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

now we can

I remember one time I was talking about how capitalism was failing and classmate-friend-teacher-organizer Mia Herndon said “capitalism is working exactly as it is meant to. in competition and constant growth, those who don’t compete, or who compete less viciously, suffer, serve and struggle.”

now it feels to some people like America is failing, like the people who said “make America great again” are confused. but this is the trajectory of nation states, of borders and white supremacy. deepening our anti-capitalist and post-nationalist analyses will help make this moment an opportunity.

also, saying “I told you so” in any way is tacky and diminishes the speaker, because saying is not enough if we don’t effectively organize to make our visions palpable and our strategies collective. so we knew “make America great again”, when uttered by white supremacists, was not harkening the racism of the 1980s, or even 1950s, but the era of chattel slavery that preceded and seeded our current prison system. we may have done our very best, but we did not organize effectively enough to have the power to stop this moment.

but now we can. this moment is our ledge, or choice point. we are as free as we choose to be. (baldwin)

now we can put a moratorium on shading and attacking other factions of movement on the internet (or in meetings, or with funders) and either choose to collaborate or ignore other efforts while still counting them as part of our own resistance momentum.

now we can look at each person, regardless of background or experience, as a potential comrade (butler) and figure out how we must transform ourselves to transform the dynamic (boggs) in the name of liberation. i have been practicing this in cabs – i’ve had three transformative conversations with drivers in the last three days – people just need one suggestion, one encouragement to question everything.

now we must look within ourselves and ask what actions we are willing to take, what interventions we are capable of, if we can will ourselves into honest conversations, if we believe in our visions enough to step towards them, if we are brave enough to assert the future we require and to shape it.

the other option is to survive for a while, pointing at the very sharp thing aimed at our hearts and getting closer by the minute.

adapt! dodge, weave, learn from the L, slip out of your ego, hold each other, scream the truth and keep moving towards life. everything is going fine in this realization of someone else’s imagination. but we dream another world, and we make it come true.

love scholarship lessons 14-20

14. if i want love, i can’t hurt love.

i used to be very cavalier about the idea of boundaries in love. ‘that’s not how humans ARE,’ i’d insist. ‘we must be free, we are mercurial, we are porous, chemistry moves between us, everyone works the systems of human interactions to get what they need, you can no more own a person than you can own the planet, etc.’

i still believe all of this to varying degrees.

but/and! lovers make agreements with each other, agreements that grow trust and transparency as they are held. trust and transparency that lay the foundation for the kind of mutual transformation that i believe can only happen in relationship (not necessarily romantic relationship, but definitely authentic relationship).

lao tzu teaches, ‘if you don’t trust the people, they become untrustworthy.’

if i want to give and receive the kind of all-inclusive trust that allows for transformation, allows me to actually feel loved in real time, i have to be trustworthy. with my boundaries and with the boundaries others set. crossing those boundaries, even if – especially if – i can’t understand them…makes it that much harder for me to trust anyone to hold the boundaries i am learning i need for my own transformation.

grace lee boggs teaches us to ‘transform ourselves to transform the world’ – love is a front line. transforming how i love, and how i treat the love of others, transforms how love can work in the world.

15. each time i name, hold or respect an intimate boundary, my understanding of the purpose of love grows.

self-love first: self-love is not about accumulating a galaxy of ever arching incoming desires, sexualizing every experience. self-love is being able to see every part of myself with compassion. to feel tenderness for all my ways of being, how i was shaped, what i have done with my gifts, where i disappoint myself.

love with another, or many others, it is not hunting. love is a fertile ground for growth. one crucial purpose of love with others is to have people to grow with. to grow out of obligations and depression, to grow old, to grow wise, to grow babies, to grow home, to grow creatively, to grow analysis, to grow freedom, to grow justice – to have another person, or other people, with whom to grow.

when i tell someone i love them, i mean: ‘i am growing with you!’

16. if we are not growing, we are doing something else…often regressing. and there are probably a million good reasons for that – the only one i understand is that there is something in my past that i haven’t really seen. and it is going to keep creeping up until it becomes unbearably present behind me, and i turn and face it, and i truly comprehend it. then i can move forward. if i try to run away, or only cast a glance over my shoulder and keep walking, it will not go away. james baldwin teaches, ‘not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced’.

17. what you withhold of yourself becomes your prison. love is also a process of getting free with another person. and along the way you learn all the cages that can develop within you and between you. one of those cages is built of lies and half-truths, knowing something your partner should know, something about who you are or what you’ve done, and withholding it from them.

i have thought of myself as an open book, but that doesn’t mean my words are in a common tongue. too often i communicate in passive aggressive dishwashing, directive playlists, abstract poetry.

i have had to learn to translate from my heart the truth of what i am feeling and what i need, walk another person through my secret garden, discover the fruits i have grown from desperation, believe in the abundance that makes sharing easy. and most of all, not to leave any part of myself in a cage, being unuttered…left there, my forgotten self creates what prisons create: criminals, humans centered around survival.

no more prisons, not even inside.

18. truth seeks the light, and love is a lightbearing emotion. the more i love, the more i want to show my wholeness. secrets come leaping through my mouth because of love. i can’t hide in the face of love. and as i love myself, i feel no need to keep hidden. healing and moving forward become possible in ways that were not available in my periods of resentment, hatred, insecurity, secrecy.

19. i learn to love in various directions simultaneously, inwards to myself, outwards to others, back to my ancestors, forward to my great great great grandchildren. i learn to love my flawed self as i fall for imperfect others. to love my communities as i become unconditionally lovestruck for my nephew and nieces. love has shown itself to be a liberating, generous and universal emotion. when i feel it in one direction, i remember that love in every direction is possible, is always present.

i would venture that part of what is happening in ferguson is an outburst of love. love of children getting to be children, love of black and brown children, is making the truth of this moment in the american racial construct come to light. this love has our eyes and our hearts extended to where michael was shot down, standing up for him, for the people murdered before him and those who will continue to be killed on this 28-hour cycle until we become too loud to ignore politically, socially and spiritually.

20. love requires practice. listening, speaking honestly, caring, surprising, grounding, calming, supporting, nourishing, pleasing, receiving, declining, creating, teaching, learning. there are so many skills to develop, simultaneously. wax on, wax off. love, love. love, love.

love, love.