love is becoming a safe word

love
is becoming a safe word
one i use
precisely
when the risk is greater
than my courage

and i mean
slow down with me
and i mean
take my hand
and i mean
i want time with you
to see you whole

from this miraculous portion
we call a life
i want to give you truth
i want you to see me
off stage
and outside of wonder

love is becoming a safe word

i can taste the near-loves
with discernment
and say
oh that is unparalleled desire
oh that is a broken bowl who senses the gold in me
oh that is a new sibling
and
oh that is the future

and moving through
fields like curtains
i find what love is:
reflections of my self
that make me uncompromising

i find what love is:
a house where the windows
are gone
and the doors are all open
and i feel contained
and content

i feel what love is:
growing from gut heart
intelligence
to the edges of my body
an ecstatic yes
to who i have been
am
and am becoming

saying absolutely no
smiling visceral yes
showing this, not that
a very specific please
and so much thank you
all this love in action
gives me more of my life

and with this
aliveness
i write more poems
i grieve with my whole memory
i rage from the root
i care with no bitter edges
i accept what is
i surround myself with
sweetness, and excellence
and i create
with each next breath

and it is all delicious
it is all exquisite
it is all opening
it is all
love

Lemonade Screening: A Step by Step Guide

tonight Celeste Faison and i hosted a screening of Beyoncé’s Lemonade at Sole Space in Oakland. before during and after people reached out to us asking if we would do it again or if we could stream it or bring it to them. and the truth is it was so beyond incredible and healing – and very much a live experience! so i wanted to share how we did it as a template – here’s how to create your own Beyoncé Lemonade Church:

1) realize you need a communal experience of this gift. not everyone does, but if you do? don’t deny yourself.

2) logistics!

– find a place that can hold big emotions (we were at Sole Space, where we also mourned Prince and sang Purple Rain for hours two nights ago, where the first Octavia Butler and Emergent Strategy events happened, where many many community events have blossomed).
– make sure you have a screen or sizeable blank wall
– a projector (this should be screening in theaters, bigger the better)
good speakers
– figure out which of your friends was Ready and has tidal.
– load the film beforehand so you don’t experience any unnecessary crises during the screening. if need be, withhold the wifi code from everyone, or demand they go on airplane mode cause this is a meditation and a journey.

3) create an invite that articulates who you are calling into conversation and ritual with you.

here is our invite:

Come gather to watch Lemonade and get your entire life at Sole Space and be in conversation about this blessing.

For: those who have been grieving Prince, who are feeling fragile and grateful for black art, who find this offering from Beyoncé a gift. There is so much room for other conversations around this work, so do honor our celebratory space for this one.

adrienne maree brown and Celeste Faison will host this love in, and continue the work of the album to center the voices and hearts of black women in a shared experience of this masterpiece.

We wanted to be very clear with our invitation: this space is for black women to have a moment together to process this gift from Beyoncé.

beyonce lemonade 6
photo credit destiny webster

All are welcome, but we ask that you self assess ahead of time and make sure you understand what ‘black women centered space’ is and why it is important that we just get to hear from each other right now. if you are like ‘what is that?’ or ‘why black space?’ or ‘all responses to lemonade matter’, then we can totally do a workshop for you at another time :-)

(helpful reading related to this)

With black and purple love!

Get in formation.

i could imagine screenings for:
– side chicks, humans who have cheated on other humans and folks who practice intentional nonmonogamy
– black men!!
– black girls
– everybody

4. provide appropriate refreshments – you don’t want anyone to fall out for the wrong reason.

we offered purple lemonade to honor this complex moment of grieving Prince and celebrating Beyoncé, with options to spike it (rum, tequila, etc).

we also served popcorn because it’s cinema.

5. begin with a brief welcome that reiterates your invitation. if you came to praise, let it show so folks know they have permission to really feel what’s coming.

beyonce lemonade 5

6. start on time. Virgo respeck.

beyonce lemonade 2

7. throw in some centering breaths, because you about to go through an experience together and it is always great to center in collective space.

we used a breath i just learned from someone who isn’t even in the beyhive, the breath is called brahmani pranayama, named for a Black Bee (!!!) where you inhale through the nose and exhale with a buzz. yup.

8. play the visual album of Lemonade and let it take you where you need to go.

with your own behavior as a host, embody and encourage testifying between songs and rapt silence during warsan shire and beyoncé’s poetry. there will inevitably be people seeing it for the first time so don’t let them miss any of it!

folks will think they are done by the end of ‘don’t hurt yourself’, but then serena will appear. and when you think it’s about to end, She will come with the freedom song. i am just saying this is not an emotional sprint.

