Giving HARABEL Wings

Giving HARABEL Wings


by Justin Anderson | December 18, 2012

After a handful of meetings over the past few months, and after three intensive days last week of working through and crafting the programming of this piece, Gypsee Yo and I finally got HARABEL on it’s feet last night in the rehearsal hall. Most actors and directors would probably agree that the first day of staging can be one of the most daunting days of the entire process.

“Bueller?…Bueller?” Hmmm…maybe it’s just me (but I don’t think so!).

Sometimes you can indulge and (potentially) exhaust yourself and the actors by doing too much work at the table, just so you can push back the inevitable task of “the doing.” Ideas, words, conversations are safe. Action is hard and requires lots of specificity. It’s a vulnerable place to be in for both director and actor. A bit scary. Even knowing you have plenty of margin for discovery and play, you sometimes adhere to a contrived and silly notion of expecting too much too fast.

But last night, the theatre muses showed up and smiled upon our process. Beautiful things happened, unexpected discoveries surfaced, and once again, I was blown away by the power of being in and relying on the moment. Open hands, open hearts.


So now we’re out of the gate (on our feet) and making magic. We have a couple of weeks yet to go, but I have no doubt this HARABEL, this “little sparrow”, will be ready to take flight soon.

The Sea of Unforget

The Sea of Unforget



She answered my advertisement on Craigslist.

My name the only one who didn’t sound

Like crackle dry magnolia or menopausal peach fuzz lips

Snoring like the echo of the sewing machine’s murmur.

She found me when I was two years foreigner. A social security card

screaming in carbon letters “do not hire under the penalty of law”.

I was sewing for rich women with closets

The size of my old country, and nothing to wear.

They liked my silence. The discretion of my hands.

The thousand yards stare I wore for a face.

They paid me in leftovers, gas money, and last season shoes.

They taught me for their kind, unlike mine,

Starvation was a necessary choice.

She has the name of old steel money and golden plaques

On library and hospital lobbies all over Birmingham.

She says she wants…. just in case…. .A white noise replica

of her mother’s wedding dress…. And only if… it doesn’t fit…

She doesn’t shrink…. fast enough….. in time…. for the wedding.

When I tell her

I believe in making clothes for the body

And not the other way around

She turns her back to me, an angry ship

The mast of her spine protruding under designer sails of silk.

I am blasphemy and untruth. To say she doesn’t have to mold

bones inside the cavern of that dress. to unholy the garment.

To shun it as a cathedral of trimmed women’s voices.

What would I know,

Coming from burning bush,

what it means to come from evergreen bristle.

Southern girl been raised on that religion.

Duty to be pretty. Worthy to be seen.

Believing only in the gospel according to mirrors.

They wait for her everywhere, all clean cut and white shirt smile

Like a pack of Latter Day Saints, always ready to recruit.

Southern girl been raised only

To fit into the wedding dress

The way

The truth

The life

She shall be saved

In child bearing.

Her cross hangs in her closet

The way it did in her mother’s

And her grandmother’s before her

Vanilla bean color, surrender size.

She tries it once a week, asks me to zip it up.

My throat is a hot tub full of dumb bridesmaids

When I ask her to suck in.

When the zipper’s teeth still refuse to kiss

Her fear crawls out of her bustle

a roaring engine tearing through White County

Whistle full of frat boy spit.

She becomes closed door and running water.

I stand in the middle of her lime porcelain bedroom, trapped.

I do not understand her. I am unfair. I tell her to come out.

I threaten to shred the dress with the fangs of my shears.

I want to tell her, shut up. Like she already hasn’t.

I want to tell her. Rape Camps. Mothers and daughters in the same room.

Same men breaking into them. with hammers. Wrenches. Fingers of thick trees.

molding their bones into shame they will wear

Seven generations of shattered blood.

I want to tell her, two years means nothing in the sea of unforget.

I am two years of unwords, unpoems, undone. I want to tell her

I do not want to ever finish her dress.

I have seen how wearing shrapnel changes a woman’s landscape.

I sew for her at night, when the radio plays static to kill the unbearable silence

Of a city which used to fight people with bursting water and unmuzzled dogs.

A city ran by her grandparents. Their steel furnaces. Their luncheons with the governor.

