Facing US ~Amanda Johnston after Yusef Komunyakaa My black face fades, hiding inside black smoke. I knew they'd use it, dammit: tear gas. I'm grown. I'm fresh. Their clouded assumption eyes me like a runaway, guilty as night, chasing morning. I run this way—the street lets me go. I turn that way—I'm inside the back of a police van again, depending on my attitude to be the difference. I run down the signs half-expecting to find my name protesting in ink. I touch the name Freddie Gray; I see the beat cop's worn eyes. Names stretch across the people’s banner but when they walk away the names fall from our lips. Paparazzi flash. Call it riot. The ground. A body on the ground. A white cop’s image hovers over us, then his blank gaze looks through mine. I’m a broken window. He’s raised his right arm a gun in his hand. In the black smoke a drone tracking targets: No, a crow gasping for air.
As I did a turn around the field next to the lake, I spooked a great blue heron. I hadn't noticed the bird in the brush near the lake. But it noticed me and flew off across the lake. I watched the huge bird and its long wings glide along the surface of the lake, choosing its next landing spot.
It was a welcome pause to my long run on a humid but overcast morning.
The spot it chose, finally, was directly across from where it had been, in a little area that appeared to be an inlet to a creek or just an area protected by some logs and trees. As it landed, another great blue heron swooped over. It had been hidden alongside that lake shore. Obviously, this spot was already taken.
The second heron vocalized, rushed the first one, furiously flapping its wings while in mid air. I have never seen more than one great blue heron in the same spot, perhaps this is the reason.
The interloper did not really fight back, it just picked up and swooped away gracefully.
Afterwards, the one that had claimed the spot, swam around its area proudly.
[A Crumb in the Cobblestone—Tell Me This Landscape Darkened Without You] ~Jerika Marchan Say despite all the churches with their unlocked doors and outstretched strangers’ palmskin, I hungered still
—squandered when, fell through like a crumb, I sat waiting for discovery or disintegration—something marvelous teething at the surface—a crumb, devotional, religious ecstatic closer to being worthy Desire me ruthless and naked but still in my Sunday dress you opened the window—we humid and slept open into dreaming, yes, conduit. Conduit or nothing. Conduit or bust. Nothing or busted. Hug the breakwater’s edge more the grit, my fingers—whorl, the inches of all concrete make miles of this low, walled city. Pretend expansive with me like ocean. River. Lake. Bodies.
Yesterday was my parents' 60th wedding anniversary.
If you know my parents, or their story, this should not surprise you. My parents have been in each other's lives at least since they were 7 and 8 years old. It shouldn't surprise me.
It doesn't. But it startled me.
When I started to try to wrap my head around 60 as I scrambled to find them a gift I could put into an envelope, I realized I had never stopped to think about it.
My parents renewed their vows in the church for their 25th wedding anniversary... and my sister got married that year as well. That was the first recognition I ever made of their anniversary.
I never thought about how young my mom was when she got married. Or, maybe I didn't think it was young at the time... I was 14, and if at 22, my sister seemed old, my mother at 49 was ancient. It didn't occur to me to do the math until yesterday.
My parents were 24 and 25 when they got hitched. My aunt was 15. And probably every one I knew growing up had gotten married *young* or at an age that seemed appropriate to them. And longevity in marriage was also not an issue. I only knew one person who had gotten divorced when I was growing up.
I should have put it together then ... I was 25 when I got married, just one year older than my mother was at her wedding. And three years older than my sister was at her wedding.
It never mattered to me at all except when I got divorced because I knew instinctively that one outcome of the divorce was that I would never be married to someone as long as my parents would be married (at the time, I think they were well over the 40 year mark).
It is a remarkable accomplishment to have weathered 60 years of storms. My parents bicker and that is super irritating. I keep wanting to scream at them to stop because they have no idea the blessing that is their marriage.
Happy 60th to my mom and pops... however irritating they can be, they are an inspiration and a blessing.
Field Notes on Beginning ~Tyree Daye 1. I wear my grandmother’s bones like a housedress through the city. Some nights the block tells me all its problems. I’ll meet you at the top of the biggest rock in Rolesville or on train headed to a reading in Queens, just tell me where. I promise to gather your bones only for good. I was not swallowed by the darkness between two buildings. I don’t want to die in the south like so many of mine. I want to be carried back. 2. I dreamed we were digging in a field in Rolesville looking for an earth we knew the name of. You stepped into the hole, looked behind you and gestured me in. I saw every lover who held you while your children slept in rooms of small heaters, you wrap the blankets so tight, afraid of any cold that might get in. 3. I said my goodbyes, my dead will not come. I will not see a cardinal in the city so I drew one on my chest. A coop inside a coop inside of me. Leaving is necessary some say. There is a whole ocean between you and a home you can’t fix your tongue to speak. Others do not want me no further than a length of a small yard, they ask where are you going Tyree? Your mama here, you’ve got stars in your eyes. A ship in your movement.
