Karma

Almost four years ago, I visited a friend and sat on his couch singing Radiohead’s Karma Police. He was a musician in a band that played pretty decent music, and I had confided in him that I loved singing and always dreamed of being in a band of my own.

As we sang, he kept urging me to be louder, to hit the high notes that my lungs and chest were not ready for. As a sheepishly shied away from pushing myself there, he got angrier. He would abruptly stop playing the guitar so his fingers made a sound like a muffled whine on the strings, then turn toward me and gruffly say no no, like this, you have to try. Stop being so afraid.

I was afraid that night, it was the most mean I had ever seen him. A few days later I went back after he had been texting me heartbroken over his ex wife. I didn’t want to go but I made myself because he needed a friend. That night, July 18, 2015, seemed calmer. That night, I was drunk when I walked in the door to meet with him. He told me he was sober but seemed agitated. He said he had one beer earlier in the night, but because of his DUI record, he couldn’t drive me home so I was welcome to sleep on the cot in his music room or in his bed.

In the music room we played piano together and I listened to him sing original songs he was working on. He offered me glass after glass of white wine, and in between, Xanax. He told me I seemed depressed and that I needed something to take the edge off. I declined each time and watched him walk away with my glass to fill it up with more wine, supposedly. Within an hour I felt exhausted—not even exhausted—a place beyond it, like I was slowly slipping out of my body. My eyes were heavy and my lips felt numb, my jaw hung open and I struggled to stay conscious and keep it closed. Before I blacked out, he turned to me and said

you know, I’m sure it seems like I’m trying to take advantage of you with all the drugs and alcohol. But I’m not, I love you and I would never do something like that.

I woke up to him raping me, between my legs saying things that I can’t repeat here and that when said to me, trigger an immediate flashback to this day. My arms were spread across the pillows of his bed and I couldn’t move them, so I tried using my knees to knock his head away. When he penetrated me I screamed inside but could only manage a whimper from my mouth, followed by pitiful crying. It was only then that he stopped, climbed beside me, and wrapped my arms around him in a forced embrace.
__

I’ve thought about that night over and over again this week, even when I didn’t want to. I try to remember my exact words, to pick apart the truth and find the speck that maybe suggests I was asking for it. I say

well i could have walked home

I did say yes to the wine
I did say yes to sleeping in his bed but he told me he would take the couch

It’s horrific to remember every detail, to struggle to say them in writing or out loud. Going through the trial process, I had to give specifics, to talk in clinical and explicit detail about what he did to me. It was humiliating and shameful.

That rape changed the way I felt about my body and my desire to live in it. First I disappeared into alcohol and unsafe sex. Then, into an abusive relationship. I blamed myself every day for being the kind of woman that was “prone” to being abused by the men in my life. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands, and I couldn’t listen to Karma Police without having panic attacks until 2018. That fact is small and to most, irrelevant, but to me it signifies what I lost in being raped. I couldn’t listen to one of my favorite songs anymore. Something as simple as the beginning chords would set me off. When I was intimate with someone after that night I exited my body, in the same way I did before blacking out. It was like I was watching myself from above through a pair of heavy eyes.

The man that raped me still lives in my city. He plays shows. He’s told people that asked about his criminal history that it didn’t happen, I was just “confused…or something” even though his defense team tried to argue he really did drug me because I was depressed and he was trying to help me. The american justice system allows for these sorts of ridiculous arguments to persist, allows for a sitting President to be an accused serial rapist with no repercussions.

This country was built on the murder and rape of black women. Sometimes I sit and think about the legacy of suffering women, especially black women, have inherited and endured. It puts me in a place beyond exhaustion. I have survived, I have endured and gone on to do wonderful things with my life, but I’m tired. I can’t escape what my body remembers.

I wish I could end this in a high, positive place, but that isn’t where I am now. Right now I’m barely moving. I spent most of the day in bed or lying on my couch. My heart hurts for myself and the women who were raped by the President, the women suffering at our borders and in detention centers, the women suffering in my city.

Please find some compassion and empathy in your heart for us. Please find some action in your body for those of us who can’t move.

-DJ

Pride/My Review of The Perfection that No One requested

I already did my layout/review of all of my favorite horror movies awhile back. It’s June, which means it’s Pride month, which means I don’t want to see or be seen by straight people for the next 30 days. So when buzz around Netflix’s The Perfection started up, I got excited and decided to give it a watch.

