The post below is cross-posted from the CUAV e-news. I wrote it to address S-Comm, the harmful program that has law enforcement and ICE officials collaborating to hold people in jail, with no regard for the basic principle of due process. Anyone, regardless of immigration status, can be detained on an immigration hold, even without charges against them. That means this program affects everyone, including people of color, LGBTQ people, and survivors of violence.
To help say no to S-Comm and yes to Due Process for All, come out to San Francisco City Hall tomorrow, Thursday September 5th at 11:45 am, and add your name to this growing list of voices. "What is a witch if not a woman blind to all except surviving?"
- Gale P. Jackson
What might someone find if they burst into your home today? Would they hear the stories the walls have been holding for years?
When I was growing up, my father told me about immigrating to the United States from the islands of Trinidad & Tobago at the age of seventeen. He told stories about two families sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Stories about my grandmother separating from her family, hoping to support her children by working tirelessly in domestic work. And some of my favorite stories came from Trinidadian folklore, such as the tales of black magic women called soucouyants. It seems like every culture has its own witch stories.
These are the stories the police would have unearthed if they had raided my father's home back then. And if the police came to my home today, answering a call for help, or seeing my dark skin and profiling me as a criminal, they would find the altar I've built to honor my grandmother, who passed away one year ago
. They would see a photograph of me with an old, wise woman, alongside candles, stones, and a small replica of a steel pan, an instrument created to celebrate the survival of Trinidadians
And what would they think? Would I be the witch, the danger to society? Would they confine me to the custody of immigration officials, just in case?
I don't want warnings of witch hunts to become part of my family stories, or the stories of my communities.
What I want is what we deserve, due process for all, so I'll be showing up to San Francisco City Hall on September 5 at noon
, to help make sure the board of supervisors votes to restore the rights we all deserve. Can we count on you to be there? Will you help turn the story of S-Comm into our story of survival?
Me & my shiny new degree
School's out! One week ago, I graduated with my MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. It's hard to believe that my first residency there was already two years ago
, and now, my turn to walk across the stage as a graduate has already come and gone. Tonight, I'm showing off what I learned at Oakland's Beast Crawl, not by reading poems from my MFA thesis, but
by reading brand new work, all about vengeful sex. What can I say? I guess I needed some kind of release. If you can, come hear me read during leg 3 of Beast Crawl at Anger Management & Revenge: Dirty Trixxx
.I do have plenty of reflections about what my new degree means for my life and writing moving forward, though. I'll have lots more time now for sharing about this life here on the blog, but for now I'll leave you with
this – a version of the graduate presentation I gave at my last MFA residency. It's edited to remove the poems I included (gotta keep those to myself for now, in case of publication), and it doesn't quite carry the full effect of me delivering all this truth-telling in a little chapel hall full of people, of all places, but you'll get the idea of my journey through all of the learnings of the last couple of years. Click below to read more.
Like so many others, I've spent the last few days trying to make sense of Friday's horrific school shooting
. But there is no easy way to make sense of it. Like so many deeply heartbreaking things, it's complicated.
Maybe it's self-centered, the way we try to find personal connections to tragedies that have nothing to do with us. But maybe it's just natural. Even necessary.
Here's my connection: I might've had a child. Instead I had a miscarriage
, but this is one of many moments that has me thinking, "What if...?" What if my baby had survived? I'd have a young child today, a kindergartner. Not quite the same age as the first graders who were killed, but close enough that I'd be imagining their parents' grief, disturbed by the thought of losing my own child. I'd be holding my child close, so close, afraid to let them out of my sight, even for school.
Is it okay to say that I'm glad I don't have to explain this tragedy to a kindergartner? Does that mean that I'm glad for my miscarriage? Glad I didn't bring a child into a world in which nightmarish violence takes place? Not exactly.
Here's my connection: Mental illness. In my communities, in my family, in myself. One of my closest family members has been struggling lately, has been what you might call "troubled," a word that comes up in the media profiles of the people involved in incidents like this one. I have a picture of the two of us sitting on my bookshelf, bleeding. I printed it out on ordinary paper and the sun has taken its toll, running the colors together so that someone else might be unsure of what they're seeing. But I know what's there. I'm not comparing him to the school shooter, no, because mental illness doesn't automatically equate to violent behavior. But the mental health connection is enough for me to think about the consequences of stigma and the limits of how we treat mental illness. I'm also thinking of how our conversation might be different if the shooter were of a different race, or from a different place. I'm thinking about many different sides of the issue. It's complicated.
