Archive | February, 2010

women’s history month.

28 Feb

There was a time when celebrating Women’s History Month was an uncomfortable experience (like Black History Month through high school). Celebrating my “womanhood” meant, also accepting a host of other things I didn’t necessarily want to. Most of it was my fear of being called a “feminist” – that ‘ugly’ misinterpretation of a name. Claiming it, the name and the association, actually made me feel less “feminine.” Aggressive and hard, “too strong” I think. Ugly even. I hated it. (I could really go there right now, but let’s stay focused – look out for a post later this month.)

Because I was affected by popular representations of Feminism and femininity, I wasn’t able to imagine a woman as both intensely ‘political’ and beautifully elegant. As being simultaneously bold and graceful. I wanted to be both Harriet and Billie. But I had to pick a box – check one. I chose the ‘prettier’ girl. And that came at the expense of a very significant part of my identity. I’ve had strong opinions since birth, but people – teachers especially, have always chastised me to silence and stillness. If I had a voice, it had to look a certain way. In essence, I had to wear the face of a femininity that never belonged to me. And I was never (ever) taught that it was ok to be a “feminist.”

It took me until 2007 to finally understand, that Feminism and I (despite our flaws) stand for many of the same things. The root of which is humanity – people. God forbid. And… I’ve decided, feminists aren’t ugly. Patriarchy is. Sexism, domestic violence.  Male chauvinism, sexual abuse, entitlement, unrestrained and ignorant male privilege. Those are ugly. I think I must have quietly participated in each of those evils all those years I was ducking the designation. I sure do hate boxes though.

Experience has afforded me this wisdom: trying to make people understand you by masking who you are will not help them see you. (Nor will it help you see yourself, or them.) If anything, it cultivates greater misunderstanding. I get it now. My current status: “Working Title.” But Feminist or some variant is in the game.  Being me is inherently political. I think that’s sort of neat.

Anyway, my whole point is this… March is Women’s History Month. And I’m celebrating, as a Lover/Supporter/Defender of women and people everywhere. Word.

This month is dedicated to my mother who epitomizes strength and grace, and love. To her mother Hannah who breathed life into my mother’s walk, and my Nana still living like she’s my age in the MidWest. To Maya Angelou, Virginia Hamilton, Alice Walker, and Paule Marshall – you gave me my first novels, and my first poetry. I started painting with your palettes. To Ntozake Shange, you saved my life one summer when I read For Colored Girls for the first time. I am every one of those girls, I have touched every color of the rainbow. And before that summer, I thought I was alone. Thank you for telling those sharing – all of it.

To Paulette Childress White, June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Cade Bambara – I know it sounds cliché, but you are inspiration. Everyday. To Assata Shakur and Angela Davis and those who inspired you, I wonder what this planet would be like if we were all like you. After all you’ve been through, you still have faith. I have no excuse. To Audre Lorde, I haven’t been the same since we met. You helped me get here, and “…I am very glad to be who I am, here.”

Thank you to all the women in my life, and in this world, who understand human value and self-worth, and have had the courage to invade silence to violently protect their names. To those who seek to learn themselves, but search more than their own faces. And to those who are after more than Self.

(H*ll, I haven’t made it past the 30’s yet…and it truly was an accident that they’re all Black. It has NOTHING to do with the fact that I picked up a Feminist Reader today and out of 26 chapters, 2 were written by Black Feminists. Seriously. Coincidence.)

for audre lorde.

28 Feb

her eyes
are bigger
than most of ours.
of both sky, and sea.
from a distance,
a wide gaze.
yet never
of it, and
at once
an arm’s length
from it.
and maybe
that’s why she moves
so sharply
in the dark.
she just knows.
or maybe
it is that
she feels
it all.
even with
her eyes closed.

what i learned in school today…

23 Feb

(artwork by laurie cooper)

after school today, a ninth grader i had never met came to me to talk. at the moment he introduced himself to me i had not anticipated that he would begin narrating the last 5 years of his life.  but he ended up telling me about his first girlfriend – a relationship that ended when she died two years ago while he was in the 7th grade.  (imagine.)  and then he told me about his first boyfriend – a relationship that ended abruptly last night and “not on good terms,” as he explained it.  and with all of that, he also described to me his experiences relating to others, or others’ experiences (not) relating to him.

he was surprisingly calm, and maybe it was only because he already exploded earlier that day in his last class (hence his impromptu visit to my office – his way of checking himself).  but given our conversation, i would argue he was sort of at peace with who he was.  he looked at me and said, “i know who i am, and i’ve known for a while.” he said that he had often let others constrain him – “write me, or write me off” he said.  but today, he was confident, unwavering, and not in the defensive and contrived way.  but in the ‘i just had an emotional breakdown, and i’m still struggling but i got this’ sort of way.  and i also learned that this was one of the first moments he had openly declared himself to someone other than his last romantic partner.  and he was just getting started.  i was like practice for his grandmother, who he told me he planned to go to next.  he was on a mission – an important one. he was doing that “identity thing” the courageous among us do.

