When we retrace our steps, and we end up on Zik road, in the land where the earth is red, and the walls and the streets are red, and the roads are full of people trading wares, there shall still linger, the steps that forged our years, eyes shall still remember a voice they once heard, a name now distant, but near. Some will linger and stare, for it cannot be the same eyes they saw those years, the same hands that carried lives upstairs, the air still lingers with memories of blazing sun, memories of a distant time that shaped and formed you, like the slow walk of trees. Even though death’s chorus lingers in the air, even though we gather with eyes veiled to retrace our steps, it’s the lessons of how paw paws cling to trees, that unifies our gaze. Keep remembering the paths that formed you.
Keep climbing mountains!
If you have ever been invisible, ever been accused, ever been dismissed, ever been muted, even when not in a room, consider yourself lucky to have come this far. Then keep climbing your mountain. For few will see the moon glow as it does for those ignored. Few will understand that they choose their words carefully. Language is a tool to be used wisely. Poetry too is a tool that will make you memorize these word: The moon favors women who know the stories of lions.
See how they glow. Few will know that they are not helpless, not speechless, not ignorant, of the way titles and roles handicap humanity like those of hunters. See some of us were named before anything and anyone named us. If you don’t know, ask about Igbo people, learn about our history, our ways, how legions named us before the world saw us. Then when you are done learning, go back and witness how greatness unfolds for those in alignment with their Chi, see how their Ike, never ends, watch their Ije, and see how even Ani belongs to them. Then and only then will you understand how they flow through Oge, how what holds them is as divine as the primal vision of the bluest skies. Today and always, poetry will serve, nouns will choke verbs used to describe actions. Diagram this sentence too: Those climbing mountains, those who know themselves, those named before anything named them, those Igbo, those like lions too, will burn you a tune you will hum forever. Wait for it…
On the day so many witnessed the double standards black girls and women face, even in basketball, I witnessed the same for myself personally. I have written elsewhere about what it means to be silent and what it means to survive academia as a black woman on your own terms. The future will tell the story better one day. My asks have alway been simple, live and let live. Will I make you work, yes. I work, so anyone around me better get used to that. Will I make you question even your own existence. Yes. We are called to be cities on hills, so your light, at least around me, cannot be hidden. Will it make some quit. Absolutely. Quitting is part of the story. We should always stop when dreams are not in alignment. It doesn’t mean you can’t dream for yourself still, just that everyone needs to find it for themselves first. I did for myself, so it is only natural that anyone should have a plan for themselves. What I can’t I won’t tolerate is hidden agendas. It’s not in my DNA to hide anything I do. I am as transparent with all my goals and dreams as can be, my biggest weakness, because I love to talk. But the moment you begin to hide your own, should be the day you decide to roam this earth on your own. I will always wish you Ijeoma.
But back to today’s keep, here is how to keep being amazing even when one journey ends just as another begins, even as you climb any mountain on your own terms. Know yourself.
I spoke to my mentor yesterday and even from afar, he knew these moments will come. We have been going on this mentorship thing for over 16 years. We have witnessed the good and the bad, including the death of my father. That he is more than a mentor to me is not an understatement. I run to him when the good comes as well as when the struggles and hurdles come. Here is what he told me, word for word ‘let them head for the valley and you continue to climb the mountain.’ I know my people. They know me well. Chi-chi said change is necessary for growth and so is letting go. I am listening. Everything and everyone is reminding me how poetry is not a luxury. Keep climbing mountains.
We stood at the edge of decision recently, one crucial and alone. We refused to indulge another moment of failed dreams. We have seen seasons come and go. We have looked inward and outward to make sense of the day. Now, we want to breed futures full of dreams. Now we are like bread on a birds mouth. We are dreaming where others thought dreaming was an excuse. Anger was a faint line on my forehead. There are many uses of it, we are learning. For those never meant to survive. These days, as the sunrises, we will dream. As it sets, we will still dream. Our hearts are still full. Days like today will never come again. Not for those unafraid to dream. We will still dream. Though change is coming. Though we wish it was today. We see what lack of dreams breed. The contempt and hatred too. Yet, we will wait to still dream and dream again, knowing the next time, for those who dare dream, would be divine. Welcome to the end of dreamless existence.
