Black (and Outdoors) At A Time Like This

#31DaysIBPOC_BADGE

Cleveland, 3400

Grass/lawn/tree/rosebushes/honeysuckle fence

tree lawn, front lawn, home, backyard – in that order

One summer garden = zucchini abundance, asparagus dearth, too many tomatoes

I grew up seeing green from my window not realizing

how and when this would become a lifetime requirement.

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Me or my look-alike ca. 1967

 

 

List

trails, hills, woods, stony beaches

mountains, meadows, lakes, streams

Give me all of these

they belong to who I am.

 

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Vermont, Summer 1983

 

#BlackAndOutdoors

feels like that’s always been me

but I’m not a hiker/ mountain biker/backpacker

I’m an attendee, if you will.

One who shows up in nature

and attends.

I listen and look and pause

and wonder

how I got here

or here

or here.

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Once upon a time at my godparents’ with my oldest, ca. 1997

AT A TIME LIKE THIS

There are not enough of the right words

to explain

why it matters and what it means to be Black and claim the outdoors, the great outdoors as one’s own, as part of one’s being, as central to one’s every breath and thought. Hanif Abdurraqib has 13 poems with the same title “How Can Black People Write Poems About Flowers At A Time Like This” and each one is so exquisitely distinct. Black people and flowers match up for funerals in the popular imagination maybe, or for Easter hats and brilliant attire. At A Time Like This which has become every time all the time, when, oh when, would Black folks ever have time for flowers? At A Time Like This when might we take pause to contemplate a flower’s beauty and complexity, meditate on flowers’ metaphorical bounty. Apparently that is not for us. There are not enough of the right words to explain. You wonder at this. Or you don’t. Maybe you’ve never seen Black folks striding out into the woods, along the river bank, up the mountain trail; sitting cross-legged around the campfire, as natural. Because our bodies in open, green and spectacularly floral spaces can so readily be misconstrued unless they are laboring on what you presume must be

someone else’s land.

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What it meant, what it means: outdoors(y)

What Outdoorsy Means & For Whom

Not everyone who spends time outdoors can be

outdoorsy.

Outdoorsy qualifies and codifies belonging:

read privilege

read price tag

read middle class and up

read whiteness

read suburbia.

No one calls the homeless outdoorsy

or migrant farm workers outdoorsy.

Outdoorsy is a fashion line,

Outdoorsy completes a dating profile;

Hot or not, it means what it means.

I love the outdoors and I am not outdoorsy.

 

Places I Have Seen With My Own Eyes That Have Also Seen Me (A Visual Poem)

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Late Invitation

A life that holds promise

carefully

like a delicate bouquet

requests the pleasure of your company

in a vision of nature

happening wherever you are/ I am/we be.

Claim it children,

chase it children,

be gentle children,

Let it be.

Let us be

us.

 

 

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Parisa Mehran and Alison Collins have entries today as well. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Janelle W. Henderson (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

All images belong to the author, Sherri Spelic, @edifiedlistener

 

 

 

 

 

No Good Mourning

It’s not a phantom sadness

because I know its name

and where it lives.

I  know the mood that conjures it,

the temporal passages

it favors.

 

No, this is a sadness

that inhabits me by now;

sometimes it stays small

in a pocket,

a piece of lint I needn’t notice.

 

Then other times it covers me

inside, then out

looms like a fog, like smog

that doesn’t lift

easily.

 

Not a phantom sadness

by any means

Rather, a steadfast messenger

always prone to remind me

this life is neither short nor long

but chosen,

chosen.

Travelogue #3: Water Stories

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Water

falls, runs, rushes, gushes, gathers, laps, trickles, carves, digs, advances, retreats, holds, shapes, reflects, destroys, moves, wanders, travels, covers, reveals, smooths, softens, breaks, bursts, begins, ends.

Water

will have/make/work

its way

without asking.

 

 

*These photographs are part of a series, all taken in Iceland, June 2019. ©edifiedlistener

Travelogue #1: At Your Own Risk

 

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Seeing danger, they fled.

