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

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

That’s not how love works.

Yikes! It’s only day 6, and I’ve already fallen behind! I fell asleep while working on yesterday’s poem, looked at it this morning and thought … um … no. Maybe I’ll catch up. We’ll see.

Still not in love with this poetic form. It seems to highlight more than most just how much of a poet I am not. I don’t appreciate that. I have a hard enough time allowing myself to dive into this pool once a year. I don’t need the form I’ve chosen making me feel even less capable. Sigh.

I’m still wrestling with what this form is “supposed” to be. It’s not the first form to give me this kind of trouble. I struggled in the same way with prose poems. It would seem that in my mind there are little walls around “PROSE” and “POETRY” and the twain are never s’posed to meet. So poems made of prose or made to evoke a prose form … it’s like the way my brain can’t handle green tea ice cream.

Yeah. I’m not loving these poems. But on I go …


Desperate Joy
Eight Years Old

You didn’t understand the thing about friendships —
that they weren’t competitions,
no one’s affection was a prize.
You wanted them —
you always wanted them.
Were they beads on a string, shiny adornments?
You showed them off but never brought them in,
never made them part of your life.
You were jealous of their love,
coveted their attention,
yet gave them nothing of yourself.
And once you won them, you cast your lines elsewhere,
seeking, seeking,
the next, better friend.

Look at the photos from that party in third grade.
The hurt on Terry’s face
watching you hug and grin on Lynn.
You’d called Terry your best friend,
for two years, your best friend.
Then threw her over at that party.
And Lynn lasted no time at all.
You moved on to Beverly,
then Nora.

And not one of them allowed to fully embrace you,
not one of them a confidante, a sister.

I want to hear what you think you’re doing,
maybe help you see a different way.
You were on a path and I want to shift it.
Of course I’m too late, but you hurt my heart.
You were looking so hard for something,
looking so hard.

But I’m mistaken, aren’t I?
The disconnection was deeper than friendship.
It was love you didn’t understand.
Did you think it was finite,
that you couldn’t give love to one
without taking from another?
That isn’t how love works at all.
You could have loved Terry, Lynn, Beverly, Nora,
because love is the sky,
stretching on and on and on.

I look at that picture, that long-ago party,
the sadness on Terry’s face, the desperate joy on yours.
You could have relaxed, leaned into loving,
spread your arms wide —
embraced every friend and your own dear self —
and still had the infinity of your love left to feel, and to give.


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

Lived Experience

I am not feeling wise in my choice of poetic forms this year. Okay, do I ever feel particularly wise this early in the month? Maybe when I did tanka. That form felt made for me. And maybe with aruns, too, but that should probably go without saying. 🙂

But epistolary poems and me, not anything like a match made in heaven. I’m struggling with rhythm, with balance, with rhyme. I’m struggling with content, with placement of myself in the dynamic. I’m just struggling. Full stop.

And also, my childhood sounds so awful in these poems! Good lord. I mean, yes, all of these things were awful, but there was plenty of excellent stuff, too. Not tonight, though. Tonight, I’m writing again to 12-year-old me. And 12 was kind of a banner year of suck. As if the jeans fiasco wasn’t enough.


What They Called You
Twelve, Epithet #1

Does it even take two seconds to say it,
to spray it like hot tar over your skin.
You weren’t prepared — should you have been prepared?
How would you ever have been prepared?
I think about both moments —
in class with one boy, at summer camp with the other —
each boy spit it out so easily.
The word was there,
that word, so specific, so clear
so close to the surface.
Close enough, that they must have thought it often,
perhaps every time they saw you.

A white boy with no lived experience of Black folks,
what inspires him to let “nigger” fall out of his mouth?
When does he practice it?
When did he learn it?
How long has he had it in his back pocket, wating?
How many times does he part his lips, ready?
You wondered then. I’m still wondering.

You helped the first boy learn never to say it again,
at least not to you.
He surely still has the scars you gouged into his throat.
The second boy got off easy,
your (white) girlfriends harangued him.
One even wrote a taunting poem
(which you can still recite, by the way).

I know you were alone in those moments,
surrounded by white people
who couldn’t feel what you felt.
You hated the not-one-of-us-ness of it,
the way it made you gargantuan and microscopic.
Both, at once.

Today I wonder if either man remembers.
In his FB profile pic,
The first is a man you’d think would grow from the boy.
And it’s easy to imagine the word
just as familiar on his tongue.
The second has changed.
He has quite famously changed:
his career centers on anti-racism.
His work has been powerfully resonant.
Still, I wonder if he remembers that sunny summer morning,
using one simple word like a punch in the face.

You’ll remember.
And again, and again …
It won’t hurt. That power faded long before now.
It won’t hurt, but neither will it fade.


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