what is unveiled? the founding wound. (poem/directive)

a body is always a body
individual or collective
(whole or in many pieces)
alive or, later, dead
a body is aways vulnerable

a wound is always a wound
singular and deep
or many cuts, slowly, blood everywhere
left untreated, unstaunched, denied
a wound will always fester

the first wound happens within
the violence of birth
the expulsion from the illusion of safety
from the idea that someone (else)
will do all the labor

and some of us keep looking everywhere
for placenta, for mothering
for acceptance of our worst choices
to be told we are so special
to be named a favorite child

some of us learn to work
we are given tools, lectures, practices
we are given the blessing of knowing
that work to nourish the collective
is a sacred path for our lives

some are only taught to eat
given the title to land that isn’t ours
judged for the speck of dirt under our nails
set to race against even our own kin
for the neverending victory of more

some of us are black
still nauseous from the boat’s hold
still catching our breath from snapped ropes
still oiling our calloused field hands
and still wounded

some of us are white
still synonymous with impossible purity
still given no songs from the earth
still taught to master nothing but superiority
and still, wounded

some of us are red, yellow, brown
still made to feel tertiary to the plot
still dismissed for all we remember
still claiming we are human, not terrorist
and, still wounded

some of us are never surprised
never apoplectic when the stench hits us
what rots at the core is known, documented
it is tangible, moral, American, spiritual
it is the founding wound

gray only at the surface
brittle black where the injury began
a rainbow of bruising everywhere
green mold making life in dying flesh
but the pus, the pus bursts white

we are well past the age of turning inwards
of seeing the open wounds on our souls
of stepping into our shadows with truth light
of seeing we were shaped, and can change
of believing the wound is who we are

we know the smell of decay on breath
we see the swollen cracking flesh of infection
it is not rude to acknowledge the stink
to wonder if it is viral, venom, survivable
to look for the laceration(s)

things are not getting worse
they are getting uncovered
we must hold each other tight
and continue to pull back the veil
see: we, the body, we are the wounded place

we live on a resilient earth
where change is the only constant
in bodies whose only true whiteness
is the blood cell that fights infection
and the bone that holds the marrow

remove the shrapnel, clean the wound
relinquish inflammation, let the chaos calm
the body knows how to scab like lava stone
eventually leaving the smooth marring scars
of lessons learned:

denial will not disappear a wound

the wound is not the body

a body cannot be divided into multiple living entities (what us will go on breathing?)

the founder’s wound is the myth of supremacy

this is not the first wound, or the last

we are a species before we are a nation, and after

warriors, organizers, storytellers, dreamers – all of us are healers

the healing path is humility, laughter, truth, awareness and choice

a scab is a boundary on territory, between what is within and what is without, when the line has been breached

stop picking at the scab, it slows the healing

until we are dead, and even when we are exhausted and faithless, we fight for life

we are our only relevant hope
we are our only possible medicine

a body is always a body
wounded, festering, healing, healed
we choose each day what body we will shape
with the miraculous material we’re gifted
let us, finally, attend to the wound
let us, finally, name the violence
let us, finally, break the cycle of supremacy
let us, finally, choose ourselves whole
let us, finally, love ourselves

one week of poems on love and terror

i was supposed to be working on a novel this month but it will keep. instead i have written thousands of other kinds of words – blog words, journal words, and with my clarion writers group, a daily poem. here is some of the poetry, which feels very much like the journal stuff, my terror/despair/love, clarified.


1. survival

the brittle tissue was layered and piled up
rung dry
stretched on a repurposed loom
until diaphanous
torn strips for the days to come

she rolled the flesh up
suffocating the thru line
doubling it, fat grease
thick in her fingerprint
placing gray life on her tongue

it was salt and steel
it was cold and still
it was the fat end of the day
and she was the only one hungry
the open mouth

in this way
she ate her own heart
before they came
to break it


2. moving forward

i wake up into clouds
and all day i reach in my hands
feel my way forward
i think forward
its hard to tell
sweeping the nothingness away
i gather the mist with my palms
ready, not ready
for the sharp tomorrow
to slice my fingers


3. reducing myself

i am accumulating crust and feathers
pinching and piercing my skin
and threading through me
and making a bloody mess

it gathers at the edge of eyes
too fast to wipe away
the salt-ring
soon i will decide: open? closed.

i used to love all the colors
i used to love all the titles i could gather
but i can let my skin cake up with dust
be a no one from here to there

at first i was so brave
and i had a framework, an answer, a flow
now, i just choose life over death, today,

4. becoming brightness

im far away from myself
a distance between heart and skin grows
fills with brush fire
until inside i wheeze and my eyes tear up in public
am i a stray spark
am i of danger

if i keep an open mind it means maybe there are multiple interpretations of “lynch that nigger”
a humorous way to grab a stranger’s pussy
and logic by which descendants of immigrants can tell anyone ever to go home;
that my love is less than sacred

but i am the infinite accumulation
of millions of small sparks in the night
i am not your dream, i am my own

now i feel smoke in my mouth
now i begin to burn through those i touch
i begin to feel a hunger for anything that stands still
i begin to slip out of system


