The United States of Otherness

Adam Dyer at an impromptu lunchtime marriage equality celebration, GA 2015.

A Dixieland chorus of separate lines / Just lucky to be in the same key, in the same room.

Image: Adam Dyer at the 2015 UUA General Assembly. (© Nancy Pierce)

© Nancy Pierce


First Breath

That first breath must be delicious.

It must be more tantalizing,
more intoxicating than any drug,
fragrant like no flower will ever be
enticing like no body scent.
It must be all of this, and more
yet without words or memories, how do we know?

That first glorious rush of air
wants us to keep breathing
wants our hearts to keep beating
wants our eyes to open and see
wants our souls to open and say “yes.”

The first breath wants us to live all our life saying,
please God,
let me live
let me breathe
for just one day more

until we breathe our very last.

We Are Jazz

(1,2,3 . . .)

Just as soon as it began
We forgot how it started.
Like a Coltrane tune
We are so absorbed in trying to follow
To figure out
We forget that we are part of it.
Every tune needs ears
And every ear needs a tune.
Some let the sounds wash past them
And others are
A slap happy chorus
Embodied instruments
Becoming part of the beat.

“Jazz is a heartbeat . . . its heartbeat is yours”
Said Langston,
Played Mingus,
Sang Ella.
The sound that swings, blues and rocks,
Is us,
Is U-S.
Its dissonance is our politics
Its harmony, our dream.
The drum thumps brutal as the master’s whip
The cymbals sizzle like Native bodies ablaze
The saxophones wail and climax like rape
The horns push their Musical Destiny
While the bass bubbles underneath like God,

Underscoring the only true sounds,

Nature and time.


The United States of Otherness
We are jazz.
African rhythm
Played on European instruments
Toying with Asian harmonies
In a language made of Middle Eastern letters
While standing on the First People’s land
Where none of us belongs.
Yet that is the brutal beauty of any combo
Because the instruments are not alike,
The players are individuals,
None of them belong where they are
And none of them belong together.
A Dixieland chorus of separate lines
Just lucky to be in the same key, in the same room.
Yet they make the most beautiful music
With depth, range, beauty, heart.

Hearty . . . “Chop Suey.”

Jazz is a heartbeat,
Our heartbeat is jazz.

Gentle Man

Gentle man, shower me
Be the rain
Not raging storms
Or thundering skies
But gentle man, feeding rivers
When gently you flow.

Gentle man, sway with me
Be the wind
Not raging gale
Or roaring twister
But gentle man, leaning forests
When gently you blow.

Gentle man, hold me
Be the ocean
Not under current
Or ripped tide
But gentle man, molding shores
When gently you undertow.

Gentle man, shine on me
Be the sun
Not blinding rays
Or searing heat
But gentle man, warming golden harvests
When gently you glow.

So, gentle man, love me
Be elemental
Not brutal hand
Or selfish heart
But gentle man, planting seeds of truth
That gently, gently grow.

Black Male Body

You cannot understand my potency
If you only see my body.
Yes, I know . . . I am beautiful.
You long to touch, taste, smell, succumb
To what you see as brutal and raw.
I am the black male body.

Ha . . . but my “primitive” is
Too sophisticated for your palette
Too rich for your belly
Too delicate for your nose.
I am the black male body.

I have been both prison and palace,
Prisoner and prince,
King and conquered,
Kin and concubine,
And surely my history predates you
For where would “Eve” be without “Adam”?
Yes, she birthed the world
But I set her on fire.
We devoured each other in our own big bang
. . . together we made humanity.

I am the black male body.
But I am not just sex.
I am not just your perversion of pieces.
I am not a tool poised to penetrate at will.
I am my own pain and joy,
Dreams and anguish.
I am love and war,

And I am not you.

I speak in languages you can’t imagine,
Dance to rhythms you’ll never hear,
Sing songs in harmony
That you can only try to get near.
My magic so slick
You don’t even know it’s a trick.
Yes, I am all that and a lover.
I am the black male body.

A Song of Brown Bodies

Each morning I wake
And see “me” as one of many

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

And my own skin and hair
Has the same shadows and light
As what I see online . . .

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Lifeless and limp
Or trying but failing to flee
Battered and broken . . . never free

Could be me . . .

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Scattered in streets
Grotesque golliwogs
Raggedy animated
By “white” imagination
Like puppets . . . playthings
For the progeny of hate

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Used for a target, tune, or fuck
Diversions of passion
Co-opted visions
The promise of “change”

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Living on the wrong side of “gentrified”
A fetish for the hipster “dark side”
Always “columbused” then ghettoized

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Sacrificed to places
Where water poisons
And viruses thrive . . .

Where language fails
And walls rise . . .

Where war rages
And rape cries . . .

Where profit outpaces peace
And hope dies

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Yet, the blessed curse
Of genetic fecundity
Means no onslaught of nature
Or man-made conflict
Or in-bred hatred
Can delete the DNA
That comes back for more,
Millennium and again.
It is the human penchant
For pandemic procreativity
That means there will always be

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Do not believe what we are taught to be.
Each morning we all must arise
To see ourselves among the many

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Embracing these colors of earth
Breathing the sigh of the sky
Quaking with the power of mountains alive
And feeling the spray of oceans
As we rise to celebrate

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Where dance is blood
Where song is vision
Where touch is art
Where rhythm of heart
Pulses through words
And tumbles in rhyme,
Lovingly schooling the wicked
And scorning the vainly wise.

These are the real

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Each one is precious
And holds the legacy
Of what it means to be wholly alive in

Brown bodies
Brown bodies

Excerpted with permission from Love Beyond God: Meditations (Skinner House Books, 2016).