Slices of the American Dream

The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.
                                                                                                                — George Carlin

I. On the C Train in Brooklyn, late morning, 2017

It is one of those subway moments where you’re glad you have a book. Glad might not be the right word. Some combination of relieved and protected captures it better.

A thirty something dark skinned Black woman with a short cropped Afro is haranguing an almost empty car. She is pacing back and forth. Her voice is intense. She is not screaming, but it seems inevitable that she’ll get there. Her two girls and a boy, age six to nine, sit semi-frozen next to each other. She periodically throws a discipline glance at them.

She is making an almost reasoned argument. The authorities expect her to control her boy, but they won’t give him the right meds to keep him calm. She pleads with no one in particular to understand her plight.

Her boy, who seems the youngest of the kids, is sitting still, eyes shifting. Every time she gets near him, he raises his arms above his head. I’m thinking: this is not a good situation. I feel powerless.

Now she’s pointing at him and raising her voice. He starts to cry. She shouts: see what I mean? She continues her diatribe about the meds. He is wailing now. As she approaches him, her girls slink away down the long plastic seat. She’s on him now, shaking his shoulders.

All of us in the car are now watching. His shrieks are almost drowning out her voice, as she proclaims: they’re going to take my children away. She starts to bang his head against the seat. I exhale an involuntary groan and shout: Stop!

She doesn’t. She’s in her own family world. They get off at the next stop. Continue reading “Slices of the American Dream”


the day between (eleven verses for stuart)


stuart would have been 74 tomorrow
but he didn’t quite get there

got a text yesterday
from alex
a young gay man
whom he befriended
a couple years ago

(stu was forever
meeting younger people)

the text read
have news about stuart
call when you can

over the past couple months
stu had taken on that gaunt
old guy look
he wore it well

he’d been that guy
for quite some time


I visited him a couple weeks ago
at the SRO
turned hotel
where he lived

it was hectic in his room that day
some drama about his insulin shot
we got to exchange some smiles
and a few words

i thought
this could be the last time
i see stu

Continue reading “the day between (eleven verses for stuart)”

For Lucille


Lucille was 41 when she died
She was a big robust
working class
black woman
She worked for my folks
cleaned the house and
took care of us kids
sometimes all the time
when our folks were away

One of those times
she took us to stay
a weekend
with her family
I loved it
the warmth
the disorderliness
We saw a baseball game
at the Polo Grounds
It was the first time
I ever went
to Harlem

Continue reading “For Lucille”