Dancing In The Rain

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Still I Rise

“You may trod me into the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” — Maya Angelou

Small Steps

“No matter how small and unimportant what we are doing may seem, if we do it well, it may soon become the step that will lead us to better things.” — Channing Pollock

La Ciudad Respirando

Writing by Ted Boughter-Dornfeld

Pelow stared for a while at the silver graffiti that covered his two-year-old Pontiac Firebird. On the side of the car facing the curb it read “All You See Is”, and as he circled around to see what other mischief the midnight marauders had cooked up, he let out an uncharacteristic chuckle. In big block letters, the silvery paint read, “Crime In The City.” He was going to be late, and they would be waiting. He jumped into the car, switched on the ignition, and slid smoothly out of the small space that his neighbor Devonte had left him, cruising up to the dark 125th Street intersection, and stopping at the light. As the light turned green, a small woman holding the hand of a young girl was still partly out in the intersection. Pelow slowed to a stop, motioning them across, and glided through the intersection. He drove down 125th until he hit Broadway, made the familiar u-turn on his store’s street, and parked in the handicapped spot.

“Good morning, gentleman!” Pelow exclaimed.

It was a only a matter of seconds before Pelow read the situation, glaring at the three sleepy-faced men who were waiting outside the storefront in front of him.

“You boys been out late again, huh? What I tell you about going out on nights when you got work the next day? Lamar, you especially, I know they’ve got no self-control, but you; I expect better.”

“I know Pelow, that’s our bad, dawg, it’s just that these girls invited us out, and we couldn’t turn ‘em down. You know how that goes, man.” Lamar always did the talking for the group. Jarmel and Herb just looked down at their feet, with an occasional nervous glance up. To an outsider, these boys probably looked around drinking age. Jarmel had just turned 16, making him the youngest of the group by four months. After a thespian pause, Pelow opened up the metal gate that covered the bodega storefront. The boys’ gazes met each other for an instant, and then followed Pelow as he moved inside.

“The truck should be here in 30, niños. I have to go upstairs and make a call to confirm. Grab a soda with some caffeine in it, and sweep up the store. I’ll be down in a bit.” He walked into the back of the store. Jarmel eyed Lamar, who was watching Herb as he grabbed a Coke bottle. “You know, he should be fucking happy we got here this early,” snarled Jarmel, after enough time had elapsed that Pelow had likely gone upstairs.

“Hey Jar, he is giving us work,” replied Herb as he picked up the broom, and began sweeping the store.

“Yeah I know, but we’re always getting up at ridiculous hours for this shit, son. I mean it’s like Sunday, at five o’clock in the morning, and the store isn’t even gonna be open today. This shit is lame, B. I’ma quit, real soon. Jules told me he has a permanent spot in the rotation rolling with him and his niggas, and I’m definitely trying to get down with them. Shit, I’ll have my own whip and everything. I’ll be on the make with them. Start making some real chips. The plan is profit homies, and I suggest y’all get in on it.” Herb’s face formed a frown, and after a while Lamar coolly replied, “Don’t take this for granted. This shit is legit. Remember, you could be a statistic.”

“Whateva, son. That’s why that nigga got what he deserved last night. And y’all shoulda came and helped me and Poobs pen that shit, it was funny.” Jarmel smirked. Herb chuckled.

Pelow walked downstairs, as the loading man Antonio walked into the store. “Right on time, vato!” laughed Pelow as he shook hands with the sturdy Italian deliveryman.

“How ya doing Pelow? How’s business? These boys haven’t been giving you any trouble, have they? ” Antonio said as the corners of his mouth curled into smile.

“Not too much,” Pelow laughed.

“Good, good. They shouldn’t. Believe it or not kids, this guy did a little muscling back in the day. I wouldn’t mess around with him if I were you. I’d put money on it that he’s still got it,” Antonio exclaimed as he motioned to Pelow. The boys snickered, and followed Pelow and Antonio out back to help unload the truck. Antonio opened up the back of the truck, and Herb and Lamar jumped up into the truck to help him. Pelow and Jarmel grabbed the portable ramp and pulled it over to the truck. A strip of flecked silver paint covering Jarmel’s right sleeve fleetingly caught Pelow’s attention. He eyed Jarmel, his gaze strong enough that after a couple of seconds Jarmel, with his back turned to him, felt it, and turned to yelp, “What man? What’d I do? I pick the wrong boxes, again?” Pelow said nothing, and after a few excruciating seconds of staring, hopped into the back of the truck and started unloading the crates.

The young men, Antonio, and Pelow started unloading the boxes of candy and goodies into the store, and after 15 minutes, finished the job. They always worked quickly on Sunday mornings.

