Monday, December 26, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

whirlwind for the warrior healers

to the warrior healers organizing trust

notes from post-tornado Durham

with Audre Lorde in transition

after Gwendolyn Brooks

“You have enabled yourself to prove of incalculable aid to many, many women—not just today’s women, but women down the ages...I am have been and always will be proud of you.”

Gwendolyn Brooks to Audre Lorde

“This is the urgency: Live!

and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.”

-Gwendolyn Brooks “Second Sermon on the Warpland


brook open stream woke

this is how we conduct our blooming

brash and gentle at kitchen tables

falling apart

on living room floors

noise and whip and head turned around

did you just say…

something scattered here

(our several dreams)

played into particles

stepped and stepped over it

trip and trip over

trip over



something flew apart

arrival is in the instant of yes

glitter your hands with the grace of grief

knot your hair with knowing

never meant to hold money

never meant to braid it into noose

never knew another way was



warrior healer be we

who know

how to go there

and when

warrior healer be we

who wont be who we are

until we are

warrior healer be

we who don’t know what

to say

until we say

who speak

when voice shake

better be


say this

warrior healer be


just be

warrior healer be


salvation salvaged

medication defined

stylized splendor

for Bessie and we


warrior poet be watching

smiling sometime


warrior mother poet be

looking down

picking up




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Indigo Was the Folks': Afterschool Brilliance

"There wasn't enough for Indigo in the world she'd been born to, so she made up what she needed. What she thought the black people needed.

Access to the moon.
The power to heal.
Daily visits with the spirits."

-Ntozake Shange on little sister Indigo in her first novel Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo

We are in my car with the top down dodging the falling leaves when Assata drops knowledge on the subject of grades, a new clarity gained during this first term of 6th grade: "Grades are bullying the alphabet." The girls find out that their hands can bend in ways they never knew. They read outloud parts of the books they are reading. They punch each other very lightly at the sight of a volkswagen bug. And this is just the car ride.

The Indigo Afterschool Program was an idea that 11 year old Alex Lockhart shared with her mother, using the words: "I want to go to an afterschool program at Alexis's house." Inspired by Ntozake Shange's character "Indigo" from her first novel Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, the Indigo Afterschool TeaParty is a place to share dreams, make art, blow bubbles and investigate Indigo's practices of healing, self-love, dream interpretation, doll-making, compassion and full self-expression! Girls from 3 Durham middle schools participate!

We check in over tea and snacks letting a deep breath out at the end of our check-ins by blowing a real or imaginary bubble. We make dolls that listen, healing remedies for emotional emergencies, books for our dreams, collages for our visions, love notes for each other in the name of Indigo who used all these things to create the world she needed when she was right in the arena of the menstrual transformation.

It is an honor to participate in the building of community and sisterhood among these brilliant young women, and as the Crunk Feminist Collective reminded us with their development of a women's studies 101 workshop for high school students (
the intentional support and nourishment of the love, transformation and brilliance that is already living and growing and possible in young people can never start to early.

Indigo Afterschool uses the model of Indigo...just one of many audacious, inventive, complex, community accountable and wise young Black characters created by Black feminist writers to give young folks a chance to love each other and explore their own magical skills, a space to critique the norms they are noticing at school, and a validation of the practices of breathing, creating and listening.

As people around the country reclaim space in their communities to activate their visions I am proud that the space that these 11 year olds (who have just proposed an expansion of the program to bi-weekly sessions) have decided to takeover my living room with their dreams.

(Here is what Alex left on the chalkboard)

Indigo Style Remedies:

Yesterday we read some of Indigo's remedies that she creates after difficult experience and share with her community of dolls so that her growth can also benefit them. Oh Indigo!!!

Rock in the manner of a quiet sea. Hum softly from your heart. Repeat the victim’s name with love. Offer a brew of red sunflower to cleanse the victims blood and spirit. Fasting & silence for a time refurbish the victim’s awareness of her capacity to nourish & heal herself.
-from "Emergency Care For Wounds That Cannot Be Seen" in Ntozake Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo

The Indigo After School crew also wrote their own remedies yesterday (they also wrote a healing recipe for popcorn, getting past writers block and "boredness").

Here is some of their advice...that I recommend keeping on hand or enacting right now for your own healing:

Emergency Care for the "the funk"
by Bailey
(i.e. like on Glee, when they were in a funk because they were afraid their singing group wasn't good enough)

Surround oneself with loved ones, then go on top of a tall object and scream to hearts content all of ones deepest feelings. If this does not work, go in private room and listen to songs that mention only of happy things, then write down all of ones problems and think of a way to turn them around.

Emergency for Sadness
by Assata

1. go to the bathroom and turn on hot water. let it steam.
2. get your favorite incense and burn it
3. get a robe and put it on
4. put the incense in the bathroom
5. put a stool in the bathroom
6. write all the things you are sad about on a piece of paper
7. write on the steamed mirror all the things that are peaceful
8. sit in the bathroom and be peaceful with the steaming and the incense

Forged by Fire (for hard experiences that change you forever):
by Alex

Bathe in a tub of warm water without bubbles. Slowly lie down and let all the bad energy out. When you get out, don't dry off, instead go to a silent room and let the peaceful air dry you off. Next rub your skin with soothing lavender oil. Now go outside and let the sun wrap its loving rays around you.

Amazing! Priceless and here is how you can support this space!

1. Of course donating to the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind one time

or becoming a monthly sustainer helps infinitely to sustain this free program for superhero youth.

