Black August Haikus, 2020

for years now, i have participated in Black August, a month of honoring the sacrifices and living wisdom of our political prisoners. inspired by the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity and Spirithouse communities, i’ve participated in a haiku writing practice in addition to fasting and reading. here are this year’s offers.

Aug 1

six feet apart or
six feet under, but alive
black freedom fighters

we fight for your lives
lift your names up, sacred song
we open your bars

we stop wasting time
chancing our liberation
we owe you rigor

Aug 2

fill your mouth with us
our lives, our deaths, mattering
say each of our names

fill your fight with us
our time, our years, sacrificed
remember our names

fill your lives with us
our dreams, brilliance, this culture
we are more than names

Aug 3

love, stop complaining
of all this freedom you have
that’s our blood, our loss

all our sleepless nights
praying for you, for your joy
you can be grateful

you can stay humble
keep learning, as we still learn
tomorrow’s lessons

Aug 4

our worst nightmare fears
are your daily bread, your sun
rises inside bars

every single year
you see life in snapshots, flash
the children are grown

this is the debt due
our attention to your hearts
to your brilliant minds

none of us are free
we are bound to your hours
to your sacrifice

this is the debt due
practice freedom every day
we belong to you

Aug 5

look at the glory
standing naked in mirrors
waiting for your glance

take in the beauty
stripped of all small attention
infinite blackness

turn towards yourself
and offer that precious love
you always have you

you cannot be caught
you’re never less than your soul
open your cages

stand in the moonlight
bathe, swim in that reflection
you, you are the light

Aug 8

you are meant to love
in spite of everything past
you need to be loved

you’re meant for freedom
in spite of constant cages
you are still so wild

you are built to hold
in spite of the erasure
you’re built for worship

you are here to thrive
this is your reclamation
your orgasmic yes

Aug 14

we hold multitudes
do not shrink, don’t simplify
black complexity
was never for sale
we are not simple, fragile
we are whole, come true
be kind to your wild
ancestor-fed fantasies
distinction matters
oh imperfect one
what you are is so divine
don’t let us miss you

Aug 16

the whole universe
is a black woman, vast, thick
glitter in her hair

she loves the quiet
small infinite busy-ness
cannot disturb her

on Sunday mornings
her languid body slumbers
while you pray on it

drift outside of time
and her silent company
will meet you dreaming

the revolution:
remembering power is
like her great stillness

which only gives trust
to those in mutual awe
no limitations

Aug 17

we learn to lose weight
smaller, grieving, contained: shrink
hush all that weeping

we learn how to lie
be fine, smile bright, say yes: mask
the truth is violent

we learn hunger pains
naked, alone, tired: fuck
this is who I am

we learn to expand
growing, loving, trusting: heal
we aren’t so heavy

we give up that fight
trying to be likable
we choose greater love

Aug 19

the real heartbreak is
even though change is needed
I feel death ahead

feel it every day
as we go thru our motions,
beyond miracles
to keep us alive
to grieve us, to let us go,
holding the broken
promises, prayers
treaties, amendments (they said
oh so many things)

even as chills come
and I find myself wanting
to trust tomorrow

even as I try
not to be selfish in spells
to speak gratitude

I see death ahead –
and know that face, injustice.
let my people live.

Aug 21

laying in the dark
counting heroes and saviors
praying up farmers

pray up prisoners
who fight fires when healthy
but caught the virus

pray up the teachers
forced to watch their dear students
for symptoms and signs

pray up the nurses
and doctors who toil, tired
no respite in sight

pray up the parents
meditating thru kid-screams
loving thru danger

pray up the artists
creating for us laughter,
dreams, threading forward

bless organizers
beaming light and direction
from here to justice

this is how I sleep
counting gratitude and hearts
beating, surviving

aren’t we a wonder
harnessing a tomorrow
we won’t surrender

Aug 23
black rest is sacred
time reclaimed, time indulged, time
that is mine alone

we need time to cry
to hold ourselves, each other
and this too much world

lay down in the dark
of your own sweet mystery
and wander, amazed

particles of star
waiting to whisper pathways
beam within your black

fill up your glass jar
press down the red dirt, water
and seed your garden

dreams may beckon you
smelling of vetiver, sage
visions live in sleep

humble into deep
slumber like a soul at peace
let the night hold you

Aug 24

birthday girl Marsha
your pink cake laughter comes home
when we turn to look
back across time you
broke free from invisible
smashed the glass and screamed
you left us unwound
from false binaries, from lies
you gave us beauty
you left us on high
celebrating all trans lives
thank you for guidance

aug 25
mountain range of rage
I punch the sky with longing
misunderstood. fuck.

