Saturday, April 25, 2009

she spirit (from Gutta Beautiful's time warp)

She spirit lives strong in the river, bathing atop blue rock, whispering through the limbs of strong bamboo, resting between the light rays of a sun descending orange behind the tree tops of Assin Manso. She spirit strong and waiting along a shaded trail, where bird-song tickles the ears, laughs pouting lips, gives dance to tired feet. She spirit. A blink of an eye and lashes long so. She spirit. Hands on hip, back bone dips, and strong so … sugar cane sweet and ackee yellow. Nana Pra. Nsmanfo. Egun. She is me. Her language? Soul speak and mountains dressed in clouds hung low, green tree leaves juicy, and roots deep in red earth, holding on. She spirit live strong in that river, bathing atop blue rock, whispering stories of courage between the gathering place – a prison made of boulders way north in Paga – and the journey of many shuffling feet, a chain of bodies sold down the dusty path south to Elmina.

It is in this place that I lost my love. I thought that maybe I would see him in a day or two. I thought that maybe I would hear his voice from somewhere behind the wall. I would put my face on the floor and listen for him to call my name. And this is what we lived for. We were children together. And he was my love. How could I go to the white man when he called me? A nasty thing. I wanted to spit in his face, gauge out his eyes, fight him … to get to my love. I would stay chained forever, waiting. I sit in silence for two months. I do not speak. I stare out, eyes locked somewhere in space. Don’t leave me. We wait for what we do not know.

And across big waters, flying water vultures with teeth that rip some apart, bodies packed one on top the other, wailing, screaming, dying and birthing us new over raging waters, angry waters. And the names of the ships crossing them over? Jesus. Holy Mary.

She spirit live strong, still bathing atop blue rock, whispering through the limbs of poplars and resting between the light rays of a sun descending orange behind tree tops in Louisiana. She spirit strong and waiting along a shaded trail, where bird-song tickles the ears, laughs pouting lips, gives dance to tired feet. She spirit. A blink of an eye and lashes long so. She spirit. Hands on hip, back bone dips, and strong so … sugar cane still sweet, though cotton pricks the fingers to bleed so. Corn in husk for roasting over hot fire on a dusty path beyond the Delta. Nsmanfo. Egun. She is me. Her language? Soul speak and swamps thick with crocodiles, tree stumps burn, still – roots deep in red earth, holding on She spirit live strong in these rivers, bathing atop blue rock, whispering stories of courage at the gathering place in Congo Square, where rhythms memory home and the journey of many feet, a chain of bodies sold …

It is in this place that I lost my love: My eyes on the machete, my palms sweating. I watch you and wait for a sign. Life. I wait for yes. And I do it. I take the machete and life in my hands and stand next to you. I take the machete in my hands to get back to you. Freedom. Blood on my hands. In my womb. I scream. Freedom! And it hurts. I had to do it. Blood on my hands. In my heart. And it hurts, ‘cause I still lost you.

gypsy in the bronx 1

I am gypsy. I know, right? That's obvious. Been shuttling up and down the east coast, trying to find my way into somebody's American dream. I wonder sometimes if my children will remember me as a crazy mama with little sense for all the movements I've caused inspired by my whim and desire, trying desperately to make their lives a little better. It's a stupid feeling, being a woman like myself, caught inside some genius idea that words will make my living profitable and get my babies to the summer vacations over-seas they dream about aloud. I can't stand that I can hear them. They don't even have passports, and someone stole mine. Guess this one woman with visas for Ghana and Brazil amounting to only one and half months of my thirty four years was too much for the thief, had to steal my just got to blossoming new self in one second and snatched all my rights to leave this place. Got damn.

But I'm still claiming I'm a gypsy. A gypsy in the Bronx. I wear my scarf everyday. Tie it tight around my head and let the tail of it swing in the cold wind. I tighten my lips against the grit. I step over the dog shit. I used to tell my daughters to walk with their eyes straight ahead. Something black girls got a right to do - - keep their heads to the sky and be proud of they skin and what they got from the generations before. Now I insist that they look down at the concrete, beware the feces, and please don't trip over that broken glass glistening in the sun light so pretty.

My horizon is beneath my feet. I swear to god I might have to jump over it, and miss my golden ticket out of this daily hustle. This is where my jones has got me. I live for the sound of the elevated train rumbling past while I'm on my cell phone, and I must be finally fitting in 'cause now the shorties on the block say 'wassup' as I pass by, like I know them, when they only used to stare before. I'm proud of this small thing …. acceptance, despite my southern drawl sneaking through the pseudo hybrid accent I've cultivated to pass. My gypsy scarf confuses them. I swear. Be a gypsy, and no one will know how to place you. You just kind of belong everywhere and nowhere.

