Thursday, December 9, 2010

Finding the Us: Conversations with a Teacher (intern) of Color


Currently, I have decided that teaching will be my life’s work. I’m happy to say that I am on my way there as I begin my practices as a teaching intern. I find that choosing to teach in today’s public school system—which is becoming an increasingly standardized and militarized space—has become a political decision. So many questions come to mind: How does a teacher resist these structures as well as work within them? Are our students ready to go out into a world where increasing hostility and secrecy have become the norm? As a teacher, what are the tools I will give my students to analyze their lives and the larger society? And my more political question: How will my students go beyond the classroom and eventually mobilize to resist our current white patriarchal capitalist supremacist state (you can add on to this list as you wish)?

I have learned that the road to understanding these answers is a messy process. All the while, some parts are quite basic. For example, as a teacher who wants to see a more just world, What does community mean? What does empathy for a group of people who have different life experiences than you mean? What does connection mean, as well as seeing political, economic and social connections? I think of my professor who said something that has become a principle of mine as a teacher, “I will affirm the best of human experiences and oppose the worst of human actions.” Believe me. This ain’t an easy task.

I am a teacher of color in a playing field where about 83% of the current teachers teaching are white women. Also, I happen to be teaching with an all white staff and faculty (not really a surprise with the exception that most of the staff of color are custodial workers) and primarily white working to middle class students (with a sprinkling of students of color). Furthermore, in my teaching program I am the only visible person of color.

I find that as a teacher of color, especially as a black woman, I am at the source of my white students (and all the white people I must deal with) fear. Not only have I had to hear racist statements from the students, I also hear how white teachers (mostly self-proclaimed liberals) reproduce the same very thoughts and actions they seek to untangle. Therein lies the arrogance of supremacist thinking, and the contradictions of being in this struggle. Moreover, my days are often filled with amazing hostilities and headaches, with little to no support. Fortunately, I love the labor. Of course there is no pure place where this work can be done and I too am working to decolonize and sort out my own thinking. And yet, there is a longing for something else.

I love to teach and I love the students (and I will be teacher) but there is a lingering question: “How much can I stomach?” Doing this work in this particular area has brought many questions, yearnings and contradictions to the surface. I believe that white people, especially our young white students need this social justice work more than ever. I am not sure if I should be the one doing it (but someone has got to do it). That is why I am often perplexed when I hear the majority of white teachers seeking to go out and teach poor black and Latina youth. I have seen many “well intentioned” white teachers carrying a sentiment that this population is the source of our current problems. There is always a voice in my mind wanting to say: Go out and work in your own community! Let me go there. As a teacher I have seen that white supremacist thinking must be liberated from itself and if people (especially white people) are looking for a place to start, please start at home and you may find you have your work cut out for you.

It has been no easy task working with my students. However, some of the greatest teaching moments I have had, have come out of them spitting out their fears and contradictions. The list of their responses follows:

“Well we don’t want to be bad people. We’re not all bad.”

“Didn’t black people have slaves too?”

“Well Obama is president. He’s like the most powerful man in the country.”

“Well blacks had a hand in their own oppression too. It wasn’t all white.”

“Well I feel so guilty, so insignificant”,

“Well why should I feel responsible, its not as if I have any power!”,

“Well, change takes time but things have progressed.”

“It just sounds like complaining.”

"Well people of color can be racist too?!"

“Well why should we hate people because they’re rich? Don’t they obviously have to work hard for their money to get it?”

“Well if things were to really change, then what would happen to us?”

These are all statements at one point in time my students have blurted out. We have had to work through these thoughts together, to get to a place where we can learn and struggle forward. I wasn’t very surprised by these statements (I mean seriously, these thoughts are quite dominant and mainstream and have become ways to stop a thorough analysis of our reality). In fact, I was thankful that they had the courage to spit out their largely white-class privilege (or internalized white class privileged thinking) fears and attempt to challenge it. This is something I find many adults won’t even do.

I have also seen that these thoughts usually are never questioned and are almost always unchecked. They become hidden and tucked into their consciousness and reproduced in the most subtle actions. Why isn’t there enough work being done in predominantly white areas? And exactly WHO is doing this work, and WHO has the responsibility to do this work?

