You are draped in all colors of the sun. All the shades of blue skies. All the greens of leafy trees. You who loves a life that cannot be denied. We named you after God so you never forget your name, never forget that you can own beautiful heavens, powerful earth and brilliant stars. You are also more than you seem. You name is God after all. Nothing can prison your mind. You who are free like air. A child of dreams. I pray you keep bursting open doors that amaze us all. We love you Olisa. Happy 6th Birthday, Olisa.
The idea of lasting is like electricity. The switch turns on, and I am fully charged. My mind becomes a tunnel threatening to force me to burrow deeply. Eyes are bright, like the sharpest blue of spring sun. Head focused as if on a edge of a cliff. As if waiting to meet another head unbowed. Mother bear turned research lion, I begin to work day and night until the ideas in my head on how to last take shape. They haunt me on days I dream of becoming. A bird and her nest, I take pieces of information, stick by stick, about which ideas to follow or not follow, for proper definition of what it means to last. I will not stop until the last stick is placed.
Sustainment is beyond wishful goals these days. It cannot be the music I heard yesterday. The type that lingers on what to do. Not the why and how to truly do it. Failure has tightened my heart with a band of doubt that only success or more failure may unravel. So I put more oil in my lamp, sip a cool glass of mango juice, and go back to work. These days I am mostly waiting, for when Spring will come and whether flowers will sprout or whither. We spent last fall planting seeds that I pray flourish this Spring. The dreams are as wild as a bed of wild flowers. This idea of lasting may seem trivial to some, seem unlikely to some, seem unbelievable to many, but then it’s me and if my dreams are not bigger than me, then I’m not yet dreaming. Spring has my heart in a knot, only time will loosen it, ideas may loosen it, or failure may keep it tangled and back to the dull hull of the previous year’s ache. Either way, I’ll wait for Spring.
I have been speaking about sustainability for a long time. I woke up to to a phone call this morning that asked if I could speak on it to a group in less than 30 minutes. I said yes ( because I have been thinking about this topic for a long time) and proceeded to create a presentation in 30 minutes. During the presentation, I was mesmerized by the person speaking. Granted it was me, but the words that seem to come to me, came from places I tend to ignore about why this topic truly matters to me. I have written failed grants about it. Dreamt about it. Thought about writing both fiction and non fiction on it and well it is at the heart of why I keep this blog in the first place. The idea of something, anything that lasts. Not for publications or accolades, not even for funding, but because I care deeply about why things should last. I found myself speaking about people now dead who championed this issue. I spoke about papers from 1990 on this issue. I shared my dreams and new ideas soon to be birthed this year about it, but above all I realized why I care deeply about this work.
This urgency to give meaning to sustainment is the source and meaning of my work these days. It continues to help me dream, widens my ambitions with any health issue that remains a persistent source of inequities, reminds me often that I will fail because people don’t understand it, yet still I will rise. I want to believe this fever for all things sustainment will break one day, and I too may end up saying that things never last for a reason. All the things I do these days, all these writing are both my guide and hope. Every single thing I keep is reminder of the very thing I continue to seek. What am I seeing, what is seeing me too, and how I tell it’s story is the reason I know I need to reach beyond myself this year. This work is out of this world, like the very air that I breath. So I close by claiming it, naming it, as I prepare to intensify, what may seem impossible, with my biggest dreams still.
The first dance takes your breath away. All the deceased left behind, dance in a line with pictures of him on their hands. They dance and cry, disturbing the air, till your feet and eyes get used to it. Solid grounds are no longer at ease. Minds wonder too, who will mourn the deceased? Death has no where to run. Not when life still is the starting point. So who will mourn the deceased? Who will come to speak of their name, their honor? Who will wear precious clothes, those gold or royal for the deceased? Who will cradle all their steps like trees rustling in the wind? Who will sing of all the ways they survived? Who will join those they loved to keep moments of silence?
Last night, I saw who, with many that wore blue. Some wore clothes red and royal. Others simply looked regal to keep their pact with you. There were backs bent to the ground in your honor. Money sprayed around for your honor. Many came to tell death of how you lived. Death saw you belonged to a people. Death saw your children welcome all the people that knew and loved you. Death saw Umuada, daughters dancing for you. Death saw a hall full of people for you. Death saw them seated at tables red, white and purple for you. Death saw all sorts of geles worn for you, in reds, gold, purple and blue. Death saw a room full of Ichies and Iyoms for you, all dancing and singing for you. Death saw lions and lioness chanting for you, their great lion. Death heard prayers too for you for grace, for rest, for perpetual light to shine on you. Death saw all this people dance and dance till the break of dawn for you. Tell me, are you really dead?