2. This community of readers is the best thing ever. Want to send as a winter break gift 1 or 3 copies of your favorite young adult book from when you were around 11? The Indigo afterschoolers are self-identified "cool nerds" and will need a lot of reading material when school lets out next month to keep their brains engaged! Email for the address.

3. Or contribute to the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind Library that surrounds and uplifts the participants and their parents and grandparents and younger siblings and friends by donating a book from the Eternal Summer amazon wishlist!

Keeping it quirky, eternal and off the hook!

Monday, November 14, 2011

"I Know What That Is": Coming Out as Undocumented

Amnesty International Conference: Come Out, Rise Up and Join the Movement
Lunch Plenary on Coming Out in the South as Queer and Undocumented

Dedicated to Ms. Vera Martin

To get to Ms. Vera we faced our greatest fear. We drove through Arizona. Scarier even than the Mississippi police who separated us for questioning when we told them we were driving across the country interviewing visionary Black LGBTQ feminist elders, was that drive through Arizona in the middle of the night. The closest my partner Julia and I, raised in North Carolina and Georgia, have ever come to the segregation stories we've heard all our lives about travellers scared to stop for gas, to pee, to talk to a stranger, especially after sundown. When we finally did stop, because hail and fog and the presence of elk made it impossible to keep driving through Tonto national park, we put signs on every side of our purple and turquoise RV explaining that we didn't want to stop and we weren't trying to tresspass, but we just couldn't keep going.
We knew where we were: Arizona in the era of the state bill that is a hate bill, where it is illegal to be a person of color, standing still, on land, asking for help. That night was the closest we have come to the stories that make our parents and grandparents shake at the words "police," "highway," "bathroom," "night." The reason my mother tracks our queer black deviant adventurous behinds on Google latitude every step of the way. Probably the reason that Ms. Vera, living in Apache Junction Arizona in a retirement RV park full of white lesbians doesn't get many visitors and in fact laughed out loud at the concept of us, two queer black young people willing to drive through Arizona just to see her, to sit and talk with her in person.
For us, the scary thing about Arizona was that we knew that conservative copy-cat laws would pop up in our region, taking us back to the good old days that give our relatives nightmares, that still turn my father into a completely different person if he gets pulled over by a white Georgia cop. Our folks that know that no amount of hard-boiled eggs and fried chicken packed lunches can save us from that knowledge in the pit of your stomach that for us there is no such thing as home that cannot be taken away, that for us, for generations it has been about trying to move through undetected our queer selves our colored selves in a land where it is illegal to be us and to be loved and to be here all the way, where anyone might notice us and be transformed.
That cop that stopped our purple and turquoise love-mobile in Mississippi was flabbergasted. Queer, feminist, black and intergenerational? What do you mean your "elders"? He squinted. And then he called for back-up.

To love who we love, to claim who and were we come from is dangerous and possibly contagious. We are counting on the contagion of queer Black intergenerational love which is why we would go through Mississippi and Arizona and hail and hell to get to Ms. Vera. Who knew better than anyone why we cannot allow the laws that would pre-emptively and comprehensively invalidate our families. Including anti-immigration laws and includes narrow marriage amendments and includes anti-choice legislation and suggestions to legally say there is no such thing as rape. Ms. Vera knows best of all why we cannot believe for one second the lies those laws would tell about us and must in every moment recognize those attacks as the desperation they are against our brilliance, our unstoppable power against how radiant we are that we inspire even those who try so hard to hate us. We are love and we know it and we are contagious.
And so it makes complete sense that when Ms. Vera told us about her trip to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference, the first thing she spoke of was her love for the young undocumented activists speaking out. "Because I know what that is," she said. Ms. Vera was born in Louisiana in 1924. "I know what that is," she said. Where there is no law that will protect you, only laws to hurt you. Where there are people who so can't deal with you that they want to be able to get away with raping you or killing you and throwing you in a ditch. Where there are people who can see that you are human and don't want to know it, so they try to make you illegal. "I know what that is," Ms. Vera said. "And I love those young people because they're not gonna take it."

Friday, November 04, 2011

Making Majority: Majority Consciouness and Black Feminist Protest Poems (For the Raleigh Reclaimers)

Making Majority:  Majority Consciouness and Black Feminist Protest Poems
For the Raleigh Reclaimers   
Nov. 3 2011

