I paused deep in Nimo, the other day, to see the palm trees again, to see the red earth too, to watch how fruits cling to trees, to eat only things my soul desires. Then we went up the stairs, to a top balcony where the palm trees and I greeted ourselves again. I stood in silence and watched as the trees served me grace, wrapped me with love, reminded me to stand, even as they blew gentle kisses, of the softest breezes, my way. My eyes were busy gathering their love, gathering all the ways they rustle the air. The trees were busy stretching my being, stretching in a sweet embrace, all the ways I rustle like air. I left, centering my core, to the rhythms of time, rhythms of the palm trees too, knowing still that Nkiruka, what is ahead, is still greater than all I saw in Nimo.
While the children played, and the adults ate, and the teenagers laughed and the dogs barked, the day of the risen Christ was full of hope, like the sounds of a talking drum. If this is Christ risen, then let our meeting forever be permanent. Happy Easter.
Keep every moment!
We paused today, with ourselves and looked at the day, with a single purpose, to wait for time. In silence and in thankful contemplation, strangely at peace, we said thank you when the moment arrived. There still is no clear time in sight. We don’t know how deep the valley is. Either way, the urgent future awaits us. Every single moment points to our freedom.
Keep the radiance of light!
In search of light, be prepared to use all tools. Some poetry, some ruse. Some focused on gaze, some ready to amaze. Melting horizons, constant revisions, all we need is around us, if only we are willing to see, surmise, and understand, that those who search for their light, those that let the knowledge of their light seep deeply in their being, are ready to spill blood to keep contact with legions of light. They will find paths where none exist. Those only suffused with light, those like the skies unshakeable brilliance, a love without limits, like an arrival at a juncture where truth, knowledge, is possible, like the radiance of light. They will seek out the openness of forests, dance through the nakedness of trees. We will ensure that those that came before us, those that go before us, all of them, like legions around us, will live long for us. Speak too for us, because for too long, others have spoken for us. We will need to do all these things, to meet the look, the gaze of a life radiant like light. I am ready…
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.
June 5th, 2021, our world changed forever. In the beginning, we grasped whatever we could to survive. Words like cancer became etched in our minds forever. Escaping from the science of implementing, I found the science everywhere. The questions too, of how come, why, when, became our only way. You became the question we never knew we could ask. That women die every day from something with proven intervention. Our own Angie, died in a painful way. One week after my dad’s birthday. Another volt that grapples our mind. Why do people we love, die. Yet, if people we love die, if we can push it all aside, then living has to mean more, even if we find ourselves lodging in new places and with me faces. Those who have everything given to them, those who speak too as if they started the journey, forget how the story began. It’s at this moment, that change must come.
Words by themselves are never enough even if the microphone is in the hands of few. We created it only for cities built on hills, working with first lights to spaces, destined for greatness. See while they hide, and deny, they only end up deceiving and destroying themselves. Only thing left is to pass the microphone…The plot and the characters for this next chapter was never meant for those with narrow dreams, those exhausted, those that lack imagination, and those at the end of their own road with all their dreams achieved. According to the epic poem by Ben Okri, ‘there is no exhaustion where there is much to be hoped for, to work towards, where dreams remain unrealized.’ Ben Okri would also say, ‘when you can no longer dream, no longer see possibilities, no longer see alternatives, when you see only limitation, despair and negation, then you are in the way. You are also the problem. The exhausted obstruct, the creation of a greater future. They should therefore clear the stage for new dreamers.’ For new warriors of light too, those focused on justice and healing, storytelling and creativity, so that Angie’s death would not be in vain.
For life for me has never been castles in air. I know what it is like to rest in fields of green pastures and walk at the same time through the deepest valley. The woman we became, with feet anchored firmly to the ground, with no fear, only wanting revolution, really wanting evolution, charged by life, by death, the possible ranges of grief and living, and all the changes it propels is the infinity storytelling we have been waiting to tell. Truth it, you were never meant to tell it with others. Never meant to share it too with anyone. Few will share the vision. Few will believe it in to.
But then there is you. Defiant in your ways without excuses, the tools of the incompetent. You know how they seldom succeed. If you have brought people and things close, the next phase requires arm’s length. No need to question why they rally against your strength, no need to see how they see it too. The narrow, rough roads you must and will climb, even in silence or poetry, for Angie and for others who dare dream, requires that you remember from where your strength comes from, even when things end, even when time and things, turn on you like a violent storm. It’s deep end of the valley, keep walking through.