I remember having dinner with her one workday evening. Looking back those evenings were rare and special and Boulevard Garibaldi with all its restaurants were a space for healing for souls weary from living and working in the city of lights. They say we are supposed to be grateful. The Tour Eiffel was our constant view. An emblem of hope of which sorrow and struggle was forbidden. A million people would kill to be in our shoes. Some would gladly move the earth for our view. Well, back then, the shoes were tight and suffocating, that peeling them off was urgent for me.
The month was February. I remember distinctively because there were roses everywhere. Lovers too everywhere. Their hopes were urgent. Our meeting too. We sat across from each other too, hopeful for what the night of companionship, night of communion together would finally bring. These were the early days of living in Paris and we were slowly getting used to calling it home, slowly understanding where the rain began to beat us too. I needed our communion. Needed our meeting and time for healing. My supervisor at that time was difficult. My ears were tingling for the first time. My days felt grey. But she brought the sun and a splendid sunset.
She would become my sanity in those days, my place of comfort, my shelter from storm, my whistling trees, my blue skies on a sunny day, my starting point, rustling like a gentle breeze. The evening sky the night of our meeting was grey. The air too was grey. Yet, we met for dinner and healing, time could no longer delay. The night seemed to be like any other night. Waiter approached our table and asked what we wanted to eat. We ordered and proceeded to speak about why it took a long time to finally meet. I remember the food being immaculate. Something about the way French people treat chicken and potato on a menu would make any dull day seem bright. Yet, the food, no matter how great it was, paled in comparisons to the meeting of our minds. And it was truly a meeting. A whisper of Mahogany.
She named her poetry after the great Mahogany tree native to her land. She named it whispers too, for the stories it knows so well, and wants to tell. Her mouth were like whistling trees. I listened as every word fell from her lips. Every world held me spellbound, as if I too was becoming like the Mahogany. As if I too could learn how to whisper. There were words for mothers, those about love, truly sacred and simple. There were words whispered by Mahogany. Not in a singular voice, but a plethora of voices. Every word she spoke, to an audience of one, was as crucial as it was powerful. I listened and soaked up the words like a sponge. The evening sky was no longer grey in the sweet surrender. The air too, no longer grey, but tender, kind, sweet, in the pure light of the evening. Our food no longer, poulet, or frites but a shared communion that griped us both with a dazzling array of words.
To see a woman speak, to watch how her words glow, to see her light, those that uncover, those that unite, words full of magic, words that bring magic, is to see the moment she shines, transparent to her core. There are few people that move me, few that push me to my zenith, my highest place where only light is reflected, like a lamp that never dims. That night, Ritamae, became one of them. My highest place, where only dreams are allowed. Where words too are required, those that stir, those that smile, those that uncover the brightness within, like the sweetness of fruit, ripened to their core.
The night ended with a plethora of voices speaking. Those of my friend and those of whispering Mahogany. Twelve years later, I give them back to you, give you these memories too, of the night our souls connected, one evening a long time ago in Paris. I greet you too in words of my own, words that I hope remind you of how far we have come. And we have come too far. Yet, to see that glow again in you, to see your light, even in this moment you unveil Mahogany, is to know the pride of women, who speak. Keep speaking in your moonlit way. Keep being Mahogany, you who bring the sun and splendid sunset.
F is for freedom, for all the ways minds focused on it are truly free.
I finished my Dream course today. It taught me my purpose, gave me my joy, helped to craft the story my life, one that I hope to tell soon. I see the vision clearly now. This change with the season was needed. The chaos and all the distractions it brought along too. Where something stand. No matter what, something else will take its stand. Light will be light. It hates darkness after all. Even these storms will pass. And the dawn will withdraw its embrace, so that you arrive at the morning of your sweet break. See that bird. See how it escapes from the hunter’s trap. To soar, despite the trap. So shall your story begin, with those that stand by your side. Welcome to this moment of freedom.
Keep what the mirror said!
