napowrimo poem 23: xhosa sounds

prompt: find a poem in a language you don’t know, and translate it into english based on the look of the words and their sounds.

i am writing a story about south africa right now so i let that guide my choices. i played off of the sound/words from an excerpt of “show me the mountain that packed up and left” by nontsizi mgqwetho, “the first and only female poet to produce a substantial body of work in Xhosa”. she came in and out of view quickly and dynamically, challenging traditional gender norms for who gets to create art and criticize leaders with her politicized poetry.

the actual translation of the excerpt from the poem is:

Where is this God that we worship?
The one we worship’s foreign:
we kindled a fire and sparks swirled up,
swirled up a European mountain.

This is the wisdom of their God:
“Black man, prepare for the treasures of heaven
while we prepare for the treasures of Africa!”

i wanted to capture this energy, to honor the roots and land of the writer.

i was also touched today by this horoscope from rob brezny which introduced me to the created word “trumspringa”: “the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin.” something around mountains and freedom…

i upend all yin and lo:
there it is, the soft tissue.
the asymptomatic daze of no longing
then symptoms (tears) days of
singular waiting

see? there is an ancestral wound
even when they love
the intense uneasy (ugly) undertow
swamps their hiding places
floods the root

europe never could understand
the love below this soil
what it is to be born in tune
what is beneath the (rich) quarries
in the dark below
beyond the zoo and even the wild,
out on the wind

here is how we trump spring
in this feeling free

forget tin, gold, steel
the sigel we carry
is in all the eyes of afrika

napowrimo poem 22: the little seeds learn why things go

write a poem for children.

i imagine this as a little book for my minnesota babies, earth day themed. where there’s an image i see on the page, i’ve shared it before the words that would be written out under the image. the locations are all places around their minnesota that they know and love.

(the pond view in summer – blooms, gardens, dragonflies)
you are the little seeds
you must know why things go
because you will go everywhere
you
must
grow

(the babies, hands spread in question)
but why do things go?

(geese taking off from pond)
because bran thinks the geese would be tasty, they go

(bran the dog running with all feet off the ground)
because the world smells so delicious, he goes

(mairead with a crayon in her mouth and mud in her other hand)
because little bunny is learning the world with her mouth, she goes

(siobhan running towards the tree down the yard)
because the princess must climb a higher tree now, she goes

(finn entering the brush)
because there are dinosaurs to seek and name, he goes

(mama waving from the garden with her coworkers and daddy)
because she has to build a garden everywhere, she goes

(daddy with a circle of meditating youth on the lawn)
because all the babies need a calm place to sit, he goes

(papa roger laughing in the sunroom, in viking hat)
because he was very tired after such a good life, he went

(papa on his horse, with finn in front of him)
because he’d saved as many as he could, he went

(the pond view in fall, leaves falling, deer across the way)
everything goes because it cannot stay
the whole world is set up this way
once you know which game to play
you must go on, you can’t delay

(the pond view in winter, with ice skaters and ice fishing)
everything goes because there’s something more
waiting out just beyond the door
once you know what vessels are for
you must push off from the closest shore

(the pond view in spring, muddy and green)
everything goes because the world is wide
finite though, there is no room to hide
cycle, pattern, spiral, tide
the most beautiful seasons unfold inside

(the babies splashing in the mud at sunset)
you are the little seeds
you know why things go
you might just see everything
as
you
grow

napowrimo poem 21: new york school poem

write a new york school poem.

fuck.
i can’t remember and you can’t forget.
Marta – it was an accident!
whatever heat we shared was injurious
for all parties, trust me, trust trust…
so…what did you see with your perfect gaze -
my mouth on his? on him in so many ways?
on that steaming roof off 10th and first avenue?
it was the sort of touching turkish bathers do!
of nakedness, rich, swinging and stiff,
of being so young and awakened! if
we did these things you claimed to see
forgive us, at least…at least forgive me.
what was it, april second? was it april at all?
i was overstudied, certainly too high to recall