9. when the visual album finishes, shift the room structure into a circle, and place 4 chairs in the center.

10. start a conversation – we just went up as hosts and testified for a while.

beyonce lemonade 7
photo credit valerie troutt

open space for people to respond. reiterate at the beginning of the talk back time if your invitation is specific.

ex: all are welcome in this space to love and support this moment, but these chairs are for black women, as we are trying to take these clear instructions from the queen, and those are the voices we needed to prioritize tonight.

we invited folks to keep it short, but testimony has it’s own time.

11. hold the people in the circle for whatever they may need. this album evokes a lot of emotion – around relationships, around betrayal and heartbreak, around being used and unappreciated, around the blackness we have been gifted – and that we have been denied, around the rituals and spirits we need. help people move through the confession of being slow to the hive or ‘not even being a Bey fan’ but being in tears.

beyonce lemonade 3
photo credit jocelyn kay

we offered blessings to young people, received blessings from our elders, laid on hands and called in ancestors, offered love for those struggling through this pain, called in fat and disabled bodies for the next evolution, generated compassion and sisterhood for all of us who have been Beckys, and scream-leapt through a ton of testimonial and ecstatic praise for our own strength, transformation, resilience and vision as black women.

we spoke of orishas and transformative justice and forgiveness and shame and loving ourselves and open relationships and queer love and black excellence and Prince and complexity and solidarity and intergenerational healing and so much more.

12. when someone speaks their truth, affirm them. when someone takes a risk, welcome it. do this enough times and something larger than any one person will come in the room, and when you feel it, praise dancing and sangin of all kinds is the only right move. take however long this takes.

13. close with the oldest voice in the room.

our circle closed with elder enid pickett, who spoke right after her healing/weeping daughter sierra pickett. enid told us the code was in each other’s faces.

then she asked us, (you want to click through this time) ‘what kind of ancestor are you going to be?’ that question was so undeniable that we paired up and we asked it of each other.

and we asked, ‘how do you have to change now to become that?’

there were tears and there was great laughter.

14. sing a song to close the circle.

we sang:

oh i love being black
oh i love being black
love the color of my skin
it’s the skin that i’m in

oh i love being black
oh i love being black
love the texture of my hair
and i wear it everywhere

oh i love being black

15. end with three more brahmani breaths and buzz joyfully into the night.

beyonce lemonade 9
photo credit danielle drake-burnett

beyonce lemonade 8

lemonade. masterpiece.

‘beyoncé is fully in her power and is inviting you to be in yours.’ celeste faison, sitting on couch of the house im staying in in oakland where we are watching lemonade.

with love. this is not a review and this is not for folks who ain’t see it yet.

this is my third time watching and i am looking for a flaw but all i see is

warsan shire poetry
kahlil joseph’s eye
blackness behind and ahead

beyoncé’s heart and brilliance and collaborative spirit
lemonade

mervyn marcano said ‘lemonade on HBO was a visual masterpiece. beyonce’s curation is on another level. some of our best living artists collaborating to make magic. streaming the music now, but that visual piece stands on it’s own.’

y’all. y’all.
it’s black love
the next chapter of Her visual album, with direct responses
to partition and jealous and drunk in love and blue and to herself
just then
across both the visuals and the lyrics

‘grief sedated by orgasm
orgasm heightened by grief
god was in the room

sometimes when her nipple was in his mouth
she’d whisper oh my god
that too was a form of worship’

black womanhood and our pain and our irresistability and our grief
from serena’s perfection
to the mothers of the slain

the adoration of the natural world
water everywhere
moon to flood
reflection to truth

nina and malcolm
zora neal and toni

the journey all over black america
the love of black girls and griots
the use of witchcraft, magic, dreams and spells to heal the heartbreak

jay-z’s eyes

transformation, transformative justice
the power of love, vulnerability, walking away until you can be seen in your wholeness –
truth and reconciliation
‘there is a curse that will be broken’

daniel jose older said ‘beyoncé wrote the great american novel and made it into a music video.’

celeste said, ‘thank you Bey- from this black women. this is surely a part of our story. the relationship, the dad, the slain boys. this conjuring, setting prayer, this is the prose of a spell and the breaking of curses. yes. y’all – this is a prayer. a testimony and a fierce warrior call.’

to reiterate this is not a review, its a godbless and thank you after three days of tears, knowing how important it is to give artists the glory and gratitude they earn while they live.

idrissa louise said, ‘Prince had a premonition and said “they gone be alright”‘. she is not speaking in hyperbole.

i know beyoncé had to consider delaying this because we just lost Prince and to go thru with this she had to know she was offering something that would be good, now.

beyoncé took us inside. herself and ourselves and all the women before us. through love and politics and spells and fashion and mirrors. and babies, here and lost.

orgasm and grief.
miscarriage and release. resurrection and life.

