“Braving The Odds” & “Under The Elevated”

 

“Braving the Odds” depicts and explores Street Style.  “Under The Elevated” – A Poem.

Just before New Year’s Eve, 2016, I took this photograph on my Bronx corner. A man, feisty and short, the color of brown sugar, with strong legs and long grey hair, lives there and in fast Spanish and accented English, he yells out to passersby, telling them what he thinks and what he wants.

This is his bedroom, which he has filled with color and comfort and style that is not new but enduring, making an artistic piece de resistance that, to my eye, asserts his desire to be seen and recognized and remembered in the thoroughfare of a world going, often mindlessly, to a new destination.

Century after century and in country after country building its economic impact on the black and brown back — Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, England, France, Germany, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, the Netherlands, Nevis, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Saint Lucia, Saint Thomas, Saint Vincent, Spain, Trinidad, the United States, and Venezuela — and elsewhere, the African instinct to improve the givens has dug deep.The men and women of a rich and abused Africa have recast a deliberate dismissal into a more brilliant aural and visual display of persistence and creativity, rejecting the bareness and the death sentence that is often decreed, demonstrating a will  to artistically resist the odds arrayed against the cast off, forgotten self.

—Barbara Lewis
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• • • • 

UNDER THE ELEVATED

Swathed, swaddled, mummied
in rainbowed, confetti coverlets
left by admirers—those who can afford
to discard each season/fad/whim.

He reuses leftover dreams and desire
as cars, buses and time lurch by

The thuds and pings of heels against
metal just above his muddled head lull
him to sleep, or might if he has what
he needs—food, drink, exhaustion,
surrender

The trains roar in like clockwork…or not
Until he no longer hears them
splintering his sleep and thoughts
spinning like tires on the water-slick
street past the place where his mind
used to be

Living in his desperate “plein-air” lair
in this pulsing public place available to
anyone or anything, at any time…he
hunkers in, avoiding out-of-control
vehicles and people who VROOM past,
whenever…

Predators eyeball, then ignore his bare-
boned existence… venal, expert,
professional, knowing he has Nothing to
steal or barter or break except his sparse
jerry-rigged fragile hoard, his bereft
body, memories, or vestigial
dreams littering his inhospitable
sanctuary

—Josclynne Grier

What’s your reaction to the photo?

Follow Barbara B. Lewis:

Barbara Lewis heads the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston, where she is a faculty member in English. As a Francophone scholar, she co-translated Faulkner, Mississippi by Edouard Glissant, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. As a cultural historian, she has published on lynching in drama, the minstrel stage, and the black arts movement. Dr. Lewis has taught at City, Lehman, New York University, and the University of Kentucky. She also blogs for The Public Humanist, and is a board member at New Federal Theater.

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