(that was the year i failed everything)

oh it wasn’t a crisis of life and death my dear
it wasn’t tupac flatlining our freshman year
that virgin night when i first swallowed down
three distinct things that burn faster than sound
blur the holy world to fringes and fright
carmen hall nearly went up in flames that night
no, i embellish, it was just the ninth floor
james had sworn he had only white neighbors
so yes, i yelled, ‘white people – fire!! get out
white people, fire, a fire! get out!!’
burning bush, i found a burning trash lit
i saved us all with that ignorant shit

but this lesser crisis i’m sure you dreamed
fueled by that common purple haze, which seemed
so exotic in handsome David’s nimble glow
if offered, i am pretty sure we said no
to everything Roger spread out before us
the granules and lines of his bright yellow bus
or was it hot pink? was he into the pills yet?
i shouldn’t speak on it, i know, i know…but

Marta i didn’t love him, i’ve loved no one but you!
but love never knows what the body must do
not with my breasts filling his eager mouth
not with his strong fingers spreading me out
i swear if it happened, if your suspicion grows
it was to embody Bartok’s empty concertos
it was to blossom nightshades in lowly concrete
it was as temporary as any lucid dream state

think about the children we were that night really
hitting high Cs, stumbling, shouting out Biggie
‘he’s a slut, he’s a ho, he’s a freak!’ on our tongues
at the top of our nubile Camel infused lungs
back when Big Poppa was newly forsaken
in those days, march ninth was just barely sacred.
we gifted each other every single thing in sight
even crusts off our slices, so massive in lamplight.
and he was a simple gift, from and unto himself
you ask me why him, why share our sweet wealth
he was ripe, demanded nothing close to my heart
i was only this honest those days in my art
he was a lost puppy, remember those eyes?
i promise, i only pet his thick roman thighs
if i pet him at all
which i can’t recall…

napowrimo poem 20: exquisite freedom

write a poem in the voice of a member of your family.

the song of the dog and/or child

there have been moments
of such exquisite freedom
since i came to this place off the thick dirt road

to live on a slope
surrounded by bog
and birch stand and mysterious undergrowth

what i cannot say
but feel all through me
is complete instinct: race the water’s edge

i follow my heart
til She calls my name
directing my return – i am love, i am rage

reflections on the octavia e. butler celebration at spelman

i am still glowing and full from last week’s octavia e. butler celebration at spelman. the event was the second one hosted by the humble and brilliant patternmaster tananarive due, the horror/sci-fi writer who held the cosby chair at the college these past two years (and who i am thrilled to call my writing coach this year).

last march, tananarive invited friends and colleagues of octavia’s together to reflect, share work, converse and celebrate octavia’s life and impact. writers and thinkers like samuel r. delany, nalo hopkinson, nisi shawl, steven barnes, lynnee denise, jewelle gomez and sheree thomas sat together and honored their friend and ancestor. i wasn’t able to make it, but watched hungrily from afar.

tananarive focused this year’s event on arts and activism, rooted in her own background as the daughter of civil rights activists. when she invited me i couldn’t fully believe it. i said yes much the way i once said yes to going on the space mountain ride at disney world – OF COURSE I WANT TO DO THAT!!, not thinking until later what that might actually be like as an experience.

over the months between the invitation and the event, tananarive told me she was also inviting nnedi okorafor. then dream hampton and bree newsome. then junot diaz. then john jennings. other than bree, i had buried myself in each person’s work. dream is a close detroit comrade. they are all masters in their respective crafts.

i got very very nervous.

knowing i would be near nnedi and junot particularly made me feel like i was about to be upside down in the dark of an unknown depth. i entered a comfortable denial mode wherein i just didn’t think about it.

then a little over a month ago i was at astroblackness in l.a. and nnedi was there, as well as nalo, john, tananarive and steven. they were all quite normal nerdy cool fresh people. i observed nnedi’s presence, knowing we’d share panel space soon, and with the luxury of being unknown to her. she is a striking and direct speaker – perhaps a little uncomfortable with the attention her brilliance brings, but also wanting to be as precise in her talks as she is on her pages. my nervousness around her became excitement. i wanted more time around her present-moment mind.

now i was only in denial about junot. and the live streaming – did i mention that? the whole thing was sent out to the world and the galaxy in real time. no wardrobe glitches or tripped over words allowed.

my honey lynnee denise was in town, in an alignment of magic she spoke at spelman a few days earlier at the toni cade bambara scholars/writers/activists program at the women’s research center. she kept me in my body and feeling cared for throughout the week, for which i am deeply grateful.