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Let’s make some noise to stay warm out here!!!   Make some noise if you are part of that 99% they keep talking about on the news!  Make some noise if you love how our people in Oakland took over the highway and closed down a major port in their general strike yesterday!   Make some noise if you grew up working class.  Make some noise if you are queer.   Make some noise if you are in college now or if you have a college degree.   Take a deep breath and make some noise if you are a black feminist!!!!!!!   And make some noise if you are a white person…
            Yeah.  Majority is complicated.  And it can be exhilarating.  And it can be facist.  And it can tell the truth.  And it can lie to our faces.   The truth is that we are profoundly interconnected.  We are bigger than ourselves.  We are sharing something that we don’t know how to describe, right this second with all the people who live now and all the people who have ever lived.  We are sharing something right now with every energetically linked piece of matter on the planet.   We are huge.  We are more than 99% we are cosmic eternal quantum dust crashing into itself.   The vibration we just made from shouting is more than we can know it is.
            At the same time, majority is complicated.  I live in Durham, North Carolina.  A majority people of color city with a majority white occupy movement.  Majority is complicated.  Because the tricky statistics of majority has been used as a tool of white supremacy to create norms for a long time, it is not merely a coincidence that one of the largest, most compelling, media-effective and participatory convergences of direct action that I have witnessed uses the colonizing military language of occupation.   This is where white descendents of settler colonialists get off calling themselves native North Carolinians, for example.  And this is an important question, not just of terminology, but also of mathematical understanding, because it is not merely a coincidence that the most marketable direct action we are participating in right now coincides with many actual imperialist occupations by the US around the world and the ongoing occupation of this land that something now called the United States stole through genocide.   I’m a black feminist nerd,  I teach about black feminist poetry and when it comes to our power, when it comes to our revolution I care a lot about what words we choose and what numerical reality we imply.  But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  It matters to me that what makes folks love this movement of reclaiming our lives and protesting against the violence of capitalism is a deep and grounded energy, tapped into a planetary connection which is actually not the same thing as whatever energy has caused white people to believe that they are normal, straight people to believe that they are normal, middle class people to believe that they are entitled to whatever the abject poverty of women of color around the world and finger breaking work of  working class people in this country invisibly buys us.   These two things, the majorly transformative power of interconnected struggle and love and the majorly status quo affirming reproduction of normalcy, in my mathematical opinion , are not equal.  They are not equally powerful.  The first one just might get us the unimaginable world we deserve, and the other one will at best case get us back to the messed up place we were 5 years ago.
            It is the statistically significant difference between  saying.  “Hey! I am part of the 99%.  Everyone else is just like me and I am just like everyone else and I deserve the job and education I always thought I was entitled and damn the 1% fat cats for still being able to maintain what I always thought I deserved and could get if I worked hard enough and was smart enough and white enough and straight enough for long enough.”   It is the difference between saying that and saying  “I am part of this planet and I am interconnected with all life.  I refuse to continue to contribute my energy to a system that is killing all of us.  I refuse to consent to the fragmentation of capitalism and I commit to building power creatively with everyone and everything that is different to me towards our common survival which could also be called love.   I am interconnected with everything and I am promising with my body to reclaim the truth.  I am connected to you from a deeper palce than I can see and I am doing my best to act accordingly.”
            Y’all see how these are not the same things?  And I care about this movement.  And so I am bringing what I love most into this conversation, that which has brought me most clarity and refined my actions.  Also known as the longstanding intersectional super stars of keepin’ it complicated all days in all ways…I am bringing Black Feminist Poets into the mix, towards the movement we deserve.   Drawing on a very different tradition of Majority Consciousness coming out of the anti-colonial movements in the Caribbean and in Africa and in Asia, Black Feminist in the United States were part of the third world consciousness raising movement, affirming the reality that the majority of the people in the world are people of color, the majority of the people in the world are women, and yet, the most consistently oppressed category of almost person on the planet is this same powerful group:  women of color.     So as you think about this, think about your interface with the movement of the 99% not so poetically called “occupy” and think about what the role of women of color has been in the segment of this movement that you have seen.   Think about whether and how the absence, presence, form of labor, forms of leadership, interventions of women of color have been received by the false majority and whether that honors the majority of people in the world.    On New Year’s day 1989 thinking about the prospect of a black presidential candidate to the White House (named Jesse Jackson),  Black feminist lesbian warrior mother poet icon Audre Lorde felt compelled to bring out fractions.  About how the US and USSR (at the time the main interlocuters in the debate about the destiny of the planet) were only 1/8 of the population, actually.  And that African people were also 1/8 of the population and that ½ of the people in the world were Asian.   Lorde breaks it down, slowing to the methodical tempo of white supremacy and then speeding up :
“So most people in this world/
are Yellow, Black , Brown, Poor, Female
And do not speak English.”
Most of you, probably all of you, know this intellectually.  It goes without saying.    So why does Audre Lorde bother to bring the math into it, in a poem, in English.   The language I am using now, which as she points out most people on the planet do not speak.   Because the question of majority is always at stake.  This is why the “I am the 99% campaign” has been so important as a way of actually talking about the experiences of most of the people when television and the songs of the radio seem to come from the experiences of only the super-rich in order to encourage consumerism.  If I were to believe the “I am the 99%” posts that I have seen on the internet it would seem that the majority of the people in the world have massive student loans.   And while I certainly worked my way through college and took on major student loans in the process and I think it is very important to unpack meritocracy and throw off the shame that is associated with debt.   We also have to remember privilege.  It is not that the majority of people in the world are oppressed by student loans.  The majority of the people in the world are oppressed by capitalism such that college is not an option.  The majority of this generation of college students may have student loans, but these two things are not the same.
   Because another important thing about Lorde’s poem is that she maintains difference.  She is not arguing that everyone on the planet is the same, she is giving us the fractions.  There is actually so much difference on the planet that is completely left out of the conversation.  So the liberatory question is not how can we all lump together as the same thing, the real question is the one Audre Lorde asked in her essay on the creative power of difference, and which, incidentally Angela Davis, black feminist freedom fighter raised at the Wall Street encampment a few days ago:
"How can we come together in a unity that is complex and emancipatory? Differences must not be merely tolerated but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which poles creativity can spark like a dialectic."

