Flying Off at the Handle

Here’s a little truth-telling from me, the Queen of Oversharing.
 
I write a lot about my growing relationship with my anger after decades of being afraid to express it or even to allow myself to feel it. Anger and I are still in the early stages of what I hope will be a solid relationship that spans the rest of my life. I need her and appreciate her, but I am still unfamiliar with the full breadth of her range.
 
Saturday, I had a stunning flare-up of extreme rage, something that has happened a couple of times during quarantine, and seems directly connected to my struggle with months and months of isolation. Saturday’s flash fire was alarming in the speed with which it came on and its ferocity. It left me shaking and physically ill.
Each time I’ve experienced one of these rage flares, I have been shocked by their suddenness and ferocity, and distressed by the physical toll they’ve taken on me. As I write that, it occurs to me that my experiencing this rage so completely in my body is for-sure connected to the fact that I turned my anger inward during all those years when I was afraid to express it, swallowing it rather than letting myself feel it.
 
Saturday’s rage blew up and blew out fairly quickly. But even after the shaking and nausea passed, I was flattened for hours, not feeling like myself until I woke up Sunday morning.
 
So why is this happening? I blame COVID and quarantine because I’ve never experienced anything like this until now, until spending all this time mostly alone. I lose my temper, of course. That’s not new. What’s new is going from zero to critical mass in a second.
 
When quarantine started, I thought I was pretty perfectly suited for self-isolation. I’m extremely comfortable staying home, comfortable with my own company, comfortable being away from people. I have about 10,000 distractions in my house — hundreds of books, materials for at least four different crafts, coloring books, art supplies, notebooks and pens … Being home is easy.
 
I was pretty fine with self-isolation. I’m still fine with isolation … And, too, I miss the world. I miss people. I miss physical contact. I am a hugger, a hand-holder, an arm stroker, and I haven’t touched another human being since March 8th.
 
Yes, I am angry about what COVID has stolen from me, angry at the ways it has shrunk my world and my life. More, I’m angry at the way COVID has been allowed to ravage this country, angry that almost 145,000 people have died, angry that BIPOC are disproportionately impacted by COVID, angry that this country has no interest in protecting people and saving lives, angry that Caligula is more concerned about lining his pockets and destabilizing our democracy so that he can strong-arm his way to re-election than he is about a single human life, let alone the tens of thousands of human lives already lost and the millions more currently at risk.
 
I am angry. I am furious. I am so engulfed in anger that I haven’t been able to see it because it’s everything, it’s the air I breathe. And these rage flares I’ve experienced are maybe my system’s attempt at release, at lessening the pressure that has been building up in and around me since the start of our colossally horrific response to this pandemic.
 
I need a different release, a better one. The physical toll Saturday’s rage had on me isn’t something I care to deal with again. Time to ease back into that long-ago-discarded meditation practice? Maybe so.

That’s not how love works, redux.

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter …

Yes, almost half a month into epistolary poems. I haven’t reached that crossover point, the moment that happens a lot of the time in April when I suddenly realize I’m enjoying working with the form, even when I have so much still to learn and work through. I’m no longer feeling as if I’m in a pitched battle with the form, and that seems like for-real progress.


Unscarred, Not Unscathed
Twenty-five, power and control

I want to sit with you
on the train ride home after the first date.
Could I warn you,
convince you?
I want to say
stop, sweet girl.
That man will hurt you.
Not with his hands —
he will never strike you.
But you will be years recovering.
I am still recovering.

I want to sit with you
and tell you the sick you feel in your gut
isn’t a giddy tickle of new love.
That’s your fear response,
your body sensing a predator,
just as he scented prey
the first time you smiled at him.
I am still recovering.

I want to say
you deserve so much better
than his shaming, his belittling, his insults.
He is the story you’ll never tell anyone.
He is every cruel question,
every angry blame you’ll hurl at yourself.
I want to shield you
call out his lies.
I know you learn so much in these two years,
but your soft heart shouldn’t bear the cost.
I am still recovering.

