SugarCoated and Springtime

They get tired of hearing it.
Ain’t nobody got to say it,
I know that they get tired.
Tired of these distractions in brown-colored skin
waking up from Valley’s
with muscles and tendons
all conscious-like.
Uncovering the blood in the American Flag—
Tired, tethered, and intoxicated
with his story.
Unraveling the color of bigotry on a beautiful glass,
Smeared fingerprints and fallen stars like
Why they keep sittin’ in?
Between our comfort and a hard place.
America,
This be some kinda hard place
for brown-colored skin
in the springtime.

Strange fruit popping up again on trees,
‘cept Nina ain’t here to sing us a song.
After 400 years
songs just don’t work anymore.
Tired of these guns accidentally going off,
Landing somewhere in my purse.
somewhere in my womb.
Somewhere in my future between lipstick and foundation.
I’ve got to warn my sons
about accidental guns.
Generational homicide got me on my knees praying
the badge
ain’t got his name on it.
Let’s be accurate about it.
Will I be left with the fragmented
pieces of my husband’s shoes
between our front porch and the living room floor?

Will my kiss linger long enough to bring him home tonight?
Or will I suffer a widow’s fate of mistaken identity?
After all, these brown, tan, bronze, and mahogany-colored
skins all do look the same…
Don’t they?

I’m afraid of your guns.
They don’t know the difference
between friend and foe–
or maybe, they do.
Funny how bullets be mistakin’ themselves for judges
that ain’t got names on them.
They say a gun
ain’t got a name on it.
Why are they sugar-coating it?

‘Cause people get tired of hearing about all this black…
All this oppression,
All these curses,
All this power like,
Why we won’t pour sugar on top of these bodies?
Get ’em up off the street.
Don’t want our bullets to get stirred up, ya know.
Getting up outta beds,
loading themselves into chambers
and taking walks at night,
in the afternoon, and especially in the morning,
when it’s springtime.


Fun Fact: I first wrote this poem four years ago (almost to the day). Reposting because it is still fitting for today’s climate. You can find it in my I am Soul poetry collection. 

A Witness to the Experience

My Soul is a Witness: Poetry \ Coming Fall 2020

 

My Soul is a Witness is a title inspired by the Negro Spiritual song, “Witness,” but I did not choose such a title because I think of myself and my people as “Negroes.” I chose such a title because of the powerful messages and influence these songs had on our people as they transitioned from enslavement to freedom. Powerful messages I hope to also convey through my poetry.

There is a great spiritual awakening happening among Black people today as we strive to unlearn the lies they taught us for over 400 years. Whether that is starting and running our own businesses, embracing our natural hair or re-educating our young people on the parts of our history left out of the history books.

And to what am I a witness?

I am a witness to the trials and struggles my people have endured and I am a witness to our power to overcome those struggles. I am a witness also to my own sufferings which I am sure have been experienced by others. In this way, I am a witness to the fight that we all have. And why the fight? It is easy to present an image of healing and wholeness, but I believe it is much more fruitful if people knew of the struggles that got us where we are today.

From a historical perspective, I have not experienced the Middle Passage or enslavement or Jim Crow, but as a descendent of people who did, I am connected to those experiences just as if I had been there with them. In the Black community, we do not say, “when they fought for freedom,” we say, “when we fought for freedom.” The same can be true of the struggles of our own personal lives. If someone says they have been homeless before, I can relate because I have been homeless before too. I am a witness to what that’s like. If someone says they have a family member who is an addict, I can relate. I also have family members who are addicts. The anguish that causes in a family and what it does to that person and their loved ones are not lost to me. I can relate to that. I am a witness to that experience.

I believe epigenetic trauma is real. Epigenetics is the idea that trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which then is passed down to subsequent generations. (C. Benedict, New York Times) This means that a child or grandchild can experience side-effects from the traumatic experience of his/her elders. Since the concept of epigenetics, more and more studies hint to the inheritability of trauma where our own day-to-day health (and perhaps our children too) may have something to do with our inheritance of our parents and grandparents suffering.