Here's my connection: This was an act of horrendous violence, and I work at an anti-violence organization. It makes me feel like I should have the answers, like I should be the expert understanding and explaining the whys and the hows, offering instructions on how to prevent this from ever happening again. I should be adding my expert opinion to the chorus of conversations about gun control, mental health, and the influence of the media. But what do I know? What do any of us know, when it means finding words for such unfathomable pain? I know only what I find when I search for my own connection.
It's complicated. Here's my connection: I loved my child. I once held my child. It sounds crazy, I know, but I believe it's true. When I was pregnant, I had a dream in which I held my baby. I don't remember much else about the dream, but that part felt so real, so incredibly real
that after the baby was gone, I believed that dream had been my chance to hold my child. The end of my pregnancy brought loss, grief, sorrow. But before all that, there was love. I know this much is true. There will always be love.
Today is National Coming Out Day! For some of my perspective on coming out, you can read "Thank You For the Ice That's Melting,"
my account of coming out to my mom, as well as a couple of posts from my old blog, on identifying as a queer writer
and on what it means to me to be "out" as a queer writer
. This year, I've been thinking about coming out in community. It's amazing to see how one person's individual choice to come out as queer can grow from personal to political. The act of saying just a few words to a loved one can mean adding one's voice to a whole chorus of people. And through risk, and possibly loss, one can find transformation and communities of folks who have all taken great risks to reject the idea that we should be ashamed of who we are or how we love. Tonight is a special Darling Nikki queer dance party, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the courage and power of being visibly out and proud
. Proceeds from tonight's event benefit CUAV
, my own beloved organization that works to fight violence within and against queer and trans communities. A chance to shake my booty (to mostly old school hip-hop and rap, no less) and support safety for queer folks? I'm so in. Are you? Details are below - also, check out Darling Nikki on Facebook for more information about their monthly queer dance parties and the community organizations they benefit. Darling Nikki - October 11, 2012
and every 2nd Thursday of each month!
SLATE BAR (Formerly Som-Bar).
2925 16th Street in between South Van Ness and Mission Street
This month’s theme is “Around the Way Girl” - we’ll be playing more old-school rap and hip-hop than usual, and we want you dressed accordingly! Bust out your Fendi bag and bamboo earrings!
This month’s guest dj is DeeJay Andre from Faded, 13 Licks and Fix Yr Hair, and we'll have our fantastic resident dj's Dr. Sleep and Justin Credible. We've also just added DJ Campbell to the lineup and she will be tagging with Dr. Sleep during the last set of the night.
As usual, we’ll have drink specials for all budgets and a fabulous photo booth by Cody Williams with art by the fantastic Katie Bush- check out her work at destroyevil.com and katiebushart.com
We’re also a benefit! This month’s organization is CUAV (Community United Against Violence).
$5 to get in.
(the real thing)
I got down in the kitchen recently. I love to cook, so I do it fairly often, but there’s a difference between throwing dinner together for myself and getting down in the kitchen. It was a whole Caribbean-inspired feast – seafood sizzling in lemon juice, veggies coated in curry, cornbread sweetened with honey.
It was all for my grandmother, who just passed away. Or, as I like to think of it, she just found peace, after fighting many battles. One of her most recent battles was with Alzheimer’s disease. Another was her effort to live out her final days in her home country of Trinidad. In that fight, she claimed victory.
Now, I say that the food I cooked was “Caribbean-inspired,” because it was not quite authentically Caribbean. Cooking here in the U.S., I didn’t have the ingredients to make the dishes just right. I didn’t have the wise guidance of somebody like my grandmother, who could’ve helped me craft the meal like they do in Trinidad. So I had to substitute ingredients, and find my own path to the flavors I sought.
The most obvious of this inauthenticity was the callaloo soup. Callaloo is a popular dish in Trinidad, a green puree of delightful flavors, made with vegetables, coconut milk, and many times, crabmeat. I had to substitute leafy greens found in Trinidad for those at my local market, and I left out the crabmeat. In the end, my soup was more yellow than green, and considered callaloo by name only. It was delicious, and completely inspired by the real thing, but my soup was not real callaloo.
