Open letter to folks who knew me when.

It’s 2014. The last tired days of 2014. I am no longer that soft, biddable girl you knew. I am no longer willing to go along to get along. I will no longer laugh if, when I’m at the water fountain, you tell me I can’t drink there because it’s whites only. I will no longer bite my tongue when you tell me Mick Jagger would be better looking without his nasty nigger lips. I will no longer bow my head at your command as if I owe you the freedom to touch my hair. I will no longer waste my breath educating you when you ask me why, if I wash regularly, my skin is still so dark.

It’s 2014. It’s 2014, and we are all grown up now. And I have grown into a woman who speaks when she has words, who believes in the value of that speech and refuses to clog her throat choking down all the things she’d like to say. I have grown into a woman who won’t let her voice be taken. I will say what is in my mind, what is in my heart, what is burning through the lining of my stomach after so many years of holding my tongue to make nice.

It’s 2014, and I am tired. More tired than 52 years warrants, tired like almost 400 years of rape and murder, like 400 years of holding my tongue, swallowing my truth, waiting my turn, waiting for the society I live in to finally-and-for-all accept that I am here, that I am who this history has made me and who I have made myself, that I am worthy, that I can think, that I have a heart full of love, that I am beautiful, that I’m not going anywhere.

It’s 2014, and I am not going anywhere. I won’t be put down, I won’t be made small. I will take up every inch of the space that I need. And then I will take the inches and feet and miles of space that I want.

Michael Brown is dead, and I can’t change that. Darren Wilson will never have to pay for killing Michael Brown, and I can’t change that. But I can honor Michael Brown, I can honor Tarika Wilson, Eric Garner, Eleanor Bumpurs, Ramarley Graham, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Yvette Smith, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo. I can honor all of those lost by being here, by opening my mouth, by saying their names, by remembering, by taking up space, by being the truth of the Angry Black Woman. Because I am angry, angrier than I am tired, angrier than I am sad. I am angry, and you don’t know me angry. You only know my smile, my shyness, my willingness to let you be right, to let you go first.

It’s 2014, and that girl doesn’t live here anymore.

Clearing My Head

Ok, not really, but kind of.

I’ve had a hard-working April.  So much so that I’m not sorry to see it draw to a close.  I had four big grant proposals to get in, a family health scare, a niece’s birthday, a nephew’s confirmation, the start of the new term.  And mostly I’ve just been painfully tired, unable to do little more than pick a poem to share for National Poetry Month.  And then the Bell verdict came down.

As may have become obvious, I’ve been a bit derailed by that one.

But I’m feeling a little freer tonight.  Maybe that’s because the last of the big proposals has gone in.  (Yes, a small one just landed on my desk … but, after the last batch, it’s not looking too scary.)  Maybe it’s because tonight I had my first ‘oh, we’ve totally become our own little group’ night with my new class.  Of course, maybe it’s because I’ve hit such a level of exhaustion I can’t maintain the depth of sadness tonight and I’ll get right back into it tomorrow.

I’ve got work to do.  And I’ve got work to do.  This week has actually pushed me back to my paper journal, and I think that may be the place where a lot of my ‘figuring’ is going to happen.  Not that I’m plotting a revolution and want to be all hush-hush about it.  Hardly.  But when I get deep into the ugly, I think that’s something I want to keep to myself.

So thank you, everyone, for your kind, supportive words.  Knowing you heard me, that you were (and are) willing to read through my sorrow and anger day after day absolutely helped keep my head from exploding.  I haven’t stopped posting about this, but the tightness in my chest has eased just a bit.

I am the darker brother.

It’s the last day of National Poetry Month, but I am still very much at the beginning of working through the awfulness of last week’s acquittal of the police officers who killed Sean Bell.

Can I just ask, how can everyone say over and over again that he died ‘in a hail of police bullets‘ and yet those cops are back on the job this week?  Even if they somehow did nothing wrong in killing and unarmed man, how is it ok that they fired so many times?  How is it ok that Michael Oliver emptied his pistol, reloaded and kept firing?  He is single-handedly responsible for the ‘hail’ in that ‘hail of police bullets,’ firing three times as many shots as Officer Isnora, almost eight times as many as Officer Cooper.  Help me understand.  I feel like the androids in that old Star Trek episode who self-destruct when they try to process things that don’t make sense.  I really don’t want to self-destruct, but my brain is having such a hard time here.

But I want a little optimism, a little something not-so-jagged to hold onto.  And that brings me back to Hughes.  Even when he’s angry, he hums like the liquid sound of a well-played saxophone.

 

I, Too
Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh.
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed —

I, too, am America.

Seems a good way to close this month of poems. 

SOL: Off the Front Page

That’s the story.  From Friday’s 9:15am announcement to Monday’s press.  Not even three full days.  My anguish wasn’t even below the fold yesterday.  With the exception of amNY, the story has lost it’s gloss for the papers I saw.  For some of those others, Roger Clemens’ affair and Miley Cyrus’ so-called nudity were much more full-page worthy.

But amNY got it right.  They gave us this excellent photo, headlined “Fight Goes On,” which felt optimistic:

 

I listened to Nas and Mos Def share their feelings about the verdict.  Nas said some things I really can’t get behind … but he said a lot of other things that were totally on target.  Mos Def sounded frustrated and fed up, made a strong argument comparing the crimes and sentences of Mychal Bell and Wesley Snipes with what’s just happened, asked people to think about the message that sends to black folks.  I can only speak for this particular black folk, but I had already gotten that message years ago.  I was ready for a new message.  I hear him, though.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

So my heart’s been moved off the front page.   Maybe that means I should stop wearing it on my sleeve?  I’ve posted on this nearly non-stop since Friday.  Maybe I’ve done all the ‘out loud’ I need to do with this for now, and it’s time to take it inside for a while.

Which Way to America

So I was thinking about some of the “America” poems I like … and, just as I was about to type one of them for today’s offering, I remembered this song by Living Color.  So, thank you, Vernon, for putting a little more voice to my feelings today.

Which Way to America
Vernon Reid

I look at the T.V.
Your America’s doing well.
I look out the window
My America’s catching hell.
I just want to know, which way do I go to get to your America?
I just want to know, which way do I go to get to your America?

I change the channel
Your America’s doing fine.
I read the headlines
My America’s doing time.
I just want to know, which way do I go to get to your America?
I just want to know, which way do I go to get to your America?

Where is my picket fence?
My long, tall glass of lemonade?
Where is my VCR, my stereo, my T.V. show?

I look at the T.V.
I don’t see your America.
I look out the window
I don’t see your America.
I want to know how to get to your America.
I want to know how to get to your America.

 

And just now on the radio news, I hear, “Reaction continues to that Sean Bell verdict,” in a tone that sounds a little incredulous.  Incredulous?  Really?  Really? 

Yeah.  And then I click over to Hello, Negro and see this.  Guess I’ve got some incredulity, my own self.

[sigh]