My worries.
I am still alive
So I enter
My wound-red
Sentra to go see
My father, the sky
Is a new version
Of blue. I am
Still alive so
I note how Father
Creaks with a cane
From an accident
With a crane
At work several
Years ago.
Blind in one
Eye, one and a half
Legs, cracked
Ribs. Are you
Okay? I say.
He says, I am
Dying. We are all
Dying. Even
The newborn is
Marching towards
Death. I say,
Who have you
Been reading, Dad?
He laughs. Wind
Nods the trees. He says
He recently
Flew to Jamaica
Where he built
A house overlooking
A sea-big
Woodland. I tell
Him I love him
Even though I know
He’s a womanizer,
Who left me
In Jamaica when
I was born
To marry America.
He once owned two
Wives at once, Mom
In Jamaica, and a cold
Woman in Connecticut.
Plus a woman in
Every parish.
But he’s never felt
Connected because he is
The unwanted
Product of an affair
Between his aunt’s
Hubby and his
Mom. So the father
So the son.
Dad once
Told me life
Is really freaking
Short and the only
Place to find joy
Is in a woman’s smile.
Heaven is a beautiful
Gal, he had said.
Go find you some.
He doesn’t know
What to say. So
I tell him
I love him again,
And he says
Your face
Has always told
Me something
Different.
Not now, I say.
I really love
You, Dad.
What’s wrong?
He says. Nothing,
I say. I say, Thank
You for bringing
Me to America,
A place like
Heaven if you
Want it to be.
I am still alive
So I fly
To Canada
To see
My mom, who
Is anger fighting
Godliness.
She greets
Me at the airport
Dressed in a sunny
Dark green dress. How
Is Trump’s
America? she
Wants to know.
I say, He doesn’t
Take office
Until 2017, Mom.
Her face softens.
I don’t call
Her Mom often.
Son, she says.
I’ve missed
You. Come stay
In Canada for good.
Trees scroll by
Like crumbled
Paper. Her barber
Husband is driving.
His night vision
Is poor, and he nurses
The car along.
I say, I don’t know
About living in Canada.
I have to see
How bad things
Get in the U.S., Ma.
The moon dangles
Like a dying bulb
Over clusters of houses
Followed by wide
Open spaces. I see
More houses than people
In Canada, it seems.
The streets are cleaner
Than a germaphobe’s
Place. But it’s wickedly cold,
Like the air has teeth
That nibbles at your senses.
And there is a silence
Everywhere like light
That never goes out. Mom’s
Condo sits like a nest
Of bricks on a mountain
That looks like the back
Of a dinosaur. I am
Still alive so I head
Out with my step-
Father’s 23-year-old
Son, Rick, who
Is so beautiful
Women look away
When he glides by,
Less they get sucked
Into wanting him. The women
Who look at him
Slither up and beg
Him for directions
And tell him they like
His moon-bright shoes.
He looks like a brown
Brad Pitt. It’s sickening
To think my life has been
This hell because I’m
Not beautiful. As we head
Downtown women throw
Themselves at Rick and all
He does is grin and jerk
His head back to look at
Me to make sure I’m catching
It all. It’s confusing.
I thought women played
Tight to get into. In the mirror
Of the cloud-touching glass
Building I see that my teeth
Are buck and yellow
And that my mother never
Took the time to fetch
Me braces the way she
Never got me glasses
But got glasses for herself.
I could stand to lose
20 pounds. My head is
As round as a deflating
Basketball. The black
People in Canada look
Like they carry a lighter
Weight of racism. The cops
Don’t seem to want to shoot
Everyone. The clean air
Clears my senses. The black
Men stroll with grateful
White women. The black
Women are so gorgeous
They appear like flowers
Somehow sprouting
In the deadly cold.
Rick’s beauty lights
The streets. Pale groups
Of women stop him
To ask him if he’s a movie
Star. I’m still alive so I get
Jealous and tell him
I’ll see him whenever later.
He says, No problem
Mon, in his poor
Jamaican accent.
When I get back
To the condo I see
That Mom has this after-
Cried face, and I ask
Her what’s wrong?
And she says she has
Missed out on my life.
Her face is as soft
As a swamp from bleaching
Creams. She is short
Like a middle schooler
With an unending supply
Of sarcasm and stories
Dug up from our past
Countryside lives
In Jamaica. I tell her
I love her and her face
Hardens into puzzlement.
She locks her
Eyes, and I think
She has been waiting
For me to say that ever
Since I was thirteen
And she left me
For good in Jamaica
So she could
Reunite with her
Deadbeat preacher father
Here in Canada. She unlocks
Her eyes with a smile
As dark comes
On like a comforter.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

[download audio]

__________

Rayon Lennon: “I moonlight as a clinical therapist and in one session last fall I asked a client to write a forgiveness letter to himself; and in another session, I asked the same client to write a forgiveness letter to someone who has hurt him. I wrote my own forgiveness letters as well, which gave birth to this poem. I should also mention that I am a Barrel Child. The phrase ‘Barrel Children’ refers to, in particular, Jamaican children whose parents—compelled by social and economic challenges—choose to leave their children behind in Jamaica to pursue economic opportunities in other countries such as Canada, England, and the United States of America. These parents then send back barrels full of food and clothes and other items to their children. A good many of the children left behind face physiological and psychological challenges. I have devoted my life to correcting this problem. It’s easy to say too that this lightly fictionalized poem was informed by the shock of watching Trump win the election last November and our ensuing crush on Canada. Or that this poem is a meditation on mortality, in general. In some ways, it’s an elegy for the life I could have lived. It’s a letter and a prayer to a God I tend to disappoint but who continues to fill my life with otherworldly blessings; a forgiveness letter to my parents too, who I love dearly, though—for complicated reasons—I don’t believe I’ve ever told them I love them (except in poems). They have done the best they could for me and for that I’m forever grateful. It’s a love letter to New Haven, Connecticut; Hamilton, Canada; and all of Jamaica. And finally, a thank-you letter to and an elegy for Derek Walcott, the towering, Nobel-winning, Caribbean poet and my literary father (though I’ve never met him) who left this world last spring and whose life was, like mine now, an answered prayer.” (web)

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