how you gonna come
with those bullets for my back
and paralyze me

how you gonna come
to where I sleep, and take me
out of this sweet life

how you gonna come
with tear gas and shields and guns
to this small altar

where we keep praying
you’ll find some sense, you’ll come to
you’ll see our heartbeats

tectonic rage bursts
and the fraught landscape reforms
beyond your hatred

we are miracle
we cannot be killed, feel us
we are multitudes

pray we don’t taste blood
pray we don’t remember you
pray we feel mercy

pray for miracles
we have faith like seeds in braids
we have rage intact

we have grief within
we are heartache hurricanes
you will scream our names

Aug 29
we who lose our kings
grieve dignity, grieve honor
grieve our own best selves

no, we don’t need kings
we need our beautiful ones
to live, to survive

to hold our sick close
to face cancer, to fight it
that is a true war

Aug 31

did we do enough
we knew what was falling down
did we hold enough

our muscles trembled
our backs ached, our knees went out
forgot how to sleep

forgot how to pray
or why, remembered in tears
returned to the whole

raged and reposted
slipped behind scenes to reach out
broke each entered door

danced into the war
refused the disappearance
spoke names to candles

shared each known spotlight
whispered clues back down the line
spoke the truth we felt

did we do enough
when we speak of freedom then
did we do enough?

my Black August poems

every Black August I engage in collective practice with many people in the work of abolition and particularly remembering and lifting up political prisoners. I write letters and poems to those still behind bars, and write haikus with my BOLD family.

these are not great poems, but I appreciate the haiku form for pushing me to get to the essence of what I’m thinking.

this year most of the poems in some way relate to prompts from M Archive, Alexis Pauline Gumbs latest spiritual must-read text. the prompts were developed by Spirit House.

enjoy.

1.
cells so full of us
burst open, dear and wild, Black
liberated life
????

2. remember shackles
remember finding magic
these fingers know spells

these hands held the rape
they recall tapping poison
they recall birth mess

remember black bars
gripped in fingers finding sun
reaching for freedom

remember child cheeks
these hands raised up a Black world
these fingers know spells
????
.

3. Detroit Summer youth:
– hard shells that break into smiles
– Black brilliance walking
????

.

4. in her drank and men
in her laughter and babies
grandma brown got free

in her loneliness
unglamorous uniform
she grew too weary

????
(prompt from M Archive, joys and pains in my dna)

.

5. breathing thru this wall
out over fire-dry land
out to the Black sea

all that exists now
back to that cold beginning
beyond future flame

into your broken heart
to the very edge of life…
and then we exhale

????
prompt from M Archive (what collective breathing and love makes possible)

6. beloved precious
innocent unbroken child
needing everything

two streams flowing clear
miracle and breathless awe
enough, once, enough

????
(prompt, M Archive, who you are on first breath)

7. our reparations
need abolition, love song,
the debt so massive

not just our labor
not just money, but Black lives
spent in fields, cages

freedom, nothing less
nothing alive imprisoned
that is our North star

fight not for dollars
but for land, for years, for breath
for bone deep freedom

????
M Archive prompt, what words have not been spoken, are left unsaid

8. bye bob bye bob bye
evil don’t prosper too long
Kayla fights for mike

we win these rigged games
because we fight together
Black back to Black back

???
????

9. anyanwu lessons
I quiet myself enough
to hear bones, fault lines

hear trauma calling
out from my hip, dropping masks
listen on purpose

today Mike Brown waves
ripple through my pain center
touching all my grief

I feel everything
this is how I spend my life
feeling surrender

I practice recall
reclaiming scarred memory
uncoil my sacrum

I practice breathing
be here, right now, regardless
alive, of my time

I practice seeing
beyond the time horizon
shaping the future

I practice quiet
learn when I choose how to be
reclaim agency

practice not knowing
change is all. and miracle.
turn and face your life.