I rip her dress in the morning, when the humidity starts creeping

through the screen doors like the memory of the violence neither one of us can escape.

The sound of the seams splitting apart makes me weep.

I am a lost narrative thread.

I put it together again. I am stalling, hoping to buy her time

to find herself. I wish I knew what to say.

My sewing machine cannot stitch like a typewriter.

It cannot master the dialect of my longing.

Its jaws are tight with tension. They were not built for words.

Its foot stomps relentlessly through yards lost in translation.

The needle is an unreliable tongue,

piercing through my solitude.

the day I handed over the dress, my silhouette

slipped a murderous quiet through the back kitchen door,

once used by her family’s black maid.

The last time I ever handed a woman

a weapon against herself.

Parku Rinia

Parku Rinia

If you ever go to Tirana,
find this park downtown.

You can’t miss it–it’s the only one.
A green but sore thumb.

It’s just left of center, across the street
from a swollen hive of blind, gnawing termites
feasting on the country’s young:
The Bureaucracy of Perpetual Wrong.

This place–once a park, then not
a park, then a park again–is a curious riddle,
neglected history the books don’t bother with.

I buried something there.
The landmarks are gone,
but you will see what I mean
when you see it.

There was the skeleton of a boat
marooned in grey mud
It never sailed anywhere
but we all understood:

It was meant to be a metaphor.

We began as knife-tongued children
with time-worn eyes. Our hearts
groped for the blue trumpet of God’s voice
with hands made for the devil’s music.

Through the Cold War we were forged
into steel, molded with black brick uniforms
and books in sheep’s clothing: the last batch
forced through the assembly line of propaganda
before the machine’s teeth turned upon itself.

In the aftermath, our lives were handed back
as fragmented instruments with no instruction
manual for repair, easily manipulated
in the hands of men wearing new faces
but the same old jaws, eager to seize history.

They spoke theft in daylight
pushing the country to the breaking
bridge of another long winter.

The truth was a splinter
hidden in the country’s crippled flesh.

Everyone felt its sting,
but none could pull it out.

We were birds trapped in urban famine,
dirty jeans and weathered leather,
clinging to the edges of shoestring dreams.
Molested by concrete, lead, and lessons
in bitterness, we could not find rest anywhere.

When borders swelled like exit wounds,
we were left behind, and perched on the screaming
strings of malnourished guitars and anemic notebooks.

We claimed this park for our own,
this slab of grey grass and stone,
as it was swallowed by a district
of outlaw buildings. We turned it
into a makeshift crashing station,
a gathering storm port, a cacophony
of eloquent cafes and bars sprouting
after the acid rain of prostituted elections.

We flooded defiant edifices, tipsy kiosks
that leaned on each other shoulder to shoulder,
waiting for the high to come like gospel.

Through threats of raids and bulldozers,
they stood there, shameless lovers
with intertwined alley limbs, making out
in broad daylight–
right in front of god and government.

We apologized to no one.
Not to our teachers’ machine gun faces,
or our parents, with questions too heavy
for their hands, or even to strangers
whose eyes twisted like wrenches
at the sight of our jubilant squalor.

We were something else.
They could not understand What.

If you ask, even to this day,
rag-water voices will spill a dirty alibi:
the sometime poisons coursing
through veins, teeth pulling leather
tight around muscle, hope constricting
like Western European borders.

But they won’t say where
the anger came from,
how they cooked it into us
through electric shock speeches
during decades of silence.

The banned books, strangled songs,
films mutilated in the name of morality,
each an eye sewn shut, an unforgiving scar.

How we were bred to live
well numbered and disciplined:
sleep in rigid homes, work
in frigid factories, answer
to names that sound like the horns
of bread trucks that never come.

They don’t want to speak
of the violent freedom,
wind thrust upon wingless
children. How everything
became available, yet nothing
was within reach.

It is easier to believe we were nothing
than to accept there was nothing they
could teach us that didn’t get buried
under the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

We tried to swim where their history would have us sink.
That boat, that stubborn heart, inching away in the mud
–our spines, its mast and sails, daring antennas beckoning
to the new world’s hum, reaching out with intuition
and finding the blessed song, crafting it out of thin air.