Before I had watched the movie I saw the trailer online and was not thrilled at all. From the outside it looks like a film where Allison Williams plays a blue-eyed devil hellbent on destroying the life of another black person. But upon watching, the movie unfolds and reveals itself to be a really complex and twisty horror thriller that I’ve wanted for awhile (though it doesn’t fully live up to my expectations.)

spoilers ahead:

We spend roughly the first 30 minutes of this movie thinking it’s a straight up contagion style “virus outbreak” film, which can be thrilling in itself. Allison Williams plays Charlotte, a cello prodigy that had to give up her dream to take care of an ill mother. Logan Browning plays Lizzie, the young protege of the academy’s head, Anton Bachoff, who takes her place. Lizzie launches into fame while Charlotte is left in reclusiveness until her mother dies and she is free to return to her dream at the Bachoff Academy.

There is sexual tension between the two women from jump, which is rare even in lesbian movies written by actual lesbians. We are always sold the story line of a straight housewife who falls in love with some mysterious dyke that swoops into town, the professor that has an inappropriate and manipulative relationship with a student, or the lesbian couple that has been together for so long they’ve forgotten to have sex and so heartbreak and drama ensues. I really loved that there was zero conflict around the sexuality between the two of them. They are into each other, and they have amazing sex that is split with scenes of them playing cello as a duo (maybe the hottest thing I’ve ever seen? when did cello become sexy? the fINgErsSS)

After the movie escapes it’s first plot of outbreak story, it seems to veer toward “predatory lesbian jealousy story.” On a bus trip, Lizzie falls incredibly ill with explosive diarrhea and vomit laced with maggots. The tension culminates with Lizzie deep in psychosis that has convinced her there are bugs crawling under her skin. Charlotte, the ever-helpful girlfriend and obvious dyke, somehow has a meat clever on hand and convinces Lizzie to cut her hand off. Through a weird and poorly done rewind scene, we see that Charlotte has drugged Lizzie with medication she stole from her now deceased mother, leading her into a hallucination that she has been infested by bugs, so that she will cut off her hand and never be able to play the cello again.

This plot direction falls apart fairly quickly though, because Charlotte does not return to Bachoff to reclaim her throne leaving Lizzie to die. Finally we get to the real motivation: after leaving Bachoff and dealing with her mothers illness, Charlotte is able to leave the grip of Anton, who is revealed to be a serial rapist that preys on the young students at his academy. Charlotte gets Lizzie to cut her hand off because she “knew she needed to do something dramatic for Lizzie to see the truth (paraphrasing here).”

I’ll be honest, the scene where Anton is revealed as a true monster and he steps in front of the camera naked is one of the most chilling scenes I’ve seen in a movie. I instinctively trembled and jumped back from my laptop when I saw it.

Rape revenge is a controversial genre. I think much of the controversy comes from the idea that revenge for all rape victims looks the same. I’ve seen a few reviews on line that have called it “male-gaze-y” and a patriarchal view on what women victims of sexual violence want as justice. Speaking for myself, I loved it. When I was raped, I had daily violent fantasies of what I would like to see happen to the man that raped me, much more violent than Anton’s end. Some of us want to see our rapists in jail, others want a head on a stick. Rapists can never experience the emotional turmoil and violence they have inflicted on their victims, and it’s natural to want to see that violence reflected externally. One thing I also want to point out is we never see the rape on screen but can still understand the trauma and pain of it. Toward the end of the movie, a new young student is brought into Bachoff, and we as viewers are left to fear for her fate. But, she escapes the violence of Anton and the violence of watching he and his accomplices murdered. Many rape revenge stories fall victim to the problem of balance: the movie spends most of its time with the woman being victimized—and gruesomely so—and finally gets to the revenge at the very end. Though the revenge plot line is revealed to us later, in the timeline in the story it has been happening for the entire film.

”The Perfection” was written by two men and one woman, and directed by a man, which is another criticism of the movie. I have no bits to argue there. When dealing with the violence that women face it is always best to have women in the know at the helm. As outlined earlier, the movie jumps genre, it is sometimes laughably bad, incoherent, and impossible. I found the dialogue to be a bit painful and on the nose at times. Still as a survivor and a black lesbian I saw a lot of my desires reflected in it. When I first started talking to people about being raped I was dismayed to find that no one would let me be angry. All of the conversations were about being tender and healing and moving on, but I didn’t want any of that. I wanted to break shit and scream and hurt him beyond repair. This movie gave me that, which is why most rape revenge movies do well or get obliterated, because they do not portray a realistic view of the victim’s choice after the fact. Having been through the trial process myself, it is arduous and often dissatisfying. Realism is tired, let me live out the life I wanted through films on Netflix!