The only thing that keeps me going is understanding that there are many other people who have suffered and are still committed to doing this work. Past and present. So I stand in solidarity with these people. Although lonely, we do not do this alone.

I also think of my friends of color, who are mostly activists and organizers. They have decided that we are living in a time of political urgency. Where unemployment is rampant and the U.S. is becoming increasingly unsafe for POC, for workers. More frightening, these sentiments and actions are becoming further legitimized and legalized. My friends have gone off to work on immigrant rights, organize against globalization and neo-liberalism, labor organizing, workers rights and working with POC in low income areas. They can easily hook into the experiences of those they work with and this further commits them to doing this work. So naturally, I wonder why I spend most of my days having these crucial conversations with predominantly middle class white folks and wonder if I should make an intentional choice to spend the majority of my time having this conversation with predominantly POC and working class folks. Everyday I think about it and I become further enraged. But for now, I am a teacher of color who works in a predominantly white working to middle class area with mostly white students (and a sprinkling of students of color). And there is hope in those students. They are not what they have been told to think…yet. There is still time. So I do this work in solidarity with my friends and hope that this is but one drop in the large bucket of toil.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

ARTIST UPDATE

I know I haven't posted in a while, life has been very busy. But here's a list of events and activities I have for the near future. More details to come later.

1. Set up Youtube Page
2. Get together a debut performance in January
3. Begin to write and post more articles

I've also been working and re-editing some more of my tracks for my January performance. So far my favorite is my song "Sparks" which I've posted below in case you would like to listen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Smooth Jam! New Song

Well...it's a revised song. If you want to hear what it sounded like previously it's called Jam. You can find it in my earlier blog posts. I've decided to re-name this version Smooth Jam. Lyrics are posted below. If you have any thoughts or suggestions I'd more than welcome it.





Baby
I said my baby
I said my baby
let's go!
let's go my baby!

Repeat 1x

Another sleepless night yeah
A restless soul...yeah
Only song will soothe my soul tonight
As I try to go...yeah

Can you really understand the fight?
The fight to survive...yeah
Well my spirit rests with you tonight
So come on let's go!

Baby
I said my baby
I said my baby
let's go!
let's go my baby

Repeat 1x

Down where I fell I found the spark and...
took it with me to light my candle!

Repeat 1x

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Art! Revised

Just like a story or song can be improved, so can a painting. I've been revising this painting for a couple weeks and have finally come to a finished product. You can check out the different stages of development below. Still haven't named this one yet. If you have any suggestions, drop a line.

Finished Product


Almost but not quite...


Still in Transition...



Just Beginning...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Simone in the Summer

So this is an impromptu performance of me singing Nina Simone's, "I Put a Spell on You." I was dog tired and you shall certainly see it in my face (I forgot the words too!). But I had a great time. I sang this a couple weeks ago in August amongst a group of wonderful artists. Big ups to the drummer for dropping a beat for me.

New Art!



It's been a busy summer and now it looks like it's going to be an even busier school year. Thankfully, I found a little time to do something I haven't been able to do in a long time: Paint. I have not named this painting yet. If you have any suggestions drop a line.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Quote of My Mind: Lucile Clifton

















I love this poem and it's speaking to me on many levels right now. This poem is Lucile Clifton's, Why some people be mad at me sometimes. Her words are definitely in my mind right now. If you know of any other inspiring poems or quotes please share. I'm on the lookout for more poems to read!

"Why some people be mad at me sometimes

They ask me to remember

But they want me to remember

Their memories

And I keep on remembering mine"

Lucile Clifton

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Love Initiative Revisited

Finally I have some time to work on revisiting and re-editing my music. First on the list? The Love Initiative clip I posted a while ago. I've extended the original a bit more and I believe I'll end the song here. The rest of my work on this song will simply be to polish up the end (as well as some little audio things) and then leave it alone. Love Initiative is an attempt to initiate love with one's self and sort out where to go next. It was what I wrote when my soul needed a conversation. The painting you will see in the video was done by artist and friend Catalina Nieto. This is one of my favorite paintings out of her many great ones. So if your interested in Catalina's paintings, or have any other suggestions, critiques, questions, wonders, revelations, insights, comments, etc., please drop a line and share your thoughts. Otherwise, hope you enjoy.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Writing Universal

"I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."