Holy holy holy the plugged-in noise
The amplified chest, the revival
of the baseline, the protest of drums,
the heavy drone of truth pulled out
like needle from the flesh

Holy holy holy the redeeming release,
the reckless abandon, the fearless
flight of poems that still resonate. Amen.

We were here
And we were real.

They want to tell you our youth
was an architectural disaster,
a failed economic model,
a pseudo-culture.

Today, the city takes pride in the hipster apathy
of engineered grass where expensive dogs shit
metropolitan boredom, and cast iron benches knit the park
a power suit of political strategies and soap opera splendor.

Don’t you listen to them.
We buried something there.
You will see what I mean
when you see it.

There was a boat. It never swam,
But it did not sink either.

It is a working metaphor.

Let’s build on it.

Southern Ghazal

Southern Ghazal

At first, I wept with angry longing for the severe mountains of the old country,
driving by dark fields of crowded corn, no bump in the horizon of Southern country.

No lovers, no midnight walkers, a town of evicted sidewalks, with bloodshot eyes
of red-lights hanging upside-down, like wild turkeys hunted in the open country.

My yo-yo heart hovered in humid air, spiraling away from the cut down string,
barely pulled by the soft, timid gravity of white cotton fields in red clay country.

The blind horse of broken sleep trenched my haunted bed, beckoning the ache of old
concrete, the beastly gun noise, something to drown the honest silence in this country.

I took for lover the widows’ tremor at the passing train, at the mouth of static radio,
and the howling of Patsy and Hank, at the murderous moon in the music of country.

The trees at the edges of fields are born to face the slap of the tornado. They stand,
knowing, the quiet calm is the true alarm of the promised storm, sure to hit the country.

I am a tree, praying for the lightning to strike, to remind me, I am still alive. I hover
over myself, a ghost of myself, eating the red dirt by fistfuls, longing to call it My Country.

The Grandfathers’ Clock

The Grandfathers’ Clock

The myth of grandfathers
is a wayward clock embedded
in the chests of my tribe.

To this clock we pray,
beg it to tell us everything else
but the passing of time.

Long before our country was even born,
we wove an intricate untruth of heavy shadow
men carved into daguerreotypes hanging
over the fireplaces, next to the weapons:
a convenient religion, as reliable as a loose tooth.

The men measure their grit against it,
always finding themselves wanting.

The men of my tribe are weak.
They have been given the birthright
but not the right to dream. Their hands
fumble in daylight, hungering for purpose.

The women of my tribe are built like avalanches.
They fear the noise and the fall that comes with it,
so they marry first, love later, and make children
with the lifespan of winter fires. Their names
sound like slammed doors and rattling shutters.

I am a holy unbeliever in the religion
of my tribe. The day I crawled out from it,
my name became an amputated arm.

I sold my birthright for the right to dream.
I have made children whose names are silver rivers,
whose religion is the Restless Spirit.

At bedtime, I show them my chest
as a cautionary tale:

See this clock ticking in the blood.
It is the compass I use to point away from myself.

The short arm is the trail of lost prodigals
bursting through the barbwire shadows
of rugged and unforgiving mystical men.

The long arm is the ghost of my longing,
a tide in my blood beckons like a dying
siren’s throat. An enchanted lie.
A name no longer mine.




We left the land behind
covered by the ash of houses and flesh,
like everything else, too heavy
to be carried on backs or bare hands.
we pushed the elderly in wheelbarrows,
strapped the infants to our chests like ammunition,
and took flight in the snow.

At the road’s last bend I turned in tears
To see the roof of my house snap in half
Like a tree bit by the jaws of a hungry lightning

I could feel the heat of the burning threshold
pulsing under my tongue.

I bit through it to stay alive
And slowly chewed through the memory
Cautiously rationing the blood for three days.

When we arrived at the border
An endless caravan of ragged souls
ripping from spines with every step
Slowly hemorrhaged through the exit wound checkpoint

There was a soldier with a screwdriver
Removing wedding bands from women’s fingers.
His hands were a colony of hungry fire ants
Burning through the layers of my clothing.

A captain with a hawk sitting on his shoulder
Counted our heads. He collected pleasant features
with his pocket knife, and fed his bird
eyeballs and women’s nipples.
When it swallowed, breast milk dripped off its beak
The color of the muddy snow.

Others sat by the fire,
next to the pile of car tags, kidneys,
passports, jars of pickled hands, and land deeds.