These days I find myself writing words that pierce the coming days with dreams. If I’m writing here often, then I am taking a break from the bigger things being manifested. While they waste their time with the same stories or indulge my space for my minds stories, know that we have moved on past the deep end of the valley, though darkness is still all we see. The next moments are only for those truly at the table. From where does our strength come from they may wonder: from Angie, from legions, from God, from a life only committed to infinity storytelling my way.
Even now with precious memories that sink forever in our soul. Even as the weight of sadness still remains our world, our torch, our life. Our forces are fully focused, pointing to choices, leading away from the familiar. When I speak of change, I don’t mean only seasons. I mean knowing my story, and they ways I’ll tell it to infinity, not in other to complain or force anyone to listen, but as a powerful and eloquent reminder to keep what matters most, and Isioma I write these words, in their fullness, powerfully, to remind you, to keep you.
Keep impacting lives!
Imagine what may happen, if we apply the wonders of our souls, use the mind that mapped the moon, the stars and the womb, to reach beyond the wildest dreams of ourselves. We are not defined by our failures. We are not changed by our goals too. Rivers have changed their courses. We can do the same too. What we call limits for some, are only the starting place for others. Choose your course wisely. Which is why those who impact lives are a force. Those who move without fear, push through fear, sail above fear, turn towards fear, while breaking beyond fear, are like luminous sunsets. To see them shine, to hear them dream and re-dream new worlds, those within reach, clearing deadwood and stale thinking, is to see the powers of solar systems. I saw them today. Listened as they spoke in words powerful, dreamt in love brazen, as they sought to liberate women, from the tight grips of cervical cancer. That we are more or less, the solutions to all that ails us, makers of tomorrow, dreamers for today, is to see the greatest gifts of life. We can gift it to each other. I choose and will choose to do it alone now more than ever, seeing familiarity breeds contempt. I am prepared to shape this beautiful dream, that no woman will ever die from cervical cancer. This is personal to me. I will go the distance, alone, or with a few committed people to impact lives. Thank you for the gifts you all gave us today. That we are still here, and can still rise is a gift. See us now press forward. Our tomorrow is even greater than today. We owe tomorrow, abundant grace, as we work, with only the right people surrounding our table, to impact lives. Silence and poetry is the best answer for others.
True story, when team Camgo came to the contest, I asked them to describe their ideas. One of the daugthers, started describing going to the market place to reach out to women selling fish. She would asked them to use their hard end money to buy some token that can then be used to promote HPV vaccination and HPV screening. I said, why don’t you go to the women directly. You don’t need the money from their fish. What if they sold other things. Don’t all women need this. They listened and today they are winners. I am proud. It’s this few that make all this totally worth it. I can’t wait to dream out this future of how we impact lives together.
Keep being amazing!
I used to wonder about seasons and change. About spring and change. About sudden nearness of days, that seem only to lead to weariness and pain. Today I stood in front of strangers, stood in front of friends and colleagues too. Spoke of pain, spoke of the day, I knew when the rain began to beat me. We still carry a heavy burden. Of guilt, of silence, of what it’s like to wish, for time, to wish for life. This week has been full of lessons. A friend lost his wife, just as their new triplets arrived in the world. I launched a cervical cancer program that started only because my sister in-law died. The end is hard. Beginnings too. I felt both this week. If I was silent, I was processing change. If I was absent, I was liberating change. Both are happening simultaneously that all I can say is grace. So many tried to bring me down this month of March. So many thought I would fall, but they forgot my name is Isioma, my mother is Onyelo, and I am the granddaughter of a woman who persevered. Legions are always behind me. They birthed me and made me their wildest dreams. Our resilience is weird. Our future bristles with possibilities. What they tried to destroy, is only stronger. When it’s time, I will amaze.
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.
Keep your people close ooh and whatever is for you!
On the path to change, I finally woke up. I have been blind for awhile but now I see. Now that I have arrived at a place called joy, a space I claim for me. So I stayed there for a moment. I basked in the memories, those that carried me along, those that served as my ground, those that helped me soar, those that let me fall. I have stumbled out of change before. Fought it too. I’m getting old and it can be slow, plus life is to short to live with regrets, so I stumbled back into the path, filled with fear and uncertainty. I bent down to the will, to the mist and thorns along the way, those that will hurt, those that will ignite, all that I need to live my best me.