‘so we’re gonna heal’

prince grief snippets

(written over a few hours of denying, raging, listening, singing along with, dancing, crying, and mostly just feeling – Prince)

what do you mean Prince is gone?

what…

Prince taught me how to be who i am still becoming.

he was every. single. thing.

Prince taught me to stretch between genders, and then beyond the binary of gender, in how i love and understand myself, in how i understand my desire, my holiness.

to embody raunch and devotion in equal measure.

to be unapologetically sexy, a small man or big woman, to induce desire and discomfort, taking the center of everyone’s attention with transparent seductions in a society that demonizes nature and the sensual world.

to be political and humane with my curiosity and my resources. to seek guidance and teachers and collaborators all around me.

to have diva-high standards, and to offer my opinion with a pursed lip and raised brow. to be shady as an art form.

to wear more eyeliner.

to love god and pleasure in the same breath, with the same song, with the same dance. to believe different things over time, but always claim myself as a child of the divine.

to be generous with time and support for those in my field who please me, to mentor and partner with and uplift talent.

to take the lower harmony sometimes, even if you can hit the upper range.

that it’s ok, in fact it’s my right, to be vulnerable and controversial and personal in the public realm and still have a private life.

to grace the world with the exquisite gift of a perfect falsetto whenever the moment calls for it.

and mostly to be different, to offer the world a joyful rejection of the normal, the appropriate, the mediocre.

what do you mean Prince is gone at 57?

and now what’s rushing to my mind are the memories.

oh so much time spent feeling private and shared desire listening to his music alone, while making love, while falling in love. he is a lover to me, to so many of us.

how i dreamt of Prince, how he awakened me, taught me new ways to move.

that road trip with my family where the song ‘head’ came on and i blushed in the dark as the guitar expressed the right way to do things, while my dad, who “doesn’t really hear lyrics”, just effusively praised the funk.

with my college roommate Adriana, turning our dorm room into ‘erotic city’.

the first, and best, michael vs prince party, celebrating my homey Evans.

seeing Prince in his first concert at madison square garden after the label fuckery, on the musicology tour, with my besties Sofia and Janine. how i fell out multiple times during both the old songs and the new ones, touched so intimately by his presence, up in the nosebleed section.

purple rain live.

best show.

best.

then hearing that he had heard my little freedom song, and liked it. wanting to crawl to another dimension where i could even handle that.

and actually every party – every single party of any worth at all – that i have ever been to.

every friendship i take seriously has had a Prince component.

every lover.

in my entire life.

no. no no…too many things are coming, too many aspects of my life.
with all due respect to death, fuck this.

i found out about his impossible passing just before i had to facilitate the closing plenary of the just giving conference. unbeknownst to me one of the conference co-chairs, samantha harvey, found a quote from Prince, and we closed with his words:

“When you don’t talk down to your audience, then they can grow with you. I give them a lot of credit to be able to hang with me this long, because I’ve gone through a lot of changes, but they’ve allowed me to grow, and thus we can tackle some serious subjects and try to just be better human beings, all of us.”

finally, i love so much of his songbook. ‘adore’ is a perfect best song ever. but so is ‘the beautiful ones’. and so is ‘purple rain’. and ‘call my name’, ‘diamonds and pearls’. ‘nothing compares to you.’ no – there are actually too many to even start down this path. let me stop.

but i was recently moved by the sci-fi imaginings and poetics of Art Official Age. i offer up the lyrics to ‘Way Back Home’, which i am playing on repeat:

I never wanted a typical life
Scripted role, huh a trophy wife
All I ever wanted, to be left alone
See my bed’s made up at night
‘Cause in my dreams I roam
Just trying to find, trying to find
My way back, back home

So many reasons why
There’s so many reasons why
I don’t belong here
But now that I am I
Without fear I am
Gonna conquer with no fear
Until I find my way back home

Most people in this world are born dead
But I was born alive
(I was born with this dream)
With a dream outside my head
That I could find my way back home
My, my, way way back home

Is this the way?

