First, the Fire

“Eva looked into Hannah’s eyes. “Is? My baby? Burning?” “

“…Eva said yes, but inside she disagreed and remained convinced that Sula had watched Hannah burn not because she was paralyzed, but because she was interested.”

-from Sula by Toni Morrison

***

So, I’m writing.

I’ve been giving myself writing exercises in an attempt to free myself for this frustrating halt that I’ve been feeling each time I’ve tried to resume working on my thesis project recently. The way I see it, if I keep writing around and around, I will eventually write towards my actual work, as long as I’m always writing pieces that exist in the same universe as the one that I’ve created for my novel. With that in mind, I’ve invented a series of plagues that are sort of “biblical” in the sense that Christianity and a lot of its symbols and imagery have been fused or absorbed into Ewe and Haitian vodou (This is related to the research I’ve done for most of my time in my MFA program, and I wrote about it briefly here).

I didn’t grow up with the ritual of burning fallen hair after braiding or combing, but I’ve grown fixated on that image after encountering it repeatedly in Black women’s writing across the diaspora. Someone is always burning shed hair immediately before some sort of tragedy, or before the next “strange thing,” as Toni Morrison puts it in Sula.

I re-read Sula a few weeks ago, and it was not the more spectacular instances of burning that stayed with me, not Eva setting fire to Plum in his bed, or even Hannah going up in flames in the yard and Eva leaping out of the window to try and save her.

Rather, it was the smaller, the seemingly more ordinary; Nel’s grandmother using a burnt out match to darken her eyebrows, or Sula’s return, marked by birds, and by Eva burning her shed hair with her back to the same window she once leapt out of. In Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, we are to believe that it is Cocoa’s fallen hairs, those that didn’t get burnt, those that end up in the jealous Ruby’s pocket, that lead to her painful deterioration. (There’s something I think Sula and Mama Day are saying to each other, and I wrote about that here.)

My first plague is fire.

***

There is oil hissing and spitting inside. It’s possible that it is frying on too high heat until whatever you had wanted to eat is shriveled and burnt, stuck to the pan’s deep rusty belly, forevermore resistant to any scrub. It could be that the stove’s heat is too great, or, that the whole house is burning, and I am going with it.

Don’t you want to see what you can salvage

 There is something frying inside, but you are still and always slim legs, not crossed, but rather arranged one next to the other, grey dusting where your ankles meet from too many dry afternoon hours exposed to the air. Something is on fire, and your skirt is bunched up in messy fistfuls high on your thighs. Your feet are in the dust next to mine on the lower step and something is on fire. Yet, you just sit.

You have gathered the fallen hair from my head into a feathery ball and set it alight, three clicks of a lighter and a curse. There is something burning inside–I am sure– and yet, you sit, with my shed strands flaming first between your pointer and your thumb, and now in the palm of your hand.

Maybe the whole house is burning, or maybe it is just my scalp is scorching sweet mercy. I told you not to make the parts so small this time,

I told you I am something tender–

(Image by Hannah Firmin, from the cover art of the Grafton Books 1982 edition of Sula)

 

Writing Through the Block

National Poetry Month has been slightly rough in terms of writing actual poems, or anything at all to be honest! I didn’t want another Monday to go by without posting here, so I decided to put up one of the only semi-successful things I’ve written since April started. I read this article the other day about the tendency for writers to use “being too busy” to excuse neglecting their work. I felt guilty for a few minutes afterwards, thinking about how I’ve let my posting schedule slip the past few weeks. Then the defensive side kicked in. I justified my negligence by reminding myself that I’ve been busy doing other writing and school-related things, and have genuinely been trying to collect myself and rise out the emotional disarray of physical/mental exhaustion among other things.

