Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Today you're in for a special treat! Rather than any of my old creative musings, today's OSM backtrack offering comes courtesy of my good friend and poet extraordinaire, Michael Radcliff. (You'll have to forgive the formatting. SIGH! I couldn't get it quite right.)

I met Michael in Memphis, back in the late 80's. Our paths crossed during my brief and loveless tenure at a small and extremely chaotic non-profit organization. Mike befriended me right away and it didn't take us long to discover our mutual affection for the written word. My respect for Michael turned to awe the day he showed me a poem he'd penned, entitled "Dry Hill."

Even though he insists he's had no formal training, Michael estimates he's published 17 or so poems. "Dry Hill" first appeared in a 1984 issue of Poet Magazine, a small magazine that, sadly, is no longer in publication. So, without further ado, take it away Mike . . .


by Michael Radcliff

We call our place Dry Hill. It seems as if the rain always passes us by.)

Mama startles awake,
but settles back.
She thought she heard the yellow rumble of The Bus
rounding the corner on dust plumes -
brown in the early morning.
Our shadowy faces smile from the wall in the half-light.

She rises quiet as a moth,
leaving Daddy in his dream;
brushing across the carpet,
through the comfort of her keep...
the almost-paid-for-furniture.
She fills a pan with water from the tap
and strikes a match to light the stove.
The yellow glow illuminates her face as a candle would -- softly
but not quite all revealing.
It is a young face
even after many, almost-paid-for-years.
The face of a farm girl with ribbons in her hair.

She steps onto the summer porch
that Daddy built for her...(she helped).
It is Spring and cool
and a faint glow preaches the morning sun.
Careful of its creaking
she perches on the swing
and lifts the steaming cup to her lips.
Daddy appears in the doorway, yawning,
before memories can begin.
There is love there
that doesn't come from any touching of hands.

Daddy inspects for The Government.
He says they're unfair
and she believes him. He doesn't lie.
Mama inspects Daddy.
Every day she turns his collar down.
She cooks him eggs
and hot biscuits from scratch.
Their kiss is brief, but telling,
and she wonders after him
as he crosses the bricks she made by hand,
to the drive he graveled,
to the almost-paid-for car.

She steps into the shadowy, emerald backyard
carrying nuts and seeds
for squirrels and birds
that wait in hiding.
They chatter at the intrusion
but accept her offering as she walks away.
She gazes down the steep bank to where
Winter Creek waltzes through the woods.
She listens to the water's structured, intrinsic babble.
The water looks as cool as ice tea...
cool, clear, clean
and green like limes.

She tends the lawn and flowers,
petting and fretting over roses--
scruffy cuttings someone else had thrown away.

She snacks on buttermilk and cornbread
and naps in the hammock.

Afternoon passes and she gathers peas and radishes,
but in the evening, she is again,
among the roses,
and when Daddy returns to Dry Hill at dusk,
she blossoms from the garden
into his harvesting arms.

Copyright 1984, 2006 by Michael Radcliff

Come on y'all, let's show Mike some love! (Applause. Cheers. Big Grins.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


As much as I enjoy tuning into HBO's Def Poetry, my taste in poetry tends to lean toward the "old school." Some of my favorite poets are folks like Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight and Carolyn M. Rodgers.

The first two on my list, Hughes and Giovanni are names most of you probably recognize. There can hardly be a discussion of the Harlem Renaissance without some mention of Langston and his work. The same goes for Nikki when it comes to the Black Arts Movement of the 60's and 70's.

On the other hand, the names and works of the other two poets, Etheridge Knight and Carolyn M. Rodgers aren't as widely known. But it is my sincere hope that you will take a look (if only a quick peek) at their work via the links embedded in the following commentary.

LANGSTON HUGHES There are no words to describe how much I admire Langston Hughes. His love of the oral and musical traditions of African Americans and emphasis on them in his work mirrors my own. My favorite poems by Hughes include, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "I, Too" and "My People."

NIKKI GIOVANNI While better known for her more strident work, I have always been fond of Nikki Giovanni's softer, more personal poems, like "Nikki-Rosa" and "Poetry" the latter of which is my all time favorite Nikki G. poem.

CAROLYN M. RODGERS My favorite poem by Carolyn Rodgers is one entitled, "Poem For Some Black Women." (note: after you get to the site, click on "featured works" and "Carolyn Rodgers" in order to view this poem ) Even though the poem was written way back in the 60's, it is a timeless gem that could very well serve as an anthem "for some" if not most of the artistically-driven, community-minded Black women I know (smile).

ETHERIDGE KNIGHT Etheridge Knight's "The Idea of Ancestry" is a poem that holds the TOP spot on my list of favorite poems. "The Idea of Ancestry" is a poem that nearly always moves me to tears, especially when I listen to the recording I own of Knight reading the piece. I FEEL that poem somewhere way down deep in my soul.

