Maybe I am a poet.
Why else would I always feel like I do. Being that someone who needs to watch and record everything. Like it's the 20s and I need to horde everything from the blush of wind in my locs to the ache in my hips when I decide to make donuts at 1am. I am the girl who tries to describe the dance of flies in the air above family reunions that took 45 years to form.
Give me words and talk pretty sentences to me.
I want to see what will happen when I think about switch trees, neighborhoods of black folks, and food on top my Granma's stove. What words will appear? I know I'll see Granma peeling a young twig down and the sight and smell of the green innards beneath the brown skin will make me wonder if the tree feels the sting too. I will hear the neighborhood "running up and down the road" as Granma would say with the sound of my uncle underneath somebodies' hood clanging oil and metal tools against oil rags mixing with 99th street and Hoover conversations. And then the sound of Granma's pilot light ticking, the heavy whoosh of flames pushing out to hit pots of black eye peas, ox tail stew, or early morning grits.
That cast iron clang of Granma's fork scrambling eggs in the kitchen, with her left hand in her hip must be described by someone--me.
This past year I have put a bug in God's ear weekly, sometimes daily. And I've done so while crying patient tears too. It is often difficult for me to wait in silence. Fear looms. Insecurities creep. Doubt talks.
I have developed this insatiable love of words and sentences and story-poems and novels that slip-up, sweep in, and push you back down into life to live.
Reading the canons and writing academia for the past two years has forced me to stand in front of the mirror and see myself for who I am. Sure, I have fallen into stupid love with critically reading and analyzing Literature written before my great-great-great granma was born. And I don't mind starting a paper at 6pm and writing till 7am straight through, questioning whether eating dinner or capturing a great sentence is more important, even though the paper is 2-3 weeks early. I catch fevers over writing and dancing my fingers on this keyboard. Typing now? My eyes just rolled in my head as I thought about the pleasure of speaking out and to this 13" screen.
Like sitting at the sewing machine whirling fabric in a natural, instinctual way. Me knowing which words will pop in a sentence like knowing that I need Hansa yellow, quinocrodone reds, and purple fabric in a quilt.
I wrestle with deciding if eating or crafting sentences is more important at some point in each of my days. It pisses E off that I would rather craft and re-craft a sentence than make myself a meal, because I need to eat and often, he says.
But, writing fuels me and I know no other way to know I am living. I have been working on my philosphy statement for my Senior Capstone Portfolio, and this is how I have decided to start it:
Gonna don’t get you no where but down the street. Never throw your hair away, burn it. Chile, he ain’t nothing but a wooden nickel and wooden nickels don’t spend. I may be dead and gone, but you mark my words. Grandma had a mouthful of aphorisms and a pocketful of tales. She baked stories about Big Mama and sharecropping into hot water cornbread, cooked up a profound sense of heritage over pots of oxtail stew, and pressed life lessons into me at the stove straightening my hair with a hotcomb. She was our griot, and we made sense of life through family lore and legends she verbally handed down through anecdotal genealogies. She told to understand. She told to witness. She told to survive. And then there is me—I tell to preserve. I can no more remove what I have inherited, this profound presence of legacy and culture, from who I am than I can remove my love of sentences, my penchant for words, or my urge to make quilts and paint. I am the family griot of my generation and I collect things. I paint images with those objects I’ve gathered rummaging through life. Fabric scraps from Granma’s housecoats, bits and pieces of broken conversations, handed down recipes of 7-up cake, the profound flowery musk of funeral flowers. I write with art and life hanging out of my mouth.
And the next line was: But it is not enough to inherit. Because it is not. I write to preserve. I cannot preserve if I do not record, if I do not place the highest level of value on what I know my life's purpose is.
A while back, my family and extended family drove down to San Diego to meet relatives I found on Ancestry.com. Not deep down the family-tree relatives, but siblings. It is a long, sad, beautiful, and rich story that I am still processing and mining for understanding.
The drive down I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I read slave narratives by women for my senior thesis. It was difficult to read the terrors of Linda's life, and witness the humanity denied her. I should have finished the book quickly, perhaps in the four hours we spent driving Saturday and early Sunday morning, but I found I had to stop often.
My (new) uncle and I were "chopping it up" as he calls it, a while back, and he started to tell me about his memories of his great-granma, my great-great granma. Her name was Minnie Green and she was a slave. She was in her late nineties when he was a young boy (he's in his mid 60s now) and would watch him and his brother while his parents worked. He said she'd sit making quilts and get to telling him about her life as a slave, for she was born into slavery and spent her young years in that peculiar institution of the South.
He did not know about my current academic work, or my proximity to quilting. He was just talking. We were just chopping it up and he was taking the time to fill me in on the history, deep history of my family I need to learn.
This year I have inherited so much. At one point, I sat with tears falling from my eyes in my mother's bedroom surrounded by beautiful cousins and stacks of pictures of family I look like, act like, and know in me--but didn't know. I remember saying, "All the pain of loosing Granma two years ago is being healed right here, right now. When God takes one away, he often will give you back hundreds."
A few people have urged, warned, and begged me not to forsake academia for creative writing and that vanity Master of Fine Arts Degree.
"But you will surely publish. You don't need an MFA," some have told me.
"It will limit your teaching possibilities at colleges/universities and you have to teach," said others.
"You won't find a job," one harsh one said.
This is my reply:
Maikisha with Palms the Color of Roses
Maikisha's mama got a voice hot and thick like grits gurgling with nobody stirring the lumps out. Get yo' narrow behinds over here. Maikisha with skin the color of strained bacon grease, with hammy-down white dresses she wears to a Sand Bernardino public school, whose name the teacher does not understand when she puts extra syllables between the Mai and the Kisha, Maikisha the girl with clouds for friends, who marks her walk to school with bus stops, liquor stores, and car shops.
That is the first paragraph of my 20 page writing sample.
If not me, then who will write about the Maikisha's who need a voice, an advocate, a poet to explain how beautiful she and her life is.
Who will uncover Minnie Green's life and make sure that her hundred years of life does not float off somewhere? Who will make sure that everybody, everybody knows how loved Michael Johnson was and how my mama buried him in style, regardless of the turmultous, short life he lived? Who will explain what it feels like to split a bag of top romen for lunch, following a breakfrast of plain toast with grape jelly because that is all poverty provides? Who ever could tell you about Granma's neighborhood famous spghetti, or Papa's healing chicken gruel, or what it feels like to crack peanuts with him while Granma presses the family's clothes for the week in a small back kitchen?
I can tell you what it feels like to have an ancestor for a father, a beautiful mother for a mama, a southern grandmother for a granma, and what it was like to walk the streets of South Central Los Angeles when you could put food on a tab at the corner market or grab a burger at Quick n' Split, the original Fatburgers, or Clint's burger on 101st and Hoover.
I cannot do that in Academia. I cannot find out if I am a poet, a fiction writer, or both unless I dedicate myself to my craft.
I know nothing else besides art and my art comes through letters group into words, placed into sentences, and pushed together into stories. If I don't write them, I speak them. And I imagine that is why acquitances will ignore me if they see me at the Art's Walk this coming Thrusday. Because I talk a lot, I have a lot to say, and some people are just not ready, open, or interested to hear it.
I smile at them and keep going, because until I get it on paper, quilt it into fabric, or paint it onto wood, I have stuff in me that needs preserving.
This is who I be.