joining the flock

In the summer of 1986 I joined the United States Army Reserve. I was 19 years old and had no inkling of the nature of my upcoming journey. I was young and naive with high expectations and childlike dreams. 

I required money for college; that was my primary reason for joining. I wanted to become a lawyer. Serving my country was an afterthought. The GI Bill was my road to higher education and a better future. I had initially walked into the Air Force recruiters’ office, college and jets on my mind. My scores were insufficient, so I could not join to become a pilot. I had to choose from jobs within my test range. Dejected, I ambled down the hall to the Army recruiters and officially joined the Army Reserve as 71L (Administrative Specialist), my MOS (Military Occupational Specialties). I don’t fully recall why I wanted to change, but felt compelled to do so.

Basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) were at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. At the time, Fort Jackson was said to be one of the most grueling basic training forts in the United States. I was unable to confirm this at the time, but it certainly felt like the truth. AIT was not as challenging, but still intense and demanding. 

I left Fort Jackson and headed back to the North Bronx, now officially a private and reservist. My monthly duty station was Fort Totten in Queens, built in 1862 (named Fort at Willets Point) and renamed Fort Totten in 1898.  Each month I made the long trip to Queens to spend two days conducting military business. It was unimpressive and uneventful. Once per year we went away for two weeks, with my first two week trip landing me in Colorado, knee deep in sidewinders and what felt like twin suns.

After nearly two years and incessant indecisiveness regarding what I wanted to study in college, I decided to join the Army full time. Becoming a lawyer no longer felt like a fit. I imagined defending the guilty and immediately became disinterested. I then decided to become a computer programmer and began learning C, C++, FORTRAN, COBOL and Pascal. While I enjoyed learning the many programming languages, I didn’t envision myself programming day in and day out at a corporation. Pre-lawyer dreams of becoming a singer, model and actress had long been dashed to the wind due to lack of support. I needed to get away. The Army was my escape. Silly, I know this now.

My first duty station as a full-time soldier was West Germany, Deutschland, winter 1988, Christmas week. I learned to stick shift in Deutschland and drove on the Autobahn (Bundesautobahn), speed limits be damned, within two days of learning manual transmission.  I rode on the U-Bahn, the railway system with no booth clerk at many stops.  A small ticket machine stole their jobs and left the honor system as a replacement. Some days I purchased my ticket, other days I took a chance, hoping a conductor wouldn’t float through to check tickets and give tickets to the dishonorable. I was caught once without a ticket, but that did not deter me from periodically rolling the dice like some Germans. My adventures in Deutschland are extensive and will find their way in other stories on another day. Of all the stories, however, there is one more I will share here. I was there when the Wall came down and many East Germans left what some would consider their prison and others would call their home. Small cars I called shoes, all piled high with luggage sometimes twice the height of the tiny cars, moved along narrow streets in West Germany. Droves of East Germans, excited to reunited with Westside family members, flowed like a stream over unfamiliar asphalt. The influx, although expected, was still a shock to the system in the West. I witnessed it. Got a piece of the wall and a cut of the original fence that remained before the wall went up. It was surreal to be there, a witness to transformative history.

Promotion to Specialist • West Germany 1989

I gave birth to my first daughter in Frankfurt, West Germany, October 1990, then decided it was time to extricate myself from an environment I had slowly realized was not conducive to the life I wanted for my child. After a bit of research, I found a loophole that allowed me to leave the military. I was tempted to remain in Germany given that I had fallen in love with the land and the people. But youth and inexperience planted fear in me, so I left. 

I learned many valuable lessons while in the military. It is an experience I cherish. I am not a “patriot” like many of my veteran friends. The military did, however, provide me with opportunities. I have been asked many times over the years if I would do it over, would I join again? No, never again. I would definitely not do it again. I believe the universe repeatedly attempts to provide us with lessons. If we avoid a lesson one way, we are given the lesson another way. I believe I would have received whatever lessons I learned in the military through some other means or method.

I remember all that I’ve gained. I also realize all that I’ve lost by joining.  In the end, it balances out. I suppose. It is what it is. I had an experience. It was valuable. It is over. I honor it and would never wish to do it again. I do not believe anything but bullying is solved by war. Death always follows. For a moment in time, I was a part of that as I out-processed soldiers for the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield. The hands of time cannot be reversed. And that is ok. I am here and I know something I did not know yesterday. 

in the small places

Remembering Her Through Streams of Words

I’ve always felt that I, human, am frighteningly small and whatever this is that we exist within is big, bigger than anything I could describe with human words. Not even numbers, math, arithmetic can illustrate what this is in ways we can fathom. Or even believe. Yet, we are in it. We are swallowed up by it. It ingests us and digests us as we move through it, trying to find our way to the other side of it. If there is another side. If there is only one side. 

We are the grain of sand upon the beach of these galaxies, all swimming inside a mass of multiverses. We are floating through space, circling things we cannot see, and being encircled by things we may never see.

