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I had plans for tonight, a treat. I dressed up, did my hair, was ready for a little showy fun.

But no. Work had other plans, plans that required me to stay at my desk late, later, latest. And then this storm, reminder of the dreary turn of my events, the washing out of what should have been a fun evening. Sigh.

Night Storm

And the sky cries rain
pours it down in waves, in sheets,
looking like my mood
this grey and ugly Tuesday.
And my plans are smashed
I am sour and prickly,
wishing myself done —
away from anywhere here.
Not as bad as that —
not really. The sound of rain
sings on my windows,
Makes me remember
AC singing Nora Jones
under his tin roof
his laughter making me smile.
Makes me remember
red pants, their dye running down
turning my sneakers
from cream white to fuchsia pink
bringing more laughter.
Good to recall other storms,
changes in old plans,
that the storm isn’t to blame.
Good to remember
these other moments, laughter,
possibilities.
Good to remember myself,
sitting quiet, listening.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



 

Went to dinner after work … and talked as if conversation was set to be outlawed come morning! At this point, my friend should know how obnoxiously over-chatty I am, but I actually think I outdid myself tonight, over and above my usual longwindedness. Me, with the talking. It really is a sickness. For all-a y’all who know me IRL, please do me a favor and start telling me (gently … at least at first!) when I’m out of control!

But, for all my shame at being incapable of shutting the hell up, I had a wonderful evening. We had really excellent Korean food — my medium-spicy tofu bibimbap was heaven in a bowl.

__________

Talk that Talk

I can always say
one more thing … and one more thing
and even one more.
I talk more than anyone,
can talk off your ear
and then the other,
leave you completely earless …
and still I have more,
so very much more to say.
What is there to do
with someone who talks like me —
foreign to silence,
always one more anecdote.
Talking even now.
Should have written a haiku
but instead I chose
chōka, a form that runs long.
And here we are … save yourself!

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



Petting Zoo Protest

Today is a day off from the A to Z Challenge. Too bad, as I’m chock full of “T” things to pile into this day: Tardy, Time, Tired, Training, Testing, Truth-telling …

Instead, today I’ll reflect on another challenge, the #52essays2017 challenge. I’m still determined to write 52 essays this year, despite being well off the essay-a-week goal. I have several sizable drafts waiting for completion, but my brain just can’t quite seem to get there. Yes, part of that is the fact that I haven’t given myself much time to sit with any of those drafts and work. Part of it is also that I wonder if their moments have passed, if they are too specific to events that are no longer current.

On my way home from a workshop today, I thought about a couple of those unfinished essays in particular. The one I started to write in response to some of the casually violent and oppressive comments I heard and read from people after the women’s march in January. The one about what I really mean when I keep telling white folks they need to come get their people. Thinking about these and the other unfinished pieces, I could feel the stubborn, obnoxious me fussing, saying I should just finish and publish them, even if their subjects feel out of date. I did throw the Dolezal piece up, after all, why not these. And I kind of, maybe, sorta agree?

I need to think about it a bit more. I had some good anger in there. I hate to see it wasted, cast off to the Island of Misfit Blogposts.

__________

Meanwhile, today’s chōka — inspired by a moment on the A train this afternoon, a moment I have had so many times in my life, but especially since I started wearing my hair natural … which was in 1989, so we’re talking a ridiculously long time and people should know better by now.

What My Hair Says

Did you see me? I
look like a goddess today
… at least, my hair does.
Today I have hair
that makes strangers’ hands reach out
as their eyes light up
and they ask, “Can I touch it?”
Today my hair says,
“Get the fuck away from me,”
as I duck my head,
bob and weave, avoid contact.
Woman on the A
looked offended when I moved,
reached her arm again
as if I’d made a mistake.
“Do not touch my hair,”
I said it calmly, clearly —
nary a stutter.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said,
her hand in mid air.
I took a step back, said … “Yes.”
Nothing more to say.
My hair is quite beautiful.
But this is the A —
subway car, not petting zoo.
Do not touch my hair.
You can ask … but you
ask while already reaching,
already so sure
you can of course have your way.
You can ask … but I
don’t have to agree. And won’t.
Today my hair says,
“Get the fuck away from me.”
Tomorrow, that’ll be me.

My first long chōka … and of course it’s angry. Of course.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



Because it’s one year already, one year since one of the most prolific, gifted, fascinating creatives transitioned. It’s hard to believe it’s already a year,

One year, it’s so short
three hundred sixty-five days,
not yet long enough
to fully accept this loss.

He gave us so much,
again and still yet again —
Starfish and Coffee,
Play in the Sunshine, Gett Off,
Erotic City,
When Doves Cry and Purple Rain,
Peach, Diamonds and Pearls,
New Power Generation,
We Can Funk, The Cross,
Ballad of Dorothy Parker …

So much pure pleasure,
songs I used to blush to sing.
So many stories,
one talented, stunning man,
a spirit bright, breathtaking.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



R is for: Reading

Tonight was the second Chapters reading for Girls Write Now mentees, and Sophia was on the bill! She was so nervous, but she was great! All the girls were great. I’m always so amazed by the writing I hear at Chapters, by the power and beauty and honesty and vulnerability and humor. These girls are fire. 100%

A favorite moment came from the mentee who was co-emcee of the evening. When it was time for her to read out the name of the raffle winner, she took the paper and looked at it quizzically then leaned into the mic and said, “The winner is … Moonlight!”

The mentee/mentor emcee pair will be a hard act to follow. And that’s exactly what Sophia and I will have to do in two months when we emcee the June Chapters! I’m already stressing about what to wear and what I’ll do with my hair.

