S.W.A.K.

I think 5th grade was the first time I got a note from a girlfriend with S.W.A.K. written across the closure of the envelope. It might have been a birthday card, or an invitation to a party. That “sealed with a kiss” felt like magic to still-kind-of-new-in-town me, felt like cement that could keep our connection strong forever.

That didn’t turn out to be true, of course. Some ten year olds hold onto their friendships for life, but I wasn’t one of those. Now, however, I have friendships that nourish and sustain me, friends who are friends in all the ways I want and need, in all the ways ten-year-old me couldn’t really imagine. S.W.A.K. indeed.

Tonight I spent some zoom time with a couple of these beautiful people … and so, tonight’s poem — not only for these two loves, but for all my lovely friends, these bright lights for whom I am so grateful. The source text is, once again, “here yet be dragons” by Lucille Clifton.

Bound

There are those people,
the ones with whom I never feel lost
the ones who laugh, read me stories, sing poems
the ones who
know that out here, among
devils and demons, there is always us
always this love, this friendship, that we can
trust our open hearts to one another, feel rather than imagine
the warmth and safety of revealing ourselves.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve 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. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

What I Don’t Want to Say

Since Wednesday, I’ve been thinking about all of my Asian friends … but I haven’t been checking in with any of them. Not directly. I’ve certainly clicked “love” or “care” or “angry” on their FB comments. I’ve shared articles they’ve posted. But I haven’t reached out.

And, clearly, I feel lousy about that, or I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

Last year, people started checking in on me. Sometimes more than once a day. Lots of people. Close friends, not-so-close friends, people who weren’t really even friends at all. I got emails, texts, notes on Messenger and IG. It was a lot, and I had no idea what to do with any of it.

It was early June. It was right after the murder of George Floyd. Yes, because that’s why everyone who knew me was checking in.

(Of course, when I say “everyone,” I am lying. There were some unsurprising and conspicuous absences from the cavalcade of “How are you doing?” messages. The folks for whom Floyd’s murder didn’t register, didn’t matter, the ones who were entirely pissed off and threatened by the uprising that spread across the globe but couldn’t acknowledge the wrongness of the killing that sparked the protests. Those people didn’t check in. And yes, I have those folks in my various “friend” lists. I leave them there so I can get the occasional glimpse of what’s happening in that mindset. It’s bracing, to say the least.)

I appreciated that my friends and everyone else were thinking about me. I mean, I mostly appreciated it. I was also really frustrated by it because, often, the checking in was accompanied by a request for me to do something — when was I going to start posting about it on FB, when would I write some essays? And yes, people had reason to expect some kind of written response from me, since that was a way I’d shown up after so many other murders of Black people. But I went silent last year, so a lot of the people who reached out also asked when they were going to hear from me.

And that didn’t feel good. It felt, instead, as if I couldn’t just rage and grieve in private but had to share, had to do some rib spreading, let everyone see my feeble, shredded heart.

And I really am not trying to sound as much like a jerk as I sound right now. I love my friends, and they love me. I imagine they struggled with what to say to me just as I’m struggling right now.

I haven’t been contacting my friends. And that’s because I remember how I felt over the summer and don’t want to pile on. At the same time, I have to be honest and admit that I have no idea what to say. I certainly don’t want to say, “How are you doing?” because how can anyone be doing right now? What would I have wanted people to say to me last year? What would have felt less like pressure and more like love?

And maybe that’s all there is to say, maybe that’s what I would have wanted to hear last year. My love feels thin today, though. Doesn’t feel like nearly enough, though it’s the only thing I have in abundant supply.

There’s no neat and tidy bow to tie around this. I’m sad and angry and angry and angry. And I feel like a bad friend right now. Raging and grieving in private feels selfish today.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Making the Heart Grow Fonder

When I have conversations about quarantine — which is, unsurprisingly, all the damn time — there is always a moment where I mention that I haven’t visited my family since February. (Presidents’ Day weekend, to be exact.) Whoever is in the conversation expresses some level of sympathy, and the conversation moves on.

I realized the other day that saying I haven’t visited my mother, brother, and sister since February doesn’t mean anything. I said it in April, said it in June … But some of the people I talk to maybe visit their families once a year, so my lament doesn’t hold any weight in their understanding, while it’s huge for me.