The more observant of you have probably already noticed that in addition to being "old school" all of the poets I've mentioned, thus far, are African American. Just so you know, I do like and read the work of non-African American poets, among them a dear friend of mine, Michael Radcliff.

I'm sure there will be those who will find my inclusion of Michael on my list of favorite poets, perplexing, to say the least. But Michael's poem "Dry Hill" hits me at the same visceral level as Etheridge's, Nikki's, Carolyn's and Langston's. In an upcoming post and with his permission, I intend to give you a closer look at my friend's work. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The following is my first published piece. It appeared in the March 1986 issue of Memphis State's (now the University of Memphis) Black Student Association Journal.

I don't/can't write poetry. Believe me, I do know this and I have nothing but respect for those of you who can and do. So, let's just call this a prose piece (smile). The piece holds the honor of bringing me into contact with my very first fan. About six months or so after it was published, I was coming up out of the basement of either Clement or Patterson Hall (before you go getting it twisted, they had classes down there, y'all) when I bumped into a brother who said, "Hey, I know you. Didn't you write that poem (his words, not mine), 'Ladies of the 80's' that was in the BSA journal earlier this year?" I think he even went onto recite a few lines. I was like, "Dag, you still remember that?" It was a nice moment. Anyway, here's the piece. As always, feel free to comment.

We Are The Ladies Of The 80's
Lori D. Johnson

Remember our first few years?
From Sunday afternoons in the park to Friday and Saturdays after dark
we played long and hard
saving any seriousness until our final year
like spoiled, fun-loving children who hurriedly rush to clean house
moments before their parents' arrival.

The world was ours to conquer and divide.
Armed with the false security of innocence and youth
we plunged tongue first
into heated discussions about what we wanted
from life
from men
from one another
and from ourselves.

We wasted money, time and tears
in our awkward and often bitter ascent
toward something called womanhood
learning one miserable lesson after another
from the mistakes--
our own
and those of our sisters.

Filled with all the thrill and terror
of babies, abortions, broken hearts and passion marks
each Alice emerged
from her own personal Wonderland
with a blues song of her own to sing.

Admid the rubble and debris
of broken promises, failing grades, sorrows, defeats and unfulfilled dreams
the seeds of maturity found a place to blossom
and now
looking back
we laugh at our efforts
question our motivies
and reflect upon our gains.

Yes, we are the Ladies of the 80's.
Brown-sugared, and honey-coated.
Hard to handle
difficult to hold
and so, so full of ourselves.

With our heads thrown back
a bit of sass in our hips
a touch of sparkle in our eyes
and rekindled fires in our hearts
we walk into the wind
knowing the journey will be hard
and full of disappointments
but each one realizing
that we have evolved from a long history of struggle.

And like those before us
we too
will survive.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Before we get to today's list, let me just mention that a dear relative of mine (PM) called to tell me that like my friend Sharon J., she disagreed with my placement of Florida (Esther Rolle) on the OSM's Top Ten List Of Jacked-Up 'Fros. According to PM, Florida's 'fro wasn't the problem, it was rather those rolls of fat on her neck . . .

See, I'm not even trying to go there (LOL). I'm strictly talking HAIR, people, something that can be altered with a comb or a brush or the right hair stylist. I'm NOT talking about physical features/flaws that folks can't help and/or change without divine intervention or at least the services of a good plastic surgeon. Being that I could most certainly use a few nips and tucks, here and there, myself, I'm not about to go that route. And for the record, jacked up 'fro nonewithstanding, I've always thought Ms. Rolle was a fine actress who never got her proper due.

Anyway, let's move onto the topic of today's list--"Brothers Who Need To Let The Perm Go." Need I say, I'm not too big a fan of hot-combed and/or chemically induced curls, waves, pony-tails, locks and the like on those of the male persuasion. Hey, everyone is entitled to their own personal likes, dislikes and pet-peeves right? Excessive dippity do up on a man's head, just so happens to be one of mine. Okay? So, the following is my list. Again, it's in no particular order.

1) JERMAINE JACKSON Y'all know, I wasn't even thinking about Jermaine until my friend JG (who I really am starting to believe is one of Papa Joe's outside chillren) spoke up on the (or should I say HIS) brother's behalf in the OSM's TOP 10 List of ENVIABLE 'FROS. See what you started JG? (smile). Anyway, remember back when Jermaine was making the talk show rounds in his most admirable quest to defend his baby bro? Well, did anyone besides me notice just how jacked-up Jermaine's head was when he appeared on Larry King's show? I'm still not sure what he had going on up there. It looked it was part perm, part Jheri curl and part something something a big, fat, greased-up cat licked on, spit out and spun around in . . .

