ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Dear President Obama, . . .

If you had been / president when I was growing up, I would have had the

psychological fortitude to withstand those white supremacist

behaviors, but even your presidency back then might not

have saved me from what happened to me later.



The Intersection of Beauty and Crime

Poems by Jawanza Phoenix


The Intersection of Beauty and Crime is a collection of poetry from Jawanza Phoenix, an attorney who uses his poems as a vehicle to explore the broken criminal justice system and the lives of the people affected by it. This powerful debut is a sizzling cocktail of crooked cops, overzealous prosecutors, innocent victims, love, longing and hope. With playful and colorful language, these poems sing, howl and heal as they confront myths about criminals, criminal defense attorneys, police officers, prosecutors and judges. Love poems, earth poems and social justice poems are woven into the fabric of the collection, creating a forceful blend of seemingly unrelated topics. These are compelling, enlightening, and provocative poems that linger with the reader long after being read.

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Angel of War

last night, I heard the cries of a hundred babies

as they begged for their mothers whose

breasts had been chopped off

the night before, I smelled

the occupiers of my land

as they pissed and defecated

on my front porch

steps and lawn

today, I witnessed full grown men

dripping in sweat and weeping

as they ran for cover

from metallic rain

every day, I see green-helicoptered cannons

flying overhead

even though I never asked for protection

and never said I was scared

tonight, I am cooking a stew

of bullets and uranium

I plan to over cook it

to boil it down to nothing

what will your followers

fight with


Source: The Intersection of Beauty and Crime

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It Is Time

I imagine myself lost

in a series of nightmares

with no one to wake me up

and carry me to a place

where I can work without

monsters staring over my back

threatening to report me

to thought police

it is time to knock on doors

wake up naive lovers blinded by flesh

and tell them that the circle

has been broken

and must be rebuilt

the materials needed do not include reality TV

fast food fries or even sunglasses

only a willingness to listen to victims

of abuse and neglect

and bear witness for them

other useful materials might include

a burning branch from a campfire

to help navigate whatever traces of sanity

that enemies of self-determination

have not stamped out of me

finally, a hole-puncher

not to punch random holes in the sky

but to round off the holes already made

by bulldozers and bazookas

so I can fill them

with laughter

and song

Source: The Intersection of Beauty and Crime

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Beauty in Nonsense

i don’t make sense

there is beauty in nonsense

i have discussions with dogwood trees sunflowers and horses

i daydream about children sailing the seas

on the backs of silvery gray dolphins, sharing

ghost stories passed down while eating

roasted marshmallows

i find beauty in those who others regard as ugly stupid or weird

i enjoy music sung in foreign tongues—

Ethiopian, Portuguese, Congolese and French-Creole

i bless black white and polka-dot people

even when they don’t see me and

not just after they’ve sneezed

women have cheated and lied on me,

yet i still believe that soft bright flowers grow inside

of each one i meet

until they betray me

i see nothing wrong with believing that

this could be my second or third but not my last life

i find it perfectly plausible that my next life could be as

a poodle, a pelican or a pear tree


i don’t make sense

there is beauty in nonsense

Source: EkereTallie

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Dear President Obama,

          As a black man in America, I am proud to know you

are the President of our country. Growing up, I experienced

a lot of hatred from white folks who always assumed they

were smarter, better looking and morally superior to me due

to the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the shape

of their noses and the size of their lips. My physical

appearance was always the butt of jokes told by white

classmates, and white teachers always encouraged me to

pursue either the army or a trade school, while they

encouraged white students to pursue four year colleges.

Because of the way they treated me, I developed an inferiority

complex and I never thought I measured up. If you had been

president when I was growing up, I would have had the

psychological fortitude to withstand those white supremacist

behaviors, but even your presidency back then might not

have saved me from what happened to me later.

          I am currently serving life in prison for a crime I did

not commit. An all-white jury found me guilty of raping a

white woman. The only evidence they had against me was

the testimony of the alleged victim who told the police I was

the perpetrator, even though she did not get a good look at

the real perpetrator’s face and there was no DNA evidence to

back up her claim. She was mistaken, but it was my word

against hers, and the all-white jury believed her. I will never

spend time with my wife and children again.

          In spite of my troubles, I still smile when I think of

you and your wife and what you have done. By breaking the

glass ceiling on what blacks can achieve and what people in

charge should look like in this country, you have set the ball

in motion to help eliminate the circumstances that caused me

and thousands of others like me to be incarcerated.


                                                 Your truly,

                                                  An Unlucky Black Man

Source: The Intersection of Beauty and Crime

*   *   *   *   *

Jawanza Phoenix was born in Washington, DC., and raised in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. He graduated from the Howard University School of Law. He currently works as a defense attorney for the accused.

He resides in New Jersey. He spends hours writing poetry because he believes in its power to restore beauty to the world and to transform lives.  He rejects the philosophy of “art for art’s sake” because he believes that poetry is for the people and it is always a time of war.  He tries to remember that art is a gift, rules are for fools, and weird is good.

posted 9 December 2010

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to accept—or at least endure—the universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection.

Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist. Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 1 June 2012




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