The Gray In Between

I’ve always existed in the gray space… between black and white, between the hard lines. It was about so much more than the color of my skin. This “red-boned” girl with untamable curls had thoughts and feelings and an essence of being that drifted into places the hard-liners wouldn’t go. Everything and everyone around me was a hard line.   

She was a high school dropout; a teenage runaway; a girl escaping the hand life dealt to her [a pocket-sized fireball mother, who was an abusive, alcoholic reservation brat… and a burly, racist, womanizing, European-bred farmhand father; neither of whom cared much for the multitude of children with which they populated the Midwest] in order to live by her own rules. Life abandoned and free, she forged new worlds into her reality. The imagination of a 15-year-old is limitless, and so was her determination. Unable to steal away her younger siblings for her voyage to the Golden State; in about a year’s time, she’d know for herself the struggles of being a young mother. She would be met with the responsibility of birthing a brown-skinned, curly-haired, mixed-race baby into the space between black and white. But, her hard line of freedom at any cost had been drawn and cemented into place. 

He was a smooth-talking country Cajun; a star athlete; a ladies’ man in the making [his high school sweetheart, turned wife, had little use for him after he was stationed overseas for the war… even a baby-on-the-way couldn’t keep her faithful or them together], who turned young girls’ heads with his 6-foot, 2-inch athletic physique that he carried with authority as he exited whichever high-profile vehicle he was driving that day. By way of Baton Rouge, the Los Angeles inner-city became home to him and his matriarchs when his father decided to plant his next church there. A decade later, he was the sole provider; a hardworking construction manager, toiling through life’s rubble; lending his spare time to only mom and nana, until the day he saw her. The 4-foot, 9-inch narrow frame crossing the avenue in a canary mini-dress and white go-go boots would soon call the number he scribbled on a napkin. Not long after, he would rescue her from a violent beau, take her in, and gamble away his freedom in one night… the night he conceived me… the night his black and her white became gray. His hard line was opposite hers, so he wore a veil to keep the peace. 

Here I am – exactly like both of my parents, and not. Free-spirited, strong-willed, earthy, imaginative, inclined to run away from what hurts… secluded, compromising, stately, disciplined, inclined to defend and fix the hurting. The Gemini zodiac sign wasn’t wasted on me. I was born into duality. It is my birthright. It is my gift. Between the hard lines, between the black and white; I am the conceding gray. It is my ticket to the glitz and glamour; as well as my pass through the slums and alleys. I am the proper among the poor, and the meek among the privileged; in neither case being disingenuous. Gray carries significant weight. 

Some people consider life to be fated – a series of events beyond their control; a dishing out of servings they sometimes delight in devouring, but more often than not trumpet as an outpour of spoils dumped upon their heads, creating a stench they can do nothing about but cry “victim.” Others see life as a game of chance in which one never knows what is around the corner, good or bad, lucky or unlucky. The roll of the dice keeps them teetering on the edge of life’s seat, and an ample supply of hearty superstitions may be just enough to bring more positives than negatives into play. Of course, neither perspective provides much ambition for the soul. Fate and chance are hard lines… with no relative influence of choice. If all is fated or left to chance… well, one must wonder – what’s the point of any of this. What’s the point of me?

She was not one to be tamed; she never was and never will be. The men she seduced served a purpose. They were part of her lifelong escape; just as the drugs and alcohol, which helped to coat her existence with a passing numbness that required frequent refills. Her motherly instincts, however haphazard, were strong. She never laid a hand on us when we were children. Perhaps her childhood beatings granted us this favor. And either one of our birthdays meant presents for us both, though presents for any occasion were often returned to the store a few days later because we couldn’t afford them. Her laid back nature and long leash provided ample room for her life posture to be absorbed by my sponging spirit. From father’s perspective [once he removed his blinders], she was a harlot, a manipulator, a thief, an addict, and an unapologetically bad mother. From the wide accepting eyes of her firstborn, she was fun, creative, cunning, adventurous, real, unafraid, crazy (in a larger than life kind of way), and she gave us the freedom to evolve. Even though this growth took place among prostitutes, thugs, perverts, and criminals, all of whom were usually high or wasted in their functional capacity as professional outcasts, they all had fascinating stories about their pasts. Their recounts led me down paths of compassion and intrigue as I sat, often for hours, listening to their tales of “the good ole days,” before society abandoned them to the playgrounds of scum. They were my friends. Well, at least the ones who didn’t attempt to violate me were. Some of them had been gray, too; but migrated to the outer lines and commenced the waving of fate- and chance-ridden flags, once life had its way with them. I felt okay about it, though. Like hers, their hard lines were ones in which I could revel freely. 