There are stories within stories within stories and in stories. That was how the play began. Then a group of students at Saint Joseph’s academy began to take us down a path where all stories begin and end and begin again and end, masterfully weaving all of it together to illustrate the joy of storytelling. I was mesmerized. I had never heard of a play and when I was invited to attend a play on storytelling, I was hooked. The girls were brilliant. I am still in a sort of daze about the audacity of stories. If only we truly understand how they can hold all of us together. Keep stories.
As days become week, and weeks, month, and months year, the angering for your life lingers. As days become week, and weeks, months and months year, memories of you, and echoes of Osodieme, lingers still. Days will be weeks and weeks will be months and months will be years, yet what will become of all this anger, the memories, the echoes of you that continue to draw air on their own, as if life has barely moved, as if death nourishes us still. Your cervix may have won this time, but we are up fighting as nothing else matters.
What’s so nice about our home in the evening is that everybody is there. Dad in his blue scrubs, sitting on a chair. A child on every chair and grandma too. Rice on the table with fried plantains and fish stew. All of us, smiling, as we eat, hoping the night lingers as we sit, hoping we stay awhile like this, until at least the last plantain is set free, until hearts too are at peace.
I have been re-reading Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s simplicity is stunning. I love everything about this book, Eunice in the evening being one of my favorite as it reminds me of my own home too these days. Dinners together are a treat, one we cherish on days when Dad happens to be home. It inspired my thoughts above. Keep evenings with your family.
Words that flow, like eyes that see the bluest moon, leave me breathless. Lavishly they give meaning, a justice that endures. Where they begin, clear and steady, leaves a wide range of emotions that is ushering these words I write in praise. I see windows within my soul open up with these words. These are not words deep or profound. No need for prose that deplete. Rather these words lift like air when eyes read them out loud.
Wherever they erupt, every time, they emit fire, these words fight battles that burst open a heart’s desires. These are not words uncombed or falling apart. They are not words untied like shoes or caked in dirt from mud. They are words that stare, those that burrow deep, questioning nothing, but asking everything. Neither unblinking or unabashed, these words neither hover nor settle like flies where dead things lay. Rather the breathe of each word, every single letter used, like lipsticks on lips thick, is unflinching as it is bold.
Each word forces you to look at everything. Insist that everything looks at it too. Words we know and those we don’t. Those that speak truth and those that seek it too. Those that begin things, a dream, another way of living supreme. Words naked like light or those perishable at night. Those that uncover rotted leaves, or those that shovel out all our disbelieves. Words for the dust that rises or the dirt they hide. Words that imprint, those that delight, those quiet, those strangely pleasant, all the ways they cling together, lifting off pages, together, intoxicates.
The one who who write these words, how they build them like nest, stick by stick, word by word, all the ways they make it their own, brash and brazen, daring and dashing, not weak, but wild, not cautious but courageous, every single time leaves me breathless.
Keep them and their words.
I have been re-reading Toni Morrison’s The bluest eyes with a new lens. I read it a long time ago and kept my copy for a moment like now, when all I want to do is study how the masters play with words. She is one I wish could come back again and again to teach and reach every single crevice where I hope words can begin in me. Her gift is unlike no other and The bluest eyes captivates as it stirs. Re-reading it again, but this time with a lens focused on things to keep, leaves me drunk with all the words she deftly put together to tell a story. I’ll break my thoughts about the book one day, but in the meantime what I wrote above is in praise of this woman, who still teaches what to keep, long after she took her last breath. She is the master of this thing I mean when I say what will you keep. You might as well keep your stories or words that leap out of pages. Either, I am studying the master and she truly intoxicates.
A womb tells the beginning of your story. Life forgets it’s continuity. Yet, if your stories, instead of theirs, your life, instead of their own. All your gains, instead of defeat. Your pain too, instead of deceit. If your lillies bloomed in any way. Your roses only registered thorns. Your days are as days. Your nights too, like nights.
If only you spoke of all the ways the rain fell on your head. A clear view of your flood. Those that deflated or those that manifested into all the sum of you. If you ever disappeared, even if for a minute, in your thoughts or in reality, all the moments, distant or near, that are simultaneous with your years. If there were no colors in your life, no dash of pink in Spring, or yellow in the summer, if only black and blue, then the telling of that will do. If there were hours unaccounted for. Labor unpaid. Tears unknown, joy undiscovered, desires unfulfilled, even delight unspeakable, only insight may salvage all the residue that remains.
