A LETTER TO CHARLIE R. BRAXTON FROM JERRY W. WARD, JR.
October 30, 2012
I close my eyes. I am watching a memory movie.
You are a student at JSU. I am a teacher at Tougaloo College, reading your early poems . “Charlie, you should not write poems about ladies with acquamarine eyes.”
It is 1985. David Brian Williams, you, your best friend Greg Jackson , and I are passionately watching Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It in the theater behind the VFW Post on Lynch Street. Over hamburgers after the film, the four of us compete to find the words to say Spike Lee is the most brilliant black filmmaker ever.
You are not heavy. You are my brother. I carry you in my arms up the stairs in Ballad Hall at Tougaloo to see a play David Brian Williams Is producing. “Don’t drop me, Doc,” you said. I didn’t . I never drop you.
You are at my apartment on the Tougaloo campus. “Charlie, you have to hear this.” I put the LP of Ishmael Reed’s Conjure on the turntable.
It is October 14, 1988. I sweat as I write the “Afterword” for Ascension from the Ashes. I am too much aware that Amiri Baraka is writing the “Preface.” My soul is rested when you wrote in my copy of the book:
How do I thank you for all of your efforts to make me a better person? How do I repay you for all of the many times you urged and inspired me to go beyond the stale “academic verse” of what was and ascend to the blues/Jazz/African aesthetic that is. Although I know this is /is not enough, thanks for being my brother love Charlie R. Braxton
We are in Hattiesburg. You had recently published my article “Reading Baldwin in a Time of War” in your newspaper The Informer. Your son is riding on my shoulders as we cross a street to get pancakes.”Don’t drop me,” he said. I laugh. “I won’t.”
Kevin Powell, C. Liegh McInnis, you and I are eating chicken at my house in Ridgeland and talking furiously about life, literature, Vibe and only the Lord can recall what else.
You are the youngest poet I publish in Trouble the Water: 250 Years of Black Poetry.
Slow fade past when your house burned but your prized painting by Radcliffe Bailey did not. Fade into your being a music critic, your writing truth about the music industry that can’t be published in the United States, that must be published in France as Gansta Gumbo –une anthologie du rap sudiste via Huston, Memphis, Atlanta, Miami; fade into my writing the introduction for Cinders Rekindled without sweating; fade into our being Mississippi brothers blessed to have known Virgie Brocks-Shedd and Nayo-Barbara Malcolm Watkins; fade into our writing for our people because we have to write for ourselves and for each other and for a future that may be indifferent to the fact that we ever wrote. If Miles Davis could say/play “So What?” definitively, we can definitely say our being brothers is a beautiful thing.
Peace beyond understanding,