They drank vodka from a dead baby’s bottle
sharing their fresh kill with the wolves
and a bloody hound, playing a drunk accordion.

At the checkpoint they stripped us
off our boys and men,
told us to cross alone,
And never look back.
When they unhinged their guns’ gates
A stampede of angry bullets roared like a mob
Cheering their favorite dictator.

They aimed their hooves at our men
Grinding their bones into soft, pink salt.

their souls tore out of their bodies
like legless birds escaping a collapsing city.

They hovered over our heads for days
Unable to land anywhere.

They were caught in the net of a photographer
Who sold them by the pound to foreign newspapers.
The editorials showed pictures of bodies covered in dirt
The headlines read “ETHNIC CLEANSING”

The civilized world was appalled.
They said, that kind of behavior is a no-no.

They stuffed UN resolutions into our mouths
and call it a peaceful solution.

Forgive, they said, it is time to move on.
Be civilized. Shake hands.
Sit here. Sign there.
Smile for the camera.


The lust of land makes murderers of men.
It makes them dull to history and eager to forget

Their justice is a whore with bedroom eyes
Turning tricks for the foreign press

They say she’s here to stay
she now answers in my name

Her palms are an army of proper white men
I am to kiss in gratitude

I am to be schooled in the ways of her civility
Mind her peacekeeping whip

Though the wolves scratch their hooves
on the northern border again
like the salt they took from me is not enough

I feel the lightning’s pitchfork in my throat
ripping through my threshold again

The roof of my mouth caving in under the weight
of the body of evidence they will not let me claim


My last son died in a day of peace.

When we came back to our charred house
He lifted the torso of a body from the threshold
And suddenly awoke the snake of a mine
Sleeping under the petrified remnant.

His feathers scattered all over the yard.
His head toppled against the last standing post
Like his old childhood ball, and rolled down
All the way to my feet.

He is the only one I got to bury.
A rare tombstone with a given name.

I say,

Everything ash has touched belongs to me.

Every life hung in branch, gutted by knife
Or buried by gun
is mine.

Plant me a tree for each son I lost.
The forest is mine.

Every stone, every crater,
Every stomp and ghostly river
Is mine.

Every wind.
Everything the feather touches
Is mine.



The Rear View

The Rear View

When my daughter asks about my childhood
My heart becomes a crow eating glass crumbs
At the scene of a car crash

The memories’ brilliance and their jagged edges
Compete for the preeminence in the story.

I hesitate to answer.

Sometimes, it was a bedroom
full of ropes and rusty bicycle chains
used for everything but to escape.

Sometimes, it was a cold, blue tile bathroom
With an electric cord stretched from wall to wall
as a winter’s clothesline, with rags
dripping water over my head as punishment.

Then there was the smell of burned out fuse
In my mother’s dresses, abandoned in a hallway
Full of tornado departures and quicksand come backs.

And the man, so full of love
he couldn’t help being mean.

The living room was small enough to die in it
And my favorite game was to travel its perimeter
From couch to chair to couch and back
without ever touching the floor.

My first savior was a transistor radio
And my original sin was to steal a book.

I am unfair to my story, I am sure,
Now that I have travelled from world to world
Without ever needing to touch my soil again.

I judge it with the knowledge of things
I was never supposed to see
Or have them be mine

Bright feathered opportunities
and plush soft support systems
Wrapped up with pink bow sentences
beginning with “I feel”

Their brilliance overshadows the primal love
Of steep cliff arms, whose devotion
Taught me how to embrace the fall
And always land on my feet.

My unemployed father didn’t smoke for three months
To buy my first bicycle,a rattling old thing,
with as much power as a rodeo of tired horses.

My mother, the librarian, gave me the key
to the jailhouse of forbidden books.

My grandmother taught me to tame the mammoth
of the mechanical sewing machine
so I would never have to be naked, or go hungry.

She taught me to spin the wheel of patience
and never cut any corners
Until I arrived at something beautiful

My grandfather, the beekeeper
Taught me to walk through a swarm of enemies
Without getting bit.