Listen, this is your time, you a seed, you the earth, of a woman, you got the moon of your own, listen, somebody need a binoculars, to see you, somebody need to straighten their lens, to see all of you. Listen you are not Mars, Venus or any other bright evening star, not when he got his hands on somebody as divine as you, as sterling as you, a woman of the moon.
This is what the mirror said to me today. Keeping it here in praise of Lucille Clifton, my forever muse.
I know silence. I have seen it’s power. First they use language to keep you mute. Some are clear in their intent, other are subtle, all of them are designed to keep you silent. They succeed. Or so they think. First you are silent. You observe. You notice. You think. You note. You keep silent because words are few. They keep their ways. They know their ways. They see your silence. They note your pause. They keep their ways still. Knowing power belongs to them. Or so they think. Next you note their ways. All the subtle things they do. Those seen and unseen. Those spoken and unspoken. You learn to read lines. Learn to see the lines between lines written to keep you silent. You stay silent until you remember, you were never meant to survive. So you speak.
If they are going to write you out of history, at least your words will bear witness to your victory. You speak. If they are going to keep you invisible. At least your words will tell of your glory so visible. You speak. If they are going to ignore you, dismiss you, even pretend that you don’t exist. At least your words will uplift you, represent you and celebrate all the ways you persist. You speak. If they are going omit you, unname and misname you. At least your words will name you, rename and rename you, for we are born twice with every naming ceremony we do. You speak. Even if they hoped you would be silent. You speak because you know your silence will never protect you.
Knowing too that this is what it means to be black and woman, to be bright and human, every single part of your being, those sterling and sublime, pregnant with dreams unknown, in full glow, but still unseen, and all day, all night, in the land of troubled waters, where your air is music, where your universe is melody, where the wind sings in perfect harmony, with hawks and stormy weather, there they will find you always, with your disturbing disturbance, with your dream so brightly burning. There they will find you speaking, rustling with thing called life. Now that you speak and speak, in your way, so sublime.
Keep invisible things!
We celebrate things we see. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marriages, even funerals. But the things in life we rarely see, those that leave us breathless or speechless are worthy of praises too.
I have shared previously that for every single visible thing I keep, there are many that remain invisible. Some the world may never see. The aspiration, to remain invisible. Writing in this manner started as an exercise focused on keeping something, my way, and free from any guide. The true value continues to unfold with each day. To keep something may have been the true intent. Yet, the next phase keeps me humble. My spirit had to go through this exercise of purging itself of everything that held me back. In doing so, my eyes opened.
I became the child that was not satisfied with the lagoon, when my eyes have greeted oceans. The unseen things in my life these days are my masterpiece. What you see, the ones celebrated too, are merely byproducts. It has been difficult to dream up the next phase, to summon up the courage to accept what the spirit desires without struggle, even when I would rather hold on to a higher calling. I am who I am after all. Writing freely has indeed woken my mind up, like birds without wings, who still sublimely fly. All the possibilities too, those for change, those for freedom, those focused on lasting, those full of light, and those guided by the spirit, are its many gifts. The sun has moved permanently close. The stars and moon too. I am a child of all, and now prepared to amaze.
Keep a soulful life!
How might we create the conditions for a soulful life. I am learning this every day. In a quest to do my most audacious work, I found myself strolling down a never ending hole of what it means to live your most authentic life whether at work or at home.
For starters, and everyone will have to discover this for themselves, but it means doing work necessary for your soul. Not for profits, not even for pleasure, but for all the possibilities that exist when you know your soul.
It means being open even when you would rather be closed. It means thinking and speaking in images, like how rivers change their course and so can you. It means paying attention to your dreams, it feeds your soul. It means being aware of where you are going, even when the road seems long and unwinding. It means having a litany for survival, knowing you were never meant to survive. It means knowing when the rain began to fall on you. It also means learning how to carry water and air and anything that seems free and light for only a free mind can make a free world.
