Poem: Witch Prey

This poem was written for the Steemit Poets United  Week 4 contest. This piece is somewhat sexually suggestive (oh my!), but not explicit.

From the available prompts, I chose “witch hunt” + this image:

 

Witch Prey

my quest now ended
here lay my quarry
i stood in ready stance
she rose unhurried
wrapped brown flesh in leopard pelt
fell lazy forward
crouched four-footed
caught by her golden gaze
i dropped my spear
we both were changed
i witched
her wicked
mother’s words cried in my head
but i’ve never done as bid
and so sure i knew this great cat
i followed where she led
lithe sway the spell that snared my mind
a siren’s call to cavern dark
the mountain’s heart her winter home
there piled furs cradled me down
her shadowed bulk swooped in
breathed copper warmth across my throat
teeth dragged delicate on my skin
i shuddered and clung to her muscled frame
and did not think of my husband
as she kissed and caressed my scars
tongue lapping each mark
until at last i came undone
she purred pleasure at my surrender
so overcome i never wondered
which of us was prey
and which one was the hunter

 

You can see the original post on Steemit here. Thanks for reading!

Poem: Placeholder for Home

Placeholder for Home

I am brown skin beautiful
full dark hair
mothering roundness
ambiguously ethnic
and this place we live
snowed in
so they come to me
waiting for the bus
riding the train
passing on the street
they come
brown-skinned hands ready to embrace
eyes asking if I am
what they are

Native Hawai’ians ask
if I’m from Hawai’i
folks from India ask
if I too am Indian
I get a familiar nod
from Indigenous people
strangers try to speak Farsi to me
or Spanish
or Brazilian Portuguese

always I must shake my head
I am not the song they yearn for
my skin has not seen the same sun
my feet does not carry the dust of their roads
the colonizer’s language lies heavy on my tongue
they look for
a piece of their homeland in my face
disappointed each time I cannot be
a placeholder for home

An earlier version of this piece appeared in the anthology Sparrow’s Trill: Writers respond to the Charleston Shooting, which was published by Minerva Rising Press in 2015.

Click here to read this poem on Steemit.

Multicultural Graduation 2017

As always, things are wild in my life right now—I had a super busy week, presented a poster at my university’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, and then got horribly ill and missed almost an entire week of classes. More about that in my upcoming June GHDR Review Post, though; this post is about something else that happened in among all of that.

So, at the recommendation of a friend, I was invited to apply to be a student speaker for this year’s PSU Multicultural Graduation. The theme of this year’s graduation event is From Resilience to Revolution, something I definitely feel qualified to speak on. I wrote a speech, recorded myself reading it, and sent in the application, but in the end I wasn’t chosen. The student who was chosen is a brilliant young man doing very important research, and I am as excited for him as I am disappointed not to be chosen. But I decided to share the speech I would have given with all of you. So, without further ado, here it is:

 

I’d like to start by reading a poem I wrote in honor of my mother.

Forever Rising

Work-weary women
stand in the doorways
of sleeping children’s bedrooms
        watching
smiles faint on their lips
pride-full and wondering
    I made this
    with my bare hands
    I cradled this life into being
ain’t that a heck of a thing?

See, our mamas taught us well
these single women working
for our best possible future
        always
looking to tomorrow
where there may yet be nourishment
    bread for hungry mouths
    books for hungry minds
    labour transformed by love
to sustain life.

And we came up
protected by ancestors
these warrior women’s work
        & sacrifice
paved our way towards freedom
so now we come to a place
where we must also take up
this precious mantle
    the latest generation
    preparing to push the next
    towards the mountaintop.

Hello, my name is Tessara Dudley, I am so grateful to be speaking to you tonight. And I want to say this: we made it; because of our parents, our aunties and uncles, our friends, cousins, partners, mentors, our own indomitable spirits, we are here. Tonight, we stand at the end of one road, preparing to embark on a whole new journey. Some of us, myself included, never thought we would reach this moment. This place, this institution, was not meant for us, but we have taken it and made it ours. We have carved out this beautiful space, together. We are making room for justice through our very presence.

For some of us, it’s been a hard road. We’ve been challenged, not by new knowledge and robust intellectual debate, but by the pressures of systemic discrimination and inequity. Some of us have faced microaggressions, struggled to feed ourselves and our families, or experienced loss of health and happiness. It has taken hard work, but we are here celebrating together. Our ability to find and build community is among our greatest strengths.

2 years ago, I didn’t know if I would make it to graduation. After the police violence in Ferguson, I stressed myself sick, swinging between 3 and 13 hours of sleep a night, going and going until I couldn’t anymore. My professors were very understanding, and I got through fall term with Bs, but I spent a month seriously thinking of dropping out. I kept hearing the criticism of academics and academia: we’re too isolated, we don’t do anything to make our communities better, our work isn’t connected to the “real” world. As I saw images of children and disabled people being tear-gassed, it became harder and harder to feel like my work here mattered. I had a deep internal crisis that year. Two things kept me going: the love of my family and friends, and the amazing, affirming support of my professors. Without my professors in Black Studies and the advocacy of the Disability Resource Center, I wouldn’t be on this stage today and, again, I’m so thankful for the collective work that has gotten me here.