In terms of the event, everything was awesome.

it started off with a black sci fi film festival with piece after piece that inspired and moved me. dream’s video for theesatifaction’s ‘queen’ showed, a gorgeous expression of radical black queer beauty and fashion. there was a short film critiquing spelman’s founders’ day through a magical realism lens. there was a sci fi interactive movie/game about the work of depersonalizing and battling ‘dark forces’ that get inside us, which was funky and spoke to so much of what i have been working through in my own life. bree’s short film ‘wake’ showed, totally creepy and beautiful – it was exciting to experience her work before we met and shared the panel space. then tananarive and steven’s ‘danger word’, a short take on a zombie film, had me in tears – excellent efficient storytelling. the festival closed with pumzi, a short film out of kenya which i have seen a few times and find stunning and challenging. the way the lead character loves her planet always opens me up.

after a short break, tananarive and nnedi gave a reading in the museum, which was full of renee stout’s stunning ‘house of the conjure woman’ exhibit. it was the perfect backdrop for their words. tananarive read from the good house, which i just finished this morning. she read in the voice of the book’s magic ancestor, a part of the book i hadn’t gotten to yet. i am learning so much from her about research, place, description, story arc, and how important the characters are, outside of the horror, science and technology.

nnedi read from her new adult novel lagoon, and as she read she took us into this vibrant world she has created. i downloaded the book immediately and am excited to get into it.

at the end of the event, tananarive said that junot had slipped in the back. i didn’t turn around, but my denial ended abruptly. he was here! so was bree, and the gifted artist john jennings, who is doing the cover of octavia’s brood. so were dream, nnedi and her daughter, tananarive and her father, lynnee, soraya and sage from the NOLA wildseeds coven, a group connected to the octavia butler and emergent strategy work. so was my old friend samirah from college, who is now a textile/fabric artist living in atlanta, who reminded me i had basically been like this since school. and bill campbell, an internet friend for years who i had never met in person. and so was shamika, a new facebook friend who had flown down from NY to connect with all of us. people were texting and tweeting as they prepared to watch from afar.

the pattern was gathering.

shortly before we went up, as i finally frantically gathered my thoughts, tananarive reminded me that she wanted me to do one of the grounding exercises i’d told her about, instead of just a talking intro. all of the sudden emergent strategy flooded my system and i lost my nervousness. i only had to do what i loved and be myself.

junot diaz came over and became just junot, a human with a wicked smile, bad back, and brilliant mouth that talks in essays and curses. dream was there, covered in sparkles. we were all there because of our shared love of octavia.

exhale, be here. i landed in the moment of it, in my body.

a group of spelman and morehouse students opened us with a reading of earthseed verses. then the speakers took the stage. i went first, and had folks stand and do a meditation and sharing around the Octavia’s earthseed concept ‘all that you touch, you change.’ i asked them to share what they are in this world to change, and to manifest it with one other person in the room. i referenced octavia’s brood and emergent strategy to ground the work.

the other panelists introduced themselves with a variety of love stories about octavia and her impact on them. junot and dream both shared what it was like to read her work as it was coming out. john spoke about coming to her work as a visual artist, and how he is in the process of doing a comic book adaptation of kindred. nnedi spoke about her friendship with octavia, and how they corresponded about world events, including 9/11, and octavia’s disdain for bush. bree spoke about the impact of octavia on her creative and activist work.

