Common: The Believer

Funny to think of the (falsefied) uproar Common’s presence in the White House caused last year (ahh…politics).

The Chicago native has endured–over 21 years–because of his unique and unparallelled ability to straddle the line between poetry and rap.  It’s not hip hop for dummies.  This most clearly evidenced with his inspirational track The Believer off his 2011 album The Dreamer/The Believer.  I find it to be insightful and sometimes moving music that gives me a little something new each time I hear it.

His line, “If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us/look at the picture, it’s hard not to blame us,” is in reference to Barnes’ custom of painting his subjects with their eyes closed to symbolize our blindness to each others’ humanity.

Likewise, in the verse, “Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers/in front of buildings their eyes look older,” Common uses the now-defunct R&B group’s name and song titles as a metaphor to describe the saga of young life on the streets.

And lastly, with, “That ain’t the way the Langston Hughes wrote us/soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah,” Common laments how urban youth, despite possessing biblical potential, are running around with guns; it’s such a shortfall to how poets (and visionaries) such as Langston Hughes described African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance–which was the first real exposure the modern world got to the potential contribution blacks could make to culture and thought.

I love stuff like that. 🙂


P.S.  The lyrics are included below.

– John legend – Hook –
I believe in the light that shines and will never die
Oh I believe the fire burns, we stay alive
They will talk about us
Like they talked about the kings before us
They will talk about us

– Common – Verse 1 –
These are the words of a believer, achiever, leader of the globe
Feeding souls of those in need
I bleed the blood of the struggle
Walking over troubled puddles
Hustles in my chest, no hustle no progress
Extremities of life and it’s process
Birth of a son, death of another
With love I caress both mothers
And tell ‘em, who’s in control is the One that’s above us
I walk where money talks and love stutters
Body language of a nation going through changes
The young become dangerous, pain gets spent into anger
Anger gets sent through the chamber
It’s tough when your own look like strangers
We are the sons of gangsters and stone rangers
If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us?
Look at the picture, hard not to blame us
But time forgives, in the Chi where the young die often
Do they end up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them?
Is it what we talking? We really ain’t walking
Dues hustlers pay, how much did it cost ‘em?
Find myself on the same corner that we lost ’em
Real talking, in their ear like a Walkman
Thoughts spin around the corner to the World
When I see them, I see my baby girl

– Hook –

– Verse 2 –
The lord lives among us
The young ‘uns hunger becomes a means to get it
By any means necessary, under pressure
Children feeling lesser, with the steel upon the dresser
Kill-at-will aggressors, Destiny’s children
Survivors, soldiers, in front of buildings their eyes look older
Hard to see blessings in a violent culture
Face against weapons, sirens, holsters
That ain’t the way that Langston Hughes wrote us
Soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah
We go from being Precious to Oprah
Cultivated to overcome ever since we came over-seas (seize)
The day and the way that you can see we determined
Solar keeps burning, shorties know to keep learning
Lessons in our life, but life stripes that we earning
Took Gramp’s advice that Christ is returning
Like a thief in the night, I write for beacons of light
For those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys
Street kids spark rallies of the conscience conquerors of a contest
That seems beyond us, even through the unseen, I know that God watches
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us
The prophets, nothing can stop us

– Hook-

[John legend]                                                                                                     I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us

Mother to Daughter Talk by Sarah Kay

I was waiting until Mother’s Day to post this but I’m feeling it a little too much.  I’ll have to figure something else out.

Dang it.

