Triptych: The Shape of Prose to Come
Welcome to Da Mayor Loves Mother Sister, my experimental (read as: these songs are me first!) platform to engage in some self-conviction, self-reflection, and plain ol’ reckoning, with the goal that living love and feeling in a world not meant for it to survive should be our first everlasting medium of expression. Or you could simply say as Kiese Laymon spoke, I’m just trying to not be a waste of writing’s time.
[press play and begin]
“Freedom Now Suite” Belgian TV BTR2 (1964)
Abbey Lincoln — Vocals
Clifford Jordan — Tenor Sax
Coleridge Perkinson — Piano
Eddie Khan — Bass
Max Roach — Drums
You should publish some of this stuff, she said.
I’m just trying to focus myself on this journey of figuring out who I am, who we are, where we come from, who we can be, who we must be. That’s important to me. So I know a couple things. But the biggest truth I know is that I don’t know enough. Or that I won’t know enough. That the best I can be is an example. That the most revolutionary thing I can do is love. And that is enough. So, nah, keep me out of those labels, keep me away from those ghosts. I already got too many. I just want to be a listener (a lover?) of myself and others. Reciprocity, Lauryn says, was all we needed. I just strive to be a vessel. (an ark?) I just strive to be.
And that weight alone is a motherfucker. I fall all the time. Pulled by forces and phantoms, swayed by lusts and luxury. But I work my way back up…eventually. Been down so much, often takes the voices of others to let me even know when I’m almost standing. I made a promise to myself that once I get up, I ain’t getting back down. The world don’t care about your promises tho. Shit a punch you in the stomach soon as you think you got your hands on something important. I found a phrase from the work of Sunni Patterson to be the most fortuitous of reminders. She says we know this place.
“and we know this place / its ever-changing yet forever the same”
We know this place. The power of recognizing that the stakes that you now face were once faced by an ancestor. Someone that you may call mother. sister. brother. father. Someone that knows you. Someone to remind you aren’t alone. Someone that reminds you that you have a choice of your response to these unfortunate circumstances. Someone that comforts you that no matter your response, you still part of us. There’s true power in recognizing that we know this place. we have known this place. And that through this divine connection, through this love, we have already overcame.
Eduardo Galeano, a new friend, raised that what we all, what the world suffers from is an amnesia. Our struggle is primarily that of memory. Of remembering this place. Because deep within this place is remembering that other place. In conversation:
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve said that a lot of your work — I mean, it’s obvious from even what you’ve read — a lot of your work is about reclaiming different histories, not only in Latin America, but also in Latin America, to overcome what you’ve called the problem of amnesia. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
EDUARDO GALEANO: Amnesia?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yes.
EDUARDO GALEANO: Well, we have a memory cut in pieces. And I write trying to recover our real memory, the memory of humankind, what I call the human rainbow, which is much more colorful and beautiful than the other one, the other rainbow. But the human rainbow had been mutilated by machismo, racism, militarism and a lot of other isms, who have been terribly killing our greatness, our possible greatness, our possible beauty.
What does it mean to [be] in recovery?
“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart…” The Salt Eaters, Toni Cade Bambara.
I leaned in. I was at a friend’s house to do an interview for the conclusion of a dissertation study. This interview would be the end of a quarter long look at how structural racism manifested in our daily actions. The interview opened with a simple question. What has changed for you through this process?
“I’m done with institutions. I would rather focus on…the people…I’m sorry, can we stop for a moment. I feel crazy.”
It was 4pm. I had already ate a papi-store hoagie and a couple 35 cent bags of hot cheese curls. What was happening to me? Dizziness set in. My hand started shaking. I had to consciously count my breaths. My mind began to wander into all the Black diseases that had consumed, convicted, death-sentenced my family members. Diabetes, the sugars, they call em. Heart attack. Heart congestion. (Can you die from heart congestion?) It was over I thought. Deep down, I smiled. I thought how cinematic my last words would be. Then I remembered I wasn’t home. I was being a real dick on someone else’s time, on someone else’s couch. “What you gonna do?”, I felt. Can’t die here. Gotta keep it moving.
After spilling my heart and soul over the phone with my aunt, she concluded that it was nothing more than the poison doing what it does before it eventually leaves your body. Nah, I know that feeling. I know hangovers. Rode those waves, even at higher tides. This was different. Either way, the moment was upon me. I laid back for my final-resting nap on my friend’s couch. And what, of course, do you think about in those moments? A1: Not the beautiful shit.
Focus on the people, I said, unaware.
I tuned into my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Get back to the basics, all the while my bewildered mind was spiraling into faded memories. Pull it together, while simultaneously visualizing failed dreams and tomorrow’s nightmares. I laid there trying to remember why’d I drank so much, THAT night, in the first place. Long story short, life was hectic. A Facebook post summarizes:
Adventures at the Pearl Theatre.
Fire alarm, 30 minutes into the film.
Lobby is batshit crazy, kids, popcorn, teenagers, everywhere.
