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My friend — who, for the purposes of this post and the poem that follows, I will call “Saadiqhah” because it means, “true, sincere, faithful, veracious, a woman of her word” — is about to leave town. She is moving clear across the country. I am going to miss her for so many reasons. She is one of the friends that VONA has brought into my life to make my world bigger, richer, better. She is smart and funny and strong and clear-eyed and honest and thoughtful and caring. The Bay Area is about to be super lucky to have her.

But back on this coast, we had a party last night to celebrate our friendships with her. The party included an open mic, since many of her friends are writers or performers. I wanted to read something of mine, but I also wanted to read something from VONA and something that was created just for her. In the end, I read two super-short poems by Ruth Forman (“Let Down All Your Doors” and “The Sun’s One Good Eye”). I read the poem I wrote on Sunday about people trying to touch my hair. For the final piece, I wanted to copy a thing I participated in many years ago.

I read in a great reading for Valentine’s Day. The reading was called “Love and Chaos,” and was organized by a lovely poet, Patricia Landrum, who has since passed away. For her piece in the reading, Patricia did an audience participation poem. She asked us to shout, “Chaos!” every time she gave us the signal. Her piece was fun and funny and wonderful. I wanted to do something like that for Saadiqhah, and I wanted the poem to be a chōka. And it started to feel silly once I put it together, but I read it anyway. And (of course), because everyone in the room was there because they all love Saadiqhah, it worked exactly as well as I’d hoped it would!

I Love Saadiqhah!

I love Saadiqhah
and I know I’m not alone
I Love Saadiqhah!
so many conversations.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She doesn’t pull her punches.
I Love Saadiqhah!
Saying what I need to hear.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She is always right on time
with friendship, wisdom, and love.

(I could have gone on and on, but decided the occasion — and the patience of the audience — called for a shorter chōka.)

(I’m a day late, but will try to catch up tonight or tomorrow, can’t fall off the challenges this late in the game!)

_____

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.



I mean, of course. I am outrageously vain, after all. Nothing if not vain. I talk about this all the time: how vain I am about my hair, my hands, my knitting, my … everything! Truly, the list goes on and on. I’ve embraced my vanity in recent years, make a point of telling folks just how vain I am.

But

I’m realizing tonight that my vanity is a bit of a sham.

Tonight I am working on a letter of recommendation … for myself. I am drafting a letter that I’ll send to the person who is doing the recommending, and she’ll tweak it to make it her own.

I’m doing this because I’m working on an application for a writing residency. I’m doing this because I refuse to let the deadline for this residency pass me by as I have done with several deadlines in the last few months. I’m doing this because I have to push myself in this way, force myself to apply for things. I’m doing this because I want this residency, because I want this gift of time.

But oh, how I also want to push this away.

I’ve known about this application and its soon-coming deadline for more than a month. Proceeded to ignore it for weeks. And when I did think about it, I decided that I couldn’t possibly get it, so therefore I shouldn’t apply. And when I thought about it again, I reminded myself how busy I am at work and how much I don’t have time to work on the application because I’m just too tired. And when I thought about some more, I realized the really what I needed to do was encourage all my eligible writer friends to apply because obviously this was perfect for them.

Yeah. All of that. Me, body-slamming myself again and again into the wall of Impostor Syndrome.

This is why I say my vanity is a sham. I walk around thinking I’m so in love with myself, but clearly that love is only on the surface, only for surface things. Because I also walk around running myself down, holding myself back from things I should be racing toward.

Sitting here tonight, trying to find a way to type out nice words about myself as a writer is crushing me. And the truth of that is breaking my heart. I shouldn’t be this difficult to say that I’m passionate about writing, that the project I’m proposing is a good and worthy one. Shouldn’t be. But is.

I know I have a lot of work to do with this. I guess what I’m realizing is that the work is that kind of every-minute-of-every-day work, that I have to pay closer-than-close attention so that I can see when I’m holding myself back, giving in to the inner critic. I have to be hyper vigilant … and make that my V word for today and every day.

Not an Impostor

How to see myself
to look uncritically,
to see all my flaws
not as flaws, just who I am.
To see my talents —
acknowledge that they exist,
that I do have skills,
that I have earned the things I have,
my jobs, my awards,
that I haven’t just been good
at fooling people.
How to see myself,
take my first real, honest look
silence my critic,
the one who uses my voice,
who knows all the ways
to bully, cut myself down.
This is behavior
so old, so painfully known.
This is who I am
to myself. I need to change,
find the vanity I claim.

_____

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.



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.