I bend inquisitive words to my will, hoping to breathe life into the mouths of their newly fleshed selves, hoping these words will help me to feel big inside this nameless ancient thing. I wonder about this hope I carry and whether it is authentic. Do I truly want to feel big? Do I want to know what this is? Or do I want to feel a greater sense of what I am in all this? Maybe I am terrified of the realization that I am sand. Or the molecule that sits upon the sand. Or the molecules that make up the sand. Maybe this is what frightens me, to realize how seemingly insignificant I am in all this. I am absent the ability to understand it. We all are. So there is no one I can turn to for answers, because we are all the many molecules moving around inside the form that is sand. Trapped by invisible limitations that won’t allow us to be anything other than sand; anything other than human. We cannot escape, we can only be.

I’m lost. I wake each day, sun warming my skin, and find myself yet again trapped inside this mysterious flesh that won’t set me free. Each sunrise renders me small and ever shrinking. I am acutely aware of this aging body I inhabit that will one day stop. I will be motionless, still, ceasing to realize the smallness of everything I’ve ever known. Becoming smaller as the abyss takes hold. Ultimately, ceasing to realize the bigness of all that I will never see or hear or smell or touch. Will there be something else once I leave this prison? Or should I count this as a mysterious gift I cannot decipher? Will there be the chance to explore that which is bigger than me, and smaller than I could ever imagine? Does that which is smaller than me contemplate its existence in the way that I contemplate mine? In similar ways? Maybe we are the only beings that contemplate existence. Will I enter the light or the darkness, or a peculiar amalgam of both? Will I go into permanent unconsciousness or permanent existence and sentience? Will I BE; or not be?

I think. 

Then…

…I bake words in hot ovens so they may rise. I fry them in cast iron pots, black and seasoned over the years to add flavor to everything that touches them. I take words into my hands and toss them in a buttered pan, so they can flavor my existence and find the truths I cannot see. The words seek out the roads less traveled, the paths to uncharted places only the stars have seen. I want to go there, to the uncharted places. I want to become big; then small enough and wise enough to commune with the ones who know what it is like to feel small. They live and love and look up and out, wondering what else there is…who else there is. I sauté words, preparing them for my still growing imagination. I imagine big, trying to offset my feelings of smallness. I have trouble seeing the power of smallness in this moment, even though I know there is power in the small. I know it. I do.

If we let it, realization of our pending death could open portals into other worlds (and words). Maybe only into the worlds in our mind, but maybe into tangible worlds waiting for us to find them. If we fearfully attempt to pretend death isn’t coming, we could deny ourselves a magical journey. 

My stepmother died Friday, April 20, 2018. She was kind. 

Her journey thrust me into deep meditation. I went to the hospital. Saw her lifeless body. Her mouth was agape due to rigor mortis, so it could not be closed. It was surreal. She’d only been dead for two hours when I arrived. Her body was still warm. 

Warm.

Warm.

No movement. No breath. No heart beat. Lifeless.  But warm. Warmth is life. 

It was life.

I kissed her forehead and my lips warmed. I spoke to her, feeling that she was still traveling and would hear my words. I wanted my imagining to be true, for her traveling soul to smile as I spoke. 

I wanted her to have a soul. 

So I spoke to her, not knowing if what I conjured in my mind was true. As I sat staring at her, I no longer knew what was true. In truth, I never did. I’ve always tossed our existence around in my mind, never landing on anything I could say I know for sure. We make claims about faith and hope and utter knowings we cannot prove to anyone but our dream-selves. Our fear of not knowing gives rise to claims of “personal journeys” only we can experience. There it is. No proof required. Convenient methods we use to allay our fears. We are creative beings. We are. 

I watch.

She seemed small on that hospital bed; small, vulnerable and helpless. Not even the doctors could bring her back. In that moment, they were helpless demi-gods who once dreamed of omnipotence. They left the room, dragging their words behind them, littering the floor with their helplessness. She was a prisoner inside a body that was warm, but motionless. And she was leaving this place, never to return. She was inside a cage-less, warden-less, fence-less prison that would hold her for a time we can never number. We often ponder how long we could or might live, but we rarely ponder how long we will be dead. If we care for this body, we could be here for 90 years, maybe more. When that time expires, we will be dead for millions, billions, trillions of years…if this is all there is, this moment, this body and these words I leave for you to read. No soul-spirit, just words that will one day ash and find the wind. If this is all there is. If.

I realize now that the small places are not much different from the big places. Just as a thing can be so small we cannot see it, a thing can be so big we cannot see it. That is the way of galaxies. We are here, in this big thing, but cannot see it or its neighboring galaxies with our naked eyes. Everything is big and small all at once. 

This was my stepmother on the hospital bed, big and small all at once. She reminds me to be humble and live well. Because there is a journey up ahead that nothing in this life can prepare us for. This journey could be magical or tragic. But it will be.

the potential for a memoir

One of my advisors a year ago encouraged me to write a memoir based on a writing prompt during one of our residency workshops. He was so enthralled by what I had written within the ten minutes given, he promptly shared his excitement with my previous advisor, who accosted me at our next workshop.

