Word alive

Pub date October 6, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature

WRITERS The Eighth Annual Living Word Festival focuses on fresh young voices and includes readings, musical performances, art and fashion workshops, a youth town hall on healthcare reform, and live graffiti and B-boy battles. Below are two selections from the festival, which takes place Oct. 8-18 in San Francisco and Oakland.


By Dennis Kim

… and I saw a shorty swimming in a white shirt baked brown by degrees and the air before him was bent by the lashes of the sun on the ground and there was no water to speak of. He was standing on a pile of crumpled mattresses behind our building. I recognized the bed on top, ravaged and stained by my childhood. Shorty wobbled with the thick air and he had no strength to jump. "Sun," I said, and he shielded his eyes. "Son, why are you standing there with no strength? Go inside." He lowered his hand and his eyes were like dried out lakes, gardens ground under the knees of a monstrous thirst, a treeless landscape, a toothless Eden. He said, "Water."

And my eyes died of thirst and I repented of my vengeance. I had made desolate the mansion and the alley and felled the seed for it laid in rotten fruit. The pure and the assassin stumble over the same stones and lie facedown in the same ditch.

I crave living water more than I do dead blood. Father above, let it rain.

Let it rain for the brother who cried facedown into the train platform, "Don’t shoot — "

And the ancestor who met the police with fingertips touching the sky and caught the bullets where he would carry a child …

Let it rain for soldiers draped on streetlamps and mailboxes, kicking at blank spaces the disappeared leave with curses that turn to dust in their mouths.

Let it rain for the thief and the man he robs when both discover they have nothing. They exchange greetings and go their way to new poverties.

Let it rain to wash the blood of the murdered into the gutters and the sea, where it meets the blood of ancestors turned to shark and anemone.

Let it rain to absolve all mothers …

Let it rain for the restless who twist into impossible signs on their beds, afflicted by the sickness of penitence …

But let it rain most of all for the child who opens his mouth to cry but cannot, for the city collapsing inside him. Let it rain because my children are thirsty and they can do nothing but cover their eyes.

Father above, break the sky in two.

Let it rain.

Dennis Kim at Living Water: Youth Speaks to Spirit (Oct. 18, 2 p.m., free. Glide Memorial Church Sanctuary, 300 Ellis, SF. www.youthspeaks.org).


By Chinaka Hodge

I thought he was out of my league. Real tall, well put together. Big palms. Pretty, almost. This metered way with words. Had a steady job. Was wearing ties to work at the time. Built around rigor, and routine. That man loved to make a list. Checklists and to-do lists and have-done lists. Ought-to-do lists.

He sets the alarm for seven. Hits snooze once. Up for real at 7:30. Leans at the edge of the bed for two and a half minutes. Clears his throat through his nose. Turns the shower on. Forgets something in the bedroom. Back to the bathroom. Showers for ten minutes. Out the door by 8:13. Evening is the same. Asleep five nights a week by 10:56. Fifty-six. Clockwork with him.

And for him, there’s an honesty in that. To say I was drawn to that stability doesn’t really do the feeling justice. More like the compulsion we have as children to metronomes and see-saws. There is something absolutely mesmerizing about the rhythm of his predictability. Science. Like how you know how fast honey will dissolve in hot water. He sweetens me on time. Budgets the exact minutes it will take him to love me. Don’t know how he does that. Did that. When even I didn’t know what I needed.

Plus we were proportioned right. Nice heights for walking places, and for lying down inside each other. For talking copious amounts of shit. He was a good card partner. Conservative in his bids, leading with the suit he’d like me to return in. Not a stellar dancer, but better than me by far. And so we stuck fast to each other.

We had fun. Before Watts came and the wedding even, just sitting watching our shows. I remember the Cosby premiere with him. How on the weekends he’d stay up late late with me, cause I’d guilt him off his schedule, and he’d make jokes all in my hair. Push the laughs right through me. And I’d hug him in the mirror, make him watch how happy we were. To remind us both of the enchanted nature of what we were doing. In the time we were doing it. A fearless act: Black family in the middle of an epidemic. Intellectuals at play. The ease of our engagement.

So imagine our surprise when they told me the baby was white. White.

Whose child?

Chinaka Hodge and Universes at the Living Word Festival (Thurs/8-Fri/9, 8 p.m., $10–$20. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, SF. www.counterpulse.org).