Together, we have persevered, and we are not conquered. But is survival enough? What of those who could not be here tonight to cross this stage and be honored by this loving community? What of those who follow us? We are resilient, but there’s more to life than pushing through adversity. How do we build on the work of those who came before us? How do we push our communities into creating a truly equitable society? How do we live our authentic truths in a world that tells people who look like us they have no worth?

We have built a vibrant, inclusive community, but we need to keep pressing outward. There are so many people who want to be here and are prevented by institutional barriers. Racism, gender bias, disablism, classism, documentation requirements, and other barriers keep out students who could benefit from post-secondary education, students who could use that education to benefit their communities, and whose experiences and perspectives would greatly benefit this university. Instead of scarcity, we can adopt an attitude of abundance: our accomplishments are not diminished by the expansion of this space, but are instead enhanced.

If I had left back in 2014, I know I wouldn’t be on the path I’m on now. I wouldn’t have been able to take the history class that busted my world open, and I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to spend a wonderful semester at the University of Ghana, and I wouldn’t have been chosen for this year’s McNair Scholar cohort. I wouldn’t now be preparing to go to grad school, or following my dream of becoming a teacher and researcher. Without the strength and courage I found through this community, I wouldn’t be whole.

No matter where we go after this night, it is time to take this same spirit into our workplaces, our community organizations, and our future academic departments. Wherever we go, we can bring revolutionary insight and bold action. We can press the edges further and further outwards. We can enlarge the circle to make room for the voices being left out.

To revolutionize the world, we cannot let fear stand in our way. Change is hard, and sometimes it’s scary, but as Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Being afraid and doing what must be done anyway is the bravest act of all.

None of us are free until we are all free. Our communities are not whole until we all are present, able to be our whole selves and build the future together.

Thank you.

Trees of Reverie Readathon: Bookish Challenge #3

Existentialism

The wretched of the Earth are killing — rage — ending — racism
like Greek Tragedies
from a mouthful of forevers, Lucy asks ‘Ain’t I a woman?’

Black women and their
feminism: the bones, the breaking, the balm
scars / stars

she’s crossing the mangrove, seeking the will to change
says ‘men (masculinity) and love are fantasy;
the dragon can’t dance’

says ‘I’m all about love — new visions — the other side,
but where we stand, class matters’

 

photo of a large number of books spread out on a black velveteen cloak
16 books used in the creation of this time’s spine poem — click the photo to check out poems by other participants in the October 2015 Trees of Reverie Readathon.

The books:

  • Existentialism by Robert Solomon
  • The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
  • Killing Rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks
  • Greek Tragedies by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (eds.)
  • Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine von Radics
  • Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
  • The Bones, the Breaking, the Balm by Dominique Christina
  • Scars/Stars by Walidah Imarisha
  • Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Condé
  • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
  • Fantasy by Jacqueline Furby and Claire Hines
  • The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace
  • All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
  • The Other Side by Julia Alvarez
  • Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

There’s an alternate view of the books on my Instagram, and you can listen to me reading the poem on Soundcloud.

Save

Emptiness in the Aftermath

I didn’t get a lot done during the second half of last week. I didn’t send my regular Wednesday newsletter. I didn’t post my Thursday blog post. I didn’t do my homework, or make my office hours at work. Mostly, I cried.

Today marks four months since Michael Brown, Jr, was shot in the streets of Ferguson, MO, and left for 4.5 hours in the summer sun. Two weeks past from Monday, a grand jury did not indict the officer who shot Mike Brown. A week past from Wednesday, a grand jury did not indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death. In these four months, the Black community has lost Rumain Brisbon, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Kajieme Powell, and — perhaps most tragically — Tamir Rice.

But we have also lost Deshawnda Sanchez and Tajshon Ashley Sherman and Aniya Parker and Gizzy Fowler. We’ve lost Mary Spears and Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum. A second mistrial came in for the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. A police officer is going to trial in Oklahoma for the sexual assault of at least 8 Black women and girls.

The deaths of Black men and boys at the hands of police are getting more attention than they have in a long time, and that attention is necessary to create change. But we must also recognise that Black women are the victims of state violence as well. Black women disproportionately account for missing persons. Black women are assaulted and killed by police. Their murders are often ignored or covered up. And they are on the forefront of the movement for justice.

Women accounted for 60% of the Black Panther Party. They led many of the actions of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Today, they lead many of the actions on the ground in Ferguson, New York, LA… Black women are expected to never report violence perpetrated on them by Black men. They are expected to wait for their own justice, while fighting tooth and nail for the lives of Black men. It’s exhausting to fight for your own humanity, but even more so to fight for the humanity of a group who should have your back, but doesn’t.