I come from people with jammed hearts
Who did not believe in God or childhood magic
Whose love was not supposed to lift its neck
in the presence of a flock of preying strangers

For fear of making its offspring the target
of wars and dictators

their devotion never unfurled
Until I drove away from the scene of the story

And met their eyes in the rear view mirror
Following me with the longing
Of a middle-of-nowhere gas station
The “come back” sign flickering in the dusk
a tireless heartbeat, a brilliant reminder

Love is an object always closer than it appears

Men Like Trees

Men Like Trees

For Jesus Christ, the Risen.

The first time a splinter bit my flesh I was 13 years old.
My hands were not yet fully grown
to master the rage of tools
against the bare back of the cut down tree.

When that splinter hit my palm,
right at the intersection of eternity and purpose
my heart reverberated with the echo
of something strangely familiar.

I stared at the ruby spot of blood in my hand
growing into a slithering river
as my stepfather, the graceful mountain of a tender man
tried to pull it out of my hand
saying, there, there, child,
one day, your hands will grow to their purpose
they will learn to embrace the pain
each time something you are trying
to shape into beautiful
decides to be stubborn and fight you back.

By the time I was 23,
my hands had already grown strong enough
to carry the weight of my whole body;
the tools, more like extensions of my extremities,
moved gracefully to purpose from morning to sundown,
as my stepfather’s wisdom had already run its simple course.
Each day, working in the shop,
carving things into useful,
I felt in the way the saw met with resistance
as it caressed the spine of the naked tree
that the wood was keeping score,
and one day it would come back for me,
with vengeance.

The sting of sweat rolling down my back
would make shiver the man in me
but my heavenly Father would whisper in the backyard trees
there, there, Son,
remember why you chose to wear their skin
how much in love you are with all of this, and them;
how the barrenness in their bleak branches
and the blood thirst of their dry bones
beckoned you down from our heavenly home.

You said it was worth it,
no matter how often they’d slap away your hand.

Days shy of my 33d birthday,
on a scorching afternoon in a wretched street
in Bethsaida, I cooked mud with spit and dust
to restore sight to a blind man.
When he received my gift,
moved with gratitude, he pointed
behind my back, in warning:
I see man as trees, walking.

How those words echoed in my skull that night in the Garden
my friends, slumbering like tired children,
the bite of the kiss still fresh on my cheek
at the intersection of betrayal and surrender,
the river of sweat and blood on my forehead
stinging like a bed of bees and pine needles;
I saw you coming out of the trees,
wearing so many familiar faces,
like beavers with mean sharp teeth,
a forest of hands stretching out angry branches,
armed with swords and crowbars tongues,
and though you moved with the tornado’s fury,
the beauty in the design was still worth dying for.
So take me,
here I am.
No man can take my life from me
I lay it down of my own willful heart.
See my hands, resolved to their purpose.
I am the man-God
In love with you beyond all reason.
Grind my skin with the teeth of your sin.
Let the anger of the cross saw through me
inch by inch of its rough embrace
until our spines meet in the bloody kiss
of righteousness and peace.
I offer no resistance.
I offer myself.
Let me take upon me your tools of rage.
Let me make something of you worth being.
Let me take you back home.
All I want is for you to love me
like you did when we were in Eden.

How your eyes lit up the day I unclenched my fist,
and showed you right in the center of my palm,
at the intersection of eternity and us,
the first tree seed, full of promise.

Remember how I hid it in the earth, like my body,
how it burst it open with new life.

Remember my body;
the empty tomb is my promise:
death will no longer hunt your bones.

I am the resurrection and the life,
the Author of all things beautiful,
the Lover of all things mine.

Do not mourn me like I did not intend this.
Do not shun me like I am not enough.
Take me as I am,
I will take you back to our home.

These days, I am once again in my Father’s shop,
carving the beauty of worlds to come.
Wait till you see what I’ve been making;
I have built you a house of forever windows.
My love is the porch light, always on.
There’s a garden of trees with clapping hands
their spines dance to the will of my hand
they sing our song:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lamb, who was slain,
the Rose of Sharon, the Bridegroom, the I Am,
the Lover, the Carpenter, the Darling of heaven.
His heart is set on his beloved, forever.

My beloved,
Do not miss me like I am not returning.
when the trumpet sounds in spring,
and the fig tree give forth its blossoms,
I am coming to take you,
Our home awaits us.

