Just Thinking

Today, I am thankful I don’t get mad when I give Levi blueberries in his snack cup (And today it was too many-I knew that up front), and he throws them on floor. I also don’t get mad-or feel anything-when he has a tantrum because all the berries are on the floor. I simply listen to him count them as he drops them back into the cup and runs off sprinkling them all over the floor. Antioxidant confetti, if you will.

 

Anyhow, as I always do, I have some random thoughts bouncing around in my own snack cup (Coffee cup) I would like to share:

 

  1. When do we forgive?

 

Our family is in San Diego for a few days because Ambyr is taking part in a cybersecurity training thing (Read:There are so many nerds in the hotel that I am choking. I refuse to make eye contact. And eye contact is my thing) to gain more skills for work and for her business. Go Bae! We are downtown, right by the water which is usually a good thing, but it won’t get past 70 degrees the entire time we are here. Not good news. Anyhow, I was thinking of things I could take Levi to do today. I considered taking him to the zoo, but the only sneakers I have are some beat up Chuck Taylor’s that are sure to kill my feet and make me cranky. Sea World popped into my mind, and I quickly dismissed the thought, because well, everyone knows Sea World is evil. You saw Blackfish. Since the documentary was released, Sea World has made some changes to their brand, spurred by “Changing attitudes towards animal attractions.” Not only have they put 175 million dollars into new exhibits, they have also phased out all killer whale shows and captive breeding of orcas. This is good, right? Apparently not good enough for me to give them a chance on a day like today, where it is super gray and drab outside, and I would only have to travel like three miles. I am just done with Sea World. I almost feel silly about it, because hey, they are trying! But something inside is like, so what? They did major damage! No one should be going there! I have forgiven raggedy ass boyfriends for worse pain and suffering to my mind and body.

 

Here’s a list of other things/corporations/people I am boycotting at the moment:

  • Starbucks
  • The NFL (all pro sports really)
  • Pork (There is one exception)
  • Uber (I love Bozoma Saint John, but still)
  • Levi R. Leidig (He is playing with the berries again)

 

When do we forgive? Or are we forever mad?

 

  1. Geography is key.

 

Even though the internet can be a hotbed of negativity( The thing with Cardi B is killing me today), it also has its decent points. Globalization and the World Wide Web go hand in hand. Each time I talk to my brother in Jamaica, or his son in North Carolina, or even my fellow housewife friend-no clue what her name is-I have to smile at the power of connection.

Yesterday, I was talking to my nephew Amar, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite people. We discussed some of his new dance videos, and after tagging him in a post by one of my favorite comedians, Aphrican Ape, I told him he should take dance classes. He said the one closest to him in Rockingham, North Carolina, only caters to girls. I was incredulous. How could a dance school only want to teach girls? It’s 2018. To me, it made no sense, so I did some work on Google, and discovered that basically, the schools in his area weren’t for him. We virtually laughed and shook our heads, before he told me he wanted to come to California to make his dreams come true. I told him while many people move to California to make dreams come true, dreams come true wherever you make them. I expected him to agree, but what I love about the youth-and I always have-is their ability to make you think critically about what you say and do. They are not afraid to correct you, or challenge long held beliefs about life. He replied, “No one from Rockingham makes it out of Rockingham. The only person who made it out was The Dream, and he is a one hit wonder.” After correcting him about The Dream (The man has hits.), I thought about what he said, and while I still believe that the dream is bigger and more important than the place, there is no denying that sometimes geography can hold you back. The only thing my nephew can do to quench his thirst for dancing is start his own group, or use public transportation to find a class outside of his town. I have never been to Rockingham, but there are no classes for boys who want to dance, so I am already turned off. I know for sure there were a few switches in my life that only got turned on when I left Florida. I left Florida, got serious about writing, earned a degree, and started three businesses. Could I have done that in Florida?Absolutely. But I didn’t. That place grew me, taught me to read, and drive, and made me a fighter, but my ambition grew when my comforts were gone.

 

Additionally, examining place, and the role it plays makes me think of my new home in Inglewood, vs my previous residences in LA-first Mid-City, then North Hollywood. When I am in Inglewood, I step a little higher. My feet feel lighter. The lady at the security gate calls me “Miss Toya,” and I have only been familiar with her for a week. It is like we have known each other for a while, and though I joke about her calling me by my nickname because “she doesn’t know me,” she actually does, doesn’t she?