Another point of contention in the movie is that Lizzie has to endure great physical pain and trauma that changes her body’s ability, questioning why that was necessary for the plot to move forward. Honestly, this was very upsetting for me too, and I don’t have a precise answer except that this is in a universe of an almost campy reality. The movie is outrageous, the name of the prestigious composer academy is Bachoff for fucks sake. If you’re still on the hunt for some reason though, I’ll offer this: a friend once told me that leaving an abusive relationship is like breaking your wrists to free your hands: you have to go through some incredible pain to ultimately be free. The wrist-breaking for LIzzie is ultimately a very literal severing of her flesh and bone, but she eventually sees the truth and is able to get away from Anton’s manipulation and control. The final scene is her and Charlotte playing the piano in tandem, both of them missing one hand (Charlotte lost hers in the final fight scene), and staring satisfied at a limbless, incapacitated Anton. It’s a truly beautiful ending, and even though I still have conflicting feelings about the amputations, I can kinda see why they happened.

overall, we stan two dykes that get their revenge and get to fuck each other while playing cello in tandem.
________________________________________________________

I didn’t do anything for Pride this season but I’ve seen a lot of online discourse from so called radical queers that has upset me so I wanna say:
Lesbian is not a bad word, it is not synonymous with TERF, being a woman that sleeps with men and women doesn’t make you more enlightened or woke than the lesbians out here. Fuck y’all.

Kink is an integral part of pride. People in leather collars is not the same as having full on sex in public. Stop repackaging homophobia and espousing it as some new radical take when really you just hate gay people as much as the straights.

put on your vegan leather chaps and be safe out there

signed,

A dyke and her tarantula.

Negro Swan

In the weeks before I left the abusive relationship with my ex, there were days where I couldn’t breathe because I didn’t feel like a being anymore. I had lost myself completely in a world that simultaneously alienated me. In that community, I was one of (maybe) two black people, and so constantly tasked with assuaging the guilt of the white people around me, assuring them they weren’t racist. While I had maintained a connection to my blackness, I would often have to shelf it for the comfort of those around me, and for my own safety. Any critique was labeled “identity politics” are worse, betrayal.

I was recently in a situation where I was made to feel like the outsider in a pristine, white reality. Casting a hurried goodbye over my shoulder, I left shaking and wondering where in Pittsburgh can black people truly be ourselves? Where in the world do I find my people? Is there a way to escape or re-imagine this reality?

When I get asked to do readings, I am often the only black poet in the space, and I find myself doing on the spot edits in order to make my work less confrontational, or more palatable to the audience. I’ve been working with a therapist on not performing this labor anymore, and it has made me reflect on how often I deny myself the right to exist in a full and realized capacity. Black women especially are taught to carry the burdens and feelings of everyone else around us without paying any mind to where our needs lie.

I’m tired of carrying and biting my tongue

tired of having to be polite before I am myself

tired of being swallowed and silenced.

I think this was the driving force behind creating Fig Widow. Going back to the story of Anansi, I think black people have had a kinship to spiders, As a writer, I can’t help but see the connection between poets and arachnids. Orb weavers are some of the greatest artists that exist in this universe; the deliberate nature with which they move is a testament to how we choose our words. No space, no energy wasted. As I watch my tarantula Della move around her enclosure tonight, I’m chilled and in awe of how her limbs move as individuals acting on the part of the whole. They seem to have their own direction in mind but they know exactly where to take her. To food, to water, to shelter. Figs, to me, are sex and abundance. Fertility. A wealth of small things that create a rich and textured experience. They are so tied to my understanding of sensuality and sexuality, but also to my growth as an writer and a woman.

Fig Widow. Giving it a name, getting this tattoo on my body, is about bringing things to fruition. About taking space in my hands and willing it to suit me.

I hope to spotlight more black poets, more lesbian fiction writers, more women in art with this project and this new chapter in my life.

