My biggest love affair has been with Brooklyn and like matters of the heart you need distance to see some things. I’ve been away from her physically many times and for a certain period of my life I denied her access to my heart. But on yet another sleepless night where my mind races and tangles itself up in words, ideas and memories, Brooklyn insistently rose. So this is the girl that she and I used to be…
I grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn (Home of the Uprisings) and at that time the sun never seemed to shine too much. Just about every corner store was a “spot” but they still carried food and pumped Bob Marley hard. Rastas sprinkled every corner and Jamaicans and Panamanians got into it on the regular. All the fruit & vegetable stands sold fresh sugarcane and our lips stayed red and our tongues blue from bomb pops in the summer. We roamed the streets; packs of girls ready to bust into a fit of laughter or talk real bad in another girl’s face. Anybody’s mama was liable to come looking for us on the ave with a house shoe or belt in hand, you needed to be in calling distance. Back then we lived our lives beneath the stars, in front yards, with a splash of streetlight hitting our brownstone stoops.
Any you may not know about Coco Leve 1-2-3 but you’re up on freeze tag, double dutch, spades and hide-n-seek. But then came crack, such the unwanted middle child. We had no idea what was upon us and about to snatch up people’s mamas, sons, grandchildren; sometimes swallowing whole families. For a time only the dead walked these streets. I swear to you there is a whole generation of US that is just an echo and a shadow but I remember them because they lived around the corner from me, down the block from my cousin’s house and late at night we used to walk to the corner store together just to tame some of the restlessness. Yeah, they were here for awhile too back when we whispered beneath the stars in Brooklyn.
For a solid three year period I hear gunshots. They sound like claps of thunder and really do hurt the sky. Young cats had this carved out, “tryin’ to bring fame to they name” so they not asking no questions and hot to pull the trigger-just like that. That’s why sometimes it rained bullets and not drops of water;some young boy can’t sleep tonight so neither can we and nobody willingly goes into an active war zone unless you live there.
The soundtrack would be something like Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew, Slick Rick, Salt N’Pepa and can’t forget Whodini. The streets weren’t but hip-hop was still fun. My block was quiet, lined with massive Oak trees that sheltered singing birds and us. My block is wedged between two notorious Brooklyn thruways; one direction will lead you to Flatbush and the other Williamsburg. Those ‘giving trees’ got sick from the inside out, the Japanese Longhorn Beetle and none of the trees the City plants now have ever matched the height or generosity of those aged giants that too witnessed so much.
I told you Brooklyn is the original heartbreaker and her season is summer. She’s achingly sweet and full of possibility like Lauryn is for us. And I still hear our laughter in the thick, hot, night air like a spell we cast on ourselves to keep us.
All in together now,
How you like the weather now,
January, February, March, April, May, June…”
So this blog is dedicated to Brooklyn, my personal musings, rants and perspectives on all things that fascinate and perplex me.
Header Photo: Thomas Sayers Ellis