Carrying Black babies in present-day America is almost a state of emergency because our babies are disproportionately born premature, or die at birth because Black women are so stressed. The medical community has finally recognized Blackness as a strain on our minds and bodies so strong that we are not thriving. We are “the others” in a major way. While I admit I have felt this otherness in places like Glendale, at a nail shop run by young Armenian girls, I usually brush it off, because I am a queen and I know that, no matter where I am-it is a real feeling.

 

When I am in Inglewood, drums beat in my ears and the pulse of the people hums through the streets. I know the history of my current city, but things are changing. Fear not, family members-it isn’t like the movies you have seen.

 

I am at home.

Let Him Kiss Me.

This is an old piece I have been playing with for a little while because I like it, and I wish someone would invite me to a book party!

The title is from Song of Songs, since I mention Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon here, which is my favorite book.

 

I didn’t know her that well until recently. She says we had a class together in undergrad. I don’t remember that. Most days, I was staring out the window, thinking about what to eat, or which girls were next on my list. It was a miracle I had made it to college. Not that I didn’t deserve to be there, whatever that means. I had the grades-but I also had a huge problem with authority, and experienced some thorny run ins with the cops while I still lived in New York. Florida was a long way from home, but I ended up loving it there. I made some good friends, and I guess if had I never gone to St. Mary’s I wouldn’t have met her. Turns out, we ran in the same circles. I saw her, yet didn’t notice her. She wasn’t my type back then. For a long time, my type was big-breasted and low self-esteemed. She was always with her friend Anthony, reciting Jay-Z lyrics and crying over her lame boyfriend. Maybe her self-esteem was low, but her boobs certainly weren’t big enough. Anyway, once I moved to LA, I got into the artist/writer scene, and that’s how she popped up on my radar. I went to this reading party. I know it sounds a little weird, but people are totally into it here. It was at a Mexican cantina in the Arts District. The flyer said to bring a book, and money for drinks. The “party” was from 12-4. As was my custom, I wore all black. I’m not exactly sure what I’m mourning, but I have been doing it for two years. I can’t get away from it. I don’t want to. I walked in and sat down with my copy of Song of Solomon. It’s been one of my favorite books forever. It makes me feel like I can find my way home.

There was only one other person in the place besides me. It was quiet, and there was lots of sunlight pouring through the windows. A promising scene. A waitress came and whispered softly in my ear, “ Would you like a drink?” I thought for a moment and then asked for a Bloody Mary. I don’t usually drink those, but my ex did, and something about the placid scene reminded me of her. Well into my reading and doing my best to get that horrible drink down, I felt someone move next to me. I looked over, and there she was. Her mouth still permeates my thoughts every time I see that copy of Song of Solomon on my shelf. I can’t believe I let her go.

I was so glad to get out of the house. When I first moved to LA, I had 3,000.00. I know it wasn’t much, but people come here with less and seem to make it. Sure, it takes forever to get noticed by a publishing company without an agent, but it was a risk I was willing to take. Besides, I had a thriving career in tech to fall back on should my manuscript end up in a bonfire, or dumpster. I had a plan. I would work the traditional 9-5 by day, and write for my life at night. I had to do it, no matter what he said. HE was the reason I flew halfway across the continent to start a new life. Anyway, with only a few thousand dollars, I couldn’t afford to go to premiers or enjoy the legendary nightlife. I volleyed between the library and the thrift shop. Oh, and Trader Joe’s. A girl’s gotta eat. I found out about the reading party while I was there one day. I always have a book in my hand, so I guess the hipster cashier guy thought I would be interested. I was about to pay for my food when he blurted it out. “Hey, um, I don’t know if you would want to come, but there is a party-“ I interjected. “I don’t do parties. I’m poor.” He laughed, and shook his head. A lady with a baby on her hip rolled her eyes at me. “No, it’s not that kind of party. Here, look this over. I’ll be there, so you will have a friend.” I shoved the paper in my bag, and took off before the angry lady could run into my heels with her shopping cart.