Sometimes I feel that my writing process is similar to this cooking endeavor. Lately, I’ve been feeling all kinds of things that exist beyond my grasp of words – grief, love, passion. For a moment there, these things threatened to shut me down with a bit of writer’s block. I mean, what could I really say about feelings that burst through the containers of the words we try to give them? Is it even worth the effort, when I’ll always fall short of capturing what I really want to say?
A moment in Trinidad
Well, the food was worth the effort, despite the flaws. It filled my home with an irresistible aroma, filled my mouth with delectable flavors, and fed a few people I really care about. And it also gave me a chance to honor and celebrate my grandmother, to send her off with a tribute to her life. I don’t have the right words for this, and I couldn’t find the exact flavors for it, either. But it feels good to create something that represents, in a way, my search for an expression of all I want to say.
A poem I wrote in 2010 for my grandmother:
We joke about it sometimes – writing as a mental affliction. Experiencing life from a different viewpoint than non-writers would. Three writers witness something horrific – The poet sees only a new metaphor. The fiction writer gets an idea for a story. The non-fiction writer thinks, Hey, this’ll be great for my memoir.
From an early age I took on the role of the observer, which became the role of the writer. Sometimes, I think it’s helped me survive, building my creative capacity to hold traumatic events as poems and stories, rather than crumbling beneath the frightening truth that those moments are part of my reality. It can also be a way to learn from life, always seeking to express how even the most dreadful or mundane or bizarre experiences can teach us something that we can share with others.
And sometimes, I think being a writer just means I’m crazy. Take now, for instance. At the moment, both of my grandmothers are in hospital beds, fighting for their lives. I can’t do anything about it, except sit around and wait for updates. Maybe I should be crying or talking about it or something, but all I can do is write.
It sort of feels like I’m writing to avoid facing my fear of losing these two woman warriors in my life. But I have a feeling the reality will catch up to me eventually. For now, I write. It’s my own crazy way of telling myself I can get through this and remain whole.
When you’re learning to write, they say it’s all about the senses. They say I shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not readers can understand what it’s like to be me, or to have my experiences, as long as they’re in touch with something they can sense through the body.
So I shouldn’t have to write about my feelings after this weekend. I shouldn’t have to explain what I’m thinking about family, illness, separation and change.
Instead, I can write about the echo. I can tell you that the house I grew up in didn’t always have an echo. I guess that’s because the chairs and beds and tables always absorbed my sound before. But I didn’t notice until now. Didn’t realize until yesterday that the house itself, when empty, just takes my voice and tosses it back to me.
I can tell you about a touch that feels familiar, though it’s been long forgotten. About the uneven surface of an old diary, now small in my hands. About opening the pages, running my hands over the grooves of the pen marks, just a child’s scrawl now, though I didn’t see it that way then. About the churning in my gut as I realized I was reading documentation of my early discoveries of the same forces shifting me now. Of change taking place more rapidly than I could grasp. Of what it meant to be recognized for my body and nothing else, and wondering, with doubt, if that, too, would someday change.
I can write about the emptiness of my open hand as I tossed the diary aside, into a pile of old books, as if it, too, was forgotten fiction, written by someone who isn’t me. I can tell you how the dust from the diary’s cover remained in the grooves of my skin, and how rubbing my fingertips together only deepened its resting place.
And maybe then I won’t have to worry that you’ve never been there, discarding the final remains of my childhood. Maybe I can just hope to offer a glimpse of how it feels.
Black folk don't blog. No, we keep our business to ourselves. If we share it with anyone, it's family. Black folk don't write. Just look at the widely accepted U.S. literary canon
and you know a young black woman like me has no business trying to be a writer. Also, black folk don't talk about things like violence
, survival or healing
. We survive, wordlessly, and go on with our lives. Okay, so clearly it's not that simple. I do all of the above. But it's amazing what it can to do to a person, the amount of hesitation or fear or self-doubt that can sneak in when I feel compelled to do something after hearing that "black folk don't."The idea behind the documentary web series "Black Folk Don't" is to
have conversations about those activities that often complete the statement "black folk don't..." Series creator Angela Tucker talks to folks who show that there are exceptions to every rule, and also some history, some pain, some shame and some humor behind each one. It makes for a very insightful show. In an interview just published on The Root
, Tucker chats about season one of "Black Folk Don't," as well as the upcoming second season.Let's see, what else don't black people do? Black folk don't identify as queer. If we do lean that way, we certainly keep it to ourselves. Oh, and black folk don't get tattoos. Black folk don't listen to white folks' music.
