Y’all know I’ve been writing–and finishing–two books for the past few years. So I don’t talk to y’all all the time, only when something presses urgently on me, and this past couple of months have been weighing my heart down. The political atmosphere is crazy, and I’ve learned to take that in some-what stride. But then, somebody tried to ruin Black History Month for me.
Now, y’all know how I feel about Black History Month: it’s my favorite time of the year. This year, straight up, all-out national foolishness tried to take my joy. I can’t even catalog all of the foolishness. That’s an entirely new blog post.
But just like all the great black church ladies will proclaim, “Devil, I rebuke you!” I have said that these foolish racist white supremacists are not going to steal my African American Joy! Because the joke is on them: February might be over, but the Afropalooza Season is just getting started.
Now, for folks who don’t remember, I decided that Black Excellence did not end on February 28 (or 29th, if it’s leap year), but continued through March and April.
And I decided to shake off my sadness by composing a collective poem for Women’s History Month. I put out a call on social media, asking for one line of poetry from African Americans who identified as women.
It was spur of the moment idea, and frankly, I didn’t know what would happen. Would anybody even answer my call? (And frankly, in such a short period of time, would this poem be a hot mess?)
Yet I was hoping that together, we black women could conjure some roots–a spell–to cast away the ugliness trying to take away our black celebration, especially in this year of 2019, the four hundred year anniversary of the arrival of the “Twenty and odd Negroes” at Jamestown, Virginia–a sacred year for African (North) Americans. Always, we remember the sacrifice of our ancestors, but in this year, it resonates that much more.
I provided two lines of poetry to get the cipher started, and then, I let the sisters do their thing.
I was shocked by the beauty and power that we created in this cipher-poem. I did not change one word–not one. I only arranged the lines, and then, I inserted punctuation, line breaks, and capitalization. When I wanted to keep the cipher going, I would add a line for purposes of continuity.
The collective poem is below, and then, after that, the names of the sisters who wrote the poem. I offer them my boundless gratitude for answering my call.
I hope this poem is as much as a gift to you as it was to me, during the season in which I celebrate my African/American ancestors. I really needed these words.
Medicine/Spell/Cipher of Sisters
Beyond the threshold of womb,
our bodies begin and end at a sea.
Our hymns, choraled through
the arches of our mothers,
sing new but still sobful in the breasts
of our daughters—
our features, hinting at a strength
that cannot be held back,
full lips, full hips, fuller hair,
definedly and defiantly so:
that is to say,
the hills that sturdied their ancient
hipbones, fluted through the terrible
mountains of their spines—
our spirits, bent yet not broken,
are filled with the gentle
refrain of “We Shall Overcome”:
the weight of the world and our wounds
press against well oiled brown flesh,
kept supple for the lift and uplift ahead.
Cupped spirit laced palms,
church pink lipstick mesmering
“Amen! Amen! Amen!” into
another language altogether—
bodies, the day we began our beginning,
fierce and wonderfully made.
Our joy, ever present, never snuffed
out thru the dark, thru the light,
thru the mud, thru the clear
water, always there.
an Ancestral suite crescendoing
from red clay to blue moon.
Our songs float on our granddaughters’
tongues, our grandmothers
proud of the job we’ve done.
I am the child of these women.
I move toward you with intention
and black girl rhythm:
all the beautiful voices
are coming for you,
lifting prayers like sheets pinned
on the back yard clothes line.
Belly heaving echoes of blood clotted
abandon from which feral,
fertile soil we rise—
All sisters become
one sister becomes
our histories chanted in tongues
by our mothers, griefs bloomed
into brown-skinned magic.
Their secrets, revealed, illuminate
our path to freedom.
My freedom, my path—
I was rocked into the blood of slumber.
Crepuscular, groping at dawn.
Memory’s thirst tickling my tongue,
the winding life line in indigo palms.
Who will sing the songs of our ancestors?
All sisters become one sister,
steadfast against the hypocrisies
of the entitled and privileged—
she shall not be moved
in this “man’s” world.
Soft lullabies whispered in the dark
become joyous bird songs spilling
from our throats in full light of day.
Our story is lifeblood
is birthblood is earthblood
we see us before us
and after we hear us in starlight.
We see our sweet magical melodies,
feel us in elders alive
and still dreaming.
Contributors to the cipher-poem: Paulette Beete (lines 57-59), Joan Brannon (lines 36-37), Alexia Clifton (lines 42-43), Gillian Clifton (line 67), Sidney Clifton (lines 76-82), Constance Collier-Mercado (lines 50-53), Angela Jackson-Brown (lines 19-21), Marissa Davis (lines 15-17), Hope Guirantes (lines 69-72), Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper (lines 47-48), DaMaris Hill (line 66), Valerie Jean (lines 73-75), Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (lines 3-4, 14, 18, 35, 41, 46, 49, 54-56, 62, 68) , Allison Joseph (lines 44-45), Akosua Lesesne (10-13), Kwoya Fagin Maples (line 29), JoAnn Michel (lines 7-9), Michelle Smith Quarles (lines 5-6), Margaret Porter Troupe (line 65), Melynda Price (lines 22-24), Riché Richardson (line 30), Carmen Tanner Slaughter (lines 60-61), Martha Southgate (lines 31-34), Sharan Strange (lines 1-2), Elizabeth Upshur (lines 25-28), Artress Bethany White (lines 63-64), Crystal Wilkinson (lines 38-40).