What awakens you to life? Questions. Mysteries. Love. Hurdles. Happiness. Fire. Advice. The other day my mother-in law, gave me an advice that I needed to take to heart. Today, my husband shared a token from a patients family with advice that I also needed to hear to take to heart. Life is short. All of it. Whether it’s 10 years or 80 years. It’s short. So, lick a spoon.
I did today. I really did. This reminder, awakened something within me. It’s not the people we meet along the way. Those that stop to say hello or those that hurry on by. It’s not the papers we write. The grants too we write. It’s this moment. Times where I get to reflect, these days that matter. Everything else seems simple and small, right next to the vastness of thoughts that awakens you to the possibilities within. Every deed, every sight. Things heavy, those deep. What we do now? What we don’t? All of it for this moment. Not for anything else. But this thing I call my own. What awakens you to life. For me these days, everything, and a spoon.
Motherhood is not only a noun, but a sound, a state of being, history, culture, memories, mine, theirs, evenings with a sigh, mornings with a smile, all of me, some of them. Something full of complexity, enormity, anything that personifies thing. It’s that thing that is terrible, yet we do in stride, with strength to speak for those yet to speak, stories yet told of loves black line mind who mother in stride.
Like those of my grandmother, a woman, history will never know. Not as a book or a star etched to the ground. Yet memories of her being, bloom in my being. For when I think of motherhood, I see her. My first example of being. Like raindrops falling on my head. The truth nestled within each drop, every single one on my head, is a way of being, she personified so well. Juliana was her first name. Iwegbu her last. Yet, when I speak, you hear her words oozing from my lips, as if she was me in flesh, wearing bones again, and her words break out through me to remind me of all the ways she didn’t falter.
Everything she did was with intention. Even now that she insists we say her name. Juliana Iwegbu. This day was bound to come. She welcomes you in these bones with words that insist on living, a picture of blackness blessed. A picture of the one she birthed. Standing in front of anything. Standing, smiling, saying nothing, doing nothing. But standing. Unapologetic for the thorns that witness how life insists on being born. That to me is motherhood, the idea of doing, being, seeing, not for yourself but for those that would speak of your ways, long after your way of seeing the world, your way of understanding it too, ends, or begins through those who now stand even in the rain.
So I wrote a grant in one day. I know. I surprised myself too. I started yesterday morning after dropping the kids off at school. The topic was clear in my mind but I needed literature to guide the grant writing process. So I spent endless hours looking through papers, for anything relevant. I book-marked papers, got key statistics here and there and tried but failed unsuccessfully with putting even half a page together by the time I needed to go get my kids from school. This was a five hour day wasted at least from the grant writing perspective. In between I had meetings, about 2 of them, one of which was a training program and all of them interrupted my flow with grant writing.
By 2:45 pm when I was getting no where, I stopped, showered and went to pick my kids from school. We got popsicles with his kindergarten class, then went grocery shopping at the African market. By the time we got home it was around 5pm and my day seemed to just go on with still nothing to show for it. We made dinner. I watched as the kids played outside and tried to write but still nothing. Then after dinner, I went to my room and hid myself. Grand-ma was with the kids so told myself to commit for at least 2-hours to get an aims page done.
We did. I was satisfied and went to get the kids ready for bed. I bathed my baby and tucked him nicely in his bed. Then I went back to my laptop to try to write again. It was around 9 and I wrote till around 10:30 pm or so. I took my night shower, put everything aside and committed to at least drafting some of the approach section. By this time I had some aims page and some rough significance.
I also wrote on my blog about something that tickled me earlier during the day. I belong to many academic circles, but one of them has been quite different of late. Imagine all of us writing a paper, but you really dislike me so much that you forget to tag me in your tweet about the paper. I really have no words except to say as I noted in my blog, ignore me at your peril. While they were being petty, I was committing to writing yet another grant that illustrates all the ways I survived and yes I did more than survive that group. Nonetheless, I can be petty too and so I blogged about them, got that out of my chest and went to bed.
I woke up around 5:34 determined to finish some aspects of the grant before my kids got up. At first I was slow. The words were slow and I struggled a bit and kept writing as much as I could. The words started to fall in place. The grant too started to make sense. My kids got up around 7 and I was half way through the approach of aim 2. By 10am this morning, I finished the grant in its entirety, added even the references, took a shower and went to buy groceries.
I am keeping this here because I literally wrote a grant in a day, never mind being a mother to four children and a wife to a very busy guy who literally saves lives. This year has been trying. To think that as the year comes to and end, I am still defying odds keeps me speechless. I still managed to take my kids to piano lessons today and yes, Saturday laundry is ongoing alongside making dinner for tonight. Black women like me are truly primary. We know who we are and we are prepared to show up and show out always. Ignore us at your peril. We are focused on all the things that make us full.
I took a long overdue trip outside the country to Lusaka. Where we are staying is breathtaking. So is my current state of life. Change is coming, like peace.