He, on occasion, would carry me off before daylight in his chariot. The deep orange streak above the hills fought vigorously to push up its navy nightcap as we scurried to work at the construction site. At the time, I didn’t know why I’d get to spend the day frolicking in the dingy warehouse among rolled up industrial rugs, cold metallic machinery, and endless mountains of bits and pieces that didn’t make the cut. But it was dark and vast and I could play with the old desk phones if I liked. Daddy knew my imagination would keep me quietly stowed away until he could find a place for me to go while he worked. It was one of those days when she didn’t come home the night before. It was also one of the treasured glimpses I had into his mysterious life when I was young. He was always working. I imagine the way she taunted him made him want to work more. He wasn’t a violent man, though very intimidating. He was the king of his castle, and no one could tell him otherwise. Well, she could, but anyone else might live to regret it. He was proud, strong, and quite full of himself. Eventually, two failed marriages proved his outlook to be slightly inflated. She often said he was a liar, cheater, abuser, neglecter, and a self-righteous hypocrite who always made her out to be the bad guy because he was better at keeping his secrets. He must’ve been quite good with secrets. All I saw was a giant, gentle, mysterious man of integrity; who never smoked, drank or said much because there weren’t a lot of good things to say. I revered his hard line, seeing little less than perfection. [He wasn’t always fair, though. I knew if I bet a dollar against the Lakers and they lost, he would not pay me my winnings. One time I inquired and learned it is very disrespectful to ask a parent to pay a debt. To this day, I’ve never asked for any remittance of any sort from any family member. It was a good lesson.] What’s more, he loved Asian artifacts, bear rugs, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Lee. I loved these things too, which made me special. Most importantly, I knew where he kept his gun – a perk for being the responsible one.  And when he was especially proud of me, he would pat me on the shoulder gruffly and say that I was his favorite son. I knew he was being funny, but couldn’t help but wonder how my older brother would feel if he heard such a thing. 

Grandmother was my abiding cornerstone. When parental care was reduced to Wednesday night sleepovers at dad’s and Sunday visits with mom, my heart rebelled. I had grown accustomed to instability. Being grounded was boring; spending three days a week in church was frustrating [as Southern Baptists rarely complete the moral of the story once they are captured in the throes of the Holy Ghost, selfishly leaving the rest of us searching for the closing point that the adults somehow already knew]; and grandmother was always suspicious of everyone’s intent, which made her over-protective, over-bearing, and not gullible enough for my alibis. Often, I mumbled my wishes for her immediate demise. Within moments, however, I would quickly recant my desires, believing that somehow that would be the one prayer God granted and I would be forever vexed by my evil tongue. I did not cry at her funeral. I’m still not sure why. She was my everything. I remember crying for my father’s pain when he heard the news. I remember being angry when I found out my uncle pulled the plug without my father’s consent. I remember empathizing with the grieving elders of our church, whom I’d grown to love as my extended family. I remember despising neighbors and friends who had a field day rummaging through my grandmother’s treasures; as though they had any claim to her belongings [I polished her jewelry. I brushed her wigs. I clipped and polished her nails. I applied the fancy Oil of Olay cream to her supple cheeks every night before I “accidentally” fell asleep in her bed. She belonged to me, making me by default the executor of all her things. Still, no one consulted my authority on the matter. They likely underestimated the sophistication of my twelve years of life.] But I did not shed a tear for her, and that always weighed heavily on my heart. Perhaps, this first loss of a loved one began the shaping of how I respond to disappointments. Little things tend to unnerve me, but big things… the tragedies that shake people at their core… well, those are the times when I am a rock of comfort and understanding – when my feelings sink to the bottom of the well and I’m flooded with the conviction to make things better for everyone else. Or maybe I just don’t know how to deal with tragedy, so I don’t. There was nothing iffy about grandmother’s line. I knew it and I knew it well. It planted the seed for my salvation.