See y’all in June

-Dani & Della

No Thank You

If you’re a writer, late March into early April is a period that I like to refer to as “rejection season.” Suddenly, the fellowship you’ve been dying to hear back from or that poem you forgot you submitted are knocking at your door. In these times, you get one of three responses;

Yes

No

(and in rare cases:) We liked this, but no thank you

I’d say for about every poem I get published there is a trail of five rejected poems in it’s wake. Which is a generous assessment. I started submitting my work more seriously around 2016 after being referred to a certain magazine by a friend. Before that, I had maybe one or two poems in college creative writing journals. The first rejection feels devastating. I remember closing my eyes and trying not to show the dread and failure on my face. After that, I didn’t submit another poem for about three years.

Now that I’ve been doing this a little longer, rejection still stings, but t doesn’t stop me. It’s like dating: maybe I didn’t go on that second date, we weren’t a match, and that’s fine, I just have to find the woman (or literary journal) that sees the value I see in my work. Searching for those journals does require a bit of research. I don’t submit to places that publish more white men than women of any color, places that don’t have a LGBTQ voice, and those that aren’t aligned with my style of poetry. I tend to be of the confessional school of poetry, A lot of people in the community don’t respect that kind of poetry, but it won’t stop me from writing it.

Though I’ve never tried it myself, I know of other poets who have contacted journals to ask why their poem didn’t get selected. Perhaps I’m just not bold enough for that kind of behavior, but it might be helpful to you to get some answers and closure. The questions around “why” leave us space to tell stories about ourselves and our work. We tell ourselves that we aren’t driven or talented enough, that there is no space for what we have to say. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A poem will always have a home with the person that wrote it. Even if a journal or magazine never picks it up, it has a place to rest it’s head with us.

This is why many love the personalized rejection so much. We feel seen— maybe not entirely understood— but someone took the time out of their day to tell us our work was appreciated even if it wasn’t a fit. If you’re really lucky there might even be some notes hidden in that rejection for you.

If you do get the computer generated “we received many submissions and unfortunately blah blah blah” please, hold space for whatever grief comes with that. Poetry is tough. Our hearts are in every last word. It would be silly to suggest that we not take rejections at least a little bit personal. But, when that grieving is over, look at your work again. What is there that you love? What inspires passion in you about what you’ve written? If there are moments in your work where you don’t feel as though you’re creeping upon a surprise, or have just uncovered it, think about changing them. Revision is a faithful lover. Submit it again, and again, and again. Read it to yourself allowed. Fall in love with it all over again.

//

thank you to everyone that came to the first installment of my reading series. My first go at event planning and hosting went over very well. A typical Pittsburgh storm kept some folks at bay but I am so grateful to those that showed up and came in. I’m hoping to bring the next event to you all in June.

//

In other news, the essay that I wrote for Public Source (which you can find under the writing section of this website) one a Robert L. Vann Media Award! I’m super proud of the work I did, and the work of the other contributors who did a wonderful job of shedding light on what it is to be black in Pittsburgh. Now I can start calling myself an award-winning author.

(Got 2) Give It Up

Poems are, in part, an extension of ourselves. A reflection of our deepest fears, desires, and needs; both as individuals and as a society. Poems are wishing wells and mirrors. At some point, a good poem extends outside the self while maintaining its roots in you, the writer. Sometimes the things extending— the flora, the fronds, the cedar—rot. They are misshapen and threaten the survival of the rest of the poem. Those things have to be let go.

Yes, I’m talking about “killing your darlings,” becomes someone needs to hear it.

Sometimes we write things that we believe are so ideologically pure and aesthetically devastating that we assert that they have a place where they do not. That piece you’ve been working on that doesn’t seem to be quite there? It’s lacking something, feels disjointed? Go back and look at the phrase or word that started the poem, the one you think is genius, guaranteed you should cut it. You’re attached. I get it, believe me. As a Scorpio I know a thing or two about obsession. But sometimes those obsessions hold us back from getting to the true landscape of our art.

I had a conversation with my friend Eric a few weeks ago about leaving an abusive relationship, and how my leaving was inspired by finding someone new that I developed feelings for. That new person gave me hope, made me realize that there was a life after leaving my ex. Eric said something that I still hold on to today.

“oh yeah, she was your raft relationship”

I’m sure this line came with a very meaningful parable that I have forgotten, but the gist is: a raft is a person or a thing that gets you from one point to the next safely. It’s something to keep you from being pulled under the water. That line that you’re clinging to is probably your raft. It’s the thing that got you from empty page to poem, and now that you are at poem, you can deflate that raft and toss it aside.