5. every time i choose

on one side of me is the terror
a shoreline with a violent water
sucking back teeth
lifting up to swallow
me and all of us
making all my distinctions silly
drowning my horses and
dashing my obsession with living

on the other side of me
she is holding my hand
she has already lost several nations
and all faith in men and politics
she loves me without ever saying it
watches me until i become goddess
saying its ok to grieve, to be terrified
let us feel as much as we can while we are living

every time i choose her
i feel the miracle of touching skin that isn’t mine
her life comes from a desert
and she laughs at how i am american
grandiose and self important
then she shows me something smaller
and more precise
than i ever dreamed

this time it is a tiny elephant named earl
she wants me to travel with him
before that, a soap from aleppo
to remind me that nothing is forever
and once it was a book of male genitalia
to help us laugh at those who care for power
now, with my sea of terror behind me
all i can gift her in return

is my life


6. my heart can break but not in two

i am not half of myself
my mother’s cells do not inhale in me
pulling themselves away
from the skin that terrifies
her neighbors

my mother grew up around
men on horses with rifles
told a lie about their hearts
and a lie about their destinies

my heart can break on a story
about a poor white person
who lost something beloved
person, place, thing
but show them my picture
ask if i can lead them…

so, my heart can break

i am not half of myself
my father’s cells do not terrify
the tender world in me
which whiteness inhales in infinite lines
feasting on its neighbors

my father grew up around
women who held kitchen courts
lost their teeth early
(truthful tongues are sharp)
lived almost forever
(raising everyone in sight)

my heart can break on a story
about a poor black person
who nurtured the deepest sweet
but stepped onto the pavement
and was swallowed up, whole

so, my heart can break

7. your safety and your pins

there is nothing wrong with safety pins
i imagine that where you are
it is brave
the world around you
held together by a gleaming oil-ish bubble
chartreuse and bulbous
inside like a snow globe
small and white and seeming to fall down
earth flat, that sort of thing
and you want a real life
you want to stop being shaken
and responding to a false chaos
where the only thing that changes is the
position of the sky
you want to feel dirt and
to find a heartbeat in your chest
so you prick inward and out
and with the sharp and rounded pin
you shout:
i will change

and there is nothing wrong with this
it is a morning action
and you still have sleep in your eyes

an emissary from the night might tell you
there is nothing wrong with safety pins
but you may find you need a sword
a shield, a baton, fireworks,
a megaphone and a rested voice
and to feel the ocean inside you
before you can step onto this line
between me and hatred

for the line is long and fatal
and the war so quiet
it could break you in two
like a confession

for the line is sharp
and the war so deep
it could swallow you whole
before you can say stop

harambe to the child

because i was so beautiful
and so black
and so wild
you wanted to look at me –
there was wonder in your eyes

they were beyond wonder
they wanted to control me
all the time
wanted me, yes
without the danger
the unknown, the power
of me being me

they put me in a cage
if i had raged it would have been just
if i had torn you
limb from limb
i think god may have shrugged

i was not angry at you
i was a lost child too –
any living creature
in captivity
is a lost child
at the whim of whomever
holds the key

they think they are better than us
from that great height everything looks inferior
and, eventually, terrifying

little black boy
here is the secret everyone knows
in ten years
when they look at you
they will only see me
looking back

the words are too small (reflections on southern africa travels)

i keep thinking, i have to write about this. and in the next breath, i have no words for it.

first of all, there is something about the impact of so much physical space and beauty on my system. in my adult life i have moved from new york to california to detroit. when i saw the sky over south africa, swaziland and mozambique i realized that in some way i have been always in search of a bigger sky. and am feeling, in ways i can scarcely put breath to yet, the impact of this found vastness on my perspective.

i don’t know how to enter this writing about it…i have been driving around southern africa with my sweetheart for a couple of weeks now, in wonder. for context, before i flew into joburg i started reading nelson mandela’s autobiography, and i will admit that most of what i knew about this place was that apartheid happened here, was ended through popular resistance, and that mandela, winnie mandela, walter sisulu, steve biko and others were the kind of people who created change that had global impacts. i studied south africa one semester in college with someone who had been active in the anti-apartheid movement and who was present when mandela was released. i was moved by the spirit of mandela, understanding that he was also a charismatic politician, human, complex, flawed. so overall i came here with a limited lens, a brief history, and a lot of curiosity.

what i immediately experienced was the proximity and presence of apartheid. the service industry here is black, the management is white. wealth is white, behind gates with security fences and with black hired watchmen, black drivers and cooks and gardeners and tech support and waiters and and and…with an outsider eye there is such a stark economic apartheid still in place, and i am beginning to grasp some of the critiques of mandela’s economic choices post-apartheid.