I whisper at ants. Okay, I whisper at all beings, sometimes I don't even bother to whisper, just talk like no one is around but me and the ant or the bird or the squirrel or the bright neon green bug that just landed on my arm.
I don't want to hate them. I love them in an ant farm.
So much to love about ants. They are industrious and determined and strong-willed, but quiet and seemingly unimposing. Except when they keep trudging up your arm, tickling you when you are trying to get your work done.
I tell them, in a whisper, go back to your home and tell them all that the giant will smash them mercilessly.
It's true. I will.
Don't piss off the giant, she will crush you.
The ants persist, however. Smashed ant smell might be more compelling even than sweet sugar smell.
So, I build them a corner where they are allowed to be. I give them cookies and salty things, too... and I whisper... over here, you can be here, I will share.
It Was Summer Now and the Colored People Came Out Into the Sunshine ~Morgan Parker They descend from the boat two by two. The gap in Angela Davis’s teeth speaks to the gap in James Baldwin’s teeth. The gap in James Baldwin’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s Teeth. The gap in Malcolm X’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s teeth. The gap in Condoleezza Rice’s teeth doesn’t speak. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard kisses the Band Aid on Nelly’s cheek. Frederick Douglass’s side part kisses Nikki Giovanni’s Thug Life tattoo. The choir is led by Whoopi Goldberg’s eyebrows. The choir is led by Will Smith’s flat top. The choir loses its way. The choir never returns home. The choir sings funeral instead of wedding, sings funeral instead of allegedly, sings funeral instead of help, sings Black instead of grace, sings Black as knucklebone, mercy, junebug, sea air. It is time for war.
I have been thinking about writing a recommendation for a book I just loved ... and now I have another two things to recommend.
It's been a long time since I felt the strength to do a NRU... honestly, I am still not there. But I read this piece and fell in love. *wink*
We all need a little more inspiration to 1) be ourselves and 2) open to possibilities despite setbacks.
***please note it has been so long since I started this post that I honestly cannot remember the other thing besides the book I was going to recommend.***
The book ... a while back, because I have been moving the publish date on this post for MONTHS, I listened to Hunger by Roxane Gay. I have been listening to books more than reading, but I still call it reading. I hope that is okay.
So, RoxaneGay and her memoir Hunger - wow, WOW, I listened to the author read her memoir. I heard the life in the words. It was amazing.
My takeaway was that every WOMAN should listen to this book. Not read. Listen. There are dark spots, a lot of them, that you need to push through to get to the honey. Because it is sweet when you get past the darkness, when you are deep inside the heart of Roxane Gay, it is all sweetness and reality. And those two things do not always go together as perfectly as they did in this book.
You should listen to it.
You will learn to love your body and hear the story it is telling you every day, at least a little bit you will learn this, by listening to this book. You will, at least, learn that loving your body and listening to its stories is life changing.
Or maybe you won't ... as some reviewers have noted, and Gay herself has as well, this is not a book about transformation. It is not a victory lap. It is not this is how you do it.
But, for me, it was a how to and why to love your body, just as it is, and to listen to your body because it is engaging you in the dialogue every day, even when our too busy minds and emotions are yelling loudly over our bodies attempts at conversation.
You should listen to it.
Read/listen to this book, if you are a woman, or a man, or whatever, and you have not yet committed to loving your body and listening to its stories.
This is not the other thing that I was meaning to recommend when I started this post, but I have come upon this realization in the past two weeks: I am not only more productive when I listen to books while I work, I am more peaceful. My emotions to do not get the better of me when I am listening to a book and someone asks me for the work item I delivered three weeks ago, or tries to dump their work in my lap because I am a good worker, or tries to organize my work life to make their lives easier. I just smile and listen to my book and do my work.
My blood pressure appreciates listening to a good book. Maybe your blood pressure loves listening to a book, too.