Power to the ones who could raise a child like me
The path was set
But if you look the truth will set us free
I’ve heard about those happy endings
But it’s still a mystery
Lemme tell you about me
I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home
Can you see
My way back, my way back home

letting a baby go

there is more blood than i can comprehend
my mind is full of the idea of the blood and
in the weeks after
i say more about this abundant blood lost into my body
than the baby
i look at the pictures
which seem to be from a planet of darkness
a claustrophobic place
i can see how you could get lost in there
i had a lover who was supposed to be light and casual
and then another
this is sometimes my way
and but this time
between one and the other
in the space of a month
i became with child
i was pregnant
and i don’t live a child friendly life
not in my body
the whiskey, the weed
the travels
the long nights creating in the half dark
i am a certain kind of woman
i love the woman i am
did the baby notice this
did the baby understand me so clearly
and turn it’s miraculous life
into a passing trauma
was i unworthy or unwilling
was he underwhelmed, unimpressed
was she unborn for any reason
a year of study has yielded no answers
only more tenderness and more
and this truncated
immeasurable love
this theoretical love
this vigor for a wholeness
no longer material
but magical
little lost one i want you to know
i have thought of you often
lived a parallel life with you
expanded into a great goddess full of you
labored for your entrance
nursed you from these magnificent breasts
rocked you past midnight
shown everyone your beauty
i have thought of how you were already whole
even if you were never viable
even if you got lost
as i often do
you were just like your mother
rooting everywhere
regardless
and yes
i have looked for you
in every other child
but you are nowhere to be found
outside my heart
so i know this
i know you would be 4 months old today
and i would always track time by your breath

i know everything i can know about you
and i will always love you
and i will always
always
love you

a pleasure activist at the dentist

dear hot dentist
your fingers in my mou-

dear hot dentist
we are so different
i learn from experience
you? years and money poured into school
so you could tilt me back in this chair
and plunge your fingers in –

dear hot dentist
it’s not all these feelings though
it’s just
it’s the vibrator in my mouth
making me giggle
uncontrollably –

dear hot dentist
even your assistant is hot?
you turn my jaw between you
telling me open
open –

dear hot dentist
you are seeing the worst of me
i swear
but i have learned so much
about small spaces
and your persistent fingers
and –

dear hot dentist
i blush and squirm
my swag a spittle on my chin
my tongue awkwardly avoiding your
everywhere fingers
numb

numb
but happy

softer on the bones

no one told me
the skin of my lovers
would be softer with time
age loosening flesh from bone
and I would seek this
instead of firm fruit
the movement in my hands
of memories and pleasures
the hours after midnight
before dawn
when everything is whispered
even our screams

that i would cultivate a
fetish for scars
for the precise laughter
i
call forth

and i would be so excited
for every lover who came before me
shaping this moment
when you know your demands

and thank the whole mystery
for everyone who accepted my carnal invitation
articulating my concessions
and my deep lines
in the ancient sand
not that, this this yes god this

no one told me
how would become more important
even than first impressions
and I wouldn’t want any of the things
i was told made a life

and i would love the new, even now
the new level, the new exposure
the new word and voice
the new rhythm

the new me that emerges
each time i realize
oh – i am aging

and everything
everything
is more delicious
with time

4 music reviews, divergent and brief

the life of pablo, kanye west

standout tracks: ultralight beam, low lights, waves, real friends

why i like it: kanye is perhaps my favorite producer. he drops a gospel wall of sound and then something profane but true, and then moves towards something soft, vulnerable, meandering, raw, full of bravado. this is all what he does in the tracks, before his voice enters. he says his normal offensive things, and under that he exposes his awareness of the spectacle of himself and his life. i don’t ask for much more than that from anyone, i particularly don’t demand that from someone whose gift requires the public eye in order to feel realized.

i will admit i feel protective of him, as i do of all artists and creators who dance with their sanity in front of us. we want ‘crazy people’ to stay this side of offending us, and when we get offended we say ‘fuck him he’s crazy’…i want to examine who is allowed to be ‘crazy’, or controversial..who is allowed to make mistakes, who we wish well and hope they get help, who we just try to erase or ignore. who we demonize while they live and glorify when they die. more on that in the future. but well, unwell, he made a piece of art here, much of it is ecstatic and iterative. i could do without ever hearing the words bleach and asshole near each other again, and i would love more andre 3000. but i can’t stop listening.

a thoughtiverse unmarred, georgia anne muldrow

standout track: great blacks

my friend rich/fflood put me on to this and i initially felt annoyed that no one told me about it earlier. if it was a wine i would say it has notes of lauryn hill, mf doom, erykah badu, malcolm x. it is rap, political – nuanced ‘i am in community with other humans and i read the news and i know what time it is’ political, pleasing to the ear, and bumps in the car. if you missed it, travel back in time and get it.