So I’m cleansing myself.
Someone told me to remember always the small things. I did and saw a small African butterfly, black and white, fluttering my way this afternoon. Such transformation from struggle to greatness is the reassurance unleashed along the way.
Instantly, I was reminded that I am living my best life, the journey is still long, few are invited, and in these rare moments, may bliss be our portion always, amen.
May peace too be our portion, for those never created to worry. Those never created to fear anything. Definitely not people, and definitely not change. Rather, we will do what makes our heart at ease.
Listen, the work is hard. Every single one written. Years of failures. Years of tears too. Every single experience, especially the ones I failed at, stretched me to my fullest. If I was intense with the process, if I was hard too, plain and direct at times too, know that all that mattered, was how to claim space, a foothold, platform, voice among voice, anything to be a lion, to tell the story of the hunt my way. There were moments of anguish, sleeplessness, frustration, hope, wild dreams, high on Jeremiah 29v11, because the plans even in pain and limited sleep, were for good. So we pressed on, shattered original thoughts and created new ones in span of weeks. Some were written in days. Two days being the craziest streak for an idea that still failed. Of course time would have helped. Prayers too. But when the ideas start to dream for themselves, even the dreams are nothing but themselves.
Wild as these experiences have been, nothing trumps what we went through mentally last year. Nine. Some, back to back to back. Ideas came out of nowhere. Some as if our lives depended on it. The ideas dreamed on, pulling us towards our finest hour, one that I will never regret all the ways the journey lead to this moment. Perhaps this is the end. One chapter ends, even when we all seek to keep it going. Ideas will come and go. Teams that bring it to life will come and go too. Every single experienced has pushed me to my zenith, one where there are no regrets even as this chapter closes.
So here is the truth. If I am silent or different these days, it’s because change is hard. The most difficult thing I have ever done. But the urgency of the moment is the ultimate. We still have to claim space with folks that truly see us. Those that know what can be if only we get the support we need, the investment too. The other day, someone said they wanted to invest in me. I cried. To be seen in this manner is the light I know that is deep within in me. It can never be hidden. Those in light see those bursting forth to their own. They propel them upward, so that their radiance, their brightness, their brilliance, is crystal clear. Perhaps this is the hope, that ideas brought to light, with the right people, a small circle of safety, no matter how long it may take, by their nature, will remain in light. Keep this reflection you now see in the mirror. It’s the light in you. Here is to smaller circles too, as I play Davido’s Unavailable song on repeat. Dem no Dey see light people ooh. Ooh and here is to this DREAM phase of life.
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.
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.
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.
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 have this memory, etched forever in my minds extremity, of tears, of chaos, and vows that I made, as winds rustled by, that you my son, the one God gave to us, the one that taught life’s extremities, those that flair up on their own, those that rhyme on their own, those that bang, those that tick, all of them that occur during nights without stars. I remember all of them so vividly, moments with no roots, to nourish us, no stems, nothing, just detached and naive about life and all its extremities. Yet these extremities took their own time to flower, took their own time to reveal the budding promise we made with the wind years ago, that come rain or sun, come rainbows or spectrum, the flesh of my flesh, and the bone of my bone, will one day surpass the tears we cried so long ago. To see that day come, even a glimpse of it, is to see a dream come through. One without fear for a tomorrow so near. Keep believing even in tears.
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.
The day begins with love. To women everywhere, especially those black and hive. Those that smile when we arrive. Those who switch tongues on overdrive. Those who blow kisses that jive. Those whose laughter we archive. Those who stay unmasked and alive. Those yearning for all the ways we thrive. Those who celebrate all the souls we revive. Those letting go of silences that deprive. Those freely expressing all the ways they strive. Those always prepared to live. Those who show how to do more than survive. Those too choosing the crossroads they drive. We begin this day with you, in love.
Knowing too that they will always accuse you of tending to the past. Whether you made it or not. Whether you sculpted it or not. Whether with your own hands or not. Whether you named it or not. Whether you learnt it everyday or not. Whether you remembered it or not. Whether you are strong or not. Whether you will travel the distance or not.
Still, to know you, is to love all the ways you help us express ourselves. Love all the stories we tell about ourselves. Love all the ways we celebrate ourselves. Love all the ways we interrogate ourselves. Love all the ways we cherish ourselves. Love all the ways we pray for ourselves too.
I am so inspired to let you know that we are really cool. We are. Those who left or didn’t leave school. Those who lurk or didn’t lurk late. Those who strike or didn’t strike straight. Those who sang or didn’t sing sin. Those who We know or don’t know. All of us who die or didn’t die soon enough to this thing we call life.
Those who stay critical. Those who remain resolute. Those honest. Those bent on fathoming what it means to be black, beautiful and woman. I salute you. I celebrate you. I extend this beacon of love to you today and always. Happy International Women’s Day.
Poetry inspired by Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks, two iconic women of substance that inspire my life’s journey.