How Much Hair Spray?

How much hair spray
does the Occupant
use in a month
or even a day?

As much water as it takes to
fill a giraffe’s humps
or an elephant’s trunk;
Can anyone say?

There is no way
that orange mop will fly away
cemented down with
tons of hair spray.

But let’s hope one day,
on hair transformed to
stiff, whirling orange blades,
the Occupant will fly away
(Houston, we have lift-off.),

until the police reign him in
and escort him away.

From Few to All

Few of us are purely white
or purely black or brown or

red or yellow, though all of
us are pure — pure, unadult-

erated, God-granted, God-
birthed, God-blessed, God-

loved human in a beautiful
variety of ethnic colors, a

rainbow coalition from etern-
ity to eternity.

With A Knee On Your Neck

The following, powerful message was written by Alton B. Pollard, III, President, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, my alma mater for my doctorate.

May 30, 2020

With A Knee On Our Neck

For four hundred years and more it has been going on in this land colloquially known as America. Black life disrespected, expendable and cheap. Beaten, raped, stabbed, shot, dismembered, lynched, incarcerated, burned and dragged to death. The violence of it all. The brutality of it all. The protection of it all. The justification of it all. The sheer calculus of it all. The colonization of Black lives continues uninterrupted and with little to no consequence. There is no safe place. And we are angry.

Breonna Taylor was in the sanctuary of her own home in the early hours of night when Louisville law enforcement made their deadly raid. Another Black woman was killed, never to rise again in this mortal frame. Kenneth Walker, the love of her life, was initially arrested and jailed for defending their home in the ill-fated raid before later being released. Family and friends, loved ones and allies want to know what possible pretext could exist for the continued mistreatment and killing of Black lives. There is none. Multiracial community, in intersectional witness, filled downtown streets in protest. I live in Louisville, and I am angry.

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging while Black through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, when a self-proclaimed citizen’s arrest turned deadly. He didn’t live far from where he was followed, filmed, accosted and shot twice in the chest. It didn’t matter. Another mourning mother’s son, another grieving father’s child, another precious Black life gone, in a world turned callous and cold to his dreams and possibilities. After video of the shootings emerged, arrests were made. My beloved comes from that southeast region of coastal Georgia, less than an hour away. Multiracial coalitions against murder have risen in powerful protest, and I am angry.

George Floyd is the Minneapolis man who died in police custody mere days ago. The video is harrowing. So many of them are. Still, justice is far from guaranteed. What this one shows is a police officer kneeling, pressing down on the nape of Floyd’s neck, the back of his head, an authority figure, oblivious to bystanders’ entreaties to stop. For several agonizing minutes, handcuffed on his stomach, nose bleeding, body ground into the pavement, Floyd gasped for air, pleaded for breath, and called out to his deceased mother with his dying words. Across the nation, the people are taking to the streets. I am a Black man from Minnesota, and I am angry.

The world has not changed much since the pandemic. In some ways, perhaps, it has. Tragically, the coronavirus has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people the world over. More lives will doubtless be lost to us. The world of pandemic has infected, impacted and decimated countless millions more. Engrained social inequities in our health care systems have especially been exposed. We are sore distressed. We grieve for the children of God everywhere, lost to our world too soon.

Many people yearn for a “return to normal.” Others speak of a ‘new normal.” I am not interested in either scenario. Racism, that most common of American diseases, also continues normative and dominant, a viral strain long ravaging our society. It is scarcely mentioned in polite company, except when the people raise their voices in protest. The convergence of pandemic and epidemic, Black life and suffering, from the denial and absence of health care to heightened rates of death and harassment on public streets, is not something many white Americans want to hear or accept. It is profoundly true.

Resistant to the winds of change, American racism continues to rear its ugly head. Differently contextualized in white supremacist and respectable white culture makes it no less destructive or dehumanizing. Debilitating to our national health and well-being, it powerfully resurfaces time and time again to expose our country’s deep-seated and self-inflicted wounds. In our myriad transgressions, obsession with hierarchy, and arrogance of empire, we have made Black communities especially susceptible to disease and death. We have exported our brands of racial death and social contradiction to the world.

The fear, hatred, bigotry, illogic, and indifference associated with racism is chilling and manifest. It finds its way into forms of personal decision, policy-making, and insouciant policing. It radically diminishes the life chances of many. Racism has long been America’s original sin. Amid a pandemic, now as before, I see Black death everywhere. I am angry and have every right to be.

The magnificent Audre Lorde said it best: “We use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, and where the power of touching and meeting another women’s difference and wonder will transcend the need for destruction.” Fury and anger between equals and peers – when there is a knee on our necks, an invasion of our homes, in the very taking of our lives – is an act of righteous resistance, an insurrection against power and privilege, and an invitation for all into solidarity. May it be so.