You know when you wear your favorite pair of jeans every single time you need to put on “real” clothes, and the seams start splitting to alert you to what you already know, that it’s time to give these jeans a break. They stretch a little bit more the more you wear them, and then one day when you’re in public, most probably in the vicinity of someone you desperately want to consider you as more than their awkward but occasionally funny friend, they split violently as you try to take your seat. The spectacle is completed by the ugly scratching record sound that ripped seams have been known to make. Stay with me, I don’t know where this analogy is going. I guess my resolve and mental state are the seams? My poetry is usually better and nowhere near as melodramatic as this failed image. Usually.

***

There is a formless thing  blocking my light.

It is tearing spongy pieces off itself and wedging them between my fingers, stretching and wrapping them around my hands and making it impossible for me to function.

The thoughts I need to sacrifice to writing are bottle-necked somewhere around my wrist, bunching up and twisting around each other, so that even when I can finally get my hands to work, I wont be able to pull the words apart.

Day 16: Waitlist

What did you expect to find? The waiting list for affection- attention- indulgence- whatever you would like to call it, is far too long.

I’m afraid there will be no opening for the next-

You know what, I can’t even say…try again when there is someone to attend to your worries- concerns- petty complaints- whatever you claim them to be.

In the meantime, may I interest you in a magazine? Some tea? A little confidence and some ointment for that curved spine? A sieve so you can turn your tears into something useful?

Day 15: Look Up

No…up, not down. Not down at your shoes. I have always been obsessed with floors and I could never figure out why the omnipresent terrazzo pattern transfixed me so.

Look up. Not straight ahead. But if you do, be sure to look over the person’s left shoulder. Eye contact is not necessary, contrary to what you’ve been told. That’s a thing we invented when we wanted to convince others that we were fully and wholeheartedly listening even when we were more distracted by unruly nose hairs and chipped teeth, breathy voiced “Oh I’m so very sorry” leaping from our lips to punctuate the conversation’s formality-

Just…look up. Not to the side. Don’t dare to glance at the mirror, as tempting as it may be to grieve the miserable toothpaste-stained, dust-flecked reflection you see there-

No.

Look up- for what?

Look up and see the clouds parting.

Look up and see a double rainbow in monochrome.

A sign.

Look up.

Do you remember that time you prayed so hard that the usually dull moon overtaken by the dirty city lights shone through the burglar proofing on your window?

Look up.

Maybe the clouds just happened to drift away the moment you opened your watery eyes and the last wish sailed out of your mouth and on to horizons of dreams falling off the edge of nothing.

Look up.

That may be your only chance of rescue.

Look-

Inspiration for Days

It has been very quiet on the blog front these days, but I can assure you that I’ve been writing! In case you were not aware, it’s National Poetry Month! I’ve been writing one poem or piece of flash fiction a day and posting on my Instagram and Facebook profiles, until the other day when I had a huge brainwave that made me stop and think…I realized I should probably stop spamming people and use my personal blog instead! I’m a few days behind but I’m trying to catch up because I’ve been neglecting my writing and that’s not ok, to say the very least. Here are some of my favorites from the month so far!

*********

Day 5

I used to cast a shadow that floated on air a few inches above the ground, carefree and upward-bound.

Then fingernails filed to a point and dipped in poison scratched the feeble skin on my neck.

The rot began its reign, mingling with the naïve hope nestling in my chest.

My shadow started to droop at the edges, weighed down by the burden of an insincere heart and the memory of ancestral sin,

sagging with the knowledge of never-will-you-be-worthy.

Not today, though. Today I am the air itself-

Day 8

I want this to bring back Sunday morning memories, cartoons before church and new socks still crisp from the packet.

Let these words be an ice cube melting  on the inside of your cheek, tickling your gums and the tip of your tongue.

I want to be 4pm on your day off, when everything is tinted orange and ants march on and away from our picnic blanket, carrying their war spoils of crumbs and the words we should have swallowed.

Day 14

De-throning La Reine de Saba

Do not tell me that I was born already fitted with the equipment to manufacture civilizations.

That would mean I am also responsible for the war machine.

Do not sing my praises. Please lay down your flutes and harps. Take back this crown of jagged nails.

They look too much like the sharp edge that grazed my throat the other day.

I have vanished and you do not care.