Toni Morrison



One day, myself and another fellow artist were having an in depth discussion about the nature of writing a “universal” piece of fiction. So naturally, we started referencing points in our lives when someone had asked for us to write a “universal” piece of fiction that anyone could identify with. Or better yet, a piece of a something that was truly, human. As we compared and contrasted our experiences, I realized that there was always a particular scenario (and dare I say power dynamic) that played out with exactly who does the asking and who is usually expected to comply with writing something universal.

For example, I write a lot about being a Nigerian-American woman living in the United States of America. This lived experience of being a woman of color in the U.S. is not something I would categorize as the “quintessential universal experience.” A lot of my writing will probably let you know that yes, a woman of color is writing this and yes, there are particular things that I am calling out that may not exist as you would like to see it, but nonetheless, exist.

When I think of writing a universal piece there are particular names that are always invoked and lord knows none of the people mentioned look or really live anything like I do. They are not of color and as far as I know the names mentioned are rarely ever women. Human + Universal almost always = something White Male or something digestible for Whiteness. So I don’t write universal. I don’t even know what that is. And whenever I’ve tried to write something that everyone can relate too I’ve had air pudding and nothing pie.

In the discussion I had with the fellow artist we compared notes and gained (obvious) insights. We found that it was usually white people who almost always wanted to do the universalizing (in my experience I’ve found that people of color usually want literature about other things, more to come on that later). As a result, my art often came off as being “adjusted” into wise old words spoken by an “authentic” Mystical Negro who told sacred truths in an almost Morgan Freeman like voice. Or, I was painted as a downtrodden black thing that existed in a political, economic and social vacuum that needed pity or worst of all white help. Both of these images were not universal but rather more socially palatable to a white supremacist (yeah I said it) ideology. Moreover, I no longer knew what I was talking about.

So I don’t care to write universal and will never give anyone the chance to “universalize” my work again. I’m in a reclaiming period. I’m taking back any piece of my writing that has been watered down, never even shown, or exploited, and presenting the initial message that was intended. Exhibit A: The poem that will follow was meant to talk about a former friend and lover that passed away last year. It was a good-bye love letter. I watered it down to have it make more sense for someone else’s benefit and spent a year wondering why it never made any sense to me. Now mind you I have not read the original version in almost a year and now that I am in a better place there are a few things I want to revise. The revising is on my own damn terms and now I trust my own damn thinking enough to do it. So here it is, as it was written. If you relate to this particular poem fine by me, if not, fine by me. The reclaiming begins…


Untitled:

We can go and find the pieces we left along the way

Retell the story and take the things that make us tattered and torn, tattered and worn

And suture us together again

Weave ourselves into beings that know we need mending,

Leave those clean endings to the fairytales and reside in our shades of gray

Admit we’re a bit worse for the wear and ready to trace the bits and pieces

Trace the things ourselves left that day…

Remember all the things we pushed aside that day

Find the hidden answers and shake the dust out

Call silenced things by their names, as we dig up our skeletons and watch them turn human again

I’ll trace back to when we were outlined with night

And the stars lit your eyes

And the only us seen was eyes and teeth, eyes and teeth

And I traced you and you traced me

I said, “I’ll imprint on you, you imprint on me”

Kissed an, “I love you” on those lips and felt the tingle that sealed it

Took one little star that lit your eyes and put it in mine and left the rest of us there

Us creatures of the night only allowing ourselves a mere outline

In the day, when I thought we were over I took the star out my eye and thought the tingle on our lips out

Maybe you carry the piece of what happened in between that night and the day I threw us away?