I have never thought about writing a memoir. Who the hell am I? I never imagined I had anything interesting to share. The writing prompt was meant to draw out a past memory, nothing more. But when he insisted that I consider the memoir after what I wrote, I began to toy with the idea.

Some of you have read the very short opening of my piece. The overall piece is now nearly 100 pages. For both those who have read the opening and those who have not, I’d be interested to know if you read what I’ve shared below (what I wrote during the workshop), would you be curious and want to read more?

Be honest. I have thick skin.


I was born beneath Cuba, across the waters of the West Indies on an island that lives and breathes Bob Marley. It was 1967. While papa, my grandfather, was mending the house he built with his bare hands, civil rights marches were happening in “foreign” the place the locals called America. As King, Jr. lay dead, murdered by the mindset of the majority, I learned to walk on hot stones. The light of a man went out. I was oblivious to this then. I lived in a place where electricity and running water and indoor plumbing didn’t reach us. The outhouse was dark at night. But my uncle would take me there sometimes. At other times the chimmy, as my grandmother called it, would be pulled out from under the bed, squatted over, then slid back filled with yellow waste that reminded us of our simple life.

I was small and grass blade thin but I remember the mangoes and jackfruit and star apples and ackee and ginepes and the flowers I used to make jewelry, little necklaces and bracelets, bright and red and beautiful. I want to remember the name of that flower, but time sends memories away to places we can’t find.

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a return to locs

My DNA has warned me that if I keep on with this nonsense about growing out my natural hair without locs, there will be hell to pay. I get death threat-like whispers from my cells that I need to restart my locs, or else.

This is a trying time, when the body actively participates in dictating aesthetics. And almost violently invading mind and soul to the point of unrest.

Like elephants, my cells’ memories are keen and strong. They want “their” locs back.

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i am wanting

I no longer remember who I am, nor why I am. Inside this foreign skin I breathe. I inhale the world I’ve wished for in far away dreams and exhale the world I exist in, bedeviled by those who swim in blood red ego.

I am wanting yesterday, packed up to take with me into tomorrow. It is in that place ahead where I’ll find what I seek. I am wanting.

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the clouds in prayer

The clouds interlace fingers seeking prayer, an impassioned supplication to the un-gods.  They spread across skies gathering stories of un-time, spaces inside cycles that collect memories we will never touch, nor taste. Nor see. Clouds beseech the un-gods, begging for intervention. But the gods are children of a lesser world, Earth merely a blue and green ball in their sand, useless castles jutting toward the sky. They play. And laugh. But the clouds do not laugh. They watch as fingers interlace, knees bruise from centuries of thanking. And begging. The un-souls want to return to spirit. But tears are not the answer. The gods mistake them for rain. The gods toss fists full of sand to the Earth for those with the bruised knees who stand only to survive this un-World. The clouds watch and wonder, where are the real gods? The ones with love and power; and the desire to stop the pain, change the Earth channel, frequency, so that the violence does not outweigh the peace. So that potential is realized in the tomorrow. Change the channel now, so the un-World can shift into an awakening we can touch. The clouds drop tears upon the sandbox. Their prayers go unanswered. Their gods  enjoy Reality Earth, because Reality TV isn’t where the real drama lives. So to soothe their unrest, the clouds cry down on us. Their tears bring growth to forgotten parts of the un-World. Maybe they are the gods we’ve been waiting for. Maybe their tears, like holy water, will cast out the evil that lives inside this un-World. Maybe.

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the potential for loneliness

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Someone called me today, a loved one. She said she was lonely. But I am too far away to just show up on her doorstep and take her out so we can run the streets like school girls. I could hear it in her voice, the loneliness she tried to conceal behind laughter as she told me how she felt.

I will be where she is soon. I promised her we would go out dancing when I see her. Maybe a nice old school step joint, something sophisticated yet fun.

We continued to chat for a while about various things. I wanted to stay on with her, to let her know that I understand loneliness and I was in no rush to get her off the phone. I wanted to be present with her and allow her to laugh (allow myself to laugh) and tell her stories with the excitement of a child.

In a way, she saved me today. She reminded me that I too may one day be lonely again. Even more, if I live, I will one day be an elder. It was humbling and sobering. What will that look like for me, as my children go off to live their lives? Will they call me daily? Weekly? Will they take me out? Will they even want to spend time with me around a dinner table? Or will they be too busy to remember I exist until, like many children, they need something, even if it’s just moral support. I would give it, no doubt. But would always wonder if when the time comes and gray hairs are no longer peppered with remnants of black, but pure snow, would I still be relevant in the life of those whom I love?

Knowing the potential for the future leaves me wondering if loneliness could one day become my best friend, because all my flesh and blood friends have come and gone. And family has come and gone.

I can’t wait to see her. She’s sacrificed so much over the years. The last thing she deserves is to be lonely.

the story of leaves

I took this photo more than five years ago. Each time I revisit it I see something I never noticed before. It is not only majestic, but the leaves tell a story I am still trying to decipher. I look at the veins across each leaf and imagine the blood of leaves running through each vein. The water droplets quench their thirst, even as they lay dying on the ground. They have come through a long line of DNA that remembers the long history of Earth, a history we may never understand or realize, no matter how many scientific breakthroughs we achieve.