Yesterday I began letting go, began stumbling through this path called change again. The last time with a dear mentor was tough but necessary. So I did it again. If you knew me before yesterday great. The person that has emerged today is a day old. She is also eager to see the world, now that she is no longer blind. Fool me once, shame on me. But fool me twice… I look forward to the journey ahead, knowing that I will soar with all my might.
My spirit is brave. Anya di open. We have Chi on outside. We have checked our Ike. Know too that our Ijem is long, and our Ani is strong for what will unfold from our Obi. I stumbled back to change again because Oge deserves it. And when I did, my sister named Ngozi called. My best friend named an entire continent too. We ended the day with joy knowing that Nkiruka and Uchechi shall prevail.
(Oh by the way so happy that my dear friend Nkiru matched to SLU, finally our family is growing in STL).
Thank you to my sister too, she knows her task for my life. I love you dearly Ngozi and I am forever blessed to call you my own. These days, keep family and dear friends closer. They are your most important legacy. Whatever will be for you, will never pass you by as Nnem reminded me and if it does, it was never meant to be. Maybe for a season. Seasons come and go and so it makes sense that some may come in your life for a season. But the ones for you, those brave like you, will always be there. I needed to hear this. Love my family deep. Onye were mmadu, were ndu. Keep your people close.
Keep your ambitions!
To begin again is the dream of anyone. To do it all over again, this time with dreams gained, insights learnt, stories told, hearts bruised, yet glory revealed, is the dream of anyone. The dream of a woman, black like me. These days there is a moon falling from my sides and mouth and I know my magic.
This year marks my tenth year in academia. It’s also my most magical and ambitious year thanks to divine teaching of Ntozake Shange. I came prepared to move mountains. I came ready to do it my way, no matter the obstacles along the way. I gathered up my sleeves and with the help of so many, paved a path many dare not follow. I choose motherhood for example over and over again. I wrote grants to learn their beauty and their pain over and over again. The past 10 years meant that I didn’t stop working. If I left academia as a graduate student with 6 papers or so. In 10 years we have over 100 papers. If I left academia as a graduate student with one federally funded pre-doctoral award, in 10 years I have completed or currently working on 12 federally funded grants. If I left graduate school with the biggest loss, the death of my father, in 10 years I have added the death of my beloved uncles, aunties, sister-in-law, mentors, and nephew to the list. I also became a full professor in less than 10years.
I share all this to say the past 10 years have exceeded my expectations. Bear in mind too all of this came at a cost. The joy and perils of academic spaces for one. The lack of support another. That there is no air and these spaces stifle growth is true, especially for women black like me. But there is also joy, the sweet happy kind that occurs when you meet and collaborate with colleagues that allow you to dream. I have found my circle of safety in them. That and the people, staff included who allowed light in my life, those that saw more in me than I ever knew existed, those that stayed up all night, those that cried, those that laughed. All of them that helped me tell a story worth telling, are one way or another, gifts worth treasuring over and over again.
But it’s time for change. I know my magic too. I look forward to the next 10 years with the excitement of a woman currently in labor. What I am about to give birth to can only be described as God. He started this journey and I look forward to all the ways he completes it, knowing that his word is all I need. His plans are all I know. Welcome to my most magical and ambitious years, where dreaming and claiming space is finally allowed, on my own terms.
Keep the roots of your approach!
Roots understand everything.
Out of sight,
Yet they see it all
and never judge
None goes unnoticed.
Just drinking water
When they can
As they can
If you could know
all the ways they connect,
If you could learn,
the commitments they know,
The cooperation too,
You wouldn’t apologize for your thorns either
Not when this thing, hidden but so vital.
Anchors those above
Cues and pattern formation
Moments of peak
In fixed positions.
Anchors all that witness too.
This poem was inspired by one written by Lucille Clifton, my forever muse. I have always loved an effective approach section of a grant. Granted it’s my weakness and my most painful section to write. A thorn personifies this section well. Still, I know I must move past the pain to put forth a blueprint that tells the foundation of what I propose to do. Today I gave my first attempt at describing the approach section of a grant as roots, the foundation of everything. I used the Igbo cosmology of Ani (ground) because, Aniwe ( the earth owns) Aninye ( my maternal grandfather’s name, the earth gives) and Anikamadu ( the earth is bigger than people). When you think of your approach section like the ground, the earth, the roots, all that remains hidden about your grant becomes sterling in your eyes. Roots know what holds you, they see and witness all that centers you as you delve deeply into ways to make this work excel. I am at my zenith with this thing called grant writing because I know my roots.