My favorite poem is Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe. It was published in 1827 and I remember having to break it down line by line to fully understand it. It is about love vs. Ambition. I think that is a common theme.
A conqueror who travels, ravages land and people, and isn’t exactly the epitome of Mr. Right, falls in love. He falls madly in love. She is a common girl, a peasant. He has to leave her behind to continue on and be successful.
In the end he misses her. He thinks of her during his last days. He wonders where she is. He is his beginning, she is a brief but impactful stop in his middle and his end is alone.
I wrote My Thoughts, the evening my son Cairo was born. His birth was traumatic, exhausting and empowering all at the same time. The words gushed out of me like tears from a child who fell off their bike. I couldn’t stop them. When I was done, my son was asleep on my chest and I felt emancipated. I felt like every word was a representation of myself. The transparency, the rawness, the truth, the profanity, the blessings and the weight was all out.
Later I linked with my cousin, Langston (wheresthehaze.com) and we laid the track for the poem. 2 takes. Done. It was effortless and it fit perfectly. Hearing my words merged with his art made my heart swell. I loved the poem even more.
I dont write fluffy stuff. Sometimes, by request I’ll write a love poem for a friend courting a new interest. I’ve done the wedding of two close friends. Love is inspiring.
“My Thoughts” isn’t fluffy. It’s weighted and it’s still fly. You can read it or dance to it. It’s my ringtone. It was born the same day as my only son. It’s mine.
A typical lazy day looks like Netflix, a slice of pizza and a scented candle. It looks like wine in a whiskey glass because all my wine glasses have been broken in late night bottle making stumbles to the kitchen. It looks like prayers scribbled in two different types of handwriting in journals. It looks like delayed chores, laundry piles and floors that are waiting to be swept. A lazy day looks like stealing my husband’s sweat pants and letting a faded tshirt hold my heart in its place. A lazy day is coffee with lots of cream and sugar because its tastes good and I’d rather be sweet than awake. A lazy day is toys all over the floor, voice impersonations and irresponsible snacks. A lazy day is singing Flashlight with your strongest voice and trying to get that Parliament bass line just right. A lazy day is burying a schedule and resurrecting restoration.
1. I met Poetry after I met Music. Poetry wasn’t promiscuous like Music. She didn’t try to appeal to everyone. She didn’t care if you liked her or understood her.
2. Poetry saved me. Swooped in and like a superhero. As a matter of fact, Poetry made superheroes look like security guards. She told me she could never be right or wrong. She told me we all have special abilities. She told me about Ravens and women rising and lover’s named Venus.
3. I like Poetry. The way you make a best friend the first day of school. It’s a sandbox friend. Our meeting was quick and natural and fun. I hope we’re together forever, blood sisters, bound by purpose.
I remember reading these lines on the J train coming home from Pace University. I read it over and over again. I felt a shift. I instantly felt like I could freely be myself. Cut the perm out of my hair, write what I want, dress how I want, speak my mind and sail. Admittedly, I waited another year to grow out my perm (black hair is a whole other post.) However, this revolutionary woman eloquently summed up my overall view of the world. I felt like the author was my buddy and we walked the Brooklyn Bridge together instead of going to anthropology class. I soon realized she was just fantastic at sharing a surprisingly relatable story. She was strong, educated, powerful, courageous, a partner, a mother and an individual. She survived unbearable conditions and she embodied “the strong black woman.” This book, borrowed from my friend Stephanie, changed my perspective. “Affirmation” is a great piece but these lines are capable of standing alone. I’ll always want to be a part of a collective that alters its environment for the better. I also want to be accomplished and competent enough to stand alone. I believe nineteen year old Shaun would be proud to see me today. She would hang up her flight jacket, take her Yankee fitted off, comb her perfectly straight hair and stick her fine toothed comb in her back pocket. She would brazenly look me up and down and then we would discuss the power of words. She would agree with me…I lived every line of that beautiful poem. It looks different than we imagined but we’re doing well.
I believe in living but I’d jump in front of a train encompassed in orange and yellow flames for someone I love.
I believe in birth. Carrying a child and bringing one into the world is extremely challenging. Yet, seeing that little person for the first time and feeling their breath on your skin is euphoric. We give birth to different things. You’re giving birth right now…to thought, to light…
I believe in the sweat of love. Love is work. Hard, intentional, active and assertive work.
And in the fire of truth.
I have been in situations that were seemingly catastrophic. Then, in almost a cinematic turn, all is well. No magic tricks. No special circumstances. Just the personification of truth, rising in defiance and leveling anything and anyone that opposes it. Even when I had experienced so much I was starting to doubt myself. Truth was ever faithful.