For the last several years, I’ve been visiting my family once a month. I’ve missed a month here and there, but generally, I’ve held my schedule. I visit because I love them and they are a few states away from me, and I miss them. I also visit because they love me and my being in the same place with them eases some of the tension in the air there. It gives us a chance to have conversations we don’t have over phone or email, let’s us do the regular maintenance requires on those ties that bind, gives us opportunities to laugh at foolish inside jokes, to look at old photos … and just be alive in the same space, together.

And I haven’t been to visit in five months. It’s starting to feel like a year. And the virus is still rampaging, and my job is staying virtual for the fall semester, so it might really be a year.

In these five months apart, I’ve missed each of their birthdays: first my sister’s early in lockdown, when we thought it might not last too long, then my mother’s, and just over a week ago, my brother’s. In about 6 weeks, my own birthday will be coming up. It’s on a Friday this year, so I would definitely have been spending it with them. My mother turned 84 last month.

Yes, I sound whiny. I am whiny. I know that I’m incredibly lucky. I am safe and healthy and working from home. My family is safe and healthy — even though my brother and sister are both officially “essential” and still have to leave the house and work. Our broader circle of immediate family are mostly safe and healthy (our Texas family is in the hot-zone with the virus creeping closer every day). I’m lucky. But that doesn’t mean I’m unscathed. I don’t make a lot of noise about what COVID is stealing from me, about the ways my life has changed since the start of lockdown, but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it.

Absence is purported to make the heart grow fonder. I suppose. But I’m already supremely fond of my family. All this absence is adding up to sadness and frustration.

I need one of my mother’s hugs.

Pause for Tradition

I wrote two poems yesterday, one in keeping with this year’s NaNoWriMo theme, and the other in keeping with my April 9th tradition of writing a poem for my best-beloved niece for her birthday. This year’s poem isn’t as strong as some of the ones I’ve written for her in the past, but it has its moments.


Loving You, Like a Rock
T, turning 21

I want to write
to all of your past selves,
to every younger you
and to all the wonderful women
you are set to become.
Such a bright and delightful magic
you are in my life.
From the first time I held you
twenty-one impossible years ago.
You have always seen me —
both with a beloved’s rose-colored glasses
and clear, honest eyes.
Every version of you has been safe with me
and sacred to and savored by:
wise and smirky baby you,
wild abandon toddler you,
clever, adventurous kid you,
compassionate, progressive young adult you.
This is a love note to you all
a praise poem to who you’re growing into,
a proud, shout-from-the-rooftops,
a pep-squad cheer.
And a prayer that we can be face-to-face
in some soon-coming day
in our apocalypse world.
You give my heart light.


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

Unlocking Doors

Whoo, in a much better mood than last night. Thank goodness. 🙂

Sometimes it’s just like that. You get cranky, and it is what it is. I can’t do anything to change people who get on my nerves, but I can for-sure change how I respond. Again, thank goodness.

Today I started a writing, meditation, and self-care challenge (yes, because I have soooo much time on my hands, while working more than time and trying to write these poems and keep up with the forever essay challenge … yeah). I started thinking about two vacations I took with my mother years ago and how wonderful it was to see her slide out of herself and into a woman I’d never seen before. The trips were very different, and what I saw in her was very different one trip to the next, but both pleased me enormously. So I thought I’d write today’s poem for the me who did that traveling with her. Then I realized I didn’t want to cram both trips into one poem, so I’ve pulled them apart. Tonight is the first trip, a week on the southern coast of Jamaica. Just thinking about it makes me smile.


Dreaming inside Her Dreams
Forty-seven, traveling with my mother

The first morning in Jamaica
you found her on the verandah
her eyes full of the sea
her face soft and open.
Yes, you thought. She understands now.
Yes, she said. I see what you meant.
She relaxed into the heat,
chatted up fishermen
played dominoes
drank from a coconut fresh from the tree
drank in the quiet
drank in the comfort
showed you a face you’d never seen
so still, so at ease, so beautiful.

Maybe she was the woman you would have met
had she chosen that road not taken.
You watched her, fascinated
in love
and also sad
denying that life not taken
made your life possible.
Did she give up ease to give you everything,
to give you the chance to find this place
to dream a life so different from hers?

But here, this perch above the waves
this lavender heaven,
this you can give her
can share with her
and watch her sigh and smile,
be waiting for her when she arrives
whole and happy
sun glittering through her silver curls.


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