One personal example is my own mother’s struggle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder). Her grandson, my nephew, suffers from asthma badly, though both his parents do not have asthma. Could he have inherited my mother’s affliction to a degree?

Thus, I do not find it far-fetched that Blacks/African Americans could still struggle from the mental and spiritual grief that plagued our forefathers long ago. We are witnesses to this pain on a deeply personal level which makes the Negro Spiritual deeply personal to us. While our ancestors were escaping physical enslavement, I believe we are escaping mental enslavement today.

As it applies to all people from the perspective of suffering and struggle, we all have a fight we are engaged in and when we overcome this fight, we become witnesses to that experience and can help others to overcome those same tribulations.

If trauma can be passed down, then so can healing. My soul is a witness.


Have you read I am Soul yet? Grab it here. My Soul is a Witness is coming this fall.

Race and Rights

Malcolm-X-about-men

When did race and rights become separate entities? Since when has the black problem in America not have to do with both race and rights? Dare you to walk the streets of the 1920s and 40s and 50s with your prophet scented blood and expect to transgress the law of separatist signage. That “Whites Only” sign ain’t there by mistake. The one that says Negroes like you must order from the back door. Yo money may be colored like your skin but green has always been worth more than brown. I don’t like to have to go back to slavery. After all, it ain’t like I lived it and yet I can never forget what it feels like. But since we on the subject of feeling, I’m feeling like the same blood pulsing underneath my ancestor’s skin now pulses through mine so what they felt I feel it too. Perhaps I too was a slave long ago and its just taken me this long to find my voice. So, therefore, let me tell you something about what it means to be a slave. A slave is never granted the same rights as a free man, not a physical slave or a psychological one. An inferior race is never granted the same rights as a superior one. Thus anything that’s got to do with rights has also got to do with race. For the Black problem in America has always been centered around identity and always will be. Rights would have never been a problem if the problem wasn’t race. If the hierarchy of the superior and the less superior didn’t exist. If black people never walked around with bywords and proverbs tattooed on their skins there wouldn’t have been a need for them to watch movies in the Nigger Heaven1 of southern movie theaters. Would have been no need of me taking my seat alongside Miss Parks or Miss Morgan all them years ago. A Black Man’s rights and his race are always connected here, like the careful structure of his bones before he emerges from his mother’s womb. It’s the yearning for freedom written in his DNA. Black America’s rights have always and always will be centered around their identity because their problem is not physical it is spiritual. And because a spiritual problem has been long fought with physical weapons the condition of black people in America continues. And so their fight has always been and always will be centered around their freedom.

1. Nigger heaven, n. a designated place, usually the balcony, where blacks were forced to sit, for example, in an integrated movie theater or church as part of Jim Crow Laws.

Encouraging Womanhood

I remember being given the permission to date at a certain age. Even if not literal (I don’t remember being told), by the age of 15, 16, and 17 it was understood I have at some point begun dating, and as such there was a silent acceptance of this change. As I’m running errands and trying to escape the triple digit scorch that’s got it’s body spread all over Louisiana, I thought about womanhood. d8998d4994ed3993c8d8df56c8e9ebcf What is womanhood? The question hangs over the heads of our daughters with anxious anticipation. The youthful mind dividing itself into sections of experience: puberty, first date, first love, marriage, and children. We split ourselves into portions and gamble off pieces that do not fit. We grow old and still we find this question lingering against the frontal lobe of our minds, and occupying the mental space of our thoughts, “What is Womanhood?” It is a question we believe can be answered just by purchasing cigarettes, buying liquor, engaging in sexual intercourse or the entering of the club scene. As my thoughts spread out and I take these snap shots of my own past, I thought about this generation and how disappointed I am in a lot of today’s youth. Their minds seem to be so far gone from basic fundamental teachings that drive adulthood. My thoughts grew to include preparation and how little of it is present in many of our communities. That is the preparation of our young people and most especially, of our young women. Instead of encouraging our daughters to get boyfriends, it is time we start to prepare them for womanhood. In this way, when they begin to engage in relationships, when they do find a man, they’re not little girls. Because we have not prepared our daughters, a generation of children occupy grown-up bodies and little girls have over run our households and are producing babies they don’t have the tools to teach. What happened to the womanhood training our grandmothers instilled in our mothers fifty years ago?