traveller, chris stapleton

standout tracks: tennessee whiskey, more of you, traveller, sometimes i cry

i have to admit i found this song by accidentally listening to a playlist k michelle had curated, but i am so glad i did. i heard ‘tennessee whiskey’, and i thrilled because it felt like an accurate articulation of the sensual world. this dude sings his ass off! ‘more of you’ is the love my parents have, they just celebrated their 39th anniversary. it’s specific and forever and focused and really lovely. ‘sometimes i cry’ made me feel like he had seen me on a certain day last year when i couldn’t remember my name for the pain. i believe he has earned the emotional depth that shows up in his voice here, like he could sit in a meaningful conversation with etta james and brittany howard about heartache and art. some of the songs are too much on the country end for me, but the good slow stuff is oof so good.

this is what the truth feels like, gwen stefani

stand out tracks: make me like you, truth, rare

i have gone in and out of love for gwen. she is a badass, but she has fallen down the cultural appropriation stairs a few times. and she often performs with a pouty infant face that offends me. but i watched her on the voice and felt her goodness, felt her learning. she has landed in a realm of style that feels all her own, diaphanous and structured and lovely. so when she popped up on snl the other night in an amazing (really wonderful great good) song and dance skit with peter dinklage, i was pleased. and then she performed a song off her new album which i keep putting on and dancing (yes i am slowly getting back to dancing!!) around the house to, ‘make me like you’. then i listened to the album, which is half awesome lover pop and half awesome accountability pop. it’s solid, she sounds strong, and i love how music can allow us to synchronize our healing with others sometimes. i want all my honeys to listen to ‘truth’ and reflect on how we heal our hearts, how we land in what is right for us.

what y’all listening to?

the delicious

the delicious shifts as i become adult
it was the black of vibrant womb
it was running downhill with no fear of injury
it was curse words sharp off my tongue
it was sneaking into the school attic to kiss a big-lipped boy
it was the dinner table, making my sisters spit with my exquisitely timed moment – laughter, then my innocent face

it was dancing in a warm pink-lit room spun by pills that reminded me of happiness when i had forgotten
it was a deep lake in the bottom of summer
it was justice held in our hands as we shouted assata’s words and wept together in our shared dreams
it was the moments on the hardwood floor when no one was watching, and, even briefly, nothing was missing

but now
it is the soft suckle of my next idea on my lip,
my next love spilling up from the cave of self under my heart
the sounds of the babies telling me who they are
how i feel when my beloveds grow
the drifting weight of sleep pulling night over my eyes
my own shapeshifting flesh grasped whole in my hands
a life lined up for my pleasure

it is the beginning, the mid-morning, the afternoon, the end of, the dreams of
a well-loved day

the future of children

before She spoke She dashed a hand into the water and pulled out a fish shining with rainbows, limp and stunned by Her touch. She flicked it whole into Her mouth, then pulled out, by the tail, a skeleton, fragile bones clear of flesh, which she returned to the water.

then She said:

love is never a mistake

a lesson
a force of life
a becoming tomorrow
a preparation for self
a landing in divine purpose
yes

never a mistake

love makes the miracle

never in obligation, we know: cause we got to continue
or we want a son
or we already with child so oh well
or cause it’s what people do
or we just lonely

we can make miracles but
it can’t be so much work
please do better

love is always abundant –
we can nurture everyone
who comes in love

but these days
we struggle to nurture our obligations
our shoulds and ‘posed tos
our abandoned experiments
our too-scared-to-do-otherwises
our i-didn’t-thinks

it is a calling, creation

do we love the heart beating in the womb
do you love feeding life from your own miraculous body
do i love dreaming up ways to comfort the inarticulate wailing
do we love the future
love shaping life for survival
love letting go while holding on

all that love is what grants the miracle
the days it is meant to have
and only those days
only as good as our giving

i know those who
survive without love
carve out of themselves
a new heart
press rhythm into it

are they regrets? tch
are you looking backwards? tch

we have no regrets
we have offered our Self to all of them
and now we are looking forward
at our own aging body
diminishing with time
and resilient and fecund
and sacred and willing
and we are saying: only love will survive

love is the only significant factor
in the next stage of evolution

we are beyond the purely biological now
we begin to see that love
is of the body,
and can make of the body
any necessary reality
parenting is not a ticking clock
it is forever
as are we

and still, We mature

the answer is: who do we love
and how?
bring love forward
and sustain it
and we will sustain you