I’ll lay these fragments beside one another and bear witness to our brokenness

Maybe we’ll get closer to God’s reflection this way

Knowing we’re a patchwork in need of a trimming cause our edges are frayed

Ask the almighty for a needle and a thread laced with all our thought feelings and those unsaid things we laid to rest

Reaching the Promised Land only to find we left pieces of our essence along the way

Find that we’re a bunch of tiny things in need of putting together

As we dig up our skeletons and watch them turn human again

Saturday, July 3, 2010

ARTISTS OF MY MIND





Another one of my favorite things: Artists creating ways to have ownership over their own work. This is something I think about daily and I am happy to see that Ms. Erin Michelle Washington is starting up her own production company, Soul Productions. Soul Productions is a company for artists and was envisioned by artists. The company mixes theater, film and music to "[push] the envelope of what audience members consider to be an entertainment experience."

Based in New York City, Soul Productions has hosted events and brought artists together in the past year. So if you're an artist in the area, give Soul Productions a shout out! A possible collaboration? (yup.) A chance to meet other artists in NYC? (yup). A chance to make art that matters? (yup.) A chance to trust your own artistic thinking and do the damn thing on your own? (yup.) If you want more information the website is, http://www.soulproductions.info/index.html. Email address is soul.update@gmail.com.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Photography of my Mind


The pictures I have posted were taken by Samsam Yusuf. She is a wonderful photographer and I was happy to pose for her portfolio. She also happens to be my friend. I am inspired by her work because she is an African woman taking pictures of African women and working to re-present images that capture our beauty and struggles.
She cares deeply about social justice and says, "I'm interested in change and I consider myself the change I want to see in the world!" I am happy that she is using the power of photography for social justice. Much respect!
She currently resides in Seattle, Washington so if you're looking for a photographer give her a shout out. Yusuf will be showing more of her photography on her blog http://komaala.blogspot.com. She can also be contacted at jazrah@gmail.com. Below you will find her picture and then some photos she took of me. Enjoy!






Monday, June 28, 2010

pieces of a love letter

i’ll remember us in nature

before I thought I would be untamed if I sat too long

when I tried to still the buzzing of flies

and stomp on the little red ant’s groove

glare the sun down to become more temperate

i was something different then

someone who didn’t want the wind to breathe on my skin

or my feet to sink too deeply in the earth

but you followed nature

and I followed you

when you kissed me in the grass

(pushed my body so hard in the ground we left a mark there)

it was my first love affair with nature

a first love affair with you

Friday, June 18, 2010

Niahra and Mama's Conversation PART I

“Count me out of it!” Mama says, “Because I want nothing to do with it. Not a thing…” Her hands grasp the steering wheel. “Count me out, count me out, count me out.” Mama mutters this to the air. She’s speaking as if the air has a bone to pick with her. And she intends to win. “No. Thanks.”

Niahra and her mother have some of their most intimate conversations in an old tiny white car. Whenever you think that piece of junk is going to break down it manages to keep driving until it gets itself home. Then. In the morning you put the key in the ignition and the car won’t start. The engine will make a little hum and then almost whinny like a horse. You put the key in the ignition and try. Again. And what do you hear? The engine’s hum and its wimpy horse whinny. And there you go. Reliable on the road, but can’t start it in the morning.

Well. At least you can trust it to drive you where you need to go when it’s on the road, because the car has yet to break itself during one of Niahra and Mama’s epic conversations.

And it’s in the car where Niahra touches stories with her Mama. Figures out where her Mama’s story ends and where hers begins. And that’s why the girl never leaves the car. Always thinking of some errand to run, or something that she just so “happened to forget.” It’s to bide time. No matter how long the ride is, no matter the circumstance, she’ll stay. Don’t want to miss this! I may never get to hear it again! She thinks as she watches her Mama’s hand turn the steering wheel. This one is gonna be good. She anticipates. This one is gonna be reaal good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bag of Sparks Part II

This is a more finished version and extension of my previous clip, "Bag of Sparks." Again...another more "finished work" in progress.
Also, more Niahra stories will be coming soon. Hope to get some posted within the next two weeks. If you have any thoughts, drop a line!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Images in Contradiction

"A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves - a special kind of double."