Let’s not stop at lines, though, sometimes you need to put the stanza in the trash. Sometimes the whole poem. Rethink the scaffolding even. Poems are not pure, they can be misguided just as easily as us. As the one with the pen, you have the power and opportunity to save it.

I want to say this, and I want you to say it too: not everything I write is good.

Nothing is so groundbreaking that it can’t withstand a revision. We are not dealing in strict dichotomies here; something that isn’t good isn’t necessarily bad. It is an opportunity for betterment, to strengthen both the poem and yourself. Okay, enough preaching. Now, how do you give it up?

  1. Find the poems heart

    • this will come with more than one reading. Read your work over and over again. Alone and aloud. Find the seed of the idea that started your poem, it will be the point at which your shoulders relax, and your head leans slightly—a sign of familiarity. When you’re reading other peoples poems, it’s the part you circle or underline. Maybe you’ll do the same with your own work.

  2. Find the obsession

    • When you find what you are trying to say, the obsession will stick out like a sore thumb. Or it won’t. It will be the part at which your eyebrows furrow, your jaw tightens, or gets so lax you stutter over the words. Its the thing that draws a Blues Clues sized question mark in your head. What does this say? You ask because it seems to be completely disconnected or mildly adjacent to the seed.

    • It may fit thematically, but not structurally. In this case, it is the thing that is interfering with the poems severity. A line or a stanza can’t hit with a bunch of fluff around it. To revisit to the raft metaphor: perhaps your raft is so filled with air that when you get to the shore, you’re buoyed back into the water because of the big, orange, rim impeding you. These bits tend to be harder to deal with because they work, but the question is, are they working for or against? Often they are the latter. We are afraid to get rid of them because they sound pretty. I once went to a talk with poet Rachel Zucker, she spoke about a poetry that resist being confined by “beauty.” Poetry does not have to be gorgeous. It can have edges and spines. Let your poem have texture.

  3. Figure out if you are the butcher or the carpenter

    • Butchers take a cleaver to shit. Cut off the fat. Get to the lean pink.

    • If you’re a carpenter (alternatively a sculptor) you can take that individual thing and shape it until it is new. Enough of a deviation from the start that it now is a compliment and not a hindrance. One practice that I have found helpful in revision is to contract and expand. Read-cut away-read-add more. Repeat until you are in the vicinity of Finished.

    • I have found that modern free verse poetry has drifted away from the tenet of meter. Not all, but some. Poetry is sound too. The sound that the words make when you say them, the sounds that are echoed around them, the sound of a well placed enjambment. If you want, take it back to elementary school: speak slowly with your hand under your chin and really listen to the rise and fall of each word. This too will tell you when something is off, too much or too little.

  4. Ask for Help

    • A second or third pair of eyes is always better than one. Ask a trusted confidante to give your poem a look. Be specific about your needs. Do you want a simple yes or no, or do you need a line by line close reading of what’s working and what isn’t. Ask for help.

  5. Repeat this process.

    • If you’re thinking this is a lot of work, welcome to the practice of poetry. When I was in college studying literature I often heard from science and math majors that getting an English degree must be so easy, all I had to do was sit down and write “roses are red, violets are blue”? A Cake Walk. Rarely do those nerds understand the kind of introspection that comes with creative work. It is discipline and practice. We must remember that as well.

  6. Transmutation

    • some pieces only need to be re-homed. I extract these bits and put them in a google doc entitled (cleverly) Bits. When I’m stuck in writer’s block or need a little something to chew on, I open it up and see what I haven’t used yet, and put it into something new. I scroll through pages and pages until something ticks. Your genius line that you couldn’t wait to use, so you put it somewhere it doesn’t fit? Save it. In journal or a google doc of your choosing.

Okay, I have given you some great tools here. If you want anymore it will definitely cost you, can’t be given out these nuggets for free.

Poetry is not so serious that you can never have fun. Mary Oliver was a poet of great fun. Ross Gay writes with exuberance. Shira Erlichman always talks about the world in a way that seems fraught with wonder. You can too, but there is also work to be done. I write because I have to in order to live, to speak with any sort of knowledge of self and comfort in the world. It is all that makes sense to me. I hope this is received as a passion for poetry and craft and not judgement.

Who Are the Ghosts?

Recently, I had the opportunity to do a reading with my friend Colin Hagendorf (author of Slice Harvester: A Memoir in PIzza) and musician and poet Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz. The night was hilarious and lovely, and I am still so honored to be asked to read with such a crew. During her reading, Sadie said something that caused me to reflect for days after.