P.S. Here are Sarah’s lyrics-for my fellow linguaphiles. 🙂

She is gonna call me point B
So no matter what happens
She can always find her way to me
And I’m going to paint the solar system
On the backs of her hands
So she has to learn the entire universe
Before she can say oh, I know that like the back of my hand
And shes gonna learn that this life will hit you
Hard in the face, wait for you to get back up
So it can kick you in the stomach but
Getting the wind knocked out of you
Is the only way to remind your lungs
How much they like the taste of air
There is hurt here that cannot be fixed by
Band-aids or poetry so the first time you realise
That Wonder Woman isn’t coming don’t feel like
You have to put the cape on all by yourself
Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers
Your hands will always be too small to
Catch all the pain you want to heal
Believe me, I’ve tried and baby I’ll tell her
Don’t keep your nose up in the air like that
I know that trick, I’ve done it a million times.
You’re just sniffing for smoke so you can
Follow the trail back to a burning house
So you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire
To see if you can nurse him back to health
Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place
To see if you can change him
But I know that you will anyway, so instead
I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby
Because there’s no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix
Okay there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix
But that’s what the rain boots are for because
Rain can wash away everything if you let it and
I want her to see the world through the underside
Of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the
Galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind because
That’s the way my mum taught me, that there’ll be days like this
There’ll be days like this my mama said, when you’ll
Open your hands to catch and wind up with only bruises and blisters
When you’ll step out of the phone booth and try to fly
And the very people you want to save are the ones
Standing on your cape. When your rain boots will fill with rain
And you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment and
Those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you
Because there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses
To stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times its sent away
You will put the win in win some lose some                                                                        You put the star in start over and over                                                                                       No matter how many land mines erupt                                                                                  Make sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life              And yes on a scale from one to over-trusting I’m pretty fucking naive                        But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar                                           It can crumble so easy                                                                                                                   But don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it                                            Baby I’ll tell her remember your mama was a worrier
and your papa was a warrior and you are the girl with
Big eyes and small hands who never stops asking for more
Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things and
Always apologise when you’ve done something wrong but
Don’t you ever apologise for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining
Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing when they
Finally hand you heartbreak, when they give you war and anger
When they slip hatred under your doorstep, when they offer you handouts
On street corners of cynicism and defeat you tell them
That they really need to meet your mother.

Irrational Belief

What God would just leave us in a world like this
And call it love?
The gates of heaven should open into oblivion
that under this firmament
–where the seconds saunter spitefully by–
full of dancing fools and lovers,
whose eyes fix on peace
and call it nothing
My bond is to my brother’s keep
‘Til I take his eye for my belt loop
(Just for the snivel in him)
I. Draw. My. Every. Breath.
to climb.
–To find–
My rainbow ends in her arms
her hearth
friendly faces, ocean-side vespers, humble feasts
What world could be as Divine as this
–where the years take wing upon swift gales–
That has no God?
Only selfish fools and lovers
whose eyes fix on nothing
And call it peace

I’m Dyin’ Here

It’s a funny thing not knowing when or where

only why.

Then again, it’s not that funny

dyin’ here.

Modern discomforts, to give it a name.

Just another box.

These products and processes

Just another pox.

And everything’s been said,

And there’s nothing I can do

And I don’t leave time for

breathing the air–or looking for love.

‘Cause everything is wrong.

It’s all that I hate.

It’s so unfair.

Yet things still grow,

And places I haven’t been, that I could go

while standing here aches and makes the ankles swell;

Just another cave.

So I recline and stare (like every other cog)

Just another grave.

Meanwhile, there’s life-lovin’ livin’ to get done!

…and I’m sitting here

by myself–missing it.

I’m tired of dyin’ here–so far from you

Just another day.

On this winding path, walls to rivers

Just another way.

A Little Sustenance

She is gliding sweeping strong and soft

and breaks

dripping juices sweet my knees bend buckling

ever close to outstretched fingertips

she turns leaving

vapors twirling swirling

around fingertips outstretched and still

there is nothing

there was something

once for touching grasping feeling

and yet she was never she

nor ever he or even it

but always that which

fills the gaping howling spaces

gliding sweeping strong and soft

and breaking pure

through sun and moon

to always reach but never grasp

or ever touch or truly know

filling spaces gaping howling

that is something for the nothing

until once more

she returns


My Raven Queen envelops me in a masking sheet of skin.

She plants my face with kisses wet from ephemeral sin.

The witching hour rises, she is bared before my eyes.