Toni Morrison

Sister in my image/we’re something like a double/but we’re not twins/cut from the same dark cloth/birthed from similar ancestors/carry in our tongues/our voices/our appearance/our truth-tellings/our dispersed lineages and shaken histories/broken realities/no one can make heads or tails of our being here/to them it remains a problem to solve/to explain the legacy of us/sister/sister in my image/I believe we are walking contradictions/and I call u mine/because it is you I lay myself down with in those still places/when I want to cover myself in nighttime and have the stars as my night lights/Sister in my image/you recognize that I am yours/and you are mine/and we can see/see ourselves/you become the stars and I nighttime/and I the stars and you night time/you see me/Cuz you got my eyes/I hear you/Cuz I have your ears/we wrap around the darkness and light/and we call each other/mine/say hush-hush secrets/compare our scars and bruises/count the tears we've cried/and watch our harmed spots turn into calluses/cuz we know we need thick skin/but/in this still place we hug our contradictions/love on fresh cuts/and ask them to stay/and we gaze in on ourselves/only us sister/we escape the imperial gaze/and talk-talk hush hushedly/you and me/organize our stars to see our common enemy/and devise plans to resist/you go this way/I go that way/we’re cut the same/but/in our stillness/u see this/and I hear that/we disagree/the contradictions of doubles but not twins/contradictions in the way we think/”Here’s the struggle you won't hear”/I say/”No!"/You reply/"That’s the beauty you won't see…”/Sister in my image/cut from the same dark cloth/doubles maybe/but not twins…

Monday, June 7, 2010

NEW SONG


This is the summer of music. I am writing songs, revising songs, throwing away songs and keeping the good ones to start performing and recording. Thankfully, I am living with a great musician and we are jamming and working to showcase our music this summer. I promised that I would start writing full length songs and I am starting the process. I'll also be keeping updates on other creative endeavors that will be sure to happen this summer. This song is still a work in progress and needs some tweaking and working here and there. Lyrics and song are posted below. Enjoy a song in progress!

The Other Side



Verse 1:
Seeing you on the other side
Standing near but not too close by
Oh my love
My love what you do to me

yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah
You are sweet
So sweet
So kind
yeah-yeah,yeah-yeah,yeah-yeah,yeah-yeah
My love
I'm seeing you on the other side

Hook:
Now unrequited love
Is the worst kind of love
It's the love that'll do you in
It'll make you give up all you have
'Til you ain't got nothing left
I'm seeing you on the other side
Yup!

Break:
(ad-libbing skatting fun!)

Hey! You! I like you alot!
See you so close from afar
Wanna be right where you are
Baby!
Hey!
You!
Friend!
Lover! Companion! Confidante!
Get on my side!
Baby!
GET ON MY SIDE!
HEY!

Back to Beginning:

Seeing you on the other side
Standing near but not too close by
Oh my love
My love what you do to me...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Story of the Oppositional Spark: a choreo-poem


There’s a speck of light in the dark
Flickering to keep its spark of consciousness rising
Looking like a sore against an image of darkness, so it names itself the oppositional spark
The darkness speaks amongst itself—Says,
“This is the way it’s supposed to be!”
Only seeing itself affirmed
It demonizes the spark rising

Spark thinks it may be crazy—see that’s why it’s flickering about
Says—“If light is what dispels the depths of darkness,
then what’s out there that affirms me?”
Spark looks and beholds other sparks flickering wildly
Says to itself,
“I believe we are the eyes of the darkness
...and we struggle to name what causes the darkness.
We go in search of the sparks rising.
We go!"
__________________________________________________
Baby!
I said my baby!
I said my baby!
Let’s go!
Let’s go my baby!
__________________________________________________
These lips do not offer sugary smiles
Or words drenched in syrup
For you to swallow easy
Nor a shuffling vessel colored in black for you to wrap your dominance on
Because I’m the one the sun kissed itself on
And it kissed me in an image of light
The sore with the spark inside
Marked with dark skin to remind that I struggle to antagonize your white supremacy

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Niahra Getting Ready Part 1


Now this is the process of Niahra getting ready. Ready to go out into the world. So listen closely. Her hair is tightly coiled and stands about an inch off her head. She takes some product--product meant for tightly coiled hair--and puts a little moisture in. She picks up a wide-toothed comb—it’s violet—and the tips of the teeth are colored magenta. She begins combing at the tip of her hair. Did you hear what I said? I said she begins at the tip. She’d never dare to start combing her hair from the bottom. If she were to start from the bottom she’d be in pain. And that’s why she’s the only one who touches her own head. Because everyone tries to understand her hair by starting from the bottom.