She said that often, when people use the word “ghost(s)” in poems, they are using it as a filler word, merely as poetic device and not as people who truly believe in the existence of the supernatural. She got a laugh when she said that this was disrespectful to ghost, and while I did chuckle I also evaluated my own use of the word.

For a long time, I was that kind of science nerd that laughed at people who believed in the supernatural, life after death, anything that was beyond the tangible reality of chemistry. Even as that science nerd, I had been having interactions or experiences with ghosts since I was a kid. I’ll say here that I don’t care if you don’t believe. Go flex that intellectual superiority elsewhere. Even though I am a believer, for me anything that is capable of dying can have a ghost. Sadie’s introduction to her poem made me ask who are the ghosts in my poems? and I’m here to ask you the same, and also to answer that question.

To figure out who the ghosts in our poems are, and if we are doing them justice, we have to ask:

  1. Who or what has died?

  2. Why have they stayed?

I jumped into my manuscript and searched the word. I’ll sample a poem here and break down it’s use:

from Black Death, originally published by Slush Pile Magazine:

Sometimes my breath is

     a tulip of fear.

dark hue of bruise; skin

like a plum, so sweet the world

surrenders its jaw to the flesh.

i see hung ghosts in the spit.

This poem in particular is about Antwon Rose Jr., but in a greater sense about violence against black people. The world I speak of is the white supremacist beast that “surrenders its jaw” to the people it views as both disposable and beneficial. The “hung ghosts in the spit” are the ghosts of black men, women, and children who have been lynched. I chose to keep the action of hanging here because the lynching as a practice has not disappeared, it has simply become more modernized. In Jesmyn Wards, “Sing, Unburied, Sing”; the past, present, and future exist simultaneously, on the same timeline, able to interact with one another. Though I wrote this poem before I read the book, the same concept is expressed here. The I in the poem is watching the past swallow the present, from the standpoint of the future (hung ghosts instead of hanging).

The ghosts in Black Death are imagined and painfully real. In some poems, maybe who or what has died is an idea, a love, a tightly held belief. In a different poem, I am in the kitchen preparing food when I hear this loud, sharp ringing. It was as if someone had struck a bell at the same pace for days. The sound started appearing after I had performed a ritual to cast a love out of my heart (I know, dramatic and gay, such a Scorpio). I looked everywhere and could not find the source. As I wrote the poem, I didn’t know that it was going to come to this end, with the ghosts of this love appearing, but it only made sense. I had to ask myself why she was still lingering, and still being in love with her was too easy of an answer. The poem ends with the ghost singing to me, in an almost taunting way, because she knows the ritual was desperate and perhaps a bit disingenuous. She knows I didn’t want her to leave, or at least not that way, that i was taking a route that drove me right past the heart of my feelings for her. In this case, the ghost stayed because I truly wasn’t ready to let her go.

As I look over my manuscript I ask myself again and again, who are the ghosts and why are they here? I become at peace with the reality that some ghosts can not be willed away or forced out with incantations and sage. Some of them have to stay and be put into poems until we figure out how and why they died, and what their purpose is.

Look at your essays, your poems; look at your words and ask if any of them are wasted. If you find that they are, inspect the space around the gap you are trying to fill. It will tell you something if you listen. As for ghosts, they are everywhere. I have a ghosts in my apartment right now. She’s a trickster. She hid my glasses case from me for months only for me to find it under my bedside table, where I had checked dozens of times. Whoever they are and whatever they do, show some respect. They are likely here for the same reason that you are.


ps: buy Colin’s book and Sadie’s book: Mouthguard!

JUSTICE FOR ANTWON ROSE JR.

Last night, bigot and murderer Michael Rosfeld was acquitted of all charges in the death of Antwon Rose Jr.

Antwon was unarmed.

He was shot in the back.

Rosfeld said he killed him to “protect the community.”

This community is no safer than it was when Antwon was alive. He was not the threat. Rosfeld and the East Pittsburgh Police are threats. The entire police system is a threat.

Antwon was shot in the back and the face.

Less than a six months ago a white supremacist walked into a synagogue here in Pittsburgh and slaughtered 11 innocent people. He is alive today. He will receive a trial and be judged by a jury of his peers.

Antwon was unarmed. He was running away.

May he rest in power and in peace.

May Rosfeld never rest another day in his miserable life.

No JUSTICE, No PEACE.

Painting

Hello again.

