The Mistake

This poem was inspired by Maya Angelou’s “We Wear the Mask,” and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Mask.”


Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

We define grief as tears, not smiles
heartbreaking groans, and complaints
an emotion-gripped body that bends and aches
a display of physical pain is how we mistake
what it means to grieve.

We lookout for people who are visibly sad

a distraught tone of voice, a mind gone mad

a person who neglects to eat, but drinks

or maybe have a hard time falling asleep.

The physical signs of a distressed soul are what we see for ourself

and to this, we say, “careful now, of your mental health.”

 

But what of the people who are not so physically troubled?

 

They wake up each morning

their heads held high.

They could wallow in self-pity but prefer to fly.

They spread their cheeks, so we see their teeth,

and somehow, deep underneath the grief, they smile.

Their shoulders do not droop or bow or lean,

and from their eyes, no tears be seen.

We run to them for advice, and in their ears, we spill our guts

“They are pillars of strength, no matter what,”

we say

and this is the mistake.

 

Right there in those smiling faces, see the invisible rock.

The chains of depression’s coffles

it’s whips and lash and knock

its uninvited entry when our smiling support goes home

and lay their pillars on their pillows 

before crying themselves to sleep.

 

In a world as destructive as this one, 

they need not make it known 

that even the happiest person 

still cries and loathes and moans.

Even the most joyous of us, with praise smeared on our lips

have some load to carry, 

we wish to be helped with.

But if physical anguish is the only measurement

by which we weigh grief

then these people don’t have a chance

of attaining such release.

 

And yet, where would we be without these rays of light

who helps us, if for a moment, to believe all is right?

Where would we be without people with such faith?

Those who pull us from the grave, 

even as they stand on the edge of death and wait?

Too solid to bend and too proud to break.

They go on permitting us to believe 

pain is but a physical thing.

 

This is the mistake.

The Wait is Over

I’ve been working on this collection of poetry since I released I am Soul three years ago. So much as happened in that time that most of this year feels like it happened years ago. It feels like Kobe Bryant died in 2019, but then I remember that tragedy happened earlier this year. I have to remind myself that Kobe’s death is how we opened the year!

It feels like I went to Spain for the first time last year, and then I realize that it was just this past February.

Sometimes, it feels like Friday, and then I remember it is only Tuesday. I find myself looking at the calendar more just to remind myself what day it is.

This is 2020.

The most significant change is the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually, we focus on our individual struggles, trials, and tribulations, so it’s funny to think about the world around us being just as chaotic as our internal struggles. As if a global, deadly virus isn’t enough, the rest of the world is just as upside down.

Black men and women continue to be gunned down in the streets. Historical monuments are being demolished as people awaken to the truth of its origin. The traditional school experience for our babies is all but gone. Sports games do not have an audience.

Oh, and we are all walking around wearing masks and shaming people for not being “productive,” enough during a pandemic.

*Queue George Orwell’s 1984*

We are eight months into 2020, and I sense we haven’t seen anything yet.

But there is always hope.

There is no better time than to release this collection amid such a revolutionary era. Revolution only means change, and while most of the changes we’ve seen have been negative, there is a lot of good happening too. The good is harder to see because hope doesn’t make the news, but like the wind, it is there. I had my first school visit this year, where I spoke to 15 ELA classes about writing. I also had my first keynote invite and welcome this year by the Queenz Circle of ATL Bookclub before the pandemic took away the freedom of face-to-face events.

A lot has happened this year not just for me but also for you, so here’s what I’ve learned.

I’ve learned nothing we go through is without a purpose. No pain we suffer and no trial we experience happens without reason. It all ministers to our education and the development of ourselves into the people Yah ordained us to be. It helps to cultivate in us a spirit of patience, faith, humility, and self-control.

I hope these poems are a reminder that in our darkest moments, there is still hope. And I hope this collection will invigorate and renew your soul.

I am excited to share this with you!

My Soul is a Witness ❤️

Courage

How dramatic the transformation is when I turn lioness
how dangerous courage is
how beautiful too
how tingly the feeling when you throw caution to the wind
when an introvert speaks
you know that little mustard seed’s got a fire
how revolutionary to be humble in spirit,
but courageous in character.
The weight of this bravery
both heavy and powerful
how sensitive and warrior I am at the same time.
How powerful strength is
when you don’t know that it is there.

Mother to Son | Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
– Langston Hughes

It is already Yours

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The trial is the mask triumph wears until we are ready to receive what has always been ours. We live in a world where faith has lost its meaning, its vigor, its gloss. Woe to those who walk the Earth when faith has lost its shine. Who are we when faith has lost its power? Dare us to believe that something we cannot see is still ours. I dare you to believe that what you cannot see is still yours. What you cannot taste is still flavor. What you cannot hear is still music. We are far too busy chasing opportunities that aren’t ours to chase, forcing connections and misunderstanding the link between pain and growth. So we miscarry our blessings because of the labor pains. Too caught up in disappointment and heartache to endure the struggle long enough to find the strength. Too physical to see the spiritual. Too impatient to wait for what has not yet come. Too anxious to see that everything we are trying to be we already are and that everything we need, is already ours.