In Search of a Pair of Wings

I find solace in some of the most ordinary moments of life. One of those moments is when I deep condition my hair after it has been straight for some time and I can touch the curls once more bouncing from my head. It feels like coming back to roots, back to a familiar once lost and now regained. I savor those tiny moments of contentment because this world is filled with too many moments of fighting to breathe. I recently finished reading Clint Smith’s hauntingly beautiful book of poetry Counting Descent, and I am reminded of the line:

“I wish I could give my breath to the boys who had theirs taken, but I’ve stopped counting because it feels like there are too many boys & not enough breath to go around.”

Last week I read an article that made me feel like my heart was ripping out of my chest once more. Nothing felt new – we know that they lie about us. We know we don’t deserve to die despite the narratives that are painted. But reading about the new footage of Michael Brown and the things Darren Wilson has said and believes, and knowing he is alive while Mike Brown never got to experience his first day of college hurts. I reached out to my mom as I do in these times and shared with her the article. She responded: “Yes, it hurt to read that what I believed happened, was indeed the truth. I am beyond anger. My only emotion is a dull sadness that will persist, because of the lack of true accountability. My prayers will continue for those who lost their loved ones. Their character can be cleared, but it does not restore their life.” That dull sadness is a pain only some of us can truly know. It persists until you can feel it running through your toes, threatening to root you to spots unmoving. But as Pastor Mike reminded us one sermon, cry, but cry in a place that gives you power. I hope the loss of life always hurts, even though it can feel overwhelming. If I feel this way at 28, I can only imagine what my mother and others with their age have had to hide away in their hearts. We should never grow accustomed to loss. I refuse to let it become my default.

This past weekend I saw the play Eclipsed with a close friend. A running theme throughout the powerful, all-female show, was about naming: naming your feelings, naming your situation, and, most importantly, naming yourself. When it feels like others have only taken of you, made their beds on top of your back, we must reclaim the power of naming. And within that power of naming is the power of self-creation.

I want to share another poem from Clint Smith’s poetry book that has stuck with me since I first read it and clutched the book to my chest:

what the cicada said to the black boy

i’ve seen what they make of you
how they render you a multiplicity
of mistakes

they have undone me as well
pulled back my shell & feasted
on my flesh

claimed it was for their survival
& they wonder why I only show my face
every seventeen years

but you

you’re lucky if they let you live that long
i could teach you some things, you know
have been playing this game since before

you knew what breath was
this here is prehistoric
why you think we fly?

why you think we roll in packs?
you think these swarms are for the fun of it?
i would tell you that you don’t roll deep enough

but every time you swarm they shoot
get you some wings, son
get you some wings

-Clint Smith

I think my life has always been about finding a pair of wings. But maybe this is no flying creature that I or you has ever seen before. The kind that manifests in our dreams, and we keep searching for materials in our wake, looking at one another as if to say: Get you some wings. Get you some wings. 

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Reminders

One of the greatest gifts I have allowed myself to receive in my life are the reminders that I find of things that I need to recall or remember. Sometimes a word, a conversation, a photograph. I just have to be ready to listen.

Last night I went to a celebration in Oakland in honor of Ghana’s 60th anniversary of independence. It was a wonderful night filled with reminiscing about trotro adventures, changing neighborhoods, favorite foods, and lots and lots of jollof rice. I was especially impressed with the young man sitting next to me who knew every Ghanaian song I was referencing based on a simple description of a few words or what someone was wearing in the music video.

On the way home my driver was a friendly Nigerian man, probably in his 30s. As the ride continued across the beautifully lit Bay Bridge, the driver expressed to me that people often ask him where his accent is from and that it was a way of them reminding him that he does not belong here; that this was not his home. The emotions in his voice rose as he talked about people who could never understand his sacrifices, and who had spent their whole lives in their geographic bubble. Such subtle reminders of how one views you is usually coupled with an inability to see the true nature of oneself or the other person.

In Citizen, Claudia Rankine describes this as, “For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person…you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such langauge acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all thew ays that you are present.” As an immigrant, such language about accents and ‘where are you from’ are language acts that exploit a perceived difference in the way someone looks or talks. The point of such visibility being that it is necessary to paint the exact outlines of difference. My driver went on to describe how he does not pay any attention to ignorance that comes from ignorant people. The refusal to engage in those language acts creates barriers toward exploitation. And I return to the wise words of my driver, reminding me of all that has made me that so many can never catch a glimpse of or understand. Clint Smith writes in his poem “what the ocean said to the black boy”: they call me blue because they don’t understand how the sky work/they call you black because they don’t understand how god work. 

We must continue to create our armor against the exploitation of language acts bent to take that which makes us strong and use it to mark us ‘other.’