Tonight I went to a card-making class in Porter Square. Since our minivan is at the dealership for repairs, I’ve been taking the “T”, Boston’s public transit—which I love. To get to Porter from my house, I have to take the 73 bus to Harvard Station then transfer onto the outbound red line train. Usually, I get on the bus, turn on an audio book and ignore the other passengers until I get to Harvard, but tonight, I noticed a young man. He was clutching a Spalding basketball in his hands, wearing crisp white Adidas sneakers, and nodding, no banging his head to the hip hop in his earbuds. Soon he started rapping, under breath and then loud enough to get my attention. While watching this young man, this poem of sorts came to me. True story: I got off the bus and onto the wrong train while jotting down this post into my phone! These are my thoughts about my seat mate: Spalding Spinner.
Brown skin, blood-shot eyes, thick lips chapped and pursed.
Air Jordan’s, baggy coat, glove-less hands ashy from the biting cold.
The only black man on the bus is Spinning his Spalding basketball, tapping that sneaker-ed foot and nodding to the hip hop in his ears.
He’s lost to the smooth beats and oblivious of our sharp sideways glances.
Soon he starts singing while he’s spinning that ball. No, he’s not singing. He’s rapping. Hard and fast, primal and powerful, he’s filling the bus with his poetry.
And I want to quiet him with my fierce thoughts:
‘Why? Why are you doing that?’ says my Mama-shame stare to the back of his head.
Stop it, stop it! Don’t you know?
Don’t you know with your dusty Spalding basketball and do-rag covered head that they’re staring at you?
Don’t know that I—with my Vera Bradley laptop bag and puffy Laundry winter coat—am staring at you, too?
Why Spalding Spinner? Why are you rapping on the 73? Why do you tap out sick beats and spit lyrics with such force? How do you have such freedom?
Don’t you know? Don’t you care?
You are always watched.
Even though we watch in annoyed disbelief, he keeps stringing his rhyming words together, he keeps spinning his Spalding, and he never stops swinging his head.
I can only sit and watch him as he abandons himself to his art.
Soon the mama-glare softens and the Sister gaze settles as I realize what Spalding Spinner is doing beautiful and baffling.
Hope. Bravery. Confidence. All the things. On Display on the 73.
Then my Sister gaze cheers him on:
Maybe you do know you’re always watched!
Maybe, because you know, you rap?
You know we’re watching and yet, you’re not afraid—so you swag that do-rag covered head back and forth, front and back, side to side…no one in the Red Line has swagga like that!*
Spalding Spinner, can you do this because hope courses wild and right in your veins?
Are you like the caged bird that sings his liberation song?
Have you accessed your freedom from within the cage of your brown skin and that’s why you ignore our judgy eyes?
I wanna be brave like you, Spalding Spinner!
I wanna be brave like you.
Because your bravery gives me hope.
*This is a play on a rap song, “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. a Sri Lankan refugee rapper. The phrase “no one on the corner has swagga like us” is sampled from MIA’s song by T.I., Jay-Z, and Kanye West in a song called…you guessed it…”Swagga Like Us“. There’s your hip hop lesson for the day :)!
Shalom and Swagga ;),