And indeed, as many people before me have said the most important and exciting thing about this whole movement that we are participating in is that it truly has brought different people who are not generally in the same spaces and not generally speaking to each other, together in powerful ways, and asked all of us to be creative in our listening through the demands of direct democracy.   It inspired Angela Davis to say last weekend that “The old majorities are the new majorities,” that there is something, awakened, referenced, remembered by this contemporary movement that precedes it, that the majority that we invoke is not simply the breakdown of American wealth among the living, but actually includes our collective ancestral power, including the power and resilience of the indigenous inhabitants of this land and including the power of the enslaved people who build and bled into this structure and loved anyway, and including all of those movement warriors who have burnt out, gotten sick and died, been killed via hate violence or by police.  It means when we invoke majority we are also saying, we are all here, our mandate for changing the world is certainly bigger than those of us who have the time to be here physically and is bigger even than the combined bodies of those of us who have survived this system to this point.  Our mandate to change the world is old and it honors our ancestors and it calls up their energy.
            Nikki Finney, a black feminist lesbian poet from South Carolina believes that there is such as thing as ancestral rage.  That oppression in the present not only disrespects and dishonors those of us living through it, but it also disrespects the work and truth and brilliance of those who came before us, who deserved better than what they experiences and who expect more from us than this.    In her first collection of poems On Wings Made of Guaze,  Finney has a protest poems that speaks out against the Atlanta Child murders, a rash of murders and disappearances of Black children in Atlanta, the city where I grew up, and where Finney lived at the time of the murders which began in 1979, the same year that  closer to home in Greensboro, the KKK opened fire on economic and racial justice organizers at a rally in the middle of the day.   Which is also the same year that in Boston 12 black women were found dead day after day in 3 short months.  In each case the police did not respond to the murders as murders.  In the case of the Greensboro massacre the people who were attacked were the ones brought up on charges.  What does one do in a year like 1979 where the lives of black women, black children and black activists are so clearly devalued by the state, and how is it related to what we do this year, when Troy Davis is sacrificed to the right of police officers to threaten people to get false testimonies and to fulfill their so-called justice agenda by choosing an oppressed person to prosecute for any crime that happens?  When those who are having to face the music about the low value of their lives are more  and more of the population that used to feel safe and worthy all the time.
            Nikki Finney invokes a majority constructed of time and the natural world to do something related to what we are doing here today and in the next couple of days when we move whatever little money we have out of the big banks and into the community credit unions, asking for a new set of accounts.   In a poem that she dedicates to “the children of Atlanta, the children we claim who died, who are dying because they are Black….for the children whose lives we claim and whose deaths now claim us”  Finney calls on a higher sense of balance and justice than what the world bank would use to classify debt and who is a drain on the system.  For those, who like me, were not born yet in 1979, we have to remember that 1979 is the same year that Ronald Reagan won the presidential election with a campaign that centered on the characiture of the welfare queen and the untrue projection that the majority of people on welfare were black women who were cheats, that the primary beneficiaries were black children who were a drain on the national budget and didn’t deserve anything.   It is a major year for the growth of what we now understand as global neoliberal capitalism, a system of debt-making in the name of restructuring on the planet.  1979 is also the year that the major institution that laid the groundwork for what we know of as the Radical Right  was created, called the Moral Majority.   See what I mean.  Majority is complicated, and everyone invokes it when they feel like it   So what kind of Major are we?
      Nikki Finney calls on the world to witness the violence against Black children saying:
don’t ever come to us again
heart in hand
hoof in mouth
ancient eyes in full bloom
don’t even look this way
asking to replenished
to be restocked
we are paid in full
for this
and for the next millenniums

incensed enough we are
until this world ends
and something else begins
paid up we are
tell your hands world
sign it out to your fingers
insist that your eyes remember
how this time
we have overpaid you

we owe nothing
no more
pass this word on
to the rivers behind you
for the next one thousand years
we are paid in full