Love Thy Neighbor, or, The Juvenile Delinquent Brothers of the Third Floor

Love Thy Neighbor, or, The Juvenile Delinquent Brothers of the Third Floor

Brass knuckle Amnon and crooked jaw Cain were Irish twins, fifteen and sixteen years old, the spitting image of their mama. She was a young, black widow, a venom sharpshooter, a thirty year draught. They were my neighbors. We lived in the third floor of the same concrete apartment building. Our doors stood at a perpetual face-off. Cain’s bed and mine were barely separated by a timid wall he often bruised with the sound of my name punching through his teeth as he abused himself; the sound was so wretched, there weren’t enough songs written in the entire world to drown it out.

When walls were not present Cain became a shifting shadow with a clamp heart, squeezing the life out of anything he loved. He would hide in the rafters and kidnap old man Methuselah’s doves, press them between brick and jaw until he heard their lungs crack like glass. He would then stick their bloody feathers under my door like love letters.

He wrote me so many love letters. He made sure I found them everywhere. Snatched from my hair ribbons inside my slashed bicycle tires. Guillotined butterflies in the hinges. A rabbit’s head thrust in the threshold.

One time he climbed up the rain gutter like a draught, just to push my only dress to suicide, plunging it wet with fear from the third floor clothesline down into the dusty courtyard.

He only knew how to love a thing when it was dead like a father.

Amnon was a mute mountain of mean, with hands twice the size of his body, brass knuckle snares where I once got
caught in the no-man’s-land between our doors. One time, he pressed a nine millimeters’s tongue on my neck as
he tightened his left hand around my green plum chest. I had better sense than to fight him. I fixed my eyes on
a curious crack on the wall, growing with each bang of Cain’s head on the other side, weeping like a trapped beast. It made me feel less alone to know he was torturing us both.

The day war broke out and all the men and boys in the neighborhood rushed to kidnap rifles and guns, brass
knuckle Amnon and crooked jaw Cain came riding through the neighborhood on a stolen army tank, like serial killer cowboys, high on blood thirst and sniffed glue, playing marksman’s games with my humble window.

Through the war years I survived them by the grace of God, with a King James Bible and an old typewriter. I punched keys with crooked jaws to the rhythm of their weapons writing poems about love, forgiveness, and things too much alive to die at their hands. I fortified the wall between Cain’s bed and mine with pages from the book
of Psalms.

“Great peace have them which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them”.

The day I left to come to America, Cain shot every single flower pot on every window ledge in the neighborhood, howling like a betrayed wolf. I did not turn around to look at him. I wished them both dead.

Years later, when word of their simultaneous death reached me in America in a stifling hot Southern afternoon, the son in my womb churned, as I went running in the backwoods, weeping ferociously at the thought of them, before brass knuckles and crooked jaw. I thought of when they were two naked infants on a cold tile floor. How they begged with lament for the breasts of a mother shrouded in death and anger. How she concealed milk and love beneath a heavy, black dress, locked fanatically by an unforgivably long line of bone buttons, running from her venomous throat all the way down to her bare feet. How she murdered them to avenge her loneliness. How they loved me mean, like a mother.

“For as a man hath destroyed his enemy; so hast thou lost the love of thy neighbor.”

Coin Toss

Coin Toss

Her mother gave up the ghost at the edge of thirty years
in the street facing room of their matchbox apartment.

Her father turned it into liquor store. He was a man
too swift to be caught in a promise or be bound to rigid grief.

Magdalena slept in a tornado bedroom
no longer believing in his eggshell roof.

Not much can be expected of a shadow father
with a new, prickly-apron wife, and two useful sons.

Behind the liquor store there was a torn
chicken coop fence we’d climbed over

to sit on the docks and meet every train
like a clumsy first lover.

Her dress, thin as a dime and short as summer,
yanked the chain on the neck of every train yard worker.

I think of Magdalena every time I put on lipstick;
how I never thanked her for making me invisible,

her flesh and skin an armor about me
against the junkyard men’s thorny whistles,

and their oily, calloused hands
rolling the hems of her second skin

like dimes, dug out of thrift store couches,
never enough to buy anything.

At fourteen I did not understand
how cruel the coin toss can be:

I, the fish-thin and book-plain girl 
climbed over the fence all the way to America,

while pretty Magdalena lost two fingers
working at the weapons’ factory.