For Doc Gloria I. Joseph
After Audre Lorde’s “Restoration”
and Michelle Cliff's Turtle Crawle
reach in your pocket
and there she is
sand cracked and smooth
she who rebuilds in replica
home must be small enough
to fit in your hand
wide enough to carry you away
you dare not forget
where you put it
that which cannot be
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
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.