And black folk don't love animals. We certainly don't occasionally refer to our cats as "soulmates." And if we did, we certainly wouldn't admit to it on a public blog.Let's talk about
what we do and don't, and why. It seems like a good step toward understanding one another, beyond the limits that sometimes hold us back.
As I've written before, around Christmas time
and Valentine's Day
, holidays can be complicated. And today, Mother's Day, is no different. Today I'm celebrating my mom, the strong woman whose love and support helped me become the woman I am today. I'm also reserving part of the day for thoughts and prayers for those who might be struggling. Those who have lost mothers, and children.
And mothers separated from their kids - like those whose children are imprisoned
, or who are imprisoned themselves
.I'm thinking, of course, about my own reasons for having complicated feelings about this day. On Mother's Day a few years ago, I sat in a park with my mom and told her that she would soon be a grandmother. That day never came. I had a miscarriage, instead, a couple of months later. Today I'm thinking about
all the moms who've lost their children before they were born.In a way, I feel guilty for spending time on such thoughts today. I see all of the celebratory hearts and flowers and I think, today's supposed to be a joyful day. There's nothing wrong with leaving it at that. But I have a feeling that, historically speaking, M
other's Day is actually meant to hold all of these complications. Did you know about the radical roots of Mother's Day?
I've been reading up on it. First there was Julia Ward Howe, a poet and anti-war activist who began promoting Mother's Day for Peace
in 1872. Then came Anna Jarvis, a childless woman who persuaded Congress to recognize the holiday in 1914, and who grew to resent the commercialism
of the day. So, this day isn't only for Hallmark. Mother's Day is for everyone, including those who may be unable to get through it without shedding a few tears.
Today I'm holding it all, sending my mom one of these fierce Mama's Day cards
from Strong Families, and also recognizing those working for a better world
for all mothers. Thank you for reading, and for your solidarity in holding the complexity of this day.
reads from new work
As you may have noticed from yesterday's lack of a blog post, I was left speechless after Friday's Boca Lit Fest
events. This morning, I'm still feeling like I don't have the adequate words to describe it, but I'll try, at least, to give a taste of what happened. Daytime readings and discussions included Fawzia Kane, Fred D'Aguiar, Nicolette Bethel and one of my favorite novelists, Achy Obejas.
There was also a breath-takingly good emerging poet, Valdimir Lucien, who bravely stepped in for a writer who was delayed, saying that he's "three-quarters of a way through" his first collection of poems. I'll be eagerly awaiting the completion and release of that collection.
The legendary Earl Lovelace
After all that and more, plus a trip to visit my grandmother, I was almost too exhausted to make it out to the evening festivities. But wow, I'm sure glad that I decided to give it a try. It was a night of legends - steel pan music by Ray Holman, readings by Caribbean literary heroes including Merle Hodge, Mervyn Morris, and the awe-inspiring Earl Lovelace. I got to meet Mr. Lovelace, who promised to remember my name, to which I say, ha! It's amazing that such a promise was made, even though I doubt it'll happen. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to even stand in that room, among such icons. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
And I have to mention another highlight of the day, getting the chance to read at one of the open mics. I got to connect with some local poets, real poets, who may not be published or recognized, but who know how to take to the page and speak from the heart. It was an honor to read for a Trinidadian audience one of my "Trinidad poems." I consider it an old poem of mine, which shows me how young my writing career feels, as I wrote it about a year and a half ago. And it's a poem I wrote in tribute to my grandmother. The audience gave me a very warm reception, and after I read, an older Trinidadian woman gave me the best compliment I could ask for - silence, holding her hands out in thanks to me, with tears in her eyes.
Sometimes, speechlessness is the most powerful way to show your thanks. So I'll stop blabbing on now, and leave the events of yesterday where they'll remain, in my heart. For my Granny A, here's the poem I read yesterday, from a 2010 reading at Quiet Lighting during Litquake.