????
(prompt, M Archive on what are you practicing. calling on Octavia Butler’s beloved healer Anyanwu for inspiration.)

10. swallowed the rage and
made it something beautiful
you loved it, not me

now i interrupt
demand true abolition
throughout our movements

not to be righteous –
to get free, all of us free
we must see the bars

we must see our hands
we must follow our dollars
we must love our rage

????

11. sifting through shadows
I find lives I did not live
scars I never bled

massive weight to pull
the years growing back to land
years of blades and wound

centuries mothered
through the impossible pain:
visionary love

we always know home
know we lost, know we seeking
sifting through shadows

????
prompt from M Archive

12. bodies melt into
one mass universe scale ‘yes!’
this is a greeting

‘suck this breast darling
grab onto something solid’
(remember delight)

laughter moves my flesh –
that earthquakeish movement, these
tectonic mood shifts

I can carry it
when I plant my feet earth sighs
saying ‘yes come home’

lovers do marvel
say ‘no, stay naked, feel sun’
unlearn skinny love

children dive into
these arms, this bosom, they know
they can rest deep here

a road to freedom
is held in her fat black palms
when she touches you

????

prompt M Archive (write about the love of a fat black woman)

13. mind knows black brilliance
hands, divine work of pleasure
soma, our oneness

my skin reads the room
my gut feels the storm coming
knows if we survive

my tongue knows your taste
my spine knows undulation,
the music that moves

feet know to open
heart knows release, ritual
body knows to live

my body knows how
to live survive dream give love
and let go, let go

????

m archive prompt: what the body knows

14. always been freedom
dialectical Blackness
spiraling upwards

????

prompt from M Archive

15. woven in my skin
longing, belonging, and loss
still in your rhythm

????

m archive prompt on relationship to Africa

16. we already dead
we lived before, we let go
we chose to return

we not tied to you
but we love all around you:
say yes to what is

when you can’t hold us
we’re in your blood, under skin,
your sound memory

finished with the fear
the small longings, broken hearts
we are left with Black

????
M Archive, on the dead who are with us, while grieving Aretha

24. I kissed the ocean
lost myself in languages
I will never know

unlocked my Blackness
from suffering, from smallness
from expectation

found my skin wider
world scale in undulation
beyond any wall

freedom is quiet
many paths will bring you home
wander further now

here and now is brief
travel back, correct the harm
then, go everywhere

???? (back in land of signals and data, been practicing in other ways for a bit.)

27. ask the question, pray,
tears flowing, dripping, crashing.
hush: I know nothing

quiet politics
until you can hear your heart
learn your own rhythm

in that still pulsing
let your knowing fall away
listen for fire

????

28. we lock ourselves up
the prison concept spills bars
we call shackles love

teach each other ‘nope.’
limits, office hours, greed,
singular beliefs

live in old footprints
circling worn paths throughout time
caught in righteousness

judging each new inch
punishing each stumbled step
we create the walls

freedom is a way
to protect the part we play
in evolution

freedom is a path
from one heart to another
on a long dark night

????

31. we may look so wild
we crying with our hands up
frustration and praise

raging over change
feeling the differences
more than the oneness

we dream together
but the path is long, labor
lasts through the black night

what is emerging
is too new to bear our weight
caught the old trauma

but so beautiful
a movement of breathe and scale
we intentional

flawed midwives, mothers
raise up miracles daily
hands scarred and lovefull

flawed humans, dreamers
rededicate our whole selves
to revolution

????

black august haikus, week 4

here is my last batch of #blackaugust575 haikus, haiku clusters. i’m so grateful for this month of practice in community. these are dedicated to the 31 prisoners i wrote letters to this month, to their lives and sacrifices.