In the economic frame of 1979, this is a big deal.  In fact in the current economic frame where most of us are in debt, and those of use who don’t have the credit to get any more debt are positioned to conceptually owe something to the society that profits off our lack of choices this poem is very revolutionary.   Look at the violence we are experiencing, Finney’s poem says, what kind of balance is this?  What kind of accountability.   Forget it.  We do not owe anything.   Not only because our lives have been unjustly sacrificed in many ways, not only in honor of those ancestors who were forcibly removed from this very places, or those other ancestors who were forcibly brought to the place and built it for free without freedom, but also because we are beyond the economic calculations that make up our lives.  We are more than a market.   And as Finney’s poetics reveal, we persist beyond that which would crunch us into numbers as debt.  The “We are” of the poem moves out the normal position within a sentence.   In the second to last stanza of the poem she offers “incensed enough we are,  paid up we are”  instead of we are incensed enough, we are paid up.  The “we are” the stubborn miracle of our existence, is still there, yoda like, after the descriptive action.  And actually, the original construction that she starts with “we are paid” leaves poetic ambiguity about who we are actually , the first line “in full we are paid”  is an archaic construction that leaves questions about what is the subject of the sentence.   We, paid.  Is paid an action, an adjective.  Is full a place to be.   Looking at Finney’s poem about reckoning accounts makes me wonder about the economic arguments we have been making from a poetic standpoint.    We have been affirming that we are the 99%.  Individualizing:  “I am the 99%”  Now is the time to look critically 99% percent we are.   To truly examine what we are part of beyond the desperate gratitude of being part of something is the task before us.   What is truly major about this, and how does it impact what we do.  To use Nikki Finney’s language who claims us, where is the accountability that transcends how disgruntled we are about our bank accounts?  Who do we honor with these actions?
            What this movement is demonstrating is that where we place our bodies is a question of accountability, honor and claim.   In Philadelphia and other places explicit solidarity with, and leadership by homeless Philadelphians who have been criminalized for claiming space in the streets has been crucial.  What does it mean for people with homes to place their privileged bodies between the action of the police and the right of a homeless person to sleep somewhere.  What does it mean for the outrage at police acts of repression and violence in several cities to be linked in the news media, in the form of images and focus, on the fact that so many white people are being arrested, so much of the population that the day before they became protesters, were inequitably over-served by the violence of the police against more traditionally oppressed communities?   Tear gas canisters and billy clubs, rubber bullets and the training language among the police that the non-violent orchestrated protests around the country should be treated as riots?  One way the Wall Street incarnation of this movement responded to some of these questions was to use the mass of people reclaiming the street create a direct action in Harlem, specifically challenging the violent racist practice of the police stopping and searching black people on the streets.   June Jordan, black feminist poet with intimate and violent experience with the actions of the New York City police department, again invoked what I call black feminist math, the alchemy of poetry and proportions to look at the meaning of police violence, in one of her most famous poems;  Poem on Police Violence:
On the heels of the acquittal of police officer Thomas O’Shea  for the murder of a 10 year old unarmed black boy named Clifford Glover who was running away from O’Shea.   The agreement by a jury that Thomas O’Shea was justified in his action because of how threatening black children are to grown white police officers  with guns.  Thomas O’Shea was recorded saying while his police radio was on: “die you little motherfucker” as he shot 10 year old Clifford in the back.  In court he defended himself by saying “I didn’t see the size nor nothing else.  Only the color.”
    So June Jordan asks:
“Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then will kill a cop…
you think the accident rate would lower
And she goes into the math of it;
“18 cops in order to subdue on man
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle (don’t
you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue and
scuffle oh my) and that the murder
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
street was just a “justifiable accident” again
How do we live in a world where our bodies are not equal.  Where the life of a police officer and the life of a black child are not equal.  Where to be honest, the white body of a college student and that body of color of a college student are not seen the same as police or school administrators.   Where safety means different things for those of us who have survived sexual violence.  Where the bodies of homeless people and the bodies of students, where the bodies of students and the bodies of workers do not balance out into any kind of equation.  How do we use our privilege? Where do we place our bodies?  Who should get arrested? Where should we stand in order to stand up for each other? Who should do what kind of work?  18 to one or one to one?  Beyond Jordan’s propositions about proportions are the places where she falls out of rhythm and reveals that actually what a life is equal to cannot be quantified.  It only be approached by poetry.  She says
“sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet”
“sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
or the way your ear ensnares the tip
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen
Our bodies are possible futures that end when we are sacrificed by the state or by each other. Amazement.  Signs that we have never seen.   Our bodies are places where love gets actualized and electrified.   That one body that you live in, the body of a person that you love is not interchangeable with anything on a one to one or eighteen to one basis.  How do we hold the math and the meaning together in a way that honors everyone here and everyone who is not here for any reason and everyone we remember and everyone we hope will be born.  Majority is complicated.
            And finally how do will fill this time, activate our purpose, understand the interconnected issues that my not be calculable into unpaid bills or percentages of debt to be decreased, or lost retirement savings or years left to work? How do we hold the ongoing violence of genocide in mind while insisting and benefiting from the language of occupation on stolen land?  How do we account for the needs of the majority of us who are survivors or co-survivors of sexual violence and many other forms of trauma in an anarchist or directly democratic space like this.   The last black feminist poem I will bring is Ntozake Shange’s With No Immediate Cause.
Where she reminds us what is going on in our society most of the time:
“every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a woman is raped
every ten minutes a lil girl is molested”
She goes through her day encountering the traumatic repetition of system violence, using the statistics generated by the movement to end violence against women to create another majority, the perpetual presence of violence, and the perpetual traumatic reawakening of survivors to the trauma they have experienced.   As a survivor and a person who is horrified by any act of gendered violence, she has to wonder if each person she encounters participated in the routine practice of violence at some minute, three minutes ago or 30 years ago.  And when she reads her newspaper outraged that they report:
“there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder
their husbands & lovers with no
immediate cause”
We should think about those in this movement of the 99% who dismiss the concerns of survivors of sexual violence about what it means to truly create safety, not only from the police, but also within our progressive movement where gendered violence is still an issue as it is within all communities.  We should think about what it means to dismiss those concerns in favor of more “immediate” priorities, like how to look badass and have an encampment.   We should think about those who despite the critique of the language of occupation brought by indigenous activists and allies again and again feel like at this point the brand is more important than our outrage. That the immediate issue is the banks and that settler colonialism is an issue that is somehow over, when the land is still occupied, when genocide is a traumatic violence that we experience right now in the present through the continued disrespect and refusal to acknowledge indigenous presence and history all over this continent.   And we should learn from Shange when in response to the nonsense about no immediate cause, and the administrative inconvenience that the self-defense of survivors of gendered violence would cause she says,
“I spit up I vomit I am screaming
we all have immediate cause
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutes
every day…”
We have cause to stand up for each other.  Immediately.  And ethical majority, means acknowledging that time is full with reasons to listen to each other, to support each other, to transform ourselves towards true solidarity with each other across so many differences.  Thank you for finding immediate cause to act on what you believe in.  Thank you for filling your time with this experiment of how we can live and for how long together.  For asking how solid our solidarity can be.  You are more than 99%.   You are the whole future.  You are doing this in the sight of our ancestors and the trees that used to be here and the sun that could rise.  And history will ask us what was this mostly about, will ask, while making major history, what kind of a majority did we make together?   And when it adds up and we answer I hope all my black feminist ancestors and elders will be prouder than a math problem, proud like a poem beating in the middle of your heart, in the ground and all around.  I hope you will be proud of who we were.  This complicated majority.  All of us.
 Thank you.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Love is Lifeforce: June Jordan and the Horizon of Education

Greetings loved ones!  I'd love to see you at the second installment of the Survival Series: Black Feminism for the Future at Stanford L. Warren Library!