i can remember being where he is. identifying who i was and who i wanted to be, and recognizing the resistance.  i suppose it took me much longer to get here – where the opposition can’t stand against my fire, like it won’t be able to take his.  and to be sure, i am still doing some of the work he apparently has already done.   it has taken me this long to vomit up all of the poison i ingested over the years – everyone else’s bile (it is as nasty as it sounds).  to tear away all of their names and designations for me, and of course to acknowledge my own weaknesses – enhanced by peer pressure and the desire to want to be included (and thus like them).  i can remember all of that, and i am proud of this student for where he is, so early – and for just being there. for some of us, this is a feat.  the world is so polluted with the word “normal,” and so caught up with preserving the scarcity of who can wear its crown or sit beside its throne, we hoard it.  and alienate people.  and if we’re not excluding others with short-sighted labels, or racism, or with our reclusive pockets of luxuries, or any xenophobia, we’re driving ourselves to hell trying to be a part of the circle.  or maybe this was never you or isn’t you, and i’m just projecting an old self.

you all can say whatever about this child.  mention his age, his presumed unawareness, or incapability to know himself so early in his life.  but i am encouraged by him.  by the firmness with which he declared himself to me, and named himself.  and with titles that didn’t sound like “Gay,” or “Bisexual,” or “Black.”  he gave me descriptions that transcended what people gave him, and what most people wanted to afford him. and though he certainly used “bisexual” and “black” at one point, he also gave me “complicated.”  and “special.”  and “not you.”  and “who i am supposed to be, where i am supposed to be.”  and “unfinished.”  in his own words, with his own definitions.  without any apology. i can’t fit him neatly into some label, and no single word can stretch enough to touch him completely on its own.  but i’m not frustrated by being unable to organize him in my head.  i am inspired.  he is already where i have just arrived.

he is yet another reminder to me that i have to answer to God only. that everyone else – while i ever so deeply desire (in the most dramatic and unnecessary way) for you to like me, or appreciate me – all of you just don’t matter.  certainly not enough to risk living a silenced existence.  open-mindedness and consideration are only constructive so much as it makes people better – some people have been not so good for me. i have enough of my own stuff to work on, and i am finally exhausted with worrying over their problems – carrying their stuff, wearing their issues.  those are the heaviest clothes, and anyway – i am beautiful naked. if you can’t stand it, don’t look.

that’s what i learned in school today.

(see also:


23 Feb

“you set me up to fall into yr dreams
like the sub-saharan animal i am…”

Don’t forget daily updates!

for my grandma hannah…

22 Feb

i have often complained that i inherited the worst of my parents – my father’s pores, my mother’s lack of hearing, her flakiness, his naivete. and i have always found it tragically unfortunate that i was born with this beast my mother gave me – the laugh she bequeathed from my grandmother. it is the most obnoxious sound. full-bodied, and loud, and overdone. and i have never considered it with any true appreciation – not until this moment, as i am remembering my grandma hannah. i have tried to manage and control it, and altogether change it. but it breathes with its own heartbeat – like it doesn’t even belong to me. i find it embarrassing, but for whatever reason i thought of my grandma hannah today. and the way she used to just laugh and laugh. and hold her side, always tilting her head back – the same way every time. legs jumping, one hand on her knee, another holding a tissue – she always had a tissue, her nails always painted red. and she was always laughing – i think she laughed more than she talked. and when she was around (i am remembering our last thanksgiving), the room was always free and full, and warm. she was contagious. her laughter would become our own. like a love-offering. like a way of telling God, “thank you.” it was the voice of joy. and as i am remembering her, i am seeing her laughter as beautiful. like she was. like i am.

as i am remembering her, i am realizing i must have inherited greatness. and i can’t help but smile…

i ain’t crazy…

22 Feb

“…Dozing, drifting into sleep sometime, the script sliding off the quilts into a heap, I hear folks calling to me. Calling from the box. Mammy Pleasant, was it? Tubman, slave women bundlers, voodoo queens, maroon guerrillas, combatant ladies in the Seminole nation, calls from the swamps, the tunnels, the classrooms, the studios, the factories, the roofs, from the doorway hushed or brassy in a dress way too short but it don’t mean nuthin heavy enough to have to explain, just like Bad Bitch in the Sanchez play was saying. But then the wagon comes and they all rounded up and caged in the Bitch-Whore-Mouth mannequin with the dead eyes and the mothball breath, never to be heard from again. But want to sing a Harriet song and play a Pleasant role and bring them all center stage.

Wives weeping from the pillow not waking him cause he got his own weight to tote, wife in the empty road with one slipper on and the train not stopping, mother anxious with the needle and thread or clothespin as the children grow either much too fast to escape the attention of the posse or not fast enough to take hold. Women calling from the lock-up of the Matriarch cage. I want to put some of these new mother poems in those books the nephew sends to music. They got to be sung, hummed, shouted, chanted, swung…

Too many damn ransom notes fluttering in the window, or pitched in through the glass. Too much bail to post. Too many tunnels to dig and too much dynamite to set. I read the crazy scripts just to keep my hand in, cause I knew these newbreed Bloods going to do it, do it, do it. But meanwhile, I gotta work…and hell. then read one of them books my nephew always sending and hearing the voices speaking free not calling form these new Black poems. Speaking free. So I know I ain’t crazy…”

…an excerpt from one of my favorite short stories, Witchbird, by Toni Cade Bambara

i am more me like this. (more haiku!?)

18 Feb

his eyes haven’t moved.
makes me wonder what he hears
as his thoughts meet mine.

i can’t look away –
as he stretches into me,
he frees my secrets.

(i am more me like this.)

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