“Alright, I’ll see you in a week’s time, Pelow. Take it easy, bro.” Antonio huffed as he walked out the door. Pelow followed Antonio outside to sweep the storefront, and noticed a homeless man from the neighborhood affectionately known as “Pops” walking down the block towards him.

“Bendicion?”

“Que Dios te bendiga. Pelow, my brother, how are you?” Pops smiled.

“Good, sir,” Pelow said.

“Top of the morning to you. It’s a cold one today, no?” Cooed Pops.

“Yes, it is.”

“You all finished up already? Got yourself an Early Bird special today, huh?”

“Yeah, well it’s my little girl’s birthday today, so I want to be home before she wakes up.”

“Right on.”

“How’s everything by you, Pops?”

“I can feel this city breathing today, Pelow. Can you?”

“What you mean, Pops?”

“I mean it’s just that sometimes this city is like a living, breathing thing. You can feel it. Sometime it’s quiet, smooth breathing. And sometimes it’s big deep breaths. Hell, sometimes you can hear the quick uneven ones right before somebody cashes in. Listen to it, Pelow, this city is alive.”

Pops always had an unusual way of seeing things, and Pelow respected the old man immensely. He saw his own truths. Provoked by the silence, Pelow momentarily reminisced about the day when Pops had saved him from becoming another block associate in his uptown Harlem neighborhood. Pops had started the bodega that Pelow now owned for 12 years.  He had sat Pelow down on a cool October day, and told him everything he knew about the streets of Spanish Harlem. Told him that when Pelow realized what that world was really like and wasn’t just paying homage to the rhetoric of the repented, he had a real job waiting for him. Pelow didn’t always think that his path was destined to be felonious. It was the high road at first. A beamer, with custom-made interior, and a cell phone that had better reception than most of the phones that were sitting in the neighborhood’s housing projects. And it was so easy at first. Deliver this brown bag to a guy in the apartments at the corner of 5th and East 97th Street. Take this envelope and leave it in one of those brownstones apartment’s mail slots. To a young man, it seemed like child’s play. But he never saw the future coming. The dead presidents were the bait, and he took it, not knowing that initiation was only the beginning of a never-ending tunnel that often ended in a diet of water and bread, or an early visit from the most notorious thief; the reaper himself. Hubris was the defeater of empires. The eternal humbler. No matter how big you thought you were, Death had his eye on you, especially in the barrio, and was waiting for the day you believed you were invincible. Pelow had seen it. And whether it was through him, or a friend, Death always made his presence felt more in the world of gangsters and criminals. The streets had a credibility that was seductive to the young and hopeless. Jarmel was on his way. Herb had left his studies behind a long time ago and couldn’t read competently at an 8th grade level. The only one that was keeping the young men together was Lamar, who had found the job with Pelow in the first place. Pelow remembered how persuasive the younger Lamar had been, telling Pelow that they would never be late, that he could count on them. Through the two years, Lamar’s promise wasn’t relinquished. Lamar and the boys had only missed work twice, and both times it was to celebrate Lamar’s mother’s birthday.

The silence that passed between Pops and Pelow seemed like hours, but Pelow realized it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds.  Pelow met the old, wrinkled hand outstretched in front of him with a firm shake and a crisp Andrew Jackson. Pops smiled, and turned to leave.

“Alright Pelow, I’ll see you later,” he shouted as his hobbled off.

“Peace, Pops,” whispered Pelow, suddenly more aware that it was still early in the morning.

Pelow went back inside, and let the boys go, paying them in cash. He closed up the store, and hopped back into his less pristine red Firebird. He stared into the sun through the window, almost completely up in the horizon. The metropolis would be waking soon, and Pelow wanted to get back home to his wife and kids. He jumped in the car and let his hands take the wheel on autopilot. He had seen the silver paint on Jarmel’s sleeve while the boys were unloading the truck. He was going to say something, but his encounter with Pops had given him a strange peace. Even with the graffiti on his car, which Jarmel had made his personal canvas. The young men needed the job, and they would have one as long as he owned his bodega on the corner of 125th and Broadway.

Adobe Mystic By Rick Parson

You keep no secrets from me.
Words whisper dawn’s warm
blessings across sacred
ground. The ancient seed of love
is planted in my blood and body;
the roots of your being
entangle with mine.

In the forest, all trees
breathe the same breath,
leaves open toward sunlight
the way our hands extend
before an embrace.

Come sway with me
in this breath of the Great Spirit.
I stand at your altar, offer my lifetime
upon a plateau of living prayer.

We will join wild horses
that run with one heartbeat;
taste moonlight on our
lips, feel the ancestors call
in the rustling of leaves.

LIMITATIONS

If the universe knows no boundaries, why should we?