A Poem for the Horn of Africa

As the famine in the Horn of Africa continues to claim the lives of thousands, the images from Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia of the widespread devastation are broadcasted on the nightly news and websites across the internet.  The innocent faces of starving children, women experiencing rape and sexual abuse, and men struggling to provide for their families are overwhelming.  The humanitarian aid  has been slowed by a civil war in Somalia, the worst hit country of this crisis, mainly due to the restrictions of entry into the country placed on relief agencies by the rebel Al-Shabaab militants.  The famine has already claimed tens of thousands of lives and threatens the security of the nearly 12 million other lives in the region.  I hope as many of us who are privileged enough to enjoy our lives of relative comfort in a country like The United States of America can do all we can to ease the suffering of those who are in the Horn of Africa.  By offering our prayers and private donations, we can all make a difference!

Hunger has seized my legs, arms and mind

Over unforgiving terrain and dessert sands I have traveled, yet no food can I find

Reuters, Aljazeera and CNN, well dressed camera and microphone toting men and women, have come to survey

Nobody brought us medicine for the cholera, measles, or malaria today

Of my 7 children I instructed 4 of them to turn around and leave the refugee camp after we arrived

For over a week now I’ve been trying to get admitted with no luck, if I hadn’t sent them away they might have died

As did those 70 blameless children buried at Dadaab beneath the drought-crusted ground

Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do when they raise staple foods 200% + and no one watching makes a sound

Rather than make a sound…I whimpered only to Allah, with my teeth clinched and eyes teary as a “man” raped me last night

I could have reported it this morning but there are rebels dressed as government agents; every one of them ready to fight

Can you deliver a message to my husband who is on his way here, so that though I die these words he will always remember?

As I did in my youth, I waited eagerly for you my love to come back to me, like the rains in September…

© 2011



Marilyn Monroe and Wild Horses

Marilyn Monroe (graphite and colored pencil)

I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe, but it’s probably a safe bet to say it was when I was a teenager.  It’s also a safe bet to say that I found her extremely gorgeous, sexy and fashionable.  And if you were to risk your money on the presumption that I understood her true significance on American society; well that would be a sucker bet.  It wasn’t until I read Marilyn Monroe, a biography written by Barbara Leaming, that I began to see past the glamour, couture, and Hollywood influenced “dumb-blonde” facade that she was pigeonholed into.  Though I realize I do not yet possess a full understanding of who she really was (a book cannot encompass the full depth of a human life), I do feel that I am on the right track to realizing her world impact on popular culture.

After completing the book, I embarked on a mission of ransacking the public library’s vault of DVDs in search of every Marilyn Monroe movie I could find.  I’ve worked my way through half a dozen so far, and with the help of Turner Classic Movies and the Retro movie channel, I have been able to watch some of her films that I could not find at the library.  I’ve even purchased a couple of her movies: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like it Hot.  I shared the same reactions men in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s must have experienced when Ms. Monroe appeared on the silver screen; an incremental increase of the heart rate at seeing her name in the opening credits, a slight steadying of the breath during the required patience it takes for the plot to develop leading into her first scene, the ecstasy of seeing her finally materialize, the euphoria of listening to her sing and watching her dance, the catharsis of her comic relief and sensuality, and the desire to see it all again the next time one of her movies comes to the theatre.  Only I don’t have to wait 6 months to a year for the studio to finish the production and release of her next film…oh what suffering that must have been for the 20th century Marilyn Monroe fan!

And who was this woman that could turn big, brawny, brainy men into puddles?  Unbeknownst to me, she was the owner of Marilyn Monroe Productions which produced one of my favorite of her movies; The Prince and the Showgirl.  She was an artist who valued respect more than money, and who labored to perfect her craft at The Actors Studio under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg.  She was a wife who risked blacklisting by publically supporting her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, during his HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings during the McCarthyism era.  She was a person intent on being in control of her own destiny and career, and faced studio suspensions in the process.  She was/is an iconoclastic symbol of sexuality in puritanical American society.  She was a survivor of abandonment, neglect, attempted rape, and sexism.

And it turns out, in that funny way that life can imitate art and vice versa, that she, or more appropriately a character of hers, was an activist of sorts.  In the film The Misfits written by Arthur Miller, set in Reno Nevada, Roslyn Tabor portrayed by Marilyn Monroe, prevents the slaughtering of wild horses for the manufacturing of dog food with a soul-scaring scream of protestation.  As chance would have it, I stumbled upon an article in which the heroic tale of a group of real life activists saved 172 wild horses from a similar fate in Reno.