Fleeing danger, they saw.

Feeling danger, seeing flight, fleeing feeling

Their imaginations were too powerful for their own good.

 

 

(Deadly sneaker waves…imagine!)

 

 

 

*Photographs in this series, all taken in Iceland, June 2019. ©edifiedlistener

 

 

 

Thoughts on *Instruments Of The True Measure*

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My relationship with poems is not as fraught as my relationship with Poetry.

Each poem offers itself, independent of all its potential brethren and I read what I can,

Understand as much as I can and let it be.

Laura Da’ writes poetry which challenges me. In Instruments Of The True Measure I run up against my only rudimentary grasp of US History of the 19th century. It’s a painful encounter – my ignorance colliding with Da’s haunting portraits of specific human suffering and survival of that period.

I read and feel out of my depth. There are so many words I would need to look up: calico, lariat, forelock, sorrel, bandolier, slake, vellum.

As I persist, I begin to make out figures – babies who become boys then young men who find work and traverse the landscape.

I hesitate to tell you what I believe I read because I fear I could be wrong. But there are moments where we see with our own eyes the greedy claims of Manifest Destiny.

From “Greenwood Smoke”

To the south, a surveyor

crosses the river

once called simply

after the shape of its bend,

soon to be baptized anew

with an Irish assessor’s surname.  (p.36)

From “The Coming Men”:

Dig out

the granite corner markers

capped in numbered brass,

 

blaze random

marks in the haggard

stands of hardwoods.

 

Public auction and preemption

scatters two million

Delaware and Shawnee acres.   (p. 56-57)

Da’ who is Eastern Shawnee refers us again and again to the role of measurement in the process of conquest. We consider the tools of the surveyor, the authority of the map maker. She shows us a list of 18 treaties between the US government and the Shawnee between 1786 and 1867 and reminds us:

The gore of the battlefield seeps into the ground and is lost; ink on vellum is its approximation. …

Any treaty is an artifact of unimaginable suffering.  (“Pain Scale Treaties” p.58)

As I read I learn. I am humbled by the weight of history I have been able to shrug off until now. Because it is no longer ‘someone else’s history’. No, my own history is absolutely bound up in those countless transactions designed to benefit only one kind of people. This is where Laura Da leads me – back to my own responsibility and forces me to consider the extent and limitations of my humanity. Alas, I am back to measurement, not with meridians but the low gray lines of my mental horizon.

 

 

Die Sprachbürgerschaft is on the way

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I decided to publish a stack of poems I wrote 14 years ago.

In my e-mail inbox I have notice that the books will arrive on Tuesday.

Surprise, no surprise, I have feelings about this development.

I could tell you that I am happy, proud, relieved and/or excited.

For the record I think I’m some of all of those things.

And I am also nervous (in the little-girl-who-might-get-in-trouble kind of way), which makes no rational sense but the feeling is there.

The poems are in German. Like, literally, auf deutsch.

I am not a native German speaker, nor do I sound like one.

I am fluent in German, I live in a German-speaking country and engage my surroundings often in the local vernacular.

I am an immigrant in this particular German-speaking republic.

And now I’m publishing some poems as part of my journey.

Again and again though this voice comes and asks: Really? You? Writing poems, calling them poems in a language you didn’t even grow up speaking? In a language you don’t have a degree in?

That’s real, too.

One piece in the collection is actually a dialogue and also provides the title of the book:

Die Sprachbürgerschaft

which loosely translates to Language Citizenship.

I suppose it’s the dialogue in my own head played out between two people: The language immigrant and the language native. The native asks the immigrant about how she came to the language and what she does in it; then goes on to inquire about the immigrant’s qualifications to write, play and publish in the language. The native becomes increasingly irritated by the immigrant’s laid back attitude to accessing and using this language they have in common and concludes the conversation by threatening to report the immigrant to the language police at the local language protection office.

