There Is Joy…

But
isn’t funny?
[…]
all they are interested in is our pain,
as if the joy-parts were accidental.

I write love poems, too,
but
you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
as if my mouth were a wound
with pus and gangrene
for joy. –Koleka Putuma, “Black Joy,” Collective Amnesia

People misunderstand Blacks in America. When we rise up against police brutality and other racial and social injustices in this country, when we speak the truth of our pain, we are not saying our lives are utterly miserable. There is joy, and–at the risk of sounding essentialist–that is part of our beauty and strength as a people.

I’ve run across many people who are interested in our pain, as the poet Koleka Putuma notes, but few who are invested in our joy. This strips us of our humanness and reduces us to “objects.”

I assure you. There is joy.

In spite of the pain that often comes with living in this world with Black skin, in spite of the economic barriers, in spite of the educational and health disparities, in spite of systemic oppression, we are able to thrive and embrace joy. We are able to live and worship and laugh and love and support our communities. We are able to forgive, to comfort, to heal. In spite of the struggle, there is much that is joyful and beautiful in our lives.


About the image: The photo was shot at my Dad’s 80th birthday party five+ years ago. I was searching my Flickr album for a completely different photo, but there was so much joy in this photo that it oozed off the screen and into my spirit on this gloomy not-so-wordless Wednesday.

What’s on This Week…

“Found Poetry” by Andrea F.

When I lamented to one of my friends that I do not have time to write [for my blog or anything else] the way I’d like to, she suggested until I regain my footing, that I share “truly wordless posts” on the blog. I’m not sure if I can do completely wordless, but I’ll give her suggestion a try–starting today somewhat.

The last few weeks have been stressful as the troubles of 2020 pile higher and higher. We need a bit of whimsy, sweetness, and light to ease the heaviness. That’s what this yummy postcard from my Love Notes pal, Andrea F, did for me. She sent the “found poetry” card as a “cheerful reminder to enjoy life–almost no matter what.”

I hope you take her advice and treat yourself this week to a cocktail of silly amazement, magical perhaps, fancy, and a hundred gold-fields.

Happy Week!

Guest Post | “Tightrope” by Elle Arra

Photo by Elle Arra

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by my friend, Elle Arra. I met Elle Arra through her poetry blog here on WordPress. She is an amazing poet and visual artist, and I was delighted to learn she lives right here in Northern Alabama. In fact, we know many of the same people! We have made plans to get together for tea when meeting and greeting are safe again.

In this post, Elle Arra combines poetry, photos, and reportage to share her experience of participating in a protest over the Alabama District Attorney’s refusal to release officers’ body camera footage in the police shooting of Dana Sherrod Fletcher last November.


Suspended above the day’s mundanity and slog,
an ever-present tightrope
black bodies traverse in tandem.
It’s like navigating an ocean built
almost entirely of undertow
while maintaining stride and heft of dreams.

We are not permitted our hysteria
not without it being labeled non sequitur rage.

We walk this tightrope
lilting between full bloom
and languish,
walk with bullets in our backs,
twine around our necks,
asphalt under our skin,
knees on our windpipes,
tree branches in our hair,
blood like rubies cascading,
splayed bone like smooth porcelain,
black skin – ribbons and ribbons,
afro confetti––

Photo by Elle Arra

Sunday, August 16, 2020. I walked the four corners of US 72 and Wall Triana [in Madison County, Alabama] where giant signs were hoisted in peaceful protest of the shooting of Dana Fletcher 10 months earlier. I took photos and spoke with his wife and mother who have had to wedge their grief and mourning between breathing and fighting for justice. I cannot imagine having to take moments meant for private sorrows to fight publicly for transparency—the human and decent thing being denied them.

Photo by Elle Arra

I watched Dana’s now fatherless daughter playing in the grass while her mother, grandmother, and a sizable group gave everything they had to this effort. I took it all in–the focus on their faces, the bullhorn call and response, and the raised signs calling for justice.

Photo by Elle Arra

It was extremely hot and humid that late morning/early afternoon, but the dedicated group spent three hours occupying the four corners of the intersection adjacent to the lot where Dana was killed. People from all walks of life honked as they drove by and elevated their fists through car windows in solidarity. Several vehicles pulled up and gifted cold, refreshing, electrolyte drinks to the protestors. There was beauty in the coming together despite the bitter reasons for the gathering; there was beauty in the union of people of all colors and lifestyles for one common goal.

 

Photo by Elle Arra

On October 27, 2019 Dana Fletcher was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in front of his wife and daughter. Nearly a year later, there still has been no transparency in this matter. According to Alabama law, body camera footage is privileged information, so the District Attorney refuses to release the footage or the alleged 911 call that precipitated Fletcher’s death. Stills from the incident have been released, but these stills do not reveal the whole story.

You can help. Please go to change.org and sign the petition to enact the Dana Fletcher bill making bodycam footage public record.

Photo by Elle Arra

We walk that tightrope,
what a beautiful gait.

––even our dying is a glorious walk home.

To learn more about Elle Arra and her work, please follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Photo by Elle Arra

[All images in this post captured by Elle Arra with Fugifilm X-E1 f/1.0 1/4000 50.00mm ISO200].

Musings from My Younger Self | I Can Be Me!

“Coneflowers” by Kayla W.

While talking to a colleague a few days ago, I happened across a poem I wrote when I was about 16. I shared a few lines with her and she was “impressed” that I was thinking about something other than boys and getting away from my parents’ rules. I told her I’d share the poem on the blog today, but it requires more typing than I can handle at the moment, so I chose a much shorter “teenage” poem–one that is nothing like the other poem.

I Can Be Me!

