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,


Friday, September 09, 2011

Origin (Gratitude Poem #24)

For Jade Brooks

After Audre Lorde’s “Speechless”

your words root old growth

forest abundant

breadcrumbs and brick-a-brack

you specify home

tactile sticky stuffed

crowded clarities

you bring them all

walk through thought-mined

truth exploded here

where did you learn

those branch swung moss heavy

tangled dark tales

sometimes I think you come from a cave

where witches carve themselves

with the story of living

smudged into the story that is the soul

that has the same story waiting

you call it “Oregon”

close enough

we all have our


and I pronounce you

prophetess poet popsicle puddle

pick up stix champion

inkstained initiate

permanent marker principal

whoever you want

to be.


Dear Jade,

I hope you are having a beautiful day. An eternal summer despite the increased intensity of labor during the academic year at a workplace like yours in a city like the one we are so lucky to live in at the same time. You see that I fled town to a place where the concept of Eternal Summer is less provocative and more obvious. Your amazing support, attendance, in-kind and the other kind of kind donations have been so consistent and transformative and helpful the whole time you have lived in Durham. And your poetry is amazing. You have such a distinct voice that I wonder where you got it. How you kept it. What you grew it out of. From here it sounds like the words are just there. So many of them. Just waiting and you peel them off the top and there are so many more waiting. You might have a different experience of your own writing. Thick, descriptive, fruitful, charming. It makes me wonder sometimes if ancestors have been placing post-it notes on your sticky fingers, piling you up with messages to deliver to us all. Maybe that's it.

Sending you so much love from St. Croix, where the ancestor messages are loud, and if not crowding than certainly overflowing.

So much love to you!!!



Wednesday, September 07, 2011

star-apple (Gratitude Poem #23)


For Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

After Audre Lorde’s “What It Means to Be Beautiful”


bloom your name around my mouth

stoned tongue move bolder

teach me there is nothing

that cannot be said




your name


those who wont face

the taste of leaving

will lie about medusa’s

dreadlocked freedom

and the secret of everything beautiful

will fear us

freezer burn their own dreams

at the sound of our love

will break neck not look

reach for stories turned sword

talk bad about truth behind their own backs



how dare we

prize spit over toothpaste

breathe common air classless

zip mudslides into minis

wear chains like trinkets

how dare we know

how to tuck home into cleavage

and bring it out

flower magic

how dare we be


all out loud

and in public

and shit



from my bad back

to your braced embrace

there is clear cold water

bright bubble brilliance

unbitten by kidnappers

who nightmared on mermaids

seasoned in iron

sludge and the sperm they say got us here

razor wire and the riddle of rice

there is everything

here in the place we pull from

diaspora drownable

untouchable sweetness

there is baptism here


dear leah

this morning

scoliosis and a storm coming

i am breathing

homesick smells

what the ocean steals inside plants

what salt stays

with those of us who survive

and i feel so fucking strong.

love lex


Leah! Brownstargirl. You are the truth. This is the best way I know how to say it. Thank you so much for being on this journey with me, in the specific sense and the general sense. Poet warrior femme shark allstar all the way home.

Writing to you on my first morning in St. Croix feels so write and so lucky. How blessed am I to have such an audience as you. You inspire me in so many ways. Blood related because we carry so many of the same ancestors in our hearts, through our veins, reach for them and each other with our writing (cooking, folding, loving) hands. You are a source of strength in my everyday and a grounding force on a day like this where (tropical storm on the horizon and black feminist bliss ancestral occupation on overdrive) I feel like I could literally blow away.

I love you so much!!!!



Don't Sleep (Gratitude Poem #22)

Don’t Sleep

For Lisa Factora-Borchers and Ella Baker

After Audre Lorde’s “Starting All Over Again”

strange hour survivor

radar to realness

sister call

dear daily deep

cross ocean love

short enough

to say-it- all

by voice

by votive

by video

explain why

we should never have

to explain


or our mothers



to any

m*&^%#f*&^%n’ body

of water or landed class

why our own faces

are enough

lips to unknown sea

tremble the planet

when we believe

our unbelievable selves

slick with inexplicability

sleeves heartstained with prayer

burn our hungry visions

river bank urgent

write all night

share sleep with ghosts

dream the unguessed futures

of guest workers

worthy of a son returned

a shadow rising

a hunch

i wake up

believing in that

i wake up believing in you

we wake up ready

fresh with belief

in that


that believes

in us

with a life starting love




(so you can.)


Dear Lisa,

Last night I couldn't sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time. And I love to sleep. This has happened to me before. Used to be the night before going to visit my grandparents in Anguilla, the first day of school, Christmas Eve and last night before journeying to St. Croix. My eyes fly open craving the clock.

Last night I couldn't sleep and now I am daydreaming about you and your middle-of-the-night letters. Early morning emails after staying up thinking. And I am thinking about what Sweet Honey in the Rock repeates in honor of Ella Baker. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes." This is the type of up all nights I imagine you having. Isaiah too? Those up all nights that lead to more free mornings. To clarity. To a form of light birthed from the midnight oil burned within. Life sentence punctuated by a preposition. I love the way you share those insights. I love it that when you stay up all night you are wake-dreaming freedom for all of us. I love your passion and your intention and your you-ness.

And so I dedicate this remix poem, based on Audre Lorde's last poem for her son to you. Abundantly brilliant mama, birthing new worlds in every form. Staying up all night for one specific persons benefit some nights. I am honored to share freedom dreams with you. And I love you more than I can say, for the whole time that I am awake.

love always,