“There was a bo tree, a descendant of the sacred Indian fig tree beneath whose branches the Buddha gained enlightenment.” (Marilyn Monroe by Barbara Leaming, Pg. 396)  I returned to this passage in the book after watching The Misfits because I remembered reading about how the Buddha had advocated for the rights of animals.  I thought it was so interesting that a bo tree was planted in the garden of Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist.  I wonder what effect it may have had on her during her frequent visits at his home with him and his family.  Could it have been the power of this sacred tree, which in somehow even if subconsciously, helped to inspire her performance in that pivotal scene from the movie?  Maybe the film had already been completed before her stays at the Greenson home?  Who knows?  Yet the power of nature is an awesome mystery – as were the events surrounding her eventual, untimely death.  But thankfully we have a treasure of film and literature to continue the exploration of the career and legacy of Marilyn Monroe.  And from what I can see, it is a journey that will doubtlessly be filled with pleasant surprises for all who are up to the challenge.

© 2011

Blinding Goldfish: African-American Short Film Review

Here’s another blast from the past article from when I was blogging on Blackplanet.com as L_Mellow.  Enjoy!

On Sunday mornings, I stick to a fairly constant routine: wake up no earlier than 8am, have breakfast while watching The Three Stooges, avoid shaving my face if at all possible, and go to a matinee.  However, this past Sunday, no movie title jumped out at me from the cinema pages of the local arts magazine I regularly scan for events happening in my city.  Instead, to my delight, after wearily surfing the channels of my cable box (Yes cable, I’ve not yet made the switch to a dish in my one bed-room apartment) and tumbling off my remote-control-surfboard into an ocean of uninspiring programming, I was rescued by a buoy of sorts: a program featuring African American short films on the CW network.

One film especially struck a chord with my cinematic receptivity.  It was a film titled Blinding Goldfish, (Directed by Jay Paramsothy) a story about a reporter who is assigned to interview a professor who survived the Jewish Holocaust.  During the interview, the professor retells an account of how his father was murdered by a German soldier during World War II.  The reporter, a young African-American man, immediately identifies with the sense of loss the professor has experienced, because he too has endured a similar tragedy, although not from a homicide, but rather through a disconnect brought on by the abusive nature of his Dad.  This level of abuse culminated one afternoon when his father killed his pet goldfish, sending him, then only a child, into a vengeful frenzy in which he attacked his father with a baseball bat.

The irony lies in the fact that the professor had lied to him about the murder of his father.  The journalist finds out later, to his shock, that the professor’s father had actually been in love with the German soldier whom was falsely accused of his murder.  It was the professor who actually killed his own father, after secretly witnessing a kiss the two tabooed lovers shared in the midst of a chaotic scene, where his father’s lover tries to plan a route of escape for his beloved, endangered prisoner.  The professor felt betrayed by his father, as did the reporter at the killing of his goldfish, and similarly, sought to avenge the offense.

I felt this film wonderfully explored the many paradoxes that are inherent with regard to matters of the heart.  I also felt the film creatively highlighted the fact that affliction is not bound by race.  As Michael Lerner best sums up with his comments in his conversation with Cornel West in Bridges And Boundaries, a book of essays exploring the commonality between the African-American and Jewish-American experience, “…our common history of suffering and common victimhood make a real basis for unity.”  (George Braziller © 1992)

© 2011

Why I Don’t Hate Valentine’s Day (In August?)

Sunday, I caught a broadcast of the movie P.S. I Love You on the Lifetime network (Mythbuster: Men watch Lifetime…every blue moon).  I absolutely loved this movie when I originally saw it for the first time this past Valentine’s Day, so I decided to write about it.  The review turned out to be a critique of Valentine’s Day as well.  And even though it’s August, I thought I would publish it now, because it’s never too early to think about the one you love.  I hope you enjoy it!