There’s a third way of considering life. Those with any type of faith base tend to receive life as a gift. Any realized circumstance is acceptable, as something grander can be gleaned from it, adding to the shaping of character, the building up of wisdom. Breath and experience are to be valued and only questioned from the perspective of perennial growth.

Today, my step-mother is as two-faced and bitter as she was the day she promised my grandmother on her deathbed that she would take care of us girls. I don’t have much to say about her, as my views are pretty much the same now as they were then, and I prefer to speak in terms of evolution. I will say, she harangued my dad into non-existence during our teenage years, when she reigned as tyrant and passive-aggressive overlord over us all. We spritely ones escaped with notable scarring. Unfortunately, father remains a prisoner of war, waiting to see who will outlive the other. On the upside, the passcode to higher education was her gracious contribution to my wellbeing. As an educator and patriot, two non-negotiables in “her” household were a college education and respect for our nation. I might not have benefitted from either had it not been for her utter commitment to emasculating my father. As such, her hard line granted me the tree of knowledge (and -yes- this is a pun referencing both Eve and the serpent). 

Aside from four years of cranial refinement, social networking, and emergent independence; from university, I netted a husband with whom, in total, I spent twelve years of my life. With those twelve years came emotional and psychological abuses, along with lesser doses of physical exploitations, both externally and upon my own person. Anyone interested in those sordid details is free to peruse my poetry to deduce which belong to this muse. Amazingly, the greatest gift in all creation through the eyes of any true mother came from our collision of courses, and the resulting salvage is an even deeper shade of gray than I.   

He is the dragon to my ox, and we both flow deeply as water, filling up the containers we encounter in our lives and washing out that which shouldn’t stick to our souls. He is everything I am not, but also am. I am sure his aptitude surpasses mine. But then, he does not have the forty plus years of experience I have, which – he admits – puts me at a superior ranking of mad genius than he. I accept this glowing compliment from my jovial teen and know that, despite my sheltering, he will soon catch up to me.   

Someone as fuzzy and fluffy as I (per my step-mother), with an exceedingly stupid heart (per my father), inevitably had many knight-in-shining-armor dreams, which stubbornly persisted from the time I was very young to sometime before yesterday. Words, music, and pictures crafted the most magnificent representations of romance that my lofty mind could compose; as I was sure that love looked nothing like what I saw growing up. I suppose the unpredictable nature of my parents’ relationships caused me to be charged with a desire to plan a much better course for my impending love life. As it were, a series of dead-end fairy tales [beginning with my divorce] effectively snuffed out the breathing room of my heart, and it seized with fear of being permanently annihilated.

Then there’s that fourth posture towards life: life is a trust given to us from God. Whatever portion we are granted, we are intended to multiply and, subsequently, bear fruit. Every experience is a deposit into one’s spiritual wealth; it is an opportunity to plant, nurture, harvest, and feed… expanding our capacity to relate and develop intimate relationships with God and one another. He promises abundance to those who manage His trust with hope, compassion, love, and authority.

From there (infancy) to here (maturity), I can overload the airwaves of the universe with jaw-dropping parables, gnawing soundbites, and perplexing parodies that most would cast off as imaginings if I didn’t claim them as testimonies. The groundwork was sufficiently laid by my family, which constructed these cross wires of breeding and circumstance, forming the hard lines all around me. One line shouted I was never good enough, strong enough, nor focused enough for his exemplary standards; making me timid and filled with humility, always questioning my worth. Another line snickered and taunted that I was too well-behaved, a miss goody-two-shoes, and a challenge to accept because my looks and personality didn’t fit in with her revolving door of sketchy situations; making me increasingly loyal and socially adaptable, determined to be whatever I needed to be. The third line framed my conscience and all of my early beliefs and concepts of God, which were unquestionable; making me afraid to fully commit my life as a Christian, for fear of imminent damnation at my first failure following baptism. One more line taught me that every privilege has a price, as nothing is freely given from one person to another without consequence [usually a painful one]; making me immensely independent throughout life, intent on accomplishing what is needed by my own accord, but also being that person who does give freely from the heart… because I should treat others better than I’ve been treated. Finally, with the escape route of my hopeful fantasies severed, the last hard line dropped upon the others, roofing the walls I spent half of my life trying to climb over. The culmination of all the black and white lines of this world, the hard places that rejected everything I was and wasn’t, closed in on me. I became trapped within the confines of all the conditions that eventually broke my spirit.   