I don’t want to see
sand eyes, blood pounding my head
we are all mirrors

I leap but don’t fly
close my eyes sipping lakeside
dancing the red light

you are a whole lie
you made of bricks and iron
I am a vapor

I am a rainbow
I’m a fucking miracle
I’m a tomorrow

we’re blocking the sun
small and so holy, magic
irresistible

– #blackaugust #blackaugust575 #charlottesville

I have all I need
My freedom runs all through me
Pounding out my heart

I have all I need
I’m the answer to a dream
That slipped through shackles

I have all I need
In the love of my people
And my solitude

I have all I need
Deep sleep, hard work, these love notes
And this gratitude

– #blackaugust575, #blackaugust #generatingabundance

most humans are trash
most of our long precious lives
faulty miracles

bars don’t mean a thing
the worst of us don’t get caught
never get punished

shit don’t work no way
what we deny of ourselves
becomes our prison

we must see ourselves
beyond the stench, shame and guilt:
the small beautiful

the sliver of good
the seed dropped in the garbage
that calls it compost

the bud that opens
bursts through the treacherous dirt
to stunt for one day

or the breathless kiss
that reaches through the madness
one taste of true love

or the crescent moon
of black people, surviving
knowing we are light

in this big strange world
where even trash has beauty
nothing is wasted

– #blackaugust #blackaugust575 #watchinghumansandhurricanes

I have no children
just scars across my belly
where spirit tried it

I love children tho
whichever womb they spring from
I make worlds for them

in each prisoner
a small child, a beloved
still yearns to be held

– #blackaugust #blackaugust575 #scars

there are no answers
there is only mystery
only tomorrow

we made it this far
for the entire future
we’ll show up again

love is this table
wrapped around with black women
who keep showing up

love’s a movement child
passed from auntie lap to lap
face soft with laughter

we pick up our load
carry it all our lifetimes
blessing in the heft

– #blackaugust #blackaugust575 #m4bl

cast protection spells
all around our broken hearts
the journey is long

call on the river
move between us, move through us
take these tears to sea

and when the flood comes
let’s make islands of ourselves
somewhere there’s a shore

cast protection spells
our fire is still so young
living on our prayers

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust #ants #interdependence #spellsforanewamerica

I miss your poems
comrades warriors my loves
I need your poems

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

sweetest beloveds
thank you for all your poems
black August for life

we do not forget
our comrades behind the wall
we’ll never forget

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

black august haikus: week 2

Black folks raise pit bulls
Swan dive, two step on cruise ships
Pray swathed in cotton

We place seed in dirt
Stand in lines for lesser harm
Write English poems

Turn insult to song
Gather currency not us
Bow down to white god

We carry the scars
Transform the horror to life
This is survival

– in response to the proximity of slavery, noticing what we’ve already begun to reclaim (while listening to Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad) #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

we magic makers
casting spells from dragon’s breath
blessing insurgents

fighting all our days
laughter in a moment’s pause
we give our whole selves

and the children ask
what are you doing? why? where?
we gather freedom

we magic makers
we endure our own brilliance
we break our own chains

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust between GOT and nibblings

lightning brights up sky
the child quivers beside me
i promise safety

it’s the outside world
where I make no promises
where I can’t protect

sky does not hate you
thunder doesn’t feed on fear
that’s the worst of us

you are vast as sky
laying here or in the street
sacred black boy child

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust
on the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death

I do my life’s work
I dream out loud in the dark
and then I thank God

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

I write these letters
knowing that we are strangers
and yet I owe you

deepest gratitude
the miracle of your life
spent inside cages

we don’t forget you
we love you across space, time,
know your sacrifice

we honor your years
your wisdom, dedication
I honor your lives

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

I’ve written 11 letters now, and am starting to include these haikus. keep thinking of Charlene Carruthers saying she was struck speechless visiting Mumia, and how I feel that each time I bring my pen to the page. so much to say, so impossible to say it. ?

don’t lie on your heart
you are broken and it hurts
it has always hurt

we can’t live in hate
we don’t live without delight
anger leaves hunger

beat the softest thing
scream at the walls, the ceilings
release – you will heal

– somatics working. #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

when hate fills your heart
everything is a weapon
every day a war

my heart is my own
I fill my life with fierce love
rooted in justice

I feel no regret
I offer up my whole life
in the long battle

I never forget
you hold torches for whiteness
but I love the dark

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust
honoring sacrifice and freedom fighting in Charlottesville

black august reflections and poems, week 1

i am fasting from food and water today. i’ve been tidying my house, listening to records on my new little turquoise victrola, burning frankincense and sage and reflecting on this week.