I want to sit with you,
I want to say you are strong.
I know you will resist him,
won’t give over the total control he’ll demand,
you’ll stand and walk away when you finally see him.
And that will save your life.
I am still grateful.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

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Shimmy Like Your Sister Kate

I will probably go ahead and post the poems I wrote over the last few days. I’m annoyed to have let myself be sufficiently bothered by nonsense to stop me from keeping up with something I want to be doing. Alas, despite all the rumors, I’m actually human.

I was thinking about times when I’ve been able to shoot down La Impostora, times when I’ve gotten past her and just gotten on with the business at hand. And all of that led me to tonight’s poem. This form is still irking the mess out of me. It is what it is. I continue.


Body Roll
Thirty-seven years old, Bellydance classes

The surprise,
accepting visible vulnerability,
facing down a familiar fear.
You, God’s own rhythm-less girl,
enrolling in dance class?
You’ve always known you couldn’t move fluidly,
with grace.
You’d long since stopped dancing in public —
shame is so cruel,
closing you off from our loves, from yourself.
But you pushed past, through.
Gave yourself that freedom, that gift.

The discovery —
every movement made for you,
every movement full, round, voluptuous.
Revelation,
reintroduction to your physical self.

I stay grateful for your refusal,
rejection of doubt.
The line from that first hip circle,
that first undulation
traces through to the jigida I wear today.
That embrace of body,
embrace of self.
Finding the way home with no turning back.
You brought me here
with grace.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Writing to My Past

Day three of what promises to be a dramatic slog through my bygone years. These epistolary poems are clearly planning to kick my butt all month long. Between the dredging up of less-than-lovely memories and the struggle with the form itself, I can see this is going to be a month of fun for me!

Some interesting things are happening, however. My first poem wasn’t at all the poem I was planning to write. I hadn’t even been thinking about those embroidered jeans. I sat down with 12-year-old me in mind and a very specific memory of that time that I wanted to explore in the poem … and the very first line set me on a completely different course, my first idea wholly forgotten. I’m always fascinated when that happens, when the writing refuses your control and just does what it wants.

I had a conversation about this with a boy last summer, this idea of letting the characters do what they will, let the story go where it’s going. He wasn’t for it, said he didn’t put much stock in characters charting their own course. (Probably that was the clear signal that he and I shouldn’t have been trying to date, but sometimes I am slow.) I, meanwhile, very much like the loss of control. Well, let me be most honest: I like the loss of control if, as with that poem, it happens so seamlessly that I don’t even notice it until the end. If I become aware of what’s happening while I’m writing, I tend to fight it. Hard. This usually culminates in either nothing getting written or something really inferior getting written, something that feels as mangled and manhandled as it has been.

Which, I think, is one of the problems I have with most poems I write. I struggle so hard to get them written that they feel pretty mangled and manhandled by the time I get to the end. Tonight’s is definitely no different.


Graduation
Five Years Old, St. Ann’s School

You’re still a baby,
yet there’s already so much I don’t need to tell you.
For example, you know these children are liars —
chief among them that boy, the one who sits behind you,
the one who tells you being Black means you’re dumb.

You already know he’s inconsequential,
he and the girls who make fun of your skin.
And your teacher, who always takes care not to touch you,
showing age doesn’t have to mean wise.

It’s good that you know — it spares and prepares you —
I’m glad that you know, though I wish that you’d waited,
that you could have stayed ignorant …
at least through first grade.
I want to say it’ll all be worth something,
your annoyance, your sadness this kindergarten year.
Ugh. I hear myself writing you aphorisms:
This adversity will make you stronger!
Yeah. But sometimes, what doesn’t kill you
still kills you.

I’m not wrong, though.
This bullshit will plant a seed — deep in your center.
You’ll come away knowing you can trust yourself.
You’ll know that, when you see racism, it’s real.
This will be one place you can’t be gas-lit.
That’s a gift … a shitty and also a great one.
So maybe we can thank St. Ann’s for it.

As is often the case when I write to my past,
I have the need to point out that we have survived.
That, too, is worth something —
of course it’s worth something.
But I’m left with the sadness I see in your eyes.
In that famous photo of you and Cecelia —
Cecelia, the one child who dared to befriend you.
You’re seated together on the last day of school,
seated together in your white caps and gowns.
It’s a snapshot of an instant
but seems very telling.
Cecelia looking away, her mouth a straight line
and you making a smile, but your eyes don’t agree.

