An Octogenarian Reflects on a Life of Writing

by on June 5, 2019 · 2 comments

in From the Soul

by Ernie McCray

Just finished year one
as an octogenarian,
glad to still be among
the living ones,
still holding on
to precious memories
that remind me
how good
life has been to me…

Spent some time
on my birthday
listening to my
kindergarten grandson read,
all smiley proud and pleased,
but no more smiley
proud and pleased than me,
and after we high fived
I kept thinking of words,
and how prominent words
have been to me
and I paused to wonder
as I drove off up the street:
When did I ever not write?

And I remembered
sitting at a wobbly desk,
in 4th grade,
playing with words
and I can see the smile
on my face,
winning an award
for a rhyme I composed
about a Dodo Bird…

So many love notes
to giggling grade school girls
and junior high school girls
and senior high school girls
as I tried to find a way
to be in this world…

Writing in reaction
to what’s going on in that world
like Willie C’s
“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”
to which my first written response
was “What the hell?”
when heterosexuals
“ask and tell constantly,”
feeling free to be…

Writing and chanting
when my man, Madiba,
was set free:
“Nelson Nelson
They tried so hard to sock it to
that grand fella.
But the fat lady
ain’t begun to sing.
Can’t stop Mandela
til freedom rings.
Can’t stop Mandela
til freedom rings.
Can’t stop Mandela
til freedom rings…

Writing and singing
“Rosa, Rosa, Rosa
Rose up from the crowd
Rosa, Rosa, Rosa
Made us feel oh so proud”
as the woman
who “didn’t give up that old bus seat”
smiled the most beautiful
smile right in front of me…

Writing a graduation speech
for Kids at my beloved
Tucson Senior High
at the beginning of the century,
telling them how I once
proudly wore the “Big Red T”
and “loved to get the ball
at the top of the key
and bounce a pass to Ira Lee
as he cut by me.
Another two points.
Another victory.”…

Writing and honor
to my old Tucson stomping grounds
which is now a historic community
called Dunbar/Spring,
sharing a little something
about a woman I loved
as a boy
who was,
to me,
a neighborhood queen:
Bin Dai,
of Jim’s Market,
one of the most memorable
human beings I’ve ever known
or seen.
Need a cure for what might ail you
on any given day?
Call Bin Dai.

Want to know what Confucious didn’t say?
Call Bin Dai.
Need your little girl’s ears pierced
in a sanitary way?
Call Bin Dai.
Tried to steal some cheese
and got caught and cursed out by an old woman
in Chinese?
You just messed with Bin Dai, fool.
What in the hell is the matter with you?

Her market
had a symbiotic relationship
with us Negro folks
as sometimes our pockets
were rather coin-less,
our billfolds paperless,
our spirit close to hopeless
but at these places of business
we could run a tab.
All we had to do was ask.
“just put our name on a little slip
that was tucked under other little slips
where there were more slips than cash.”
What more in life
Could anyone ask?

At 81|
I can’t help but opine
that if the people of the world
learned to live with each other
as we did in my neighborhood
during those times,
crossing our racial
and ethnic lines,
to find ways
for our lives to be intertwined
for the betterment of all –
this world would be mighty fine.”
I plan to keep on writing
with that thought in mind.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas Gayton June 6, 2019 at 2:36 pm

FELIZ CUMPLEANOS HERMANO! Keep on writing words of wisdom to raise our spirits


Virginia L. Franco June 7, 2019 at 9:04 am

Loved your latest, Ernie; as always, your great poetry; your latest, also took me to a past; a bit wordy, but could not help myself:

I particularly loved your confession of a sneaky past. It reminded me of mine as a 7 year old. It was when Mom sent me to buy a small grocery list of items; so happens, I ate an ice cream back of the store – trying, not paying for it. The owner who was originally from Spain (spoke with that unusual Spanish lisp); he checked out my few items, then asked – in that unusual Spanish lisp: “¿Y qué de la paleta que te comithte (comiste) antes, Virginia? / Translation: “And what about that ice cream you ate earlier, Virginia?) — ‘though, no cussing from Sir.


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