(A creative conversation piece written with my dear friend and college roommate, Alexandra Wilcox)
My mother weaves a beautiful bedtime story
For her daughters as the lights dim at night
Brave, bold, and beautiful
Our voices rising strong above the waves
I waited on the sidewalk until she ascended the steps
Children happily pounded on the window, waiting for my wave
When the door was closed, I turned to go
And realized I’d been holding my breath.
She had been more comfort to me than I to her.
Her life says: Take my daughters, America
And let the talent from their souls
Not wash into the abyss of lives that could have been.
Let them live.
Let them be clothed in the pursuit of happiness
And fed by the scales of equality and justice
And let them be remembered
She had been shamed yet remained standing tall
With a grace I could never equal
Two days before, I stood in her living room
Balancing a child on my hip
“I’ll support you—no matter what you decide”
She looked at me with clear eyes—
“I can’t afford to do this. I can’t do this to my kids.”
Her life for my life.
A long-standing payment to history.
But in America, “Nobody says you have
to take the circumstances that someone else gives you.”
This is why in this day and age
When a woman cannot earn the same amount as a man
For the same job and has her rights tossed around
By men in suits in big chairs on big hills,
I do not take those circumstances lightly.
She was open about the failings—
Some were her own; many were not
But no matter past or present, she remained a fierce woman with fierce love.
I aspired to model her resilience—to be able to rise up
After being struck down
To survive again and again and again
In a paper always nestled in the back
Of my arms-length memory,
I had imagined a different life for myself.
I had created a world in which
I conversed with the greatest scholars.
As I took my seat at the table,
I whispered in the ear of Adrienne Rich
That her dreams were being born in the lives
Of the women of my generation…
Now only to wake to nightmares
That when I open my mouth to speak,
There are no words, no sound, no voice
It was the season of primary debates and
The phrase “sanctity of life” was center stage.
Succumbing to exhaustion on the subway after that long day
Why don’t we see any sanctity in hers?
If I am in search of my mother’s garden
I am afraid my search is confused
I thought she had planted it right here in her daughter
But so many have tried to cut down the roots
When we de-legitimize rape, when we silence victims of violence
When we remove choice, when we steal away opportunity
When we shame
The consequences do not only linger around those we’ve oppressed.
They filter into every corner of every home.
They lay with us in bed at night;
They commute with us to work the next morning.
They hang in the air between those who have and those who have not,
Between those who are and those who are “less.”
I fancy myself a recoverer of history
A hand that stretches back to pull out lost remains
It is a role I have crafted for myself over the years
Since I was first allowed to truly explore the complexities
Of what it means to be black, and especially a black woman
A role often owned by others throughout time
But the hand that rocks the cradle and molds the nation
Is the one that can survive.
We refuse to claw at the institutionalized oppression.
We instead claw at each other, convinced that to succeed another must fall.
Convinced that if we have made it, it is safest to pull up the ladder
before those next in line reach the bottom rung.
What shall freedom look like? Who will bring us back together?
It is she, the one whose beauty shines like the velvety night
With eyes that sparkle with hope from the stars
With hope that even though the role of the mule
Asks of her to bend over year after year
With the burden of the babies, the men, the creating,
That the harvest will not be in vain
And then, how do we survive? How can we possibly survive so divided?
The consequences will carve a chasm that is wide,
Too wide for any bridge to overcome
United we stand, divided we fall.
We will fail without one another.
We will fail if we don’t see the sanctity in each other.
This is my story. It is woven with thread so thin, yet so strong
So intricate and yet so simple
I wear its tattooed symbol on my face, my arms
My legs, the hollows of my body.
It is a familiar marking that I have found in other women in life.
Lives that have been lived, are living, and will be lived–
Different faces yet the same molds on the canvas.
Before she ascended the steps to her home,
She and I faced one another
I fumbled with words of comfort
But prayed she knew that I meant it
She nodded and thanked me,
That it would have been hard alone.
But she had been alone—when no one stopped the fist or ended the rape,
When no one else held her newborn, when her dreams were deferred
Her daughters, my daughters would be even more alone
If the rhetoric that had been passing through our ears
“And so our mothers and grandmothers have,
more often than not anonymously,
handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower
they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter
they could not plainly read.”
No longer am I anonymous. WE no longer are anonymous.
No one can take my body and make it their own,
on ballot nor in the streets at night as I walk.
I carry the spark and only I can out it.
This garden is a place of sanctity.
Yet, despite having no reason to trust me
And every reason to believe that I would fail her,
She allowed me to stand beside her.
She let me be on her side and reached for my hand
To tell me that she was on mine
The side of our mothers, the side of our daughters
I am never alone in the telling of this story.
I am not the first, but when will there be a last?
We who usher the future into the world
Through the life-bearing passages of our very souls
Must not be silenced.
We who have but one life, must not be forced only to give.
Because at the end of the day, we are inextricably linked
Because at the end of the day, our fight is the same
The responsibilities we have to ourselves.
The responsibilities we have to each other.
So when I say I’m writing this for me,
I’m really writing it for you.
“The truth of our [women’s] bodies and our minds
Has been mystified to us.
We therefore have a primary obligation to each other:
Not to undermine each other.”