It means giving your life all the beautiful things it needs, like watching two birds spread their wings and soar at the glimpse of your arrival. It’s the soaring part you keep, knowing that every time you fall, the alternative is to rise. It means stepping into your eternity, your own kind of paradise where the sun and the moon rise to greet you. It means aiming for the fullness of life, it’s emptiness at times, but it’s fullness most times, like in Spring when new flowers start to bloom. It means creating conditions that allow your soul to live, even if it means turning things upside down and stepping away from that which depletes your soul. There will come a time when you will have to leave this world. We will all die one day. Until that time comes, do what makes your soul happy. As for me this mere moment of reflection is all I never knew I needed. Welcome to my most soulful year.
Keep peace this women’s history month.
It’s women’s history month and let’s just say I’m exhausted. Women, some, can be our own enemies. Women, some, can derail anyone and anything they think they have power over. The past two days at work has been disheartening and to think that I start this month wondering why some women are our own worst enemies is my keep for the day. That and Toni Morrison’s essay on Cinderella and her stepsisters. The feeling she felt for urgency with Cinderella is how I feel now. What is unsettling still is that a workplace full of some women can still be like the story. We contribute to grief even when we ought to be releasing happiness for all. We go out of our way to make things difficult when only light should flow.
So I am going to spend the rest of this month not doing what some may have thought they gained by keeping me down and oppressed/deflated these past two days.
Rather I will focus on my nurturing side, things that move me in the direction of freedom, knowing that only free people can make a free world.
I will dream of what can be, possibilities beyond reach. I will nurture all sorts of pursuits, those that make me grow, and those that keep me joyful. Things of value to you in any workplace seldom are. It is not safe to guard over a place that will replace you in a heartbeat even as you pass your last breath.
So I will dream and uplift the safety and power of all those around me, including my step sisters. I will not enslave them mentally or use words to derail their life goals. I will uplift women, those that hate me and those that love me. I will uplift all those that choose to belittle me too. Those that would rather I clean or wipe their tables, those that would rather I pick their trash too.
Being black and woman in academia is a gift I will always cherish. It’s much more than work as it has enabled me to live beyond my dreams. My name is Isioma and if you know the meaning, then you will know why I choose peace this month as we celebrate women’s history.
I know now that hurt people, hurt people. That reconciliation is still necessary. That it leads to harmony. That life is too short. That things broken can be fixed. That the sun sends its rays to everyone. That flowers bloom for hurt people too. That words speak life. That forgiveness is like an egg. That things fragile can break. That pain is fragile. That it hurts deep but fragile. That it ignites bitterness that can linger. That sour grapes are bitter. That doors locked with pain can be opened. That reconciliation opens doors. That understanding starts with you. That even pain can dissipate. When souls free reconcile.
Yesterday was tough, but there is always a gift with another day. Today, I opened my heart to the gift of reconciliation. It is still a work in progress, one that personifies the gift of butterflies. I am willing to make changes, so that we all achieve their beauty. Keep reconciliations.
Keep, keep your power!
Sometimes I struggle to find the words to keep. I’ll rather hide my thoughts from the world. Laying instead on the ground. Crushed and broken by the storms around. Sometimes, words won’t do. Wishing I could flee from the pain pursing me to my grave. Intimidated by the rage. I lay again on the ground. Crushed and broken by the storms around. Fear isn’t what I feel. Pain, maybe, sadness too. Wondering whether my human heart will be buried with all its ache. I lay instead on the ground. Remember there is power in the grave. Praying for a stronger soul to withstand the storms around.
Today nearly crushed me. Someone I truly loved too. For once I didn’t know what to say. Didn’t even know what to keep. Something about how anger can be too deep. That even when tears flow, hearts may remain unmoved. Being a parent, a wife, a sister, a friend is hard. Doing so with invisible scars from work and home, may force you to be silent. Until your remember what the late great Audre Lorde noted, even silence protects no one. So I’m keeping this here.
Even in pain, these words still matter. Language too for what to keep needs consistent nurturing and attention like a garden for days like today.
Life will try to crush you. Force you to the ground, even early to your grave if not careful. It almost did to me today. But I’m keeping this here to remind myself about the gift of today. There will be days like this. Storms will come and they will crush you to the ground. But the plans he has for you, those you know of and those you still don’t know about, are great. They are beyond words if only you remember there is power even in the grave. Keep, keep your power.