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Our Stories














By A. J. Hayes





Copyright 2016 by A. J. Hayes

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Cover image courtesy of Africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net




“Our Stories” appears on TimBookTu.com (Summer, 2014)


“Breathe” appears on OwlAsylum.net



Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit.

-- W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks





Give me sun

Give me sky and breeze


Give me sturdy woodlands

And sporadic hopping rabbits


Give me clean water

And food, fresh, plucked

From nature’s bosom


Give me melanin

To absorb cosmic rays


And mitochondria

To convert the substance

Of the universe into energy.



Our Stories


I sought after the

Darker brother, because

He could spot

The invisible man,

The souls of black folks

And the spook behind the door.


I found this negro speaking

Of rivers through an alabaster mask;

His voice like a caged bird

Trying to sing. His lips were the color purple;

His skin like a raisin in the sun.

But he was still beloved, because he spoke

Of Mawu, Legba and the Orisha;

Of the riches of the empire of Mali;

Of Kentake of Meroe’s bravery.

He ended his speech with his story

Of how he came up from slavery.


Then he charged me to follow the griot’s way:

To speak our histories until my final day.



Whiskey Woman: A Blues Poem



My whiskey woman

Done done me wrong

I say my whiskey woman

Done done me wrong


Left me alone in bed

To go drinking

All night long



My whiskey woman

Don’t treat me right

My whiskey woman

Never treats me right


She leaves me thirsty

To make love to Jack Daniels

All through the night



My whiskey woman

Left me for Jameson

Telling you my whiskey woman

Left me for a bottle of Jameson


All I can do is cry

My shame

Is my sin


Listen to spoken word version.



KOM (Keep On Marching)


I raised my black fist high

and punched a bald eagle

outta the sky. It nosedived,

landed lifeless in the mud at my feet,

but I had to keep on marching.


To my left are my elders—mud splashing

their ankles as they raise their canes in unison.

On my right are crawling infants, somehow keeping pace.

Behind me, my nieces and nephews urge

me to keep on marching;

to pump my black fist in the air

as I step over dead birds and avoid

the ones plummeting from our synchronized skyward thrusts.


In the distance, down this murky path,

I see Eshu and Yemanya, their fists in the air, beckoning me,

the babies, the youth, the elders—all those they protect—

with these words: “Keep on marching.

Keep on marching. The ancestors are with you.”





I breathe with the



When the crack addict


I breathe with him.


When the street walker


The night air that

Smells of her baby’s skin

And steels her resolve,

I breathe with her.


I also breathe

With the pusher and pimp

That trap others

In the prison

Of their own souls.


My community stretches

Farther than my block

Or nation.


When the emaciated child


A sigh longing for food,

I breathe with him.


The AIDS patient,

Whose only sin was birth,


Her final breath,

My lungs empty with her.


When the tyrant

Relaxes in his chair and


A cloud of cigar smoke,

Thankful the revolt

Was unsuccessful,

I am there to put out

His ashes.


The community is larger

Than a village

Or country.


Hopefully the dispossessed


In the same air

As the small business owner,

Student, 40-hour employee,

And the part-time worker

Absorbing the bullshit

Of a minimum wage job

Just to make ends meet.


The air of opportunity

And advancement

Hangs around us

In a fog much thicker

Than the one for our


All we have to do is





Open for Business




Morning s t r o l l;

autumn air;

|ob| |serve|

store owner

opening shop.


He bends,

picks up

st*rs & str!pes

by its



Shakes off

b r o k e n bottle pieces,

slides POLE into cup



He wipes p alms


stares @ storefront:






If I was more |pa| |tri| |o| |tic|

I would have told him

the flag must never touch ground.

It must remain upright,

even when the people under

its banner have fall-


en: two homeless women,

s w e p t a w a y f r o m

Lincoln’s feet like confetti

after the victory party ends.


A vet returns to his plAtOOn


His daughter g u i d e s his finger,

a cross, his sergeant’s name:

(Sgt. Will Peterson)

His SHRAPnel-damaged eyes

can neither see nor cry—

the 2 things he came

to the MeMoRiaL to do.