So then tell all the arcs you know. Those that bent all the way to the ground, those that lost the ground or those that flapped up to foreground. Tell all the moments flowers made you smile. Dahlia’s or daffodils will do. Remember the rain, the depths of the fall or floods. Remember too ending hours of your existence, the earth beneath your feet, ideas that persisted, or encounters that made you rise, all before your sun sets.
When the hours of your existence have been accounted for, what will remain? I woke with this need to ask myself this question. Who will tell my story for me, just the way I would want it to be told? We die, that may be the meaning of our lives, said Toni Morrison. But we do language and that maybe the measure of our lives. So when your time is up, how would your life be measured? With the things you did and as told by those behind, or with your own words and as told by you.
I want my words to do the talking. I want it to talk back even when I’m gone. I want it to speak of all the ways I lived, the flowers I kissed, or the storms that persisted. Either way, our memories are all we have and we can keep them now, even as we breathe.
So to those wondering whether it’s worth keeping, these moments of our living, know that your stories are worth it. Keep it.
I spent the day at the ER with my 5 year old son today. I got a call around 10am to come get him from school because he fell and may need stitches. On getting to his school, the gash was deep and well off to the ER we went. I was actually fascinated by the experience of getting stitches. First we were told we would get a glue and should then be good to go. But the cut was pretty deep and the doctor felt stitches would be better. We waited close to 2 hours before the time came. He was given medication through his nose to keep him a bit sedated but not to much. They had already numbed the area of the gash since our arrival at the ER. Overall, he was brave through it all, while I cringed and held my breath.
The process seemed seamless, a thin clear wire was placed through at the tip of the gash and the passed through the other sides. He was awake and didn’t feel anything through the process. When we were done, the sedation was still in his system, he was cranky and refused to sleep. In the end, we still went back to school, nearly 4 hours later because it was Catholic Schools Week and he refused to miss out on the ice cones promised to all kids at school today. I still processing the whole day and becoming a mother of boys. I have been told getting stitches is common with boys, well some. Either way, I’m glad we are finally home and he seems to be doing well.
As if the stitches experience wasn’t enough, on our way out, we were told to pick a book and I saw one that caught my eye. It was written by Aja La’Starr, a former councilwoman, who also dabbles in children’s literature in Saint Louis. I was mesmerized. I love folks that are intersectional and deep. Her book teaches children and everyone how to celebrate who they are, something I am teaching my son to do now with his stitches. The images were great and the reminder to love all our quirks for they are a part of who we are, stitches and all. Keep rocking who you are.
Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? This question has always haunted my spirit. It’s from Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salteaters. It is also apt for today. That and what does being well mean for the public’s health, from a social justice lens, radical wellness too and not from experts alone, or those who have credentials, but from you the general public and with your fiction or nonfiction?
Who are your go to references for being radically well and how do you even begin to define wellness for yourself? Of course it led me down a rabbit hole, one where I am now obsessed with how people, those in fiction and non fiction, those with expertise and none, define what they mean by wellness.
I have been struck by the myriad of ways people define wellness, especially those focused on people of color. It matters to me these days that for the public, we define what wellness means, not just from what the dominant literature may tell us, but from everyday people who continue to struggle with answering the question: ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, you want to be well.’ So, from what I gathered from the Bettina Love’s profound book ‘We want to do more than survive’ wellness is:
A type of freedom that comes when you let go of your fears and move your anger into a space of healing.
Wisdom and being well is hard work.
Part of social justice work.
An inner life that refuses to be treated less than human.
Finding the roots of your own Black Joy, Black love, and humanity.
Choosing to see ourselves beyond illness or disease.
Having an inner self that can be quiet and enjoy life.
Recognizing the pain of our ancestors knowing the beauty and resilience of that pain lives on in us.
Knowing who you are regardless of what is thrown at you.
Different for different people.
Healing that is unrecognizable to White people and different from them.
Being your best self while fighting injustice.
Fighting racism with life, grace, compassion.
Having mental space and freedom to dream, give hell, and retreat to one’s community of love for support, fulfillment, and nourishment.
Bringing your full self.
Joining others in the fight for humanity and antiracism in love and solidarity.
Confronting internalized White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Isamophobia, fat phobia, classism, ableism, and the rage that comes as a result of these hateful ideas.
Keep doing more than surviving with these radical wellness definitions in mind.