At ground zero, God entered and breathed life back into me. He lifted the pieces of my heart, my worth, and my understanding, and began to reveal greater purposes for my life. Were it not for everything I’ve been through, I would not be so centrally positioned to love with my mind and think with my heart. I wouldn’t be able to sit, walk, talk, laugh, cry, work, play, serve, and pray with anyone of any station in life, of any faith, creed, race, gender, age, and belief. I can do this because I embrace being gray. I own the messy composition of my life. I appreciate the jagged edges as much as the smooth ones. And because I’m this hodgepodge of all the hard questions and even harder answers, I love the hard lines and everything in between. In this rigid, hateful, segregated world; I am blessed to be in the gray space… the malleable, forgiving, encompassing freeform that is only seeking to multiply the portion God has given to me.


My view is clearly obstructed by the
muck in this room, by the
suck of this gloom, where there’s
no place for space, and this
pace serves no race worth running,
except away from…
Beats hit the drum some, but
I’ve lost count of how any of this counts,
when every price paid only amounts
to a discounted effort… a lost sum of
sweaty tears stinging heart’s thumb,
‘cause I’m still flipping through the pages,
in spite of the cuts
Everything is moving only where it stands
Stampeding footprints – same old dance
Story keeps telling, but never advances
Chances pinned by circumstances, and
no one’s making progress… The air –
stale with the stench of regress
Distress after distress… they keep coming
to confess their bitter sob
Don’t you know I am not your god?
Imposed façade against my will
Imposed supply against my bill
Demand falls on all deaf ears, while
knowing eyes watch me pay the price,
grinning as I dig deeper and deeper,
sowing promise for the handless reapers
These fingernails taste the grit,
lose grip in this bottomless pit, where
life slowly fades into the walls of
everyone else’s falls, and
I am left to wallow in a haze of
trepidation that isn’t even mine.
Those sins – not mine to bear
These faults – not mine to wear
This world – not my belly’s fare, and
starvations leave me cross,
swimming in a blur that feels like lost
But I know who I am,
and the streams still flow against the
break of the dams
Orientation of self won’t be drafted to damned
Spy this warrior of life as if the
intel is real, but the
shade of the armor doesn’t match the reveal
Wrapped in a skin to show a
fight that you think you know, but
blow after blow refines the kingdom within
Whose view will your darkness stain when
the vein is severed, the drawbridge closed,
and this breath of tenderness transposes into
a cool breeze that carries all your debris
far away from my sights.



these granules of everything
shifting, then falling and sitting
beneath the holes in my theories.
My heart – sumo lifting,
too unsure to be weary,
simply committed to the tasks.
Here comes the ask,
“How vast can the plays run
with no end game?”
Breath-to-breath, a middle name,
claiming its position at the
center of no gain – the forerunner
of this insane relay.
I keep running to lose.
Still… sifting,
as fuses choose to flare up and
melt closed my vents, circumventing
the logistics carefully structured
for defense and escape.
Each moment only gets one take.
Yet, déjà vu holds a permanent stake
in all my planes of existence… a
non-discriminate pretense catching
all the stuff that should just keep moving.
This sifting…
rearranges order and priority on a
flat line, like a king without authority,
delineating his final wishes to a
deaf mime – no means to receive or deliver,
only to animate a royal waste of time.
Nobody’s hearing this echo, but me.
These tiny grains shimmy, then freeze.
This free-flowing motion takes a knee…
as I sift vigorously.
The shake out leaves me perplexed,
somehow yielding no more and no less
than what I arrived with – sufficient portions
to compose the next breath
of a life I am not willing to die for…
but in spite of.
to break these holds that
put brakes on my whole; that
stifle love’s everything and
placates my soul’s lowest denominator.
Below the line hosts only a
fragmented respirator for living.
There is no giving of life, no
fullness in divide, no satisfaction in this
biding of whys that leave convictions empty.
Nothing breaks down –simply– anymore.
This overflowing vessel of hollow
loses its core amidst the broken parts,
suffers its more within this complex art
of sifting… and sifting… and sifting.