I got there a little late. I wasn’t going to show up at all, but I was getting tired of sitting in the house every day hoping he would ask me to come back. I put on a little black dress-well, more like a big black dress. It was long, came all the way down to my ankles, and had long sleeves. It was made of cheap material, maybe a mix of cotton and spandex or something. It looked good on me. My starving artist figure was quite nice. I wore my hair up in a tight ballerina bun, and the only jewelry consisted of the hoops in my ears. I let my neck be naked, save the perfumed oil I got from Moreesa. I walked in with my copy of Song of Solomon. It was a beat up hard back with threads coming out of the top. I got it at the thrift shop a couple days ago, and it’s been glued to my hand ever since. Most of the chairs were taken. Book nerds are punctual, I guess. I headed for the closest empty seat and slid down. That’s when I saw him looking at me. He had music in his eyes. I ruined my life simply trying to get out of the house.

What a Life.

 

 

Women travel through talk

Can only go as far as their minds will take them

Change at the bottom of their purses travel more

Swimming around

Waiting to be dug up at the checkout while

Wispy hairs frame effete faces

Lips pursed, plastered with embarrassment and exhaustion.

Their bodies do the work.

How many ways can a face contort?

Leaned over dishwater mixed with tired tears

Bubbles drowning, happy to go down the drain and escape the monotony

Most days she has no idea what day it is,

or if she does, it is only because of an appointment for the baby

Something needs to be checked, or repaired or maintained.

They get ice cream after.

Go the mall where she puts dresses up to the youngest

To check the fit

Stretching the material, turning over the price tag

What can go without being paid?

So she can have the dress-

Have a dress.

In the mother’s heart, there are many rooms.

The heart of a woman-

love and growing.

Growing, and broken, and whole.

 

This is Life revised. The poem started from sifting a bra ad. I am a little tanked. I am in Atlanta drinking with friends, so this assignment (#9) made the most sense since I usually write drunk and edit sober, like they say Hemingway said.

 

Thesis Essay

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is be a woman.  The most offensive element of the whole ordeal is-it wasn’t my choice, yet here I am, all breasts and bubble baths. My mother has four sons, and then me. Each time I think of that fact, I feel cheated. Born into a world where women are often set up to lose, my lenses are cloudy with responsibility. Each day is a quest to take care of the people around me without much regard for how I feel, or what I want. Had I been born one of my mother’s boys, I would have much more freedom. The freedom to fail, make excuses, eat as many pastries as I want-and not worry about how many times my son has gone to the playground for the week. Fortunately, I do not have this luxury. My strength is an expectation, no matter what else is going on around me, or in the world. I am not allowed to take a time out and cry because it is the year 2017, and people are being sold as slaves, or one of the babies my son shared a room with at the children’s hospital has passed. People in my house want dinner, and there is judgement when I don’t cook, just as there is judgement if I do cook, and don’t wash the dishes, or clean the stove. It is a taxing existence.

I showed this collection of poems to a friend of mine, a man- and he said, “Jesus Christ, just go ahead and name it I Hate Men. Other men haters like you will love it.” So sad that when a woman is truthful about her existence, some men will see it as a personal attack, and not a simple reflection. These poems were born from what I live, who I am and who I wish to become. When I applied to the MFA program, I was living in the hospital with my son. He was born very early, and suffered some dangerous ailments he is now free from. I am grateful. I had been married for not even  full year before I decided to get pregnant. No one told me to consider that decision a little further before taking the plunge. Obviously, I can’t imagine life without him, but there is something that breaks within a relationship when a baby comes. A wedge, sometimes thick, sometimes not grows and if no one notices it growing, it doesn’t get shaved down enough to save the union. I had to grow into being a mother in front of strangers. Doctors of all shapes and sizes told me the correct way to breastfeed. Some of these people did not have breasts. They speculated about the causes of his prematurity, and gave me advice on when to go home and have “me time.” They even told me when to eat. I had just become a wife, and when my son came four months early, I had to become a mother faster than I intended to, in front of an audience, in a city I had lived in for about six months, away from my friends and family. The poems here have nothing to do with hating men, or hating anyone. My writing is about surviving as a woman in situations where I don’t always want to. Sometimes, I want to allow myself to be helpless, and not try. It certainly seems easier than continuous fighting-drowning and coughing up water, getting burned and applying thick coats of salve on my wounds. Yet, here I am. Day after day, getting full on insults and expectations.