In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be.
I can do
what I want to do
when I want to do it.
I can lose painful feelings to memory
and rejoice in my misery.
I can escape
and travel to ageless worlds.
I can create a world of my own
and destroy reality.
In a poem,
dreams are reality
and yesterdays are forgotten.
Tomorrows never come.
Today is forever.
In a poem
I can be a philosophical moron
or a simple intellectual.
In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be;
I can even be me!

It has been almost two years since I shared a “younger self” poem! I find a lot of the poems rather “cringey,” to use my son’s word. But there are a hundreds of them, so I’ll try to get over myself and share them a bit more frequently.


About the Image: The cheerful artwork above is the work of my colleague, Kayla W–the person referenced in the conversation about my teenage poetry. She recently learned she’s an artist. 😉 Even if you find my poem cringey [too], please show Kayla some bloggy love. ❤

Until It Flowers Again…

“My Mother’s Garden.” Photo by Suzette R.

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing […]

Galway Kinnell, from “Saint Francis and the Sow”


About the image: The delicate flower in this #WordlessWednesday post was photographed by my Love Notes friend, Suzette R. The flower is from her late mother’s garden–an intimate glimpse of a beautiful soul.

Summoned Mother | Tameka Cage Conley

All mothers were summoned, when George Floyd called out for his mother. —Rachel Costa

Every mother heard him. We heard George Floyd. We hear him. —Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo who was murdered by New York City police officers in 1999.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, I invite you to view a three-part series presented by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The project features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, an artist I initially met many years ago when she was a student–an English major, of course. 😉 I am so very proud of her and her work.

The museum describes the “Summoned Mother” series as:

a memoir of a particular American motherhood: Black and uniquely precarious. This three-volume video series features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, a literary artist and mother to a six-year-old Black boy, as she responds to George Floyd’s breathless call on motherhood. Conley juxtaposes the works of Elizabeth Catlett with those of contemporary Black poets, bridging the visual and literary arts in a meditation of Black artistry’s longstanding eye on injustice.

Dr. Tameka’s masterful weave of poetry, art, story, and song achingly reaches that primordial place in all mothers that compels us to protect, to rescue, to do something.

The project was spearheaded by Kwadwo Nnuro; the entire series is approximately 42 minutes in length.


About the image: The image that leads today’s post features a favorite photo of my son and me–modified for the post.

Other posts in the “Black Lives Matter” Monday series:

Breathe | Two Poems

I do not have a guest post today. Instead, I offer two poems written [by Toi Derricotte and Ross Gay] in response to the murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner. Both men uttered the words, “I can’t breathe” before they died at the hands [or feet] of police officers.

Why I Don’t Write About George Floyd [2020]
Toi Derricotte

Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
What can I say what can I say
Something is stuck in my throat
Something is stuck like an apple
Something is stuck like a knife
Something is stuffed like a foot
Something is stuffed like a body

***     ***     ***

A Small Needful Fact [2015]
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.


About the image: I shot [and edited] the photo above about 5 years ago while on one of my campus photo walks. A few days after George Floyd’s murder the photo “resurfaced” while I was looking through my archives for a different photograph.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

There seems to be a lot of “hoopla” over the NFL’s decision to have the “Negro National Anthem” sung before every Week 1 game. This holiday weekend is a good to revisit the history of the anthem. Here’s a post I wrote 2.5 years ago about the song. Happy Weekend!

Pics and Posts

James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938. Poet, novelist, statesman, civil rights leader, lawyer. Artist, Winold Reiss (1886-1953). Pastel on artist board.

The song dubbed “The Black National Anthem” should need no introduction, but I learned last October–moments after I posted an article focused on the University of Florida’s playing the song at the arrival of white supremacists on campus–that many Americans are not familiar with the song. In fact, one (Euro-American) friend uncharacteristically responded by declaring UF’s actions “racist.”

[We’ll save discussion about how that action could not have been “racist” for another time].

My friend’s judgment was based on the title of the article. She had never heard the song.

That surprised me. I’m pretty sure I initially learned the song at the majority white elementary school I attended, so I assumed it was standard for elementary kids in the U.S. Not so, I guess.

So what is the “Black…

View original post 417 more words

Be Like the Bird | #WordlessWednesday

Be like the bird, who
pausing in his flight
on limb too slight,
feels it give way beneath him
yet sings,
knowing he has wings.

Victor Hugo, Les chants du crépuscule (Songs of Dusk), 1836


About the image: Did you spot the bird? I shot the “birdie-in-tree” a few days ago while checking out the scenery of my aunt’s new home. Even as I captured the image I knew I would [post] process it as a silhouette. The final lines of Hugo’s Songs of Dusk are a perfect fit. Don’t you think?

“She Glories in Being Abandoned”

She says she glories in being abandoned.  –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Earlier this week while out for a drive, I caught a glimpse of an abandoned building I’ve photographed many times over the last several years. I’m always intrigued by how much the building changes, but I was stunned by the beauty of its neighbor [photos #1, 2, 4, 5].

I was pleased to find nature doing what it does–reclaiming what the humans left behind.

I had a difficult time choosing which photos to share for [not-so] #Wordless Wednesday–the originals or the edits. My hubby remarked that color photos tell a story, and the black and white ones are more artsy. Since I can’t decide whether I want to share a story or art, I’m sharing both sets.

Did you ever wonder
Why abandoned houses looked so sad

Much like the people
Their exterior was only for the function

We would not feel so sad
If we recognized

That the spirit of the house
Had already moved on

The dream remained.

Maria Lehtman, The Dreaming Doors

[For earlier shots of the building in photos #3 and #6, check out a 2016 post.  You’ll be able to note some of the changes in the building’s condition].