The Art of Storytelling

storytelling

When I think of storytelling, a familiar image creeps into my mind: an elder with the strength of several generations. Eyes covered with glasses slightly tilted off the nose, he or she nodding slowly to the beat of a rocking chair. Their hands or knees are stiff with arthritis so it is rubbed continuously as the history of whatever crawls out of their mouth. And when it does, the ears jump with excitement, wondering how a single individual can be so vivid with detail. The story is told from somewhere down south under the roof of an inherited home, one passed down from generation to generation. A place where even the oldest relative once had his/her diapers changed, a place to always come back to and to always call home. This is a house on the countryside or perhaps a peaceful place in the city. Storytelling has been around since forever. It predates writing and has proven to be one of the most oldest and most effective ways to relay a message. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of education, cultural preservation, entertainment, and instilling moral values.

One of the characteristics of storytelling that makes it so powerful is the colorful expression as showcased by the orator. The tone of voice, gestures, creativity, and point of view of the speaker. I always enjoy a good sit down with the elderly in that I may relive moments to which I had not existed. Even in my mind, as I pass an elder on the street, I cannot help but fathom what today’s world must look like through their eyes. It is a silent and private game between me and that person. Quickly and excitedly I create a background for them. Did that old black lady experience Jim Crow? What was it like for her? Did that old white lady experience the first integration of schools? What was it like for her? As I remember it, I was one day standing under a foyer at the Veterans Hospital waiting for my husband. It was raining out so I was careful to keep under the hood of the building. An elderly white man came walking out of the building. His back slightly hunched as he glided from one step to the next. “Is it still raining?” he asked, more so to the air than anyone in particular. “Yep”, I said looking into the sky. As he walked away, muttering a phrase under his breath I’d never heard but cannot remember accurately enough to share, I wondered about his youth and about how he would compare today’s world to the one he grew up in. Did he think the direction of things had bettered or worsened? I wondered, as I do always.

Perhaps Storytelling is so impactful because of its ability to both educate and entertain at the same time. Spoken Word Poetry, Theater, Photography,  and writing in general, for example, is built from the foundation of the orator. It is in its basic form, Storytelling. While we may add the glitter and gold of our own poetic technique, it is the expert story teller who catches the peoples attention. It is the person who can design for us not just a collection of good-sounding words, not just a picture, but a reality. A stepping forth into someone elses world. Maybe we will enjoy our stay, maybe we will not. But whether or not we like it here is of no relevance, the whole point is to be taken there. The author has taken you there and you must then decide if you really want to continue to be a part of this persons world. If you believe you can extract from them some portion of themselves that may be of benefit to your own life. What can I learn from the history and the experiences of this individual, whether character or real live personnel. In short, Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Stories are great teaching tools because, like love, it is a universal language. Universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic, and age-related divides. Although my image of the storyteller is that of an elder, Storytelling can actually be adaptive for all ages, and can be used as a method to teach ethics, values, and cultural norms and differences. Books and organized / structured schooling is one way to acquire information, but experience has taught us that social environment and contact physically with others is of great benefit to learning. It provides real life examples about how knowledge is to be applied. Stories then function as a tool to pass on knowledge in a social context.

In the end, stories exist to create a visual example of word in the mind of the listener / reader. To take the creative skill and the imagination and express them in a way that can literally be seen. And since Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination (typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture), Storytelling is also a form of art, producing stories to be appreciated primarily for its emotional power and for the beauty in which it is told.