I want the reader to realize that I am just like her. If a man or two happens to read this, I am just like his wife, his mother, his sister. I paint my nails, I cry, I feel guilty many days, I want to be noticed, and though my exoskeleton is tough, I am fragile if you touch my softer, more vulnerable parts.

When I speak of falling out of love, it is from personal experience. The worst thing about falling out of love is admitting it to yourself. It is embarrassing. Disney has dealt us a bad hand in the love department, since the sequels usually show the couples living happily ever after, not arguing about money, or who has gained more weight.

The poems that I have written about motherhood and love after baby are the ones I wish I had in my hands when I was on bedrest, or when the monitors were beeping all around me, lulling my baby to sleep. I used to hold him while he received the blood of strangers and tell myself he was going to be someone else’s son pretty soon, since his blood was mixed with that of so many others. Is that not poetry in and of itself?

I was reading some old journals a couple weeks ago, and I came across a passage where I was telling myself I needed to go back to school. This was about four years ago, when I had just moved to Maryland, and I was working as a reading teacher at a middle school. I was so miserable. The kids were delightful. It was the adults I couldn’t stand. They were always being intrusive, asking questions about my background I didn’t want to answer, and finding fault with me because I never wanted to attend their happy hour gatherings. I was sad because I had no friends, yet didn’t want the friends The Universe was trying to offer me. I wrote about needing to go back to school since I had picked the wrong major in the first place. Who majors in Political Science? A woman trying to emulate her father, not even knowing his reason for following politics so closely. According to what I had written there in the pages of my notebook, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the plunge and pay for a writing degree since many successful writers hadn’t bothered to earn an MFA, or if they had, they didn’t go around bragging about it, they made art by doing, not by taking instruction and trading feedback with others. I simply said why spend the money when most writers just hunker down and write?

Thankfully, I had time on my hands while morphing into a mother away from my roots. Knowing that I would be staying home with my son while he grew healthy, I applied to the MFA program. I have pictures of his little toes sticking up next to my legal pad where I sketched out my statement of purpose. The nurses that took care of my son thought I was crazy. They asked how I was going to be able to take care of him and complete my coursework. Truthfully, I had no idea. I just knew that while I could write without studying writing, or using a program to help me grow as a professional, I didn’t want to. I considered the sense of community I would gain from writing alongside other people, just like me who were experiencing things that colored their writing and view of the world. I decided I would just make it work. After all, as a result of my existence as a woman, it is something I know how to do very well.

I have been keeping a blog of all my writings since 2013. When I go back and read some of those poems, I want to hide. I can’t even say with fidelity that they are bad poems. They are just poems that don’t fit who I am as a writer/poet today. The language no longer fits. It is a sweater that shouldn’t have been put in the dryer. Itchy, stretched out, threadbare. One thing that has stayed the same is the transparency, which I am thankful for. Though I took the opportunity to learn other genres, I am more honest when writing poetry, which is why I chose it as my concentration. The professors I have learned from over the past couple years presented me with texts that were rich with works that molded my ways of thinking and developing as an artist, but in my mind, the most valuable tool was the feedback from other individuals in the program. I can remember sitting around wanting to cry about my first workshop submission because people I had never met were going to read my poetry, and judge my skills as a writer, and maybe my intellect or standing in the program. Prior to being part of Lindenwood’s writing community, I would share pieces with people who loved me, and as such maybe spared my feelings, or since they had no formal writing experience, didn’t know what I was doing well or not. Despite being deathly afraid to share that first time, I can’t recall a time where I ever felt picked on ridiculed about something I submitted to be critiqued by my group. Most of the time, when constructive feedback was offered, it was about something I already knew needed re-working. No one ever made me feel silly, or strange. As a matter of fact, the encouragement of my peers urged me to maintain my outlandish way of thinking and unique voice. It is the combination of many voices, experiences and lessons.