I wrote a poem about this for my upcoming collection, Fallen/Forever Rising, and I’m sharing it here, because I feel like I have little else to give. I’ve felt so wrung out the last few weeks, a kind of exhausted apathy. I’m struggling to find time to take care of myself, and that leaves me feeling as though I’ve gotten nothing done. I need to rest, but I feel guilty when I do. I don’t know how much longer I can go on, and I don’t know what to do.

Empty

Women’s work
we pour from empty pitchers
every last wet drop for
someone not us

We care takers
care given always care giving
none taken no care not us
no one cares

We targets too
double jeopardy for double-dutch girls
endangered Black women dare
in danger we dare

Losing sons and
daughters fathers mothers sisters and
yes brothers each bone deep
pain pushed through

Street struggle
our streets aren’t safe from police
aren’t safe for our brothers
we aren’t safe from

Silent suffering
no don’t tell don’t call don’t no
sister knows no safety
but still she pours

I hate to ask for anything for myself, but if you have the funds to help me out, you can donate something to my Paypal, or buy a zine. I appreciate any help you can give.

Poem: Movement Mothers

I mentioned in my newsletter that I’ll be at the Oregon State Penitentiary tomorrow for the Uhuru Sa Sa Poetry Slam. Here’s one of the pieces I’ll be sharing.

Movement Mothers
Not so long ago they lit us on fire for who we loved, visibility and invisibility doing damage differently: hateful looks end with murdered teens tied to fence-posts, sweet bois and grrls beaten, children taken from us too soon, the bully’s hand manifest in the making of nooses, the loading of guns. We lose and are lost.

These days when the struggle is too much and holding my head up is too hard I think of Assata and Angela, Marsha and Carlett, Stormé, Audre, Alice, Octavia, and Laverne, sisters in struggle, sisters in strength, sisters looking out for sisters. Our vulnerability is just one more source of beauty—though the world does not see it, speaking our truth is an act of radical self-love in a world that tries to burn us down.

New piece up on Black Girl Dangerous + upcoming events

Yesterday, a piece I wrote went up on Black Girl Dangerous! You can read it here: Black, Woman, Traveler: Safer In Strange Places Than In the City Where I Live

Other exciting news:

On October 23, I’m participating in Intersections: An Evening of Storytelling About Identity, Community, Culture, and Pride. The event is 6:30-8pm, in Room 228, 1825 SW Broadway at Portland State University. It’s free, and open to the public.

October 28, I’m reading in the Tell It Slant Reading Series. We’ll be at the Alberta St Pub (1036 NE Alberta Street) starting at 7:30pm. $2 suggested donation. Venue is 21+ after 8pm.

I’m working on self-publishing a book of poems. It’s called Fallen/Forever Rising. I’ll post here when it’s done!

Vogue and Sara Baartman and a Poem

This morning, I woke hours before my alarm. It sometimes takes me a little bit to realise whether I’m awake because of anxiety, adequate rest, or low blood sugar. Often, I struggle to get back to sleep until I figure out which one, and address it (if possible). Sometimes I never get back to sleep.

Rather than lie in the dark waiting, I checked the time on my phone, and noticed I had a notification on Twitter. I checked that, and spotted a tweet from someone I follow about an article posted by Vogue Magazine, titled “We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty”:

Vogue tweet 09-10-2014
The original tweet from Vogue Magazine’s Twitter account

The article is as bad, if not worse, as I anticipated. And one of my first thoughts was about Sara Baartman.

For those who don’t know about her, I encourage you to read about her, though I warn that the story is a hard one if you dig deeper into it. Sara was a young African woman in colonial South Africa who was sold into English and then French hands, and displayed as a sideshow attraction under the demeaning name “Hottentot Venus” until she died six years later. After her death, her body was given to a scientist for dissection. He concluded that Sara—and other Africans like her—was subhuman, and her skeleton, brain, and detached genitals were displayed at the Musée del’Homme for the next 150 years. But even once they were removed, it took 20 years of fighting for her body to be returned to South Africa and finally laid to rest.

I could not go back to sleep, because I felt sick with anxiety and sorrow and anger, and so I wrote a poem.

 

Mourning the Living and the Dead

today, I mourn the life and death of Sara Baartman
my rage at the indignities she suffered
rests at the base of my throat
chokes my voice with tears unshed
today, I cannot strangle down my anger for her
Sara, Saartjie, name unknown
forced from family after her fiancé’s murder
she was a slave sold to sideshows
spending six years poked and prodded
examined and talked over and mocked
lied to, looked on, lost
this woman of six and twenty years
dead
it is 200 years since she passed
from alcohol or pneumonia
or a broken heart
and even in death disrespected
dissected
her most intimate parts displayed in jars
as curios for detached Europeans
to view
this history of colonial gaze
of taking and keeping and displaying
the most intimate parts
continues to this day
the roundness of Sara’s body fascinated
and repulsed the gazers
now vogue divorces this largeness from Blackness
makes it safe for mainstream commodification
makes it safe by denying Black women again
taking this aspect of our bodies
claiming our identities for themselves
passing profit over our heads
and leaving us to die like Sara
alone
the world is not safe for my sisters
I know
so I am left to mourn