Everybody files outside.
Picture man is out front hustling.
Grandma says “I know my son just went to get some beer.”
Workers say, “Somebody pulled it.” as they take a smoke break.
Firefighters come. We stroll back in.
Suspicious youngbulls roam the hallways, “where da bitches at?”
Mommas in the theater, “these lights making my eyes hurt.”
Twenty minutes later, they say they gonna restart in ten minutes.
Five minutes into those ten minutes, collared shirt manager say “she not gonna restart it. they gotta get a pass.”
Workers start sweeping up popcorn.
Hallway, “they restarted THIS one!”
Fire alarm goes off again.
EDIT: We decide to chalk it.
Turn the corner towards Qdoba.
Girls start grabbing at each other on Oxford. Spills onto Broad.
Spreads like a virus through the teenage crowd.
Muslim oldhead finally breaks the girls apart.
They continue jawing at each other up the block to the subway
A Black professor once reminded us, Black male graduate students, that we need scripts to handle racialized stress. You need a response for when someone calls you a nigger:
“If you freeze, you are going to be dealing with that internalized shame — manifesting it, spreading it, attempting to compensate for it in other parts of your life.”
I didn’t get called a nigger that day but I damn sure felt like one. Powerless. I watched a swarm of teenagers and their accompanying cell phones grow into a massive crowd, a raucous, rage-filled circle all bought into seeing punches thrown, hair gripped, bodies wounded. I stood there. I should have did something. I stood there. I could have did something. I stood there. I just watched. I was a witness. I felt like a co-conspirator. I felt like a victim amidst their freedom. I stood there. I couldn’t watch any longer. Let’s go, I announced. Stop watching, I reminded. Let’s goooooo. I gotta get out of here.
Those moments of powerlessness are more than just mental. Your whole body reminds you that you ain’t do shit. I walked into the package store feeling exactly that way, with those demons swirling and all. I told myself everything would be alright. I made my selection. 6pk, Golden Monkey, my favorite. 9.5% apv. I’ll be aight. Lord knows, I needed to keep that fantasy real.
I laid on that couch for another good 30 minutes, allowing these memories to recycle. When I finally stood, I felt the added weight of knowing that something needed to change. Someone needed to change. I needed change.
Focus on the people, I said, unaware, I needed to focus on a slowly-dying I.
Interlude. The Chorus of Fears.
I’m afraid that I might be the only one afraid.
I’m afraid that letting folks know my fears is not a solution. Or a defense.
I’m afraid that I carry some sort of fatal flaw.
I’m afraid that I might not know who I am.
I’m afraid that I could be living a lie.
I’m afraid that my best is not good enough.
I’m afraid that I participate in a endless race not of my own choosing, that I could never win.
I’m afraid that I don’t have the choice.
I’m afraid that my will was never free.
I’m afraid that it won’t matter anyway.
I’m not afraid of dying, but fearful of how I’m choosing to live. love. labor.
I’m afraid that it won’t matter anyway.
(A response piece to Tanehisi Coates’ latest piece in the Atlantic. He writes: The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and myths. [next paragraph] And yet I am still afraid.)
“We are afraid to look at how we have failed each other. We are afraid to see how we have taken the values of our oppressor into our hearts and turned them against ourselves and one another. We are afraid to admit how deeply “the man’s” words have been ingrained in us…To assess the damage is a dangerous act.” Cherríe Moraga.
We are afraid to look to at how we have failed each other. We are afraid to look at how we have failed ourselves. Nothing more has helped me realize that there is a long road, but yet not a lone road to recovery, to wholeness. Blend this with the wisdom of Audre Lorde that our silence will not protect us. Add a pinch of Baldwin: writing is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.
So now, I’m here, writing, 3:08am on a Tuesday evening with work in the morning. Not out of the sense of any truthful realization, but rather a desperation to not sleep, rather awaken, without one. I come to this effort with:
more questions than answers.
more seeking than discovery.
more unforeseen challenge than prophetic vision.
more vulnerability than firm foundation.
more feeling than freedom.
more therapy than cure.
more living with than running from.
More or less, I come pursuing that same self-love and self-respect that June Jordan talked about, (in length because its necessary):
I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black: it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect. It means that I must everlastingly seek to cleanse myself of the hatred and the contempt that surrounds and permeates my identity…It means that the achievement of self-love and self-respect will require inordinate, hourly vigilance, and that I am entering my soul into a struggle that will most certainly transform the experience of all the peoples of the earth…
In public, because togetherness in struggle is the beginning to justice.
Some things may be true. Maybe this space, when visited with sincerity will help me become a better writer. Maybe this place, when visited with integrity will help me remember that a writer’s work has less to do with the mechanics of a good sentence than bearing the weight of a honest, intimate question. Maybe this space, when visited in times of chaos and confusion will give me a sense of organization. Maybe this place, most enduring, will force me to remember, ask of me to reach, to believe in, to hold onto, that other place.
Where there is always something left to love.