I started writing poetry when I was in middle school, all pimples and insecurity. Nikki Giovanni was my idol. I was exposed to her work in my language arts classes, and would ask my mother for library time to read her work and pore over this poetry that looked and felt very different from some of the other poetry my teachers were putting in front of me. She wrote in free verse a great deal, and I loved it. It didn’t rhyme, and that was the beauty of it. The poems had wings, since the heft of rhyme didn’t cause you to trip on the words. There was music in the urgency of her messages about identity and place. As an immigrant girl living in a neighborhood where my only friend was a girl from Kentucky that lived and breathed country music, I felt like I had no place. There were other people around who looked like me, but on the inside of my home, much of the talk was about immigration lawyers, and who was going to file for who, or get married so they could stay in the country. I dreamed of leaving a place like this, a place where you needed a permission slip to live. I shudder to think what those poems looked like, but I know they were meaty with a longing to understand what the honor of being a woman is really all about.

The truth is, I am still teaching myself every single day, and holding space for my 11 year old self, for my sisters, my mother, my aunts. I am holding their hands as they meet the expectations of others with little to no thanks, but plenty of color and power to draw from. The collection of poems following this essay are filled with joy, and anger, and resentment, and perseverance. Most of all, they are portraits of acceptance of what is.

Excerpt from Two Moms

DID I RSVP FOR RSV?

So, I am standing in the kitchen, preparing fresh juice for Levi, because although we don’t drink much juice anyway, I figured if we do, it should at least be as natural as possible. The blend of pineapple, lemon, and ginger I created is called IMM-U.N.I.T.Y. If the U.N.I.T.Y. reference missed you, then I am jealous of your youth, but it’s a song by Queen Latifah you need to get familiar with, especially if you have ovaries. Anyhow, I have some nice reggae music playing, and I am relishing in the nurturing nature of the act of making something, creating something for my family, and in comes Ambyr.

“He has RSV again.”

I pour more juice into the strainer, trying to think before I speak because Mercury is retrograde, and I can’t afford an argument right now. I remember putting my head to his chest at Target earlier in the day, trying to make sure that he wasn’t wheezing. I let out a weak, “He does?”

“Yup, he is breathing fast again,” she says. Somehow, I keep straining, taking an inventory of how long picking up all the peels will take. The kitchen is an organized mess, washed dishes atop the counter just like Ambyr hates it, and the soup pot from last night is still on the stove. I know the realization that he is sick is going to take hold of me, and my sick child kit-more on this later- is going to make a grand tour around the house before the weekend is out. He has only been in school one full week-which for him consists of three, three hour days. If this is indeed RSV, it will be the second time he has had it in a four month span. Before he went to Montessori school, we were told that he would get sick all the time. All kids do, right? In this very moment, I feel like just giving up. As much as I want him to go to school and hang out with other snot-loving children, I have to be honest with myself about his situation, and his vulnerability to illnesses. Germs love him. His status as an ex-preemie makes him an easy target for everything, especially respiratory illnesses.

When he turned two, and Ambyr broached the subject of him going to school, I had no reservations because I felt like it would be good for the both of us. Save a couple vacations, I have been with him every day since his eventful birth. While I feel like that is a blessing, I also know that at some point, I want my career back, and since I am extremely cautious, a few hours out of a few days feels safe enough. I am somewhere in the middle when it comes to the lot of parents who don’t believe in sending their kids to daycare vs those who staunchly do. While I know pre-schools are havens for viruses like RSV, I am also of the mind that kids would rather hang out with their own kind sometimes, and each day when I am spying at the gate, I either see him interacting with some girls, or holding his teacher’s hand. Both parties are people outside of his usual pod, and so learning to interact with them has to be a good thing, right? On the other hand, for now, I am still a stay-at-home mom. That money leaving our house each month could pay for a myriad of other things. As a matter of fact, I was a little stunned when my wife suggested it, because she is not a huge fan of spending money, but she is institutionalized from being in the military for so long, and heavily believes that kids need school as early as possible. I strongly disagree. I have taught him the basics already, without the aid of underpaid teachers (my old clique) and vintage toys. There are so many places in my neighborhood for children to socialize. I could easily choose one for every day of the week and spend way less than what we are giving to the Montessori school. I wouldn’t have to worry about what snacks he is being given or why his face wasn’t cleaned after lunch. Right now, I am of the mind he doesn’t need to go back to that particular learning center, but I do want him to have a community somewhere.

And Then

The lights are dim. A mustard tint hangs like a canopy over the breath of the house. Dishes come to life in the hot water while my dress scratches the floor, and I scratch my head, not knowing what to do now that the kids are asleep, dusty little sun-scorched feet hanging off the bedside.