In many ways, I wish I could have connected with those leaves in some way so that I could hear their stories, what they’d seen, what they’d been through, how they’d felt. Yes, even how they felt, and, while on the ground, how they felt about their process of dying.

The story is in the leaves.

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Photograph take by zaji

very superstitious

Writing Prompt: Superstition

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

This song takes me way back. I was five years old when it came out, but a teenager when I really understood the meaning of the words. Isn’t this the life of humanity? We believe in things we don’t understand and because of this, we often suffer.

While some may not see the relevance of this song today, it is still apropos to our time. Many are profoundly superstitious, often calling their superstition by some other name to cover up what it really is.

I am attracted to the notion of belief and what that means to and for humanity. I am struck by the need of many to believe in even that which is not provable or probable. We all do it in one form or another, yet so many of us can’t see how volatile belief can be. It births and kills all at once. It is beautiful and ugly. It is always relative to individuals or small groups, often carried by only one or a few, or infecting countries whose beliefs are then eclipsed by whomever sacked them that particular century.

Beliefs morph and grow, some dissipate; always, however, they stay with those who carry them and then, sometimes, turn into superstitions that can last for centuries doing some good, but mostly harm when forced on the people of any given culture.

As I gather my thoughts on the nature of belief which sometimes transforms into superstitions, I hope to find a way to thoroughly dissect belief and what it has done for (or to) humanity, if anything. Has belief been more helpful than destructive? Is belief a creative force or a debilitating force? Is it both? I don’t know. But belief seems to be, in many ways, a guiding compass for our existence–for better or for worse. This guiding force more often than not gives birth to superstitions of all kinds. Today, the superstitions many carry are more sophisticated and cloaked in intellectual babble that attempts to conceal the fact that the superstition is merely a well developed unprovable belief.

Superstition by Stevie Wonder

Very superstitious, writings on the wall,
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall,
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass,
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past.

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,
Then we suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way.

Very superstitious, wash your face and hands,
Rid me of the problems, do all that you can,
Keep me in a daydream, keep me goin’ strong,
You don’t want to save me, sad is my song.

When you believe in things you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way, yeh, yeh.

Very superstitious, nothin’ more to say,
Very superstitious, the devil’s on his way,
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass,
Seven years of bad luck, good things in your past.

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way, no, no, no.

fearless in dusty blue

Writing Prompt: Fearless

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

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Sadly, what I’m about to write is not fiction. It is a very real conversation from a few days ago with a young 20 something who made a most unfortunate discovery. Her experience once again shows me that everything has changed, but nothing is different.

Earth. What a strange, familiar, beautiful, ugly, amazing, disgusting, wonderful, heartbreaking planet I live on.

zaji

The day was a dusty blue four days ago. The drive to the supermarket was uneventful. Cars moved through green and yellow lights like bumps in a caterpillar. Some turned into Wendy’s, others into Walmart. Some headed for Office Depot or DollarTree. All of them toward something in their future. We were headed for the fruits and vegetables aisles. We talked and laughed and remembered the lemon yellow morning on a dusty blue canvas.

The girl, she was white. We call her acquaintance, sometimes friend. We’ve known her for only about a year with distance between the times when we speak. She is always all smiles, teeth white, cheeks pink, hair dark and quasi goth. She is medium height. Not fat, not skinny. Black work pants fitted snug. She didn’t belong there though, in those aisles. She had quit her job three months ago to go away to college in Jackson, Mississippi. But she was back now, in the chain supermarket aisle talking to us and working the self checkout line like a champ. She told us why she’d come back. It was against her will, but equally willed by her desire to not be transformed into something ugly.

She almost bubbled as she said, “My grandparents are racist!” We gasped in semi surprise, because in our brown skin this was not news. She said she showed them her friends on her tiny phone screen. Small figures locked inside an electronic device that doesn’t care who you are or what you look like. It just saves you there, suspended in time for as long as the device remains on. She was all smiles when she showed them her friends, her second family. They saw the brown faces and gasped in utter horror. Surprise was not enough for them, they needed something bigger, more theatrical.

They said they loved her. But at the end of our beliefs, what is love? Real love.

She said she never got to meet her father. He died when she was little; at least that is how I recalled the detail about her father. The bigness of her story distorts the details though. Only the feeling remains, the feeling of again. Always it reappears. Again. And again. And then only the words that stab are remembered as though set on fire in front of you.

This was her first time meeting her father’s parents, her paternal grandparents. They welcomed her. They bought her a brand new computer for school. They said they would be happy to have her stay with them while she attended college. She could not afford to stay on campus, so their gift to her was right on time. But the brown people in her phone changed everything. Her grandparents didn’t know that she was a “nigger lover”. They told her that as long as she had nigger friends, she couldn’t stay with them and would no longer be welcomed in their home. She had to leave.