Art of my Mind

This is a an art piece by artist Catalina Nieto. Her work inspired me to paint the recent art piece I posted on this blog. Recently, she had an art showing in Brattleboro, Vermont at Twightlight Tea Lounge. She had a wonderful showing. She's damn good. If your interested in any of her art work her contact is catamarina@yahoo.com. Below is a brief description of who she is in relation to her visual art. Enjoy!




Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Catalina expresses her passion for the arts in colorful acrylic paintings on canvas and oil-pastel drawings with nature and people's humanity as the central theme. Catalina is currently enrolled at the SIT Graduate Institute and is using art and theater as a tool in her work for social justice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Circles of Energy




















This is a piece of artwork I've decided to paint. I was inspired by a wonderful artist and a good friend. The art piece is a woman with circles of energy around her. Enjoy!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Untitled Excerpt Continued...

When Niahra was one, Mama would say, “Aya akpeb usem mi ke mamadi ufok.” She would speak in the home language because she figured it was better to teach little Niahra so she would know it when they went back home. After all, she was but a babbling baby and why not have her child babble in the language of home? So little Niahra—nothing but a babbling baby—would listen attentively and baby babble back to her Mama as if to say, “Afon Ma. Nya kpep usem manotodo nsem me afit owo ke mamadi ufok.”

But soon Niahra grew from a babbling baby to a one year old who could sound out words. And Mama realized that they had not gone back home yet. What words will she speak now? She thought. And soon she began translating home language into English. She would try and say the exact same words. But certain meanings the home language carried was not transferrable. She would try her best. She would tell Niahra, “We’re going to go home soon.” But Mama knew better. Every time she would say this phrase she could feel all the meaning drip out. It’s like eating fufu with no soup. Mama thought. I’m feeding my child fufu with no soup. How bland is that?

But Niahra was listening. And she took in more than Mama realized. Even though she was sounding out words in English she used her home language to translate. Niahra would respond to her Mama as if to say, “Yes mama. I’ll learn the language and when I’m home I can speak to everybody.”

Mama didn’t know. But those were the same words Niahra would try and baby babble when speaking the home language. And that's what she's been trying to say ever since. And that’s why occasionally you’ll hear hints of another voice when she’s speaking. It’s because she still has those phrases of the home language floating in her head.

Mama hears it sometimes. When Mama hears this she sucks her teeth and begins clicking her tongue. She clicks her tongue to keep up with Niahra's speaking. Now Niahra is older. Old enough to speak in full sentences. She babbles but at least it’s not in that baby babble jibberish. Mama clicks her tongue even faster. She clicks her tongue and fills in the spaces where Niahra takes a breath.

Mama thinks. She thinks a whole lot of things in between the spaces of her little one rambling. This child is smart…Did she really just say that?…I’ll have to ask her why she thinks that, this could be a problem later…She’s beautiful…ooh!...I just heard a bit of myself in her. Mama stops clicking her tongue and feels her lips smile. She looks upon her rambling child. She’s still not satisfied. It’s like eating fufu with not enough soup. She thinks. Fufu with not enough soup. Mama resumes clicking her tongue to fill in Niahra’s spaces.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Goals for 2010

As part of "doing it big in 2010" I have a few artistic projects underway for the summer. These are some of my goals for the warm weather:

1. Writing, Writing, Writing! Finding writers. Writing! Writing! Writing!
2. Recording full length songs
3. Performing (spoken word and music)
4. Teaching West African Dance and Storytelling as a teaching artist
5. Collaborating with other artists
6. Directing a one-act I have just written
7. Eating (damn good eating...and it has everything to do with being an artist)


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Daughter of the Diaspora


I live here now
Was born here and may die here now
Memories are rooted in stirring fufu in a tiny pot now
Fufu made out of jiffy mix
Bought at a Price Chopper (exactly 2 dollars and fifty cents)
Put it in a pot and stir till it becomes nice and thick
"It's supposed to clump together and should be able to form itself into a ball," Mama would say, "But remember child...real fufu don't really taste that way."
"We're trying to get the flavor I was used to back home." Mama would say, say to me.
"Does it come close?" I respond.
Mama laughs, "Not really."