I said I’d be back with a list of the things I’ve been consuming and enjoying within the last couple weeks, so here it is. I am unfortunately the kind of person that reads five books at a time, so there will be a lot here. Get ready.

Books:

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn Ward

    This is a great book regardless, but especially if you are someone that truly believes in spirits/hauntings/whatever you want to call them. Without spoiling the plot, it' is frightening and remarkable and touching. I felt that I was going to cry from the beginning and the ending left me gasping for air.

  • American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin - Terrance Hayes

    If you’ve never heard the voice of Terrance Hayes or seen his towering body, get your life to the point where you can. I have seen him read multiple times and each time is a masterclass in how poetry is expressed in the body. This book is written with a tongue that dances; Hayes’ language is so fun and playful, but easily transitions into a lead foot that settles everything. In one of the sonnets, he writes:

    “Even the most kindhearted white woman,

    dragging herself through traffic with her nails

    on the wheel & her head in a chamber of black

    modern American music may begin, almost

    carelessly, to breathe n-words”

    Such a seamlessly and scathing portrait of white liberalism. Like wow.

  • Whereas - Layli Long Soldier (I haven’t gotten too far in this book so I’m reserving my thoughts)

  • Bestiary - Donika Kelly

    if you’ve been on this page for any length of time you know I love Donika Kelly and spiders. Bestiary is animalistic in it’s grieving. The way it appears on the page like a wild cat or a doe emerging from a thicket of green, then retreating when you blink.

  • The Passage - Justin Cronin

    I started this book and flew through the first half of it with an immediacy. Then suddenly, there is a turn in narrative and tonal shift that takes me completely out of everything I’ve just invested in. I currently feel too betrayed to continue reading but its not my book and I have to return it to the owner so I’m gonna muscle through it.

  • When My Brother Was an Aztec - Natalie Diaz

    This is another book about a kind of grief, but also the love that supersedes and even weaves itself through that grief.

    “Please hang your charcoal three-piece suit somewhere

    else. Please stop

    dragging wire hangers across her arms and stomach”

    I’m a sucker for pleading, I love a good plea in a poem. There exist in every sister a piece of your siblings that you have tried to save from suffering and pain. This poem and this book gets at that feeling grandly.

  • Animal You’ll Surely Become - Brittany Hailer

    Brittany is my friend, but I’m not biased. I’m not finished with this book but I can say it’s really brilliant. The way she blends memoir, fairy tale, and poetry is truly something I haven’t seen before. We all have our stories to tell but Brittany just tells her better than most.

Music:

  1. Thanks to spotify premium I’ve discovered a new-ish artist called Joseph of Mercury who’s album I’m really digging. He kind of gives me more soulful Perfume Genius vibes.

  2. Jamila Woods - Way Up

  3. I try and start every day by listening to Free by Deneice Williams. Those fluttery vocals kissing my cheeks like butterfly wings really brings me into a place of gratitude for the day.

  4. Nina Simone everyday

  5. Kadhja Bonet has a song called Delphine that is so harrowing and haunting and I can’t stop imagining it as a part of a score for my horror movie.

  6. I’ve long since wanted to be the lesbian Teddy Pendergrass and I’m only working my way to it everyday. “You’re My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration” is such a sweet song that dissolves into this incredibly powerful ballad toward the end. FURTHERMORE “Feel the Fire” with Stephanie MIlls? A sexual masterpiece. I put that on and can’t resist myself. WOO.

  7. Lots of Gavin Turek, dreaming about her dazzling me with spins and her powerful fro.

  8. Sad Girls Aquatic Club, a local dreamy pop band featuring ultimate babe Marie Mashyna.

  9. This Brazilian punk band called La MIsma

Also, the most important thing, last night I went to a reading with Claudia Rankine and Carrie Mae Weems. Claudia Rankine said I looked like a painting, Carrie Mae Weems danced to Aretha Franklin and talked about the transcendent power of black art. I am full of love for black women, black lesbians, and the black poets that have come before me. So rich.

See y’all again in a couple weeks.

Launch

Within the past week, after spending a lot of time planning and thinking, I made the move and launched my own reading series. The Fig Widow Reading Series has it’s first event in April, at what I feel is the convergence of Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Sexual Assault Awareness month. For so long I’ve wanted to be the person behind the scenes, making moves, planning things, and I finally get the chance to help other poets and myself bring our voices to the light.