She smiled at us and said she couldn’t believe they were racist. But I could believe, because I live inside my brown skin—everyday. I see the good and bad of people who are not brown. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s indifferent. Always it’s human. At times, to me, inhuman. Her smile, though, didn’t hide her pain. I saw deep inside her. She wondered about it all. But did she wonder if it was worth it? I don’t know. She, too, was human. And the wondering would have been human if it ever nudged her.

Her grandparents were human. Too human—whatever that might mean. She ultimately agreed with them and left. Because she would not give up her brown friends to satisfy their pathological condition. She would not compromise. So she fearlessly let go of an important part of her future, her college education, and returned to Laurel, Mississippi.

She returned to checkout lines and standing on her feet all day. She returned to minimum wage and a foggy future thick with uncertainty and long years of ladders leading to nowhere. She was a nigger lover. That is what they said. She did not deserve a comfortable and certain future. She deserved only scorn for knowing us and all the other faces in her phone, faces that stained her life brown and stymied her future.

I left the imposing supermarket feeling sad for her. She really was fearless. She could have erased the still brown bodies in her phone, the smiles she shared with them and enjoy college and a life outside of the aisles. But she didn’t. She let it go, for now, to fearlessly preserve her moral standards, dignity and belief that we are all people. We are all…human.

upon the shelf

Writing Prompt: Shelf

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

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Little eight year old girls make soccer balls in Pakistan; fingers roughened by sturdy leather, needles and thick thread. Bottoms hover just above dirt paved streets as they squat to work under the noon’s blazing sun hanging from a low sky. Bodies covered head to toe to respect the social order. No one cares that she is hot and only eight. Grown men still have hungry eyes, the soccer balls must be done in time for worldwide entertainment, and $3 per day is needed to buy a morsel to eat. Some days, it might only be $1. It’s better than nothing. Better than starvation and maybe death.

I place my heart on a shelf to relieve the pain of what I see. I won’t let it beat inside my chest because it might destroy me. Or I may tear it out and thrust it like a cannon ball upon those responsible for innocence lost.

Instead, I leave it there, upon the shelf, gathering dust and tears. The tears were meant for me. But the dust belongs to the shelf and the shadows.

My heart waits for me there, on the highest shelf, out of reach. I leave it there, so the pain cannot reach me where I need to hide.

© zaji, 2016

inside myself

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Find me inside myself. Search there.

Sometimes I’ll hide behind my cousin who died when I was about 14 years old. Or my sister who died 9 years ago. There you will also find me searching for my grandmother and stepfather, who both died before I was ready for them to go, long before my cousin and sister. This world can’t hold souls too kind to live here.

My grandmother, singing about God’s love and grace before the worms and sun could yawn. The breath filled sewing machine stitching unexpected life into a dress or skirt. Boiled yellow yams, dasheen, yucca, bananas and dumplings love the warm comfort of sautéed callaloo and salt fish on a plate too small to fit them all. Mama, as everyone called her, made the disgusting powdery taste of liver transform into a moist flavor filled gourmet meat. Only she could conjure the love needed to make liver taste good. Eighty something years old and could run—oh my, could she run. Daily walks to Dyre Avenue in the Bronx to pick up “food”. The bustle of white collar Manhattan workers disembarking from the number 5 train didn’t scare her—they became victims of her authentic smile that infected everyone who caught it. Church bells didn’t need to ring, she would be there when the keys slipped into the lock to let a rush of air into the holy place. Gallant white hat and faux gold embossed black bible tucked deep inside a soft stuffed purple purse. A pink embroidered handkerchief peeked out from inside. With amens complete and the afternoon young, the kitchen would smoke and boil and sizzle with victuals meant for one but shared with five; it was her way. No one should go away hungry or thirsty.

My stepfather, jolly yet serious. Teasing yet solemn. A quarter inch of Wray and Nephew overproof rum at the bottom of a glass, the rest orange juice. Sounds of jazz vibrating everything not nailed down. Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sil Austin—The Blue Note Years were deep and sad, even feisty and rebellious. The history books that spanned no less than 300 years, read between lodge visits and cricket; they were an extension of the man who knew too keenly the ills of the world, yet could still turn a phrase and a joke that would leave everyone in unrelenting laughter. He was father and chef, husband and historian, electrician and cheerleader. He loved in a way we often forget.

All this is tucked away inside me, memories of the ones who left too soon. It is here you will find me, inside me, waiting and wanting to have porch side swing chats with those who ushered me into womanhood and maturity by showing me that life is too short not to be lived, and lived well. They stand on the other side of tomorrow’s wind waiting for me.

So I play jazz, and laugh and share a slice of bread meant for one with four people. I dance and sing and make love by sunlight and moonlight. I walk in graveyards to remind me of how fortunate I am to be here, for one more day. With my left hand I eat yellow yams and dasheen, yucca and dumplings; with my right hand I flip open the pages of a history book and read myself into understanding and remembering.

Life is sweet and sour.