And I'm cool with that. Aint never had a problem with being a little bit of this and that, one foot in the water, a toe on land, the rest of me kind of hovering in the air somewhere. Moving. It's how I know myself, how I sense the next beat of my heart. Stillness is a place I house on the inside. The rest of it is all about journey. So, I'm cool. I'll gypsy the Bronx for a spell ... and when this juju's done, it's all wing span and free style. I don't covet places. Home is my being. I am teaching my children that ...and going to the post office to apply for a new passport ... actually three. My crystal ball is showing me a new movement reaching crescendo in yet another place in time. Soon come.

But for now, I ponder telling fortunes out front the Laundromat while I do my weekly wash. I will sell my special gris gris in once used honey jars saved for this purpose. Yeah. I will sell two special gris gris. One for love and one for hate, since those are the two extremes we humans tend to live torn between. I will keep them in a small cooler next to my bottle of sangria, and I will drink that sangria out a real pretty wine glass, too.

adventures, tarot cards, and crystals aka one rare bird in the borough

gypsy commits herself to the insane asylum aka mind riddles and m.i.a. escape routes:

the neon pizza sign hums beneath the rumble of the elevated train. outside the laundromat, rain puddles are fishing holes for the grime of an urban life outside the pocket. the pocket: boom bap and head nod, a flow without fight or fuss. this aint it. can't be. glitter stars fall here.

the washer is on spin. gypsy's eyes glaze over with disbelief and boredom. another day in the boogie down. aint nothing but a predictable refrain. sometimes nostalgia forces the chorus of some house song, some club remix. usually it's just one foot over dog shit the other guiding a body forward. to the bodega: dusty 7 day candles, cheap incense with absurd names like butta ball nekid and black love. dreams. silly wishes.

this corner is run by the shorties wearing blue. young and dumb, performing threats, looking harmless, lazy eyes and pimple skin. not gangstas. same dudes sit outside talking the same shit. hellafied ordinariness. everybody gets high. falls to rise again ... backwood sweets, white owls, some chemically altered green leaf get by. america is a joke. gun powder won't change that.

gypsy waits for the right card, the right moment ... the ten of cups reversed indicates delayed bliss. a walk down grand concourse, where a frantic woman chases a thief, screaming, "he took my cell phone!" gypsy laughs, cringes, pushes her own phone down inside a different kinda pocket, checks it every five minutes to make certain it is still there. this is dumb.

cash rules everything around me. a brand new electronic device will pay for one rock. maybe. and no one calls. no one answers. perhaps charity is an eight ball.

grand concourse to jerome ave and back to the laundromat. spin cycle is done. clothes damp and fresh smelling wait for those two hands, lifting cheap fabric into the dryer. gypsy watches them dance. she does not. the five of pentacles: one sorry fool walking on crutches helps another pitiful soul walk in the snow beneath a window. they need a ladder. climb through the window and steal sunlight and gold coins. pirate ectasy. how long will it take for the two idiots to figure it out? or will they continue soldiering through the relentlessly dreary weather, bound and determined to walk this path? stupid. necessary. at least they got each other.

gypsy walks alone confused by other human lives. she foretells misery, moments of laughter like crumbs. we scatter to crawl on the ground, sniffing the scattered bits like clean coke, precious and hiding out between cracks in asphalt.

gypsy waits for spring. an illusion of hope, fertile with mortality. it comes back. keeps us committed. how long before the space ship arrives to lift us beyond this material mind fuck? too long. perhaps the tower is better. a fall from tepid grace and mercy, a shift in understanding, a revolutionary change. is life the devil, chaining us?

the crystal ball tells nothing. simply the distorted reflection of the apartment in miniature. prism. prison. home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Open Letter to My Father

Dear Dad,
You named me for a woman whose voice tells the story of women daring as pirates, women whose sensual footsteps marked paths unbecoming of any era’s definition of a “lady” but crucial to the heart and soul’s beat of the black Americas; you named me for a woman who calls forth generations of ripe genius, demanding an answer affirming the resilience of a people more beautiful for our collective denial of what popular national policies and practices would craft as our inevitable demise. And though I’ve never known her to belt out the word “feminist” over any melody, her presence, whether live or recorded, fills that politicized identity with the fiery blood, the fearless pout, and the demand for respect which have all merged to birth black women as the foremothers of any rendition of feminism and humanism since our ancestral feet touched soil this side of the Atlantic.

I cannot claim her life and legacy as singly my own. She has many daughters, of which I am only one. But I can find myself, in moments, upon the story-sounds brought into the world by way of her heart, her lungs, and lips. And in finding myself there on more occasions than I could ever recount in this space, and in acknowledging the role you played in guiding me to where I should look for a strong and worthy affirmation, I am certain that you had a pivotal role in designing my life as a rebellious and empowered black woman determined to break free of any and all oppressive forces hell bent on silencing me, or any of the folks I lovingly consider familiar to my own heart. And I love you for it.