 

Several weeks ago, my mother-in-law, a native German speaker, read this dialogue aloud to me and in that moment, I could hear that my words had a relevance I hadn’t accorded them previously.

The poems exist as a kind of ode to my immigrant-ness of almost 30 years. Being in this country, yet never fully of it.

The poems are also a tribute to this language I have embraced and loved and which in its own way has loved me back and even chuckled at some of my creations.

What I found is that poems allowed me to play with German in a way I cannot play with English. And I wonder how other multilingual folks encounter these differences in use.

So yes, a premier is on the horizon. A book, a book!

One that few folks in my current circles will be able to actually enjoy but one I hope that we will celebrate and contemplate together.

Which language, whose language, which words, whose interpretations?…All the things.

Tuesday. Dienstag.

 

“Caught Up”

There’s this sort of internal breathlessness that comes up when I reel through my twitter feed trying to catch as catch can important events, significant reads, personal check-ins all in the space of a few hours a day. I feel like I can’t possibly catch up. Then I  begin to ask myself the weightier question: what it would actually mean to be or feel “caught up?” And that’s when the other meaning hits me: “caught up” as in immersed, drowning in, emotionally involved and preoccupied. Caught up.

So which is it? Which one am I striving for? How much room is there for a both/and proposition? And what if it’s neither?

Ultimately, the answers do not much matter. I will never be fully “caught up” in this steady stream of information, so I can stop trying to be right now. And sometimes, thank God, I have the capacity to become “caught up” in someone’s story or message. My empathy muscles get a workout when I open myself to words, images and thoughts which move me, which extend deep into my feelings and remind me of who I am  in the world and that I am not alone here.

Recently I have been deeply moved by words by women of color in particular. Their messages, their presence, their use of voice, the chosen topics have reached me on deep levels. One poet creates a sacred space for me to contemplate the complexity of self in the hair I wear. An author confirms that I am in fact in my right mind when I experience the fear of not being liked and I persist in telling my story anyway. A speaker illustrates for her audience the prevalence and perniciousness of unconscious bias and reminds me that I have more to share in this life than I or the world may initially give me credit for.

This poem, ‘Invocation’ by Ariana Brown

Or this commencement address by Chimamanda Adichie.

This TED talk by Yassmin Abdel Magied

http://www.ted.com/talks/yassmin_abdel_magied_what_does_my_headscarf_mean_to_you

Each woman in her own way, speaks to me like someone who knows me; like someone who knows of my struggles. Each message reaches me in a place of humility and also pride. I identify and feel personally addressed.

There are many sources from which to draw inspiration and meaning. For now I feel grateful for the willingness to pause long enough to be moved. To repeat the exercise twice or more in order to experience the impact a little differently each time. To hold off before jumping onto the adjacent bandwagon of ideas that will not hold still.  To do this – to stop, take in and gradually digest such works of personal significance takes practice and a certain fortitude. It is not always easy to linger a moment longer because I want to let a feeling last or allow an idea to resonate to its full extent. Our current tools of communication hardly encourage this. They constantly remind us of how much may be passing us by.

I say, let the things pass for they will likely bounce around again and our gaze will not have been missed. If I want to experience resonance that is full, rich and lasting, finding and creating space in myself has to remain a priority. Chasing the latest leads me in the wrong direction. Taking time to experience and appreciate the profound bring me that much closer to being the self who can allow herself to get “caught up” in the most meaningful ways.  The poet, the author, the speaker they all live in me in some mysterious and beautiful way. The highest honor I can offer them is to continue to create space in me where their messages may land and find a home.

The Awesome Anthem by Sekou Andrews

You may think you don’t have 9 minutes to watch this video.
Here’s what happened when I decided to take the time: I was drawn in, taken hold of, turned around, embraced and fully uplifted. I was changed: By poetry, by surprise, by exquisite use of language, by my sense of kinship, by every ounce and bounce that this entire composition holds. Let Sekou Andrews break it down for you: awesomefied belongs in your vocabulary and mine. Now.