But I am here, inside myself, sometimes hiding, sometimes searching, and sometimes waiting for a quasi Elysian fields to manifest so that true freedom can find me where I hide.

 

© zaji, 2016

stolen

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i am curled inside beaten skin

a kiss stolen at fourteen

the thief was like a father

but he didn’t wear a white collar

his water was not holy

yet he was holy to those who believed his lies

his charismatic lies

i lost the first touch of youthful lips

“have you ever kissed a boy?” he asked

“no,” i said.

i heard the no echo through me

he didn’t

then his lips

i don’t remember the sensation

except

the kiss made me invisible

i faded away into my beaten skin

dark and lightless

beaten by a kiss that belonged

to the boy of my choice and youth

i am stolen

 

© zaji, 2016

papers

i tossed papers into the fire. the words that turned to ash rose higher than their importance, but i still feel free now, from those words that tell truncated stories of who I was 25 years ago. i am not that skinny girl with plum sized tits. i’ve put on five or ten pounds. now i’m that slim girl with plum sized tits that grew while i was pregnant to large navel oranges then deflated mere months after the birth of my first child. she didn’t breast feed. i wanted to, but the gods had other plans that didn’t include my best wishes for my child. words not burned floated to the ground and left half truths for others to piece together. i’m going to keep my fire burning into the new year so that old stories can be scooped out of the ash, mixed with soil and buried with a mango seed so that new stories can grow big and tall and full of sweet truths. i still feel free now, because the words grow things. the words become my time machine. i still feel free.

 

© zaji, 2016

trapped inside unsafe

Writing Prompt: Safety First

Share the story of a time you felt unsafe.

share_PES_20151221cI am a brown woman on a planet that places me beneath all other humans. There has never been a time when I didn’t feel unsafe. My days and nights are spent in the company of unsafe. The most valued man on Earth is the white man, then the white woman, then the black man (if you want to call his position valued), then me, the brown woman, the thing to be abused the most. Even some feminists don’t value me, the brown woman. If they are racists, then they no longer see my plight as a woman, because to them I am not woman, I am something other, something brown and not worthy of a movement or a safe home.

My life is spent wondering when the planet will show me respect. Some say, I need to demand respect. But white men don’t need to demand it. The world gives it. White women must make a few demands, but at least at times they are heard. As a brown woman, when I am heard, it is merely luck, good fortune, right place at the right time, an accident of proximity meeting preparedness. It wouldn’t matter much if I had wealth, then I would use it to chain and bolt and alarm my home, because the unsafe feeling would increase, because there are those who would envy my wealth. Brown women don’t deserve wealth some believe. Wealth does not shield the brown woman from oppressions and bias. If a woman like Oprah Winfrey can be treated substandard when attempting to enter a top tier clothing store, then what chance do I have of being seen? They did not see Winfrey, the millionaire, the celebrity, the powerhouse, they saw a brown woman standing at their door who couldn’t possibly afford anything they had. No, she couldn’t go in. I certainly wouldn’t have been allowed in just to look, just to enjoy a day of window shopping and dreaming, because I would have been too brown; Winfrey was too brown.

The unsafe feelings don’t paralyze me and cause me to withdraw from interacting in the world. But they live inside and poke at me, stab at me with each interaction, haunting me and reminding me that I am brown and brown is not appreciated on Earth. Even other brown people have been brainwashed into hating their own brown skin, and my brown skin. So I am trapped on a planet, an insane asylum with high walls and doors and windows too high to reach. The windows and what beauty I imagine is on the other side is what I ache for. I can’t look through them to see the safety I dream of on the other side, that place where brown women are treated with the same reverence as white men, and are appreciated because of the beauty of their mind. I want to look out that window and see my brown skin being as loved as all others. But this is not the case. Because I am not only woman, I am brown. And those brown women lucky enough to attain wealth don’t escape feeling unsafe, they merely have the means to build stronger locks and louder alarms, and hope that if the police come, it won’t be to take them in the back of a squad car for a ride they can’t refuse. The Holtzclaw outcome doesn’t magically materialize before me a little safety talisman. If anything, it makes me feel even more unsafe, that a man of the law could get away with hurting my brown sisters for so long; and to know that I’ve read other stories of police officers raping brown women on duty. Where was their moment of safety? Who, after the fact, made them feel safe? And assured them that this would not happen again? At least not without punishment. Who? No one. Holtzclaw’s verdict is the reason why I feel unsafe. Because there were dozens before him, and only now do they see our pain (or is this a pacifier?) even though we’ve cried many times before, over centuries of being raped by slave masters and interlopers on our lands. Brown women have left oceans of tears upon the land, yet we are told that the teaspoon full of success stories should give us hope, make us feel worthy…and safe. Even now, even still, tribes of brown women are being sexually exploited.

I wish like many that I could write of only a time—one time. Maybe two or three times. Maybe even a hundred times when I felt unsafe. But I don’t have the luxury of a number, a single number that would allow me to realize that things aren’t that bad. My unsafe lives and breathes with a life even I at times cannot comprehend. Sometimes I want to run away from it all, but can’t. Where would I go? The whole planet sees my brown skin as less than, the way they’ve been taught throughout the centuries to see it, and that teaching sticks. If it didn’t, brown women wouldn’t be in the position they are. From America to Europe to South America to the Middle East and beyond, the brown woman is not honored and is made to feel as though she does not deserve to feel safe and loved. Most white men believe it and act on it. Many white women believe it and act on it. Many black men believe it and act on it. And then, ahh, then, even the black woman, the final bastion of supposed safety and protection, her image of self is slowly being worn away by cultural images that teach us to fight against each other, to not love each other like sisters, to compete for men, all men, white and black. It’s a shame really. A true shame.

To read my words one might think that I am an old biddy alone at home with her five stray cats. But I have a beautiful brown man who cares for me and loves me deeply and treats me better than I could have ever imagined. Had this prompt asked me for a time I felt safe, the conversation would have gone another way. The counting is in the safe moments with him that are trapped inside an unsafe life—my moments of feeling safe are unsafe. It’s a strange thing.

This world is odd to me. Many speak of freedom, as they enslave others either physically, economically, emotionally, mentally or intellectually. Many speak of equality as they continue to disenfranchise millions across the globe. Many talk of love, yet the majority of what we are shown are the unloving moments in our existence. Many talk of safety, as we disallow others from feeling safe in their homes, in their states, in their countries, on their continents—in their skin. So many talk and talk and talk. No action, just talk that we are subtly told (often indirectly) is a good substitute for action. So many are talking themselves to death and taking others with them. I don’t have the luxury of talk. I am a brown woman. I’m tired of talk. I want to be treated equally on this planet. Period. No more talking about it, just doing it. I want to be truly free, not this quasi freedom (subtle enslavement) being touted as freedom and truth. I want my brown skin to have value, all the time, everywhere, so I can feel safe on a planet that is as much mine as anyone else’s.

I want to feel safe, with only moments of feeling unsafe.

I want to feel safe.

I want to feel safe.

I want to feel safe…

jamaica…land of…

There was so much to see on my trip home. The last time I visited my family in Jamaica was around 15 years ago. The land, as expected, was lush in the countryside and weighted down with asphalt and concrete in the cities. The rich were just a stone’s throw away from the poor. Driving was as I’d remembered it, although forgetting was more than welcomed. Most drove as though speeding on narrow roads was a necessary evil in order to reach their destination.

The ocean stretched into what looked like a flat Earth, with the periodic cruise ship dimming in the distance as it moved further away from the shore. Narrow streets were lined with old houses, some run down, some built with tin roofs, cardboard and metal fence. Most of the poorest structures had no less than three fruit trees that were there longer than the grandmothers sitting on the veranda watching life go by. Every house I passed for the better part of two miles had fruit trees filled to overflowing.

Julie mango, breadfruit, guinep, sweetsop, soursop, ackee, almond, otaheite apple, jackfruit, neesberry trees enriched Jamaican ghettos with life and sustenance. The poor could not be hungry unless brainwashing led them to overpriced supermarkets that would never provide them with the richly nutritious and filling fruits and vegetables that lived inside the borders of their run down fences. The majority of the ghettos of America had no such richness, nothing green and life giving to hold them over when money ran out.

Jamaica has its problems—serious problems. But what I saw and what stood out was how beautiful it was, filled with potential and possibility. More than a decade has come and gone, but I still love Jamaica.

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the conjure woman

i don’t want to be a writer. i don’t want to tell my stories that come only from memory.

i want to be a conjure woman. my medicine bag filled with ink.

i want to conjure waiting ghosts from the past and tell their stories. i want their spirits to climb inside me and speak through me and my ink.

i want to conjure life as it was and as it could be. write it on the walls of ancient places.

i want to conjure long nights under a deep black starry night sky in a place where electricity wasn’t a thought, where night fires burned to make the shadows alive and tall, and stories of nights gone were told in remembrance of everything ancestral.

i want to feel the chill of winter on my skin and the warmth of summer within my soul.

i want to feel blue and black rain. ink rain.

i want to feel that warm dark rain beating down on me as i sleep under a twinkling canvas.

i want to feel the earth between my toes in that time when shoes were unknown and walking through brush barefoot was authentic life.

my ink is rich with conjured pasts.

i want to live in that time when life was recognizing the gods that reside inside us, the gods we conjured and created and infused with the breath of life, the gods our ink made.

we let our gods send the dark rain.

and it was good.

the ink runs down the papyrus, onto the grass, across leaves and into the rivers. the words and memories return to mother earth. her memory is long, her stories tall, her dark blood is ink. she is the first conjure woman.

the black rain seeds all stories.

and it is good.

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Artwork: DeviantArt by ChisSweetArt

at the end of it all – my obituary

Writing Prompt: In Loving Memory

Write your obituary.