Photo Credit:


canvas pic

Here, these thoughts splash…

Where words drip from numb lips,
whispering heart’s throb through bristled tips,
not smooth enough to brush it to life.

Meanwhile… colors hit hard,

chipping delicate sheets with their biting shards –
rocky edges unsoothed by shallow dips in the rinse.


just a pretense display, as the showroom bulges
with the prints being laid.

Soon to be played is will’s posing,
always supposing its sway can repaint history
in softer shades.

But it can’t.

Truth shows vivid today,

with no way to whisk away uncleansed stains,
weeping their pains through filthy veins,
gripping tight to their brushes.

Too many pages left unturned, ‘til
burned into forever are the layers of poor design,
left stacked upon the scale of hardening time,
setting ebb and flow into a state of refusal –

where everything beautiful comes to die.

I want to flip this over, but
it all just sticks… this
stench and ick… this
composting shtick… this
perpetual state of sick that
bleeds its broad strokes across my canvas,
where subtle existence loses its favor to
raping hues of unforgiveness, along with
envy’s splatter, and pride’s full clatter, ‘til
not a single inch of white space remains.

Tomorrow, I will paint under the sun…

and pray it rains.


Photo Credit:

Rouge & Lipstick


As if the elevation of her cheekbones
wasn’t enough to catch the eye
As if the prim and whimsy clash on her tongue
didn’t pause the passersby
As if the swish of a brush could command any more
than the supple glistening of those jowls
As if the curve and swipe of a vibrant hue might
draw in deeper the captive scowl
As if the blush of her grin didn’t move the clouds
and cause all storms to seize
As if the float of her hymn didn’t quiver the bones
and lower the saints to their knees
Still, never a day could spend its time without
succumbing to the witnessing
The adornment of Heaven’s earthbound kiss
… but a veil upon splendor’s being

~ In memory of Grandmother ~

Photo Credit: Rouge And Lipstick Still Life painting by Phyllis Tarlow



Promise to catch me
in the crease of your words,
where craft coyly cradles the
mysteries of your heart.
I want to fall
into your every breath
and feel the undercurrents of their purpose.
Your engravings etched upon the universe
drip their dust into my soul.
I become more whole with every verse.
To breathe more deeply within
the fortitude of your wisdom;
to release more fully into the
folly of your wit; to
submit more willingly amidst
the throes of your fury; to lose
more completely the very root
of my senses
to the enchantment of life
expressed through your spirit –
I reject reprieve from even your torment;
as your woes are sweeter still than the
honey-dipped tongue of any other.
To be wrapped in the wave of rhythm
which crosses your lips…
is to know heaven on earth…
is to give in to a constant rebirth
of a love that can only be felt
in the emboldened conveyance
of your world into mine.

Image credit: John Stammer’s Top 10 Love Poems



Dressed up in yesteryear’s clothes,
commencing the “walk of shame”
where passersby know no names –
only someone’s leaving from
where she shouldn’t have been
Walking proud like nothing’s happened,
red eyes reveal streaks of dissatisfaction
‘cause mornings came sooner than expected,
betraying the beauty of kindred dawns.
Resuming appearances undetected, still,
knots swell on the inside, holding tight
to a longing for dreams come true.
Dreams… born of heart’s adventure,
divine anticipation, and womanly speculation,
with hope left uncensored underneath its
cynical skin. Dreams… of being in…
when all the resolute moments define
a lifetime of falling out.
All that’s left is sore.
Sore sights, sore ears, sore lips, sore tears,
sore promises in arrears found a sore core.
Sensibilities say “no more”… and, yet,
there’s always tomorrow.
Suns rise in different shades, but never
fail to shine their rays on reality’s dimming.
And so, possibility keeps brimming
within the soul… believing universal scheming
will one day roll love’s mistress
out of its fleeting bed and into its eternal home.

Image credit: