Bending

Today went significantly differently from what I imagined at 6:30 this morning. In some ways worse, some ways better. In most ways, surprising.

I’m annoyed tonight to already be seeing “late breaking” headlines that say stupid things. Headlines that imply justice abounds and ask what we should be fighting for next. Excuse me? One vile, hateful human was held accountable for a crime — and it remains to be seen what kind of sentence will define that accountability. One man couldn’t lie his way out of guilt. That doesn’t dismantle a system that is still very much in place, still very much functioning exactly as it was designed. While that verdict was being read out, police in Columbus, Ohio were shooting to death a Black child who had called for their assistance and protection.

I’m glad Chauvin has been found guilty on three counts — one of those counts should have been first-degree murder, but we were never going to get that charge, so okay. I’m glad he’s been found guilty. I cannot kid myself that the battle is won. This was a step, and may turn out to be an important one. It is, still, just a step.

That arc, the one of the moral universe, it may have bent just a tiny bit today. I’ll take it. And I’ll be glad for it. And then I’ll demand more.

The source text for tonight’s Golden Shovel is, once again, Lucille Clifton’s anthem of a poem, “won’t you celebrate with me.”

All by Myself

There are so many who won't
see, won't accept, won't want you
to find reason to celebrate
this small gift, even as it comes with
strings attached. But me --
I'm here to take what
is given. I see what the universe did
and see what I
will have to do in response. You see,
it's clear that some folks want to
take even the smallest pieces, can't let me be
hopeful, even in the smallest way. Except ...
I need no leave. I can raise this fist all by myself.

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 Would Give for Surprise

Officer Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha has returned from administrative leave. He will not face any disciplinary action for shooting James Blake.

And it’s Tuesday. A Tuesday like any other. Nothing shocking, nothing out of the ordinary. One more in the forever line of days of being at constant risk in this land of the free (whites) and home of the (trigger happy) brave.

* * *

Let’s talk about Golden Shovels, shall we? I’ve been so tired the last few days, I haven’t had time to think about how hard this form is for me. All I’ve been able to do is churn out a poem and get it posted. I posted a comment earlier that showed me at least part of what the road block is for me with these poems. Yes, having a prescribed set of words and word placement is restrictive. The bigger issue is that the lines I’m using as my source text are from Clifton’s poems. Using them feels rudely audacious and makes me even more self-conscious than I would normally be. So yes, the task I’ve set for myself for this month is specially designed to trip me up. Brilliant!

Despite all of this, I am actually starting to feel more comfortable with the form. Not snuggled in the way I was with the tanka. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cozy in another form, but I am feeling less like a combatant, less under siege. That’s a good sign, of course, and it’s kind of right on time. It’s usually around the middle of the month that I stop approaching my chosen form as if we’re cage-fighting. It remains to be seen if I can approaching something closer to actual ease with this.

Tonight’s source text is from “the times.”

No Charges

That confidence, safety, certainty is so white,
so very, blindingly white, and
the heat of it burns, glowing, as I
watch it dance, saunter, flaunt its might.
I understand.
I do. I might be the same, except
nothing in this unwelcoming birthplace has afforded me that
freedom, that comfort. Instead, I
have built every good thing I am.
And today what I feel is tired,
as again I spit out a bitter draught of understanding.

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!

You’re not even trying.

I’m tired. Beat to my fucking socks. Once again hearing Zack de la Rocha’s lyric, like the only song this country will ever want to sing to me: “Don’t you know they’re counting backward to zero?” So damned tired.

The source text for this poem is Lucille Clifton’s “grief.”

Pause

I am thinking of
a number between naught and eternity. Many
stories, many artful shadings of all colors.
Pause --
as we listen for
your revision, your retelling of the
tale. It's your story, your myth.
The reconfiguration of
Black death in Amerikkka.
Pause --
because he thought it was a taser. And pause for
the self-flagellating knife-cuts of our scoffing laughter, for the
rejection of your tired, lazy myth,
for this one more time of you revealing the bloody soul of
Amerikkka.