Tuesday, November 1 · 6:30pm - 8:30pm

Stanford L. Warren Library
1201 Fayetteville Street
Durham, NC

In this the second part in the "Survival Series: Black Feminism for the Future" this lecture draws on author June Jordan's essay “The Creative Spirit in Children’s Literature” which explains that “love is lifeforce” and describes the intergenerational work of nurturing the spirits of children as the most sacred work that adults can do. In a time when the education budgets for Durham schools are under attack and the Wake County schools are actively resegregating, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs will present a multi-faceted vision for educational justice in our times.

Monday, October 24, 2011

“We Are More Loved Than We Know”: Masculinity, Feminism and the Love that Will Save Our Lives

June Jordan teaches that: “Love is lifeforce.”  And the healing power of love has saved my life more than once.  In the name of this truth I affirm the arrival of Freeing Ourselves: A Guide to Health and Self Love for Brown Bois, a recent resource published by the Brown Boi Leadership project and written by masculine of center queer people of color and their allies.
I think of this resource guide as a chapter that should have been, but never would have been in Our Bodies Ourselves or even in Jambalaya.   A resource that my partner, who identifies as a Black feminist boi and a gender queer artist, and our children one day will probably not read cover to cover chronologically like I did, but will flip through, looking at affirming and beautiful photography, reading stories of how people we know and strangers survived trauma, transformation and the oppression of the medical industrial complex.    They will browse it for a list of self-advocating questions before finding a health care provider.   We will look at for options of how we want to get pregnant, what health issues we should look out for at different ages, how one gender affirming surgery differs from another one.   Freeing Ourselves is a non-linear invocation of a community of people with different needs, at different stages of life, with different approaches to their own wellness and wholeness who will interact with this book from where they are at, and then differently again at another moment.  It is a tiny, audience-specific, audience-accountable encyclopedia.
“We are working towards profound social change, knowing that there are no disposable people or communities.   We all need to be here.”
– Brown Boi Health Manifesto by Prentis Hemphill (119)

Read the entire review here:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Way Home (Gratitude Poem #33)

Way Home

For Lea Salas

After Audre Lorde’s “Lunar Eclipse”

from here the moon is a spotlight
wearing stockings
an unfocused yes

but you are driving gloves
and self-reflexive chisme
purple and passionate
yoga mat pushed aside
to make room for baggage
and the dirt and grass we drag along

you are the taut string
for the tiny tin can parade
of arriving almost safe as self

you are dyke chivalry
and the words “of course”
you are the truth in headlights dear

you are the way home.

So many people have given me rides to and from the airport in Durham in sweet disregard for their discontent at how often I leave the city I love.   If I were them I would refuse.  Shut it down.  Teach me a lesson called "stay at home."  But until they reach that consensus I will just be grateful and remain faithful to promise to always come back.    Lea is the person who has given me the most rides to and from the airport in this phase of life, and in particular she is the person who gave me the rides to and from the airport that framed my trip to St. Croix.   I love being in the car with Lea, hearing the scrumptious updates on her life, love and adventures and spilling the first splashed of my excitement to be home.   Thank you Lea for being the way.  For being the truth.  For bringing me home.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Land (Gratitude Poem #32)


For Chanelle Gallant

After Audre Lorde’s“Peace on Earth”

a star fell last night
as I drove myself
almost out of gas
to the grease slicked doorstep
of exhaustion

and where did it land
heaven drop
pressure of wishes

did you see it

i ate french fries
and absently sketched
a veggie fuel rocket engine
a self-contained compost toilet
an ethical escape

and told myself
a falling star is not a bomb

tires pattern bald
from skating the edge
of not enough
on autopilot

what atmospheric freeze
must crack
before I wake up.

Chanelle Gallant who are you? Dream come true? Star I wished on as a kid? Whoever you are I am so thankful for your support and love. Not only did you donate to the specific cause of my journey to connect with my chosen ancestors and black feminist family, you even convinced another friend who doesn't know me to do the same! I think on nights like last night where dance class is cancelled and sleep deprivation and really bad food is making me feel like an unsustainable gas-fueled society, I will remember you. And your sweet action and the fact that there is something bright somewhere, spreading glitter in motion, spreading love along the way. Gallant indeed. Who needs a knight in shining armor when there are stars like Chanelle landing on earth when you least expect them.

So much love to you Chanelle. May everything you touch near or from afar be as blessed as I feel right now.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Flight (Gratitude Poem #31)


For Romham Gallacher

After Audre Lorde’s “Depreciation”

First the banks
then the river run right
through the treasury
then vehicles that transport gas
don’t have gas to run
no more.

Between the corporate credit computer crash
the downfall of drummed up dept worldwide
and the heirloom seed-bomb airlift
there is plenty to eat
and nowhere to hide.

I don't know Romham Gallacher from Adam.  So it is a big deal that a perfect stranger, who happens to have heard about my work from a person they respect was one of the first people to make a financial contribution to my trip to St. Croix.  The note on paypal said, "My friend Chanelle alerted me to your chip in. I've not much to offer, but every penny counts! Best of luck on getting to St. Croix!"

I'm actually not sure who Chanelle is either. 

