Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Home Alone

I spend a lot of time
in my bathroom mirror these days
It’s enormous
I painted and mounted it myself
Hired a handyman to install the vanity lights
I am willing to engage experts
Somehow, this does not feel the same as asking for help

Black Woman
is my mother wielding grace, guerilla tactics and fairy
godmother good will all in the same afternoon
Black Woman
is my grandmother exacting her own resurrections and
revenge in the form of success and
Black Woman
is stubborn love extending, again and again, their well-bitten hands

I hear the cadence of their steps when I’m out in the world
Patent leather, peep-toe wedges, galoshes, sneakers and fuzzy slippers
I don’t move within the soundtrack of “legacy”
but the arc and lilt of their melody play on a loop
Like them, my skin is imbued with pride, satisfaction,
fulfillment and exhaustion
Is that what Black Woman means? Being exhausted?
I might be willing to be half as Black if I could be half as weary

“You come from a long line of women who get shit done”
I said this to my oldest daughter when she was 13
Same age as I when the dots connected
They didn’t arrange themselves before me into a path
They widened my ken of possibilities
I didn’t have such language then, but understood that I had choices
Life is dealing yourself good choices
Black Woman
is bending the bad ones into charm jewelry

I spend a lot of time
in my bathroom mirror these days
experimenting with natural skin care
Honey. Egg whites. Avocado. Coconut. Oatmeal.
Even Milk of Magnesia
“When you know better, you do better”
I try to do better every day
Sometimes, trying is a feat all its own with
so much “better” stacked in piles around me
Better eating. Better income. Better dreaming. Better staying in touch with friends.
This season, I am only committed to better ingredients

When I’m alone, I give myself permission to stare into mirrors
The one in my bathroom has the best light
I bask in my me-ness, celebrate my journey to this reflection
I don’t mind the approaching promise of crinkles
around my smiling eyes
I loved the way my grandmother’s face folded and unfolded when she laughed
The backs of my hands are corded with the patterns of mother’s veins
They are elegant and strong, like hers
I think I always knew this woman in this mirror,
jostled and chipped, was swelling inside me
I think I always feared the hemorrhaging and
splitting of skin required to get her here
I marvel at how smoothly the scars are fading

When I’m alone, I admire my curves and bulges and
blemishes and grey strands and the soft shadows
settling under the contours of my face
My face, that is three generations young
I like to say
When I’m alone, I do not mistake my appreciation
for surety or arrogance or completion or luck
When I’m alone, I do not mistake my existence at all
Out in the world, I’m careful to insulate my admiring gaze or
my speech or my curiosities or my fist pumps or my weeping

When I’m alone, in my mirror, I make myself promises
I promise more movies, fewer emails, longer baths, new words
I promise to keep my heart in my left hand, so it can be free
but I can still keep watch, such a rambunctious thing
Some of these are promises in progress
I make them all in good faith
I am good faith when I’m alone
I am peace when I’m alone
I am beautiful
I am wise
I am gentle
I am quiet
So surprisingly quiet
I am listening to the murmur, moaning and meandering of my thoughts
I am floating when I’m alone
I am smearing foodstuffs on my face and in my hair
I am flossing and exfoliating
Peering into the eyes of the anxious preteen who refuses to leave me
I am welcoming a new face that is mine, but not really

I spend a lot of time in the mirror, these days

An exercise that feels exactly like prayer 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

When You Call Yourself Names

At 19, I was gone
I ran
Left my country
and a mother who was mostly silent
Escaped a father who was a brute
I got the best of his worst, being the oldest son

Expected to enter law or real estate
Placed in boarding school at the age of nine
I despised it
It was the most expensive school in my country
Though the public school had creative, imaginative teachers
Those kids received a better education
We had pretentiousness, networking and "proper" old school marms
all the way from England
My aunt -who shouldn't have- paid for it all
My father -who shouldn't have- wanted my profound gratitude

I haven't attended any reunions
I did make friends for life
Our bonds are more akin to having survived prison together
When I took my son to visit the school
you could still smell oppression in the wood
I showed him where they made us kneel
Sam Neill, the actor, graduated two years ahead of me
Once a celebrated alumnus, they asked him to return
He refused to come back, ever, unless the caning stopped

I would've been one of those kids on Ritalin
had they been diagnosing such things in my day
I just needed to organize things differently
Always been a copious reader
Always a self-educated learner
I left.
Traveled to Australia. London.
Eventually passed my boards
Took less than six months once I started
Earned a scholarship to art school
My father hadn't allowed me to carry art books or
consider such pursuits but I've always kind of known
Always kind of known

At 24, I called myself an artist
At 24, my life began