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’

Compassion/We are all being

Yesterday there were coordinated terrorist attacks all over Paris. I was shaken by it – Paris is one of the places that has shaped me, I’ve been many times and have friends and family in the area.

And then I was doubly shaken by the response of my radical circle of friends – ‘to respond to terrorism in Paris but not in other places is narrow/ignorant/racist’. Or that even as we see the crisis unfold we should remember this is France’s political due.

My initial reaction was frustration and disappointment – I hate the insertion of critique in a moment of genuine emotion and grief. The assumptions and reductions that get made there. This might be my weakness as a revolutionary…but I really wonder if we ever want to be beyond compassion. Is compassion too much to offer?

And yet.

The day before, there were attacks on Beirut. On a regular basis there are attacks on Syria, on Palestine, on Baghdad, in so many specific and ancient homes. There are places where people live in constant, systemic violence. Yes there is racism in who we can see in pain. (The US is one of these places but the bulk of our violence comes from our citizens against each other, our unnamed high stakes civil war….but that’s another post.)

In certain parts of the world, there is such continual violence that we barely take note of it as a global community. Such violence that we hold it as something fantastical, because we cannot imagine living in those conditions. And lacking such imagination means that when people react to the constant violence by unleashing it, letting it whip out and touch someone or some place beyond the invisible boundary of safety and nonsafety, we earnestly ask ‘who would do such a thing?’

Privilege includes being able to live in a violent world without hearing the gunshots. There are places where we can pretend that violence doesn’t exist. For many of us Paris has been/is such a place.

Tourism is a way of getting to know the surface of a place, and Paris gives such a gorgeous and delicious top layer. I think of Paris as crepes, hammams, art, love, Baldwin and Simone, balconies and kissing. But I also know better – top layers can only cover a rotten core for so long. To be radical is to be willing to acknowledge the rotten core of present day conditions and seek to heal, transform and grow something absolutely new at the very root of society.

I think compassion has to be part of what we’re growing, what we’re training into ourselves at the root. For me, compassion usually means being able to see myself in others, my weakness or fear, my humanity.

Often those creating the conditions of violence are able to stay far away from the daily experience of it. By this I don’t mean actual terrorists or mercenaries. I have always thought of them as victims of those with resources and decision making power in this world, those still concentrated in the ‘West’, Europe and the US, those who continue to live in such a level of indulgence that the entire planet is being thrust into climate crisis to meet our need for fuel, materials, new new new things.

Many victims of our current economy are refugees right now, seeking home and safety amongst hostile nations who don’t want the burden.

I think of Warsan Shire’s poem Home:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

But refugees and terrorists are fruit and flower of the same tree. People of a place that has become unlivable. Different theories of change…perhaps the distinction is hope vs hopelessness. I believe that no one blows themselves up in a crowd of strangers if they believe there is a way to live with dignity. Now we have this impossible foe – intergenerational hopelessness.

We have to be able to imagine the unimaginable to understand the long suffering at the root of terrorism. And then we have to be unflinching in tracing the lines of causation, especially when they run back to our own government, our own tax dollars.

I’m not saying the US is responsible for all terrorism in the world – that is us centering ourselves yet again. There are fundamental belief systems that are legitimately regressive. But those systems flourish in the condition of armed inequality. And I am saying that the US arms inequality, manifesting chaos and disaster in order to control the material world. Our fingerprints are always on the the grenades, our hearts always broken by the carnage.

When terrorism happens, if you are a US taxpayer, the response isn’t ‘Who would do such a thing?’, but rather ‘What have we done?’, what conditions have we helped generate, what scarcity have we grown in this abundant world? How long can we hold this contradiction?

Yesterday I spiraled through these thoughts – sad for Paris, because I believe there is such a thing as complex innocence. Sad to see how many of my comrades reacted with little to no compassion, and then devastated to know that that lack of compassion is a response to watching the world ignore systemic violence. That what we are generating in the world right now, everywhere, over and over, is borders. Us vs them, those who deserve our compassion and those who do not, barbed wire topped walls between humans we can care about and those we can’t.

We are forgetting each other, forgetting our interconnectedness. We are in one pattern. We have to fight for our right to feel for each other, to remember that ‘enemy’ is a construct, and we can reject it, outgrow it.

I will end with this poem from my brother Sam Conway, which helped me sleep last night.

May I see clearly
That I am the dead in Paris
And I am also their killers
I am the family of the dead in Beirut
And I am the family of their killers
That I am the child of each refugee
And the mother of every despot
I am each ISIL recruit, each American soldier, every exploded hospital and every roadside bomb

May I see clearly
That I with all the living and the dead
with the Great Earth
Awaken together in this moment

May we see clearly together
That there is a Great Way Through violence and fear
Past bloodshed that brings more bloodshed
A way past hate

And seeing all these things clearly
May we with all beings
Simply do them.