The donations that loved ones from all parts of my life have given towards this trip have overwhelmed me with gratitude.  I am so lucky to be loved by so many people, and for so long, and with such tangibility and grace.   But this donation, from someone who I do not know and who decided because of their love for their own friend and their belief that it was the right thing to do, to make a donation and send luck and positive energy my way overwhelms me with hope.   It is not always clear to me that I live in a world in which strangers wish a wayward queer Black girl best of luck.  In which they hope I succeed.  In which they believe I deserve to commune with my ancestors and elders whether or not I can personally, individually, financially afford it.   Romham's gift is an affirmation of that truth, and it builds my faith in the world that we deserve.  It reminds me that our love is stronger than the systems that separate us.  

So this poem is for Romham.  Whoever you are.  Towards the world that we believe in.  And deserve.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Full (Gratitude Poem #30)


For Ms. Helga

After Audre Lorde’s “Kitchen Linoleum”

The moon
who is watching
and the crystal
who is waiting
will shake off their whiteness
evolve past transparency
will monthly
towards your joy.

Ms. Helga Emde is a healer and counselor who works with children who are survivors of abuse at the Women's Coalition of St. Croix.  The Women's Coalition of St. Croix has existed for more than 30 years and was founded by women who after an inspiring talk by Audre Lorde at the University of St. Croix (at the time the College of St. Croix) began to share their experiences of domestic violence and sexual assault.  According to Dr. Gloria Joseph, one member of the community stood and said, what should we do with all of this energy and all of these stories?  And Audre Lorde responded Get a pencil and a piece of paper and write your names and information down so you can meet again.  The women did meet again and ultimately founded this organization which has had a long lasting impact on St. Croix and which also provided an amazingly aligned workplace for Ms. Helga, who actually organized Audre Lorde's first poetry reading in Frankfurt Germany in 1987, when she moved to St. Croix from Frankfurt 10 years ago.

Ms. Helga claims not to know many young lesbians.  "You are the future my dear!" she exclaimed the first day I met her.   I know that it was no small thing for Ms. Helga who had never met me before to open up the home she and Dr. Joseph share to a strange young visitor with early morning yoga, dance and ocean rituals for 2 weeks.  I am so grateful for Ms. Helga's hospitality.   I learned so much from watching her gather her crystals to be energized by the full moon, helping to put up storm shutters in anticipation of tropical storm Maria at meeting her enthusiastic colleagues at the Women's Coalition in the midst of their transition out of a burned down building.  It is an honor to affirm Ms. Helga and her healing.

P.S.  You can read more about Ms. Helga in her own (translated) words in the anthology Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out.

Monday, October 03, 2011

What (Gratitude Poem #29)


For Julia

After Audre Lorde’s “Change”

what sweat baptism
what tilt of equity
what requiem for who I was you make
thrust trust onto shore
preached practiced pressed
here waves bring salt
savor and save
wounds bring their own salvation

and name it never
name it home
name it necessary healing

name it you

Julia Roxanne Wallace.  You are the gift that keeps on giving.  I am so grateful to you for insisting that I follow my spirit and take this trip to St. Croix even when I felt like I didn't have the time to spare and wouldn't be able to raise the money.  I am grateful to you for saying that spending our first-date anniversary with Audre in St. Croix was an affirmation to our love and for reminding me that we'll have many many many more first-date anniversaries to spend together.   Thank you for being abundant in your love for me and teaching me to live abundantly guided by love.   By the time I've posted this poem I'll already have another love poem for you.  Thank you for assuring that I will always have that central motivation for poetry: a love that transcends words.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rarely Make (Gratitude Poem #28)

Rarely Make

Well Deserved and Badly Behaved Poems For Linda Bryant

After Audre Lorde’s “Inheritance-His”


face my words
face my  sunglassed face
mouth covered by hands
black and white forever

speak and be heard
and be



it is a closet
with a couch
where piles of blue and purple books
wait for their day out front
or to be assigned by an emory professor

Sister Outsider sits inside

and I look for a first line
to live through


love is right
just choose it
and keep it
and carry it


a book is
a portable place
to live


you can grow flowers
and food
you can write before sunrise

you can walk soft as you want
gentle and generous on the world
quietly proud

but you will always stand loud in my heart.

Was I 14 or 15 years old when my friend Elizabeth Anderson took that picture of me, hiding in straightened hair, sunglasses and a laugh covered by my two large hands for the "Seen and Heard" youth poetry competition sponsored by Charis Books and More and the Atlanta Journal Constitution?  
It was such a big deal to me to have my words on a wall and in the newspaper.  And that was how I met you Linda.  That was how I learned about the High School Women's Writing Group at Charis.  That is what led to many after-school and weekend afternoons, writing and talking about writing, and talking about things that I might otherwise have been afraid to write about.    It was a space where I could be myself and explore how to describe myself in the transformation of growing.    It was a space you dedicated your life to creating and nurturing.   It was a space where you introduced me to other Black feminist geniuses like Pearl Cleage, Doria Roberts, Shay Youngblood, Fiona Zedde.

Which means now for 15 years you have been there, as an example, as an adviser, as a fairy godmother reminding me to stay grounded as everything changes.  Affirming my choices even as they defy convention.  Showing me by your life and reminding me in your words that it will all work out as long as I am present to magic, as long as live as true as I can and listen to my heart and when I can, write down what it is saying.

I learned over and over again that well-behaved women and well-behaved bookstores rarely make history.   Thank you for lovingly tending that rare bravery that makes everything possible!