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!

Continuous Passive Motion

Today, in a BIPOC antiracism group I co-facilitate, we talked about Atlanta, and one of the women in the group brought up the belief that Black people and Asian people don’t get along. She talked about some of the responses to the Atlanta attack that were coming up in her friend circles and in her family. And that conversation reminded me of this:

After my first knee surgery in 2016 (not my first knee surgery, but the first one I had that year … it’s a long and un-pretty story), I left the hospital and did the first couple of weeks of my recuperation in a really nice rehab facility in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Most of the nursing assistants in that place were Asian women. Many of the patients were Asian, too, but not all.

I had brought a lot of pass-the-time stuff with me, imagining that I’d need the distractions, that I wouldn’t just be doing physical therapy or sleeping, which is generally what one does after knee surgery. One of the things I brought with me was the baby blanket I was knitting for a friend’s newly-arrived first child.

Everyone was interested in my knitting. They would all ask what I was working on, and I’d tell them, and they’d say it was a nice gift. One morning, I’d gotten some super adorable pics of my friend and her baby, so when the first person asked me about the blanket, I decided to also show her the picture of the gift recipient. I pulled up the photo on my phone and handed it to the nursing assistant. She looked shocked, which wasn’t the response I was expecting. She turned the phone to face me.

“Your friend is Chinese!”

And that was true, but so? I acknowledged the yes, my friend was Chinese. She nodded and handed back my phone. “Wow,” she said quietly. I’m not sure she actually looked at the baby at all. I was puzzled, but let it go. I showed the picture to some of the other Asian women who took care of me and got almost the same response each time.

Months later, after my second knee surgery that year (as I said, a long and un-pretty story), I was back in the same rehab place. A friend had come to visit me, and then another friend arrived. Both are women I knew from my old job. The first woman who’d come by is white. The second woman who came by is Chinese — not the mother of the baby, whole different friend group. For the purposes of this story, I’ll call the white woman Anne and the Chinese woman Miao. While we were hanging out, one of the nursing assistants came in to check on me. She looked stunned to see Miao and immediately excused herself. Thirty seconds later, another assistant came to the room, got a look at Miao and dashed away. This continued. Maybe five or six more times.

Anne remarked on the incredible attentiveness of the CNA staff. It seemed pretty clear, however, that the staff were coming to see Miao with their own eyes, some in-the-flesh proof of my having Chinese friends. When I said this and told Miao and Anne about the baby photo, Miao nodded. “Yes,” she said. “It’s surprising that you have Asian people for friends. I was taught to think Black people don’t like us. Maybe they were, too.”

Which made me feel sad and naive at the same time. The idea that Black and Asian people don’t get along wasn’t new. I just hadn’t thought about it or seen it play out in such a glaring way in my own life.

my friends wondered if seeing Miao would mean I’d get better treatment. I waved that off as ridiculous, and am happy to say that I was proven right. I was already getting fabulous care. The only way they could have improved on their treatment of me would have been for one of them to morph into my mom and come sing me lullabies to put me to sleep each night.

The idea that Black and Asian people don’t like one another is absurd … or it should be. In the BIPOC group today, we talked about the ways anti-Black racism builds walls between groups, keeping everyone under its thumb, keeping everyone busy laying blame on one another rather than looking at White Supremacy. The careful and intricate constructions of racism keep doing their work, keep humming along under everything.

One of the tools used to support recuperation after knee surgery is a CPM machine: Continuous Passive Motion. You put your leg in this device and it moves your knee through its full range of motion until you turn it off. I both loved and hated that machine. And in our BIPOC group today, thinking about the shocked women in the rehab center, I made the connection that one of White Supremacy’s powerful tools is that it functions like the CPM machine. You don’t have to move a muscle. You are strapped into the apparatus, and it cycles you through the various ranges of hateful motion. It functions in the background with no need for your awareness and will continue to do so until you take deliberate action to shut it down.

When will we be ready to turn off that switch?


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

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