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zaji didn’t want to be good or bad. she wanted to be wild and free. she wanted to run naked through an open field in the hot summer rain and dance with her sister friends by the light of a full blue moon.

she didn’t believe with great certainty in god or evolution because in the end she believed they could both be wrong. but she believed in love and experienced pain. she believed in our ability to create beauty, even as we seemed determined to create ugly.

zaji saw this ugly and watched it manifest through hate, prejudice, racism, violence and fear. she wanted others to see her imperfections, not shy away from them or try to cover them up in her death. she was not outside humanity. she too was flawed. she was a procrastinator who often sabotaged her own material success. but she realized it was because she didn’t much care about the machinations of this world. she saw it all as a waste of energy, energy we could use to honestly and determinedly uncover our purpose in the cosmos, our purpose for existing, for having sentience. she saw our energy better spent on peace.

she was sometimes argumentative and stubborn, but she saw this in herself and learned to be at peace with the madness of the world she so desperately wanted to change. she wanted earth to grow up, mature. but she would not live to see this maturity that still escapes those of us who are left behind to mourn and celebrate zaji’s escape.

for every imperfection zaji carried there was an abundance of love and laughter and kindness to match them. she wanted to be seen fully. no sugar coating. no lies. she wanted to be seen as an imperfectly perfect being, just as she saw all of humanity. she then wanted language and ideas to evolve so that perfect and imperfect are no longer ideas we carry, but instead archaic notions that eventually vanish because they do nothing to dissect the intricacies of our humanity and the complexities of existence. she wanted to change the vibration.

zaji wanted ubuntu. real and lasting ubuntu.

she didn’t want to know about science, she wanted to know what science could not find, like those many thoughts and imaginings that filled her mind daily. those secrets that held secrets that held even deeper secrets. she wanted to find the mystery that was there to be seen, yet hidden only because her mind could not see what was right in front of her.

she didn’t care about unbending, uncompromising belief, she cared about allowing all ideas to flower and fill the Akashic Records. she believed in possibility, strange and magical possibility. she believed in the paradox of life. she believed that belief was merely pieces of a grand puzzle that we one day might realize.

she wanted to fly away to another galaxy using wings that grew from her back in gentle grandeur. she wanted strong wings that could take her into yesterday and back into tomorrow. the future is behind. the past is ahead. the seeing is what makes it so. she wanted to be outside time and inside being and living and existing.

zaji wanted to dance for the moon and hear its laughter. some nights she danced but could not hear it, her ears were not tuned to the vibration of the sometimes sad moon, but her heart was tuned to the vibration of existence. this was her guiding compass.

she wanted to sing so everything would grow, but it all grew without her song. she knew that her love was the seed. our love made it all grow. everything green and full color grew through love and sex and passion. she believed we exist because of a strange and unexplainable passion that gave rise to molecules that gave rise to everything we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, feel.

she wanted to be remembered and forgotten all at once. because in some strange way although she felt that memory and thought were creation, forgetting was free will, the will to be self without the rules of the dead. she didn’t want her lineage to be ruled by her ideas, only enhanced by them so they may create their own ideas and own way of living.

zaji left behind children. but they were not hers—they did not belong to her. they belonged to the DNA of the galaxy, the soul of the Earth and everything in it. they belonged to self. they are life longing to remain. they carry the future of this world in their blood.

zaji loved the world she was ready to let go. she was in it, but in its sick state, it was not in her. she lived only for the potential of the planet, not for its actual state of being. she wanted to see equality, freedom, peace.

she wanted to see real peace. in the end, she flew away to a place, some place, any place. it is away from here. at the end of it all, she thought like Frida who once said,

“I hope the exit is joyful—and I hope never to return.”

zaji wanted joy and she found it. at times. zaji wanted love, and she found it. many times. but it was always inside a jar of pain and disappointment and a longing for something more, a longing for that place where everyone could live well and inside unconditional, unimposing love. she didn’t want to return here, at least not to the world in its current state. i hope she receives her wish, to never return, or to return when this planet has matured.

zaji is free now. this is the hope of everyone here.

we wrap her body in a thin shroud and place her beneath the soil, in a forest or jungle without grave stones. she wanted to commune with mother earth, not left inside an air tight box where her body could never reconnect with mother’s soil that seeds and incubates life. she wanted to be incubated by that which sprouts everything that feeds us. she wanted brown soil to beat against her shrouded still body, beating like a drum, like a heart beat. she wanted no headstone that would place her in time or give her a name. she did not want to be seen as born and died, but as always here, in some form, maybe pure energy.

we give her this wish today. she was outside time in life and will be outside time in death. we remember her name, but in the end, names are only vibrations that lock us into a single pattern of being. she knew this. she is now free to vibrate and answer to any soul who calls her by soul vibration, outside name, but inside energy. she wanted this, to hear everyone and everything, to hear heart and love vibrations, not a name, not a designation, but a feeling, deep and abiding meaning that resonates across species in the cosmos.

we commit zaji to the soil. we will follow her soon. but not yet. not yet. we must live to tell the stories of what she imagined and then leave those stories for the past, or the future— whatever serves her children’s freedom to live in the now.

until next time zaji. we’ll see you later. may the stars gather you to their bosom and give you peace.

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