I know what they say.
I know what the feel.
Through the valley
Through the deepest valley,
I know how to be still.
I stand still in awe
I know what they say.
I know what the feel.
Through the valley
Through the deepest valley,
I know how to be still.
I stand still in awe
The sight of love, from eyes that never lie, restored a balance time almost tried to hide. Watching their eyes widen, holding ourselves tightly, is the reason why living is a fire.
There was happiness all around, for love they know and a new love trapped in a new house they own. The one with hands called to save, built a house for them with love, one plank by plank.
For them and only them, we are choosing love. Choosing all the ways it helps us soar. In a backyard full of new grass, with tiny legs running all around, this love is like a fever that insists it remains.
First, they shoot. They dismiss your look, dim your light, all to erase your name. They succeed. Or so they think. You may stumble, you may fall, you may bleed, you may weep. But your name remains. The thing they can’t destroy. The name they can’t uproot too. Not when the ground belongs to you. The earth and even them too. They exist because you live. They die even as you live. Every single way you restore, you rebuild, you reduce their hate to love. So remember your essence, remember love. That is the power of you, the one named Ralph. The one who endlessly starts over and over again, full of embers, that never die, full of light, that never dies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The woman who feels everything,
knows the name of her pain,
the source of her gains
and certainly how to carry rain.
To see her too,
like the desert waiting,
or like a flower blooming,
for tomorrow praying,
but today dreaming
knowing what she feels is daring,
but grateful still for this wild blessings.
May I never forget what the moon, the stars and sun know.
The past few days, weeks and months have been full of wild blessings. Full with the knowledge too that that surest failure as Lucille Clifton, once noted, is the unattempted walk. My June and July was full of impossible journeys, one where the news of 2/3 of my attempts at walking, has landed me in space full of blessing that can only be described as wild. I still don’t know the outcomes but I wanted to take the time to thank the one who leads me. When he said that even if I pass through waters he would be with me, I believed him. Not even all the troubles I encountered overwhelmed me. Fire didn’t burn me and trials did not hurt me. It’s for this reason I say thank you for bringing me safe this far. As for tomorrow, I don’t know what it holds but for today, I agree with the moon, the stars and the sun.
Throw away all you think about life. Throw it all. Then just live. Life is too short. I am realizing it more so these days. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. Tell all those you love why you love them everyday and make them sick and sick of your love. I am in the mood of infecting my life with love and people that matter and these days, all I want you to know, is that I would do what makes me live out my best life. This is the moment I have been living for. The realization that I have been blessed for a very long time to live out my best life. The immense fragility of life, all its sweetness and sadness too, makes me what to turn up to a dark field to simply stare at the silver moon and everything bright the dark night has to offer. The raw cuts of life caught me off guards today and I have been numb and obedient to the moment.
I got news that knocked me off my feet today. I have been in a daze and just in awe of this thing called life. Poppa George has joined the ancestors club in a way that I never expected. I cried because I thought we had time. I remember when we spent time together. I’m still in a daze and it’s not even 24 hours later. I barely did anything today and if I did, lord knows my mind was everywhere and no where. George was more than a father to me. I considered him like a father. He took me under his wings when I was in college with his daugther. Took us always to the best diners and restaurant in Philly. Made me feel loved and respected and valued and showed me how a true gentleman should always treat a lady he loves and cherishes. I knew what love was in college because I saw it first from George. He was the perfect gentleman. A firefighter too who knew how to take care of all those he loved. I have been numb today because I never got to tell him just how much I loved and valued him. I never got to tell him that he was my idol too. I know he is smiling down from heaven but George just know I loved you and I know that God loved you more. We will always be there for the love of your life Ms Toni. This isn’t a goodbye. More like rest until we meet again. With all my love. Your Jules. I intend to live out life, with love, just as I know George would have wanted.