We have not had an easy walk together. And this, I think, should never be a surprise for you. There should be some comfort in our tensions, because, even in those difficult times, I was testing the variegations of your initial intent. The name, the path, the promise and prayer you must have carried within when you helped to give me life, demands that of me. So when I railed back at you for setting before me what I recognized as a limitation (whether curfew or expectation of what your experience dictated I should do), I was only living what you passed on to me.

What did you pass on to me, beyond the name, and possibly, somehow, within it as well? There are many gifts I can recall, but I will begin with words – the most simple and obvious treasure for a young woman writer. It was you who taught me how to read at the early age of two, and it was you who traveled with me to countless bookstores come Saturday with the most precious freedom imaginable: you gave me free reign in bookstores with shelves dedicated to the lives of black and brown people so that by age twelve I discovered Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. And on our Sunday drives through the city, you asked me to read Langston Hughes’s Jesse B. Semple stories until we doubled over laughing at the mirror reflection found in small black print. Beyond that, and also converging within that miracle, were the countless meetings and business trips I was so lucky to experience with you, because you lived your words, “If there’s somewhere I can’t take my daughter, what business do I have there myself?” And you were educating me through that choice. I learned the courage and tenacity it takes to be an entrepreneur and a thinker, the joy found in speaking back against the odds, and the importance of living my politics, despite potential personal discomfort. It was you who took me to my first protest in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. on a cold January day. And you would not let me stop walking and chanting, regardless of how cold the temperature or how my shivering lips eventually produced unintelligible words nearing a whisper instead of a shout so that what may have become a whisper there certainly could never stay that way. You affirmed my voice, demanding my input in every family debate and requesting my services on projects that would have typically gone to someone with more experience. You dared me to reach beyond the comfortable place of my youth, and to create a path informed by my ability to think and act from a space of confidence. Thank you.

When I became a single and divorced mother of two daughters, it would have been easy for me to become embittered toward black men, had it not been for your presence in my life. And I have to be honest, Dad, when I was transforming through that painful time, our relationship became a frustration for me in ways I am only recently beginning to understand. In mining my most intimate knowledge of self, I had to look at my relationship with you, the first “man” in life, because I believed that in unpacking all that I had experienced with and through you, I would come to some epiphany about how I, a black woman raised in a two parent household of some privilege, could find herself among the epidemically ruptured, and perhaps irrevocably damaged, contemporary black and broken families. I wanted to hold you accountable for every human mistake, every disappointed frown in my memory of life as a young girl in your home, because in so doing, I could forgive myself, forget the true collapse of sacred vows, deny the sting of this nation’s constant trial against those of us young colored genius’s who often turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the perpetual need to be consciously responsible in our community’s evolution, trading a history of politicized progressive movement forward for a near dupie’s sleep through it all. I wanted to blame you in much the same way that many in my generation blame our parents’ generation for failures we feel too small to clean up. But I could not hold that line. Your life’s work, and the many struggles and victories of those who walked with you, refused me that easy way out at every turn.

You did not coddle me into understanding this. Instead you challenged me to step up my game in ways that seemed ridiculous to me sometimes. You demanded that I find a way to speak my story of addiction, abuse, and spiritual deficit by helping me to write and eventually see my words live through the performances and interpretations of a special family of risk-taking artists. You also told me something which helped me to understand that, even when your version of black manhood did not measure up to what I thought it should be in relation to my experience as a black woman, it is only possible for us to choose, if spirit finds us strong enough, to become better versions of self; and no politicized identity, no moralized idea of right or wrong, can change that very human aspect of our being. You said, “Every man is [at best] a recovering sexist,” and that one can only work diligently at unlearning what he has been conditioned to practice. Through that admission, I came to understand that we are all always unpacking the debris of a remaining cultural tendency to oppress and deny that which is both our most honest and most troubling inherent trait – LOVE. Thank you.

It is my respect and admiration for you and your determined walk in this life which has kept me wanting the stories and lives of black and brown men, in spite and because of the “failure” of my marriage (not to mention all the other break ups and break downs in relationship with my brothers). What I once shamefully defined as a failure in loving a black man has finally become a lesson in how love can often tear folks down simply to create an opportunity to know a more revolutionary way of loving, one transcending life’s inevitably real and down right ugly ways of testing faith, strength, and awareness. Thank you.

Your choice to push me further away by forcing me to walk alone with a sense of dignity and a certain independence of spirit at times when I was whining and crying out of a sense of apologetic victim-hood has kept me from hiding under your protective wing, even though you risked losing the closeness cultivated during my early years by taking such a stance.

You are always with me, whether we agree with laughter and conspiratorially pleasant smiles or disagree with arms folded across chests and angry words straining but never breaking the simple truth – I will always be your daughter, and you will always be my Dad. There are no replacements, no imitations, no doubts or dismissals. And if I often seem brazenly rambunctious in how I choose to be your daughter, simply remember . . . you helped to design me this feminist black woman, and you chose my name.