My Play Little Brother

oakland-mapTW: SUICIDE

Death changes you. No matter the kind of death.

It can unravel you, it can unbuckle you, in the face of death you can learn who you are.

You probably WILL learn who you are.

5 years ago, my play little brother took is life. Matteo.

I helped to raise this child, and the most peculiar thing about it, or perhaps not, is that no matter what I accomplish, I will never see his flesh face. I will never see him get married, I will never hold his baby, I will never see him graduate from college. I will never, I will never.

I help to raise Mat, or as I called him Matteo, because if you know me online or afk (away from keyboard) I have a special affinity for names and naming.

There are are a variety of kinds of death. Murders, Cancer,  Natural Death, HIV Aids, drive-bys, structural racism being mapped onto your under/un-insured body. He took his own life.

He was tall, lanky, handsome, White, with a cleft in his chin, his “hella’s,” his handsomeness and Love for our favorite Thai Restaurant on Grand Ave, the last place I took him to eat after he picked up from the airport after a work meeting in New York. His astute awareness of being a young White man in Oakland. His gift of poetry. His alto voice. His willingness to work. His ability to make me laugh at things I should not laugh at. His loyalty to his friends.

I couldn’t grieve his death for a year.  I paid the price for this. It cost me, in part, a very important relationship. Once I began to grieve and continued to, I learned how to do it. I did it with videos, with art. I dedicated my first book to him. I made a painting about Oakland and the book and I included him in it.

I got to a point where his death became a part of my day to day life. It just was. Not that I thought about it, or that I  felt sad about it, his Life like his death became a part of me.

In making the video in Oakland in 2012, I came to conclusion that it wasn’t for me to say what he should or should not do with his life. It is what it is, and it was what it was.

One of the things that I am most proud of  in life is that in the few months before his death I was very insistent  about texting him to make a time for us to talk. This was before it was common knowledge that young people prefer to text, rather than talk on the phone. It took me a few days to schedule it, and we finally spoke and it was a lovely long conversation. We talked about home, his school and grad school desires, his friends, his family, how grad school was going for me and the fact that I had fallen in love recently.

He died 2 months later.

Death changes you. HIS death changed me.

I will say that 5 years later, I still see his face in children. And I mark it as well. Their round faces, their soup bowl haircuts. I look for and see his face in the crevices of their smiles, in the shape of their hair cuts, in the lankiness of their gaits.

One memory I will always have is of me taking him on the 15 bus  from the Berkley pool to Oakland while listening to Illmatic on my walkman. Me listening, and being protective. Him looking out the window at all of the activity on the streets. Me negotiating the stares from Black men wondering what I was doing with this White child.

I helped to raise him.

The thing that I know know that I did not know then is that the suicide of a young person is something that you do not get over. It is something that you learn to live with; hauntingly. Today, it is NOW something that I know that I don’t ever WANT to get over. I relish in the opportunity of ever getting to know his spirit.


I Love you Matteo, Always. I see you every day.

Your Sister.


Michelle Wallace and Illmatic

The World Is Yours (Remix)

Rare is the person who can conceptualize the hood,
in all its pain, beauty and promise.

Two pieces that do this are Nas’s Illmatic and
Michele Wallaces, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.
Whats strikes me about both pieces is that they illicit an
emotional response. In addition, Black Macho is particularly
moving because Michele focuses on how gender influences
the lives of Black women in urban environments. She writes,

Now I want you to picture a little black girl in a jungle
that has no
tigers and lions, but poverty, ignorance,
welfare centers, tenements,
rats, roaches, inadequate
schools, malevolent teachers, pimps,
Forty Second Streets,
heroin, hypodermic needles and methadone,
preachers and community leaders, a narrow range
of career
possibilities , always impending pregnancies, sterilization

and illogical court system, and two races of men who prey
upon her
as sexual chattel and a beast of burden. And
suppose that behind this
black girl, there was a whole
string of little black girls who had faced
this same jungle
with their imaginary advantages and been defeated.
it not be an act of unkindness, of extreme justice really, to
her that she was a woman of strengths, of exceptional

Any one of the above mentioned phenomena, my seem
on its face. But when the “ignorance, welfare centers,
rats, roaches, inadequate schools, malevolent
teachers, pimps,
Forty Second Streets, heroin, hypodermic
needles and methadone,
opportunistic preachers and
community leaders, a narrow range
of career possibilities”
are taken together, it becomes very
clear exactly what some
young black women are facing in their day to day lives.

Looking at the The World is Yours video isn’t a reminder of what
young men and women in Harlem, Detroit, Oakland and Philly
are facing, yet I do feel a sense of urgency when watching it.
It’s not that the jack moves portrayed feel intense, its the foreshadowing,
the moment right before that has me on needles while I watch it.
This video 4 minutes of 49 seconds of sheer grimeyness.

On the song Memory Lane Nas opens, giving a description
of the hood that came to mind while reading the above
Michelle Wallace passage. He raps,

I rap for listeners, blunt heads, fly ladies and prisoners
Hennessey holders and old school niggas,
then I be dissin a unofficial that smoke woolie thai

I dropped out of Kooley High, gassed up by a cokehead cutie pie
Jungle survivor, fuck who’s the liver

My man put the battery in my back, a difference from Energizer

Sentence begins indented with formality
duration’s infinite, moneywise or physiology
Poetry, that’s a part of me, retardedly bop
I drop the ancient manifested hip-hop, straight off the block
I reminisce on park jams, my man was shot for his sheep coat
Chocolate blunts make me see him drop in my weed smoke

It’s real, grew up in trife life, did times or white lines

Both Nas’s and Michelle are saying I present
to you the stories of some folks who are trying
to survive in a world, stories of folks who have been told
at every turn that their survival is irrelevant.

This is why both of these two pieces move me.

Wow. I think this was an actual thugs, feminist and boom
bap post. Nice.