Some quotes are pretty. Some are just timely. Some are your own memoir. You’re living every line and you find comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
I was a little girl in 5th grade and I wrote a poem for an assignment. My teacher at the time, Mrs.Thomas, entered the poem in a contest. The poem was called Abigale.
Abigale was about a sad little girl. Abigale was caucasian. Abigale was probably in a hot air balloon. I have never seen a hot air balloon in my life but Abigale was surely about me. I was Abigale. Abigale was Shaun.
I have a big beautiful loving family. Yet, a large part of me often felt misunderstood. I lost a sibling at a young age and in my mind that event made me a part of an exclusive club no one wanted to be in. I read a lot. Words became my friends. In a way, they still are.
I wrote dark stories. I wrote about things people said were beautifully expressed but not popular. My sensibilities seemed to put me in a vulnerable space. I was exposed, skinless, boneless and edible. “They” said “No one wants to read about these feelings.” The more time that passes, I understand how untrue that is. Everyone is seeking approval in some sense but more importantly they want likeness. People want to be mirrored. Who’s the fairest of them all?
Feelings of angst, uncertainty, passion, hunger, and bewilderment don’t dissipate while you ignore them. You have to handle them carefully with clean fingertips and rub them all over yourself like a salve. You must allow your helplessness to be your healing.
I began writing because it made me feel like a grand design. I was impressed with the sustenance easily pouring from my own mind. I got a high when I read it to a peer and they replied, “Is this about me?” There I was, Adam’s rib, connecting with mankind. I was a part of a universe I once felt so far from. Trees were sprouting, soil was in my belly, rivers were flowing through my veins.
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:10 NIV
Her perfume was beginning to fade and her nail polish was chipped.
“I knew I should have bought the gel polish. Such an idiot.”
She had a pair of black slacks in the back seat of her car. She wore them to the office from time to time. Thank God she forgot to bring them into the house. Anastasia lifted the lever on the left side of the driver’s seat and slid the seat back. She reached into the back seat and grabbed the pants. Carefully, she pulled the pants on over her panties and under the shirt that she wore as a dress the night before. Then she smeared Vaseline on her edges and her lips.
“Good as new.”
God knew her in all her glory. He knew her weaknesses and strengths. He knew her better than anyone. He could heal her broken heart.
“Lord knows it’s jacked up this time.”
She bowed her head slightly as she entered the sanctuary.
“Good morning, Sister Faith.”
Sister Faith gave a nod and a smile. Sister Faith lifted the intricate fan she was carrying and did a slight wave offering over Anastasia.
“Lord, I know I probably still smell like Caleb. In fact, I can still feel his fingertips all over my body. I can smell his breath on my neck. I spent my tithes and offerings on shrimp and vodka. I’m here, though. I don’t know if that counts for anything. I sure hope so. My heart is bruised, valves are broken, and they no longer carry blood. They carry shame. Father, I’m here in your house. I’m not in my ‘Sunday Best’ and I’m a work in progress but I’m here. Please heal me. Please touch me.”
Just then, she heard the praise and worship leader lift his hands and wail. He was crying out. When his lips parted, it was like he forced out all the tarnished parts of his soul. With every sound he uttered, more pain came out. Then he stood there empty and freed from his sorrow. He was free. A tear fell clumsily from Anastasia’s right eye. The tear awkwardly waited on her cheek for company. She had no more. Just one. Just one tear. It waited in vain, died and left a stain. She envied him. She envied his liberation. When he began to sing, she closed her eyes and felt the warmth of God’s loving arms.
On my morning walk I usually pray, plan and take photos of flowers I see on my path. I was never a flowers kind of girl. As I grow older, I love them. A clean linen tablecloth and fresh flowers on the dining room table is the perfect setting. On the back patio, I have a few plants but it is my dream to have a beautiful rosebush in my backyard someday.
A gentleman in his 2nd floor window with the curtains wide open just taking in deep breaths. His eyes are focused on nothing in particular. The top of his head is bald. A tight uneven afro covers the rest of his head.
A woman sits on her bright red, brick front porch. She is reading the newspaper aloud. There is no one near her. There is no phone in sight. There are no earbuds in her ears. There is no shame on her face when she sees me, see her, reading to no one. Who is her audience? Does she just enjoy the sound of her own voice? She seems content with her audience of zero.
A man waters his dirt. There is no grass. Maybe there are seeds planted under the brown and rocky dirt. Diligently, with a smile on his face, he waters his dirt.