I love you Linda!!!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Garden (Gratitude Poem #27)


For Doc Gloria I. Joseph

After Audre Lorde’s “Restoration”
and Michelle Cliff's Turtle Crawle

imagine having
your own

reach in your pocket
and there she is
future fabulous
sand cracked and smooth

god bless
she who rebuilds in replica
home must be small enough
to fit in your hand
wide enough to carry you away

beautiful enough
you dare not forget
where you put it

that which cannot be
exchanged explained
expands over skin

somewhere it is always Wednesday
anything can happen

bury dog days to come
and lose them
draw bone clean water up
soak whatever you cannot keep
in secret strength

what is not for sale
what is not for you
to see grow fickle

tickle your forehead into triumph
true down to your gut

your own god
and laugh.

After almost a year of email correspondence Doc Joseph made it plain.  

"Dear Alexis,  Once again, greetings from a beautiful,sunny warm St. Croix, the island that you will soon be visiting because,  --   your spirit calls you here, I call you to visit, and Audre's spirit beckons you. You now have three wonderful reasons to visit."

Such clarity! It made me question the reasons that I had NOT planned my visit to St. Croix.  Money, time, fear.  And as is true in the love story of Black Feminism the spirit of a young black feminist, a black feminist elder and a black feminist ancestor cannot be stopped by perceived scarcity.   The power of three made me free!  And Dr. Joseph deciding that a complete stranger could visit for 2 weeks was a big deal! During my second week in St. Croix Doc Joseph started telling the elders who kept asking if I was her granddaughter, "yes she is and she'd better behave like it!" and that she wished it could have been three weeks instead.  And actually  Doc Joseph, raised in Yonkers by parents from St. Croix, looks and sounds a lot like my tall opinionated paternal grandmother Lydia May (Gibbs) Gumbs who was raised in Perth Amboy New Jersey by a father from St. Thomas (a neighboring Virgin Island).

I loved working in Doc Joseph's garden with her, witnessing her morning water aerobics, learning about her Ndebele inspired paintings on the outside of her house, hunting down roadside avocado and roti, and especially hearing the amazing stories about the armed takeover of Cornell for Black Studies, the founding impetus for Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa, the bee collective, a very exclusive society called the Crones (the two founding members made two rules, "all new members must be over 65 and agree with us"--there have been no new members), and of course hearing the many many stories about Audre Lorde's life in St. Croix and across Europe and the clarity of her last days. 

So from watching Al Sharpton's Politics Nation to debating the impact of metaphysics on US Open Tennis results on the beach, surviving loss of all phone lines, and WAPA power outages, to sifting through letters, articles, unpublished interviews and decades old master's theses and dissertations about Lorde's work I feel privileged to have been invited as family into the life of a black feminist elder living in the present with the power of memory.    If Black Feminism is a religion, this was a pilgrimage, and Doc Joseph is the guru, oracle, riddle-bearer in the wilderness. 

P.S.  Here is one  Cruzan riddle:

 Q: What is the plural of mongoose?

FA (false answers):  Mongeese?  Mongooses?  Mongii? 
RA (real answer):  No!  Mongoose 'dem.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Walking Arawak Road (Gratitude Poem #26)

Walking Arawak Road

For Pop-pop

After Audre Lorde’s Hugo I

once i was coral

living breathing speaking

to you

who would listen


layered days ago


storm was affirmation

once you were the you I prayed for

once rain was blessing living breathing once

we built our days

for presence

because where air

touch ground

touch water

is now

is always

people without winter

who could float

sometime we knew

we would always exist

that our bodies

deep of water

would shout our names

some hurricane later

we were here

we were






we were not afraid

to blow away

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stat (Gratitude Poem #25)


For Justin Smith

After Audre Lorde’s “East Berlin”

now the danger is statistical

to be black brilliant bold

bound to black brave bold

boys bending backwards brave

to be beside yourself

is a statistical danger

blood calls blatant

brash back to books

beyond brackets

beyond the secondary function

of your heartbeat

on someone else’s clock

brain the name

for black boy purgatory

blink the blessings

be the truth

where beam basquiat hemphill

wash their veins

wring their wrath

ring their hair

around your finger

waking up is a commitment ceremony

because you remember

so remember this too:

when you sit there in class

wishing you were back

in brazil

or over my house

or somewhere else

categorically more cool

remember your own meaning

significant difference

your own clamoring correlations

you are not a problem set

you are blame game tournament upset

day of reckoning longed for

freedom song refrain

in every fold of your brain

black brilliant bold

unstoppable and blue

you are a statistical danger

coming true


Dear Justin,

I am here in St. Croix on this dream trip that you helped me achieve and thinking about you. I thought I wonder where Justin is right now...and thought probably in Statistics class, damn. But then I thought about how grateful I am and how grateful all our chosen and given queer black ancestors are that you are doing the work that you are doing, getting your PhD, spreading the healing word and bringing much needed resources to the communities we love and I thought that I am really glad that you exist. And I am glad that you are in whatever meeting, class, study group, cycle of TA grading that you are in. You are an affirmation of our ancestors and our brilliant communal future at all times, in all things and in all places. You are a miracle. I am so happy to witness you.

Sometimes at school (especially prestigious predominately white institutions like where we've been educated) people seem to think that it is so unlikely that we would be there. We are some small percentage point unplanned for and exploited by the institution. And the institution shows it so many ways, from forgetting our funding to placing us in unasked for spotlights and using us as excuses not to address structural inequities and on and on right?

Well I say fuck it. They think they know, but they have no idea. You were destined to be exactly where you are doing exactly what you are doing. It is not unlikely. It is 100% on purpose on time within your plan and within the destiny of our community. I know it. All our ancestors know it. Our whole community feels it in the pulse you are affirming whether they know your name yet or not! Stat!

Love you always and grateful for you always,