The oceans heave around us swirling blood into our lies.

She sets me free in soul and mind and no consequence succeeds,

save for acts by ungoverned flesh, nefarious indeed!

And all because of her slinking, skulking mode of work,

my flesh and bone hang lifeless as from tether to the oak.

My princess love will not release her prurient embrace,

An execrated soul, I wander lost in time and space.

Yet ever still, as I drift in everlasting sin,

My Raven Queen envelops me in a masking sheet of skin.

(Blood Rose image from:


To the demon fray from the top of the world

To the pride and the shame and the glory

By unlit stage you turn the page

And remind us of your story

Your voice was heard your song was sung

Your life lived full and now it’s done

Requiem Aeternum, Love.

And dreams in your hereafter

For the echo of the final note

still dancing in the rafters.

Old School Blues

Man, I got them old-school blues,

like Mamie Smith and Langston Hughes.

But ain’t no blues no more, they shout. Them days is come and gone!

So long as no one’s lovin’ me, my pain will find a song.

Now I can’t say that ol’ Jim Crow is why I’m feelin’ blue,

Or all I’ve got’s a pair of socks and not one Goddamn shoe.

And I can’t cry, White-man, set me free!

Don’t mean there’s no chains shacklin’ me.

And no, my baby isn’t gone.

Didn’t have no baby all along.

I got them old school blues, y’know,

could tear the eyes of Johnny Lo.

Like every maple sugar child, once linked by ankle chain,

who lost his way a while ago, and now is lookin’ vain.

It’s gotten now that I’m too proud to get down on bended knee

and put my faith in anything, especially me.

But someday soon we’ll be cut loose,

with voices booming, Justice! Truth!

to find that good thing in our hearts,

and ends this scramblin’ in the dark.

‘Til then I got them old school blues,

like Tutwiler and Baton Rouge.

For all the folks who can’t make rent,

–and not just ’cause the money’s spent–

who feed them hungry, waitin’ eyes,

that live the blues between the sighs,

the blues ain’t got no power ‘cept to give your woes a voice.

And bein’ blue or fightin’ through ain’t nothin’ but a choice.

So again, like way back when that first cat felt the blues, I’ll say,

Let’s just keep a-risin’ til them old blues go away!

(Mississippi John Hurt image from:  Old man snoozing image from:

A Reflection Last Thursday

She sits in a cream-colored latte shop trimmed with green

(The kind I hate profoundly but makes a good cup of joe.)

Paperback in hand, her eyes

Glide across the page like a skater on ice.

Not digging deeper and not being touched.

It’s a best seller; has to be! The die is cast the mold is set

In this trendy house of idle skimming chatter

Her smart blue suit and black-rimmed spectacles cannot lie.

The evening is warm, just a notch above balmy. And there she sits

Looking at words she’ll never love

Her mind in a dozen fractured bits, colliding receding rolling about

It’s the ideal life, I suppose

A chariot built by the sons of Charlemagne

Robes by the daughters of Caesar

A good book, a cappuccino with all the trimmings,

A rose-hued sky taut above fat, marshmallow clouds that hang

Like strewn rocks suspended in a frozen moment

And there she sits, sipping occasionally

Athena caged! A tornado ensnared!

As far from distraught as content

Listlessness hovering over her face

Unable to hide

Oh Hera, was a silent tongue thy undoing,

Some filial acquiescence to an overbearing father’s vicarious demands,

The guilt imparted by a weary mother who’d had her fill of impulse and whim?

When, I wonder,

Did your muse put the lyre to rest?

An oblivious sip and shift in her chair,

An upward glance,

And Isis vanishes behind a broad smile

(All except a glimmer maybe only I can see)

Venus rises

To embrace a far cry from Lancelot

Broad shoulders and a fancy suit with a fresh haircut

A nose-job and a couple of love-handles shy of a nauseating commercial

And Mórrígan, my dear, sweet Mórrígan is gone

The veneer had jelled and hardened

And my mirror

(funny as it was)

fades away