I’m so honored and proud to get to work with Sophia, to get to know the other mentees and mentors that are part of GWN. Such a great evening. Can’t wait to get back to work with Sophia on Tuesday!

Fire

Fierce, beautiful words
these young writers are power.
Their energy shines
reminding me: stay open,
keep trusting my voice
keep welcoming my muses
there is treasure here.
There is music and magic
all of this is free —
free … in exchange for the work
in exchange for faith
and yes: the blood, sweat, and tears,
the torture of the blank page.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



Q is for: Quotation

“Land is power.” Ruby McGee

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of watching an amazing documentary, Dirt and Deeds in Mississippi. It tells another amazing “hidden figures” kind of story, some Black history that was rolled up in cotton wool and tucked way out of sight. In this case, the story of Black land-owning farmers and the role they played in the fight for rights — civil, voting, human — in Mississippi. It is an eye-opening, painful, powerful, important document of history. I could watch it on a loop for days.

Ruby McGee was the first Black person to be registered to vote in her county. Today, she owns and operates the family tree farm that gave her the freedom to take some of the chances she took as a young woman, that enabled her parents to run a Freedom School. She talks about what being a landowner gave her, says that it meant she didn’t have to work in white people’s kitchens. She talks about the idea of “knowledge is power” … and says no, “Land is power.”

And that resonated so deeply in my chest. I wanted to clap my hands and shout, “Yes!” It reminded me:

Got land to stand on,
then you can stand up,
stand up for your rights
as a woman, as a man.

“Achin’ for Acres” by Arrested Development was about exactly this, the power of owning where you live, owning the ground beneath your feet.

And it reminded me of my sadness, my personal heartache when family land has been lost, on my mother’s side, on my father’s. Those are pieces of ourselves we can never get back. I feel the empty spaces left by each even now, years later.

It reminded me of something I heard John Boyd Jr. say a while ago in an NPR profile piece: all of us are no more than two generations removed from somebody’s farm.

It reminded me of Constance Curry’s amazing book, Silver Rights, also about Mississipi.

This movie touched so many chords. And it spilled over into tonight’s chōka.

I have so much pride
seeing my ancestors fight
seeing them stand up
refusing to cave, to give.
This is what it means:
strength, power, faith, love, honor.
This is who we are,
fierce, unendingly stubborn
and sure. Sure of us,
sure of the fact we were right.
Sure that — live or die — we’d win.

My family isn’t from Mississippi — at least no one I’ve found yet — but Dirt and Deeds felt like home all the same.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



P is for: Poetry

Of course! Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day is coming, and I’ve started getting ready. For years now, I’ve gone around giving out poems — mostly at work, but not only at work¹ — so that people will actually have a poem in their pocket. Yes. Because no one ever actually has a poem in their pocket except me. It’s a shame, really. At my old job, people got used to this annual poem distribution behavior. And I realized the other day that some folks at my new job are already looking forward to it. Two people have mentioned that PIYP Day is coming, have asked if I’ll have more poems to give out.

I have a large supply of poems to share around that day — this is definitely not my first time at the PIYP rodeo — but my poem selection needs an update. I’ve been adding a new poem or two every year, but I think it’s time for a more significant overhaul. I’ve been grabbing some new things from poets I’ve recently come to love, but I want more. I haven’t lost any of my love for the poems that have lived in my PIYP grab bag for years — Langston Hughes and Dylan Thomas, Nikki Giovanni and Lucille Clifton will all stay in rotation — but I need more.

And I’m open to suggestions. Whose poems would you suggest? What should I add to the basket? Maybe you want to add something you’ve written to the group? That would be wonderful. So today, P is also for: Please share! Send me poems to look up, links to your faves, links to your work that you’d like to add to the selection.

Criteria for suggested poems:

  1. Must be something you absolutely love.
  2. Must be short-ish. I’ve noticed that people look daunted when they get a super-long poem. I’m not trying to trigger bad memories of the ways we were made to work with poetry with when we were in school, and long poems seem to do that to people, make them feel pressured in some way.
  3. Must include author’s full name — and that includes you if you decide to send me some of your work.

(It’s a short list. I really would just love to read whatever you suggest!)

__________

Guess Again

I am not the one
the girl you can pass over
the woman who waits —
still, doll-like, in the corner.
No. I am hungry
and I will eat everything,
every everything
until I decide I’m done.
I will take handfuls
armloads of the finest bits
and they will be mine
not for sharing, not for you,
not for anyone
but me, myself, I, I, I.
Punto. Can you hear me now?

I have a surprising number of poems that have the same feel as today’s chōka, that have this same “I am not the one” thing going on. I should spend some time with that, thinking about what that is, where it’s coming from, who I’m talking to when I write it. Hmm … it’s an investigation for another time. Yes, because “P” is also for “Procrastination,” but more because I’m too tired to think clearly about much of anything at this moment. But definitely some exploration required. There are maybe as many as three other poems — maybe more? — that I’ve written in the last few years that run on this same path. Time to do some free writing, figure out what I’m thinking.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.

__________
¹ When I had my first knee surgery back in 2013, I knew I’d be in the hospital on PIYP Day, so I packed an envelope of poems in my hospital bag and offered up poems to everyone who came to my room that day and everyone I saw on my PT strolls around the floor. (And don’t think my coworkers missed out because I as in the hospital. I left a basket of poems behind for them to choose from. Because I am nothing if not obsessive!) When I was back in the hospital for surgery #2 in 2015, there were folks who remembered getting poems from me, including one nurse who had hers tacked up at the nurses’ station!