I live here now
Memories are rooted in eating fufu when it's 5 degrees out
Or singing Nigerian gospel songs quietly instead of singing out loud
Mama says, "We usually sing these songs out loud till everyone sings...
but we'll try to sing these songs more quietly.
Can't wake the neighbors now."
My voice carries little traces of another place
I'm not anything like Mama
Memories are rooted in reading Morrison and singing like Nina now
And finding any black woman who looks like my image
Mama says, "Child, you are African but you're different now. You're a child born in America. And you'll experience different layers of pains and pressures now. So you can teach me and I'll teach you. 'Cause I'm thinking of going back home and home seems to be here for you...now."



Mama's been trying to get me to go back...back home
"I'd like us to live there some day,"
Mama says, says to me
She's speaking as if she's caught in a dream
"We'll eat
real fufu, sing Nigerian gospels loudly, and it won't be 5 degrees out."
Mama says.
I think it would be nice to go...and see,
"But I don't think I can stay there Mama...I think I'm meant to be here now."
Mama breaks out of her nostalgia.
"True child," Mama says, says to me,
"You live here now. You'll visit but you may not stay...guess we'll have to wait and see. Guess we'll have to wait and see...now."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Untitled Excerpt Continued...

Her parents came here in the late 1970s. They hoped to learn the white man’s education and take it back to become the intelligentsia of a black nation. At the airport they came with enough luggage filled with enough things to last for only a year. Or two.

The mother and father arrived at the airport basking in their “been-to” status. Been-to’s. People who when going back home would be considered the elite, the people who had “been-to” America and come back to show off all their newly learnt American mannerisms and style….that was the was African dream. To go back and wave your “been-to” status in everyone’s face. And bring back some American chocolates and act as if only Americans could invent something as tasty as a Babe Ruth bar.

But Niahra's parents are stuck in the American dream. And they never got to claim their been-to status or insult loved ones with American chocolate. They’re stuck-here’s now. And that’s a status that carries shame. The African dream is a dream deferred.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Untitled Excerpt Continued...

And her name ain’t that square neither. If she were fated to live square she would have been given a square name. It would be palatable and easy enough for your teeth to chew on. But not her name. Nee-ah-rah. Bet you’ll say it wrong before you say it right. 'Cause its not spelt the way it sounds. And there are silent letters in her name that if you were spelling without seeing you’d write it like they weren’t supposed to be there. But they are. That’s not a square name. Now try to tell her that.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Singing Children


I hear the children singing against the mourning dove’s cry

They tread red earth and praise a blue sky

They eat the raw cocoa

They tell me it’s sweet

I’ve tasted it too

I say,

“Too bitter to eat.”

I hear them humming

I’ll try to hum too

I’m no longer a child

But I can still stay in tune

My notes scurry to run with these children of the sun

They sing to me that I cry too much

Singing,

“Mother! Give us your teardrops. We’ll drop some in our eyes

We’ll cry into the soil and help you sprout more life

When you can cry no longer

We’ll cry the final batch out

If we do things this way

There’ll be enough crying to go around

One day we’ll cry less. Laugh more

One day we’ll cry less. Laugh more.”

Sing the children against the mourning dove’s cry

They tread red earth and praise a blue sky

They eat raw cocoa

They tell me it’s sweet

I’ve tasted it too

I say,

“Too bitter to eat.”

I say,

“Soon. Too bitter for you to eat.”

