On this, the last day of my blogging here, I close at the open (hats off for recognizing my paraphrase):
You have enabled yourself to prove of incalculable aid to many, many women—not just today’s women, but women down the ages. You have always been a most important, most significant person, Audre. I am, have been, and always will be proud of you.
– Gwendolyn Brooks to Audre Lorde (Audre Lorde Papers, Spelman College Archives)
Eating my hybrid breakfast of mangu with Finney, I open Lorde’s The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance and throw the pages like the Ifa, the I Ching. What is she saying to this morning’s news?
About the proposed eviction of Mrs. Mason, an 82 year old victim of predatory lending from her Brooklyn home:
I shall build a house
that will stand forever
(Lorde-like, a coalition of over 100 people stood around the house yesterday and blockaded it from the city marshals)
Eleanor Bumpers, grandmother
against her kitchen wall
by rent marshalls in the Bronx
moves among us humming
her breath is sweet acacia
-- “Party Time”
About the The Help:
Shell-smells on the morning wind.
You are younger than my daughter
the boy you hold is blond
the moon is new.
My sloping land brings our eyes level
“Welcome neighbor,” I begin.
Were we enemies in another life
Or do your eyes always turn to flint
When meeting a Black woman face to face?
Your child speaks first.
“I don’t like you,” he cries.
“Are you coming to babysit me?”
(This has actually happened to me several times. Please see Association of Black Women Historians for details.)
In October 1980, in a phone conversation with Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde said, “We really need to do something about publishing.” As a result, Smith, Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, Hattie Gossett, Helena Byard, Susan Yung, Ana Oliveira, Rosie Alvarez, Alma Gomez and Leota Lone Dog founded Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, which arguably changed forever national conversations on racism, sexism and homophobia. The Honorable Barbara Smith, who ran the press for many years, is now a councilmember in the city of Albany, NY.
Kitchen Table Giving Circle was recently started by Kim Ford and Karen Sebastian to fund community activist projects by queer women and trans people of African descent. In Trinidad, we call this a “susu,” mirroring the tradition found amongst women around the world. KTGC awarded their first grant to Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, one of Utne’s 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World. Gumbs and Julia Wallace of Queer Renaissance committed themselves to living in an environmentally sustainable mobile home and “collecting and amplifying the social organizing herstories of black women, trans men, and gender queer visionaries who have been refusing the limits of heteronormativity and opening the world up by being themselves in the second half of the 20th century.” Their "School of Our Lorde" provides "transformative community based learning based on ... Lorde’s approach to Poetics, Pedagogy, Politics and Publishing."
I love this video from their publishing unit:
This morning, Gumbs published the Brooks letter on tumblr, and soon she will visit Lorde's St. Croix home. And the circle continues. The student of the student of the teacher is the teacher. And so on.
Ching-In Chen was a student in one of my workshops . Her book, The Heart’s Traffic: A Novel in Poems, chronicles the life of Xiaomei, an immigrant girl haunted by her best friend’s death. It’s an astonishing book, both in its headlong energy, embrace of form and deformation, language and feeling. Letters, geisha interviews, riddles-- it’s all so much, but here’s a section I love:
That horse, that snail, that thousand inner mouths chewing on my dust,
How you hold me in and crumple,
The blood shoveling through the pipes,
The bursting bursting moan of teakettle.
not as in to break a body so you remain whole, and not to dismiss what is built up, a pile of memory, calcified borders between our limbs. Not the boiling frightful phrases, the loose cannon of jealousy, friction, to pain, to hurt, to lodge discomfort, but to set at liberty, to shake off what we discharge, what violence between two venting bodies objecting to the world around them.
Chen’s blog is a gathering of collaborations and quotes, calls to action (100,000 Poets for Change) videos, music and writing prompts. Chen, A. Naomi Jackson and I recently wrote a proposal for a panel on our workshop and its legacy work. It got rejected. So did another panel continuing Claudia Rankine’s intervention on race and poetics. And so on.
And so we take it on the road in a mobile home. We fund each other. We make human walls and take back houses. We stage interventions. We create a space that needs no grid, such as We Glow in the Dark, by artist Torkwase Dyson:
“We Glow in the Dark (WGITD) is a public artwork that questions the relationship between exhibition space and sculpture and the use of public art objects in our current environmental climate...made almost entirely of re-purposed materials. Powered by solar energy and illuminated with LED lights, at night, the sculpture transforms into a glowing public space for social activity and artist interventions... the sculptural object as an environmental resource for cultural production... for creative programming around the arts, technology, sciences, environmentalism and politics.”
What Lorde has to say about reclamation:
Into new silence
Dips on my horizon
Of a cherished dream
Riding my anchor
One sweet season
To cast off
On another voyage
No reckoning allowed
Save the marvelous arithmetics
--“Smelling the Wind”
And, speaking of lives grown out of lives, I would like to leave you with this, from one of the best American poets ever, Robert Hayden, a poem that some of us recite like a prayer:
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
To love, freedom and art.