In the Presence,

Alton B. Pollard, III
President and Professor of Religion and Culture
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

God as Roger

As the man walked on through life,
he looked at one who carried no strife.
Roger. Copy that.
As the man walked on through the day,
he observed one who knew how to play.
Roger. Copy that.
The man walked on filled with fury,
when he saw a brut who was a bully.
Roger, Don’t copy that.
As the man hurried for cover in the rain and thunder,
someone opened an umbrella to give him shelter.
Roger. Copy that.
As the man stood to get on the bus,
he saw pushing and shoving and wondered what was the fuss.
Roger. Don’t copy that.
As the man looked for an empty seat,
he saw someone give up her seat to
one who looked exhausted and beat.
Roger. Copy that.
As the bus rolled on, he saw a white cop on the attack.
He was chasing a man who was black.
Roger. Don’t copy that.
As the bus came to a stop, a white bowed to a black
(to exit first) and the black bowed back.
Roger. Copy that.
As the man exited the bus, returning home on time,
“it seemed he was viewing it for the very first time.”
Roger. Copy that.
He was a better man for the walk and ride
vowing to copy this and not that, more honest
with less shame to hide.
Roger. Copy that.

Every Spring

Every spring, termites rise,
wings aflutter, swarming
out of dune sand, above
and around the house.
The house is protected…
still, the annual swarm sends
shivers up and down the
man’s spine as the termites
bounce off the window
screens. Would that the
virus had wings and he
could see exactly where
it was as it blew by the
protected house bouncing
off screens of closed
windows. The man said,
“On second thought,
I would sit at my desk
looking out the window
at people standing right
there on the other side,
trampling the dune grass,
singing, shouting, scream-
ing and blowing deadly
droplets all over the closed
window.” Then he thought
to himself,  I guess you can
see exactly where the virus
is…at least for now, I must
assume it is right there….


He tore the cellophane
from around the box
of Windmill cookies.
Pieces of cellophane
clung to his fingers.
He shook and shook his
hand and then when he
used his other hand to
remove the cellophane,
it clung to that hand,
too. He stood shaking
both hands but the
cellophane wouldn’t
budge. He used a paper
towel to remove the
cellophane from his
hands and toss it all
in the wastebasket.
Thoughts of the Temp-
orary Occupant came
to mind. Then he shook
his head and reached
for a cookie.

Man As Dog

True, he was not good to
the dog for the fifteen years
the dog was part of their

family. How ironic, the man
loved the dog and cried like
a baby when he had to put

the old boy down, but, well,
his wife told him bluntly, he
brought things home from

work and let the dog know
it was all the dog’s fault.
Someone said that the dog

would be there at the pearly
gates to accuse the man be-
fore St. Peter. Since then he

has had many dogs and was
good and loving toward each
of them. He has begged for

forgiveness for his sins against
that dog and he hopes the
five will appear as character

witnesses — when, in reality,
his therapist asked, “Well,
why are you standing at the

pearly gates accusing your-
self? Interestingly, I can’t see
the dog.”

Every Action

Every action has an equal and
greater reaction. So, what did
we expect, something other
than physics, which is only

the scientific evidence of truth?
Did we think that physics has
nothing to do with the violent
death of a black man at the

knee of a white man wearing
a blue suit? So, physics aside,
how about psychology? Are
we ready to deny that the straw

that breaks the camel’s back
is the latest violation of human
rights; are we ready to say
that violence to meet violence

is something completely un-
understandable? So, there
is Watts, there is Detroit, there
is Chicago and now there is

Minneapolis/St. Paul. So,
psychology aside, how about
the spirituality of it all? Maybe
a lot of whites would wax

profound about how we need
to protest non-violently, silently,
and maybe there might be
blacks in the spirit of Martin

Luther King, Jr. who call for
non-violence and that is all
so true, but on the scientific,
psychological and spiritual

levels not to mention just
the human level — cries,
screams of violent injustice
erupt into violent acts of

reaction; who can say that
we just don’t get it? Of
course we get it, all the
four hundred years of vio-

lence against a particular
segment of our citizenship.
Of course, we get it and now
it is time to say enough,

enough, enough, more than
enough, more, much, much
more and while we call for
non-violence at least know

and understand that for
every action there is an
equal and greater reaction
and we have to under-

stand, not judge, not
jump to conclusions but
pray, pray, pray that justice
will be here one day —

long-overdue justice this
day. “What’s more, Whitey,
you ain’t got nothin’ to
say,” because you shout,

“Peace, peace when there
is no peace,” as every
black, brown, red and
yellow human knows.

What Could I Say?

I gave a friend a copy of
my latest book of poems.
Two weeks later, he asked
me why I only used one
column to write things.
He thought it was a
terrible use of space
and that I should have
written from one edge of
the page to the other.
I said, “Well, it’s poetry.”
“Still,” he said, “it is
a terrible waste of paper.”
What could I say? I never
thought of poetry as being
environmentally unfriendly.