do or die

caribbean, west-indian
carnival on labor day
sorrel juice, a bit of cocoa bread
a roti and a spot of curry
wave the haitian flag
trinidad colors on your shoes
carnival bread in your pocket
wear a costume, sing

a land my father built
brooklyn’s little harlem
raised from tossed scraps
and police batons
slave stock found a rest
we remember the rioting
1960s, those spots we’ve been shot
bleeding on the road for an
ambulance that wouldn’t come

biggie showed us
june taught us
hattie saved us
we remember,
we remember

an old soul withering
still sitting on the same stoop
he wears his colors
and reminds the ones who will listen
a few blocks, a warzone
cultures colliding in a sultry dance
a kingdom of our own
a little brokenness

there’s a good place on Tompkins
that old spot, open three generations
a place they still
call you “chile,” because you are
a half-hour for a meal
the regulars that never leave
like the drunk on the corner
who hasn’t realized yet

the first black Catholic Church
to brave its way into this place
tucked behind construction
not long now
praise the lord, like all old souls
it’s a bit crazy
there’s mold in the rafters
and negro spirituals so
immigrants and great migrationers
alike have a pain to beat on

didn’t want us then
do or die, do or die
backed away then
brookyln’s little harlem
little switchblade
little danger, just for the blacks
little hunger, little death
little shooting, little chance
for the blacks

do or die, do or don’t
we bled here
we laughed here
we fled here and race rioted and drive-byed
we sing here, still
we tag your signs,
raise our children
follow your rules
suck our teeth to a sigh.
we knew this day would come
when you remembered
the little land
you forgot to take

from us

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