2) MICHAEL JACKSON I'd dare say this boy's head ain't seen a nap since OFF THE WALL (Michael Jackson, 1979). One of the truly sad things about MJ is, even if he let the perm grow out, he still wouldn't bear the slightest resemblance to the cute, brown-skinned little boy with the Negro nose he used to be . . .

3) MISS J. (from America's Top Model) Don't play. Y'all know you've seen Miss J swinging both his perm and his hips on America's Top Model. Of course, the politically correct thing for me to do would be just to give him a nod and a pass. But I'm sorry, somebody needs to tell Miss J that a dress simply does not become him . . . much less that doggone French Maid outfit, I had the misfortune of seeing him in while channel surfing a couple weeks ago. Can I get a big, "Hell to the naw?!"

4) PRINCE Those who know me well know that back in the day I had it bad for my boy Prince. Yes, I plastered his posters on my walls, bought his albums (remember those) and cds, went to all of his movies (even the bad ones) and even camped out all night once in hopes of scoring choice seats to one of his concerts. Even though His Royal Badness is well into his 40's now, he's still capable of putting on one heck of a show. But I'd give up a good portion of my purple-tinted memories to see dude's hair in it's God-given state of au naturelle.

5) VERDINE WHITE I'm guessing bad hair must run in this family (see Maurice White under The OSM's Top Ten List of Jacked Up 'Fros). Maybe with VW it's a Samson kind of thing. I'm saying, it just might be that if he cut his hair, laid off the black dye and missed a couple of touch-ups, he'd lose some of his musical magic. You think?

6) KAT WILLIAMS (the comedian) This brother's 'do actually bounces. Forgive me, but I can't help but pity the poor woman who finds herself waking up next to some joker who has his head done up in rollers and tied up in a doggone do rag.

7) REV. AL SHARPTON You'd think if he were really serious about being President, he'd give up his standing appointment at the beauty salon. Unfortunately until he does, he won't get so much as a sympathy vote from me.

8) JAMES BROWN I think JB's last mug shot pretty much said it all. I also can't help but wonder if that particular episode was Mrs. Brown's own personal version of "the big payback" ( James Brown, THE PAYBACK, 1973).

9) NICK ASHFORD Okay, I like Nick and I love me some Ashford and Simpson. But come on, is it me or does NA look like he conditions his hair with a case of vegetable oil or what?

10) ICE-TEA The only thing more annoying that a young pimp, is an old one sporting a doggone pony-tail. Let that mess go, IT. Let it go.

Okay, enough with the silliness. I guess I owe you all a serious post on the whole hair topic, huh? Well, at least a semi-serious one. I'll see what I can do. But as for JG . . . hey, don't start none and won't be none . . . LOL

Monday, October 16, 2006


Have you ever had a friend or family member just totally mess up the words to a song? I'm saying, he or she is really getting all into it, singing loud and even half-way on key when--BAM--home biscuit comes up with some ole OFF THE WALL (Michael Jackson, 1979) lyrics that you know good and well are no where close to being right? But this person insists, I mean straight wants to argue you down about the messed up lyrics he or she has injected into the doggone song.

Well, just last week, I was telling the hubby what I'd heard about TERRANCE HOWARD and CRAIG BREWER getting together to do amovie about the Black Country and Western singer, CHARLIE PRIDE. The only CP song I know is "Kiss An Angel Good Morning (Charlie Pride, 1971) and I asked the hubby if he remembered it?

He said, "Heck yeah," then proceeded to sing "Kiss an angel good morning and WHUP her like the devil when you get back home."

At first, I thought he was kidding, but the look on his face let me know he was dead serious. I said, "Wait a minute! Hold up! That is NOT how that song goes. Why in the world would CHARLIE PRIDE, of all people, be singing a song about whupping his woman like the devil? The song came out in the 70's . . . it's not like it's some SNOOP DOG remix."

But nooo, the hubby insisted he knew what he was talking about. He even tried to convince me that "whup her like the devil" was a metaphor for putting some of that good ole down-home loving on her. I was like, "Man quit! You're not doing anything, but making it worse. It's a country song, not a blues tune."

So, of course, we turned to the good folks at Google and pulled up the song. See for yourself. It's "Kiss an angel good morning And LOVE her like the devil when you get back home." Now, why anybody would want to love somebody "like the devil" is a whole 'nother question (smile).

For the record, the hubby claims he's not the only one in his family who messes up music lyrics. He says he has a female cousin who for years thought the refrain the 70's disco group CHIC was singing in their song "Good Times" (CHIC, 1979 ) was "Going to church! We are going to church!" rather than the correct lyrics which are "Good times! These are the good times . . ."

Go figure. I can't decided if these folks need their heads examined or their ears cleaned out. Feel free to share your own "messed lyric" stories in the comments section or email me at after.dance@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Remember poor Jackie Ann? (click here for a quick review)

If I were writing this story today, there are a couple of things I'd write differently. I see at least one of the things I'd change in the following section of "New Growth." Perhaps, you'll notice it too. If so, leave me a comment in the comment section or send an email to after.dance@hotmail.com. Anyway, here's where we left off . . .