I once slept nextTo a corpse


I had a dream

Uncle Sam p u l l e d my wrist,

led me like a child

throughout all of the US

and all the lands in her imperial r






I saw men wrapped in white coats

drown basketful



of brown eggs into the sea a l o n g

the beaches of Aguada, Puerto Rico.


I witnessed a chor{us} of nuns




3 illuminated human torches

as they played ring around the rosary

in a ^ hanging ^ garden.


Sam & Eye walked jungle streets

where ebony panthers blended

into the shadows along the cheeks

of abandoned/condemned BUILDings.


A roving pack of mimes, each resembling

John the Baptist (even the women), crossed

our path, singing in Latin while tossing vials

bubbling with burgundy liquid.


I ducked to avoid getting washed in blood.

But Uncle Sam stood there, all s,

anticipating the bath,

rejoicing in the torrent!


Then we were . . .

Deep within a cobalt mineshaft in Congo . . .

Hovering above poppy plantations in Afghanistan . . .

Sucking raw cocoa from the bloody fingers of

children along the Ivory Coast . . .

Laying atop the roof of an electronics factory in Shanghai,

counting suicide jumpers like sheep . . .

Swimming the Atlantic Ocean from Accra, Ghana

To Kingston, Jamaica

To Annapolis, Maryland . . .

Sipping mint juleps while surrounded by waist-high tufts of cotton . . .

Upon a rocky road, playing Conquistador and Savage—

using giant sugar cane stalks as swords.




I woke from my dream,

knowing what it was,

and looked down at my wrist,

at the shackles that linked me to the sleeping corpse,

which was as cold and lifeless as Uncle Sam’s fingers.



Vagrant Story


I traded my crown for a 6-pack

of ramen noodles and rent money.

Food before shelter;

shelter before gold.


I’ve chatted with gods

who made the underbellies

of highways their offices.

Their wisdom cost me a silver ticket.


I’ve dined with queens who described

their domains in eloquent detail;

their soliloquies were cut short for they had to sail

in Agamemnon’s fleet early the following morn.


For there to be royalty, there must

also be peasants. This hierarchy

in society resembles the angels

descending and ascending Jacob’s ladder.


Those who lord over me

have lords above them,

who, in turn, have lords to answer to;

all the way back to me:


The lord of the cemetery,

The lord of the sea,

The lord of death,

The lord of beauty:


A person. A place. A thing. An idea.

The act in action.

Energy vibrates into matter;

matter shifts into energy.


There am I, trapped in the quantum flux.

I am both top and bottom rungs;

The void separating all things.

I am ME.


I am a wandering storyteller in a tattered cloak

stitched from patchwork pieces. Ruffians abuse

and debase me because of my vagrant appearance,

but in the minds of children, my poems make me into a god.

I exist between these extremes.



Ancestors Dream of Africa


My ancestors built

This nation

In full days of scorching heat,

Through long drafty nights.


When they rested –

They were seldom

Afforded the luxury

Of rest from white industry’s yoke –


Their thoughts

Their hopes

Their prayers

Their dreams

Rested on Africa.


For some, Africa

Was an earlier memory;

For some, a world of kingdoms

Made manifest in griot lore;

For others, a jigsaw puzzle of broken

Promises to be reassembled.


When you say

You will not abandon

The ancestors’ labors;

You will not leave

Their flesh to be devoured

By pale vultures;

That you will reap the profit

Due from centuries of unpaid wages,


I answer:

“Good. While you claim

Their compensation,

I will fulfill my ancestors’ dreams.”


[+ Listen to spoken word version.+]






A. J. Hayes is a poet and writer residing in Maryland. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, (as A. Jarrell Hayes) fiction and fantasy. His work has appeared in over 20 publications online and in print. He invites you to visit his website at www.ajhayes.com and to subscribe to his free eNewsletter at http://eepurl.com/btXLdT (members receive 2 eBooks for joining).


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Our Stories

  • Author: A. Jarrell Hayes
  • Published: 2016-03-22 12:35:07
  • Words: 1671
Our Stories Our Stories