what kind of surrender is necessary to become a prisoner? to surrender to each day, and continuing to build connections and relationships and ideas even though society will not make room for your freedom? to surrender to the work you can still do?

i feel the limits of this time. the limits of us in movements, how we cannot grow beyond our trust of each other, but we still refuse to offer each other more trust. the limits of analysis, how once we have it we don’t want to welcome those who don’t share it to our table. the limits of communication, we are calling each other on compromised lines, making our plans on corporate ground. there are cages of body and cages of mind and connection and our movements are operating inside all of these.

i love black august, both for the foundational intention of remembering and uplifting political prisoners, and for the ways we reach for each other as black people all month in poem and practice. i think we grow in this month.

i’m practicing many things this black august, including writing to political prisoners, mostly from this list. i’m also practicing writing haiku poems, a collective practice i believe is 10 years old now.

here are some of the poems from this week.

reclaiming my time
singing it out: surrender
precious black hours

reclaiming my time
dancing inside boundaries
feeling small and free

– so happy #blackaugust #blackaugust575 is here! thank you congresswoman maxine waters!!

we cannot ungrieve
the black death experience
it walks with our bones

we weep like icebergs
drowning the world in sorrow
boiling but so slow

we lose tender minds
broken inside the onslaught
spilling everything

we only have us
we only have this thin love
to start the fire

we are not yet dead
we can still do anything
never forget this

we are not dead yet
do anything we still can
let’s break everything
– #blackaugust575

may every cage
you build up, and go fill up,
capture your own dreams

may each wall on earth
block your food come from the sky
no door, no window

may your circling feet
step on wolf tooth and shark jaw
a bloody stumble

may each innocent
punished long for one mistake
crowd your memory

when you glance back, may
you finally understand
we were always free

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust
thank you Harriet Tubman for the spell “my people are free”

Baldwin, Lumumba
are you in conversation
and can you hear us?

Baldwin, twenty three
when Lumumba came to us
y’all became massive

now, tributaries
flow from you, flowing through us
onwards to freedom

– birthday haikus #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

you are terrified
that what makes you man is glass
already shattered

you are deluded
think control is in your hands
and can be taken

you crown yourself king
punish the non believers
who can taste your heart

you can’t erase us
you can’t subject us to myth.
change, or disappear.

someone lied to you
for centuries, forever
but we are still true

we been loving you
and we’re no longer martyrs
no longer afraid

become relevant
uncage your self, surrender
let yourself be held

divine masculine
disarm yourself, surrender
don’t get left behind

– #blackaugust575 #blackaugust

we learned to eat wrong
to think all the time of nothing
we learned not to want

black girls go hungry
in a million bleeding ways
black girls underfed

I disappeared me
I ate to erase myself
to tidy the mess

I ate my questions
I ate to soothe the fire
I ate to ghost me

we starved since we came
who can eat without welcome
without dignity

we starved since we came
full up on acidic rage
appalling longing

we learned to eat wrong
now we swallow each other
word by sacred word

we learned to read stars
we stopped looking down, or back
you beaming you lead

we learned to eat wrong
we learning to feed ourselves
our mouths wide open

– #blackaugust575
dedicated to Tchaiko, Roxane and Meshell for an inspiring night.

your heart might get caught
not a feeling but a state
a cage of longing

your breath can be trapped
in a flutter of kisses
promises, questions

I never give up
I get tiny, then I grow
be patient. I am.

– a love haiku

I start with my love
traverse wild interior
and end with my love

build you an altar
black skin, black longing, black heart
cast you all my spells

I come from my love
impossible and still true
my miracle love

I fight from my love
I don’t know right from wrong yet
I am learning, love

freedom is in love
when the whole world is the cage
I see your freedom

freedom is your love
the whole world is made of bars
only you hold me

– love song to black people
#blackaugust575 #blackaugust