I long for a second shot of you and Cecelia
one with you both collapsed into laughing.
I want a look on your face that’s not resignation
a look that says: “Look at us! It’s graduation!”

Five years old and you’d learned that you could be hated,
hated, for being a little brown girl.
The thing that I want and don’t want to tell you
is how that hasn’t changed —
has not.
And never will?

I long for that second shot of you and Cecelia,
a look on your face, maybe knowing, maybe sure.
A look that tells me yes, you know
all the things I wish you did not have to know —
and you’re still a little girl laughing,
still five, still fine.

Graduation Day


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Ages and Stages

It’s April first, the start of National Poetry Month … and of National Poetry Writing Month. I’ve decided not to keep going with the pantoum, not to keep breaking my heart with #SayHerName poems. I’m not saying I’ll never go back to one, the other, both. This isn’t that year, though. Today, in our time of pandemic, I’m choosing not to sink myself into such a deeply painful place.

I looked at a lot of poetry forms and narrowed my choices down to three and sort of had my eye very particularly on one. And then last weekend I went to a poetry salon, and the homework assignment we were given was exactly that same particularly form. And then I opened today’s prompt for Souleika Jaouad’s “The Isolation Journals,” and it was talking about the same thing. And so here I am, with epistolary poems.

It’s hardly surprising, right? We’re all cut off from one another. It seems only natural that we’d be craving comforting contact, comforting forms of contact. So of course: letter writing. When we first went on lockdown, I made a list of people who are far from me and decided to write a letter a week. And I’m certainly not alone. I’ve read so many posts about letter-writing in the last few weeks. So, to have my salon homework be writing an epistolary poem, to have Souleika Jaouad’s first prompt be to write a journal entry that’s a letter … well, it all just fits. This is where we are. This is where we’re going to be for some time.

In the salon, we were asked to write a to a past self, to pick an age and focus on who we were then, and write to that someone. I’ve had that prompt before, writing a letter to my child self. It always appeals to me. And it appeals to me now.

And that’s my challenge for April: to write an epistolary poem to long (and not-so-long) ago versions of myself. Maybe I’ll play around with meter or rhyme scheme, maybe not. I’m not going to bother with chronological order. I’ll just pick whatever age calls my name each day. And maybe there will be more than one poem for certain ages. I mean, God knows some years are so full or so butt-kicking that they’ll demand more than one poem.

And so, we begin. Happy poetry month, y’all!


Stitched into Silence
First day, junior high

Do you remember those jeans you embroidered?
You worked so hard, spent weeks getting them right.
You covered that denim in flower-power and peace signs
stitched S.W.A.K. over your right ass cheek,
a Black Power fist across the left.

You wore them once.

Do you remember? You worked so hard,
stitching, stitching, stitching long into those late-summer nights.
You couldn’t wait for school to start.
You couldn’t wait to be seen.

Junior High!
And weren’t you practically grown?
You’d had your first kiss,
you’d read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
          (though not yet The Bluest Eye.)

Junior high.
And you’d be ready that first day,
your jeans and their story,
jeans that would announce your arrival,
jeans that would wink and wave as you left.

You wore them once.

Because your sleepy, backward town couldn’t see you,
wasn’t ready to know you,
was so stuck in its 1950s timewarp
it had no place for your flower-child fantasy.

Even your friends laughed.
Even your friends.
At the end of the day, you took off the jeans,
folded and hid them in the back of your closet,
folded and hid all those possibilities,
stitched yourself into the background, into silence.

I’m here to tell you that those jeans were fire.
They were all the things you believed them to be —
cute, flirty, smart, funny
and that ivy down the side made your legs look so long.
I want to go back to that day in September
to say you were right and your friends were all wrong.

Grab those jeans from the closet, hop on your bike.
Ride down Westcott singing at the top of your lungs.
Who cares if your friends laugh —
who are they to judge you?
Stand up on the pedals, flash that fist in the air.
You are magic. You are magic. You are magic.


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