How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This ~Hanif Abdurraqib dear reader, with our heels digging into the good mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown & lord knows I have been called by what I look like more than I have been called by what I actually am & I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, you could scatter his whole mind across a field.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. ~Helen Keller I was looking for a birthday card quote the other day, and I decided for something from Helen Keller (making mental note to actually read a book she wrote so I can find my quotes the old fashioned way). I stumbled on a bunch of quotes. This one grabbed my heart. I wanted to send it to my niece, but decided it was not the right moment. But it is my wish for the young women (and men) I meet. Fear is not a blanket we should wrap ourselves in. It is not armor; it will not protect us. But today, after two prominent suicides, and the millions not reported in the news, I thought it was especially important to note - one of the fears we battle every day is the fear of reaching out - either for help or with help. I challenge all to win that battle a little bit every day - maybe you can only smile and say hello; maybe you can engage a stranger in a meaningful exchange of how are yous. Maybe you will make someone's day brighter just with your openness. Maybe you will give a ray of hope to that person thinking life is too hard. Or maybe you will just lighten the load long enough for that person to see that nothing lasts forever. Spread some empathy, sympathy and compassion. Please.
By the stream I dream in calm delight, and watch as in a glass, How the clouds like crowds of snowy-hued and white-robed maidens pass, And the water into ripples breaks and sparkles as it spreads, Like a host of armored knights with silver helmets on their heads. And I deem the stream an emblem fit of human life may go, For I find a mind may sparkle much and yet but shallows show, And a soul may glow with myriad lights and wondrous mysteries, When it only lies a dormant thing and mirrors what it sees.
Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. ~Isak Dinesen
I get to spend time with my nephew this weekend. It is bittersweet. I cannot be with him and not think of his mother. This trip we will be celebrating the milestone of finishing middle school. These milestone events are the hardest. Though we do our best to be substitute moms while still being aunts, as sisters our hearts break into a million pieces that she is not here to witness her baby's accomplishments.
Last year we watched her daughter graduate from college. I had my mom bring the small heart filled with my sister's ashes to the ceremony. We each took turns holding on to it during the ceremony. I cannot put into words the pain associated with just acknowledging that she is not here, that there are so many important events in the lives of her babies (and ours) that she did not get to witness.
So, this quote is especially timely today. There is no amount of worry that will bring her back or change the fact that she did not get to be here for this. It is beyond important to understand the richness and beauty of life. And the difficult time and the pain just has to be borne.
The other day I was walking to an event on Princeton campus.
It was an event I had been looking forward to attending. Still, that familiar dread was spreading across my body, radiating out from my heart.
Still, I put one foot in front of the other along my way.
In my mind's eye, I began to see a scene from Out of Africa. It is near the end of the movie. Karen is sitting in her living room on a suitcase. Around her all the possessions she has not sold are in various states of packing. It is a huge room, and she seems small in it. She has the phonograph that Denys gave her, and it is playing something. She is eating dinner or drinking tea. Denys enters the room, and we swoon, hoping he will save her even though he isn't that kind of guy. Instead, she saves herself (again). She asks him if he wants to help her play a game. When she thinks she can't go on, she does one more thing (to make it worse we almost hear her say). And so she asks Denys to dance. She puts on a record, and they dance, first in the room and then outside onto the lawn with whatever was not sold.
I am not getting the words right.
But it is that sentiment ... I can't go through one more trauma/emotion/setback, and then I take a breath, and I do.
So, here I was breathing and getting ready to plunge into a room full of rah rah alumni. Black and orange would be sported by all in some fashion (except me... only black and white and a rust jacket I never put on, that was as close to orange and black I could go).
Being on campus is like walking through a graveyard for me. Unlike my love for visiting cemeteries, walking a graveyard is not a pleasurable sensation. I think of it more like a place where the bones are exposed, not of neat rows of ornate or simple or tender remembrances of beloved people.
The graveyard is like a junkyard of discarded wrecks, you never know what horrifying sight will be around the corner, jolting you back to some memory of trauma. Even if they are not your memories, they sting. The crumpled car, like the one the mothers put out before prom, meant to remind teens that some decisions have irreversible consequence. Worst of all, the trauma may be contained within sweet memories that turned out to be rotten at their core.
Even though I am the only one who appears to catch glimpses of these wrecks or exposed skeletons, my sense is that they demand to be seen.
I hear whispers from every corner, reminding me of my time there, but I suspect that there are other whispers, too, that clamor for attention. "If she can hear the whispers of her own trauma, perhaps she can hear mine, too," they seem to wonder. The pain is palpable, and it can be overwhelming.
Some days I have the strength to listen to the whispers, to let them transport me back to that day or days, to envelope me in the memory whether sweet or sour. Other days, I skirt the university, purposely walk through a newer area (less chance for there to be a memory lingering there) or go out of my way not to touch campus at all, even if it means an extra mile.
Some days, even though I know I will tempt the ghosts, I walk on to campus to something that has been given a chance at new life, like West College now called Morrison Hall. I touch the plaque, take photos of it, try to fit a new memory into that space. Try to give myself some safe spaces to mark my way across campus in future.