I wave to get the attention of an older black woman. She is vigorously sweeping the street in front of her home. There is a large blown up photo of a graduate on her lawn. He has a royal blue cap and gown on. There are “Congratulations” balloons tied to her stairs. The SUV crossover vehicle parked in front of her home also has balloons tied to it and a makeshift banner. As she sweeps, there is a smile fixed on her face. The light she carries is as if this moment is still happening. I wave, point to the photo and say, “That’s beautiful. Congratulations!” She is startled. I have invaded the happiness she thought she was sharing with herself. She replies, “I didn’t do it. He did it.” While still in motion and now across the street from her home I said, “You did something.” Her smile grows two sizes bigger. “God bless you,” she says. She takes the leopard print mask from under her chin and covers her mouth. You can still see the glimmer in her eyes as she sweeps.
My one year old runs her fingers over the tattoo on my arm.
I remember when the tattoo artist said, “It’s still professional. A long sleeve dress shirt will cover it.” I wasn’t concerned with that back then. That was a tattoo I got at a shop on Merrick Blvd in Jamaica Queens. It was shortly after my 23rd birthday. I was excited about it because I finally knew what I wanted to honor my grandmother with.
My Nana Bea was a wedding and party coordinator. She spent a lot of time in her balloon shop. My aunt Darlene was the assistant manager. We worked closely in that business, many days a week, side by side. My grandfather would often have my cousins Jason and Tyson do push ups in the back. He would “toughen them up.” All the while Nana would groom us young women for running a business. I had so many “cousins” as young black children often do. Family wasn’t designated by blood. There were friends of family, neighbors, and extended family who all worked alongside us. We turned bare rooms into magical wonder lands. We made dreams come true. We built memories.
You see, my grandmother wanted to be successful. She wanted to be a staple in her community. She wanted a legacy. She loved her children and took great pride in the accomplishments of her grandchildren. I used to listen to her brag to her clients and suppliers about articles and poems I wrote. She kept our pictures near her cash register. This was best way for us to spend time with her. We worked to learn and earn money but we also worked to be close to her.
We ate vanilla ice cream, Pepsi or ginger ale and plain potato chips on breaks. These were big treats to me because my parents kept healthier options in the house. Those were some of her favorite things. Sharing them with her added to its sustenance. They were items she could eat quickly, on the go, so she could get back to work.
As Easter approaches I remember Easter baskets with big mylar balloons with my name on them. Inside was always chocolate, bubble bath, lollipops, and a stuffed animal. She never missed an Easter or birthday. We always knew what the business meant to her but we knew even if she showed up at 9pm, she’d be there.
She’d come over in her white minivan with my grandfather at the wheel with goodies. She was warm. She was always smiling. As an adult sometimes things get fuzzy. My Nana Bea passed when I was 19 years old. She died right before Thanksgiving. I wish I’d asked her in all the time I had with her, what it was like to be a woman of color with her own business. I wish I asked her what sacrifices she had to make. I wish I knew what she’d do differently. I would love to see how’d she react to social media and how quickly information and advertisements travel now. I remember dressing the store front windows for the next holiday. It was an honor. If she picked you to help dress the store window or put up a new display it meant she trusted you artistically to make her look good. Recently someone asked me, “Who encouraged you growing up?” It was always my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother wanted us to be reaffirmed in our beauty and she called me Princess my whole time with her. My maternal grandmother wanted me to feel intellectually confident. She helped with school assignments, establishing routines, and life skills.
Those of us who have tattoos are often reminded we are wearing veritable choices. We will have these pieces of art inscribed on our bodies for all time. I love my balloons. Everytime I see it I see the smiling face of Beatrice. I feel myself standing in that building with confetti and broken clips (that held the latex balloons in clusters) on the floor. I remember the taste of Tiger Pops. I hear the older girls telling stories about the young men they were dating. I hear music. I hear arguing. I feel her curly hair. I smell her lotion. I remember rummaging for the sharpest scissor to curl the ribbon with. We would decorate baby shower chairs with toole and silk flowers. I can hear her yelp when she’d burn her finger on a glue gun and then keep going until the job is done. I see my faded balloon tattoo and I see love in all of its wholeness. Imperfect. Mine.
Our love went on like an unwatered plant. Without the sustenance needed to survive. I mourn the conversations we postponed, texts that should have been phone calls, the drinks we should have had laughs over. I miss the adolescent I knew and I pray for the woman I watched grow. I hold in my heart the spirit that could never die in any realm.