this economic question emerges in all revolutionary and social transformation work: if the material conditions do not change, isn’t it just symbolism? and can symbolism feed anything other than our spirits?…and even that sating is so brief.

and then i wonder if the ongoing racism of the u.s. looks so black and white to outsiders.

the disease of white supremacy is active here in south africa. an older white man started speaking to us at one stop on our journey. he was cordial, spoke first about his grandkids. then said he knew of our president, obama, ‘your first black president. but he’s not really black, hehe.’ i responded that obama is black like i am black, mixed race. he moved on to talk to some germans nearby where he expounded on the virtues of hitler’s intentions, vision, planes and lugers. he then explained to the germans that they had had apartheid here, and that their first president after that was ‘whats-his-name, he died recently, a black.’ i felt something i often feel with white racists down south in the u.s., which is the disgusted relief of knowing exactly who i am in the presence of, politically, morally.

the racial construct here feels both familiar and utterly alien. i recognize in some of the whites i have interacted with the racism, hatred, superiority, and resentment of black success and freedom. but i also see how i am marked as something else by many of the black africans i am meeting here. i would venture to say there is an intelligent suspicion of me. we don’t forget our tormentors, we learn to see any traces of them, for our survival.

it is disorganizing to my system to be in so many spaces where i am the lightest person in sight. i feel in the eyes that follow me down streets and sand the awareness of something other than black in my system: portugese, white, coloured, american, what is she? the question has come both explicitly and silently. standing in myself here requires deeper roots and a stronger spine. i am so grateful for the way i am reshaped by placing myself in the context of this narrative, knowing that my indigenous african story is one of displacement, forced forgetting, and disconnection. and then working for black liberation. and coming ‘home?’ to majority black spaces equal parts stranger and daughter. and i don’t want another mother, or need approval from this motherland – it is just going to be a much more complex relationship than that for me.

but i do long for the full history, of how i thread back to this continent, with no pauses and no mysteries, and i know it is a life’s worth of longing. the only envy i ever feel is of those who know more about the place/s on earth they started from, and the languages and stories that burst forth in that place.

my idea of myself, blackness, resilience, afrofuturism…really everything is changing in this place.

the other formative experience i have had here, in large part because my sweetheart focuses a lot of her work on the migration of house music between the u.s. and southern africa, is witnessing anew the creative joy and resilience of the black diaspora. at every turn, in every country, from what feels like every taxi, van, and club, there is house music blasting and bodies in celebratory motion. on new year’s day i saw the indian ocean packed shoulder to shoulder with people dancing and singing together into the coming waves. on a saturday in st lucia i witnessed a beach scene that felt like a house-ified belle isle weekend day. in so many spaces on this journey there has been the pulsing soundtrack, the smell of braai cooking, women slinging corn, liquor, mangoes, bananas, eggs, lychee and pineapple drumsticks, intergenerational dancing – intimacy through sound and shared space.

i realized when i saw the explosive joy that i wasn’t expecting it…and that i should have been, i should know by now that it is how black brilliance sustains itself against all the odds, through love.

and there is something percolating for me around afrofuturism as a way of speaking about black resilience. i am learning this even as i begin to write about it. the western perspective, still today in 2014, sees black people as bodies for labor, as a service or slave class, and/or as a danger. and i will say here that that western view, the terror of the other and need to dominate and own everything to create safety, has intentional and unintentional roots but, as in most trauma, the intentions start to not matter as the pain and social impact increases and sustains.

counter to that perspective, the things we do which create other pathways for ourselves, other ways of seeing and feeling about ourselves, are radical and, i am thinking, afrofuturist in that we are envisioning and creating a future as black people beyond the prescribed western box for us. so, we forge these other pathways in our art, yes, but also in our growing of food, our educating of our children, our management of community conflict, our interdependent economies, our daily choices to engage in loving black people and eradicating trained fears, supremacies and insecurities from our behaviors and systems. we do this work in detroit, dc, houston, oakland, la, baltimore, atlanta, soweto, pretoria, durban, maputo.

it doesn’t feel appropriate to attempt to coherently present what i am experiencing here. throughout all of this witnessing i have also been face to face with the grandest geographies i have witnessed in my lifetime, and elephants and baboons and giraffes and zebras and rhinos, a new ocean, and a lot of personal transformation and growth.

this feels like a first visit of many. it feels like another home. and that feels like a healing.

two movie reviews: sugarman and cloud atlas

in the past 16 months, 4 people that i love have transitioned, 3 as total surprises. i find that one of my grief activities is immersing myself in movies, the more epic and ‘grand human story’ the better. in that spirit, i went to see searching for sugarman and cloud atlas. here’s what i thought:…

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