I had the privilege of hearing these two poets read last week... I think it was last week, the days run together ... in any case, great stuff.
Forgiveness ~Christopher Soto for Dad
I’m writing you 10 years later & 2,000 miles Away from Our silence My mouth a cave That had collapsed I’m writing While you You wear the Hospital gown & count failures Such as the body’s Inability to rise I see your fingers Fumbling in the Pillbox as if Earthquakes are in Your hands I think it’s time For us to abandon Our cruelties For us to speak So s o f t We’re barely Human.
Skin-Light ~Natalie Diaz My whole life I have obeyed it— its every hunting. I move beneath it as a jaguar moves, in the dark- liquid blading of shoulder. The opened-gold field and glide of the hand, light-fruited, and scythe-lit. I have come to this god-made place— Teotlachco, the ball court— because the light called: lightwards! and dwells here, Lamp-land. We touch the ball of light to one another—split bodies stroked bright— desire-knocked. Light reshapes my lover’s elbow, a brass whistle. I put my mouth there—mercy-luxed, and come, we both, to light. It streams me. A rush of scorpions— fast-light. A lash of breath— god-maker. Light horizons her hip—springs an ocelot cut of chalcedony and magnetite. Hip, limestone and cliffed, slopes like light into her thigh—light-box, skin-bound. Wind shakes the calabash, disrupts the light to ripple—light-struck, then scatter. This is the war I was born toward, her skin, its lake-glint. I desire—I thirst— to be filled—light-well. The light throbs everything, and songs against her body, girdling the knee bone. Our bodies—light-harnessed, light-thrashed. The bruising: bilirubin bloom, violet. A work of all good yokes—blood-light— to make us think the pain is ours to keep, light-trapped, lanterned. I asked for it. I own it— lightmonger. I am light now, or on the side of light— light-head, light-trophied. Light-wracked and light-gone.
Still, the sweet maize—an eruption of light, or its feast, from the stalk of my lover’s throat. And I, light-eater, light-loving.
homage to my hips
By Lucille Clifton these hips are big hips they need space to move around in. they don't fit into little petty places. these hips are free hips. they don't like to be held back. these hips have never been enslaved, they go where they want to go they do what they want to do. these hips are mighty hips. these hips are magic hips. i have known them to put a spell on a man and spin him like a top!
Today I mark 12 weeks of re-learning to eat healthy (and love the body I am in at any weight).
My not so small victory is that I have lost 20 lbs.
I am trying to change my relationship with food ... not just that I want to eat healthier foods. I want to use food as nourishment. I want to taste my food. I want the meals that I eat to feel satisfying.
I realized not so long ago (in relationship to my time on earth), maybe ten years ago, that I was an emotional eater. I realized it while I was on a meditation retreat. Going deep into myself caused me great anxiety, and I discovered that I tried to take refuge in food. Shoveling is what I called it.
What I didn't understand at the time was that coping with anxiety was not the only time I was compelled to shovel food. [Subsequently I shoveled when sad, angry, grieving.]
I also did not connect shoveling with feeling deeply unsatisfied. I didn't note how I could not taste the food as I shoveled.
I thought the not tasting and not feeling satisfied had to do with how fast I eat.
I don't know if I will ever master mindful eating, especially as it pertains to slowing down the eating process.
But I can now say that after eating not just healthy but really good tasting food for the last 12 weeks (mostly thanks to my amazing housemates), I notice when I feel unsatisfied and when I don't taste the food.
It has nothing to do with what I am eating and everything to do with my emotional state.
I am getting much better at noticing my emotions; and my discomfort at having to deal with so many emotions. Noticing the food I eat, tasting the flavor, feeling satisfied and nourished, is one way that I have accomplished this.
I am still working on how to more effectively feel my emotions. That is to say, how to allow my emotions to move through me without trying to stifle them by numbing.
I am learning to notice the desire to be satisfied and how food does not bring the salve my coping mechanism had led me to believe it would.
This not so insignificant victory of shedding unnecessary weight is a leap forward on loving myself, feeding my body and soul, and treating myself in the ways that will keep me on this road to self love.
Every day I am born like this—
No chingues. Nothing happens
for the first time. Not the neon
sign that says vacant, not the men
nor the jackals who resemble them.
I take my bones inscribed by those
who came before, and learn
to court myself under a violence
of stars. I prefer to become demon,
what their eyes cannot. Half of me
is beautiful, half of me is a promise
filled with the quietest places.
Every day I pray like a dog
in the mirror and relish the crux
of my hurt. We know Lilith ate
the bones of her enemies. We know
a bitch learns to love her own ghost.