Except for the vehement, "No, don't cut it!" that accompanied the sight, sound or mention of scissors, Jackie Ann chose to endure both humiliation and mutilation in silence. A passive stance it was, but one frequently subject to betryal by her body which spoke eloquently in the language of dance. Her musically inspired performances, marked by fits of jerking, twisting, jumping, sliding, humping and whirling 'round and 'round until she was drunk with motion and high on movment, led her puzzled kin to believe the child was truly crazy.

Here's where we pick up . . .

She was in the middle of one such high-powered routine the day Princess, Toots, and Lil Bit arrived home from college for summer break.

"Go on and git it, girl!" Princess dropped her bags at the front door and ran over to turn up the music while Toots and Lil Bit joined Jackie Ann with some wild steps of their own.

M'Deah came in from the kitchen, smiling and fussing. "Don't y'all come in here with no foolishness now. Making all that racket on a Sunday morning."

The three went over and showered M'Deah with hugs, kisses, and hellos, leaving an annoyed Jackie Ann standing there wiping sweat from her forehead and silently cursing their arrival. Obviously none of the prayers she had said so faithfully every night for the past month and a half had worked. All three were alive and well, and loud as ever.

Princess was her cousin, Uncle Jake's daughter by his first wife. Since the age of 13 she had traveled from Atlanta to Memphis every summer in order to spend a few weeks with her father. It was a trip which typically involved the tagging along of her longtime and equally obnoxious running partners, Toots and Lil Bit. But recent events, namely Jake's separation from his third wife and the troublesome trio's admission to a college in Nashville, had somewhat altered the nature of their arrangement--not to mention life itself as Jackie Ann had come to know it. It was bad enough that Uncle Jake with his cigar-smoking, loud-talking, good-for-nothing self had moved back home and into the spare bedroom across the hall from Jackie Ann's. But now, to make matters even worse, Princess, Toots and Lil Bit were here in Memphis--not for a few weeks, mind you, but for the entire summer!

"Princess, stand back and let M'Deah see how pretty you done got. Oooh chile! I declare if you ain't looking more and more like your old Aunt Claudie Bell."

Yeah, she was another stuck-up, long-haired, high-yellow, cow-faced heifer, Jackie Ann thought to herself. As her M'Deah's smile turned into a frown, the little girl feared for a split second that her thoughts had been read.

"Jackie Ann Johnetta Jones," her M'Deah said with wrinkled brows. Jackie Ann winced. The full birthname business usually meant trouble. "Would you please turn that music down, or off, or something!"

Jackie Ann rolled her eyes and turned off the radio with a violent click. Not here five minutes and already they were cramping her style. She stood there watching them with her arms folded across her chest and her lips poked out.

"Where's your manners, Jackie Ann? Can't you speak to your cousins and her friends?"

"Hey," Jackie Ann half-whispered and half-mumbled.

Her M'Deah scolded. "Don't you be trying to get no attitude, young lady. It's too early in the morning. Now, go on and show them where to put they things. And when you get finished, come on back here and give me a hand in the kitchen."

"Yes, ma'am." Jackie Ann trudged down the hall, head hanging, shoulders slumped, and bottom lip threatening to sweep the floor.

It was in this same evil spirit of hospitality that she led Princess, Toots and Lil Bit to the room that had once been her own private world of make-believe. A world safe from the critical eyes and biting tongues of unkind kinfolk, where dreams pulled from dust-filled corners of imagination had once danced their way into reality. Yes, in its heyday it had served her well, providing ample space and inspiration for her musical and musicless flights of fancy. "Dance, Jackie Ann, dance!" the walls had seemed to whisper, and she would, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

But with the recent influx of unwelcome houseguests and uninvited borders, those days had all but faded into memory. Her private world was now nothing short of a boarding room, with too many beds, boxes and quite frequently bodies. A room where dreams, when they dared emerge, were promptly crushed beneath odd looks, crude language, and laughter--loud and long.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Gosh, is it Fall already? The leaves are changing colors and just about every store has a pumpkin display of one kind or another. Check out my own lil
punkin's first visit to the pumpkin patch.
Yes, it seems like only yesterday . . .
but the truth is, he's just about outgrown this sort of thing.
Ahh, but the memories.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

SUNDAY BEST . . . Some Words of Wisdom From BARACK OBAMA . . .

The following quote comes from a speech that United States Senator Barack Obama gave to the 2005 graduating class of Knox College in Galesburg IL:

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challeges that we face as a nation and make them your own, not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation . . . Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential."

Quote Source (Jet Magazine; August 8, 2005; page 23; )