I’ve been writing for years. It took me until my sophomore year of college to be able to share those words with others on a stage, and until I was 23 to start going out on the open mic circuit in my city. Now, I’m working on a book and starting this series and feeling like the life I’ve wanted is finally starting to take form. The career I’ve wanted. Because writing is both my passion and the way I make a living, it’s easy to get a little burned out, tired, jaded. In these moments I focus on the feeling I get when I go to a poetry reading. Just entering the space where I know poets I admire and respect will be does something to the blood in my veins. It gets heavier and thinner at once, able to move freely through my hands, carrying something vital. I listen and see and write like I’m insatiable. That effect, that feeling, I want to be in it every day. I want other people to be in that space with me. Especially women, black and brown women and lesbians. I want us to feel the fire of creativity and kinship.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not terrified and nervous. I’m organizing this event and performing at it. I’m trying to find money for food and to pay the other performers. What if someone doesn’t show up, what if I bomb? What if I start to speak and my voice floats up and out of my mouth forever? I don’t know. I let the fear of being a disaster wreck me and hold me back for years and years. I want to acknowledge that fear and push through it so it can’t conquer me.

Most importantly I am so so so excited. Even on bad days I find a pearl to roll between my fingers, carrying it’s smooth opalescence to the core of me.

If you’re in Pittsburgh I have so many great events coming up that I hope to see you at. If you’re not, maybe I’ll be in your city someday soon.

I’m trying to be more regular about this blog stuff so I’m going to do a wrap of the stuff I’m reading/have read in 2019 within the next two weeks.

Blessings.

Eating in Bed

One rule that I have kept around for myself as an adult is that I am not allowed to eat in bed.

It used to be about cleanliness; not getting crumbs in the sheets and subsequently on my arms and thighs. It was also (and more honestly) about not leaving behind the evidence of my hunger. I was a fat kid, and I’m a fat adult. In my teenage years I learned that you could lose weight at a rapid pace if you just stopped eating. Hunger was mind over matter. You could trick yourself into not feeling the sharp pains in your stomach; eventually the growls and whistles would dim. As an anorexic teen, I would lie in bed and pull my fingers around my jutting rib cage and the sharp ascent of my hip bones. My bones, proudly announcing themselves through my skin, were my crown. I wore absence with pride.

As a poet, I am fascinated by two things currently: the mouth and what passes through it. In recovery from an eating disorder and in recovery from addiction, there are things that I don’t put in my mouth anymore after years of needing to. There are also things that go into my mouth that haven’t in years.

I am also writing about truth, and teeth, and language. What it means to say something for the first time and to say it again and again so that it no longer becomes foreign to me, so that it can pass through me. I am writing and speaking for the first time about things I’ve never acknowledged. This action is driven by hunger. Hunger for what? My body, my story, for an exhale, for relief.

A friend recently listed a few key elements to my poems. Two of them that stood out were “the fruit and the plea.” Hunger is a plea. It is the stomach screaming “please give me something more. No more air, no more silence. More.” Hunger is also as much about the brain as it is about the stomach. Not in the dismissive mind over matter mantra I once carried, my brain and mind are hungry for care that has been absent. They want to be listened to and taken care of instead of abused and shamed. The way that I fill that need and provide that nourishment is through poetry and therapy. I tell the truth. I let myself feel the things that scare and harm me, and I train myself to be good in the aftermath.

I am adopting a whole new language for myself.

Being an addict and having an eating disorder were both intrinsically about not knowing how to live in a body I was ashamed of. I was ashamed of it because it was black, it was scarred, it was fat, it was woman, it was too much. Now I am a long term occupant in this house and I’m teaching her how to talk and walk and shower and eat. Sometimes she’s hungry and that means having a bar of chocolate bedside, or a cup of tea that will undoubtedly go cold and be hastily guzzled in the morning.

I’m afraid if I keep going here I’ll reveal too much about the project I am working on, one that I am incredibly proud of. So I’m gonna go drink some tea while it’s still hot and try to savor this chocolate because it was on sale and it’s my favorite brand. But what I will leave you with is that for years I couldn’t have peanut butter in my apartment because it was my favorite thing to binge on. I don’t know if you know how hard it is to purge peanut butter, but it is disgusting and grueling. My body hasn’t fully recovered from years of training my throat and stomach muscles to expel whatever I forced down on command. I can, however, keep peanut butter around now. I can eat a meal and not tally the calories mentally. I can give myself what I’ve been asking for.