Love Initiative Clip

Untitled Excerpt

She thinks in squares. The lines are distinct and they clearly mark her intellectual and emotional territories. They are tightly woven and knitted together to form a neat, digestible package of thinking. And the squares of thought are fixed and immovable in her mind. Fixed and immovable. And every time she thinks out a word the vowels and consonants are doled out sparingly. And you can even feel her thoughts placing the periods to end each sentence. Hmm. Get her to speak in an incomplete sentence and see what happens. Just listen to her. Her voice is set to a more definitive instead of a, “I’m-the-question- asking- type” tone. It must be interesting to live so complete like that. Just look at her. Hair neatly parted and pulled into two tight French braids. So tight you can’t even see the kinks in her hair. So tight there’s not enough space for a kink to breathe out.

She wears brightly colored earrings though. It’s the only thing that dangles and moves freely on her whole body. They dangle royal blue and indigo against a canvas of brown. And it’s those earrings that make her a work of art. And if you were to take those earrings away…well. I think she’d just be a square.

But brightly colored earrings are telling. If she wanted to be that square she’d have chosen little studs that sparkle light on occasion. Or even better, tiny little pearls that almost disappeared itself into the holes of her earlobe. But those earrings are chandeliered dripping color wildly against a brown neck. And she carries the weight of those earrings as if she was wearing lightless studs. Or invisible pearls. ..

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Love Initiative



When the body and mind forgets where its soul hides

And thinks its spirit died

When you’ve caught your reflection and feel as if knowing eyes whisper,

“Something’s amiss,”

It’s time for a love initiative

To be spoken for an inner fulfillment

When the soul needs a talk with the spirit and the mind needs to know silence and hear the stillness

When the body needs that supernatural cry and finds no earthly tears are left

To give real tear shedding its justice

A love initiative

To meet myself for the first time

To listen and hear that I am deeply missed

“…Hi…how you doing? How you’ve been?”

What a pleasure to see

To witness

One true image preserved

For me

I see it clearly

Skin

Durable, valuable, precious, sacred,

Meant to withstand

Strands of hair shape into a spiral

Lips full…

Body a sturdy vessel meant to hold the truth and the shadows

My eyes see a woman

And she lays to rest

Rocking back and forth,

Lullabying herself to sleep with a song she sings over praying hands

She sings me a sacred message

Only I understand

Her voice is singing in the stillness

Each sound begins to soothe my soul

I listen closely to hear if this voice is my own

Her hands hold something

I open them and find a spark inside

She is kept

She is a gift

A love initiative

Untitled Piece

We can go
And find the pieces we left along the way
Retell the story and take the things that make us tattered and torn,
tattered and worn
And suture us together again
Weave ourselves into beings that know we need mending,
Remember all the things we pushed aside
Find the hidden answers and shake the dust out
Call silenced things by their names, as we dig up our skeletons
and watch them turn human again
I’ll trace back to when we were outlined with night
And the stars lit our eyes
And the only us seen was eyes and teeth, eyes and teeth
I took one little star that lit your eyes, put it in mine, and left the rest of us out there
Us creatures of the night only allowing ourselves a mere outline,
I’ll bear witness to our brokenness
and maybe we’ll get closer to God’s reflection this way
Knowing we’re a patchwork in need of a trimming cause our edges are frayed,
Reaching the Promised Land, only to find we left pieces of our essence
along the way, I’ll ask the almighty for a needle and a thread
We are, a bunch of tiny things, in need of putting together
As we dig up our skeletons and watch them turn human again

pieces of a love letter

Your eyes shift colors cuz you’re complex like that

From green to blue, from blue to grey, and at times I catch flickers of yellow passing by

And I watch the colors match the mood your eyes have cast on you

Many-color-eyes…I think the world of you

Cuz you carry many shades like that

And each color you have lights a spark inside

And I think I understand that

The layers beyond human understanding

That gives the thoughts behind your phrases

The intention behind your words

The vibration that carries your sound

And sometimes I look upon you

With your many-color-eyes

And think that you’re heart may be heavy with too much love

And I think the world of you for that…always have

Cuz I think we’re linked like that

And you’re complex like that

From green to blue

from blue to grey,

and at times I catch flickers of yellow passing by

Many-color-eyes

Your eyes reflect mine…