I blow crushed petals off the tips of my fingers. Some act like boomerangs and I am left with a little smattering of flowers all around my mouth. I imagine I was born that way.

And then.

A Prompt: Water is Never Still

Water is Never Still

 

My toes searched for the other end of the tub. The house was quiet, and although I was expecting guests, the usual feelings of anxiety and inadequacy that usually did double-dutch in my mind when guests were set to come must have been taking a lemonade break.

 

I was calm.

 

No, better than that. I felt placid. My thoughts were a whispering blue, and I sat there feeling strong, ready to smile the varied smiles that one must when met with congratulations shrouded in sympathy for the poor lot of us who endure the most splintering fates. Water in my eyes competed with that of the tub. I had been doing so well.

 

When the doctor confirmed my pregnancy, I had to brace myself on the the examination table. We were not actively trying. In fact, Lionel and I were on the verge of divorce. The therapist at our church wanted us to try a little harder, but something in me recognized the folly of going to tell a stranger how broken our union was, especially since I didn’t care that he was fucking other women. As long as he wasn’t touching me with those hands, the hands that had failed to protect my daughter, I didn’t care who he used them on. I still found him attractive though, and at the behest of Lisa, the therapist-another human being I was faking it for, I had some drinks with my friends, went home, and let him make love to me. Shortly after, I realized that my body was turning inside out.

 

Another baby.

 

We moved immediately. The house on Thurston was her hers. We bought it right after the wedding, when we were climbing into each other’s skin from being so in love, drenched in hope and optimism about our future. Lionel had taken her outside to ride her little Big Wheel. There were pink streamers on the handlebars that she loved to run between her tiny, chocolate fingers, and a seat with rainbows and flowers on it. All the good stuff. Natures promises. He says he only looked away for a second to make sure the garage had come down. In that one second, or however many it actually was, someone took my baby. What I remember most is the blood between the cobblestones. At first, it caused me to vomit each time I went in the front yard, but since Lionel wasn’t ready to move, I planted some lavender there. When the flowers bloomed, I crushed them between my fingers and put them in my bra. She was there, laying on me just like she used to do at naptime. Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t be thinking about that. God gave me beauty for my ashes. Another baby girl. I don’t know what we will call her yet.

 

I drew my knees up in preparation to leave the tub and noticed a flutter of fabric. I was the only one at home. This was to be a small shower. Each person was bringing a dish. Lionel was out picking the elders up to bring them over. Just me.

 

I walked out of the tub, heading for my room, and there she was. Every hair on my body stood up, and I could feel my neck and hands starting to perspire. Big, urgent drops of sweat made their way down my fingertips and onto the carpet.  I waited for her to say something, since I had no idea what type of decorum was required in these encounters.

 

Her face was as soft and innocent as it had been at three years old, only now it was a little slimmer. She didn’t look dead at all. Her skin shone like there was a flashlight at the base of her neck. Her hair was a black pile of unruly corkscrews, and her mouth was still delicate and perfect. Her father’s eyes inspected me before she spoke.

 

“Hi mommy.”

 

“Victoria called me here for the party.”

 

“Victoria?”

 

“Yes, you called me Nile, and she wants to be called Victoria.”

 

What do you say to your dead daughter, now seven years old, outfitted in a ghostly gown when she says she’s coming to your baby shower? I wanted to drop to my knees and shout some nasty things to The Universe for her shitty timing. How could she? 20 minutes before the guests were set to arrive? Instead I said, “What’s her middle name?”

 

Fin.

 

It’s Here!!

Poor Mr. Monday is my first children’s book. It came about after spending time with my son, Levi in the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Each morning, upon entering his room, I would tell him the day of the week, the name of the previous day, and the name of the one after. One Sunday, I explained that Monday comes after Sunday, and everyone hates Monday, even though it is not Monday’s fault. That’s how the book was born. I hope this book brings a fresh look at the way we approach life, and in the wake of so many new opportunities, teaches our children not to “work for the weekend” like our parents did. Why not look at Monday as a fresh start, a welcome visitor to our lives?

To purchase, please click on the link: Poor Mr. Monday

TAROT SERIES: THE SUN

TAROT SERIES: JUDGEMENT

 

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