the q&a that followed had us speaking on the new intelligence of social media and how to use it as a way to connect people for social justice, the blackness of outer space, sci-fi and theology, how to make sci-fi work and ideas more accessible – including changing who is seen as a creator, and using image and film to tell stories. we were asked whether we wanted to write about a world beyond race (most of us said a resounding no…for me identity is one of the most interesting ways we evolve and layer), what themes emerge in our work (i said pleasure!), and how to deal with the fear of changing the world with our writing. the audience was lovely, alert, leaning forward.

i notice that spaces created around octavia feel sacred to me, always.

the next day i got to hold a circle around octavia and emergent strategy. it was an intimate group of about twelve people – students, professors, cultural strategists, artists. tananarive’s father john stephens due was there, which was awesome. elders bring such value, and he has been doing social justice work for over fifty years. he jumped in and played with the ideas of emergence and sci fi.

i introduced emergent strategy and had people personalize it for their lives. it was beautiful to hear what came out as folks talked about being more intentional, interdependent, transformative, adaptive, decentralized, fractal and creating more possibilities in their lives and work.

i deeply believe in the work i am getting to do these days. i think it is a path that will liberate many paths, and i think i am merely a conduit, a gathering place for the ideas to marinate and continue.

i am being shaped, i am shaping.

napowrimo poem 19: sea shells in minnesota

look at this list of actual sea shell names, and use one or more of them to write a poem.

on the back porch sits the pile
of shuttlecock volva shells
empty of their creatures now
he holds one up, tells me
‘seahorses are all fathers,
it works just fine for them!’

suddenly stacks of rocks
are vibrant living expressions
bursting existence in every direction
exploding, a lazarus jewel box
stumbling joy, a cheeky child
running first boots thru unknown wild

much later, after the bonfire,
after she has found a reflection
in every muddy puddle of spring,
night will drop her dark on us
chanting spells to a weary & magical kindred
whispering goodnight to an incised moon

napowrimo poem 18: moments of prayer rubaiyat

write a ruba’i. AABA. multiple stanzas makes it a rubaiyat.

1.
we are not the graced or winged ones
our bare bodies cannot seek the sun
i offer up a twisted prayer
mere passenger til flight is done

2.
my city stagnates on a broken conveyor
hands over mouths of the earnest taxpayers
i offer up a please oh please
as lover, healer, stranger, soothsayer

3.
these babies bring me to my knees
keep me from rooting beyond the sea
i know, i know that god is change
still, keep what is precious safe for me

4.
i’ve never known a love so strange
he finds me out on a sacred range
he tells me how he tells god my heart
in our ancient ancestral exchange

5.
i peer deeper into my human parts
waiting for the call to start
terror, tears, laughter, doubt
and i wake up again inside my art

napowrimo poem 17: three senses grow tired

write a poem in which you very specifically describe something in terms of at least three of the five senses:

this day blurs a wild chaos before me
i hear stunned muting clouds, my coming sleep
i taste the sweet nectar, new dreams arching up
i give no struggle to the dark willing deep

napowrimo poem 16: lies

write a ten-line poem in which each line is a lie.

i am stronger than the oceans
in this moment i need for nothing

i am a clear day to the horizon
i can even see tomorrow

i leave my memories in the past
my forgiveness is wholistic

i carry no heavy regrets
my songs have found a resting place

my childhood is behind me now
i can even see god’s face

napowrimo poem 15: my sleepless terza rima

prompt: write a poem in terza rima, the form invented by dante and used in the divine comedy. it consists of three line stanzas with a chained rhyme scheme – ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, EFE and so on.

a sleeplessness
fills up our last night
with it’s bittersoft caress

sharp mind blank white
dreamwatching the stars
as they turn up ancient light

look, you see mars
up by the blood moon
through our rusting wrought iron bars

we pile sand dunes
shape the endless clouds
day will find our bed too soon

morning comes loud
we should rush to go
but seek the last warmth allowed

we cannot know
what spirit seeks us
if we accept tomorrow

but let’s not fuss
let’s hold with both hands
tender miraculous us

this strange love lands
in the quiet black
our primal body demands

we don’t look back