I come from the cheesesteak hoagie,
My neighbor’s camera,
and Pop Pop’s hair clippers.
I belong to my Mom’s heavy hands,
Pine Sol’s lemony fresh scent,
City exhaust, ain’t nothing sweet.
I come from loving to write,
The exhausted appeals of another death row prisoner,
Everybody in prison is innocent.
I know thinking rationally isn’t the same across
And, I am an ocean,
A tidal wave!
So much left undiscovered.
This was my opening monologue in the ground-breaking play, SERVING LIFE. It is the “I come from” poem that symbolizes what was – becoming what is. Twenty summer seasons have rotated throughout my time inside of “the Box.” The past four have been celebratory, a newfound freedom while remaining imprisoned.
My granddaughter, Daleah is the reason. Now, I know at this juncture of her promising existence, the words I express may come off as a jigsaw puzzle without color, she can’t tell one piece from the next. But G-Dad is here to reveal a clear picture for you, Lil’ Mama.
The beginnings of a Mann will always be tethered to you. So let’s’ put this puzzle together – decode this familial blueprint and you will see me, when I was you:
The cheesesteak hoagie is the sandwich of my city (PHILLY). Served with the works and a side of cheese fries; your G-Dad was a fixture in steak shops.
My next-door neighbor was a professional photographer. His work captured my earliest years – all the way up to my high school graduation, and eventually the promotional photos of a Hip-Hop career that ended too soon. Love ya, Mr. V.
Julius Samuel was my maternal grandfather. He was a barber by trade. The “ART Barbershop” was a staple in our family dynamic. Pop-Pop was a positive male influence when I needed one, Baby Girl.
My Moms’ heavy hands are easily decoded as, “Moms didn’t play no games.” The lemon scent of Pine Sol was common in our house, and the exhaust fumes of public transportation (SEPTA) were a constant. There was nothing sweet about my treks through the city.
Writing has helped me to deal with loss. Writing, to me, is like bench pressing: I get the stress off of my chest while raising the bar of my own expectations. Feel me?
The stigma of “every prisoner claiming innocence” is frustrating. I knew a man who said he was innocent for 33 years. Because of that stigma, he entered prison a teenager, and then he was eventually released as a middle-aged man. SMH.
And know this, Daleah; rational thinking can be deceptive when love comes into play. An ideology that keeps me from holding you in my arms.
The beauty of an ocean is its mystery. Most eyes can only explore the surface, but there is so much more to be discovered. So much potential that goes unseen, but every now and then a tidal wave gets everyone’s attention. Ya heard?
This “I come from” poem is my gift to you Lil’ Mama. The Mann legacy is an ocean. Be a tidal wave Daleah.
Happy Born Day, Baby!!!
Copyright © 2016 by Leroy Elwood Mann