I am single.  That declaration should be more fitting for an essay entitled “Why I Hate Valentine’s Day,” right?  Wrong.  Quite the contrary.  Why I don’t hate Valentine’s Day is because I’ve finally come to the realization that Valentine’s Day is not about me.  Neither is any other holiday, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, or President’s Day for that matter.  I don’t boycott the mall and refuse to buy presents the week of Christmas (I’m a last minute shopper) just because I’m not married.  I don’t fast on Thanksgiving and push away a plate of turkey, mash potatoes and beef gravy, collard greens saturated with vinegar and hot sauce, macaroni and cheese, and a hot buttered roll, or turn my face away from the Detroit Lions football game just because I don’t have a girlfriend.  I can say “Happy President’s Day George Washington and Thomas Jefferson,” wear red white and blue patriotic attire, and even overlook the fact that they were slave owners for a day (okay maybe half a day) even through I don’t have a date lined up.  And you know what; I can enjoy St. Valentine’s Day too!  And that’s just what I decided to do this weekend leading up to Valentine’s Day.  To celebrate, I took in a movie, actually three movies:  Just Go With It, When Harry Met Sally and P.S. I Love You.

Although all three movies would satisfy the criteria of being romantic comedies, the first two were lighthearted in nature.  The third, starring Hilary Swank as Holly Kennedy and Gerard Butler as Gerry Kennedy, was less so.  The opening scene, in fact, set the tone for this complicated tale of love, loss, and acceptance.  In it, Holly and Gerry square off in a tumultuous argument, filled with flying accusations, hurled high heeled shoes and slamming doors.  The emotional brawl is so intense that it seems inconceivable that a resolution could come about so quickly as it surprisingly does.  The doors reopen, and the two lovers fling their bodies into one another, and twirl around in a circle in the middle of their living room, while exchanging slurred apologies with reconciliatory kisses stunting the enunciation of their heartfelt words.

I must admit, this was new territory for me, as most of my arguments with lovers in the past never got to that phase.  Those standoffs burned long after the doors slammed into a potentially dangerous, smoldering fire; the embers of what was once professed to be impervious love eventually extinguished with dirt.  I thought that this scene, synergistically performed by Swank and Butler, was wonderfully demonstrative of the futility involved in begrudging after quarreling.  If the way they buried the hatchet in milliseconds after they warred seems a little too Hollywood to the casual moviegoer, a “that would only happen in the movies” moment to the everyday anti-love cynic, consider if it was your spouse; and if they were to be snatched away from your arms forever in the time it takes for the second scene of this movie to begin.  And if you do consider this, you have begun to place yourself in the shoes of Holly Kennedy.

When Gerry suddenly dies tragically of a brain tumor, the predictable occurs; denial, depression, a never ending search for answers to the question: why?  Of course the audience sympathizes with the unimaginable scar left on Holly’s heart, transforming her from a young wife into a young widow.  On the other hand, it was a challenge to dismiss the ugly selfishness which unwelcomingly emerged within her relationship with other characters who leave indelible impressions on the audiences’ sensibilities, namely the brutally border line Asperger-like honest Daniel portrayed by Harry Connick Jr., and the neo-sexist female chauvinist Denise played by Lisa Kudrow.  In fact, I had to quell a reflexive “Tell it like it is girl!” comment on the tip of my tongue when Denise chastises Holly for ignoring her calls and dismissing her engagement and ensuing wedding, while alterations are being applied to her bridal gown.  The quelling was made less difficult by Denise’s immediate turn about face, 180 degree forgiving of Holly, at the start of what was sure to be a second round of verbal tirade.  The gentle scolding reminds us that sometimes when we ask “why me?” we are forgetting to ask what might be the more relative question: “why us?”  The answers to “why us?” lead to healing, understanding, and is a much more effective strategy for dealing with the unthinkable.  After all, everyone has experienced loss, disappointment, hurt, and unfairness of some kind.  As the cliché goes: everybody’s got a story.

Filmed in County Wicklow, affectionately dubbed “The Garden of Ireland,” P.S. I Love You will also have you falling deeply in love with Irish country, overloaded with the greenest of green hills and breathtaking scenery, as well as a multidimensional cast of actors that help us to recall someone we know or have met along our way across the bumpy roads of life.

And so I don’t hate Valentine’s Day.  I don’t love the difficulties encountered in finding my soul-mate, or the constant reminder of feeling lost at being lonely in the midst of a crowd of others who have found their special someone.  Those things I definitely hate.  But why take those frustrations out on a day that’s intended to honor the best of what the longing of the heart can lead to (Hallmark revenues aside).  And perhaps one day I’ll be buying two tickets instead of just one at the box office on Valentine’s Day.

© 2011